I am grading papers and mini-quizzes in my Hispanic Civlization class. This semester, I have a really great group of students: they are intellectually curious, motivated, active, and smart. There is, however, one thing that limits them terribly in what they can do: the English language. In many responses, I can see that they know the answer but are impotent to express themselves in their own (and, more often than not, their only) language. The perennial "actually," "basically," "kind of," "sort of," "really" and "like" that pepper their written assignments in spite of my endless exhortations to avoid these meaningless words testify to the students' grievously inadequate vocabulary. Even when they have original ideas, they are prevented from expressing them by their linguistic limitations.
The same problem arises with the lectures I deliver. There are too many words that I use that students simply do not understand. I can't turn every thing I say in class into a snappy soundbite, which is the only format that students never fail to respond to and retain. As a result, we are constantly separated (or "seperated" as my students keep writing) by a linguistic barrier of major proportions. Given that I am not even a native speaker of English, this is scary.
I constantly see my students trying to express themselves verbally and often failing completely. They try to substitute the words they so painfully lack with gestures, interjections, weird sounds, filler words, etc. They struggle with their own language so much but end up losing this battle most of the time. Having no linguistic competency in any language must be an extremely limiting thing. As somebody who speaks, reads and writes in three languages on a daily basis, I cannot even imagine how difficult it must be to live in this verbal desert where even simple thoughts are not easy to express.
How did this happen that these young people have been trapped in such monstrous linguistic incompetency? Who robbed these kids of language? And, more importantly, how can this be remedied?
Sorry for the abundance of teaching-related posts! I know that everybody must be sick and tired of them, but we are heading into our last week of classes, after which I promise to stop harping about teaching for a while.