Overcoming Language Barriers in the Classroom

The spoken or written word is the most common way in which people communicate with each other. This communication can, at times, also be coupled with body language and gestures for more effective communication. For any communication to be effective, the speaker and the receiver need to speak the same language.  A country like India has numerous spoken languages and even more dialects, but still people from different areas are able to communicate with each other either by finding a common language like English or Hindi, or by pointing, using pictures, even body language.

Children begin learning a language from a very young age at home. They may be exposed to one or two languages and they learn, with trial and error the meanings of different words and how to use them. The more children are exposed to a language along with ample opportunities to communicate with others, the more proficient they will get in using that language.

While communication is usually a smooth and easy process there could be times when we are faced with some language barriers. A language barrier is the inability to communicate with another person or persons due to a variety of reasons like, the receiver and the communicator don’t speak the same language, there could be physical difficulties like stammering, stuttering, hearing loss even technological problems like a poor phone connection or internet connection.

Language barriers are not good for schools as they can hamper learning,

  • If a student does not understand what you are saying, they cannot learn the concepts you are teaching them.
  • If the student does not understand the concepts, they won’t be able to interact with you in the classroom.
  • If the student is unable to interact with you in the classroom you won’t be able to gauge what the child has understood and the doubts they have.
  • If children aren’t able to clear their doubts, they won’t fare well in their exams.
  • This could lead to low self-confidence and frustration both for the student and the teacher.
  • If this happens in more than one subject at school the student may end up dropping out of school all together.

This type language barrier example is commonly seen in children who move to new schools from a different state or country. They are not familiar with the local language which could also be a subject in school. It’s not possible to teach a new language to a child in a short span of time but as teachers we can help them overcome this language barrier and give the child every opportunity possible to help them succeed

Let’s look at some strategies to help us teachers reduce or overcome language barriers in the classroom-

  1. Build a relationship with the student-
  2. When toddlers enter school for the first time, most of them may not know English, they also are scared as they are away from the comforts of their home and from the people they know and trust. The school environment is very new to them hence it is important for the teachers to build a relationship with each child. Teachers need to make the toddlers feel safe while communicating with them in English as well as a language they are comfortable with. Slowly and gradually the medium of instruction can be kept to only English, if it is an English medium school. It might even take a few months to a year for this transition to happen.

  3. Discourage Mocking-
  4. To some children learning a language comes easily while others take more time. In such cases focus on what the child can do and highlight that while encouraging them to speak the chosen school language, this will keep their confidence level up. Refrain and discourage mocking in class or school when the child doesn’t pronounce words or speaks incorrectly. Some children just need more time and patience to overcome the language barrier.

  5. Embracing local cultures and languages-
  6. Accepting and encouraging children to talk about their culture, their food, festivities, traditions and so on is one way of helping children in overcoming language barriers. Schools and teachers can allocate a special time for children to share these in a language they are comfortable with, maybe having a parent or someone around to help translate what is being said if the language used is not known by others. The NEP (2020) encourages multilingualism in schools so it is okay to allow children to converse with each other in the local language as well.

  7. Keep your instruction short, simple and clear-
  8. When children are learning a new language it is best to use short and simple sentences. Teachers should speak slowly and refrain from using big and complicated words, using a few words in the local language or using a bit of humour will help lighten the mood in the classroom and help in reducing the language barrier.

  9. Use body language-
  10. When children are learning words in a new language using body language along with the spoken word helps children understand and remember better. Raising both your arms when you say tall, sitting while using the word sit, pointing to the area you want the child to go along with saying the books or blocks corner will reinforce what you are saying. Also, simple gestures like a nod or a friendly smile will give the children the confidence needed when doing a presentation.

  11. Make use of pictorial representations-
  12. Pictures, graphs, charts, maps, pictorial representations all help in the understanding and assimilation of concepts taught in the class. Videos, role plays, puppet shows are valuable teaching aids which also help overcome language barriers.

  13. Correlating new words with the local language-
  14. Teaching can be more fun if children are allowed to share simple day to day words like hello, good morning, thankyou in their own language. This will give them a sense of belonging, will keep them engaged and involved and eventually reduce the language barrier. The NEP gives teachers the flexibility to use more than one language to teach concepts so that children are engaged.

  15. Involve parents and other family members-
  16. These are a teacher’s greatest assets. Reach out to parents and other family members of the child to learn some of the common day to day words, this will help in bonding with the students, seeking the help of older siblings in the school may prove beneficial as they would have gone through a similar experience. In older kids it may be necessary to allot a language teacher to help the child cope with the new language, this could be done after school hours, with the involvement of parents’ children can be given practice at home.

  17. Have a buddy system-
  18. Children learn better from each other as there is no fear of being reprimanded or judged. Pair the child with other children who are stronger in speaking and writing the language. These buddies will assist you in helping the child cope with the reading and writing activities done in school and will make them responsible for this child. They will also teach the child the common lingo used in and around school.

  19. Provide study material in the local language-
  20. According to the NEP, study material will be made available in local languages as well so as to make it easier for children to understand concepts taught in school. By giving children and parents access to these books the language barrier can be reduced. There are also many free resources available online to help parents and children with their studies.

  21. Praise and encourage-
  22. This is the best way to keep the child motivated, constantly focusing on what the child cannot do will demotivate them. Instead by praising every effort made and by giving them the right encouragement, children will feel like they are making some progress and are improving which in turn will make them want to keep working hard.

Overcoming language barriers is not an individual but a team effort. The more people involved the easier it will be for any child to overcome this barrier. Every effort, even small ones will stand to benefit this cause. When we encourage our children to help those who are struggling with learning a new language, we not only sensitise them to the needs of others, but also make them a responsible and caring citizen when they grow up.

Eurokids is well known for its preschools and services in early childhood. The teachers and staff are aware of the difficulties children face adjusting to a new environment as well as the language barriers therein, since children come from varied backgrounds. Our centres and staff are well equipped and trained to handle most of the scenarios that might occur and are open to reaching out to the families if additional help is needed. We also provide regular updates on the progress of your child. Enrol your child in a centre that values the uniqueness of your child’s background and involve parents as and when required.

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