Language and Teaching Tolerance in ESL Classes

by Dr. Terrence Doyle

A Perspective and Reading Lesson

Since last year (1998) I have been doing research on the role of the students' first language in their learning of English. Conventional wisdom has dictated that the first language should play a little role. However, research in bilingualism, such as that by James Cummins, shows that students learn more effectively when they are encourged to transfer what they already know to their learning of English. Another question is how dominant one's language is. Needless to say, English is the most dominant language.

When we insist that our students not use their first language, I feel we are not being tolerant. This is especially important for students who lack confidence and for students who have felt discriminated against. I think it is up to the students whether we allowthem to use their first language in class or not. I have already discussed these isues in another forum, so I won't go into them in detail here. But I think we should include linguistic tolerance (by both teachers and other students) when we discuss tolerance.

Teaching tolerance in our ESL classes requires listening to and learning from our students. This is the approach to education and language learning Paulo Freire advocated, and it is the essence of a learner-centered curriculum. In his book, Multiethnic Education: Theory and PracticeJames Banks emphasizes the point that multicultural education involves more than just teaching students about holidays and customs of other countries. Such lessons are interesting and very useful but we also need to look at issues and topics important in our students' immediate lives. Banks says that students should study content and problems related to the world in which we live.

Freire makes the same point in his writings. T. Graman in a very interesting article entitled Education for Humanization: Applying Paulo Freire's Pedagogy to Learning a Second Language, Harvard Educational Review, Volume 58, Number 4, expalins how the ideas of Freire taught him that students are more likely to develop intellectually and linguistically when they analyze their own experiences and build their own words to describe and better understand these experiences.

A burning issue for students is how to get a job. We have VESL classes to help students get into the job market as quickly as possible. But what about those students who have not been able to find jobs yet? They need the help of their teachers and counselors in signing their forms so they can receive welfare benefits. Then there is a lot of confusion , misunderstanding, and frustration on the part of both teachers and students about this process. Why don't we make it into a lesson and discuss it in class? I think we would find out that few of our students are really trying to work the system.I doubt if they left their home countries in pursuit of the illusory American dreamjust to live on welfare here.

In fact, working the system could be another topic for a lesson. Some students try to work the system by getting into levels or classes they want. But who among us does not try to work the system? Who hasn't fiddled with income taxes or figured out a way to get out of jury duty (as I did, the semester I had just got a new job as ESL Resource Instructor)? Maybe we should make working the systeminto a lesson so that students would understand why we need rules about changing classes. There is much confusion, misunderstanding, and frustration about these problems for students, teachers and counselors. But of course our main purpose is to help our students and teach them to communicate in English. So one task or project for a class could be to decrease this confusion, misunderstanding, and frustration. This then could be a lesson.

English Only

A Reading Lesson about Language and Tolerance

Part One: Before Reading

A: We will read a story. The title of the story is English Only. What is this story about? (Circle your answers before you read.)
  1. an English class YES · NO · MAYBE

  2. living in the United States YES · NO · MAYBE

  3. living in England YES NO · MAYBE

  4. classes at my school YES · NO · MAYBE

  5. what I need YES · NO · MAYBE

  6. my first day in the U.S. YES · NO · MAYBE

    B: Talk about these questions.
    1. Do you always speak English in your ESL class?

    2. Which language do you speak with your classmates?

    3. Which language do you speak at home?

    4. Which language do you speak with your friends?

    Part Two: We will read this story together.

    Hien is taking English classes at Alemany in San Francisco. She is in Level 2. She is learning English quickly. She started studying English six months ago. Now she can talk a little.

    Hien is taking two English classes. In both classes, her teachers speak only English. In one class, the students sometimes speak Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, or Russian with each other. They talk about difficult words and grammar. They help each other. They sometimes use bilingual dictionaries.

    In the other class the teacher says, "Please speak only English. Don't use your dictionary."

    Hien said, "I am afraid. Somtimes I want to ask my friend about a word in English. I want to speak Vietnamese. But the teacher says no. So I go home and look in my dictionary."

    Part Three: Bubble Game. First we will play this game on the chalkboard. Then three students will play together. One student will ask questions. The other two students will point to the correct answers.

    1. Who is taking English classes?

    2. How many classes is Hien taking?

    3. Is she learning English quickly or slowly?

    4. Is she in Level One?

    5. Did she start to study English 6 months ago?

    6. When did she start to study English?

    7. Which language do her teachers speak in class?

    8. Which language does Hien speak with her friends?

    9. Does Hien someimes speak Vietnamese in both classes?

    10. What does Hien talk about in Vietnamese?

      Point to the answer.

      Hien two about difficult
      words and grammar
      Yes, she is. No, she doesn't. 6 months ago
      Yes, she does. No, she doesn't. No, she didn't.
      only English Vietnamese Chinese
      Spanish quickly Russian
      slowly Yes, she did. afraid

      Part Four: Choose A, B, C or D.

      1. Where is Hien taking English classes?

        1. In Level 2.
        2. At Alemany.
        3. Yes, she is at Alemany.
        4. Two classes.

      2. How well can Hien talk now?

        1. Quickly.
        2. A little.
        3. Level 2.
        4. Afraid.

      3. Ann asks, "______ did Hien start studying English?"

        Bob answers, "She started studying English six months ago."

        1. What time
        2. Why
        3. Who
        4. When

      4. Ann asks, "________________________?"

        Bob answers, "They both speak a little English.

        1. Which language does Hien speak in both classes?
        2. Do Hien's teachers speak only English?
        3. Which language do Hien's teachers speak?
        4. Does Hien speak only English or Vietnamese in her classes?

      5. Why does Hien speak Vietnamese in one class?

        1. Because she is afraid.
        2. Because some words and grammar are difficult.
        3. Because she wants to go home and look in her dictionary.
        4. Because her teacher speaks only English.

      6. In one class the students speak only ______, but in the other class the students sometimes speak Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, or Russian.

        1. difficult words
        2. English
        3. Level 2
        4. Vietnamese

      7. The students in only______ sometimes use bilingual dictionaries.

        1. one class
        2. two classes
        3. English
        4. both classes

      8. Hien is afraid because _________________.

        1. she wants to speak Vietnamese sometimes.
        2. she doesn't understand English.
        3. she wants to go home and look in her dictionary.
        4. her teacher doesn't speak Vietnamese.

      9. I think that _________________.

        1. Hien should speak only English in her ESL class.
        2. the teacher should speak Vietnamese.
        3. students can speak Vietnamese sometimes in class.
        4. students should not use dictionaries in class.

      10. I think students speak Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish in class because _________________.

        1. they want to talk about difficult words and grammar.
        2. they want to help each other.
        3. they are not talking about the lesson.
        4. they are talking about the teacher.

        Part Five: Read the conversation between Hien and Jose. Then finish the conversation.

        Hien: Hi, Jose. How are you doing?

        Jose: Hi, Hien. I'm fine. How about you?

        Hien: I'm okay.

        Jose: What time are you studying this semester?

        Hien: I'm studying in the afternoon. How about you?

        Jose: I'm studying only at night because I found a job. Anyway, how are your classes?

        Hien: The first class is good. I like the teacher and the book.

        Jose: Sometimes I don't understand my teacher. He speaks too fast.

        Hien: I usually understand. Sometimes I don't understand, so I ask my friend. We sometimes speak in Vietnamese.

        Jose: Does your teacher speak Vietnamese?

        Hien: No, my friend from Vietnam and I talk about the lesson in Vietnamese.

        Jose: Oh, I see. That's good. How about your other class?

        What's next? Finish the dialog.









        ©1999, Terrence Doyle

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