Helping Students Overcome Language Barriers in the Classroom

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How can teachers help students overcome language barriers in the classroom?

Helping Students Overcome Language Barriers in the Classroom

When assessing a student’s readiness to learn, an important factor is language. Understanding and being able to communicate in English is an essential skill in classrooms. For students whose first language is not English, language can certainly be a barrier. Limited vocabulary and language skills may prevent some students from actively participating in class, socializing with peers, and learning to their full potential. Here are some ways by which teachers can help these students attain their academic goals:

Learn their Names: Names symbolize identity and mispronouncing names can make students feel more like outsiders. Correctly pronouncing students’ names is critical to building rapport and instilling confidence in them. Teachers can seek the help of staff members familiar with the language to learn correct pronunciation of names. Using the correct pronunciation may also encourage other students to do the same, helping students to feel accepted in the classroom.

Buddy System: Pair English language learners (ELL) with a student who either speaks the same language as the ELL student or is kind, patient and willing to help the ELL student by translating and teaching them the ropes in class. Pairing of students also encourages ELL students to interact and form relationships with their classmates.

Use Visuals: Supplement all lectures and instructions with visual aids, such as images, sketches, actions, gestures, expressions and audio-video clips to get students’ attention and to help them understand the message. When planning for lessons, prepare images for words or concepts that might be difficult for students to follow, or use the internet to quickly bring up images in class.

Giving Assistance: When developing English skills, students may be shy and hesitant in asking for assistance from teachers. Teachers can encourage students to ask any questions they have by checking in with students intermittently to see if they need help.

Language Tips: Teachers must use plain and simple language, and talk clearly and slowly to aid in comprehension. Avoid using idioms, metaphors, and sarcasm as this may be confusing for students learning the language. Demonstrate instructions and always remember that students are more likely to understand what they “must do” as opposed to what they “shouldn’t do.”

Reinforce: Refrain from correcting mistakes when students communicate, as this may make them feel self-conscious and less confident in speaking. Instead, teachers can positively reinforce the student for communicating and model the correct form of communication when an opportunity arises. Similarly, with writing, modify assignments and plan for smaller writing goals to help students gain confidence in their writing skills.

Teachers can use these tips to help put students at ease and empower them to experience meaningful learning opportunities in the class.


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