At first, it seemed challenging, even overwhelming. For the most part, the kids I was to teach had never left Romania and only been exposed to native Romanian speakers. But, my definite advantages were a very attractive headline: the Science Lab and a very strong concept: content-based learning. For the scientific part of it, my training background as a telecom engineer came handy. For the teaching aspect of it, I could only marvel at past experiences with my own children while in the US and the UK.
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In order to successfully teach English to second language learners, I recommend that you speak English and English only. In my instance, I pretended not to speak any Romanian. Of course, I always showed interest whenever a student wanted to share something with the class... but it had to be in English. At first, it proved very intimidating for students, even downright frustrating. But, after a while, by listening to others in the classroom, new students took a leap of faith and started expressing their opinions and ideas. Since everybody had experienced firsthand the same daunting feeling, my older students turned out to be very supportive with newcomers. The added benefit was a team building attitude among learners.
I do believe another key to teaching of English as a second language is not to focus on language itself but rather on acquiring language reflexes as part of a daily routine of English. In the Science Lab, students found it fun to play hide and seek with materials and ingredients. Through this, they got the benefit of acquiring new vocabulary. Whenever a student told the others what he/she had to do next during a specific experiment, he/she felt proud to be in charge. Being able to rephrase instructions was, in this case, the objective. I cannot stress enough how children will learn through imitation. Because they are not as disturbed as adults when they cannot speak, they can focus on deciphering clues and patterns in order to find acceptance within the class. Therefore they will observe, learn and reproduce what they hear and often astound you.
Another interesting tip for this type of classroom is to get everyone to participate. It was easily achievable for me, thanks to a small number of students in the Science Lab. Depending on their individual characters, some would help set up the experiment, clean up afterwards, perform the experiment or sometimes just perform ;-) I also accepted any comment or personal initiative as an incentive. The idea was to involve them in the teaching process so they could feel they had to participate to make it work. The result was: it was THEIR OWN science lab.
In and all, by providing a nurturing environment where every student gets individual recognition, and by focusing on an attractive content rather than language, teaching English to second language learners can be fun and fulfilling for everyone in the class.
As for my modest experiment in Romania, the most rewarding moment came at the end of the school year when I asked my students to define our classroom. None of them referred to it as an English class but instead they teamed up and came up with a beautiful slogan: Discovering science through fun experiments! And that's exactly what we did!