The Baruch College Faculty Handbook

Teaching Nonnative Speakers

Last updated on 4/16/03

Baruch College has many students who are not native speakers of English. Often these students experience problems in written or oral communication and are hesitant to participate in class. Following are some tips for effective teaching and communication with nonnative speakers. (Indeed, most of these tips will prove helpful in presenting to native speakers as well.) This page was prepared by Prof. Elisabeth Gareis, Communication Studies (egareis@baruch.cuny.edu)

Linguistic Considerations

1. Use clear, normal speech. Pause between major idea units. If necessary, use a slower (yet natural) rate of speech. Clearly enunciate.

2. The most difficult aspect of English for many nonnative speakers is uncommon vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. Limit the use of these items or supplement them with simpler paraphrases. Be especially careful to use accessible language in examinations and assignment instructions.

3. Assuming overall comprehensibility, focus on what students are trying to communicate, not on errors. If it is necessary to correct students’ pronunciation, vocabulary, or grammar, try to do so individually, away from the group.

4. Refer students who need assistance to Baruch College support services (see Faculty Handbook: Speaking) or other sources (e.g., Continuing Studies Department). Students may also be interested in electives offered in the Communication Studies and English Departments or extracurricular activities addressing communication proficiency (e.g., Toastmasters).

Classroom Discourse

5. Make sure that nonnative speakers are seated where they can see and hear well.

6. Use nonverbal cues (such as gestures, pictures, blackboard sketches, and concrete objects) in your teaching to assist students’ comprehension.

7. Rephrase and repeat important utterances.

8. Provide examples and analogies. Supplement culturally specific examples (e.g., references to U.S. history or popular culture) with examples from non-U.S. settings. As an alternative, let students provide their own examples to illustrate a point under discussion.

9. Frame different topics within connecting utterances (e.g., “Okay, you have decided to adopt strategy A. Now, let’s discuss how to implement the plan.”)

10. Monitor students’ comprehension and progress throughout the class. Check for understanding by asking students to decide if information is true or false, by asking student to provide examples, by having students paraphrase important terms in their own words, by having students summarize key information, and by having students ask each other questions about the covered material. Also encourage students to initiate questions for clarification whenever necessary. (Some students may be hesitant to interrupt class. Provide sufficient time and opportunity for student-initiated questions. Teacher and fellow students should also be patient if communication problems arise.)

11. Summarize and clarify whenever needed.

12. Vary the way of calling on individuals. For example, call on students by name, ask for volunteers to respond, and call on the whole group. This helps involve everyone.

13. Warm up students by asking simple questions first. Having answered a question correctly, students have “saved face” and may risk responding incorrectly to more challenging questions.

14. Give “extra chances” to students who don’t respond to an elicitation through strategies such as pausing to give the students plenty of time to speak. Additional elicitation techniques include prompting (e.g., “What options did you pick? Could you read your list, please.”) and repeating the elicitation. Also invite students who do respond to say more.

15. Use confirmation checks (e.g., “You selected alternative B, right?") and clarification requests (e.g., “I didn’t get the last word. You said computers and what else?”).

16. Repeat or restate students’ questions before answering them. Also rephrase student responses and/or expand on them to provide further input to the speaker and the group.

17. Encourage students to listen actively to each other and negotiate the meaning of conceptually or linguistically unclear utterances without you as an intermediary. Clarification techniques for the speaker include repetition of utterances, slow and clear enunciation, and paraphrasing. Listeners should focus and be specific in their quest for clarification (i.e., ask for repetition of words, paraphrasing of sentences, explanation of concepts, examples, etc.).

Lesson Planning

18. Provide a clear outline or plan of the lesson at the beginning of class.

19. Build predictability into instructional routines such as opening and closing activities, directions, and homework assignments.

Activities and Assignments

20. Involve nonnative speakers in some manner in all classroom activities.

21. Learn as much about your nonnative speakers as you can. The more you know about these students and their backgrounds, the easier it will be to incorporate them into your classroom. Their experiences can be used to enrich the lives of all students.

