Learning to Teach in 200 Foreign Languages; Immigrant Students Prosper in a Strange Tongue

Article excerpt

Byline: Patrick Badgley, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Area teachers are learning some new lessons themselves, as more non-English- speaking students attend schools in the Washington metropolitan area.

The growing number of immigrants and U.S. citizens who are not fluent in English has teachers trying to figure out how they can teach subjects to children who may be having trouble understanding them. Currently, schools in Maryland and the District teach students who combined speak more than 200 foreign languages.

More than 11,000 of 140,000 students in Montgomery County are enrolled in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. Those students come from more than 160 countries, and they speak more than 120 languages.

Nearly 16,000 of 130,000 students in Prince George's County schools speak about 130 languages.

In the District, more than 8,000 of the school system's estimated 67,000 students are enrolled in the city's bilingual education program. Those students speak 113 different languages.

The task of teaching non-English-speaking students can be frustrating for some teachers, who feel they are losing their students' attention when they're not speaking in the students' native tongues.

"When teachers haven't worked with English learners before, it can be intimidating for them," said Lisa Tabaku, director of the D.C. Office of Bilingual Education. "But once they begin to learn and develop the skills, they understand the importance of it and see that it's working."

Carolyn Bernache, an instructional coordinator in the ESOL program at Langley Park McCormick Elementary School in Prince George's County, said general education teachers sometimes are not sure if they could help students who speak languages other than English.

"We had a teacher who was very frustrated because she didn't think students were coming along," she said.

However, teachers, with some training and experience, learn that they can teach non-English speaking students by using other methods, she said.

"The bottom line of ESOL instruction is, you facilitate the language with visual or hands-on models," Mrs. Bernache said. "So a lot of times you don't speak the language of the child in front of you."

At the District's Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center in Adams Morgan, Estella Gonzales, the school's English as a Second Language (ESL) coordinator, said it may be more difficult to communicate with non-English-speaking students, but they are learning the concepts vital to math, science and other courses.

She said that while students may not appear to be picking up information quickly enough, they are learning the sounds and meanings of the words.

"It's immersion in skills," she said, referring to the type of classes that mix students who are just learning English with those who are fluent in English. …