The phrase "language barrier" wasn't imagined from nothing. Language is a type of gate. If we have full use of the language in our culture, we feel successful; we make friends; we can communicate our needs to others--our teachers, for one. When a student comes into the classroom, teachers need to help open the gate by taking the time to see if they are trapped behind a language barrier.
I am reminded of when I was a tutor at the community college from which I received my Associates degree. One of the students I was helping struggled terribly in her English writing course. In order to get to know why this seemingly bright individual might be having trouble, I decided to ask her about herself. I discovered that she was a refugee from Afghanistan and had the equivalent of a doctorate degree in her homeland, but due to the language barrier, she could not access her knowledge effectively in her new environment.
The significance of her plight touched a chord that continues to reverberate through my heart. The ability to communicate opens doors—and a lack thereof can close and even lock them.
Teachers have the opportunity to help students get the tools they need to access what they know, enabling students to experience encouragement and inclusion instead of failure or ostracism because they happen to be on the other side of the gate at the moment.