A Less Inhibited Use of Language


Something that often vexes me is the fact that my students sometimes are so intimidated by the threat of inappropriate word use that they’d rather stay silent or give up than speak to me (a proficient speaker of English and the authority in the room). The free use of language utopia that I hope to have is never going to happen until my English language learners become less inhibited in their use of the language. For this to happen, they have to believe that they will be allowed to speak free of judgement.

Yet, as we rode the bus through the streets of Queens yesterday heading to the Museum of Natural History, I had the rare opportunity to sit and eavesdrop on a conversation between two of my girls. I was pleasantly surprised to hear them engaged in a spirited discussion about the landmarks we were passing. One girl, who likes to talk and is not shy, seemed to be commanding the English language better than I can recall in the two years I’ve known her. Is there an untapped reserve of language in her that she uses with her friends but holds back using in academic situations because she is wary of being judged?

Teaching ELLs can be frustrating because the conventions of English – written and oral – are so multitudinous and laborious. It is hard sometimes to monitor growth and development. In informal settings, though, it is nice to see that growth is occurring. How, though, does that translate to what happens in the classroom?

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3 responses to “A Less Inhibited Use of Language

  1. Terrific question and observation. How do we design our lessons and units so that we promote greater use of language in natural ways for our ELL students? That’s another question I want to learn more about as I study learning design. Thanks for posing it.

  2. Thanks for the post. I remember when my fourth graders had Spanish twice a week for 30 minutes. The teacher had to constantly remind them to talk louder in class when speaking Spanish. They had no problem talking loud when speaking English! I’m sure they thought their peers were judging them.

  3. The language of social interactions is usually context embedded and occurs in a meaningful social situations. Social language is not cognitively demanding. Academic learning includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing about subject area content material. ELLs need time and support to become proficient in academic areas. It can take students 3-7 years to acquire academic language in English. Problems arise when teachers and administrators think that ELLs are proficient in a language when they demonstrate good social English. You can see more about this at http://www.everythingesl.net/inservices/bics_calp.php

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