ESOL not just English-centered

Some words like “where” and “wear,” or “read” and “read,” can be confusing even to fluent English speakers, but are especially difficult for English Speakers of Other Languages, also known as ESOL students.

According to ESOL department chair Sharon Carser-Brown, the level of challenge varies based on students’ backgrounds.

“It depends on your native language and also how much exposure you may have had to [American] culture,” Carser-Brown said.

The ease of learning English depends on the similarity between the student’s native language and English.

“If you speak something like French, Spanish or German, you’re dealing with the same alphabet, some of the same words and some of the same structures, so you may understand and pick up on it,” Carser-Brown said.

Some strategies that Carser-Brown uses to help students succeed involve looking into the specific struggles of each student.

“We start with grouping them by their language capability, and then by ascertaining their individual needs within that level,” Carser-Brown said.

While Carser-Brown divides her students into groups according to their skill level and capabilities, 10th grade English teacher Matthew Horne, who often has ESOL students in his classes, will sometimes take different approaches to those students.

“During their free reading time, I conference with individual students about what they’re reading,” Horne said. “Those conversations will take on a different shape depending on what that student’s reading level is, which does have to do with ESOL sometimes.”

ESOL does not just focus on English class, though; it also teaches other core classes in English to help the students learn the language.

“We don’t have the same curriculum, and we are not science teachers or math teachers; we are language teachers,” Carser-Brown said. “What we try to do is help students acquire proficiency in the language by attaining the academic vocabulary necessary to be successful in courses.”

Some higher level ESOL students are placed in regular English classes, where the teacher’s approach to student comprehension might differ.

“In my regular classes, which is usually where the ESOL students would be, there is that personal time,” Horne said. “That personal time for an ESOL student might look different. It might be more about grammar and about what words mean.”

Although the ESOL students in these classes might not have the same English comprehension level as their peers, they still persevere and often do well in the class.

“I have ESOL students who are reading high level literature all the time,” Horne said. “We’re more about student motivation than anything.”

According to Carser-Brown, it can sometimes be difficult for a student to measure his or her level of performance while in ESOL, but the program does benefit students in the long-run, such as on standard of learning tests.

“There is data to show that students who stay in the ESOL program without refusing services perform on the same level with their English-speaking peers,” Carser-Brown said. “There is a significant difference between those who do not avail themselves of the ESOL services.”