The majority of our student body consists of English language learners. When a child is learning a second language, there are extra challenges that are important for you as parents to know and understand so that you are able to support your child's learning process. These same characteristics would apply to our students that are learning Spanish, by the way.
♦ English learners need to have a strong language foundation in their native tongue.
This means that students learning a second language must not prioritize the second language acquisition over their mother tongue. You see, the skills a student learns in his or her native tongue will naturally pass over to the second language during the learning process. The same skills that students need to read and write in their first language will naturally pass over to the second language. If a child is struggling to read and write in their native tongue then naturally he or she will have even more difficulty acquiring literacy in a second language. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your child is doing well with literacy in his or her mother tongue. Continue to speak in Spanish at home and read books with your child in Spanish. Make sure that he or she is developing those foundational skills in Spanish. As that foundation gets stronger, the second language being introduced will begin to click because the same skills are needed in order to understand how to read and write.
♦ English learners get tired and take brain breaks. I call these brain breaks because the brain literally decides it has had enough of intense concentration and takes a break. This usually looks like day-dreaming.
Children who take frequent brain breaks often are confused about homework or classwork. This is normal. Although our teachers give their students breaks and opportunities to rest, some children need more than others. The amount of brain breaks a child takes really depends on the child’s comprehension of the English language. If your child is struggling with instructions, please encourage him/her to approach his/her teacher and ask for extra help. Also, we would be glad to answer your questions via email or in person at pick-up.
♦ CES teaches grade-level English.
Our English program is tougher than most schools in Cancun because we teach English using the same grade level curriculum and not a year behind. Many schools try to alleviate the stress of learning the English language by teaching a grade level behind, for instance, second grade would be using first grade curriculum. Our students are using the same materials and reading the same curriculum as students in the United States and Canada. This is challenging for them and requires patience as well as perseverance on the part of the teacher, and parents. We revamped our program in order to better prepare them for the International American School. Also, studies show that keeping the bar high and challenging students produces great results. If we lower the bar to make it easier, we will see small results. It has been proven that students will rise to the occasion when their teacher believes in them.
♦ English Language Learners naturally confuse grammar and syntax.
You have to remember that when a child arrives in English class, until he/she is fluent, their mother tongue will interfere somewhat. They will naturally want to translate literally and this shows up in their writing all the time. For example, in Spanish you would describe the house like this: una casa blanca y grande. However, in English it would appear as: a big, white house. Learning to translate correctly instead of literally takes time and is a natural part of the process.
♦ English Language Learners generally go through a silent period.
The younger the child is the longer the silent period generally takes. Students in the silent period are focused on listening and observing until they learn enough to be able to move out of that phase. Most children new to our program go through this stage until they reach a certain level of comprehension and comfort with English.
♦ English Language Learners mix languages up quite often.
It is quite natural for students learning a new language to mix the two languages when speaking. We all recognize this as ‘Spanglish’ (an invented term that is frequently used)! A typical phrase that I frequently hear around CES in lower primary is “Me puedes ayudar? I can’t.” We see this as a natural part of the process and as the student gains more vocabulary and confidence, he/she begins to speak fluently in one or the other language and discontinues mixing them.
♦ New English Language Learners generally get frequent head-aches or stomach-aches until a level of confidence and personal security is met.
It is very normal for new students transferring into CES to experience physical symptoms. They are working very hard mentally and it is physically tiring. I have seen it last a couple months in some cases. We recognize this stress factor and give the child the needed break and support (extra help) when needed.
♦ English Language Learners need the love and support from everyone around them.
Students learning a new language need as much, if not more, love and support from home through parental involvement and commitment as the teacher is able to give in a large group setting. The more involved the parents are in the learning of a child, the better their chances are of success. Studies all over the world show that we, schools, cannot succeed without your help. We rely on your support to follow-up with your child, check understanding, writes notes and increase communication. In the limited time that we have (2.5 hours), we try to fit in as much quality curriculum and active learning as is feasible.