Learning English is difficult for even the savviest linguist. The rules, exceptions, phonemes, and figurative language can all be difficult for students to overcome. However, for many English language learners for whom English is a second or subsequent language, more than the language is an obstacle. Lets take a look at the challenges faced by second language students
Challenges faced by second language students of English can include lack of exposure, over use of L1, unskilled teachers, no emphasis on English, cultural barriers to learning and cost. However, a good teacher can develop strategies and methods to tackle challenges and include as many students as possible.
Why Can English Be Difficult for Second Language Learners
The language its self can cause challenges faced by second language students of English, just as it would be for learners of German. Learning a subsequent language is difficult. However, English is an amalgamation of many cultures, languages, and civilizations. Many English rules have exceptions. One of the most popular is “i before e, except after c,” which has even more exceptions.
Likewise, English borrows from many languages. One rule may indeed be for all words borrowed from the Romance languages, but Germanic languages or Slavic may have different rules. Grammar rules are challenging to learn when they come from so many different places.
Additionally, pronunciations and letter combinations can have different pronunciations for different tenses or parts of speech. Think of the different ways to pronounce “read” and what each pronunciation means.
Beyond that spelling, consider that “read” and “red” can be pronounced the same way but have very different meanings. English can be challenging to learn because of the difficulty to pinpoint rules and phonetic combinations, among other difficulties.
Challenges for Second Language Learners of English
We list the 10 most common Challenges faced by second language students of English. It is not a definitive list as there can be hundreds of personal and cultural reasons that can causes barriers to learning. However these are the most common.
Overuse Of L1 In Classroom
One of the best ways to learn an additional language is submerging yourself in that language. While first language or L1 support is recommended, relying on it too much makes it more difficult to acclimate to the new language. Making mistakes is an excellent teacher, but if all mistakes are corrected in L1, students never get that opportunity.
Think about the best lessons you ever learned. Even those learned in school often came at the hands of mistakes. Failed tests or incorrect hypotheses often taught the most notable lessons. You focus more on getting it right the next time.
First language support is okay for students who are frustrated or cannot understand the instructions, but the use should be minimized when possible. However, being permitted L1 during downtimes such as recess or lunch breaks can give students the opportunities to relax and let their brains rest. Play and rest can help the brain solidify connections.
Poor Teaching and Learning Experiences
Teachers do not have to be fluent at additional languages to teach English Language learners. However, they do have to have training in working with English language learners. Not every teacher is equipped to handle the complexities of these students.
Teachers are generally well-educated and well-prepared, but in underrepresented populations, this is sometimes more difficult to come by. Teachers need to be well-equipped to work with the students in various situations.
Some students will be in great socio-economic situations while others will be nearly homeless. While this is true even in the general education classroom, working with students of varying cultures who may not communicate well takes enhanced training.
Since the US education system developed, educators have been trying to determine the best ways to teach students Americanized English. Likewise, since the development of formal education and travel across boundary lines, educators have been trying to develop best practices for teaching L2 to non-native speakers.
English language learners depend on well-trained teachers to help develop their skills. Most often, this is achieved by ELL specialists and in-depth professional development. That’s not to say that general classroom teachers cannot be effective teachers for English Language Learners or that ESL/ ELL specialists are always the best choice.
Lack Of Opportunities to Practice
While we advocate for children to have time with people who share L1 and cultural experiences, students need the chance to practice and experiment with language.
Learners who only speak in the classroom but spend time only with first-language speakers and go home to family members who only speak that language are less likely to build their skills. One of the best ways to combat this is to present the students with multiple opportunities to practice the target language.
These opportunities can be through spending time with native speakers of the L2 in the classroom, social settings, or home settings. Be sure that they have plenty of opportunities to speak the target language. They should begin learning the target language by first observing before attempting speech, though.
Wide Range of Abilities in The Classroom
Students learning a new language often experience self-consciousness at being lower levels than other students in the classroom. On the other hand, students who are at the highest level in the classroom often feel they have little to learn from others.
The students who fare the best in this scenario are the mid-level students. They can coach the newer students and learn from the highest level. However, an issue that arises from this scenario is that the teacher often does not know who to target.
The lowest level sometimes gets targeted to bring them up, but the other students stagnate. This wide range of abilities sometimes hinders the students in these classes because so many do not receive the help they need to reach their next levels.
Lack Of Emphasis of English in Their Society
Some students come to English language learning classes with little or no knowledge of the language. In the US, we emphasize learning another language in high school or college, but even that isn’t consistent.
When students from the US move to other countries, they are often left to learn the new language on the fly. New students to the US often have the same difficulty. One of the misconceptions of students from European countries is that all countries teach English and the native language simultaneously.
This assertion is simply not true. Some countries do not emphasize English at all, and others only teach it as a curriculum component, just as Spanish, French, German, or Turkish in the US.
Just as students in the general classroom population, teaching and learning styles impact student success. Students and teachers must be compatible to support student learning. Challenges Faced by Second Language students of English can be both environment and teacher driven.
Students need the opportunity to learn in many environments and situations, which also includes methods of teaching. Kinesthetic, auditory, and verbal opportunities are critical at this juncture.
Often resources for English language learners are outdated or in poor quality. They are not compatible with learning or teaching because of their quality. Students need quality resources in addition to quality educators to improve their language acquisition. Just as theories change, resources need to be updated and changed to meet new knowledge.
Often, training teachers, updating resources, and providing a variety of learning environments gets expensive. Likewise, adult learners often need to work when classes are offered.
Offering classes in the day, evenings, nights, and weekends, is costly to communities and schools. Even volunteer programs cost money to run. Rental of facilities, resources, and supplies are costly. Because of these costs, many of the programs do not make it past theory or for more than a few weeks if they are outside the classroom.
Those inside the school for K-12 students often suffer from inadequate training for teachers or inadequate resources.
There are dozens of things that can impact a student’s ability to acquire a second language. We need to consider what is causing our students the most issues.
Combating these issues can increase a student’s skills exponentially. The best advice we can give is to speak to both your students, parents and other colleagues to get as much information on both the causes of the problems and the potential solutions to them.
Starting English Instruction at an early age can help prevent some of the more pressing problems from developing, and where possible language could be used in home before children even enter formal education.