10 Languages You’ll Need Most in the Classroom:
A Guide to Communicating with English Language Learners and Their Families
Garth Sundem, Jan Krieger, and Kristi Pikiewicz
ISBN: 978-1629146867

10 Languages You’ll Need Most in the Classroom (2008) by Garth Sundem, Jan Krieger, and Kristi Pikiewicz is an invaluable resource if you have English Learners (ELs) in your class.

As I’ve discussed before, you don’t need to be multilingual to teach ELs well. Being bilingual is certainly ideal for teaching and communicating with students and their families. However, it only helps if you speak the same language as your students! I once had a class of 12 adult students who spoke 10 native languages. Knowing even one of them fluently would not have helped me communicate with the other nine. Interpreters weren’t readily available, and I needed help. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation. If so, this resource should be on your bookshelf!

The 10 featured languages are: Spanish, Vietnamese, Hmong, Chinese (Cantonese), Korean, Haitian Creole, Arabic, Russian, Tagalog, and Navajo. For each language, the authors include Cultural Facts, Useful Phrases, Picture Dictionaries, and Translated Parent Letters.

Cultural Facts

Each chapter begins with some basic information about the language group in the United States, including their common religious beliefs and important days of celebration. Getting to know your students is the best way to find out how well their family aligns with these facts. Everyone is culturally unique, but this information at least gives you some idea about where to start. General information about the language, its pronunciation, and alphabet are also provided. It’s here you might learn that the language is not based on a Roman script like English, or that it is read right to left instead of left to right.

Useful Phrases

Next, there are several pages of phrases that are useful in the school environment and for communicating with students and their families. Phrases such as: Do you need help? Do you understand the assignment? Please be careful. What is your phone number? Each phrase is written in English and the featured language. However, I think the best part is the third column that tells you how to pronounce each phrase. For example…

Please be careful!

[Korean characters]

Joshim haseyo!

This is a tremendous help for languages like Korean, which include characters that non-Korean speakers would not be able to guess how to pronounce! 

Picture Dictionaries

I LOVE the picture dictionary pages that are provided. They are charts of simple, black and white line drawings, each illustrating an important school related word. Each picture is accompanied by a caption in English, the featured language, and the pronunciation of the featured language. Vocabulary of specific content areas (experiment, equation), school supplies (markers, pencil), and daily school activities (to get a drink, playground, principal, assignment) are provided. 

These pages would be particularly useful for communicating with newcomers. No matter how good you are at charades, sometimes you just can’t get your meaning across! These picture dictionary pages provide a quick reference to which you or your student can point in order to communicate. They could also be used for meaningful seatwork for beginners. Sometimes ELs will not be able to complete the same written work as your other students. Often, teachers end up giving these students busy work just to keep them occupied.

A better use of their time would be to have them create their own personal dictionaries. Using copied picture dictionary pages, they could cut apart the picture words they felt were most important for them to learn. These could be glued into a notebook and the student could copy both the English and their native language word for each picture. Not only would they be working to learn the English labels for classroom objects and events, but they would also be getting practice writing in English. Slightly more advanced students could write original phrases or sentences to accompany their chosen words.

Translated Parent Letters

Finally, each chapter includes short letters to parents written in English and the featured language. They cover topics such as student behavior, academic performance, and scheduling further communication or meetings. My former colleague, who is a native speaker of Korean, reviewed the translated letters and determined that they were pretty well written. She said they were a bit more formal than she would realistically send home to parents, but that they definitely conveyed the intended message and were culturally appropriate.

10 Languages You’ll Need Most in the Classroom should be on every teacher’s bookshelf. It provides practical information useful for any teacher of ELs. Although it won’t make you fluent in your students’ native languages, it will give you several tools for communicating more effectively with your ELs and their families.

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