How to build English foundations
“…remember that knowledge is one of the few things that no one can ever take from you. The more you have, the richer and wiser you are!”
We had the chance to speak with Fabiana Da Silva, our ESL Director/Prep-Coordinator at EF Academy New York. She’s been working on campus since 2011, however, she’s been teaching English as a second language for more than a decade. She helps coordinate a preparation course that helps students gain a stronger foundation in English before furthering their studies. We had the chance to hear about her approach to helping students gain strong foundations in their English skills.
What made educating in English as a second language so important to you?
Teaching English as a second language is my passion and something that I look forward to every day! As an English Language Learner myself, I always enjoyed my English classes; and as a student, I realized that students learn better from teachers with whom they have a good relationship.
Early in my career, I realized that teaching English Language Learners is a beautiful, magical experience that benefited both my students and myself. To be the one to give them the tools and skills necessary to express themselves and to achieve their dreams is a gift.
I feel that teaching is an amazing exchange: I get to assist them in enhancing their abilities, and in turn, they teach me about their countries, culture, and worldviews.
What is the most important advice you can give a student who wants to improve their English skills?
I believe that there are three pieces of advice that are crucial to any student who wants to improve his/her language skills:
First, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Remember the quote, “the expert in anything was once a beginner.” Second, I strongly believe that an English learner should always immerse him/herself in English. Learning should not be limited to class time only.
And finally, focus on developing the four core skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. They all need to be worked on for you to improve, These skills are the ones needed in order to score well on the TOEFL exam, SAT, and for college success.
What is the most important advice you can give to a parent of a student with a similar goal?
I believe that the most important advice I can give is that parents should get as involved as they possibly can. I strongly believe that parental involvement is key for English Language learners to thrive academically. One way parents can support their children is by helping them establish good study routines so they can learn to use their time wisely.
Other ways include encouraging them to complete homework, participate in class and ask questions whenever something is unclear to them, as well as to take advantage of all the extra support the school has to offer.
What’s something you’ve found surprising in your time as an educator?
I am amazed by how much impact we teachers, have on our students’ lives. It is great to know that every day, we have the power to inspire them to be not only great learners but also caring people.
It is fulfilling when students look up to us as people. I always tell my students that I also was once a student who dreamed of learning English; if I could learn to speak, and now teach it, they can too.
How can parents and students deal with setbacks in their language education goals?
Parents and students can find it difficult to deal with setbacks because they may have to postpone their dreams and goals. I believe that setbacks are part of a natural process which all of us go through whenever we learn something new.
For example, in order to learn how to walk, we first learn how to crawl. We fall down several times, but we somehow manage to get back up on our feet! I strongly believe that setbacks can be considered stepping stones for success. It is important to remember that these obstacles should not be seen as failures, but as pathways to success.
Have you found that independent study combined with community-based learning has provided stronger results for ESL students?
Yes, I have seen students who came to the Prep program without speaking a word of English, and after a couple of months, I noticed these students using independent study and taking advantage of our Learning Center sessions to improve their language skills. Motivation is also key to success, so if one is determined to learn and is willing to put in the time, anything can happen.
Do you have any memorable stories of a student working on their language skills that stands out to you?
Yes, I do. I remember a student who studied in the Prep program for one year to improve his language skills. He was a very hard-working student who was always thirsty to learn something new.
After a year, he was able to join grade 9 & 10 in the IGCSE, and study in the IB program for two years. Watching him walk down the aisle at graduation, I had many flashbacks of the day he first arrived in Prep, and of all his accomplishments in his five years at EF Academy.
That’s such a touching story! What advice would you give to other teachers about their ESL students? Maybe some who’d like to have a similar experience.
Whenever possible, try to use a variety of strategies to engage your students in their learning process. When planning your lessons, it is important to plan for moments which require the active participation of your students. Sitting in class, listening for hours without really understanding what is going on can be quite boring for them, and draining for teachers.
Remember that we should not be center stage, and we should not be doing most of the talking. The students are the ones who need to practice, therefore, they are the ones who need to shine. I strongly believe that whenever developing lesson plans for ELLs, we should keep in mind to include many opportunities for hands-on experiences and full participation in the class discussion.
What’s one thing you want students to know?
Believe in yourself and know that you can reach your dreams if you have the willingness to fight for them! Learning can have setbacks, but remember that knowledge is one of the few things that no one can ever take from you. the more you have, the richer and wiser you are!