two students working together in a classroom

Teaching Support

Your support is critical to creating a positive environment for multilingual learners. Making a genuine connection by learning a student's name (including correct pronunciation!), asking about their background or experiences, and welcoming them to visit your office—these gestures may help them establish a new support system and set them up for success.

Many of the specific strategies below are supported by Universal Design for Instruction and can improve learning for all students in your classroom.  You can learn about other campus resources to support your teaching on our Faculty and Staff Resources page.

We would also love to hear from you about strategies you use that have proven effective in supporting multilingual students. Please take a moment and share your success stories with us

Lecture Comprehension

Challenges

Preparation: If students have difficulty understanding the course readings or homework, this may further reduce their abilities to understand lectures clearly. 

Speed: When the pace of the lecture is very fast, it may be challenging for students to follow the content and understand the relationships between ideas. 

VisualsMultilingual students may have a greater need for visual support, particularly for instructions, key terms, or complex concepts.

Vocabulary: Putting new words in the correct context and using the words accurately takes time and practice. 

Idioms and Metaphors: Non-native English speakers typically learn formal vocabulary when studying English and therefore are not as familiar with idiomatic or slang expressions, including the use of informal phrasal verbs (verbs with two words such as “back up” or “look after”). 

Choice of Examples: The use of cultural, political, or historical examples that multilingual students are not familiar with may be challenging to understand. 

Humor: A joke that is funny to most US students may not be humorous, or even understandable, to students from another cultural background. Elements such as tone of voice, intonation, and cultural references can subtly exclude multilingual learners from a humorous classroom experience.

Asking Questions: Students’s confidence in their speaking abilities or their preferences may prevent them from asking clarification questions during class.

Strategies for Support

  • Utilize preview and review methods so that students have access to lecture content before and after the lecture happens. 
  • Provide an outline of the lecture at the beginning of class.
  • Provide copies of lecture materials on the course website.
  • Use a variety of visual support tools throughout the lecture, including power point, the whiteboard, and handouts.
  • Pace your speaking and provide time for students to process key concepts in pairs or small groups.
  • Explain idioms and provide examples of new vocabulary whenever possible.
  • Repeat key words to help show the connections between ideas, and point out key vocabulary terms explicitly and briefly share a definition.
  • Be aware that your humor or examples may not connect with all students, and try to find some opportunities to provide more context when sharing jokes or cultural reference.
  • Provide opportunities to ask questions in various ways, including in class, through office hours, or via e-mail.
  • Consider additional in-class and out-of-class communication strategies presented on the Writing for International Students website.

Discussion and Participation

Challenges

PreparationReading course materials and understanding new concepts can take extra time for students studying in their second language, and therefore they may not spend as much time critically reflecting to prepare for discussion. 

Processing TimeIt can be more time-consuming for multilingual learners to process and consider the correct vocabulary and effective grammatical structure needed to express ideas clearly. You may want to have students write down their responses (another advantage is that students can read off what they wrote, which may feel more comfortable).

Conversation Patterns: Students from different cultures may have various communication styles that influence how they participate in conversation.  For example, some students may not feel comfortable jumping into the conversation, and may prefer to be formally asked to contribute. This article from Voice of America explains different conversational styles using sports analogies to illustrate the turn-taking patterns and preferences.

ConfidenceAlthough multilingual learners have achieved significant accomplishments in their language learning process, many feel intimidated to speak in a group setting and risk making errors in front of peers and faculty.

Strategies for Support

Reading

Challenges

Identifying Priorities: Multilingual learners may need help prioritizing when multiple readings are assigned.

Reading Strategies: Learning how to skim to find the main ideas and important details takes time for multilingual learners to acquire. They may also need support to evaluate different genres and styles of writing.

Speed: Reading course materials and understanding background information can take extra time for students studying in their additional language.

Vocabulary: Unfamiliar terms can increase reading time and affect comprehension levels. Additionally, some students may depend too much on dictionaries to help translate unfamiliar words, and this can impact reading fluency.

Cultural Content: If the assigned readings contain many unfamiliar cultural, political, or historical examples, it may increase students’ comprehension challenges.

Critical Thinking: Because multilingual learners may spend more time reading to understand, they may not have adequate time to critically reflect. They also may not recognize that there are expectations for them to develop specific opinions in response to the readings.

