Working with English Language Learners

I have worked with English Language Learners of all ages, ranging from a second grader to doctoral students as well as helping my mom with her master’s thesis and my dad with his doctoral dissertation. They have all been native Korean speakers, whose first language is Korean.  I think I will write about the doctoral student I am currently helping edit her articles and dissertation proposal.  I guess I’m in a slightly different position from the students I work with because I am most comfortable communicating in English but I am also comfortable speaking in Korean (as long as it is not in a formal setting because I lack a lot of complex vocabulary in Korean).  I am most struck by my student’s courage to study at the PhD level in a second language.  For myself and many other native English speakers I know, writing a dissertation is a daunting task but ask any of us to write it in another language, then, I think we would honestly be at a loss.  However, my student is very positive and approaches the language barrier as just one hurdle to deal with and she does this in a very matter-of-fact way.  She knows what she wants to say and knows her research inside and out, so it is just a matter of communicating it in a way that her audience can understand it.  As I read her writing, I notice that she tends to write in the language that I have come to associate with academic writing – writing that I sometimes have to read over and over again before I can make sense out of it.  I think this has something to do with Korean syntax.  Formal Korean tends to take on a very passive voice.  For example, it is the type of writing where, “the ball was thrown to me” rather than “John threw the ball to me.”  So, I find myself switching gears in my head as I read her writing – from trying to visualize what she is saying, to trying to connect it to anything I know.  Koreans also tend to struggle with using articles in their writing or using the correct article because we don’t use articles before a noun.  A monkey is “monkey” and “please pass the salt” is “salt to me pass, please.”  I still don’t know how to teach my students to use the correct article in their writing.  I think this is something that has to be innately learned through being immersed in the English language for a long time.  My dad still has trouble with it.

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2 Responses to “Working with English Language Learners”

  1. First i must share with you the delight my chiropractor’s response to the sushi. I shared with him yesterday as he was sticking needles into my legs that you shared sushi with us at snack. “Real sushi roll, handmade?” he asked. I reassured him that you had spent time even made a video about making it. He and I connect and talk about foods alot. I am always asking about where to purchase certain items so that I can try my hand a cooking authentic Korean food. So much for that thought!
    It is a struggle helping others with word/sentence structure without offending them, I feel. I know that my students this year who came from a poverty background used language in oral speaking that I would correct. This carried over into their written work. I carefully would say the correct phrase so that they could hear it. Sometimes I ask them to repeat what i had just said so that they picked up on it, too. Many times they would not want to speak it after me. Oh well. at least I modeled for them.
    At my house we talk about trailer park talk. Our son and his family live in a trailer park west of town. The five year old grandson corrected me last week. He lives in a mobile home park. His other grandfather is going to take him to a trailer park one day so he can see what it is really like. Hmmm, I thought to myself just keep quiet. We all have unique languages whether we are native speakers or ELL. I wish I had the answers for you, Esther.

  2. Hi Elizabeth! I’m so thrilled that your chiropractor liked the sushi! I can answer Asian food questions for you, too! I love food and cooking:)

    I had the same experiences teaching my students, too. There is a unique way my students talked and it sounded different from standard English. In the beginning of the year, they had trouble understanding me, and then I ended up changing the way I talked to them, too! We would actually have some fun grammar discussions where I tried to learn their lingo and they’d just die of laughter! My students began to eventually catch on that there is a formal way of talking and writing (at school, at work, etc.) and a way they can talk at home. I think they had a hard time wrapping their minds around standard syntax because they just weren’t used to talking that way. Yeah…I don’t have the answer either…

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