Modeling Effective Communication in ELL Classrooms

Instructor: Ralica Rangelova

Rali has taught Public Speaking to college students and English as a Second Language; She has a master's degree in communication.

This lesson examines social, political, gender, and socioeconomic implications of language use. See how these affect how we speak, and find out strategies for providing an inclusive and equal opportunity learning environment.

Foreign Language Acquisition

Language and culture are inseparable. Fluency comes with understanding why people think and speak the way they do. Language reflects how we experience the world and how we talk about it. Be aware that language, culture, and society play an important role in how human beings perceive, perform, and learn. To be an effective communicator in your classroom, learn about social, political, and intellectual implications of language use and plan your instructions around them. Socioeconomic and gender differences are also key to effective communication in the classroom.

Factors Affecting Language Acquisition

Social Implications

Social interaction shapes how individuals use language. Some are raised to express their opinions freely; others are taught not to question information coming from authorities and experts. Individualistic and collectivistic cultures, as categorized by Hofstede, have different values and goals. Individualists talk about themselves, their achievements, and their goals. Collectivists use 'we' as they put more importance on the group and its goals. Such differences affect vocabulary and syntax. Some students will use active voice, abstract ideas, more casual tone; others will prefer formal tone, concrete ideas, solid facts, and passive voice.

Toll on Communication

Many Asian countries have a far more formal classroom etiquette. Students may be reluctant to call you by first name, ask questions, or engage in debates. Some students are trained to memorize information rather than critiquing and offering their own ideas. Don't be alarmed if a student does not look at you directly while you speak. It is a sign of respect in many countries.

Instructor's Role

Do not let anybody feel excluded or punished for how they are. Notice differences and patiently introduce students to new ways and socially accepted rules. Model proper language use. Be proactive; encourage students to step out of their comfort zone. Do not overcorrect them, but make sure they start trying to use more natural constructions and words.

Political Implications

Politics have a strong influence on how people think, speak, and behave. Politics control economies, resources, foreign relations, and what books, movies, and news we are exposed to. Politics determine how much we know and care about the rest of the world. For instance, Facebook is banned in China, Iran, and North Korea. Even access to the internet can be blocked or controlled. Inevitably, all of that affects how individuals experience the world and how they speak about it. Students may not be able to talk about something adequately because they have not been exposed to it.

Toll on Communication

A student from Vietnam may not feel comfortable discussing human rights, democracy, or freedom because their country restricts their access to such information. As another example, while an American may hesitate to talk about color or religion, a student from Eastern Europe may not feel the same way.

Instructor's Role

When it comes to references to different historic events or concepts, anticipate contrasting viewpoints. Model inclusiveness and respect. Discuss all viewpoints. Assess students' background knowledge and utilize that. Provide opportunities for developing and strengthening knowledge. Introduce vocabulary and make references before a lesson so students can prepare. Utilize articles, movies, and presentations. Never assume something is common knowledge. Using topics your students can relate to keeps them interested and helps them learn vocabulary.

Gender Implications

Gender stereotypes and expectations are shaped through social interaction. They affect our thoughts, behaviors, and interactions. They may vary across countries. For instance, Finland strongly reinforces gender equality, while Iran has a different stance. Learning style, performance, achievements, and interaction are all affected by gender expectations.

Toll on Communication

Before you get disheartened by Aziz's lack of interest when you talk about cooking, ask yourself if there may be a gender-related reason. Maybe while he was growing up in Uzbekistan he was encouraged to develop his construction skills, while his sisters spent time on kitchen lessons. So, he simply has no clue on the subject. Also, girls may be reluctant to share their opinions as they expect to stay uncredited and neglected by the group. Males may interrupt females because they think they have more valid points, or it may just be a matter of being aggressive, competitive, and active.

Instructor's Role

Recognize that students may have different attitudes towards classroom situations and gender roles. Do not encourage gender differentiation by using stereotypes in your examples: ''Maria made dinner, while Tom fixed the car.'' Call on female students to encourage their participation. Have students work on projects in teams. Make everybody's contribution count to demonstrate equality.

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