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ELL/ESL Student Interview Paper

Rachel Roloff

Washington State University

One of the classes I teach for the Washington State University (WSU) Writing Center is a

107 class. The 107 class is a class with international students to help them practice their English

skills, and get extra help with writing in English. In my class, I have three young men all from

the country of OmanMohammed, Abdullan, and Mubarakand we work every Wednesday at

2:10 pm in the CUE (I interviewed them during their sharing about their culture time on

September 20th). Since all three of the boys are from Oman, I have been using this time to learn

more about their country from citizens themselves. The reason I chose to interview these three

young men is hugely because I am teaching them. I am their teacher and I want to make sure that

I am doing what is best for them. I also have talked to these young men and I know that they will

give me sincere answers, because they trust me, and that they want to help me to learn about

helping students in my classroom. One thing I noticed while theyve been in my classroom is the

order they sit in the classroom. They sit in order of their proficiency level, Mohammed is a

between level 4 and level 5expanding to bridgingAbdullan is between level 3 and level 4

developing and expandingand Mubarak is a level threedeveloping (Wright, 2010, p. 12) The

boy with the most English proficient sits on the far-right side, the boy with the middle level of

English proficiency sits in the middle and the boy with the least English proficiency sits on far-

left side.

Before starting my interview, I didnt realize how different their responses would be to

my future middle school students who moved to the United States from another countryeven if

they also moved from Oman. The boys I interviewed had been learning English since they were

seven years old. They said that they learned English for only one subject, and the rest of the

classes were taught in Arabic. This shows that it wasnt a partial immersion school, but still

wanted students to learn English. What was interesting about this though, was that they said how

their parents did know English. When I asked the question, How do you parents feel about you

learning/knowing a second language? They laughed and said that their parents didnt care. Each

one had a different thing, but overall it was very similar. Mubarak (a young boy who has told me

that his dad is a fisherman) told me how his parents dont speak English at home. Mohammed

told me that all the schools teach it so its expected. What I realized after asking was, how for

them, they are only here for four years (personal communication, September 20, 2017). They are

getting their college education here so they can go back and work in Oman. For them, it isnt

taking away a part of their identity. Compared to children whose whole families may move here

from Oman who are in American schools all day, being forced to learn English at k-12 schools,

my students came here voluntarily to get their education.

Since I started realizing this, I started asking questions about their schools in home. It

was interesting how different the boys thought of schools in American compared to in Oman.

Mohammed (the most vocal and fluent in English) was explaining how their schools went form 7

am-2 pm. He thought all of our schools were like universities where we had breaks between

classes. I explained that that wasnt the case and how our schools ran about the same time as

theirs. Abdullan explained that everything was the same as here, they had the same classes as

here, just have the one English classand how their classes are in Arabic. (personal

communication, September 20, 2017). Mohammed also brought up how boys and girls dont go

to the same schools expect for private schools. This is important to remember when I have

students in my classroom from different countries. It isnt just the language difference, but also

how the difference in the schools dynamics. Although these boys enjoy having class with boys

and girls, I may have a student from Omana girlwho feels uncomfortable with boys in the

classroom. It is important to know that their schools were separated depending on the gender of

the student.

Each day, I have the boys teach me about Oman for about five minutes, and they get to

choose what they teach me. On the day I interviewed them, the lesson they taught me was about

their language, Arabic. Wright explains that, A search for information about the students

language may reveal some important similarities and difference between the home language and

English (2010, p. 24). Knowing the differences and similarities will definitely help me to know

how I can help them learn aspects of English that they are confused about and how to relate it to

Arabic. It also makes them know I care about their language and dont think English is the

superior language. It was interesting though, how when I asked, what is teaching a language and

how would you teach it? theyre answers were to do readings to improve grammar. Mubaraks

main concern during the interview was memorizing vocabulary and grammar. It is seen, that

while my own ESL students really did enjoy the relative safety of the grammar book, there was

little positive effect on their actual writing (DelliCarpini, 2012, p. 97). This student is seen as

being shy, so for him learning and doing grammar worksheets may be easier for him than

practicing through communication. While Mohammed explained he thought it was better to learn

by communicating. It was interesting how different their responses were, even though they have

the same home language and are learning the same language. This shows how unique and

different each student is.


