Do you teach English Language Learners (ELLs)? Do you find this challenging? Rewarding? Intriguing? All of those things at once? In this article, I'll be using that title to refer to those individuals who reside in English-speaking nations, yet whose native language isn't English. In my opinion, that term is more respectful and accurate than the term English-as-a-Second-Language Learner (ESL) - given that many of those individuals speak not two, but multiple languages quite competently (if not fluently)!
I completely understand if you’re bristling at the idea of labeling living, breathing people with three-letter acronyms. Truth be told, I don’t actually enjoy doing so. On the other hand, such shorthand is standard in educational literature. It contributes to flow and ease of conversation, which can allow more productive conversation to happen. That’s certainly a plus in my book! In any case, there has been much recent talk in the yoga world about increasing diversity amongst students, teachers, and supporters. Much of that focuses on race, gender, and socio-economic status. That’s a crucial focus, but ethnicity and cultural background are just as important when it comes to creating greater equality and inclusivity for all.
I'm remembering how a former roommate of mine - a Bulgarian who is fluent in both English and Bulgarian - shared on social media a very funny, yet also smart internet meme. It said "You think my accent is funny? Well, I speak two languages!" Surely, English Language Learners (ELLs) have commendable skills, knowledge, and gifts in many, many areas. They face significant challenges in adjusting to a new culture. Like steel welded in fire, such challenges can make them stronger, smarter, and more resilient.
Even before facing those challenges, taking the leap to uproot one’s life and place it into a new culture takes incredible bravery, faith, and trust in life and people’s goodness. In addition, English is notoriously one of the hardest languages to learn (if not the hardest) – because there are many rules, with many exceptions to each of those, many of those without logical explanation. The only way to remember all of that is often practice, persistence, and patience. All of that considered (as I'm sure that it goes without saying, for you dear readers, but here goes), it is not right nor fair to discount ELLs (consciously or unconsciously) simply because of a foreign accent or occasional grammar mistake.
Nevertheless, given our task of offering a healing, life-enhancing practice to all who enter our classes, this is a truth that is certainly important for yoga instructors to embrace. And we will certainly teach ELL students at some point, given the rapid diversifying of our nation. For instance, some demographic analyses predict that Hispanic will cease to be a minority by mid-century. Any feelings about that aside, it will be the reality of our nation. It's a shift that we yoga instructors will have to adjust to - or see our student base, and our potentials to spur positive change, dwindle.
Even so, communication barriers are real. At the best efforts - and at no fault - of both ELL students and teachers, some things that we offer as teachers just don't translate. This can be frustrating for both students and teachers. Thankfully, there are mindful, accessible, and simple techniques for minimizing these communication blocks. It's possible to break down the barriers.
With that, we can enhance the practice of all people involved with yoga, learn more about other cultures and the world, and simply live fuller lives! In a following article, I’ll offer some recommendations for making our verbal cueing more accessible for ELLs. I hope that they can be useful for you! All the best to you readers in your work offering the benefits of yoga to all types of people, of all languages, ethnicities, cultures, et cetera!
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