The acronym ESL stands for English as a Second Language and it is a common term among Non-English speaking community. Most people who do not know how to speak the English language attend ESL classes so as to gain adequate knowledge. What is experienced most times though is that these categories of Non-English speaking citizens find it hard to cope with various challenges that come their way. Learning the English language needs a lot of rules to be followed and only people who are interested and patient enough will be able to learn fast.
In this essay we shall be taking a look at how cultural differences and language variety pose a threat to ESL classes, we shall also highlight how a teacher can identify these problems and overcome them. Finally we shall take a look at the positive effects of linguistic and cultural differences on ESL classes. “There are many ESL classrooms and cultural sensitivity issues that teachers must address to ensure they are delivering language instruction without prejudice, discrimination, or bias.
By understanding the potential problems with cultural sensitivity, teachers can avoid creating an English-centric classroom while increasing their students’ language skills” (ESL Classroom and Cultural Sensitivity , 1996-2010). As a teacher in the ESL class a lot of factors need to be put into consideration in order to reduce misunderstanding and disagreements in the class. Knowing so well that a lot of these students come from various parts of the world, with different languages and cultural backgrounds.
These are major factors that affect the level and speed of assimilation of the students in class. The ESL classes teach the students all aspect of English language, such as the intonation and accent, pronunciation, verbal usage, grammatical structures and spelling. These are key areas where the non English speaking students face major problems. DIFFICULTIES POSED BY CULTURAL AND LINGUISTIC BACKGROUND Communication is an essential part of life and clarity is very important. When two people are communicating, the message must be clearly understood.
When a listener has various contrasting meanings for what has been spoken then there is a major problem. However, there are various setbacks to effective communication in an ESL class, to which variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds are amongst. How does cultural background affect the communication in ESL class? Culture is the way of life of an individual and it plays a vital role in his/her overall attitude to life and learning. In an ESL class a teacher will encounter variety of learning attitudes amongst students from other cultural background which affects their learning.
“In many non-English speaking cultures, students are brought up with more passive behaviours when interacting with adults. An ESL student may be less willing to approach a teacher for extra help or tutoring” (ESL Classroom and Cultural Sensitivity , 1996-2010). Take for example the African culture where children are usually flogged and abused by their own parents or guardians. These students are usually scared in the classroom and will hardly ask questions in for the fear of being flogged.
In the African culture, beating up the child for wrong doing is rampant and this has had an adverse effect on the development of the child. This same fear for their parents is transferred to their teachers. They therefore have little or no participation in class and consider who do so as being forward. “Stereotyping can have intense negative effects, especially when educators or managers make fewer attempts to involve those of other cultures because they have been taught not to expect participation” (Billikopf, 2009).
Taking a look at the difficulties caused by variety in cultural background from another angle, one can discuss how the meaning that certain gestures and statements have to different cultures. A teacher must be conscious about what he or she says in an ESL class, because what he or she thinks might not be offensive to an average American might be a taboo for other cultures. Some certain cultures frown more at abuses more than others. There are certain words that some other cultures will not embrace in a public arena such as classroom.
‘You must have being very mad when you realised that the answer to the question was not farfetched’. To a non-English speaking fellow, the word ‘mad in the sentence is literarily lifted from the sentence to mean an abuse, whereas someone who is from an English speaking nation knows exactly what the statement means and doesn’t feel offended by it. “One of the biggest problems ESL teachers face is that one ESL classroom may be filled with students from many nations, even if, for example, they are all Spanish-speaking countries” (ESL Classroom and Cultural Sensitivity , 1996-2010).
However, variety in linguistic background can also pose a major barrier to effective communication in English as a second language class. English is a very complex language and it takes time to master. A student from a different linguistic background, has his own idea of sentence structures, writing approach and original accent which. To adjust to the new way of communication could be very difficult because he will find the English language a different ball game to the ones he has been used to for year.
When you begin to learn the English language as a non-English speaking student, what you first find confusing is the sentence structure. My little cousin once reported her elder sister to her dad, saying, ‘Daddy, my dress Fadeke wear’. This sentence is definitely faulty in structure, but when I thought of it closely I realized that she literarily translated indigenous language to English following the same structure, not realizing that the English language has a very different sentence structure. Another major concern is the accent of a non-English speaking student.
When a Hispanic student speaks English it is difficult to understand because the accent used when talking. You will hardly pick a meaning from what he says not because of the sentence structure or the grammatical usage but the accent. The language one speaks usually affects the accent of the person which is why most Latinos find it hard to pronounce certain letters. You will also notice the trace of their original language when they speak the English language. Finally, learning disabilities can pose a great danger when learning the English language by an ESL student.
