English as Another Language

Written to: Catch & Release — Matt Simons (Deepend Remix).

“To have a second language is to have a second soul” — Charlemagne

Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile.

Think about the idea of moving to a new school as a pre-teen. You have to deal with the social pressures of fitting in, adjusting to a new school, and a new friend group (once and if you find one). Now imagine being a new immigrant in a country where you don’t speak the same language as your peers. As a multicultural country, Canada is known for accepting immigrants and refugees. Therefore our classrooms (especially classrooms teaching English as a Second Language) are quite diverse. How does a teacher manage to educate a classroom of students from all over the world speaking English at various levels?

Concurrent Education Orientation Week 2012

I think that all ESL teachers should be trained in Intercultural Competence to learn different tools and techniques to appropriately and effectively communicate with various students of different cultural backgrounds. While taking the Intercultural Competence program offered at the Queen’s International Centre, we learned about dealing with conflict. This certificate was offered to both Queen’s students and exchange students at Queen’s and offered the opportunity for small group discussion activities. When discussing how we deal with conflict, I was shocked to realize that I was the only person in my group who preferred direct face-to-face interaction to overcome conflict — the “rip off the Band-Aid” model. My group mates (from Canada, Ghana, and Vienna) preferred the avoidance of conflict in general — the “wait until the waves pass” model. I found this to be an interesting concept for me as a friend, classmate, and (potential) future teacher. I recognized the importance of being mindful in the sense that individuals don’t always appreciate being spoken to directly and with no warning regarding conflict.

After first-year I was given the opportunity to work in an ESL classroom. The teacher who I worked with played the students a TedTalk video — which was amazing and inspirational, but the students didn’t understand a word as the speaker was speaking English at the rate that Usain Bolt runs (man, that’s fast). Is this TedTalk a helpful video which encourages students that they can learn English? No way. It’s the same as teaching a baby to sprint before it can walk.

A few ideas came to me while volunteering at an Ethiopian Absorption Center in Israel. Dealing with the social pressures of school, new education, AND a new language is a lot. I think the most important thing that an ESL teacher must do is establish warmth and respect, to try to connect with a student via unspoken language — music, sports, art. Creating an encouraging and non-intimidating atmosphere is definitely step one.

Israel, 2010.

Creating a curriculum which puts the student first, and creating self-guided learning (such as creating a personal dictionaries) allows students to take learning into their own hands. The idea of creating a “buddy system” in the class is a really good idea as well. It ensures that students can practice English in a more intimate setting. Moreover, it encourages friendship, which is one of the problems mentioned above.

Teachers should promote the use of visual learning tools, media (at an appropriate language level), and should encourage practicing through socializing. The class should be encouraged to set reasonable learning goals and their progress should be tracked and rewarded.

The Ontario Ministry of Education does not believe that the knowledge of language should influence grades — it’s the quality of ideas. Unfortunately, I don’t think that all teachers practice what they preach, but I believe that we should strive towards implementing this idea as a practice. Grades should be influenced by creativity, enthusiasm, love of learning, sharing, inquisitiveness, and team work. We shouldn’t use ESL as a label of weakness, but rather an additional qualification — English as another language.

Volunteering in a school in Bat Yam, 2014.


Duff, Patricia A. “Language, Literacy, Content, and (Pop) Culture: Challenges for ESL Students in Mainstream Courses.” University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Education. N.p.,n.d.Web

Lee, G. (2009). ESL (ELL) literacy instruction: A guidebook to theory and practice (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Haynes, J. (2007). Getting started with English language learners how educators can meet the challenge. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Author of “Q & A a Day for Travelers”. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-frenkel/

Author of “Q & A a Day for Travelers”. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-frenkel/