Continue reading A guide to overcoming language barriers in classroom">

Language is the key to communication in classrooms. But not for Amreen, who came from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh to a Delhi school, where no one spoke like her.

Overcoming language barriers at school becomes difficult for 95% of Indian students like Amreen (as reported by The Hindu). They study in their mother tongue at Primary school. When they go to Middle school, they don’t know English. There are high chances you have these non-English speakers in your class.

Want to know how you can help them deal with language barriers? In this article, we’ll share 10 tips to overcome language barriers in your classroom.

Before you think these suggestions are a waste for you, STOP.

You and your students regularly face these language barriers in class.



Language Barriers in Indian Classrooms- Meaning and Examples


Language or Linguistic Barriers in the classroom are challenges students and teachers face while communicating. These challenges arise due to language differences which hinder teaching-learning.

You teach in an English-medium school. You have all your communication with students in English- Spoken and Written. But is every child comfortable learning and speaking in English? You won’t think so, after knowing there are 122 spoken languages in India. And with 1500 + Indian dialects, your classrooms are a mix of diverse language backgrounds.

Over One Lakh people moved to their villages during Covid (Migration in India Report, 2020-21). Their children studied in your school- the govt. and private schools in urban cities.

As these children are ‘back to school’, they’re facing these language barriers-

  • Their connect with English was broken.
  • They take time to understand and speak in English.
  • The student is bilingual or multilingual at home. Learning a third language (English) is confusing.

If you teach at a Global school, you have international students whose accents differ from yours. If you’re a KV Teacher, you can be transferred to any part of India.
These language differences confuse you and your students.


Why are Language Barriers a Roadblock in Learning?


Language barriers create hurdles on the road to learning.
Imagine you get a Hard Station posting- an isolated village in North-East India.
How will you teach students without knowing their language?
Your students will not interact with you. They’ll lose interest in your subject. They’ll not understand the concepts properly. You’ll struggle and get frustrated.
Now think the reverse. A student who doesn’t understand English comes to your school.
They’ll be low on confidence. Children who study through an unfamiliar language are at a double loss- learning a new language and studying difficult concepts in it.
Such students– who don’t speak the dominant language– either drop school or don’t learn much (UNESCO Report, 2019).
When talented students drop out of school, it’s a big loss for the country. Our Home Minister, Shri Amit Shah says India is losing 95% of its talent due to language barriers.

You can’t teach English to every child.
But you CAN help students overcome language barriers.


How to Overcome Language Barriers in your Classroom?


We’ve curated a list of strategies to overcome language barriers in classroom communication:


Start with Building Relationships First

Solve language barrier problems by building good connections with your students. No, we don’t mean just knowing their names; we’re talking about deep student-teacher bonds.
Collect information about them from previous teachers. Discourage mocking in class when the student pronounces a word incorrectly. Encourage them to share their problems with you. If the child can’t speak English properly, don’t pressurize them. Give them time to adjust to a new language.


Embrace Local Languages and Cultures

Don’t push English all the time. Even the National Education Policy (2020) stresses on promoting multilingualism. {Internal linking to Indic Blog on NEP Key takeaways)

Help students overcome linguistic barriers by accepting their local language and culture. Talk about their festivals and food. If a student has come from Uttarakhand, tell other students about their traditions. Allot separate periods where students can converse in their local language.

Children who have a strong foundation in their home language learn English more easily, as per a study by the Education NGO- Room To Read.


Use Simple and Clear Communication

Having clear communication helps in dealing with language problems. Students who aren’t comfortable with English take time to understand it. Talk slowly; avoid complicated vocabulary. Send homework in the mother tongue, if no one speaks English at home. Add a bit of humor in communication. It lightens up the moods of students who are struggling with language barriers.


Bring Body Language to Your Rescue

Use hand gestures, actions, and eye movements for explanation. Understand their body language– if they’re nervous or confident. Step forward when you’re telling something important. Nodding and shaking your head or hands are simple body movements you can use to remove language barriers.


Illustrate Information in Pictorial Form

Using pictures is a great way to overcome linguistic barriers. Instead of verbally explaining topics, show charts and graphs to clear concepts. Show videos with subtitles. You can also do puppetry and role plays. Use visuals as much as possible with students who can’t speak or read English.


Correlate New Knowledge with Home Language

Another strategy to overcome linguistic barriers is to relate new concepts and words with the language they know.
Ex: Suppose you’re teaching greetings in English, tell alternatives in local Indian languages.
English- Hello
Hindi- Namaste (नमस्ते)
Punjabi- Sata Sri Akal (ਸਤਿ ਸ਼੍ਰੀ ਅਕਾਲ)
Tamil- Vanakkam (வணக்கம்)
Telegu- Namaskaram (నమస్కరం)
Kids taught in their home language are 30% better at reading by the end of primary school, says UNESCO’s Education Data.


Take Parental and Family Support

Learn basic words from parents. Take help from them in understanding how the child speaks. Older siblings– who’ve learned English– can assist you in overcoming the language problems with the child. They’ve been through the same experience. Call PTMs; allot them an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher.


Make Class Buddies

Children learn faster from each other. They’re not afraid of being judged. If you have a non-English speaker in your class, make them sit with students who’re excellent in English communication. They’ll help them in reading and writing. These partners will also guide them in getting familiar with the common lingo at school.


Provide Learning Material in Local Language

If a student can’t understand English properly, they’ll find it difficult to learn new concepts from English textbooks. From the coming academic session (2023-24), NCERT books will be published in Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Odia, Bengali, and Assamese (as reported in the Times of India).
You can also find learning content in Marathi, Gujarati, and multiple Indian languages on DIKSHA and PRATHAM portals.


Don’t Give Up. Encourage Students to Push Through Challenges

Be patient during the process. If your students get frustrated, give them a pep-talk. Share stories of children who coped by working hard. Just like Amreen’s teacher (name kept anonymous on request) shares her story to motivate new students who struggle with language barriers.
Overcoming language barriers is possible when both teacher and student make an effort. Amreen is now the monitor of her class and helps other students overcome language barriers.



Is Technology the Bridge to Overcoming Language Barriers?
EdTech and Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools are helping teachers deal with classroom language barriers. Schools in India are training kids and teachers to use language processing AI tools (reported The Indian Express).
Project Udaan (by IIT Bombay) is helping non-English speakers overcome language barriers using AI technology.

Overcome Language Barriers Using Technology-
Some free educational technology tools:

  1. Learning to speak English and Hindi – Duolingo
  2. Translating and reading online material in regional Indian languages- Microsoft Immersive Reader
  3. Translating speech- Google Translate App


Not to be missed Teacher Resources:

Common Teaching Challenges Experienced by Teachers In Classroom

Indic Blog

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