Volunteering as an EAL/ESL Tutor

-Scroll to the bottom to see how this volunteer experience has influenced what I hope to include in my future teaching practice

There are many different aspects of second language acquisition present in our school systems today. I learnt this throughout my EAL/ESL volunteer work experience. I strongly believe that, we as teachers, need to be aware where our students’ language development is at and how we can create strategies to help our students acquire a better understanding. In the classroom I was previously in, I could see that my cooperating teacher was very aware of where her students stand in terms of learning their second language. She had about fifteen students that were at a variety of levels in their second language acquisition. She had students that work on the same assignments sit in groups at tables throughout the classroom. Not only does the classroom vary in their language development, but they also ranged in age as there were students from grade nine to grade twelve in the same classroom.

At the school, I primarily worked with two students. The first student was able to create mini sentences when speaking aloud, but needed help to communicating her thoughts when trying to do written work. For example, when writing a paragraph the student knows what she wants to write, but does not know how to put it on paper. One thing that we had worked on was creating a mind map on a separate piece of paper where we would write down all of her thoughts. After doing this, we would proceed to work on the paragraph using the mind map as a structure to connect her thoughts.

The second student I had been working with was at the single open-class words and word stems stage in the student’s second language. The student knows certain words such as banana, apple, and fruit but does not yet know how to put them into sentences such as, “I like to eat apples.” Providing visual examples like gestures, pictures, and objects has been the most effective way to learn words to talk about an assignment with this student. For example, the student and I were working on an assignment about what makes a person a hero. To gain a better understanding, we looked at a poster that had different scenes with heroic actions. One these scenes was a person saving a baby from inside a car that was on fire. From this, the student was able to visualize and make connections to what makes a person a hero.

When we are learning new words in the ESL classroom we say them slowly and clearly. Pronunciation is important but is not, nor should it be, harped over. This is where the use of corrective feedback can be helpful because it pushes students to expand their linguistic knowledge. When students connect certain words and sounds correctly, they are praised. When this is done, students often have a desire to do it again. After reflecting I realized I was doing this myself. When the second student identified what something was I gave him a thumbs up and assurance. It is important that we create a welcoming and warm environment for our EAL/ESL students in the classroom. This will enhance their learning by being in a safe place where they feel accepted and free to explore their language acquisition. As educators, we need to consider how we can help our students in their second language development, even if we don’t know a second language ourselves.

Before arriving at the University of Regina I have never heard of an EAL/ESL program. With that being said, the idea of these programs are very new to me. Because I grew up in a small rural community everyone that I knew, and came across, spoke English. I had never encountered someone who did not know or understand English prior to moving to Regina. However, there were people with “accents”. Predominantly, the people with these “accents” spoke Indigenous English while a few others spoke in different European styles of English dialects. After going to an ELNG class for a couple of weeks, watching videos, and by reading about the various aspects of linguistic diversity I realized that everybody has an accent. Just because an individual pronounces their words differently does not mean they speak “bad English”. With that being said, it does not mean that people speaking in their local dialect speak “good English” either. Having an “accent” is not a bad thing. How we speak and the sound of our speech is a variation of a dialect. Take English for example, English is one language. However, there are many forms of it, and that does not mean any one is better than the other; they are simply different.

While being placed in an EAL/ESL classroom I really began to make the connection that there are different variations of English. The students in my classroom came from countries such as Syria, Pakistan, and China. The ways in which the students pronounced their words and how they speak the English is different from one another; they each have their own variation (just as someone from Newfoundland and I would have different variations as well).

As far as my own development in international communication and language awareness goes I can definitely say that I am improving. The only versions of English I heard on a daily basis prior to University was my community’s local English dialect and Indigenous English. Before, when someone with a different “accent” came into my community I would think, “Hmm, I wonder where they are from” or “I wonder what their first language is”. But now I realize that that is so wrong and is what someone with a monolingual ear would say. There is so much more to a language then where a person is from.  As educators, and individuals, we have to keep in mind that there are different dialects of English and that we should not expect all of our students to sound the same. We need to be willing to listen and understand “accents” different from our own to make our students feel comfortable; and not doing the opposite by asking them, “Could you say that again” or “I love the sound of your voice, it’s so exotic”. Our own “accents” are as unique as we are people, everyone is different and that is something that we should not only accept but should celebrate.

In an EAL/ESL classrooms you are able identify many different types of language and power being forced upon second language learners. Some of these issues for students may include the inability to use their own language in the classroom, being forced to write in English, and being subjected, as well as expected to conform, to a style of learning that is different then what these students have already been exposed to. These are examples of issues belonging to language and power at school. As, English is the dominant language for the majority of Canadian schools. However, the issues of language and power transfer to students home life as well. Some examples of these would be being forced to speak English only in the home or being forced to speak only their first language at home.

This point of time in our student’s life can be very confusing. With expectations being different both at home and at school for each individual students, students must adapt to using the language that someone in a higher position of authority (i.e. a parent, grandparent, teacher, etc.) prefers. As educators, we must help and support our students in the development of their second language. We should also promote the use of student’s first language in the classroom as well. Every language, and every dialect of a language, is important. We should constantly show our students that their language is important. If we are able to truly accomplish this all of our students will be better off for it.

In the EAL/ESL classroom I was in right the use of student’s first languages are not only encouraged but accepted. For example, in the class I’m with now there are two students from Syria. One student has progressed further along in her second language acquisition then the second student. The second student was able to understand and communicate with some words, but not all. When you are explaining a question or what something means he may not understand. Even though he might nod and say, “mhmm”. The most beneficial strategies I have found so far while working with this student was to use pictures and bring objects to class that help explain what we are talking about. This student is very attentive and works hard at the task at hand but is still struggling with his language development. When the first student, from Syria, is in the classroom she will sometimes translate for the second student. Although this is not a solution, I truly believe it helps in his language development because something is being explained to further his own learning in his own language.

I would say, the experience of working with EAL/ESL students has changed me not only as an individual, but as a future educator. I want to create a learning environment for my students where they feel comfortable speaking in their own language. I will do this by using visuals, speaking with my hands, and by trying to learn a word or phrase in each of my student’s first languages. There is much more that I would like to do in my classroom such as learning how to pronounce each of my students name correctly. Overall, this experience has been very beneficial and has changed the view of who I want to be as a teacher.

My Plan (for my future classroom):

-Make it Visual – As many students have a hard time processing spoken language it helps to write out the instructions and examples on the board. It is also useful to use pictures for support. Modelling the steps or showing our student what the finished product should look like will help students understand a lot more. This is non-linguistic representation.

-Allow the Student to use Their First Language – It is sometimes helpful to allow scaffolding through one’s native language. It seems to help students understand more if another student helps to resolve students confusion through speaking in their native language.  Perhaps letting a student write in their first language and then translating it to English will help.

-Pre-teach – Give out copies of articles or links that will be addressed in the following week to help students preview the material that will be introduced. Some students need more time to go over and understand what the task is and what needs to be done. By giving out materials beforehand students will be able to read over and look at the pieces that will be introduced to them which will, in turn, help them to gain a better understanding.

-Peer Interaction – English acquisition cannot be rushed, but there are many ways that teacher can provide opportunities to practice English in the classroom, peer interaction is one of them. With group interactions students are required to use English to contribute to the group work. This allows the opportunity to view what students have learned in class and it shows the progress that a student has made in their English language development.

-Parental Involvement – Parental support in general is a key to academic success, especially for ESL/ELL learners. For many students I believe that parental involvement is crucial.