Native speakers can bring down language classes

April 23, 2010 — by Kyumin Shim and Ashley Tang

Saratoga High students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, so many can fluently speak a language other than English. Students with this advantage are mixed with non-native speakers in some of the language classes offered here. This occurs mostly in the Chinese language classes, where many students speak the language at home with their parents.

A language class should, ideally, offer a challenging experience to all students. To do this, the teacher should have two separate classes based on whether the students are familiar with the language or not. Then, the teacher can better coordinate his lesson plan to fit the needs of his students. As a group of students climb the levels of more advanced language classes, each student should receive about the same amount of attention from the teacher and be within a certain range of skill.

This balance is threatened whenever a native speaker takes classes designed for students new to the language. In many cases, students unfamiliar with the language are equally adept at reading and writing as a native speaker. However, a native speaker might have a more advanced speaking ability, because of day-to-day conversation with their parents or other relatives. Students who are not native to the language do not have this advantage. The teacher then has to meet the needs of a wide range of students—some who struggle with all aspects of the language, others who speak it regularly and demonstrate mastery over it.

The non-native students are put at a disadvantage whenever they are forced to work in a group with native speakers. The native speakers who grew up with the language may be more skilled in certain areas, so the method of collaboration can sometimes fall apart. Regular students are no longer learning from the interactive experience because they are intimidated and “give up” their share of the work to the native speaker. With two separate classes, the students who are new to the language will be able to practice the language more, and will be more encouraged to do so.

Language is more effectively learned when people of the same skill level work together to practice and hone their skill. Whenever a native speaker enters a class for an “easy A”, they are unconsciously creating a worse environment for everyone.

If native speakers want to take a class in their native language, they should be separated from the students who are not as advanced. This ensures that the pace of the class will remain at a steady rate suitable for each type of student.

Another possible option for students familiar with the language is to try to take classes outside of school to improve their skills, or to just learn from their parents, if possible. That way, students who don’t have the advantages of being used to the language can interact in a classroom environment better suited to their needs.

The two types of language learners need to be considerate of each other, and should try to place their education first before any other benefits. With two separate classes, all students will learn more material, more efficiently.

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