Erik Yegoryan & Bruna Souza, Staff Writers

ESL students (English as a Second Language) or ELs (English Learners)  are faced with a lot of obstacles and drawbacks due to the language barrier. Having to learn and have conversations in a new language can be very difficult and take a lot of time. Transitioning between languages and interacting with people who don’t understand you can be frustrating, even exhausting. It’s a long process of adaptation and requires a lot of patience and perseverance. A few students at Waltham High School were interviewed about their experiences, difficulties, and favorite parts of learning English. They gave insight into what it really feels like to learn a second language.

 One of the common challenges among ESL students is interacting with other people. For ESL students, it’s hard to try and understand what others say in English or try to speak it themselves. This creates a huge barrier that limits their ability to create friendships. The outcome of this is that they are forced to be secluded from other people, which can consequently have a negative effect on their emotional well-being. 

When asked about some of the difficulties he faced, a WHS EL, who has only lived here for a few years, and whose native language is Portuguese shared, “A língua e também sobre como as pessoas se entendem, cria amizade.” [“The language, and also how people understand each other and create friendships.”] Another student from Uganda stated, “I would say it was [difficult] because I remember in middle school, I only had one friend, he was from Uganda as well, and he understood what I was going through.” 

Another common challenge was that when the students were new to the school and their classes, some of them felt that their teachers didn’t give them the support that they needed. Teachers need to understand that ELs need separate help with learning the language than regular help with homework. They need to spend time learning how to pronounce, spell, talk, read and write. Unfortunately, too often, teachers weren’t really noticing that EL students were struggling with learning and needed some extra help to understand what they were learning. A WHS EL mentioned, “the first time I came, the teachers were all over the place, and they didn’t have time to focus on me…I gave up but then I sent them emails and stuff so they could help me more…” 

Although ELs face these obstacles, they’ve also found ways that help them learn. Some examples are reading books, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, and watching tv shows, and anything that provides more exposure and practice in English. Some students mentioned how they had a good experience learning English in a short amount of time. One of the students stated, “I learned English in one year, it was so easy and I didn’t even struggle.” The student was talking about how it was really easy for him to learn English because he was born in America, but his family was from Spain. He learned English by listening to music and translating it to understand every single word that was used in the song. He was also asking his teachers for extra help after school.

Being an EL student can be both challenging and rewarding. It requires a mindset toward your education that many students struggle to maintain. In the end, though, these students are able to overcome the barriers they face in an impressive and positive manner. Their outlook on their experiences is extremely uplifting, as they never give up, no matter how hard it gets. It’s something that deserves recognition. Learning and communicating in a new language can be very overwhelming for most EL students, so it is essential to be understanding and supportive of these students as they adapt to a completely new environment.