December 2019
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SUPPORTING MULTILINGUAL LEARNERS FOR TRANSFORMATIVE LANGUAGE LEARNING: A TRANSNATIONAL PEDAGOGICAL REFLECTION

Saurabh Anand, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minnesota, USA

Language serves a fundamental purpose in everyone’s life, but the difficulty in understanding a new language or the inability to converse in it are two of the sociopolitical and cultural barriers that many people confront daily. The inability to converse in a particular language can create exclusion in the dominant and subdominant groups within the society, perhaps denying of opportunities not due to the lack of talent, but due to lack of English-speaking abilities. These barriers have changed how people would naturally interact with others. Individuals may limit themselves to expressing and understanding others, and they may stay confined to ethnocentricity. They unintentionally isolate themselves in a bubble of framed socialization. This could also lead to new English speakers feeling deprived of the rights and opportunities that are enjoyed by native English language speakers. This kind of exclusion concerning the language can be easily observed in countries like India, Kenya, and Jamaica, and in other communities where English is not the “first” language.

I can associate with this situation personally because I have the firsthand experience of similar situations from my own family’s background. I learned that millions of people in India and elsewhere have been going through these challenges and situations even now. Therefore, I decided to become an ESL instructor to help others feel welcomed and not excluded because of insufficient English language fluency. In my opinion, respect and empathy are indispensable for any ESL pedagogical approach. By this, I mean that teachers must establish a classroom environment where no one will judge the students on their English proficiency. I completely agree that there is a thin line between assessing learners’ capabilities and judging students. However, it is also noteworthy that in many ESL classes, there could be many learners who already come with a sense of inferiority, who feel that they are not good enough in general or, perhaps, that they are not good enough in terms of language usage in a particular context.

I start with breaking down this feeling and in fact, remind students of the fact they are bilinguals at least, if not multilinguals. They are, in fact, in a far different class than a monolingual classroom, which is a greater opportunity for them to learn. They can learn from each other not only multiple cultures, but they can also see the uniqueness, and also the lilt of their classmates’ other languages. For example, when I teach, I ensure that there is a lilt of the Punjabi or Hindi in my English—and that only tends to make my English language more poetic. This is something I focus a lot on so that my students feel empowered in class instead of feeling inferior; I focus on the diversity of the multilinguality of the class. The prerogative of any ESL instructor should be creating a place where learners feel welcomed and are allowed to flourish by making mistakes. According to Krashen's affective filter hypothesis, that is how they will learn and be motivated to excel (Lightbown & Spada, 2018). Language, in this case, has the potential to become a connecting thread, not something that excludes or creates hierarchies. I emphasize that we are different by stressing the positive aspects of our class, such as being culturally and linguistically richer than a monolingual class. These strategies create a sense of pride and solidarity in the class. Second language (L2) learners are more productive and learn better.

Teaching is collaborative. It is not only students who learn; teachers also learn from their students. It is an amazing learning process for teachers. Based on my hands-on experience as an English and German language tutor, I believe teaching sessions are a two-way learning process. Learners meet their peers with whom they can relate. They help, collaborate with, and learn from each other within and outside the confines of the class. In addition, I focus on communicative and collaborative aspects of teaching methodologies, such as extemporaneous activities, like debates and impromptu presentations. Such strategies help learners identify teamwork abilities in themselves and aid in developing, understanding, and applying varied language contexts. I strongly believe such acts bring learners together as a community in a meaningful way, and boost the process of learning a new language significantly because that is how learners strive to be ethnorelative (Bennett, 2004). Therefore, I intersperse my lessons with anecdotes, the meanings of frequently used sayings, idioms, phrases, greetings, and so on. All these activities are helpful to learners in adapting the communicative aspects of language. It is imperative for L2 learners to vocalize what they learn inside the language class space.

Similarly, it is crucial for L2 learners to vocalize and practice what they’ve learned inside the classroom when they are outside the classroom because it will boost their confidence. With the vision of availing this experience, I call on domestic speakers of a particular language to have conversations, workshops, and guest visits to talk and share their input and participate in activities with my language learners. Both the learners and the guests discuss their experiences in a shared space. Strategies like these strengthen learning zeal and broaden the communicative horizon between first language (L1) and L2 speakers. For example, L1 and L2 speakers could work as language partners or, perhaps, become friends and establish new connections by having chat seminars. As language teachers, we need to make conscious efforts in the direction of creating shared spaces because merely encouraging language learners to engage with domestic speakers is not sufficient. Our L2 learners might not feel confident, which may lead others to misinterpret them as introverts.

