This page provides information and strategies for instructors who have non-native English speakers in their classrooms. You may already employ these strategies in your teaching and will likely find that it can benefit all students, not just for those whose native language is not English. Because the recommendations are very general, please feel free to email us with specific questions from your own classroom situations.
Should you feel that a student is having language difficulties, please contact Dana Atwell. We can administer an English assessment exam to determine what language challenges that student faces and suggest a course of action.
- Utilize a Multimodal Approach
Though many of UIS’ physical and virtual classrooms are designed to facilitate multimodal delivery, traditional classrooms and techniques can be adapted to suit different learning styles. For example, providing supplemental support can help reinforce new material:
- Visual support (e.g. charts, diagrams, photos) can help students to understand key concepts, processes, and new vocabulary.
- Written support (e.g. feedback on papers/test or as part of a mid-term valuation, handouts) can help students better understand the challenges they face. They will be able to think about the feedback after class. Many students seek individual assistance via a TA, so written comments can improve the feedback loop.
- Create Effective Assignments
The way that an assignment is introduced can help set students on the right path. Instructors will want to carefully consider the:
- Context and Content – Is the material accessible to the student? Do they have the cultural background/ shared knowledge to engage with the material? Does the assignment allow for multiple viewpoints and/or approaches?
- Language – Are the assignment instructions clear and unambiguous? Is the language in the problem or prompt accessible (i.e. vocabulary and syntax)? Is enough information provided to facilitate successful completion?
- Tasks – Do you provide clear directions concerning the shape and format of the assignment? Do you provide organizing principles for students and suggest a sequence of tasks that will result in the expected product?
Students may benefit from seeing examples of effective assignments. You may wish to consider reviewing with them samples or models of assignments from previous semesters.
- Facilitate Classroom Interaction
Students may be more inclined to participate in smaller groups rather than in whole-class discussion. This may help build students’ confidence and help you verify your students’ comprehension.
- Students can be put into small groups and asked to complete a task (e.g. summarize a reading, come up with a list of questions) within a short time frame (2-5 minutes).
- Students can turn to the person next to them to verbally compare answers or share ideas before a group discussion begins (30 seconds – 1 minute).
In class, non-native English speakers may need more time to comprehend or respond to a prompt.
- The instructor may wish to include a few more pauses in the lecture, especially before a key point is introduced. The instructor could also be more specific, by verbally highlighting an important concepts and connections (e.g. “You may want to write this down.” or “Again, x CAUSES y.” Examples can help flesh out new concepts, particularly if they are introduced through different modes (verbal, written, visual).
- After asking a question, the instructor may wish to wait a few extra seconds before calling on a student or allowing another to take the floor. This allows a cushion for students who may be silently translating.
Native speakers frequently use informal language (e.g. slangs, idioms) and contractions (e.g. can’t, doin’, shouldn’t’ve ). While this is natural and it is important for non-native English speakers to acclimate to colloquial speech, instructors may wish to use more less conversational language, at least when introducing key concepts or at the beginning of a semester.
- Check for Comprehension
For a variety of cultural reasons, many international students are conditioned to not ask questions, and when asked directly, “Do you understand?” will nod affirmatively in response, regardless of whether they comprehend or not. To check for comprehension of a new concept or assignment, you may try:
- Asking students to summarize the new point or object of the assignment.
- Having students complete a two-minute feedback card. Ask students to write one thing they learned and one thing they are confused about. Collect the cards and use this as a springboard for answering questions immediately or during the next class meeting.
Previewing a lecture or the content and structure of a reading can help students get more from the text. By building their schema, students are less likely to misapprehend.
Students need a working vocabulary of approximately 5,000 words for basic reading comprehension at the college level. They may need extra help with vocabulary specific to your discipline.
- Further Considerations:
Successful communication is a balance between content and form. While one may become distracted by focusing on either pole, it is important for instructors to consider both. For example, a missing pronoun can cause some confusion, but it doesn’t negate the underlying worth of the argument. On the other hand, a good argument suffers if it is riddled with mechanical mistakes. If grammar issues are not attended to, these mistakes could cause problems later in the student’s field of study, or when they are in the job market.
It is unrealistic to expect non-native English speakers to achieve native-level fluency. However, with significant practice they may become highly proficient or native-like, but will likely retain an accent (in the literal sense, and figuratively, i.e. in writing). The heaviness of the accent depends upon a variety of factors, including age, time spent learning/using target language, aptitude, and feelings about the target culture.
Students continue to develop language proficiency in content classes. Progress can be slow, however. Even after a substantial time in the target culture, it will likely take students longer to perform academic tasks (e.g. reading an article, writing a paper) than their native English speaking peers.