When I was fifteen years old, I had the opportunity to visit Barcelona and Madrid over the course of six weeks. Before I went, I learned two Spanish phrases: how to tell people my name, and I knew how to ask for location of the bathroom. And that was it. I recall feeling out of place and "dumb." People spoke to me loudly and slowly. Sometimes they just gave up. It was lonely.
How can you make sure your students are feeling welcome if there is a language and/or cultural barrier?
1. Learn a word or two in their language starting with their name. Pronounce it correctly. Use it correctly. Write it down and remember it. Use it the next time you see this student.
2. If this student is new to your classroom, can you buddy him or her up with someone who does speak the same language? This can forge a strong friendship between two people who have something in common. This can also help the student relax a little bit knowing there is at least one person with whom they can converse and ask the more trivial questions. There may be times when this partnership is not desirable, but it's a fine place to start. Allowing for group work in general can be a good way to help an English Language Learner to dig into your classroom content without feeling intimidated.
3. Find areas in your lesson plans where you can use "universal language" like body language or pictures. Are you doing a review activity that could incorporate some version of charades? Could you add physical signals or sign language to help enforce the vocabulary lesson?
4. Use some accommodations. Don't be afraid to use Google Translate or iTranslate Voice to help you. If an app will help open this student's mind to the skills you are trying to teach, don't be afraid of it. You could also try using sentence stems to aid the student in writing and/or verbal responses. Sentence stems can be just the thing to get a student started!
5. Get to know the student. If they are quiet because they are adjusting, that's okay. Get to know them in other ways. Learn about their culture. What are their traditions? If the student is willing to converse with you, be sensitive to that and devote your full attention to figuring out what they have to say. Don't try to multi-task while three other students are at your desk.
Do you know of other ways? Send me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org