Part 2 — Helping Young Students Learning a Second Language

Young L2 (second language) learners will need a lot of support throughout the school day, especially if their English is very limited. Additional factors such as being new to school, and even new to the host country, make this even more important. They may at first need to be physically shown what to do and where to go.

The children need clear, simple instructions to be given throughout the school day, every time there is a change of activity. These instructions may need to be given one-on-one as it cannot be assumed that they will understand whole-class instructions. The language used needs to be at or just above the students’ level of comprehension. If the teacher can use the same words and phrases, the students will grasp the meaning more quickly.

In the same way, a well-organized classroom with set places for equipment and classroom furniture will help the students to become accustomed to everything. Even if students appear to have a fair grasp of English, it is important to be aware that they may not be used to hearing the teacher’s spoken version of the language. For example, they may have learned some English in Singapore but find an American or British accent more difficult to understand. From the outset, L2 students should be given classroom tasks along with the others, so that they feel part of the class and are able to practice their language while washing brushes, cleaning the board, tidying up, etc. with their fellow students.

Some topic areas studied in the classroom may be unfamiliar to the learners—examples are the weather, seasons, and farm animals. School books produced in the UK, Australia, Canada, or the USA may well include work surrounding these topics which will not make sense to students from different parts of the world where the information in the textbook bears no relation to those of their life experience. So some adaptation of the lesson materials will be required.

It is important for the teacher to be genuinely interested in the culture and background of the students and to convey this in the lessons. The students should be encouraged to write/draw/talk about their own cultures, and class work could involve appropriate history or geography projects.

It is an excellent idea to involve parents in this as they have unique knowledge and life experience to share. They could be invited to come in and share stories, music, and practical skills such as cooking. This also has the knock-on effects of making the parents feel more involved in their children’s education and strengthening the relationship with the teachers.

Practical ideas to help with English include the following:

  • Music and songs—help to reinforce language already learned. Individual listening—children listen to stories on tape. They could do a gap-fill or true/false exercise to help focus their listening.
  • Videos—show them a video clip without the sound, get them to answer questions such as “Is the man on the video angry or happy?” Play again with sound, give the children a cut up dialogue from the clip which they have to put in order, and then act it out, etc.
  • Home made books
  • Picture story sequencing
  • Divide a familiar story into pages and make up fun activities based on each page.

Continue on to Part 3 — Helping Older Students Learning a Second Language

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