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Taking It to the “Streets” (and the Workplace, and Everywhere Else). Tutoring English as a Second Language With Adult Learners. The Pragmatics of Adult Learning.
Tutoring English as a Second Language With Adult Learners
A good learning center does more than provide grammar exercises for the students. It is interactive, with students actively participating and applying what they are learning. While student need and college budget factor into what an ESL Learning Center can offer, certain materials should be a given:
The following websites contain grammar explanations and quizzes, and in some cases, helpful articles for tutoring ESL. I’m particularly fond of anything from Purdue University’s Online Writing Center, but the other sites are good resources as well. And best of all, they are free….
The principles mentioned here apply to non-ESL learning environments as well, but certain principles are particularly important for adult ESL learners to help ensure their success in the program and in genuinely acquiring mastery of their new language.
Memorizing grammar rules is lovely, but most native English speakers didn’t learn to speak and write properly simply by referring constantly to a series of memorized material. When possible, forming small-scale discussion groups on current events that require additional reading, maybe brief written summaries, and most importantly, an opportunity to speak and debate a concept, will help to reinforce ideas more than grammar drills alone.
Not infrequently, college students read only what is required for coursework, and sometimes not even that. With ESL students, getting into the “habit” of reading and speaking English as much as possible is extremely important. Find out what interests the student. If it’s gossip, sports, fashion or cars, English language newspapers and magazines can cater to these interests. Non-academic reading still provides students with exposure to the language, vocabulary, and sentence construction, and will help students to build their skills.
The more as educators we can encourage upper level ESL students to avoid “translating” from their native language, which often results in inaccuracies, the more confidence they will gain in using their newly acquired language. To be truly bilingual is to be able to use two languages with near-equal ease, and that skill should be respected.
Even midrange students tend to know what would help them to learn more effectively. Let them share (whether through surveys or discussion) what they think would help them to learn more effectively. Also, very frequently, students experience frustrations or problems that might interfere with learning. You can refer them to a counselor, but sometimes they need to share their burden immediately. If at all possible, listen to their problem and make suggestions or referrals.
I’ve learned to say “very good” and “thank you” in more languages I can count, mostly through tutoring ESL and other non-native speakers of English. Students get a kick out of teaching others a phrase or two in their native language. More importantly, oftentimes I stumble with the pronunciation, laugh about it, and try again. The students then realize that mispronouncing a word isn’t that big a deal, and it’s natural for any learner of a new language to struggle with those issues.
ESL tutoring provides the unique opportunity for us to not only teach what we know, but to learn some aspects of various non-U.S. and non-English-speaking cultures worldwide. Teaching English grammar to non-native speakers also forces us to think of ways to explain concepts that we sometimes assume are a given to all languages. In some ways, this is education at its finest.