(Pre-order the book and get stickers for your class!)
Today’s blog post explores teaching listening to English learners from the chapter 5 in my upcoming book: Listen Wise: Teach Students to be Better Listeners. You can read more about why listening is a skill that matters (chapter 1), the neuroscience behind listening (chapter 2), and how to teach listening (chapter 3), and the intersection between listening and reading (chapter 4.)
Like most students, I was required to learn a foreign language in middle school. For me, it was French. I think that was one of two languages offered at my public school in Lexington, Kentucky in 1980. I could never get used to how it sounded or how I sounded trying to speak it. While I did okay in the class, I didn’t discover a love of languages. And although I tried to learn French again in college, I didn’t succeed. The experience really didn’t give me an understanding of what it’s like to live in another country where I don’t speak the language, surrounded by people with whom I need to communicate but can’t. That feeling of confusion, isolation, misunderstanding and frustration. That came later.
As a sophomore in college, I chose to study for a semester in Kenya. I thought it would be a good idea to first do a study abroad program in Kenya to better understand the history and culture of a country I had never visited. There was one downside: a program requirement to learn Swahili.
I had little faith in my language abilities after trying to learn French, but the Swahili language portion of the program was a truly immersive experience. Our student group lived on Lamu, an island off the Northern coast of Kenya, where Swahili is the primary language spoken. For one month, we studied nothing but Swahili language and culture. I quickly learned that a key element to learning any second language is listening. It was the main focus of our language study. In just a few weeks, I became conversational in Swahili and easily passed the requirement.
Millions of students in our K-12 public schools are on an island of sorts where English is the primary language, but the education system is not designed to help them become fluent in English. They must learn the basic mechanics and vocabulary of the English language in addition to the content of math, science, social studies, and ELA.
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017 10% of students in public schools were classified as English language learners or ELs. The distribution of these students is not even. Twenty-one percent of all urban public school students are ELs. It is the fastest-growing population of students in the United States and is expected to continue to grow. The National Education Association projects that by 2025 one out of every four public school students will be an English learner.
Understanding and incorporating more listening activities into your instruction can help this important, growing segment of school children. We know that listening is essential to learning a language. Whether you are a general education teacher, ESL teacher, or bilingual educator, implementing more listening activities, across content areas, can help all of your students.
Pre-order my book before April 20th and I’ll send you “I Love Podcasts” stickers for you and your students!