Breaking Language Barriers for Young Developing Multilinguals

Breaking Language Barriers for Young Developing Multilinguals

The talk-of-the-town is AI -- Artificial Intelligence. Often, the reality is that this artificialness retrieves information, generates ideas and crafts essays way faster than our human brain does. The data that it is able to put together in a sensible way simply at the tip of their virtual fingers blows my human mind.

If AI can do so many things… Can it do my work for me? Or maybe some part of my work for me?

So I got curious at what AI could do for my multilingual learners, especially the younger elementary learners who I teach, who are still developing their literacy skills in their home language. I am sure you will agree with me that lower elementary students are a fun bunch, they want to play a lot and everything that is a game, is the best day of their lives! But working with classes of EAL (English as an Additional Language) students who are in lower elementary comes with their challenges. It often involves trying to engage a range of EAL learners who come with very little English and not very much writing skills but they can speak a lot, A LOT in their home language which shows that they know a lot, A LOT. The tricky part is that I don’t actually know what they are talking about because I can’t speak their language so I don’t know a lot of the A LOT that they know. Even though my class involves a lot of gesturing and guessing and ahhhhhh… (If you know what I mean…), it can only take me that far before I start suspecting I might be a gesturing monkey.

And so one day, my curiosity led me to Curipod.

AI to do my lesson plans?

AI to do my lesson slides?

AI making my lessons fun and exciting?

Sign me up!

That was my first thought when I heard about Curipod. And I was not disappointed at all. I discovered here that I could now know a little bit more of the a lot of what my young multilingual learners were trying to tell me. On Curipod, I am able to create full lessons using the AI generative tool simply by giving it my lesson objectives. It has been the best thing ever (according to my students) because it provides a platform where they can engage in the lesson in multiple ways. The AI generated slide decks, fun facts, brain breaks, questions and tools are simply magic at the click of the wand. And of course, with some editing, Curipod’s best feature is that it reminds me to stay fun as a teacher whilst breaking the language barrier with my students.

Here are some of my favourite Curipod tools that have helped us to break the language barrier wall :

Drawing Tool:

Because drawing is an effective form of communication for young learners, a little fun starter that I have with my young multilingual learners when they come in for class right after a break (where they are all sweaty and need to calm down), is to ask them in true asian style what they had for snack/lunch in visuals. That helps me to check on their socio-emotional state and if they have had healthy food choices which will then determine how the next 45 minutes of class might be like. Given that my young multilingual students don’t always know the English names of what they eat, it gives me a good chance to talk about it with the class.

As you can see, someone had nofin (nothing), a couple of them had bananas, one had sponge cake, one had grape jelly, and another one had a feast of yakult, chocolate, candy and cookies. For those who could spot the language that was on their labels, they did and they wrote it down. And for those who didn’t know the written words for their food, it was a great chance to introduce them to how these words were spelled and what the words could be. Afterall, when things are tasty, they are always interested in learning about it! And of course, the voting bit that comes after the quick drawing session is over, helps them to really put in their best effort to draw (and calm down).

Poll Tool:

This poll tool might be one of my favourites yet because it gives the students a chance to voice their opinions without having the hand raising pressure and eliminates the double/triple vote of the elementary class. For the ones who are still developing their opinion language, it gives me a chance as a teacher to peer into what they might be thinking about and for those who have more English language, it gives them a chance to explain their reasons on why they voted for certain things. Often, I find that they pick up language from one another in discussions and eventually everyone wants to have their voices heard.

Open Question Tool:

As I am also trying to develop my young students’ writing skills, I get them to answer some open questions about everyday topics. Interestingly, their answers were reflective of where they were at with crafting sentences/phrases/words. Even though I put the sentence frame up, I encouraged them to create their own sentences if they could. One of them discovered that they could use emojis in their sentences to replace all the words that they couldn’t spell yet and then took the opportunity to talk about the things that they had chosen (obviously they were very hungry at that point). We had not moved to the discourse level at that point, but this tool is fully capable of allowing students to do so. And again, the voting bit that comes with the open question, helps the class to see at one go how others are writing with the same prompt and this motivates them to increase their language capabilities.

On another day, we discovered we could type in other languages on Curipod, and that’s where engagement really increased! Hence, we decided that perhaps the best way for them to show what they knew was to type in their own home language. For many of my beginning English learners, they usually can understand the question posed about texts that are at their independent lexile level but just simply do not have enough English to express their thoughts fully. This often leads to teachers misunderstanding these learners to have no comprehension of the text. Here, you can see a mix of Chinese and Japanese words that my young multilingual learners have used. The voice input function on their iPads allowed them to say their answers out instead of typing, and that gave them greater access to their own language that they didn’t know how to type/write out yet. Through our discussions, we also found the English translations for the words that they were using in their home language and guess what, they all understood/comprehended the text that we were talking about. This was true translanguaging in action. Rather than limiting my students to a language that they were still in the early stages of learning, they were operating with lesser linguistic restrictions and drawing upon their linguistic repertoire of their home language and English (their second or third language) to analyse the text and articulate their ideas.

There are so many more possibilities of using these tools as formative checkpoints to gauge my young multilingual learners’ learning and I am continuously exploring them and trying them out with anticipation! Ultimately, for my young learners, seeing their own home language being celebrated on screen and with their classmates was affirmation that their identity was not lost in a foreign country but rather being made used of to help them to advance their learning. The last thing I want for my multilingual learners is to think that their own home language is of a lower status than the English language and that they now have to forget everything that they know and learn new ways of thinking and living.

On an ending note, the best part of these Curipod tools are that they are all embedded into one presentation without the need for me to switch around apps or websites. And AI generating ideas, tools, slide decks for me as a teacher is the best thing since sliced bread (or white rice). My learners sign in with the QR code at the beginning and then are engaged in the entire lesson. In this, we are not device-reliant but rather, device-integrated. And of course, Curipod is like a game, and a game is always fun and provides a safe and social environment where language flows naturally. I hope the magic of Curipod works for you too!

Written by Grace Wong

Elementary EAL Teacher