Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tech and International Students

PD today on the topic of working with a growing population of international students.

Would love to get some ideas here in relation to how you all are using tech to engage and empower these students. In my own classes, some of the things we do include letting international students use browsers in their primary language, encouraging them to use Google Translate to read the Web in their primary language (easiest to run through Chrome), and using primary and target languages on Google Maps. We also use all of the different language versions of Wikipedia, regularly translate and read news media in different languages, and use search engines from the 'country of origin'.

Another thing that I've found really enlightening is allowing international students to turn in work in their primary language. It's easy enough to use Translate to, well, translate. So let students turn in essays written in German, Korean, Urdu, or whathaveyou; of course the translation is not perfect, but it sure gives you a better idea of what's going on in a student's head than trying to make guesses based on the trouble they have writing in a target language.

This doesn't mean that English-language instruction in a US school isn't important -- of course it is for all sorts of practical reasons; all I'm saying is that we don't have to let language skills always get in the way of a student's ability to express understanding.

Getting past that language issue allows students to demonstrate their understanding of and engagement with content and concepts. And in most classes -- particularly in high school -- that's what we're going for. Furthermore, sharing primary language documents between students can help break down a lot of preconceptions students may have of one another based on language differences.

Would love to hear more ideas from all of you.


  1. Hi Shelly... as a foreigner for the last 17 years in 8 different languages, I can empathise. One thing that is also interesting is how different gestures mean different things to different people. IE: in France, men can greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, but they don't hug... where as in North America, (outside of Quebec) the meaning can be inversed.

    One other thing with foreign students, is that good ideas are sometimes lost to thick accents, so one thing that is neat is using twitter with tts - text to speech, so that comments are made with a neutral voice. ie: paste them in the text box at:

    This page is also great when YOU have voice or throat problems, as your own personal Mr. Hawking voice machine.

    However, a good thing to remind native English students is that they have an opportunity to learn the most important language in the world: English as a second language. There are more non-native speakers now than natives, and with emerging economies on the rise, it is important to learn how to communicate with them.

    A ten minute skype connection with their class in English, or looking at the influence of ESL in such things such as Leet speak, or WOW (kekeke)might also be a good quick eye-opener.

  2. The company I work for ( has some good stuff for this. What age are your students? Our stuff is mainly pre-k through 6th grade, but we make software for English learners to teach them english and literacy. The software helps them out in their primary language if they need it; it also continually assesses them, placing them where they need to be in the curriculum. The individualized instruction that a computer can give is so helpful to these types of students. I've seen shy/struggling/scared students come out of their shell time and time again as they sit at a computer with headphones, feeling unjudged, and they play and learn. Data reports show teachers and administrators the progress they make. The software is called Imagine Learning English. Let me know if you have any questions.

  3. I like the idea of having students write in their native language, especially as a first raft. For teachers worried about "sacrificing" a English-composed draft, I'd suggest using the auto-translated texts as the starting point for revision and peer edit, since many students'conversational English far out strips their academic prose.

  4. My old school had an absolute ban on allowing students to use Google Translate in any way, shape, or form to write or design their papers. The academic leadership did think about it, but decided it was not part of the school's overall teaching philosophy. It turned out, as well, that I couldn't use Google Translate to put primary source materials into the home language of my students.

    My new school does not have a large group of international or foreign-language kids, so we don't have a formal opinion about it one way or another. We'll see whether it becomes an issue as the school grows.

  5. We've had students publish oral history books using Quark Express.

  6. Hi Shelly! I love your blog. It's so refreshing to see someone trying hard to create an eco-friendly classroom (which is a hard thing to do!). I'm an editor for WeAreTeachers and I decided to feature your post on our Teacher Report today:


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