Teaching Beginning ESL

Teaching Beginning ESL to Adults can be challenging. It is also necessary to help them progress to more intermediate and advanced stages of learning, job promotion, work opportunities and/or education. “Beginning ESL” refers to learners who have some knowledge of the Roman alphabet, and some level of vocabulary and writing. Classes for English learners who lack this most basic knowledge are called Pre-literate ESL.

Outside of grammar, which is a typical focus of many textbooks, here is a list of things that adult  beginning English learners need to know. It’s a good idea to keep some of these in mind, and review this list periodically when teaching Beginning ESL to Adults:

  1. Basic English Pronunciation. For example, the distinction between long and short vowels is very important in English, for example, slip vs. sleep, or wet vs. wait. Most languages lack this distinction. To help English learners practice pronunciation issues related to vowels, go to Pronunciation Practice.  For a list of additional pairs of minimal and near-minimal pairs, click here.
  2. Vocabulary distinctions, such as the difference between “look”, “see”, and “watch”. In many languages, all three are represented by the same word.
  3. Basic phrasal verbs:  stand up, sit down, turn in, turn on, turn off, hand back. The vast majority of languages do not have phrasal verbs, but English uses them extensively, even at the basic level.
  4. Usage and recognition of the distinction between capital and lowercase letters, in both reading and writing. A wide variety of languages, including Amharic, Arabic, Burmese, Dari, Chinese, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Thai, and many others use scripts that lack distinction between capital and lowercase. Their letters and characters are always the same case.
  5. Basic sentence structure with subject, verb, and end punctuation.