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How to Encourage ELL Students after Returning from Summer Break

As summer winds down and a new school year begins, you will likely be introduced to an entirely new group of students in your classroom. While each student will have his or her own specific strong suits and challenges, it is important to note that English Language Learners (ELLs) have a unique set of challenges compared to other students. If you have ELL students in your classroom this year, here are a few tips to help ease the transition from their summer at home back into the English-speaking classroom.

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1. Work with the students’ previous teacher or ELL teacher to understand more about their skillsets. Find out what helped them the most the previous year and what did not seem to help them succeed. When possible, incorporate some of these best practices – no need to reinvent the wheel if your colleagues have already worked with these students successfully!

2. Be patient. While some of your ELL students will have spent their summer engaging in activities that helped them practice their improving English skills, others may have spent the majority of the break only speaking their native language at home. Just as there is expected to be some information loss across normal school subjects, your ELL students who have not been practicing their English language skills may be a bit rusty at the beginning of the year.

3. Incorporate SWRL (Speaking, Writing, Reading and Listening) in class daily. SWRL encompasses the domains of language acquisition. When ELL students exercise all four of these domains on a daily basis, it will help improve their language learning more quickly. ELL students may not read, write, or speak perfectly, but encouraging them to practice these skills frequently will help them improve more quickly. However, you should also respect that there may be times when your ELL students wish to remain silent. Encourage participation, but do not force them to speak aloud, as they will likely engage more in classroom discussions as their confidence improves throughout the year.

4. Use visual aids.  ELL students often have a more difficult time processing spoken language over written language. When possible, write simple, clear instructions on the board. You can also add pictures and diagrams for more complex topics to help aid their understanding of the topic. If it’s something you can demonstrate or show them how to do first, even better!

Above all else, it is important to be patient with and encourage ELL students. They are usually working harder to master concepts than the rest of the students in the class, since processing information in a second (or third!) language can take two to three times as long as it does to process in their native language. Feel free to communicate directly with your students and their parents to determine if you need to make any adjustments to your teaching technique, since, like any other student, their individual needs may vary significantly from those of native English-speaking students.

How to Help Students Avoid Heritage Language Loss

For students who have immigrated to the United States or who come from families who do not speak English as the primary language at home, learning to speak English fluently is one of the most important things he or she can do to ensure proper communication and education in the classroom. Over time, as children assimilate more into the English-dominated world, both in the classroom and with their peers, they may begin to lose some of their heritage language due to lack of practice outside the home. This may even result in English becoming the primary language at home, at least among the children in the family, and cause potential communication issues and barriers if students do experience this language loss.

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Since strong student-parent communication is vital for a student’s success in school, we’ve compiled a few ways your school can aid LEP (limited English proficient) students and parents when it comes to language loss.

1. Offer bilingual education opportunities where possible/appropriate. If the school system has the ability to offer dual-language courses for these students, it will help encourage the use of their primary language outside of the home. Older students who are able to choose elective type classes may also benefit from a Spanish (or whichever language is dominant in your area) for heritage speakers class, with a focus on preserving the language skills they already have instead of learning a new language from scratch.

2. Work with parents to inform them about the potential of language loss and ways they can encourage the use of the primary language both at home and in the community. Parents may assume that using English in the home will benefit the child by speeding up the process of learning English in general. However, this can increase the language loss of their heritage language, as the child will no longer have an outlet for using this language if it is not spoken on a regular basis at home.

3. Provide information in the parents’ primary language. Research language groups and activities in the community that may afford the child an opportunity to use his/her heritage language outside of school or the home and compile a list of these options on a professionally translated handout.

4. Offer a professional interpreter for parent-teacher conferences so that parents feel comfortable discussing any issues, or celebrating their child’s accomplishments, with you. This also allows students to see their heritage language being used in a setting outside the home, showcasing its importance to the school, as well.

If these students see that your school places a level of importance on their heritage languages, it increases the likelihood that they will want to continue speaking it inside and outside the home. This not only helps aid in student-parent communication, it also shows parents you are invested in not only teaching their child, but in preserving an important part of their culture as well.

Holiday Prep: How to Make Sure Foreign Language Students Don’t Fall Behind Over the Holidays

Learning a foreign language can be exciting for students who are eager to put their newfound skills to use in the classroom. With the holiday break quickly approaching, you may, just like most educators, be worried that the prolonged break will result in loss of information retention for your students. However, the time away from the classroom does not have to mean that your students will fall behind over the holiday break. Here are a few suggestions to help make sure your students continue using their language skills over the holiday break.

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1.     Ask students to read or watch something in the foreign language and write a short summary. Students can choose their own titles if they have access to media like this at home, or you can also provide books, TV shows, or movies that they can choose from before the break. As long as the media and assignment are both appropriate for their learning level, it should give the students an opportunity to both consume information in the foreign language and practice their writing skills. You could also request they give an oral summary of the media when they return from the holiday break if you’d prefer they practice their speaking skills instead.

2.     Assign a “Winter Break Journal” report. Ask your students to write a short summary of each day over the break in the foreign language. You can give them vocabulary words or themes to incorporate if there are topics you are working on in the classroom. They can discuss foods they ate, feelings they had, or even describe people or events that they encountered that day. Keeping a journal is a great way to practice over the holidays without taking up too much time.

3.     Send your students on a vocab scavenger hunt. Create flash cards on 3x5 cards and put a new vocabulary word on each of them. Ask students to write the definition on the other side and use the new word in a sentence (in the foreign language) for a quick practice exercise. Use these new words in class once they return and ask the students to share their sentences. The words can even be themed for the holidays and winter season.

Since these activities are mostly self-guided, they are ideal for short breaks like this one. These types of activities are a great way to keep students’ minds sharp, and may also prevent boredom or cabin fever during the potentially cold winter break. If nothing else, parents will be happy to have their children’s minds occupied with something productive, too.

Early Language Learning Positions Workers for an Expanding Global Market

In the United States, the majority of students who learn a second language do not begin learning this language until the age of 14, or when they enter high school. However, studies have shown that there are several benefits to learning a foreign language earlier in life, and many elementary schools are offering foreign language courses, as well. Spanish is the foreign language most commonly taught at the elementary school level, followed by French, Latin and Chinese. In a market in which the demand for bilingual individuals is growing rapidly, the earlier the student can begin his or her language learning the better. Not only do students who begin learning a second language in elementary school often show improved test scores and cognitive function over those who do not, but these students are also 70% more likely to reach an intermediate level of communication than those who begin in high school. This means that the early language learner has a much higher chance of effectively using these skills in the marketplace as an adult. As more and more companies expand and do business overseas, the ability to be able to speak and interact with those who speak another language will be more important than ever. 

Those who are able to master a second language from an early age are also more likely to continue to develop their language skills throughout life. One way that they are able to do so is by developing skills needed for translation and interpretation, industries that continue to grow year after year. While simply being bilingual isn't enough for most translation and interpretation projects, those individuals who have the strong grasp of a second language from an early age are better equipped to master the art of translation or interpretation as an adult. A person who did not learn the language until later in life has to focus on both learning the language and the skills needed for translation and interpretation within a shorter time period.

In Europe, 80% of students speak a second language, but only 14% of students in the US consider themselves bilingual. When you couple results like higher test scores and cognitive function with a higher propensity for specialized language application later on, introducing a foreign language program into an elementary school level curriculum seems to make a good deal of sense, as it would allow the US to better position skilled bilingual workers in an ever-expanding global market.