More and more non-English speaking children seem to be arriving in school districts across the country. There is a good chance that if you have been teaching for just a few years already, you have probably had one or two of these students in your classroom. At the time, you were most definitely scratching your head wondering how you are to teach English to a child when you don’t speak their native language and they don’t speak yours. However, it may be easier than you think.
In the Beginning
I felt like being an elementary school teacher was something that was in my blood. I enjoyed spending time with children and I knew there was a shortage of male teachers at the elementary level. (If I had my choice, I would rather spend a day in the classroom any day rather than attend teacher meetings in the library.) I graduated college with a Masters in Reading and Literacy and a Reading Specialist certificate that allowed me to diagnose and treat any child with reading difficulties. On top of this, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, it provided me with the skills to teach English to those who have not yet mastered the language.
I accepted a position at an elementary school that was more than 50 percent Hispanic. Plus, many of the students spoke a mixed Spanglish language (a combination of English and Spanish) and had parents at home that could only speak Spanish. Not only was I hired to improve their literacy, but I was asked to become their English teacher in the process. I had only a year of high school Spanish under my belt and remembered all of about five words, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Tips for Teaching English
After I prepared for the monumental task, I felt I was ready to help those students learn English. In the process, I felt a little like the man from My Fair Lady trying to teach that lady proper English.
It really was accomplished by constantly trying strategies and seeing how the students responded in kind. I learned quickly that when introducing new vocabulary, there should always be a picture going along with each word so the student could better understand what the word meant. They may know that casa means house in Spanish, but how would they know what the word house means in English without a picture? Luckily, with about a thousand children’s picture books at my disposal, I was well equipped. But even if I didn’t have these books, I could have printed off the pictures online or went about it in a similar fashion.
Using a strong phonics and decoding program can work wonders as well. It helps the children recognize the sounds with the letters in an efficient manner and can enable them to start deciphering the words. If a child can read English, even without knowing what every single word meant, they are at least on their way.
It was amazing to see the progress of not just their overall reading abilities, but how they developed as English speakers instead of the Spanglish they were speaking before. I felt as if I was making a huge difference in their lives now, and the possibilities that were opening up to them in the future. I have never been as proud as when their parents started to come in and thank me for the work I was doing with their children. The parents usually only knew a few words of English, but their huge smiles were the universal sign for gratitude.
If you are a parent or an educator and would like to learn more about preparing children to learn another language, iAchieve can definitely be of assistance. We offer one-on-one tutoring as well as professional development workshops that can make the process a little easier to manage.
Written by Ryan Crawley