These intentional ways of creating a targeted environment might be helpful in creating social spaces where the target language is used organically. In other words, culture is the gateway of a social space where one can practice the target language, become familiar with the pragmatics while communicating, and gain access to the people within the community. The behavior norms of the language connect learners and native speakers in a meaningful interaction. Again, those norms could be very different from the learners’ own set of values, but they are the passport to enter into an alternate world—a different world in terms of rituals, history, and traditions. These activities are mutually beneficial: They promote diversity for both parties and facilitate a platform for the L1 speakers to also mingle with speakers of other cultures and languages.

For me, technology is another indispensable part of language learning. It helps in bringing the established intersections of knowledge, motivation, and skills that are relevant in a particular context. Technology drives some behavior and communication patterns, which learners should recognize while learning a different language. As a result, learners are motivated to “read the world” (Freire & Macedo, 1987) instead of reading the word. They should consider multiple perspectives before they make informed decisions or actions. For example, I encourage my students to watch Netflix shows and TED Talk video lectures, which may provide alternate ideologies and cultural models, which may help broaden their imagination. For example, in one of my classes, there was a Bangladeshi student, a Nigerian student and a student who had grown up in the U.S. but was of Somali descent. They bonded together by watching a famous American Television series, Games of Thrones (GoT). When the GoT's finale happened, it was a big talking point in my class. It proved to me that despite coming from multiple backgrounds, popular culture always connects people because of its accessibility. However, what is worthy to note is that when L2 learners watch these shows, they are getting more and more used to English phrases, jokes, idioms, and so on.

I often use digital resources to facilitate interactive learning, build community, and assess their understanding without the locational barriers. As a teacher, we often have limited time because of the specified course duration and requirements. Education technology resources, for example, PowerPoint presentations, and student e-journals, could prove to be helpful. E-learning incentives, such as online assignment submissions, video lectures, feedback, progress reports, and Kahoot quizzes, provide flexibility to the varied learners' types according to their present level of literacy. Technology reduces the sense of risk and possible shame by providing individual feedback to learners that is not shared with his/her classmates. For example, after they sign up for a Kahoot Quiz, an online multiple-choice quiz platform, students do not have to show their instructors whether their answers were right or wrong. They automatically get to know on their devices and continue taking the quiz in a healthy spirit of competition, rather than feeling inferior to their classmates.

These technological mechanisms often enhance teaching and learning inside and outside of the classroom. Additionally, they are also the benchmarks of assessing the students’ interest in the course. As a teaching assistant at an American university, I often use PowerPoint presentations to introduce new topics because they are easily accessible, easy to tweak for the audience, and, most importantly, shareable. After I go through my presentation in class, I always upload it for my students so that they can refer to it later. The content and quality remain the same. Later, in my following class, I usually spend five to ten minutes at the beginning of the class having my students give me a recap of what they did in the previous class. The students could often provide a clear and correct recap if they had referred back to the shared material. If I made it a habit, students would always revisit the media to keep up their participation points, and it also helped me in transitioning into the new topic of the day.

As an early career teacher, I have realized the great importance of face-to-face communication for L2 learners as an essential part of corrective feedback. Currently, I am enjoying the opportunity to teach ENG 100, an L2 composition course required for graduation at a Midwestern U.S. university. As an L2 writing instructor, I designed my syllabus, set an evaluation scheme, and organized individual student conferences to provide personalized feedback and boost motivation. I have created writing assignments to guide my students through a variety of academic writing genres. According to Bialystok (1999), new language learners are often influenced by their L1. Word-to-word translation and reading or writing English in the respective L1 structures are a few examples of this influence, which may delay the processing and understanding of the L2 and lead to frustration. Language teachers should help learners feel comfortable by sharing success stories of L2 learners in the classroom.

It is vital to expose our students to the world outside of the bubble of their perspectives and perceptions and encourage them to imagine this world as a global village—a village advocating unframed socialization where everyone appreciates each other’s cultures and experiences.

References

Bennett, M. J. (2004). Becoming interculturally competent. In J. S. Wurzel (Ed.), Toward multiculturalism: A reader in multicultural education. Newton, MA: Intercultural Resource.

Bialystok, E. (1999). Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual mind. Child Development, 70(3), 636–644. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00046

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy Reading the Word and the World. South Hadley, MA Bergin & Garvey

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2018). How languages are learned (4th ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.


Saurabh Anand is an international student from India who is obtaining his TESOL master’s degree from the Department of English at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He teaches an English composition course as a graduate teaching assistant. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
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