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Lesson 10 - Tutoring English Language Learners

English as a Second Language (ESL): Introduction

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Karen was a literacy tutor trainer. She had a group of volunteers ready to be placed with adult learners upon completion of their basic literacy tutor training. As the volunteers were progressing through the training, they often asked for examples of specific strategies that could be used to teach English to those learners who spoke another native language. As Karen is preparing her training information, she is compiling a list of examples that can be demonstrated with her class.

Question for consideration as you work through this lesson

What instructional techniques can Karen use to teach English as a Second Language?

Key Point

In Lesson Ten, you will be introduced to a variety of strategies that can be used to help you teach English to someone who is not a native English language speaker. In other words, you will learn about how to tutor an English as a Second Language (ESL) learner. English language learners may need to learn to speak English before they learn to read and write English. English language learners may have cultural differences from English speakers. The following information will help you become an effective ESL tutor. Many of the instructional techniques can be used to help the adult language learner learn to speak, read and write in English, but they are not the only strategies available. As an adult literacy volunteer tutor, you will want to actively participate in continued training to learn additional strategies.

ESL Students - Misconceptions and Commonalities

English as a Second Language students are called ESL students or English language learners. ESL can be a misleading term. Some learners may speak two or three other languages, just not English. Other learners may only speak their native tongue. Some learners will have some English skills. Some ESL learners may be recent immigrants. Other learners may have lived in the U.S. for years. Some ESL learners may not be literate in their native language, while other learners may have advanced degrees in their own nations. Some ESL learners have often heard English spoken, while others may not have heard much spoken English. ESL learners have one common trait. They all want to learn English.

There is a common misconception that a tutor must speak the learner's language to be an ESL tutor. This is not true. The learner wants to learn English. He or she wants to hear English spoken. He or she wants to see how an English speaker communicates. That is why ESL tutoring is done in English.

Clarification of Terms - monolingual, bilingual, multilingual

People who have the ability to speak one language are called monolingual. Many American citizens are monolingual. People who can speak two languages are called bilingual no matter what two languages are known. People who can speak several languages are called multilingual. What we are seeking for English language learners is the ability to speak English. Because some learners already speak several other languages, they may already be bilingual or multilingual.

ESL and Other Acronyms

Besides ESL, LEP is another acronym you may see. LEP stands for Limited English Proficient. Finally, you may see the acronym ESOL. ESOL stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages. ESL is the term most often used. You may also see the acronym TESOL. TESOL is a professional organization for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Learning English

Learning a second language is a process. Acquiring spoken language is the first step, followed by mastery of reading and writing. Adults who are learning English approach the process in a very different way than native English speakers who are learning to read. The initial goal of a tutor working with an English language learner will be to identify where that learner is in the process of acquiring English.

The next step may be to help the learner develop receptive (listening and understanding) and expressive (speaking understandably) communication skills in English. As these skills are acquired, the tutor will go on to work with the learner on reading and writing skills. For language acquisition to occur, learners must receive understandable and meaningful teaching. Learners must also learn in an environment where they feel safe. In addition, the tutor must be sensitive to the cultural norms of the learner and be aware of the U.S. cultural norms that the tutor brings to the learning experience.

For more on how second languages are learned, read Some Facts About How Second Languages are Learned, by C. Ray Graham and Mark M. Walsh of Texas A&I University in Kingsville Texas.

In addition, tutors need to be aware that adults who are learning English will begin the process at different points depending on whether they are literate or not in their native language. Learners who are literate will want to proceed with reading and writing AS they learn to speak. Learners who are very low or not literate in their native language may need vocabulary building, a solid phonological (phonics-letters represent speech sounds) basis and pre-literacy visual skills before they are ready to learn to read text.

Literate learners are accustomed to using text and will want to see writing as they learn speaking. They will be able to relate to explanations of grammar and how language works differently and better than non-literate learners. Explanations of grammar are inappropriate early in the tutoring process of non-literate learners.

Elements of Language Acquisition for ESL Learners

There are several elements of an effective language-learning environment that can help ESL learners succeed.

Use understandable speech. Tutors need to make their language understandable. Tutors may need to modify their speech. These tips will help you be more easily understood.

Try to reduce the learner's anxiety level. A learner who is anxious or uncomfortable will have difficulty learning. A learner's emotions can assist or interfere with learning. This is true for all learners and still true for those individuals learning a second language. Tutors need to create a comfortable situation where the learners feel free to converse, to question and to concentrate without fear of feeling embarrassed or foolish.

Be very aware that cultural considerations have an impact on comfort and anxiety. A tutor who is creating a comfortable tutoring situation will discover the particular customs of the learner and make allowances for those customs in the tutoring situation.

Use contextual clues. Visual clues make language more comprehensible. For learners at an intermediate or higher level of English proficiency, pictures may demonstrate a word's meaning. For instance, a tutor may show a picture of a bus to demonstrate how to interpret a bus schedule, or use a manipulative like pieces of a pizza when discussing fractions. Using context can make the words more understandable.

Social language is also more comprehensible because context expressed as body language is added. For example, it is much easier to understand someone during a face-to-face conversation because one can see the facial expressions and the gestures. A telephone conversation lacks those clues and can be difficult for a new English language learner.

However, be aware that for a non-literate learner pictures can confuse. A learner who is not literate in their own language may not interpret a two-dimensional picture as literate people do. After all, that item the tutor is using is not a bus, it is not a bus schedule, it is a picture of a bus. And is the picture of a school bus or a city bus? For non-literate learners, an understandable contextual clue may need to be an actual object, like a pencil or a hammer.

Use discussion. Learners need opportunities to talk in English with other people. For this reason, sometimes tutoring more than one English language learner at a time works well.

If a learner is in a one-to-one tutoring situation, the tutor needs to make frequent opportunities for the learner to verbally interact.

Tutors need to remember that discussion is a two-way conversation. American culture is uncomfortable with periods of silence. But tutoring requires that the tutor allow plenty of time for the learner to respond. Let the learner speak. Let the learner speak as slowly as he or she needs to. Remember that you as a tutor must be understandable. Don't use too much speech, too fast, or use too many new words.

Tutors and learners need to use English together frequently for real, meaningful purposes. For instance, English can be used to give and receive information, to solve problems and to complete tasks.

Use active participation. All learners retain information better if the information presentation engages all their senses. Tutoring sessions can be planned to encourage active involvement. Tutoring sessions can be planned to involve movement, manipulation of materials, and/or the use of a variety of pictures or textures. Remember that demonstration can make meaning clear. Active participation can motivate ESL learners, engage them in the learning process, and help them retain what they have learned more easily.

Permission was granted to use information on English language acquisition and working with English language learners that was developed by Robin Lovrien Schwarz of the University of Texas and Heide Wrigley of Literacy Work International and the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy, 2007. Their work in reviewing, revising and contributing to the information contained throughout Lesson Ten is gratefully acknowledged.

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