ESL Teachers' Attitudes toward the Classroom Language. (Language Teaching & Learning)

By Tsukamoto, Satoshi | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

ESL Teachers' Attitudes toward the Classroom Language. (Language Teaching & Learning)


Tsukamoto, Satoshi, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract:

This article explores the subtle relationship between teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL), their students, and the English language. There are two different approaches toward the usage of the language in the classroom. The two elementary ESL teachers whom the author interviewed thought that their immigrant children had to learn Standard English while the ESL professors thought that their international students needed to be more exposed to colloquial expressions.

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The ESL teachers need to be aware of the language that they use in the classroom. Since their students are the learners of English as a Second Language, the teachers pay close attention to how they speak English to their students. In this paper, I will explore how ESL teachers at elementary and college levels focus on the usage of their English in the classroom.

It is a worthwhile effort to briefly describe the roles of language in regard to communication and culture. According to Ngugi wa Thiong'o (1986), language has two functions: as a means of communication and as a carrier of culture. First, people use words to communicate with one another. When immigrant children learn English, it is of vital importance for them to utilize English words in a way that makes words understandable and recognizable. In the teaching of ESL, the development of communicative skills in English is often emphasized. Second, language has symbolic meanings that signify cultural artifacts unique to a language. I agree with Thiong'o in that language as culture has two important aspects.

Thiong'o first states that language is a product and reflection of history in which people have struggled to gain control over material and spiritual wealth as well as to maintain it. Language transforms itself into one that meets the needs of local people. Dialects, pidgin English, Creoles, and Ebonies are products and reflections of some regional cultural histories. Yet, language is not only a mirror of history but also a generator of history. Thiong'o points out that language generates the images of people who use the language, especially in the minds of children. Those images may or may not correspond to the realities of the people, but he claims that the whole concept of an individual self and collective selves situated in the language is affected by the image-making function of language. In short, language as culture plays a pivotal role in forming one's identity.

The informants in my research were two university professors, Nola Weissmen and Dorothy Weber, and two elementary teachers, Frances Kasowitz and Margaret Swift. All of them were identified as white females. I took the classes that the two professors taught as a requirement for international teaching assistants at North University. I attended Nola's English class for two semesters. The class took place three times a week for fifty minutes each, and the students in this class mainly worked on pronunciation, colloquial expressions and idioms, and learned American culture that was necessary to know the background of the undergraduates whom they were teaching or would teach soon. The students were required to briefly present their research that dealt with a topic unique to their specialized study in a simple way twice a semester. In addition, Nola asked her students to record an impromptu speech based on an assigned topic on a cassette tape several times a semester, and she recorded her comments on the speech on the same cassette tape. In general, this English class was interactive, and Nola encouraged her students to practice orally as often as possible.

I took Dorothy's class in the summer because I wanted to improve my English competence more. That class was also for international teaching assistants, but the number of the students was smaller. Six students usually showed up. The assignment was individualized depending on the weakness of each student's English ability, and I mainly worked on pronunciation. …

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