English language learners come in many forms. Some learn English in their home countries. Some study the language online. Others head to an English-speaking country to build their skills and put their current knowledge to the test. Sometimes they stay a few weeks. Other times they stay for an entire school year. When they come, they often stay with host families. If you're a family thinking about hosting an English language learner, there are some key guidelines to keep in mind. If you have students heading out to live with a host family or are going to live with a host family yourself, you may want to share these tips to help make the experience more pleasant.
1. Give the Student Space
Even if a student is very social, chances are he or she will need space. It's best if you have a room just for your host student. If sharing a room is required, make sure there's at least a desk and a closet or a dresser for your host student to store his or her belongings. Additionally, point out places in your home where your host student can go if he or she needs time alone. Maybe you watch TV in the living room while the student hangs out in the den or you create a schedule that allows your host student some alone time in a shared room. Your student may want to have personal conversations with family or friends via Skype and other video chatting services or may just need a quiet place to study.
2. Respect Your Student's Schedule
Host students often come from different cultures with different timezones and different attitudes towards time. Your student may want to stay up late so that he can talk to his parents first thing in the morning (their time) or get up early to talk to his friends when they get home from school. Also, just like some of your friends may be chronically late, your host student may have his own sense of time. Rather than getting annoyed if he is always running late, try telling him to be ready a little earlier than he needs to be so you're able to get out the door on time.
3. Encourage Your Student to Make Plans
If your host student is attending school, he or she may want to make plans with new friends or get together with other students from the same host program. Be flexible and let your student make plans to hang out with her friends. Your host student may already be pretty independent and not used to askng permission to go places, so lay out the rules clearly but know that it could take some time to adjust. Maybe you need 24 hours notice before dropping your host student somewhere or you are only willing to drive places up to 30 minutes away. Are services like Uber and Lyft okay for your host student to use? These are all issues to consider.
Of course, make sure you also abide by your own rules when making your own plans with your host student. Prepare a general schedule each week so she knows what's coming and give at least 24 hours notice for any major outings or events you want her to attend with you.
4. Communicate With Your Student
Communication is key when working with a host student. If you have trouble with spoken communication, use an app to send text messages or put up a dry erase board where you can leave notes with one another. When you speak with your host student, remember that you are not speaking with a native speaker. Depending on your student's level of English, you may need to speak just a little slower and try not to use lots of contractions or slang. If your student has trouble understanding you, try to use different words to explain something rather than just repeating the same thing over and over again.
5. Be Kind to Your Student
Remember that your host student is coming from a different country. There's already a lot of stress involved in the situation and, if your student is attending school, there may already be plenty of people with negative attitudes. Treat your student with kindness. Greet your student in the morning. Say good night in the evening. Smile.
6. Make Your Student Part of Your Family
Your student is living with you, so he should take on a role within the family. That means taking on a few chores or helping clean up after dinner. It also means included your student in family conversations and activities (if he wishes to go). If your student has a birthday while he's staying with you, celebrate it. If he gets an A on a test, react as you would with one of your own children. Make your student feel like part of your family, not just an outsider looking in.
7. Show Interest in Your Student's Life and Culture
Most importantly, show interest in your student as a person. This doesn't mean you have to ask questions 24/7. In fact, too many questions may annoy your student. You can, however, talk to your student about his/her interests, get to know your student's favorite foods and incorporate them into your lunch and dinner menu, or take some time to watch one of your student's favorite movies (subtitles included).
Hosting an English language learner can be a great opportunity to open your home and show hospitality to someone from another culture. It can also be a great opportunity to help a student practice his/her English skills and enjoy an amazing experience in an English-speaking country.
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