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.

  • 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.

Living Abroad

Adjusting to a New Cultural

Living in a foreign land can be a roller coaster journey of emotions. From the initial excitement of planning to move to a new country to the honeymoon highs upon arrival to the lonely lows during those days when the word “foreign” stops being synonymous with the word “fun”.  Although the label “expat” is an invisible badge of courage, every overseas worker must cope with countless daily challenges to turn living in a foreign culture not just surviving, but rather thriving. Understanding the stages of cultural adjustment can help to make life in a foreign cultural easier. Here are some tips for coping while living abroad. Don’t just survive; thrive!

Journey into a Foreign Culture

Cultural Adjustment is a Long Journey

Culture Shock

  • “Wow, we don’t have those back home?” That is the fun kind of culture shock. 
  • “What the #&!% is that? No way am I eating that.” That is the not-so-good kind of culture shock. 
  • “What do you mean you can’t understand what I said.  I’m speaking your language…I think.” That is the frustrating kind of culture shock.
  • “Nobody understands me here. I can’t understand these people. I hate it here. I got to go home.” That is the culture shock at its worst.

U-Curve of Cultural Adjustment

Oberg’s Stages of Cultural Adjustment

What is Cultural Adjustment?

Cultural adjustment is a process of learning about another culture in order to function successfully within that culture. This can help an expat to accomplish the goals they have for moving to another country.  For example, a Filipino overseas worker needs to communicate with bosses and coworkers, understand the monetary institutions for saving money and sending money home, be aware of customs, laws and cultural expectation. Likewise, EFL teachers and study abroad students need to understand the educational culture and education system of a country in order to accomplish their professional or academic goals.  

The cultural-adjustment period is the length of time it takes an individual to learn or acquire the behavior necessary to achieve his or her objectives.  The amount of time it takes for a person to adjust to living in another culture varies due to differences in personalities, personal characteristics and personal experiences in the host country.  Social distance between cultures can also be a factor in how long the cultural-adjustment period may take. That is, the greater the difference between a sojourner’s home cultural and destination culture, the more difficult the cultural adjustment period is likely to be.  

Difficulties Living Abroad

  • Coping in a new education system (edu-culture)
  • Dating/Romance
  • Language differences
  • Collectivism vs. Individualism
  • Understanding cultural nuances or cultural mindset
  • Eating local food
  • Making friends

Variations of the U-Curve

English, B. (2011). “Preparing Japanese University Students for Study Abroad” in Tama University School of Global Studies Bulletin, Issue 4, 2011

In the above graph, point A designates the end of the expat’s Honeymoon Stage.  Frustration with cultural differences and language barriers are more pronounced as the traveler begins to need more than just superficial contact with people.  Point B represents the beginning of an early recovery.  This could result from the formation of a friendship network that has been successful in making the expat part of the new community.  Point C could represent a crucial point where the individual needs some positive feedback and encouragement to start a recovery.  Without some kind of success at this point, the individual may become melancholy about the sojourn and reject the host culture.  Any antagonistic feelings about the host culture may cause the expat to seek out the company of compatriots.  A compatriot friendship network could provide some support to initiate a recovery for the individual.  However, if those compatriots were also malcontents, then negative feelings toward the host culture could snowball, precluding any possibility for recovery as is represented by the line going through point D.  Point E represents a critical incident that had a positive result and depicts a favorable change in attitude toward the host culture.  Point F exemplifies a critical incident with a negative result that leads to a relapse, which is manifested in increased negative feelings about the host culture or additional disillusionment about the sojourn experience.

