ESL tricky, but a treat for students and teacher

With a Canadian flag as a background, ESL teacher Natsuke Nakamura looks at her students Gulalay Noor and Serene Guragain, as they finish their pumpkin… and cheer. Carving jack-o-lanterns is a familiar experience for many Canadians, but for some people just now absorbing the culture — like some new ESL students at D.A. Morrison Middle School on Gledhill Avenue— this Halloween marks a first-time and memorable experience.

“When the kids have enough language to speak their mind and thoughts, it’s just always so surprising,” Nakamura said. “It’s beautiful.”

Nakamura, a teacher for 12 years and an ESL teacher for two years at D.A. Morrison, explained that ESL students are sometimes looked down upon by other students due to their lingual limitations.

Nakamura lamented that discrimination, saying, “It is sometimes sad when kids come in here with so much from the outside.”

Divided by four levels, ESL students start at level one with communication basics such as reading and writing exercises — steadily moving on to more complex discussions and exercises.

Sometimes, however, progress is difficult.

“We use visuals, resources that have pictures, and at times we use gestures,” Nakamura said, adding that the ESL program has expanded into other curricula, such as Canadian history and geography. Social studies and culture classes expose students to Canadian customs and traditions.

Nakamura said that at times, when a student from an uncommon ethnic background enters her program, she turns to the student body for extra assistance.

“If there is one student in the class that speaks a specific language, then it gets tricky to communicate with them,” she said. “Sometimes I call upon other students in the school who have a second language to help out…. It certainly makes it a lot easier on the students to express themselves.”

Besides introducing new students to the English that dominates their adopted homeland, Nakamura explained that the ESL program is also beneficial for older and more experienced ESL students as well.

“There is a big emotional difference between younger and older students, but I think the older kids feel good taking a leadership role in the class,” she said. ”In contrast, in a regular class they feel like they don’t understand what’s going on.”