Teaching ESL 1. In general 2. Acronymns

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  1. ESL Acronyms & Abbreviations
  2. Tips for teaching ESL Beginners and Preliterate Adults
  3. How to learn Vietnamese
  4. Teaching Beginning Beginners
  5. Teaching Beginning Beginners – Outline

After posting #4, link to it from the WAESOL post.


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ESL Acronyms & Abbreviations:

CASAS – Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System

Tests required for adult students in Immigrant and Refugee and Adult Basic Education programs throughout the United States. There are three main types of CASAS tests: Reading, Listening and Math. (CASAS testing does not apply outside of the United States, nor to International Students who are coming to the US on student visas).


CELTA – Certification for English Language Teaching to Adults

The most common certification needed to teach English in non-English-speaking countries, including Southeast Asia.  CELTA programs are overseen by Cambridge University. The US equivalent of CELTA is called TESOL.


EFL –  English as a Foreign Language

English taught in non-English speaking countries, or in similar contexts.


ELL – English Language Learners

Students from other language backgrounds in the public K-12 system in the State of Washington.

This is a common term for learners of English from other language backgrounds, and for programs that serve their language-learning needs. In theory, the terms ELL and ESL are interchangeable; in practice the term “ELL” is the term most commonly used by people in state K-12 systems in the United States; “ESL” is used more often outside of those systems.


ESL – English as a Second Language

This is a common term for learners of English from other language backgrounds, and for programs that serve their language-learning needs. In theory, the terms ELL and ESL are interchangeable; in practice the term “ELL” is the term most commonly used by people in state K-12 systems in the United States; “ESL” is used more often outside of those systems.


ESP – English for Specific Purposes

The learning and teaching of English designed specifically to prepare learners for work in a particular field. A course for immigrant and refugee students who want to enter Nursing programs is an example of English for Specific Purposes.

(the) Four skills –  Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing

IELTS – International English Language Testing System

A test that international students need to pass in order to study in the United Kingdom, and many other English-speaking countries. While the US has its own test, an increasing number of colleges and universities in the US are accepting IELTS. Certain programs in the US, such as nursing programs, also require IELTS . IELTS tests each of the four skills separately:  Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.

The US equivalent is called TOEFL.


IEP – Intensive English Program

A program for international students, usually at colleges, universities and language centers in the United States. International students come to the US on student visas for the primary official purpose of studying.

Not to be confused with “IEP” in the K-12 system, which means Individual Education Plan.


WAESOL – Washington Association for the Education of Speakers of Other Languages

The professional organization for ESL and ELL instructors in Washington State. Deans, Program Directors, Directors of Study, and Teacher Trainers also belong to WAESOL. WAESOL holds its professional conference annually, either in Western Washington or in Easter Washington. WAESOL is the Washington State affiliate of TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages),  its international, US-based counterpart.



Immigrant and Refugee programs – A type of program run by colleges or nonprofits in the United States for immigrants and refugees, where courses in ESL, are offered.


International Students –

Students who come from other countries to study at colleges and universities, and who are granted student visas by the receiving country. In the United States, international students are not allowed to work, except for a limited number of hours on the campuses where they study.




SLOs – Student learning objectives

Objectives in a particular course, such as, students will be able to write a paragraph.


TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language

A test that international students need to pass in order to study in many college and university programs. An increasing number of colleges and universities in the US are accepting IELTS, the British equivalent (see above).



Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

  1. The profession or occupation for teaching English to non-English speaking people.
  2. The name of the US-based professional organization for teachers of this subject.
  3. The name of the certification for teaching ESL to Adults in the United States, also required to teach in several countries, including Southeast Asia (the British equivalent is called CELTA).


Tips for teaching ESL Beginners and Preliterate Adults

This article lists tips for teaching ESL Beginners and Preliterate adults. You can also find other posts on this website more specifically for Teaching Beginning ESL and Teaching Pre-literate ESL. Here are some general tips that apply to both:


Tips for Communicating with Students

In general, do not try to explain. Instead, demonstrate.

There are often some students in the class who understand spoken English, or classroom procedures and activities better than others. They will be able to explain things to students who speak the same language than you can.

Make effective use of gestures, and exaggerate if it’s helpful. For example, you might put your hand over your ear and lean towards one end of the class if one area of the room is not participating very much.

Tips for Creating/Using Materials for  ESL Beginners and Preliterate Adults

Make your photocopies in different colors. This will make it a lot easier for you to refer to different materials that are used in your class at different times.

