Transitioning Language Minority Adults to Work and Training - Discussion Summary - Adult English Language Acquisition Discussion List - LINCS

During the week of May 31 - June 6, 2011, Dr. Heide Spruck Wrigley facilitated a discussion on the LINCS Adult English Language Acquisition (ELA) Discussion List. The title of the discussion was "Transitioning Adult learners with ESL Backgrounds to Work and Training."The original announcement of the discussion, including a brief biography of Dr. Wrigley, can be found at

In preparation for the discussion, subscribers were requested to review the following resources:

  1. From Survival to Thriving: Toward a More Articulated System for Adult English Language Learners (Wrigley, 2008)
  2. The Language of Opportunity: Expanding Employment Opportunities for Adults with Limited English Skills (Wrigley, Richer, Martinson, Kubo, Strawn, 2003)

    reviewed at:

The facilitator, list moderator, and list participants talked about the need to find ways to improve adult non-native English speakers' language skills in order to find employment that can sustain a family. For many, this means looking for programs that offer a focus on English for work and finding training programs that integrate language development with job-specific training. Participants mentioned the following work-related goals:

  • Those with limited education most often have goals related to on-the-job communication and perhaps advancement within the current job.
  • Those with more education have goals that may include their current job but most often involve furthering their career-related education, and finding new jobs more appropriate to their skill levels.

Early on in the discussion, however, list participants and Dr. Wrigley agreed on the need for instructional pathways that were responsive to student goals, meaning that other reasons for learning English outside the work arena also need to be considered in program planning. Dr. Wrigley suggested three possible pathways instruction might take:

  • Community and family literacy: This pathway would include instruction in civics and citizenship with sub-options for health literacy or financial literacy-course options might differ from term to term.
  • English for academic purposes and the professions: This pathway would be an accelerated program for students who know they want to transition to college or university studies or who want a more rigorous academic focus in their ESL classes even at the intermediate level.
  • English for work and technical training: This pathway would lead from work contextualized English or training cluster classes, to certificate, non-credit, or credit-bearing technical training courses, to ongoing support for transitioning to a professional career, where students would be able to study academic English. This pathway would include integrated courses and might be jointly funded by the Departments of Education and Labor. Smaller programs could collaborate with larger programs through a series of articulations delineating responsibilities and allowing for “specialization” while also making it possible for students to move from one pathway to another.

The following models to meet the need for transitioning learners at all levels of English proficiency, and in all contexts to work and training were discussed:

  1. English for work for incumbent workers: This model may be very job specific and include employees that pick up English at work and may work through bilingual supervisors or co-workers. This worker often needs childcare and other supports to benefit from instruction that is outside work hours. For an example, see the Project Hotel TEACH curriculum reviewed and accessible at:
  2. Work-focused ESL for specific job clusters: This model includes offering employability skills for students looking for work in certain sectors such as health care of manufacturing. For an example, see the Texas Industry specific ESL curriculum described at:
  3. Pre-training ESL (bridge program): This model includes both general work-related ESL and job specific language and literacy related to a training area to which students might transition (construction, health care, welding, and manufacturing). For an example of a health care bridge program, see Carreras en Salud reviewed at:
  4. Concurrent or dual enrollment models: This model includes settings in which students are simultaneously enrolled in a skills training course leading to a short term certificate and an ESL support course focused directly on the language and literacy needed to succeed in training and subsequently on the job. This is a model used in some community colleges in south Texas, for example.
  5. Team taught models: This model includes collaborative co-instruction from the training instructor and the ABE/ESL teacher in the same classroom for at least some of the time. For an example, see Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, the I-BEST model at:

In addition, participants discussed strategies to prepare adult English language learners in general ESL classes for success in the workforce (and community) through building teamwork and job management skills in the general ESL classroom. For example, see Integrating Career Awareness into the ABE & ESOL Classroom; see also a description of how this works in one participant's classroom in posting # ELA 7261.

For all learners, the following promising practices were explored:

Begin with learners and find out their goals for language instruction: One list participant pointed out the usual answers to "Why are you taking this course?" are "to get a GED," or "to learn English to get a better job." It was suggested that a better way of ascertaining student goals might be to ask what their dream job would be.

Incorporate technology in every facet of the classroom for all learners at all levels of instruction: Technology is used in all aspects of employment including looking for work online, clocking via a computer, using PDAs to check inventory, using touch screens to enter or read customer orders, receiving task orders via e-mail, and downloading documents such as accident reports from the company website. It was recommended that instruction begin with cell phones, as nearly all learners have these.

The points below were also made about the integration of technology into workforce preparation for adult English language learners

  • Programs do not yet have a good sense of all the technology skills that come into play in the workplaces students plan to enter. Increasingly, workers need to apply for jobs on-line and those who don't understand how this whole system works (not just how to type in the information) are at a significant disadvantage. Few textbooks and CDs are available to help students understand the variety of workplace forms, information that is requested and why, and consequences that might occur if the applicant exaggerates his experience, for example.
  • Teaching the importance of having someone review what s/he typed (e.g., print before sending). Learners need to know that once "send" has been keyed in, whether on purpose or by mistake, they may not be able to get the form back or fill out a new form because the system cannot replace the existing form.

Using the native language judiciously in teaching content. Bilingual support can be beneficial in areas where students with low levels of English have to grapple with difficult concepts, understand how systems work, learn about their rights, or express their ideas and opinions.

Focusing on vocabulary instruction. There was discussion around the importance of vocabulary teaching at all levels of instruction. Context alone does not provide enough clues for learners to ascertain the meaning of new words. The LINCS-reviewed resource How Should Adult ESL Reading Instruction Differ from ABE Reading Instruction?was referenced for suggestions on how to teach vocabulary to adult English language learners. The review for this resource is located at

Exploring sociocultural issues around both the language and the content of the workforce preparation instruction: It is important to teach functions such as clarifying, confirming, greeting, complimenting, and so on; however, these concepts need to be taught in relation to the workplace context, e.g., how and when terms are used in the workplace. Also discussed was the need for learners at intermediate levels and higher to look at how people use language in distinct ways to get different meanings across, including irony.

Participants made nearly 130 posts. All of the individual postings can be found in the online archives at

from post ELA #7193 - ELA post # 7331.