The biggest thing I learned, from interviewing these boys, was how different their points

of view of learning English is to what my future students will be feeling. These boys are adults,

they appreciate learning more than one language because they know that their culture and

language is still a huge part of their identity and it will never be taken away from them. Some

questions I asked them was Does it frustrate you to have to repeat yourself when people dont

understand what you said? I asked this because I know this is something I do a lot. I am

practicing my rhetorical listening, but its been difficult. They told me that at first it was

frustrating. They started laughing, telling me a story of the time they went to McDonalds and the

guys couldnt understand them when they went through the drive through. They said that now

the guy understands them. They were understanding and Mohammed said that it helps them

practice their pronunciation (personal communication, September 20, 2017). My students are

especially understanding and are kind in this regardbut I know I need to practice my

phonology skills and paying attention to syllable structure and the different patterns they use

(Wright, 2010, p. 31). I cant just say, well I speak English and you arent speaking it correctly.

That wont help anyone and instead will make my students shut down. They know that it is hard

for people to understand them because of their accent, just like it is hard for them to understand

native English speakers.

Second language teaching isnt a matter of getting every student to one particular level.

Every student starts at a different level, whether they started learning English in their home

country, or just started practicing this skill when the moved to America. It is important to know

where each student is, and to know how to help them. Every student will struggle at different

parts, while learning English. This means you have to practice all the different skills for learning

English, but in different ways. You cant only watch movies, or only have discussions, or only

have the answer worksheets. You must do a compilation of all types of lessons because every

student is unique. Second language teaching is difficult, and isnt something that will just be

easy. It is hard work, but it is rewarding.

After my interview with my students, I realized that students will want to stay in

their comfort zone. They will want to practice the one type of learning they are comfortable with

and are used to. One article by DellCarpini states that when teaching ELLs, it can be useful to

do little writing activities that are low stakes write a short news blast, a letter to an editor, a

personal letter, a diary entry, or a conclusion or introduction paragraph . . . because . . . these

writing activities should be discussed, deconstructed, and analyzed so ELLs can build an

awareness of what they are doing, and why they are doing it (2012, p. 99). You have to do

different activities that mean something to students and push them beyond what they are

comfortable with. Grammar worksheets, although may seem comfortable, doesnt mean they will

learn everything about grammar. I also realize that the students in my future classroom will be

very different than these Oman college aged students. The students in my future classes who

have another mother tongue than English may feel like their culture and identity is being taken

away from themdepending on how the teacher treats them. Their circumstances are very

different. Although these boys may get marks down on their papers, or teachers who are rude and

ask them to go to the writing center to fix their paper (these are all things I have seen at the

writing center), but they know that no matter what their culture and identity will never be taken

away. They have friends from Oman who they speak to in Arabic, and they will go back to

Oman, to their family who shares the same culture. That will never be taken away from them. In

comparison to ELL students who feel this push to know and be English to fit in with what is

expected of them.


DelliCarpini, M. (2012). Success with ELLs: We are All Writers! Building Second Language
Writing Skills In the ELA Classroom. The English Journal, 101.5, 97-101.
Wright, W. E. (2010). Foundations for Teaching English Language Learners: Research, Theory,
Policy, and Practice. Philadelphia: Caslon, Inc.

Appendix A


1. What is a Language?
2. What components form language?
3. What is teaching a language and how would you teach it?
4. What does it mean to know and use a language?
5. At what age did you start learning English?
6. When learning English, what was the most helpful strategy or learning activity?
7. Is there something you would want your past teachers to know?
8. What was the hardest part about learning English? (reading, writing, speaking, listening)
9. Did learning English affect cultural identity
10. How do your parents feel about learning a second language?
11. What is school like in Oman versus the United States?
12. Since the schools are separate when you were in Oman, what was it like coming to the
united states and having classes with both girls and boys? (I wish I had asked what was it
like to be taught by a girl? Does that feel odd? Or is that normal?)
13. How long did it take you to learn English?
14. Has there ever been a time where English, as you second language, has affected your life
negatively/positively? In what ways?
15. Does it frustrate you to have to repeat yourself when people dont understand what is
being said? Why or why not?