Around this time of year many people give and receive gifts, sometimes in unexpected ways.  As an ESL teacher I have always felt lucky in that regard — multilingual learners continually surprise me with new perspectives, unique interpretations, and inspiration.  

In keeping with that spirit here are just some of the gifts multilingual learners, all in the beginning stages of English acquisition, have given over the years. Some of the students in the following examples were mine, some were the students of colleagues; all bespeak the knowledge and insight multilingual learners can share with their classmates, if we only create the right conditions …

A cell diagram, labelled perfectly and in seconds, entirely in Arabic.

A deftly-sketched graph illustrating the class data survey, the multilingual learner silently guiding his group mates through the math representations. 

An exquisite birdhouse, assembled with the skill and speed of a master carpenter, while the rest of the class still fumbled with their first nail.

That same multilingual learner, upon seeing his struggling classmates, jumping from desk to desk, straightening nails with single taps and fitting panels together seamlessly.

A fable, crafted entirely in Mandarin, covering pages front to back, the precision of characters and fluid writing revealing advanced literacy skills.

A student in grade 4, with limited prior schooling and barely a word of English, demonstrating understanding of the grade-level science curriculum with one or two sessions of multilingual audio and visuals.

The bravery and grit of all multilingual learners, overcoming challenges many of us never have to face, and making it all look easy. 

For all these gifts and more, thank you. 


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