ESL Case Study

The following sample Linguistics case study is 2546 words long, in MLA format, and written at the undergraduate level. It has been downloaded 924 times and is available for you to use, free of charge.

This particular case study will look at the life and learning experiences of Miss Lieve Darmont, a Belgian immigrant and former ESL student. Miss Darmont has been in the United States for nearly a decade now, however she is originally from Brussels, Belgium. Her native tongue is that of Flemish, a language that is ordinarily only spoken in the Flanders region of northern Belgium. Miss Darmont was taught some very basic English while in school as a teenager in Belgium, but still knew very little English upon her arrival in the United States, and although she speaks it fluently now, she did most of her learning of the language once she got here. It was both an exciting and terrifying experience as she recalls, with both fun and frustrating events along the way. Miss Darmont met her husband in Boston, Massachusetts and together they have a daughter. This particular fact is relevant to her experiences, because being in a welcoming and comfortable setting and constantly surrounded by family members that spoke excellent English proved to be extremely beneficial and inspiring to her. Miss Darmont was kind enough to share the details of her learning experiences and some of the interesting happenings along her path to being fluent in the English language.

When it comes to the various settings in which Miss Darmont learned English, there are many. Much of her learning came from immersion and from constantly surrounding herself with native English speakers. For example, when she first came to America, she worked at an upscale seafood restaurant in Boston, which is where she ended up meeting her husband who was one of the Chef there. While at her first job, Lieve encountered many difficult situations and even some rude people that had no tolerance or patience for her inability to speak English well. While she felt that these types of rude reactions were out of line and uncalled for, she also credits these types of people and situations with helping to push her along even faster when it came to learning English. She always got good grades in school growing up, so she knew it wasn’t a matter of her being inferior or anything like that, just a matter of hard work and time. The job provided her with many opportunities to learn, whether while she was interacting with guests and co-workers, or while she was just observing and paying close attention to the ways that those around her spoke and the words they used, she learned a huge amount her first year in the United States.

Miss Darmont credits her husband for taking her under his wing and making a big effort to help her learn the language in any way he could. Anytime she had a question, he was there to answer it. Even when she would forget things he had told/taught her several times before; he was able to stay patient and focused on helping her succeed. So not only did Lieve learn a lot about English her first year in America, but she also met her future husband and father of her future children in the process. After only a couple years in Boston, both Miss Darmont and her husband decided to move west to Colorado and that is where they eventually settled down and had a child together. It was at this time, right as her family was beginning, that Lieve began to feel the pressure of becoming more fluent in English. Her husband’s side of the family were less welcoming than she had expected, which was hard on her, but once again she decided to use their attitudes toward her as a tool for motivation, not something that could drag her down. After only a few short years in America, Lieve Darmont was becoming more proficient in English, and she claims that to this day, she is still improving her understanding, especially since there is also slang and the language itself seems to constantly be evolving.

However, in addition to just learning by herself (also known as “The Natural Approach”) and immersing/surrounding herself with native speakers of English, she also took night courses to speed up her abilities. She credits the courses and the various learning strategies that she learned to utilize with making her English come along much more efficiently (Oxford & Crookall “Research on Language learning Strategies” 1). Lieve also believes the night courses helped to make her speaking of the language far more conversational and less “choppy”, with more people being able to not only understand her, and her actually becoming able to converse with her with less misunderstandings or awkward miscommunication. Miss Darmont recalls that while attending her English course, the instructor was adamant in his requirement that only English be spoken while in the classroom. By using the “Direct Method” and “Immersion”, students were required to only speak English throughout the day and at all times. Even if students had a question, it was supposed to be asked in English, not their native tongue. There were a few Europeans and Asians in the class, but she recalls the majority of students being Hispanic. With all of the different languages in the class, the “English-only” requirement made even more sense. Not only did it help the students to learn, but it cut down on chaos and confusion. Occasionally, she can remember people forgetting and speaking whatever their native language was. This would bring about an angry response out of the instructor, who would always single out and admonish those that were breaking his rules. By doing so, it didn’t take long before the class fell into order and began making real progress learning the English language (“Language Teaching Methodologies”).

A couple of the biggest learning strategies employed by the teacher were those of problem-solving and repetition. When learning new words and phrases, the instructor would have the students repeat them over and over and over, helping to hopefully cement those words and phrases in the student’s minds. Quizzes were given frequently to test the student’s abilities, and to home in on their specific strengths and weaknesses. Lieve remembers the quizzes incorporating everything from multiple choice questions, to brief essay answers. Of course, as the course progressed the quizzes became more difficult, eventually even blending other subjects into the fold in order to teach student show to use their English to solve problems. Examples of this include math problems in which not only would the students have to deal with the numbers, but these types of mathematical equations were also worded in English. So not only would students have to employ a little basic math, but in order to successfully complete the problems, they would also have to be able to understand the words in the problem (Kelly, et. al., n.p.).

Another teaching strategy that the instructor used that Lieve found very beneficial was that of encouraging students to read. This method also helped to foster confidence among the students, many of whom were self-conscious of their English-speaking abilities, or lack thereof. Whether by having students read to themselves as part of homework, or by having them take turns reading aloud in class, this method worked wonders for Lieve and many others in the class as she recalls. One of the main aspects of reading that helped her is that it forced her to figure out word definitions she was previously unaware of, and it also allowed her to be able to see different words in different contexts. By being able to contextualize certain words and phrases, it allowed her to learn them faster (Oxford & Crookall “Vocabulary Learning” 9).