22. Discuss your personal experiences and encourage students to discuss theirs, as they relate to the course content.

23. Use cooperative learning groups to encourage peer language teaching and learning. Include pair, small group, and full group activities in your class sessions. Well-organized and well-implemented cooperative learning programs can yield increased academic achievement, better social skills, improved intercultural relations, and more use of higher-order thinking skills. Pair and small group activities are also a good warm-up for full group discussions in classes where student participation is sparse or unequal.

24. Suggest or even require that students form study groups. If they protest that they do not have enough free time to meet, start them off with an initial meeting during class time, at which they can develop an agenda and a schedule. Reinforce their efforts during the term by inviting the groups to your office. Study groups can be conducted in person or on-line.

25. Make your expectations clear. Whenever possible, provide examples of what you expect student to do in the writing as well as speech assignments. For examinations, you may want to give sample questions and examples of both strong and weak answers.

26. Do not just give assignments orally. Put them on the blackboard, or better, distribute them in writing.

27. Encourage students to do outlines and early drafts of presentations and papers so that they can improve with practice and create better final products.

28. Feedback on drafts can be given by peers or the teacher. One way to ensure effective feedback processing is to require revise-and-resubmit letters. In these letters, students are asked to respond to the feedback they received and detail how they incorporated it in their revised papers (or why they chose not to incorporate it).

Intercultural Issues

Many nonnative students come from cultures in which expressing opinions, disagreeing with the teacher, and even asking spontaneous questions are considered disrespectful. Some may also show the reticence that comes with linguistic insecurity and the fear of ridicule. It is important to create a welcoming environment in which all students can feel secure and share in the learning experience.

29. To increase comfort and confidence levels, ensure frequent professor-student interaction, encourage students to see you before or after class, and schedule office-hour conferences.

30. Be patient and supportive in communication with nonnative speakers. Express interest in their experiences, language, and culture.

31. Be aware of body language; it can convey unspoken impatience or disapproval.

32. U.S. students should show interest in nonnative speakers and their well-being. This interest can be heightened through conscious inclusion of nonnative speakers in all activities and your modeling of interculturally sensitive behavior in the classroom.

33. Do not hesitate to consult language or intercultural specialists when you are in doubt about problems of language or culture. Culture-based problems are sometimes difficult to detect. Teachers need to be on the lookout for them and particularly resist attributing them to other factors, such as slowness, negative attitude, or disability.

Bibliography

Bennett, M. (1996). Beyond tolerance: Intercultural communication in a multicultural society. TESOL Matters, 6(3), 6.

Cochran, E. P. (1992). Into the academic mainstream: Guidelines for teaching language minority students. (Available from The Instructional Resource Center, Office of Academic Affairs, CUNY, 535 E. 80th St., New York, NY 10021).

Enright, D. S. (1991). Supporting children’s English language development in grade-level and language classrooms. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.) (1991), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (2nd ed.)(pp. 386-402). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Ferris, D. R. (1997). The influence of teacher commentary on student revision. TESOL Quarterly, 31(2), 315-339.

George, P. (Producer). (1989). Teaching the Chinese student [video]. (Available from East Asia Fulbright Program, United States Information Agency, Washington, D. C. 20547).

Hill, W. M. F. (1982). Learning thru discussion. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Kaplan, R. B. (1988). Cultural thought patterns in intercultural education. In J. S. Wurzel (Ed.), Toward multiculturalism (pp. 207-221). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Lieberman, D. A. (1996). Culture, problem solving, and pedagogical style. In L. A. Samovar & R. E. Porter, Intercultural communication: A reader (8th ed.) (pp. 191-207). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Powell, R. G. & Andersen, J. (1994). Culture and classroom communication. In L. A. Samovar & R. E. Porter, Intercultural communication: A reader (7th ed.) (pp. 322-329). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Snow, M. A. (1991). Teaching language through content. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.) (1991), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (2nd ed.)(pp. 315-328). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Yook, E. L. (1998, November). "A theoretical approach and practical strategies for evaluation of ESL students in speech communication courses." Paper presented at the annual NCA convention, New York, NY.