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James Scholar Project By Jackie Alexander

I wanted to do something for my James Scholar Project that taught me more about working with ELLs because I really want to teach English abroad next year. I decided that I wanted to teach English abroad about a year ago when I was having dinner with a friend. At dinner, my friend was telling me about her brother who taught English abroad. His experiences in Korea sounded like a lot of fun. The more I thought about what her brother did, the more I knew this is what I wanted to do too. When I was a sophomore in college I studied abroad in Wales. This was my favorite semester of college and since then I have wanted to live abroad again. I love learning about other cultures and countries and teaching abroad would give me another opportunity to immerse myself into another culture just like I did in Wales. After my semester abroad I became involved in International Illini. Through this club I met many new friends. Most of the friends I made through International Illini are non-native English speakers. I am always amazed at how good their English is and I love helping them when they have questions about different phrases Americans use. In addition to helping them, I have also been a volunteer at the Intensive English Institute (IEI) for the past 2.5 years. I love volunteering here as well because I enjoy helping people practice their English as well as learn about their home countries. My experiences at the IEI and having many non-native English speaking friends has motive me to go abroad to teach English to other people who are also interested in learning English. English is an important part of our world today. Some people say that English is the universal language and even if this is not true, it is true that English is spoken all over the world. In many parts of the world today it is important to know English to get a good job. I want to be able to go abroad and teach English to others so that they can hopefully get ahead in life.

So far I have applied for a Fulbright to teach English in Germany. Although I will be teaching English, the program does not teach the recipients how to teach English. Since I have never had any classes on how to teach English, I think the more practice I have with working with ELLs, the more prepared I will be. Therefore, I wanted to have some sort of experience that allowed me to work with ELLs and hopefully get a better insight in ways I can teach my students English. So for my James Scholar Project I volunteered with LEO (Language Exchange Organization). The organization meets every Sunday from 1-3pm at the Newman Center on Campus. This organization not only teaches many people to learn English, but it also tries to teach the English teachers the language of their students. The first time I went there, there were probably 5-7 people. The girl in charge, Maura, could not be there, but her roommate, Karen, was. There were also two or three ELLs, at least one from Mexico and one from Brazil. Then, there was myself and another education major. On this day we split up into two groups. I was in a group with one of the Mexican ELLs, Juan Carlos, and the other education major. Juan Carlos had prepared some questions he wanted to ask us and that we could discuss. All of the questions he had prepared for us were about relationships. A lot of them were clich sayings that women tell men when they are breaking up with them. I thought it was very interesting that he came prepare with these questions because in all of my years of volunteering at the IEI, I have never talked to a partner this much about relationships. My partners might mention they have a boyfriend and briefly talk about them, but we do not go into the cultural relationship differences. As I thought about it though, it could be a good thing to discuss this because it could be important for him to know that if he dates an American girl and she breaks up with him, she might say one thing, but mean another. As a non-native English speaker and not from our country, he might not know that sometimes phrases, like Let s be friends or It s not you, it s me explicitly mean one thing but implicitly mean something

different. From this I learned that when you teach a language, you cannot just teach what words mean, but you must also teach what certain phrases such as the ones he came with or idioms mean. The next time I met up with the people from LEO, Maura was there. When I arrived, she was working with a few students about describing what they saw in different paintings. I thought this was a fun activity because it forced the ELLs to use English and practice their describing skills. However, I also like it because it is an activity that could be used with all sorts of levels of a language. If someone was a beginner at a language, they could describe the picture by saying what colors they saw or certain objects that saw in the picture. However, it could also be used with more advanced language speakers because these people could describe the picture in much more detail and explain not only the colors and objects they saw, but they could make guesses on what was going on in the picture and why they thought that. This activity also made me think of a similar activity we tried in science class that teachers could also use when teaching English. The activity we did was to create poems based on the pictures of nature scenes we saw. Besides having to create poems, the activity we did in science was also different because we were given paint chips. We were suppose to look through the paint chips, which have fun, exotic names on them, to create our poem. After finding paint chip colors that were similar to them ones in our picture, we could use the paint chip names in our poem. I think this activity is good for ELLs because they might not know all the color names or know which words to include in their poems, however, if they look at the picture and find similar paint chip colors, they will have an idea of what words they can include in their poem. The following Sunday that we met, we played a game at the Newman Center. I actually brought in the game because I thought it would be fun for everyone to play. The game is called Wiz Kidz. To play, one player picks up two cards, one from each side of the box. One card will have a letter on it and the other side will have a category written on it. Then the player will have to think of a word that fits the category that starts with the letter they pulled. All the ELLs really enjoyed playing this game. It made

