Managing Diversity in the EFL Classroom


posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

In one of my classes last week I presented an authentic, anonymized piece of writing to my students here in Giessen, produced by a 13 year-old learner in grade 7 a few years ago (in his/her third year of learning English as a Foreign Language in a secondary school in Germany). After providing all the necessary bits and pieces of background information (type of secondary school attended by this particular learner, his/her heritage language/language spoken in the family [i.e. Turkish], the textbook used at the time, etc. pp.), I asked them to evaluate and grade this learner text which I chose because it is full of target language anomalies (misspellings, grammar problems, etc.), for instance:

signs = singns; languages = langeses; Wales = Wahls; castles = carsels, carstels, casels; climb a mountain = climb a monten; with = wiht; table = tabel; making = makeing; having = haveing, etc.

However, this beginning learner of English also produced text passages such as: “In South Wales you can go to a pit museum, a casel [ = castle], a beach, cycle a bike. I would like to go to the bache [= beach] and swim.”

It was very interesting to see how my students reacted to this. While a few of them immediately conceived of this as a clear case of dyslexia (without any substantial knowledge of research in this area), arguing that this learner needed professional help by a specialist (i.e. a psychologist, or even a psychiatrist), others were less certain. They pointed out that they were quite confused by the inconsistencies in error  and text production.

In the following, we discussed a wide spectrum of possible causes for learning difficulties in the EFL classroom (including, among many other things, lack of motivation and effort, absent-mindedness, carelessness, distractibility, linguistic interference, teacher-fronted instruction, teaching as transmission of skills, as well as dyslexia, ADD and ADHD), and potential options for dealing with these issues in everyday classroom practice in adequate ways.

I am very interested to hear what you have to say about this, and about diversity in foreign/second language instructional contexts in general. Please feel free to comment on all other facets of diversity relevant to foreign language instruction in the 21st century.

3 responses to “Managing Diversity in the EFL Classroom

  1. I was looking over your list of the “wide spectrum of possible causes” and I wanted to add one more – lack of confidence. I wrote a blog post a few months ago about how an adult’s lack of confidence affects his/her ability to master a language successfully. I feel it’s a huge factor in attaining fluency. http://englishlessons-houston.com/2012/06/teaching-english-foreigners-taught-me-part-2-importance-confidence/ Fear of making a mistake keeps a language learner from moving forward. Anyway, just wanted to throw that in. Thank you for your post.

  2. Dear Julie,

    I agree. Confidence is of fundamental importance, too! This is just to let you know that I have been working on promoting speaking proficiency in German EFL enviroments for a number of years, and that I would like to share my experience wíth you (documented in a number of publications on ‘improvised speaking” / Improvisation in the EFL Classroom). In this context, I would like to ask if you use any textbooks in your adult EFL/ESL courses.

  3. I am convinced that it is easy to draw quick conclusions here (dyslexia etc) but bearing in mind that this is a third-year-student of English I wonder whether the student is not simply learning and still sifting through the jungle of L1,L2,L3 and all its inconsistencies? Having taught in English schools for a while, I observed that even native speakers struggle with English spelling so I am not at all surprised our students do, too.
    I feel Butzkamm’s “mirroring” methods could be of some help and this needs to be implemented in Early Foreign Language Learning Classrooms in addition to the necessary support and time. Of course schools seem to have less and less time to do that. What do you think?
    Many thanks for an intersting blog and discussions here.

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