Obstacles ESL Students May Face

Being an ESL student in the United States can come with some challenges. Even though the population of ESL students in the US continues to grow, ESL students face significant barriers when it comes to receiving a quality education.

These barriers range over three distinct categories: academic, social, and cultural. It’s a big job for teachers to provide the right kind of assistance to all ESL students. With the right training teachers can help ESL students face overcome many of the challenges and find success within the classroom.

Teachers need to be familiar with the barriers and challenges these students may be facing at home, in the classroom, and in the community.

Academic Barriers/Challenges

Examples of academic barriers include:

  • Idioms and figurative language in ELA texts
  • Unfamiliar vocabulary
  • Use of decimal points and commas in math
  • The measurement system used in the US
  • Multistep and difficult science experiment directions
  • The use of science labs and equipment
  • Lack of familiarity with US history
  • Not being used to expressing personal opinions

Social Barriers/Challenges

Examples of social barriers that influence their life experiences

  • Language barriers
  • Social isolation
  • Boredom
  • Embarrassment
  • Frustration

Cultural Barriers/Challenges

Examples of cultural barriers

  • Concept of personal space
  • Notions of modesty
  • Incentives to work
  • Roles in relationships
  • Approaches to problem-solving
  • Conversational patterns

While teachers can’t eliminate all of these challenges, they can be aware of them, differentiate classroom instruction with these in mind, and help these students find additional resources that may assist them in minimizing the impact during school.

One of their biggest challenges is many their parents, or other influential adults, don’t speak English fluently.  This can create its own challenges because they have to learn how to navigate communications between the school and their parents.  This creates another series of challenges around getting assistance and locating resources, especially when their parents don’t trust the authorities or are fearful of being able to remain in the US.

Teachers can step forward and provide access to resources who can translate, provide additional academic assistance through tutoring, writing centers and support groups.  There are also financial aid programs and social organizations in local areas that can provide services for the family.

Teachers can further help their ESL students succeed by keeping an eye out for other students who may bully them. Teachers should be aware that some students may try to take advantage of ESL students by tricking them into bad behaviors and convincing them to participate in order to fit in. 

ESL students have the right to the same quality education that any student is the US has.  They have the same right to feel safe and secure at school without being singled out because of a language barrier.

Virtual education can provide a great opportunity for ESL students.  Overall, virtual schools remove the social cliques, judgmental behaviors, bullying and the overall need to be “accepted” by wearing the right clothes or shoes.  Virtual classes also allow the ESL student an opportunity to quietly use translators to assist in overcoming the language challenge so they can focus on the actual subject. 

Using Jigsaw Interactive, teachers can provide an English version of the information along with a version in the language of the student, so they can get more familiar with English without losing critical subject review time.  In essence, they can see the English version at the same time that they see the version in their language.  Multiple learning events happen for them simultaneously and they are on par with their English-speaking classmates.