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Talking one-on-one with an English learner

By Amil Brothers, Point Park University

Duc-Minh on holiday the new 2023-2024 school year

For this ongoing field experience assignment, I had the privilege of communicating with Duc-Minh, a 7th-grade student from Vietnam. I had such an incredible time meeting and talking with Minh throughout the last 6 weeks, and I have learned so much from this experience. I appreciate that in a class like this, we had the opportunity to connect with a student who is learning the English language. It is definitely one thing to learn about ways to teach sheltered instruction and another to actually work on English with a student who is learning the language. I found myself putting into play with Minh all of the tools and strategies this course has taught me.

At first, I was a bit nervous to meet Minh for the first time. I have plenty of experience working with a group of students altogether but don’t have much experience working with and talking to a student one-on-one. My first thought was “Oh no, I hope he doesn’t get bored with me!”. Immediately after we met on Zoom for the first time, we began talking to each other like we had known each other for years. The conversation didn’t feel forced and we were both genuinely excited to learn about each other. Very soon into our conversation, we learned how alike we are. Both Minh and I are older siblings and have a love for cartoons. Small details like these helped us to better connect with one another.

As I got to know Minh, I noticed the way he used descriptive words. I was clear on what he was saying to me, but I could tell he was having trouble searching for the right words to use to describe certain things. So I found a few academic games that would help him express his thoughts and feelings in English more effectively. The first game I played with him was a spot-the-difference game. For this game, we are shown two photos that are similar but not identical. We took turns finding and explaining the differences we saw. This activity allowed Minh to work on verbalizing the specific differences he saw so that I was able to recognize which difference he was talking about. This let him practice using descriptive words and adjectives to identify the differences he was pointing out to me. When I described the differences that I saw, I used a variety of descriptive words to provide examples of what he could add to his descriptions. There were times when Minh would begin to describe a difference but struggled to explain what he saw, so I would prompt him with ways to explain. “Can you tell me what you see inside of both cups in the pictures? What do you notice about the fruit on the picnic blanket”? Asking these questions helped him to better explain what he was seeing. If there were words he was unsure of I would pause and talk about what certain items were. If he was unfamiliar with the word I was using, I would explain it further and give examples that he could relate to.

Another activity we did was a “describe the photo” game. In this activity, we were both given random pictures to observe. We simply took turns talking about what we saw in each of the photos. I wanted Minh to focus on who he saw, what he saw, and how he saw it. I encouraged him to talk about things like the colors in the photo, actions happening in the photo, and where he thinks the photos may have taken place. This photo observation activity allowed us both to make inferences about what we were seeing.

When speaking with Minh, I made sure to speak clearly and slowly. Oftentimes I speak at a pace where even my own family members cannot understand what I am saying. Since I regularly speak at an accelerated rate, I had to work hard to slow down my speaking so that I wasn’t confusing Minh. This experience has enhanced my skill sets when it comes to communicating with children. I made it a point to check in every now and then with Minh to make sure he was feeling good about what we were working on and if he was understanding everything I was expressing to him. I always opened the floor for questions, whether that was questions about myself or questions about the work and activities. I assured him that I was always happy to help and support him. I constantly expressed my appreciation for him taking the time to speak with me. This was a great opportunity for the both of us to help each other in a variety of ways.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed being paired up with Minh. Before taking this course, I had no experience working with students who were learning the English language. This course has prepared me with the strategies and skillsets needed that will best-fit student needs. This opportunity to talk with a student who is learning English helped me to understand the best ways to teach sheltered learning. I genuinely enjoyed getting to learn about Minh as a student and a person, and i look forward to getting to know all students in the future.

Note: As part of the Conversation Exchange Program, Eduling paired Duc-Minh and Amil to talk one-on-one for a month. This program has paired over 100 language learners and American student teachers over the years.

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