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The Teacher's Use of Language


How a teacher speaks in class can make all the difference for ELL students. Many ELL students describe having trouble understanding their teachers as a major impediment to their learning. For teachers, especially those in combined classes, understanding how to make classes more comprehensible can be a daunting task. With a subject's technical language and a teacher's comfort with the subject's complexity, teachers have trouble bridging the gap between themselves and their students. However, accommodating ELL students doesn't need to be a difficult labour and can improve the understanding of all students in a class.

The first step to appropriately teaching students is understanding your rate of speech. Many new teachers make a common mistake by either speaking too slow or too fast. many teacher speak to slow and over simplify their language leaving out the articles "a, the, his or her,"mimicking the patterns in which their students speak. This is a counter productive behavior because it fails to model the correct use of the English language. Moreover, it can be very degrading to students to be talked down to in this way. The problem with faster speech is the complexity of sentence structure and speed together. Most students, especially at higher levels, can understand spoken English at regular speed. However, complex sentences with multiple clauses or new vocabulary can cause confusion and reduce communication.

To resolve these problems, teachers ought to speak at a regular pace, taking short pauses at the end of sentences. These pauses allow students to digest the information contained in the sentence and can help non-ELL students by giving them time to reflect and engage with the content as well. If a teacher uses technical vocab in a sentence, writing down the word and it's meaning on a word wall, can give students a point of reference for the future and allow for retention of the word.

Asking students to explain an idea back can also help ELL students. Not only does it demonstrate the comprehension of concept, it also provides a different way of phrasing an idea that may be more comprehensible to some in the class and models a different way of phrasing to for ELL students that they may use in the future.

Teachers ought to avoid the use of idioms. Phrases like "scrapping a paper," "breaking from (tradition)," and other such language are considered idioms. They are phrases that don't mean what the parts of the sentence mean. As such, students find it very difficult to understand what the phrase exactly means. However, idioms are a favorite topic among ELL students and ought to be taught explicitly and separately in an ELL class.

When giving instructions, use statements rather than questions, especially with newer ELL students. As a way of being polite, native English speakers phrase commands as questions; "Can you take out your books?" "Could you please sit down?" However, this way of speaking is not necessarily familiar to ELL students and can lead to miscommunication. Being direct and using the imperative form will be more effective.

In multiple step instructions, teachers ought to write out the steps on the board sequentially. This will allow ELL students a place to refer back to and can also help students with ADD or ADHD.

Teachers are also advised to explicitly use body language when teaching. This can include simple things like pointing, to certain faces, to all out acting a concept. Such non-verbal communication can overcome the barrier between teacher and student, engaging the student in learning.

Finally, use humor sparingly. Across cultures, certain jokes or behaviors can mean very different things. For instance, sarcasm can be completely lost on students and be misinterpreted as an attack on a student, other teacher or administration. Moreover, many jokes work by playing on words or cultural ideas that students may not understand. As such, humor is best left out of an ELL classroom aside from when it clearly presents itself.

Most of all, be a model of how to use language. Speak in clear full sentences with fewer clauses and idioms. Speak at a regular speed and explain vocabulary students don't understand.


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