What could be more important to learning a language than interacting with the community? As English Language Learners of all ages work to improve both their content knowledge and English language skills, they engage meaningfully with their communities in a number of ways.
Just think about the ways we all learn throughout the day by talking with others, visiting the library, utilizing various private and public community services, and using modern technology to communicate. Our ELLs can experience a wide variety of learning opportunities if we think about how to use community resources wisely and educationally.
Libraries provide books and programs
Local libraries are a great starting point. Books are the obvious reason, but libraries offer so much more than just books! Many libraries offer highly specific study guides, free tutoring and conversation practice sessions in English, GED preparation classes, and a variety of educational programs. There are often fun clubs to join and classes to take with other members of the larger community.
Many local libraries even offer specific activities and programming for teens. Young children can be entertained and gain a love of reading by attending story time at the local library. Library cards are usually free and easy to obtain based on residency in the community.
While some community libraries are smaller than others, most will allow interlibrary loans and will help ELLs find the materials they need and desire. Technology and internet access are also huge pluses for ELLs who may not have computer access at home.
Neighborhood community centers
While libraries often serve a dual purpose as community centers, many neighborhoods have specific community centers designed for educational, social, and recreational use. ELLs of all ages can join in on everything from team sports to chess clubs. Many community centers offer free or reduced price childcare in the summer for day camp experiences, which are the perfect opportunity for ELLs to engage with peers whose native language is English.
The social opportunities in the safe, shared environment of the local community center can provide the type of language learning that ELLs can only get from their peers. Both casual/social and academic language (formally known as Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, or BICS, and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, or CALP) work together cyclically to nurture ongoing language learning. Being a part of a community center can be a motivating experience that takes away the anxiety of being in a new place.
Some community centers even focus specifically on religious or ethnic groups, which allows ELLs from those groups to network with one another, form friendships, and learn about additional resources together. This can reduce culture shock and help with ongoing acculturation, which can take quite a bit of time.
While they may not be as fun as joining a club at the library or the local community center, various governmental, nonprofit, and social services organizations can be extremely helpful to English Language Learners. This is especially true for ELLs who have just arrived in the U.S. or are facing poverty and hunger. For example, local food pantries and agencies provide food to hungry students and their families.
Governmental and social services organizations can help ELLs who are refugees with the citizenship process and related paperwork. Other nonprofits assist local refugees in a number of ways, including English instruction and assistance in integrating into daily community life.
Of course, 21st-century technology brings myriad resources to help our English Language Learners. Here are some popular and helpful websites that ELLs and their teachers and families can utilize:
- Colorin Colorado
- ESL Resource Center
- Purdue Online Writing Lab
- Professor Emeritus Jim Becker’s website
With or without technology, some local communities have more resources than others. See what your community offers, and if you find a need, perhaps you can network with others to provide what is missing. Other communities can serve as a model for ideas for helping our ELLs beyond the classroom walls.
Dr. Maggie Broderick teaches master’s and doctoral-level courses in teacher education online for various universities, including Concordia University – Portland. Dr. Broderick taught K-12 in the Pittsburgh Public Schools before completing her Ph.D. in Foreign Language Education at the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to teaching, she enjoys writing, course development, and research.
English Language Learners: Related Resources
- Why Teachers of English Language Learners Need Professional Development
- A Day in the Life of an English Language Learner
- Time to Reassess Testing and Assessment for English Language Learners
- English Language Learners with Special Needs
- Proficiency Levels of English Language Learners
- Who are the English Language Learners of Today?
- Technology for 21st-Century English Language Learners
- Language Acquisition Theories for Teachers of ELLs
- Instructional Techniques for Teachers of ELLs