Myths about Teaching ESL Learners

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I thought that I would reflect on my teaching and a few myths that I’ve encountered along the way. I’ve listed some below, but feel free to comment and share some of your own.

Myth #1: Teachers should discourage ESL students from speaking their first language in class.

The most effective way that I learned English was by using it as frequently as possible, but ESL learners also have to, at times, utilize their first language to cognitively make academic connections. Personally, I tend to break the rule a little bit myself, but before I allow students to use only their first language, if I see that they are trying to make connections required to learn something in English that is necessary to progress in the language, I encourage them to use a thesaurus or an English-to-English dictionary. This way, they benefit from not only learning one vocabulary word, but a variety of them! For additional information about this myth, please also read Laila Al-Sbeinati’s Blog:

Myth #2: ESL learners should be able to speak English proficiently and as well as their Canadian classmates after completing their program.

Yes and no. Though they are expected to have acquired the English language at a high comprehension and fluency level, we have to keep in mind that we ALL learn at a different pace, with different abilities, and through different learning styles because learning any language is a developmental process. So, yes, ESL learners should be proficient in English after their program, but it’s impossible for them to know everything and they may not be ready to be left on their own.

Myth #3: The more time ESL learners spend in a second language context, the more quickly they will learn how to speak English.

I’ve always agreed with this, but it’s not a “one size fits all” method. Being in this type of environment, or “Structured English Immersion” (SEI), allowed me to learn English quickly on a conversational level by mimicking what I would hear from my English-speaking classmates, but that did not mean that it was always correct. Having analytical and logical lessons, such as a focus on grammar and its complex forms and uses, would have been more helpful in understanding English in its instructional operations. We need to teach meaningfully so students can connect newly learned information to existing representations of a language.

Thoughts, comments, questions, and/or examples are welcome!

Martina Finnegan, being a former ESL learner from Bosnia, truly enjoys teaching ESL students! She has been teaching at Niagara College for 9 years and when she isn't in the classroom, she enjoys spending time with her family, going for walks, watching movies, and reading a good book!


One thought on “Myths about Teaching ESL Learners”

  1. Good piece. All points appreciated and insightful.
    One myth I’ve discovered over the years is that we have assumed that all those who are in class are there to really learn English.

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