Learning the language(s)

Students in a class for English language learners at Minot High School-Magic City Campus hail from all over the globe and speak more than half a dozen languages between them.

Disha Patel and her brother Shyam Patel, from India, both speak Hindi and another native Indian language in addition to the English they are perfecting in their morning ELL class. Student Keyan Peng comes from China, Adalid Spencer and Juan Santacruz from Mexico, and Lisandra Reyes is originally from Cuba. Other teenagers in the class come from countries in Africa. Languages spoken include Spanish, Indian, Chinese, French, Tagalog and Portuguese.

The group meets every weekday morning for one hour to practice English and sometimes to get help with homework from their other classes.

Language practice in and out of school might involve practicing conversation or reading newspapers. Some of the teenagers say they also watch TV, though ELL instructor Deb Sisco said it’s only effective practice if they watch television in English. Some of the teenagers stream TV shows in their native languages over the Internet.

In all, there are 28 languages spoken in the Minot Public School District by some 145 students in grades K-12. The number of students requiring English Language Learning – the old English as a second language terminology isn’t quite correct since some of the kids already speak three or more languages – classes has nearly doubled in the last couple of years, in large part to the ongoing oil boom and new growth in western North Dakota. Sisco and ELL teacher Christa Ondrovich said the parents of their students are often employed in the oil business or in construction or in the restaurant business.

As a result of the increase in students, the Minot Public School Board approved adding three new ELL positions in addition to the current two.

Students have varying levels of English proficiency, depending on how long they have been in the country and their level of ability.

Kids are immersed in traditional classrooms and receive help through the ELL class – which the teenagers at Minot High School-Magic City Campus are receiving high school credit for – or are pulled out to work with teachers at the elementary level.

Sisco and Ondrovich said ELL teachers communicate with the kids using a combination of signs, games like charades, illustrations and other things that help the students put English words into context.

The goal is to help kids become proficient in English, though it may take a number of years for a student to become completely fluent in English, said Ondrovich. The ability to carry on a conversation in English comes more quickly than the ability to understand complicated academic language that the students will need to do well in a science or social studies class.

Immigrant students who speak one language at home when they are young may not speak their native tongue well as they grow up, either, since they haven’t used it regularly since they were younger children and may not know more mature vocabulary.

Sisco and Ondrovich said some parents have chosen to have their children take the native tongue as a foreign language at Minot High School so they can learn how to write the language and learn its grammar.

ELL classes help the students to learn English but they also help them to become more confident in their other classes too, whether it is making a presentation or understanding a textbook, said Ondrovich and Sisco.