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Building trust in ESL learners, happily, starts from a stronger foundation than

for most learners. That is because ESL learners make wonderful, highly motivated
students, often from cultures that value education and revere teachers. The ESL
teacher must, therefore, take care not to undermine this happy phenomena and find
ways to build pathways into the student's learning style.

THE BLOCK

ESL means "English as a Second Language," which means, of course, that the
learner's first language is not English. The ESL teacher is faced with not only a
linguistic impediment to learning, but also cultural "filters" that can lead to
misunderstanding and frustration. Compounding this frustration is the tendency on
the part of the ESL learner's reluctance to say anything, out of timidity or deep
respect for the teacher.

OVERCOMING THE BLOCK

Teaching is a process that requires patience, along with an unrelenting


determination to assure that learning has occurred. All teachers have assessment
methods that include feedback in the classroom and testing. The ESL teacher must
be doubly relentless in getting feedback from the learner. A bonus in this effort
for the ESL learner is that learning is not only reinforced through constant
feedback, but also the student's command of English is strengthened through the
process of verbal questioning and response.

BUILDING TRUST THROUGH EMPATHY

The ESL teacher needs to take the trouble to learn about the cultural and
linguistic background of the student. What are the family values involved? How
does the culture treat its female members? Are there "personal space" issues and
other cultural anomalies that could get in the way of learning. For example, some
ESL students might be deeply embarrassed with our Western "in-your-face"
assertiveness, and the ESL instructor must tread lightly when bringing attention
to a particular student in class.

The ESL teacher who empathizes with cultural sensitivities of students, then,
creates an atmosphere of comfort and, in turn, breaks down the anxiety barriers to
learning. The goal is never to try to "westernize" the student, but simply to make
the student more comfortable in the classroom setting.

EMPATHY FEEDS TRUST; TRUST FEEDS LEARNING

In the classroom setting students tend to do what the teacher does. A group of ESL
students might come from a diverse background (Hispanic, Middle East, Eastern
European), but every culture values respect and polite treatment of others.
Classroom diversity provides an enormous opportunity to build classroom cohesion
and a sort of exponential and self-sustaining learning environment. If the ESL
teacher shows respect and a gentle teaching style and refrains from aggressiveness
or teasing, ESL students will treat each other the same way. The result will be
that desired anxiety-free learning environment where mutual trust is paramount
and, in the end, learning occurs.