Lieve explains that one method her teacher would use when having ESL students read, would be to begin with a certain word (usually one that was unfamiliar to most of the students) underlined in a given statement or sentence. From there, students were asked to look for connections and clues within the sentence that might help them to define the underlined word. By putting together the meaning of all the other words in a given sentence, sort of like a process of elimination, students were able to home in on the value and meaning of the word in question. Upon reflection, Miss Darmont realizes that this method did indeed help her greatly, more than she even recalled until recently (“Reading Instruction”).

Of course, as with any significant undertaking there were plenty of hiccups and difficulties along the way. Lieve can remember getting into several frustrating discussions with her instructor and being chastised a few times for not adhering to the strict “English-only” rule that existed in the class. Sometimes Lieve also felt a bit alienated because she was the only Belgian in her course, and other students from different backgrounds would often seem to learn differently and often quicker than her. There is some truth to the idea, in fact “statistical analyses of questionnaires indicated that [. . . ] ESL students from different language backgrounds sometimes differ from one another in their learning style preferences” (Reid 87). However, as stated before, once Miss Darmont began to realize the value of speaking only English throughout the day, she quickly began to speak her native tongue less and less, except when speaking to Belgian relatives on the phone of course. It wasn't as if she didn't love speaking Flemish anymore, but she knew that she had to be disciplined and focused, and she was determined to become proficient in English. She loved America from the moment she came here, and she “wanted to speak the language here. I just wanted to fit in and feel normal.”

That said, life outside the class wasn’t much better when it came to speaking English around others. When at her job, she encountered numerous rude Americans that would simply roll their eyes when first hearing her broken, accented, English. Many would treat her differently based simply on the fact that she was not from America, and many days she would go home feeling sad, alienated, and home sick. However, Lieve also remembers many very positive and supportive people along the way, whom were not only kind to her, but many even asked her about Belgium and expressed sincere interest in her culture and whether or not she enjoyed being in America. Of course, her biggest supporter turned out to be her husband, who continues to help her out to this day if she has a question about something language related or otherwise. In addition to her husband’s extremely supportive attitude and encouragement, Lieve also cites the tremendous amount of help that she received from her instructor, who she describes as “stern, but nice”, and who also even offered to give Lieve additional help and guidance after and outside of class if necessary. Lieve took her instructor up on the offer many times, staying after class for an extra hour or so to brush up on any specific areas and/or questions she was having troubles with.

Another foreign aspect of moving to America, was the technology Miss Darmont encountered at the time. She had no experience or knowledge working with computers, because at the time that she moved to America, they were still relatively new, so she was more than a little nervous when her instructor explained at the beginning of the class that they would be using them for various learning activities throughout the course. However, the software and activities that they utilized was simple enough to navigate, with much of the activities focused on multiple choice and memorization by repetition. In fact, the experience even inspired her to enroll in a computer course outside of her English course just for the sake of learning. Years later, Miss Darmont uses a computer every day at work and at home and she is thankful that she was interested enough to force herself to learn when she had the opportunity. Lieve says that next to the help given to her by her excellent instructor, computers also played an extremely pivotal role in her learning and growth (“For Program Development”).

When it comes to the various attitudes toward learning English, Miss Darmont claims that she herself went through a flurry of different emotions, driven largely by the different people and social situations she encountered. Upon first arriving in America, even something as basic as ordering food or getting groceries could prove to be challenging, and there were some days where she felt like not one person was interested in being friendly or helpful to, he because she was different. She did her best not to wallow in self-pity, and despite feeling depressed at times and uncertain about her future, she resolved to keep trudging forward. Because of this, it was no longer enough for her to learn just enough to get by, she wanted to be treated equally and not like a foreign or second-class citizen. That said, Lieve understands that she is lucky to have the strength and courage that she did, and she shudders to think about the fate of immigrants who might not be as strong or as good at brushing off the negative attitudes and insults that immigrants often encounter.

Perhaps the most important attitudes of all were the attitudes of the students in Lieve’s classroom. Although she claims there were “one or two students that didn’t seem to care as much”, overall she credits the instructor and her fellow classmates with maintaining positive attitudes throughout the majority of the course, and she also claims that most of the class was very supportive of one another and courteous, which are of course key factors in an ESL classroom. Lieve credits the instructor for ensuring that the classroom was a positive atmosphere, free of negative attitudes and misbehavior. The classroom setting is obviously absolutely critical to ESL learners, and Lieve had the benefit of being in one that helped to foster her growth quite well (Tsiplakides, et. al., n.p.). Although she has come a very long way since first arriving in the United States, Lieve has vowed to keep up the fight and acknowledges that it is important to “keep learning because the language changes.” In fact, these days she spends a lot of time teaching her own daughter Flemish and French. Her tenacious spirit is so evident, that it’s hard to doubt that she will succeed in her efforts.

Works Cited

“For Program Development.” Center for Adult English Language Aquisition. n.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.

Kelly, Charles, Lawrence Kelly, Mark Offner and Bruce Vorland. “Effective Ways to Use Authentic Materials with ESL/EFL Students.” The Internet TESL Journal 8.11 (2002): n.p. Web.

“Language Teaching Methodologies.” Frankfurt International School. Paul Shoebottom, 1996-2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.

Oxford, Rebecca and David Crookall. “Research on Language Learning Strategies: Methods, Findings and Instructional Issues.” The Modern Language Journal 73.4 (1989): 404-419. Print.

Oxford, Rebecca and David Crookall. “Vocabulary Learning: A Critical Analysis of Techniques.” TESL Canada Journal 7.2 (1990): 9-31. Print.

“Reading Instruction.” ESL Literacy Network. Bow Valley College, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.

Reid, Joy M. “The Learning Style Preferences of ESL Students.” TESOL Quarterly 21.1 (1987): 87-111. Print.

Tsiplakides, Iakovos and Areti Keramida “Promoting Positive Attitudes in ESL/EFL Classes.” The Internet TESL Journal (2010): n.p. Web.