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29 April 2013

Secrets for Adult ELLs

Learning a new language is hard, especially for adults. This brief post, Unearthing the Secrets of Adult ELLS, from the TESOL blog provides some suggestions for adult ELLs (English Language Learners). They were generated by students and seem similar to what most (all?) English language teachers preach.

Suggestions:
  1. Run away from people who speak your language. Be in contact with as many English speakers as possible. Ask them to correct you.
  2. Expose yourself to America and to American culture. Avoid stores and other locations in the United States where they speak your language. Watch movies and TV without subtitles or English closed captions.
  3. Just try to speak—if necessary, use gestures.
  4. Try to think in English.
  5. Keep a pencil and a notebook with you to write down new words and expressions.
One of the big questions we have to deal with on a daily basis is challenged with suggestion number one. How do we encourage students to speak English most of the time without disregarding their culture, heritage, friends and family? Some adults have spouses and children, so they really can't "run away" from people who speak their language. They live with and love those people. Learners who have children want to pass along their language and culture to their children, especially when they're so far from home; and many spouses don't speak English. How can they reconcile their family/emotional needs versus their language needs?

The first part of #1 isn't always possible for all students, but they can "be in contact with as many English speakers as possible." This probably means something different for everybody, but it's essential for success nonetheless. The CMU ELI has a conversation partner program, and we recommend partners meet for at least one hour per week for English conversation. While this definitely isn't enough, it is a start and may be the best option for adult students with families.

Do you have any other advice or suggestions for adult ELLs? Did you learn a language as an adult? How did you do it?