them think of all the words they knew and the letters that they started with. I think if I were to teach English I would want to bring this game with as a fun way to have my students practice English. The second to last time I met with the group of people from LEO, we did an activity where we would look up words in a dictionary. One person started with the dictionary and picked any word out of it. Then we would discuss the word, what it meant, and if we had heard it anywhere. This activity was actually a lot of fun. I think it was helpful for everyone there. Even I learned some new words. There were words I might have heard, but did not actually know the meaning to until we looked it up in the dictionary. I think it was also good that we talked about the words and gave stories to go with them. Some of them were examples of when you would use the word and others were examples of times we had actually heard the word used, like in a song. This gave a lot more meaning to the words we were learning. During my last meeting with the people from LEO we also played games. The first game we played was Bananagrams. To play this game, people pick up a certain number of tiles that each have a letter on them. Then they have to create words using the letters they choose. I think this was a good game to play with the ELLs because it really made them think of the words they knew and how to spell each of the words. It also was good because the ELL could choose which words they use based on the words they knew. Finally, it was beneficial because the tutors there would help the ELLs out. When the game was over, we all read the words we created out loud and went over the words people did not know. During this time, some of the ELLs would write down the word in English and then write the translation next to it. After playing Bananagrams, we played another game that I am not sure the name of. To play this game, each player needed a sheet of paper that they had to create six columns on and seven rows. In the top row, players had to write: place, name, animal, color, food, and total. Each word went in a different column. Then, someone would choose a letter and we had to then find a place, name, animal,

color, and food that started with the letter. To make the game more fair, we each had to play in a language we were learning. This evened the playing field between the ELLs and the fluent English speakers. I think playing so many games was good. It challenged the ELLs in a fun way. In fact, one ELL said, That was funny, but hard . For this reason I want to use games in my classroom. I want my students to enjoy learning English, but I also want to challenge them. Not only did I meet with the group, but part of my project was also working one-on-one with an ELL outside our weekly meetings at the church. My partner happened to be the same person I worked with my first day, Juan Carlos. The first time we met up was really short because I had to go to work right after. During this meeting though he gave me a sheet of paper he made with commonly used words on it. The words with were both in Spanish and in English. After he gave me the vocabulary words I was suppose to practice we went through how to pronounce them in Spanish. When you give someone a list of vocabulary words in a second language, it is not only important to give them the translation of the word in their own language, but it is also important to allow for some time to practice saying the word. At times, we assume that some words are easy to say because we are so familiar with them and do not have to think twice about how to pronounce them. However, this is not always the case. I was extremely glad that we went over the words because some of them were pronounced differently in Spanish than how I would have pronounced them in English. For example, the word ella is pronounced in Spanish as a long a followed by a short a. However, in English it is pronounced as a l followed by a short a. The next time Juan Carlos and I met up, we went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Since we went to a Mexican restaurant, Juan Carlos was able to teach me about food from his culture and he was able to teach me to order in Spanish. Learning to order in Spanish gave me meaning to what I was doing. I learned how to order and then I put my skills to the test in real life. I think when you teach students English it is important to teach them skills that will help them in real-world situations and the real-world

situations they will probably getting themselves into most often. This will motivate your students to learn another language. The last time I met with Juan Carlos, we also went out to dinner. This time we talked about our weeks and then looked at pictures of our families and friends we had both brought. I think bringing in pictures is a good way to have ELLs practice because people love talking about themselves and people who are close to them. This activity gives people the opportunity to do that and practice their English. I think it would be especially beneficial for beginning English language learners to bring in pictures of their families so that they could practice saying all the different parts of a family: mom, dad, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, etc.

Interviews with ELLs The other part of my James Scholar project was to interview people who are English language learners. As I said before I am involved in International Illini. Through being in this organization I have many friends whose first language is not English. So for the interview section, I interviewed some of my friends that I met through International Illini or through someone who is in International Illini, as well as my roommate who is a non-native English speaker. The people I interviewed were from all over the world. I interviewed two people from China, two from Denmark, one from Hungary, one person from Korea, and one person from Turkey. I asked my friends the following questions in the interview:

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When are where did you start to learn English? How often would you practice English? With whom would you practice with? What strategies helped you to learn English? What strategies were ineffective in learning English? What do you most enjoy about second language learning? What motivates you to learn English?

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What types of books did you enjoy reading in English when you were learning English? What type of writing did you do in English to help you improve your English?