Dyslexia is a popular disability that makes an ESL student forget what has been taught easily. “Learning Disability is the term currently used to describe a handicap that interferes with someone’s ability to store, process or produce information. Such disabilities affect both children and adults” (Root, April, 1994). HOW CAN THESE PROBLEMS BE RECOGNIZED? Spotting out the effect of linguistic variety in the ESL requires experience from the part of a teacher. To be able to recognize these difficulties in communication, certain signs and gestures are to be taken note of.
These difficulties could be as a result of the two factors highlighted above. These are variety in Linguistics and Cultures. Participation in class is a major clue. Any student not seen participating in class shows a good sign of difficulties in class. Generally, students who are from the English culture are known to be very inquisitive in class and wanting to learn more. They are believed to ask questions in class while the other students from a different culture are less interested. To overcome this, a teacher must be willing to be able to carry them all along in classroom.
In order not to be considered bias in class the teacher should make sure to avoid focussing attention on the English speaking students alone. “If the student lacks the proficiency to participate in the class, another arrangement should be made for the student. It may be possible to place the student in another class more appropriate for their level of proficiency. If this is not a possibility, the teacher should put the ESL student on a syllabus geared to his or her level” (Steenbergen). Another method is to give assignments to the ESL students to assess if they understand what is being taught in the class.
You cannot force a student to ask questions in class. Rather, as a teacher, you can only encourage them to be more participating. Most times, these ESL students are less confident about the way they speak the English language and would prefer not to talk in the class than being a source of mockery from the rest of the students. “As the student in this scenario, you fear the reaction of the students and the teacher because you are unsure of your language. You feel a deep insecurity knowing that your language skills are inferior to those of your peers” (Steenbergen).
Another sign of difficulties in communication is the inability to pronounce word spell words very well in their writing and also bad language structure. The English language is one of the most difficult languages to learn and this is as a result of the complexity in details that need to be followed. Lexis structures, spelling, verbal usage and concord. When you notice that a student is literarily translating his/her language to the English Language, not taking cognisance of the structure involved then probably the fellow is having this problem due to linguistic variety.
A perfect way to increase the rate at which a student learns the English language is through regular reading of books. “Every day in school and at home ESL students have many different texts to read. It is through reading that they acquire much of their knowledge and understanding of the different subject areas, and reading often forms the basis of follow-up work such as class discussions or homework questions” (Shoebottom, 1996-2007).
Educators know that the best way to subconsciously inscribe the English language into the hearts of the ESL students is to make them imbibe the habit of reading. When you as an ESL student read text regularly, you will learn the English language naturally. Through regular reading, an ESL student naturally masters the grammatical structures, verbal usage, correct spelling of words and many more concepts necessary to be learnt. ESL students also find it hard to relate to some references that are peculiar to the American history when learning and speaking the English language.
Reference such as 9-11 refers to the Terrorist attack on the USA floor and someone from another cultural background might not understand it when spoken in class. “Other cultural references which might come up in text or conversation would be things like Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Sesame Street, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and other aspects. The teaching of such cultural factors is not intended to be a means of promoting mainstream American culture and values” (Kyprianides). POSITIVE CONSEQUENCES IN AN ESL CLASSROOM
The major positivity in an ESL classroom is the environment they create. Most of the students are from various countries of different cultural background. This creates an avenue for all the students to learn about various cultures from each other. The advantage is that it makes the English speaking cultural students to see the beauty in other people’s culture. It gives the students a wider knowledge base about other students’ culture and creates more understanding amongst them. “ESL students can greatly benefit the classroom.
They bring linguistic diversity and a richer cultural environment to the class. Teachers must be sure to avoid locking ESL students into an ethnic or cultural stereotype” (Steenbergen). Bibliography Billikopf, G. (2009, June 1). Cultural Differences? Or, are we really that different? . Retrieved May 7, 2010, from http://www. [email protected] edu ESL Classroom and Cultural Sensitivity . (1996-2010). Retrieved May 7, 2010, from Your Dictionary: www. yourdictionary. com Kyprianides, R. (n. d. ).
Socio-cultural Competence in ESL Education. Retrieved May 9, 2010, from Site Maker- University of Michigan: http://www. sitemaker. umich. edu Root, C. (April, 1994). A Guide to Learning Disabilities for the ESL Classroom Practitioner. Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language , Vol. 1. No. 1. Shoebottom, P. (1996-2007). Helping ESL students understand written texts. Retrieved May 9, 2010, from A Guide to Learning English: http://www. esl. fis. edu Steenbergen, L. ESL Learners in the Writing Classroom.
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