Strategies for Support

  • Demonstrate how to read critically by discussing and annotating key texts as examples in class.
  • Encourage students to consider their existing knowledge about the topic before they read. This will help activate their schema and help frame the reading.
  • Provide a preview or explanation of unfamiliar cultural references from assigned readings.
  • Make the goals explicit for each reading assignment (e.g., “skim for key ideas in this article” or “identify and evaluate the argument in this article”), and give students a time estimate to help set expectations.
  • Provide a reading guide with key questions for students to consider as they read.
  • Allow students to discuss their understanding of readings in pairs or small groups.

Writing

Challenges

Grammar: Grammatical accuracy can be a challenge in second language writing. Multilingual learners may struggle with one type of grammatical feature more often, based on transfer from their native language or their previous experience learning English.

Vocabulary: Expressing ideas clearly in writing requires a good vocabulary as well as the ability to use words accurately. Relying upon a translator or dictionary poses significant limitations, and multilingual students need feedback on vocabulary choice to learn how to use words correctly in context.

Writing Style: US rhetorical style values direct, logical, and linear communication, which some students may be unfamiliar with. Specific trouble spots may include writing clear topic sentences or thesis statements, creating a logical structure throughout a paper, and supporting points with examples and evidence. Disciplines can also range significantly in stylistic expectations, and these expectations may be either unknown or unclear to multilingual students.

Integrating and Citing Sources: Integrating source information into an academic paper requires critical reading, summarizing, and paraphrasing. Many multilingual learners come from education systems that do not place the same value on citation rules when paraphrasing or quoting others, which can lead to challenges with academic honesty.

Strategies for Support

Group Work

Challenges

Power Dynamics: Since they are more knowledgeable about US academic norms, native English speakers are likely to hold more power and influence in the group. Non-native English speakers who feel a lack of confidence may be less likely to participate or contribute as actively in the group.

Student Perceptions: Based on language differences, native speakers of English may view non-native English speakers as lacking in motivation, intelligence, or academic competence, and as a result, non-native English speakers may face different forms of marginalization, such as being dismissed in the group process or given menial tasks to complete.

Reliance on First Language: Non-native English speakers from the same country may revert to speaking in their first language with each other, which can create barriers to forming social cohesion within the group.

Grading Concerns: Because group work is often a major part of a student’s grade, students’s anxiety about assessment can negatively impact group dynamics.

Miscommunications: Students may experience various misunderstandings based on cultural or linguistic differences and would benefit from instructor support to work through these miscommunications.

Strategies for Support

  • Help students build rapport before starting a group project. This can help reduce anxieties and discourage students from making blind judgments about each other.
  • Remind students that overcoming language barriers and communication problems can help them build important skills they will likely need in the workplace.
  • Look for opportunities to help native English speaking students adjust their attitudes toward non-native speakers of English. For example, include a syllabus statement to encourage students to value diversity and remind students of this throughout the group work process. In this statement, you could acknowledge the many varieties of international English spoken in the class and address the importance of overcoming language and cultural barriers to work together successfully. 
  • Provide opportunities for instructor support. For example, include time in class to work on group projects or set specific consulting times for students to troubleshoot group-related problems with the instructor.
  • Utilize the Surviving Group Projects tutorial provided by the Center for Educational Innovation.
  • Find tips to enhance culturally diverse group work on the Writing for International Students website.
  • Learn more about how to encourage successful interactions between international and local students by watching the Finding Common Ground video, produced by faculty at the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

Maximizing Diversity in the Classroom

  • Design community-building activities that help all students feel comfortable learning from each other.
  • Encourage peer interactions and reinforce that learning about diversity is an important course outcome. 
  • Integrate course materials and readings from different cultures. 
  • Provide opportunities for structured interaction among students by assigning or rotating groups.
  • Promote curiosity about different perspectives.
  • Create assignments that leverage the strengths that multilingual students bring to the classroom (for example, a research project that relies on the cultural knowledge that multilingual students possess).
  • See faculty examples from the videos created by faculty involved with the Internationalizing Teaching & Learning cohort and how they designed curriculum to help students develop intercultural competencies. 

Teaching Tools

References

Lecture comprehension

Discussion and participation

Reading

Writing

Group work