Reading the results of the surveys were really interesting. Most of the people I interviewed learned English when they were between the ages of 7-10. However, one person learned when he was thirteen. I also gathered from the interviews that most people when they were learning English in their home countries were only practicing English when they would go to English class. However, now that they are in an English speaking country they are forced to practice every day, although there were a few exceptions. One guy from Denmark still practices it daily at his home university and with his girlfriend. However, he has to speak English with his girlfriend because she is from Hungary and is not fluent in Danish. Therefore, they must speak English to one another. From what I gathered people usually only practice when they are required to either in class or when they are trying to communicate with someone who does not know their native language. After this realization, I think it is important to give ELLs reason to practice with one another outside class time to make sure they are practicing. I know when I was learning sign language our teacher required us to practice one hour a week with someone else. I think this could be a good idea. However, it is hard to enforce this idea. Therefore, I think it could be good to have the students do something else, like have a partner in an English speaking language who does not know their language. This would require my students to practice English, but it would make it more fun because it would be less formal and it would give students the opportunity to learn about another culture. Specifically, I would like to have students have a pen pal in another country they would be required to talk to. I could use epals to find partners for my students. I think the next two questions on my list are really helpful to English language teachers. I was really interested to hear from ELLs what strategies helped them to learn English. The answers ranged from:

living in the US, movies/TV shows, music, to be focused on learning, talking in English to friends, reading books, writing essays, and repetition. From this list, I think I would definitely want to have my students watch movies and listen to music in English. I think this is not only important for them to learn English, but also to learn more about the American culture. I know that when I was taking German we would watch movies in German from time to time. I really enjoyed this, but I wish we would have had English subtitles. It was good that we watched the movies in German, but there were times when I had no idea what they were saying and it would have been helpful to translate what they were saying in German to reading what they were saying in English. I would also like to have my students read books in English and write essays or short papers. In addition, I would like my students to use repetition to make sure they really understand words and I would encourage them to speak with friends. On the other hand, the students I surveyed gave me some strategies that were ineffective in helping them to learn English. These strategies were: enforcing grammar, overloading the English lessons, memorizing vocabulary, reading poems, long reading exercises, and not being able to speak with people. I think the first two strategies were ineffective because they discouraged students from wanting to learn. If you were always told your grammar was wrong, you would not want to try anymore. Also, if you or were overloaded with lessons, you would become stressed and possibly bored causing you to want to give up. I think memorizing vocabulary, reading poems, and reading long exercises would be too difficult for some students and they would become bored and overwhelmed with the activities as well. Finally, speaking in English with others is part of the fun in learning English and it motivates people to want to learn. So if students were unable to do this they might become bored with just reading and writing. I think the next two questions: What do you enjoy most about second language learning? and What motivates you to learn English? are important to ask because these are ways that I can interest my students in pushing themselves to do well in my class. For the first question most of the answers I

received were along the lines of to talk to other people. Some people wanted to learn English so they could learn more about people living in an English speaking country. Other people enjoyed learning it so they could watch movies. In the words of one interviewee, learning English is enjoyable because It's so practical in real life . The answers I got for the next question about what motivates them to learn were really similar. Many people wanted to learn so that they could communicate with other people. For this question I also received the answer so that they could understand English TV shows. However, the most interesting answer I got was That all my heroes were speaking English . I did not expect this answer, but I think it makes sense. With many American actors and athletes shown all over the world, many children all over the world probably look up to these people and want to learn English to be like them. Next, I asked my interviewees to name some books that they enjoyed reading when they were learning English. The list I compiled from their answers is: Harry Potter Harold and the Purple Crayon The Great Gatsby Adventure books Engineering books Wikipedia articles Short stories Newspapers Scientific books Psychology books Vocabulary books

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From this list, I have a couple of ideas of books I could have in my own classroom when I go to teach English. However, I also learned from this list that it is important to know what your students are interested in and then buy books that have subjects in them that interest your students. I also learned that it is important to have some shorter works. When students are learning another language it could be daunting to read something that is too long. My final question was about what type of writing students enjoyed doing when they were learning English. Surprisingly, many of the people I interviewed said they enjoyed writing essays. Maybe students enjoyed writing essays because they could write about something that they were interested in or maybe they enjoyed writing essays because they learned a lot from them. Some other answers I received were writing on forums on the web, writing journal papers, or writing newspapers. Personally, I would be more inclined to have my students write using one of the latter three ideas. I think these possibilities sound like a lot more fun. However, after reading that students enjoy writing essays, I might have my students write one or two of these.

