Monday, March 24, 2008

Making Assumptions about ESL Knowledge

I was tutoring an advanced ESL student today. He's a doctoral student at one of the top universities in the U.S. He asked me to primarily help him with his writing skills. I always focus on the areas my advanced students want to focus on, as opposed to beginning ESL students who need me to guide the directions of our ESL lessons a lot more.

Some small thing came up today about pronunciation. I started talking about the many vowel sounds English has, yet we only have five vowels (sometimes six with the letter "y"). I wrote and said, "a, e, i, o, u." He asked me to repeat the vowels. He said that this was the first time he'd heard a native speaker say the vowels.

I usually try not to make assumptions about what English language learners know or don't know. I'll often ask about something just to make sure. I never thought to ask about something as basic as the vowels. I learned that I still make certain assumptions and need to be even more conscious.



Melissa said...

I agree with the point you are making about assuming things about your students. Often, we assume that advanced students have a good foundation in phonics and phonemic awareness but this is not always the case. Thank you for reminding me of this very important point.

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Debra said...

good reminder!

I also am surprised by how many ESL advanced learners don't know common polite phrases and responses, such as after someone sneezes, or what to say when you want to begin your meal, or how to express an apology appropriately, from the casual "no problem" to "apology accepted" etc.