Two Great Books for ESL/EFL Reading Classes

Homeless Bird  by Gloria Whelan

This is a magnificent story of Koly, a young Indian girl. Her life changes dramatically after she is forced into an arranged marriage. Her dream world of comfort and love comes to an end when she is sent off to marry a sickly boy who soon dies and leaves her as a 13-year-old widow. While it would appear as though Koly’s only hopes for happiness are in the hands of her new family, she soon realizes that true happiness must come from within.  The book takes the reader on an emotional journey as Koly travels through India battling adversity in her search for happiness.

Although it is a story of a teenage girl, it is a story that can be enjoyed by both young women and young men. Anyone who reads this book will be moved by Koly and her determination.

Using this book in an ESL/EFL reading class is an excellent way to help students learn about Indian culture as well as acquire new English vocabulary. The writer uses very descriptive language to tell this beautiful story. In addition, the story helps to raise awareness of social issues and gender issues that are common in many countries around the world.

Another advantage of using this book with second language learners is that Gloria Whelan’s prose is rich with metaphors. This is important because metaphors and similes are common in daily conversation and in pop culture. Metaphors and similes are also the beginnings of understanding and formation of analogies in higher levels of communication. The ability to infer meaning from new metaphors takes practice and helps to build critical thinking skills that are essential for a language learner’s meta-linguistic analysis during the language acquisition process.


Children of the River by Linda Crew

This is a heart-warming story of Cambodian refugees living in America. Although the story is set in the backdrops of the Cambodian Civil War and conflicts in Southeast Asia that continued throughout the 1970s, the situation is very relevant to the refugee crises that are taking place in the world today.

It is a story that teaches the reader about cultural differences and the difficulties of living in a new culture. The story’s main character is a Cambodian girl, Sundara. She fled Cambodia with her aunt’s family to escape the Khmer Rouge army when she was thirteen, leaving behind her parents, her brother and sister, and the boy she had loved since she was a child. Four years later, in America, she is struggling to fit in at her high school while still trying to keep her Aunt’s expectations that she should be “a good Cambodian girl” at home. A good Cambodian girl never dates, so Sundara is told she must wait for her family to arrange her marriage to a Cambodian boy. Despite this, Sundara and an American boy begin to fall in love.  The power of love draws them to each other. However, Sundara cannot forget her family that she left behind in Cambodia.  It is that grief for her lost family and for the life left behind that makes Sundara want to be with the American boy, Jonathan. The closer she grows to Jonathan, the more she wonders if her hopes for happiness and new life in America are disloyal to her past and her people.

This is a wonderful story for all young people and especially those interested in learning about the challenges of living in a new culture.


Questions or Suggestions

If you have any questions about these books or about how to use them for teaching reading in the ESL/EFL classroom, please leave a comment. Also, let me know of any suggestions you many have!

Global Issues in Language Education

Studying a Second Language is a Passport to Global Citizenship

Learning a foreign language is a passport to global citizenship. The commitment to learning a new language demonstrates an interest in broadening one’s view of the world and the desire to understand other cultures. As a language learner’s worldview expands, so should knowledge and interest in global issues.

Wider View of the World

The acquisition of a second language and the acquisition of socially responsible behavior are similar in that they are both processes that affect a person’s view of the world and foster the development of a global mindset. As a person’s view of the world expands, it becomes easier to understand how global issues transcend political and cultural borders. Addressing those global issues and planning sustainable global development require communication among all members of the international community. Therefore, people learning a second language have the opportunity to become ambassadors for peace, equality, human rights and the environment.

The Role of the Language Teacher

The language educator’s role is to begin the process by providing access to knowledge that will raise awareness of issues. Increases in knowledge and awareness inevitably lead to a change in attitude about how a specific issue is perceived. Language classes that focus on higher levels of language production such as writing or debate courses that encompass rhetorical skills in cause and effect analysis or evaluative ability naturally help to develop students’ critical thinking skills. Using global themes in such courses will also help to provide those students with the opportunity to develop the skills to take action and participate as global citizens for the betterment of the global community.

Pedagogical Reasons for Using Global Issues as Lesson Themes

Although the major goals of introducing global issues into language lessons are to raise consciousness and to promote socially responsible behavior, there are also several pedagogical reasons as well. Lesson materials for using global issues themes in a language classroom can and should be authentic. That is the lesson materials represent real-world issues using common vocabulary and rhetoric. The use of authentic materials in second language teaching intensifies the meaningfulness of content. Meaningful content can be a factor that facilitates the acquisition of language in content-based instruction because meaningful learning increases retention of new knowledge and information.

  • Use Authentic Materials
  • Integrate 4 skills
  • Communicative Approach
  • Active Learning 
  • Content-Based/Theme Based Instruction
  • Inspire Independent Learners
This video introduces my textbook for using Global Issues as content for teaching English.
Tips for Teachers

Perhaps, a pressing question might be, “How should a language teacher select a particular global issue for a lesson theme?” The answer to this question depends on the answer to two other questions: Who are the students? And, what are their needs?

Since the primary focus of this discussion is on language teaching, it is essential to first consider the needs of the language learner. Therefore, before selecting a global issue as a theme and before designing materials for a lesson, the language teacher needs to consider the following assumptions:

1) The younger the students are the less likely they will be able to understand abstract concepts and intricate cause-and-effect relationship involved in the detailed explanations of global issues. The teaching implication of this is to keep the content material about a particular global challenge simple and within the realm of understanding for children and young teens.


2) The lower the proficiency level, the less likely students will be able to use intricate language patterns and high level vocabulary to express opinions and ideas about global issues in the target language. The teaching implication of this is to focus more on receptive skills (reading and listening) and use materials that provide scaffolding of target language structures. It would also be useful to include visual media (pictures and videos) in order to maximize the comprehensibility of new vocabulary.


3) The greater the social distance between local issues familiar to a language learner and a global issue introduced into the language classroom, the more difficult it will be for the language learner to understand. Additionally, a lack of understanding for a lesson theme may result in a lack of interest and motivation for the language lesson. The teaching implication here is to try to connect content material about global issues to students’ lives or to local issues that are familiar to them.


4) Students do not need to understand all the intricate connections of a particular global issue to benefit from using the issue as a theme in the language classroom. The primary goal of incorporating global issues as themes into language lessons is to begin to raise students’ awareness.


KEEP IN MIND
  • Try not to be judgmental.
  • Try to avoid over-generalizations.
  • You don’t have to be an expert.
  • Try to avoid an “us” vs. “them” or “we” vs. “you” tone.