August 29, 2019

Teaching Multilingual Learners

Mason’s diverse student body gives us opportunities to enrich all students’ learning. See below and on linked pages for information on who multilingual learners are, how to engage them more fully in your class, and what strategies and activities you can use to support their learning.

WHO ARE MULTILINGUAL LEARNERS? Mason is proud to host a significant proportion of multilingual students. These students bring a large body of knowledge and experiences that enrich our learning community. To be multilingual means having more than one language in one’s linguistic repertoire. Multilingual students can be local or international and they speak English alongside other languages. While some multilingual students at Mason identify English as their first language, many others do not.
HOW ARE MULTILINGUAL LEARNERS UNIQUE? Multilingual learners originating from different cultures may be accustomed to different academic and social norms. They bring valuable knowledge to the classroom though they often also face unique challenges including a need for more social and academic support or English language support (de Araujo, 2011; Phillips, 2014). These challenges affect their success in the classroom, but faculty can help!
DID YOU KNOW? The MASC 2019 report to GMU’s Faculty Senate includes insight on multilingual students enrolled at Mason. Check this data from the report.

The number of international students enrolled at Mason can be found here

The number of international students enrolling in U.S. colleges can be found here


Faculty’s Frequently Asked Questions

Mason faculty member, Katie Skipper (INTO Mason), surveyed Mason faculty in 2017 to learn their questions regarding how to teach multilingual learners. Below are a few of the most common questions she found among the faculty. These questions indicate that faculty across the campus recognize the importance of understanding language development, and the role of language and culture in the learning process.

Click on a question below to see sample activities and tips addressing that question–and see our sidebar for links to more in-depth resources.

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How can I proactively foster a more inclusive and learning environment for my ML/Int’l students?

“At its heart, inclusive teaching practices create a space where all students, including those from varied linguistic and cultural backgrounds, can learn and succeed to the best of their abilities. A key aspect is creating a space where students feel safe and valued for what they bring to the classroom. For a general overview of inclusive classrooms, look at the Stearns Center teaching guide on the topic here. Like other students, multilingual and international students benefit from having a rapport with their professors.

Click the links below to see some activities that can help you build rapport in your class as well as other strategies to create an inclusive classroom” (Skipper, “Helping Multilingual/International (ML/Int’l) Students Succeed: Frequently Asked Questions).

Useful Resources:

Discussion Activities

Cultural Sensitivity in the Classroom


How can I better assess ML/Int’l students’ understanding of readings and class materials?

“Several factors other than language competency can interfere with a student’s ability to understand and critically synthesize assigned readings. Students from different learning and rhetorical backgrounds may have difficulty understanding when it is appropriate to skim a large volume of reading, or how to find the most important ideas in an academic text. Consider giving students a set of comprehension questions for the first few assigned readings—this can help students focus on the ideas you find most important and help them read more efficiently” (Skipper, Helping Multilingual/International (ML/Int’l) Students Succeed: Frequently Asked Questions) Here are other strategies to help you assess and support students’ understanding of reading and class content.

Useful Resource:

Reading Strategies


How can I encourage ML/Int’l students to participate more during class?

“Students who come from primarily lecture-based classroom cultures may not immediately understand the value of participating in class discussions, so it can be helpful to explain why you think discussions are important and what you expect students to gain from the experience. Even when international students are eager to participate, they often express frustration that conversations move too quickly or the language is too informal for them to understand and contribute in a meaningful way” (Skipper, Helping Multilingual/International (ML/Int’l) Students Succeed: Frequently Asked Questions.) Here are some activities to help you start addressing these concerns and increase student participation in class.

Useful Resource:

Encouraging Participation


For more information about Skipper’s findings, visit her handbook “Helping Multilingual/International (ML/Int’l) Students Succeed: Frequently Asked Questions.”