Tuning our ears

I was asked to write an inspirational article for the School of Education Newsletter of Andrews University about my teaching ESL/ELL experience. It was due today and will be published tomorrow, but you get to read it now! Hope you’ll enjoy it….


Imagine being in a classroom full of nonsense noise all day. It may not be new to you, but what if even a teacher is producing only unintelligible sounds? This is what the most new ESL/ELL (English as a Second Language/English Language Learner) students experience when they first come to the U.S. I have taught a few hundreds of them.

They all come with different attitudes: Some are excited to live in America to broaden their worlds, some feel they had no choice and feel like a victim. They all come with different personalities: Some are outgoing and expressive so they find ways to communicate regardless of the language barrier, some are reserved and perfectionist so they do not utter a word unless it is perfect English. Yet, they all absorb English and begin to use it eventually. At different speeds, and in different ways.

After living in the U.S. for a year, a six-year-old girl said, “I like learning English, but I know there is still so much more to English that I do not know. I wanna keep learning English!” Wow. Another student of mine in the junior high school told me, “It took me a year to understand what people were saying, two years for me to express myself, and three years to be academically proficient in English.” I was only able to meet with these students individually once a week so it was, for the most part, sink-or-swim submersion. Yet our brains are fearfully and wonderfully made so that they try to make sense out of the gibberish we hear as babies and even as adults. When it comes to second language learning though, it may not happen as smoothly and naturally, so a lot of support is needed.

Reflecting on the ESL/ELL teaching experience, I think this is similar to how God communicates to us. When we were yet sinners, spiritual matters did not make sense. But with His Holy Spirit and support of others He sends us, we begin to construct meaning out of what was seemingly gibberish. So now, imagine being in heaven full of intelligible sounds beyond words….

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