As a teacher, how does having learned a second language affect your teaching of ELL’s? Similarly, how does it influence your perspective on the use of mother tongues in an ELL classroom? BGL’s Teacher Christal offers this personal account:
In 1958 my mother emigrated from Quito, Ecuador to Los Angeles, California. She told me that her teachers did not let her speak Spanish and she was forced to learn English by the sink-or-swim method. She remembered that in second grade she went to the bathroom in the classroom because she was scared to ask for permission in her native language. When I was born, my mother decided not to teach me Spanish because she thought it would confuse me hinder my English speaking skills.
Teacher Christal & her mom in Ecuador.
In 1996 at the age of sixteen I went back to Ecuador for about a year. I enrolled in a Spanish-speaking school. At the time I understood many Spanish words but was not able to speak it conversationally. I was not allowed to speak English in my classes. I remember being teased by other students and being embarrassed when I made mistakes learning the language. Although I did learn Spanish, it was a very stressful time in my academic career. This experience helped me to conclude that the learning of languages should be taught as authentically as possible with numerous opportunities for engagement with both academic and non-academic subject matter.
While I attended the University of California at Santa Barbara I decided to become an educator. I tutored English Language Learners from the Santa Barbara community. I then received my Master’s Degree in Education from the University of California at Los Angeles. UCLA’s teacher education program focused on helping students in lower income areas of Los Angeles. Many of the lower income schools with which UCLA worked had predominately English Language Learners. UCSB and UCLA gave me tools to create a classroom that allowed students to learn the English language in a meaningful way. I began teaching in Pico Union in 2003 and I have helped teach over 500 English Language Learners.
In 2009 I started teaching English Language Learners from Tsia Hsing School, in Taipei, Taiwan. I learned that I could help English Language Learners learn English even if I was not physically in the room with them. The technology we use allows all participants to feel that we are sharing the same space even though we are 6,000 miles apart. I am still able to foster authentic experiences for English Language Learners using an original curriculum and inventive experiences like international student collaborations and 4G Field Trips. I went to Taipei in 2010 and I loved being able to meet the students in person, but I continue to feel that personal connection with them even from a distance.
It is clear to me that learning a new language broadens your mind and enhances the possibilities of your future. Through all my experiences I have learned that English Language Learners learn the best when you embrace their native tongue and they feel comfortable making mistakes in the classroom. I hope that any student that walks into my classroom – virtual or otherwise – knows that their native language is respected and embraced in my class.