It’s an incredible feeling to experience another country’s food, historic sites, and unique customs. While we learn about different cultures, it is also a time to appreciate our own. We are able to examine more closely what we highlight or deem important. This exchange can be especially rewarding but can also conjure up feelings of discomfort, loneliness, and embarrassment while we navigate this new terrain. These feelings are magnified when an adult or child is trying to immerse themselves in the new culture by learning that language.
English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is a tool used to ease the process of learning English. There are many resources for Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) that try to fuse increasing language skills with cultural knowledge. There have been studies that demonstrate successful learning with objects and visual techniques because they offer many entry points for students of varying levels of comfort or vocabulary.
These same studies asked participants what they want most out of ESOL classrooms. Overwhelmingly, students want to learn from native English speakers in real world contexts that feel authentic. It is important to remember that these students are all from different backgrounds and come with their own expectations. When trying to accommodate such a multitude of experiences, it is easy to resort to watered down content, but that diminishes value of the lesson and self-confidence of the participants.
As educators interested in audience-centered and object-based programming, it seems that working with ESOL students and teachers could be a great fit! Museums offer a comfortable, authentic setting where people across communities can meet, share their opinions, and gain knowledge. This functions as community building so that even after the formal lesson ends, there is potential for informal relationships to continue outside of the museum or classroom.
So, the next step for museums is to foster this relationship with ESOL audiences. Depending on the size of the museum and the surrounding community, there are many ways to go about deepening this connection. It might make sense for larger museums to make bilingual resources (labels, pamphlets, and signs) available to create a sense of warmth and invitation. For smaller museums, this could be achieved through outreach events to other ESOL locations. If possible, the museum might hire an educator with ESOL experience to make this a highlight of the program offerings. These are just a few suggestions to extend a welcome to ESOL audiences; however, the most effective method is to ask TESOL and ESOL participants in the community what will best suit their needs and interests.