Multilingual students experience language barrier in ESL classes

Lily Geiser | Staff Writer

Understanding everything said in class can be difficult. But for students that do not speak English, it can be even more challenging.

Although there are several hundred bilingual students at MHS, only about 100 of them are identified as English as a Second Language (ESL) students. ESL students are those that require additional help in their classes due to being unfamiliar with English. Even among the ESL students themselves, there is a wide diversity in the amount and type of help they require to navigate high school. Milena Varbanova, the supervisor of the ESL program at the Mason School District, notes that the school also has to consider factors other than English proficiency when helping ESL students.

“When we talk about [ESL] students, we need to understand that there are huge differences between them,” Varbanova said. “We have a lot more kids who come with language needs, but they have a solid education. However, we also have students who come with a limited or interrupted education. Even under the best of circumstances, there are still a lot of needs that need to be addressed.”


Sophomore Moroni Montoya Bernal and senior Marwan Sayed collaborate in their English as a Second Language classroom.


The needs of students at the high school level are very different tha those at lower grades, and can sometimes be even more severe. Bobbi Georgeton, one of the main ESL teachers at the high school, explains that challenges can come from the way the school is structured as much as from past educational gaps or limited language.

“The high school is very different than a lot of the other schools, just because the differences of high school and needing those graduation requirements from day one,” Georgeton said. “None of the other buildings have that.”

Sophomore Gustavo Reyes is beginning his second year in the ESL program after moving to the United States from Venezuela. Reyes said the language barrier makes it harder for him to understand what is happening in his classes.

“My first time [at Mason], I couldn’t understand regular classes,” Reyes said. “All my classes were, the first time, ESL. So that’s hard because you cannot understand, but with time, the teachers can help you.”

Having moved to the United States just one month ago, sophomore Alexa Rodriguez Cazares faces problems similar to Reyes. Cazares spent several years learning English at her school in Mexico, but still occasionally finds it difficult to communicate and to understand at school. 

“It’s not the same knowing English as living in a place where it’s all English all of the time,” Cazares said. “I know English, but not too much. And I don’t talk too fast in English, so it’s kind of difficult. That’s why I’m in ESL.”

Despite the challenges facing ESL students, they can be alleviated thanks to help from the school and teachers. Georgeton feels that the ESL program has improved since she first arrived at Mason, and she is able to help her students face high school more effectively than in years past

“When I first came here eight years ago, the students were just put in all the typical classes with everyone, and they were just kind of computer generated, so they didn’t necessarily always have as much support as they could,” Georgeton said. “We just couldn’t be everywhere. I feel like we have a lot of good things in place now, that are new, and feel so much better than a few years ago. I feel like a lot of people are getting a lot more support.”

The language gap affects students not only academically, but also socially. Many students find it difficult to make friends outside of the ESL program. However, Reyes said making friends with native speakers can help him to improve his own abilities.

“Most of my friends are from the United States,” Reyes. “I have more friends who speak only English, so that can maybe help me learn to speak. But you know many people from different countries, so you can make many friends.”

When it comes to making connections with ESL students, every teacher and supervisor had the same advice: just talk to them. Varbanova believes that the multiculturalism at Mason is a way to learn from others, and to expand students’ knowledge of the world beyond this little corner in southwestern Ohio.

“They’re right here,” Varbanova said. “Often, we look from our point of view and say, ‘oh, they don’t know this and this’, but they know all this and this that we don’t know. We have the opportunity to learn about other countries from people who know that country the best.”