Interview with someone who has taught English Besides interviewing ELLs, I also interviewed Maura, who is in charge of the LEO program on campus. She started working with the program the second semester of her sophomore year. Before that she was a volunteer at with SOAR at Booker T. Washington where she would tutor low readers. After a couple years of working there she realized that there were lots of parents in the community who needed help with their English. These people struggled with English like her parents did when they came to the United States. She also wanted to help tutor people in English because it gave her an opportunity to practice her own English. So she came to the LEO program because she heard they were giving English classes. However, when she came, the program was falling apart because some people had left. Luckily, Maura got her

friends to help her keep the program going. She really enjoys working with LEO because it has given her the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. From them she has learned a lot about other cultures, such as the Columbian culture or Brazilian culture. When Maura first came into the organization, the person before her left a binder with lots of exercises in it. From looking at this, she learned how to teach English as she went. As part of LEO she also helped to put on a fundraiser that raised money to buy resources. With this money, they bought vocabulary books, dictionaries, and other books that would help ELLs to learn English. She would bring these books with to the lessons and occasionally let the students borrow the books to practice on their own. Through working with LEO, Maura has tutored people of all ages. Most of the people have been in their late 30s. However, she had one women come in who was in her late 90s. Then, she had a Columbian father come in with his daughters to learn English. The youngest daughter was just four years old. Since Maura has had a lot of experience working with ELLs of all different ages and from all over the world. I asked her what strategies work best when she is teaching English. She had lots of different strategies that she suggested to me. They were: y When you are having a conversation with an ELL, you should write down every mistake they make. Then, either during the conversation or at the end of it, you can go over the mistakes they made and talk about how you should say something instead. She has found that ELLs really have liked working with her because she will correct their mistakes. y She suggests reading books. One book that she recommends and that she is actually having some read now is Night by Elie Wiesel. She thinks you should have ELLs read a couple words from a book and then talk about what they read and go over what they are confused about from the book. If you have less advanced English readers, she would suggest having them read a

picture book. However, Maura warns teachers to be careful when you do this because you do not want to insult their intelligence by giving them a book meant for children. To get around this, she suggests giving them a non-fiction book, such as a history book or science book, so that they can learn about something else besides just English when they read it. Plus, many ELLs are interested in learning about the U.S. and by giving them a U.S. history picture book, they are also learning about our history. Bilingual books are also helpful. She has used some of these in her teaching. When she uses them, she will have students read the book in English, then in their own language, and finally in English again. y Besides just having ELLs read books, she also suggests printing out interesting articles from the internet. She uses StumbleUpon a lot to find good articles. When finding articles, Maura says that you should use some type of self-help article, such as an article on nutrition. This way students are learning something as they read besides just English. Teachers should choose big themes at the beginning of the year, such as family, nutrition, etc. and then teach English through these themes throughout the year. y It s also always good to always have students talk about their days or weeks when you see them. Talking about daily life uses the most commonly used words, which is important for ELLs to practice using. y It is also good to practice English through the use of songs. Maura would have students share songs with each other. Then they would talk about the song and then translate the lyrics. y When teaching English, it is always important to have a dictionary. It is better to have an actual English dictionary than a translation dictionary because it really gets ELLs to think about the words they are learning. y Finally, ELLs prefer learning about conversation, so it is important to practice just conversing with one another.

Along with learning effective strategies, I wanted to learn some ineffective strategies she has found. Her one recommendation was to not keep going with a lesson if you can sense it is too hard for students. If it is too hard for students, tell them you will come back to the lesson later. Instead, you should either start a conversation with students so they get more practice doing this or have them write something personal about themselves since everyone loves writing about themselves. Before our interview ended, Maura gave me a final piece of advice she would like to share with English language teachers. She says use teaching English as an opportunity to learn about another person. This should not just be a learning experience for the other person, but it should also be a learning experience for you as well. Do not think that just because they do not know English or are uneducated they have nothing to teach you. You can always learn something from another person. You can learn about them or their culture. Plus, teaching them will enhance your own communication skills. Teaching can go beyond a piece of paper and a pencil. Use a lot of senses. If they do not know any English, take a walk with them and have them touch things as you teach them the words. Overall, teaching English is a learning experience for both the teacher and the student. A final note on language learning As I gather information about how other people learn a language, I reflect back on how I learned other languages. Although I am not fluent in any other languages, I have taken classes in German and Sign Language. My experience learning both of these languages was very different. When I learned German we primarily talked in English, even when I was in German 5. However, when I learned Sign Language, even though I was just a beginner, we would only sign. From having these two different experiences, I think it is much better to immerse students into a language when you are teaching them the language. Although I did not like not being able to speak English in Sign Language class, I learned much more in a shorter period of time. I think my Sign Language was almost as good as my German,

even though I took five years of German and only two semesters of Sign Language. For this reason, I think I am going to try to just speak to my students in English when I am teaching English unless it is absolutely necessarily to say something in their native language. However, as I do this, I will keep all the strategies I learned through this project in mind.