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Love In Any Language: Simple Strategies for English-Language Learners

Love, conversation, and meaningful relationships should be significant components of any Lutheran school classroom. God’s love is shared through conversation between people who have meaningful relationships, such as students and teachers. Jesus’ earthly ministry focused significantly on relationships with others; the same holds true today for those in Lutheran school ministry.

Many Lutheran schools are enrolling a wide variety of students. While some families have attended Lutheran schools for generations, many schools are seeing enrollees who have little or no previous connection to Lutheran schools or congregations. What a great ministry opportunity this is!

Some schools, especially in urban areas, may be seeing students enroll who are learning English as a second language. For those in early childhood education, it could be shared that all children are language learners. Even students who have English as their “home language” benefit from conversation, vocabulary, and opportunity to play with language with teachers and caregivers.

The following five points are helpful considerations for educators who want to strengthen their strategies for sharing God’s love with all children, but especially for those who are still learning English:

  1. Cultivate relationships. Again, just as Jesus focused on getting to know people, work to build a trusting relationship with students. When students, especially those who are young, feel safe, they are more likely to try new things. The safety of a trusted caregiver provides a kind of “security blanket” to be resilient and courage to take risks in learning a new language.
  2. Teach language across the curriculum. When teachers use language in many ways, across the curriculum and throughout the day, children have better opportunities to participate, hear, and practice. Yes—sing songs during mathematical learning. Yes—use big words and explain their meaning so children can expand their vocabulary. Yes—use visual pictures so students have another platform for deeper understanding.
  3. Speak slowly and increase wait time. Many adults tend to speak quickly when excited or teaching something that is familiar. Be aware of your speech pace and modify as needed for your students. Increase response wait time to allow children to better formulate their thoughts and produce a reply. When rushed, anxiety and fear can overpower what may be a simple response for some children.
  4. Differentiate and use different modalities in learning. Be sure to incorporate alternative ways of participation for your students. Active learners need active engagement. Visual learners need visual engagement. Auditory learners need auditory engagement. What are other ways you can differentiate your teaching, but also allow students to engage in their learning?
  5. Incorporate children’s native language. How often have you been somewhere new and were relieved to see a familiar face or hear a favorite song? The same holds true for children! Using a child’s native language in conversation not only provides them reassurance and familiarity but also provides other students an opportunity to learn and appreciate a new language.

The gift of language is a special one that God has given to all. God uses language and relationships to share His love—the Good News of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. As you prepare to finish the school year, reflect on how you reach all students—especially those who are still learning language!

Dr. Drew Gerdes serves as Early Childhood Principal at Concordia International School (LCMS) in Shanghai, China. Before arriving in Shanghai, Drew was a teacher and administrator in the LCMS Missouri District. Drew is passionate about Lutheran schools and early childhood education.

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