Good Friends are Important While Living Abroad

Pre-Departure Tips for Thriving While Living Abroad

  1. Have Realistic Expectations – Everyone has a bit of Dorothy in them. Oz was a wonderful place, but there is no place like home. So, before packing those bags, it is probably good to do a fair amount of research to find out how many lions and tigers and bears (and witches) are lurking in that foreign land. If you have been there already on holiday, keep in mind that a vacation usually only gets you part way through the honeymoon stage. Reading other people’s blogs about living in a country can provide a wider perspective of what to expect. Knowing the challenges will help you keep realistic expectations.
  2. Have an Arrival Plan – This seems like a no-brainer, but the better planned the first few weeks are, the easier the initial adjustment will be.  A wise plan would include seeking out compatriots living in the area or foreigner support groups via social networking. It is also important to have several options for accommodation in case there are complications with your first choice. An arrival plan should also include researching and anticipating what will be needed in terms of documents for a new school, job, apartment or medical emergency.
  3. Have a Contingency Plan – What will you do if your new school or job is very different from what you expect? Promises from OW agencies or English schools are not always kept. Don’t commit to an all-or-nothing gamble when deciding to move abroad. Have an “escape plan” just in case you need one.
  4. Learn Some Local Lingo – Study some of the local language and learn some basic phases that will facilitate getting around during the first few days. The more you can communicate in the local language, the easier it will be to do the simplest daily activities such as ordering food, shopping and asking directions. 

Post-Arrival Tips for Thriving While Living Abroad

  1. Friendship Networks – Making new friends is not always easy and trying to meet quality people while abroad can be especially challenging. However, it is important to befriend some locals that speak your language. Having host-country friends can be an open door to learning more about your new environment. Local friends can also help with translating and understanding cultural nuances. However, it is also important to have a network of friends from you own cultural. Finding expat support groups and attending expat social gatherings can be a great way to take a mental vacation from the stress of living abroad. This is easier in a large city than a small town just because choices are greater. Unfortunately, not all expats are outgoing to new arrivals and not all expats are the type of people you want to call friends. Every country has its share of jaded or dodgy foreigners.
  2. Avoid Malcontents – Negativity breeds more negativity.  If you spend time with fellow expats who continuously complain about the local people and customs, you too will look more and more on the dark side. Seek out positive people to stay positive.
  3. Monitor Yourself – Be aware of your habits and your health. If you realize that you are eating much more junk food, sleeping much later or drinking much more alcohol than you did back home, you could be getting depressed. A change in such habits could be a warning sign. Stay healthy physically and it is easier to cope with the stress of living abroad.
  4. Get Involved in a Cultural Activity – This is a great way to stay positive and meet positive thinking locals and expats.
  5. Daytrips – These are an essential way to recharge your mental batteries and reconnect with the “honeymoon stage” of living abroad. Plan a daytrip, get excited about it and go. If you are trying to save money, do something cheap like a hike or a walk through the historical part of a city. Pack a lunch and go to a famous park. Visit an art gallery or a temple or museum.
  6. Alone Time – If your living situation includes roommates or a host family, be sure to schedule some alone time for yourself.
  7. Keep in Touch (but not too much) – In the modern world it is easy to talk to family and friends back home. Sometimes, it is too easy. Family and friends can help relieve the homesickness and bring you up if you start to feel down about living abroad. However, they can also add to the homesickness without knowing it. Reach out and touch someone when you want to, but don’t think that skype and viber calls are your ruby slippers to click three times.
  8. Temporary Leaves – If the weather, the food, the job, the homework or whatever are getting the better of you, consider a short trip out of the country. For the long-term expat, a vacation out every now and then is necessary.
  9. Money – If you are an overseas worker then saving money is probably one of your goals for living abroad.  Keep your eyes on the prize.  Even if saving money is not one of your goals, having money can lessen the stress of living abroad.  Make a budget and stick to it. Living abroad often comes with unexpected expenses. Sometimes it is small like an unexpected rise in transportation cost.  Sometimes it is larger like an unexpected income tax hike or other deduction from your pay check. With money, expect the unexpected.

I hope you enjoy these tips. Please comment below about your own living abroad experiences and add some tips on how to thrive while living abroad!