Understanding Fluency

If you’re anything like us, you’re counting down the days until your student arrives. You’ve exchanged emails, you see their updates on Facebook (and love when they tag or write about you) and you’ve told everyone you know about the fact that your hosting. Now is the time to deepen your understanding of language, because you’re going to be surprised when your student arrives.

While exchange students are required to meet a certain level of English ability the scale is arbitrary. Their language skills from having English throughout their schooling puts our junior high and high school Spanish to shame, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them. Here are x things to keep in mind about how language works as your student is adjusting to life in America.

1. Your student is not thinking in English. Sounds strange, right? You probably aren’t cognizant of the fact that your constant interior monologue is in English, but it is. This means for every single thing you say to your exchange student they have twice the amount of thinking to do.

Example: my student arrives and I say, “it’s nice to meet you!”
He hears that and then processes it as, “leuk om u te ontmoeten!”

Think about that! It’s work. Keep your sentences short in the beginning. Keep in mind that this is exhausting. And think about how much more extensive it is for a simple question and answer…

Me: what color is you suitcase?
Student (thinking): Welke kleur is u koffer?
Student (thinking): Mijn koffer is blauw.
Student (thinking): My suitcase is blue.
Student (speaking): blue!

That’s a ton of work for a one word answer to a five word question.  And it’s exhausting.

2. Your student needs wait time.  If you’ve ever taught, you know this term.  If you haven’t taught, wait time is what some teachers understand and others do not.  It’s the time between when a question is finished and a student is selected to answer it.  Chances are you had a  kid in your class (or were the kid in your class) who raised their hand mid-question or right after.  A good teacher knows to wait and allow other kids to process their answer and raise their hand.  Otherwise there’s a risk of some kids never getting called on, of making the kid who takes time to think feel like this is a bad thing, never assess how the rest of the class is doing.  If you ask your exchange student a question, especially before they’ve let you know that they’re thinking in English, you must give them wait time.  Don’t rephrase immediately, and please don’t move on to a different question.  It’s going to be new and different but your student will appreciate it.

3. Practice makes perfect.  Your student may be a little homesick in the beginning and may want to talk to home.  Stick to the once a week rule or other established rule.  Talking to home too much is really bad when a student is homesick (it makes it worse) but it’s also terrible for language development.  Especially prior to making the switch to English, your student should avoid speaking too much in his native language.  It’s amazing how tired kids are before switching to 100% English and you want this change to happen as quickly as possible.  Talk to your exchange student about the importance of language development and immersing himself in English – they’re just as excited as you for their new language practice and may not understand how it works.

If you’ve hosted, what is something you’ve learned about language?  If this is your first time, what are you looking forward to most?  Most nervous about?

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