What Do I Do? My New Student Doesn’t Speak Any English!! 10 Tips

Words may be our main focus for teachers of  ELLs but when students do not know the English language we need to go deeper. Nonverbal clues and body language are extremely important. Some researchers claim that 60-90% of our communication comes from paralinguistic, that is beyond the words.  Teaching absolute beginners can be a tough task, but with a little know-how and the right attitude, anyone can succeed.

  1. Be friendly and welcoming. It is not necessary to speak in a louder voice, just speak clearly and simply. 
  2. Take time to understand and empathize with what the student is experiencing. This can perhaps be, one of the most important strategies you can use. 
  3. Assign a buddy. A buddy can help the newcomer feel more comfortable in their new surroundings by introducing common classroom objects, pronouncing students’ names,  be a desk mate to assist with materials, books, and page numbers, provide modelling during fire drills and other emergency procedures as well as be a playmate on the playground. For older students, the buddy can help the ELL with bus riding procedures, if applicable,  as well as show rules and procedures in the cafeteria during lunch. Using social cues and repetition, the ELL will be more likely to pick up and learn the routines quickly. 
  4. Pair your words with gestures and facial expressions to communicate. Gestures such as a “wave”, a “shrug” or an index finger to the lips to indicate quietness communicate the intended message. Body language is very communicative as well. 
  5. Use visuals, quick sketches and Google images! It is handy to have an iPad open to Google images to allow a quick typing of a word to search for a necessary visual. Use visual schedules to show the routines. Provide access to  bilingual picture dictionaries for younger students and or online for older students. Label items in the classroom in English and the English learner’s native language, if possible. This will help the ELL feel at home in the classroom and will help the other students appreciate another language. It is important to use visuals because ELLs often experience anxiety as they are not used to the English language and culture. 
  6. Agree on a communication cueing signal between the teacher and student to allow the ELL to indicate when he/she does not understand.
  7. Keep talking to your student. It is normal for him/her to experience a “silent period” which may last for days, weeks, or months. Do not force the child to speak if he or she is reluctant to speak in English.  
  8. Celebrate when the ELL tries to communicate in English. If you have an opportunity, model the correct way to say a phrase, rather than correcting the student’s errors.
  9. For younger students consider using chants. These are ideal because they usually rhyme, are easily repeated, develop vocabulary and improve pronunciation. 
  10. Provide lots of mingle time. Get students out of their seats and to interact with one another as it is a great way to increase student speaking time. Mingling activities are important because they increase the amount of time individual students have to practice speaking while building their self confidence. Mingling activities can be difficult to monitor so it is best if students are given practice using the target structures and vocabulary before starting.

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