How Do You Teach Second Language Students?

Ginger Abbot

Apr 8, 2023
How Do You Teach Second-Language Students

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It might seem challenging to teach someone who doesn’t fully understand you, but it can actually be simple. It’s possible to overcome communication barriers with some work and out-of-the-box thinking. Teaching second-language students can be easy if you learn to communicate and teach effectively. 

Communicating With Second-Language Students

Communication is the first thing a teacher should work on with a second-language student. You need to understand each other before you can teach them a second language. It’s crucial to make learning accessible. 

It helps that a majority of them speak the same language. As of 2020, almost 77% of second-language students spoke Spanish as their first language. Since most of them speak the same first language, accommodating them is beneficial. 

Beyond learning essential words and phrases in their language, you should give them communication tools. For example, a sign that tells them how to ask for the bathroom in English and Spanish would be helpful. Writing phrases that you commonly use in the classroom could assist them in communicating with you. 

Teaching Second-Language Students

The amount of students learning a second language is rising. In 2020, 10.4% of students in the United States were learning a second language. That’s 2.3% higher than in previous years. Since teaching second-language students is becoming more common, educators should know ways to teach them.

  1. Expose Them to Language

You should expose them to both languages as much as possible. Classes share many similar words and phrases. For example, many students ask to go to the bathroom or sharpen their pencils. 

If you notice your classes using specific phrases often, take note of it. Write them down in their first language and the language they’re trying to learn. You should also include both languages on their assignments to give them the same learning opportunities as their peers.

If they can read both languages every time they’re in your classroom, they’ll likely pick up on key phrases. Signs, lists, and messages on the whiteboard will work. 

  1. Use Activities

An activity is a great way to get them directly involved in learning a second language. It keeps them engaged and can be fun for them. There are lots of activities you can have them do. Some teachers use gamification as an effective way to make lessons enjoyable. You could use a language-learning app to help them learn their second language.

You could also provide small learning incentives. Give them a book to read and have them write down any words they’re unfamiliar with. It’s interesting for them and allows them to use context clues to figure out the language on their own. 

  1. Have Loose Rules

Learning can be challenging for students when teachers use an unfamiliar language. It can be easier for them when they don’t have to focus on grammar, punctuation, or spelling. While they’re critical to the language as a whole, they’re not essential right away. It’s okay to begin with loose rules. 

Even if their understanding of the language is rudimentary, it’s better to have them feel comfortable. They must learn new words so they can communicate better. Getting your students acquainted with basics before moving on to grammar rules can positively impact their learning.

  1. Use Group Work

Grouping your students up lets them learn the language on a more personal level. Socialization might be complex for them at first, but it’ll be helpful for them to understand the language at a conversational level. Teaching second-language students by putting them in groups enhances their learning and motivation. Beyond giving them a chance to practice the language, it lets them rely on their peers for help. 

  1. Incorporate Language Naturally

Teachers can help them understand what they’re learning by speaking and writing their first and second languages. Whenever you say a complex word, write it on the board in both languages. It ensures your students can keep up with the lesson. 

They’re also more likely to learn a certain way if you model the behavior. Learn words from their first language and incorporate them naturally into your lessons. This benefits every student because it encourages communication. They’re more likely to interact if they know how to speak both languages. 

  1. Provide Positive Feedback

Positive feedback is essential to teaching second-language students. Learning a new language is challenging, so it’s important that they stay motivated. You should encourage them to learn by rewarding them with praise, stickers, or positive progress reports. 

  1. Encourage Participation

Teachers should give every student equal attention. When teaching second-language students, it’s crucial to remember that they might not understand basic words or phrases. In order to keep them at pace with their peers, you should encourage them to participate. 

Ask them questions during the lesson and watch them to ensure they understand what you’re saying. If you feel calling them out in front of the class won’t be constructive, try incorporating small checkpoints into your routine. 

For example, you could hand out worksheets that cover what you just went over. It gives you a way to ensure your second-language student understands what you’re teaching. Also, it has the added benefit of letting you know if any other student needs extra help. 

How to Make Learning Easier

Teaching second-language students comes with unique challenges. It’s a good idea to anticipate the communication barriers you might face when teaching them. If you don’t have time to learn words or phrases in their language, install a language translation app on your device.

There are a few ways you can make it easier for them to learn:

  • Use nonverbal cues: You can gesture with your hands or emphasize facial expressions to communicate. Even though it’s not as specific as verbal communication, it’ll help if you can’t understand each other.
  • Ask simple questions: It’s helpful to ask questions with specific answers. Since there’s a language barrier, asking questions with a yes-or-no answer is more manageable.
  • Be patient with them: They’ll feel more relaxed if you’re patient with them. It’s okay if it takes them time to say something. Let them take all the time they need and only help them find the words if they indicate they need help.

Using nonverbal cues and asking simple questions can help get the conversation going if they’re having trouble. It can be frustrating when you can’t communicate, so it’s essential to make learning as easy as possible. 

Educators can also teach with various multimedia tools to help students learn. Their comprehension significantly increases when teachers use combinations of video, audio, animation, and text. Using video lessons or infographics can help them understand the class.

Help Second-Language Students Learn

Incorporating your students’ first language naturally into lessons can help their comprehension. Beyond that, providing a relaxed and social learning environment is crucial in their learning process. As long as you’re mindful of your language, you’ll have an easier time teaching second-language students.

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