ESL, ESOL, ELL, LES, NES…
English as a Second Language instructor, ESL/ESOL tutor, transitional bilingual educator: different titles, much the same job descriptions. ELL (English Language Learner), NES (Non-English Speaker), LES (Limited English Speaker): varying classifications, similar needs.
My Journey as an ESL/ELL Instructor:
I have taught English to children (ELLs) for more than fourteen years now, as well as to adults (NES/LES) whose first language is not English. I embarked upon my ESL-teaching career by taking up a position for part-time faculty advertised in the classifieds section of the local newspaper. That is how I started teaching English communication at a small language learning center in Pune, India. There, I had the opportunity to teach English to not just Indians, but also to students who were living in India temporarily. Pune is a largish city in Western India, and is well-known for its rich history, patronage of the theater and performing arts, and for its institutes of higher education. In fact, it is also referred to as “the Oxford of the East”. Students come to Pune from countries like South Korea, the Middle East, and from African countries like Nigeria and Sudan.
ESL in the United States:
Here in the United States I get to work with an even wider diaspora — adult learners of English of Japanese, Korean, Russian, Czech, Polish, Chinese, and Brazilian heritage. The United States has always been the land of immigrants; a country built by people who have traveled from afar in search of religious or/and political freedom, and of course, economic opportunity.
Public School ELL Programs:
Immigrants typically enroll their children in public schools, where they are either placed into classes where all the kids are English Language Learners or ELLs, or they are pulled out of class for small-group instruction. Unfamiliar with the language, these students, understandably, need that extra attention in order to catch up with their peers. In fact, English Language Learners are estimated to be the fastest-growing student demographic in US schools. Therefore, the need for ESL/ELL teachers, who are hired by schools specifically to provide assistance to these students. Typically, they work one-on-one or in small groups to impart English skills – reading and writing, speaking, listening, and vocabulary.
one-on-one and small-group learning yields quicker progress
Teaching English to Adults
In my work with adult learners of English, I have discovered that every one of my students has a story to tell. As we work our way through TOEFL or IELTS exercises, Nursing Exam vocabulary and reading comprehension, or dental school application essays, I am filled with admiration for these brave, ambitious, and hard-working entrants into the US . In their twenties, thirties, forties, and even fifties, immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe need to fulfil the educational requirements of their adopted country, and for this they often enroll in courses that they have already completed in the countries of their origin. But now, they must become students once more. They tackle college-level courses taught in English, even before they have become proficient in the language! Undaunted, they sign up to start life afresh in a land whose lingua franca is so unfamiliar. Yet, they soldier on, spending time, energy, and last but definitely not least, the money, on acquiring the educational credentials they need in order to embark on careers here. They know all too well that without knowing English, they won’t have even a fighting chance of success. For, non-English speakers have a difficult time landing jobs. And, even if they are hired, they are often paid lower wages for the same work than an employee who is an English-speaker. I too came to America as an immigrant.
For me, English and Hindi were both first languages. I completed pre-K through 12, and my Bachelors’ Degree, from English-medium schools (where the primary language of instruction is English). Also, both English and Hindi were spoken by everyone at home, i.e.parents and grandparents, my two younger sisters, household help, and visitors. So, you could say that we grew up bilingual in the real sense of the term, with equal, native-like fluency in two languages. Therefore, while I have my typical immigrant grouses – homesickness, having to redo parts of my education, and a general sense of uprootedness, I am lucky that I was spared the frustration of not being able to communicate in the language of my adopted country. (If we had moved to say, Japan, I would have been in the same boat as my ESL students.)
So, from my perspective, their task appears rather arduous; an uphill journey. For, when you migrate to a foreign land, you know you have to make it, and fast. You have neither the luxury of time, nor money to squander. Samuel Smiles, often credited as the author of the world’s first self-help book titled, you guessed it, Self-Help, has said: The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved. And so, in the same vein, they soldier on. They pass their TOEFLs, get through professional exams, and earn their college degrees.
But It’s All worth it:
I derive immense satisfaction from the fact that I am able to assist my students in becoming versed in English. And invariably, as their grasp over the language improves, their self-confidence increases. Many a time, I find myself egging on a distraught student, assuring him that victory will be his; while inside, I feel apprehensive. I know it’s not that easy to learn a new language, especially in adulthood. But, each time, my pupils manage to surprise me with their perseverance. I imbibe so much as a result of my interactions with my students.
A Few Laughs Too!
Mind you, it’s not all work and drudgery, either. There is many a moment of unintentional merriment — for instance, I once asked my student, a well-mannered soft-spoken executive from Germany, who had been sent by his company’s Illinois office for the sole purpose of polishing his English, “How did you get to the library today? Did your colleague drop you in his car?” And he replied, in all seriousness, “No, I came by footsteps.” It was hard for me to keep a straight face as I corrected him, “Albert, you don’t say that you came by footsteps, you say that you came on foot.”
No,You Don’t Get to Look Down the Bridge of Your Nose!
And that brings us to an important point: when teaching ESL in an adult classroom, make sure that you don’t patronize. Remember, your adult students have plenty of life experience – personal, educational, and professional. They are only deficient in English, not in knowledge or experience. In fact, the teacher can reference her students’ professional background when lesson planning, especially for Business English sessions.
To Wrap Up:
Admitted, an ESL teacher faces myriad challenges and roadblocks when helping her pupils acquire English skills; but, as educators, we need to be mindful of the fact that the person who is in our classroom trusts us, and, to an extent, depends on us to lead them to their goals. Therefore, never make fun of your students, be generous with praise (for who doesn’t like to be appreciated?)be culturally sensitive, and look at things from their perspective.