You would like to have a large number of different colors of copy paper available to you. You can also cut some of the papers in half, and distinguish between the “big white paper” and the “small white paper”.

Use the font called “Comic Sans” MS. Other fonts show many of the computer-generated lowercase letters, including lowercase “a” and lowercase “g”, in a way that is very different from the way they are written by hand. In addition, many fonts show capital “I” as being identical to lowercase “l”, which can be particularly confusing.


Tips for Structuring Activities for  ESL Beginners and Preliterate Adults

Provide activities and examples in both directions. For example, say a list of words and have students act out the meaning; do another activity where you act out the meaning and students guess the word.



Tips for Teaching Phrases and Word Usage

Use real life situations as they arise in and around the classroom. For example, students might already know the words for “sun” and “moon”; if not, they can be conveyed through the use of good pictures or photographs. If there is a solar eclipse, it can be referenced to teach basic words and phrases like “behind” (the sun is behind the moon) or “in front of” (the moon is in front of the sun).

A more common example would be the objects in the classroom and how to describe their locations in relationship with other objects.




Tips for Teaching Vocabulary, Pronunciation and Spelling

Use pictures and gestures to convey common, concrete vocabulary. You can also point to objects in the classroom, and bring objects into the room.

Use multiple short words to illustrate common spelling patterns. Common concrete nouns, numbers and colors are the best, if they are available. Sometimes words that rhyme have the same spelling pattern to, such as “fire”, “tire” and “wire”.

When paying attention to the spellings of words, also pay attention to the pronunciation. For example, “five” and “drive” are pronounced in a similar way, whereas the verb “live” is not.

When teaching spelling and/or pronunciation, break up longer words into shorter ones. For example, if you want to teach the word “yesterday” explicitly, teach the words “yes” and “day” first, proceeding step by step.


For more information on how to improve communication with Beginning and Pre-literate ESL learners, both in teaching class and other situations, click here.



How to Learn Vietnamese

When I went to Vietnam, I hired a private tutor to help me learn Vietnamese. My focus in learning Vietnamese was pronunciation. I wanted to be able to pronounce people’s names correctly, as well as some very useful words and phrases. My advice: learn vocabulary and pronunciation before going into grammar.

Vietnamese pronunciation is totally different from that of European languages, including English. It’s even quite different even from the pronunciation of other Asian languages, and has more tones than Mandarin Chinese!

When you look at written Vietnamese, you will see many marks above the vowels. Some of the marks above the vowels show the tone. However, some of them indicate a different vowel sound, since Vietnamese has many more than just five vowel sounds! Try to learn which is which, but most of all, do not rely on how you think words are pronounced based on the way you see them spelled. Listen carefully to the way the words are actually spoken.

Another tip: In Vietnamese, each word and each syllable is spoken distinctly, unlike English, French or Spanish. For example, when we say “Thank you” in English, the “k” bleeds over into the next word, so that what you actually hear is “Than  kyou”. That’s fine in English. However, if you say “Thank you” in Vietnamese (“Com en”) make sure to keep the “m” attached to the first syllable; “Co  men” does not make any sense.

As for choosing a textbook, I don’t have a specific recommendation. Just make sure it comes with audio!

Remember that adult Vietnamese learners of English may be struggling with the same things as you, but in the reverse direction.





Teaching Beginning Beginners

A Teaching Demonstration by Christopher Benum, instructor at Highline College & South Seattle College

  • How do you start teaching vocabulary to someone who is learning English completely from scratch?
  • What are the keys to unlock the mysterious relationships between the sounds and spellings of English words?
  • How can I create a variety of activities using a limited set of target language?

Both in-class and web-based activities and techniques will be demonstrated.


Teaching Beginning Beginners – Outline

Bricks and houses:  Four levels of this analogy:

  1. Words and sentences
  2. Words and phrases
  3. Phrases and sentences
  4. Sounds (phonemes) and words
  5. Strokes (& positions) and letters


Sentences & phrases:  Word substitution & Real situations

Fewer words better than more:

How to Communicate with Limited English Speakers


Focus on #4 (and 5).





Words: Pronunciation & Spelling:

Two directions:

Spelling pattern —> Sound (Phoneme)

Sound (Phoneme)   —> Spelling pattern


Unlock the door to the relationship between letter groups and sounds.



Example:  Four nouns:  Nut, note, can & cone

  1. Picture cards
  2. Word cards
  3. Spelling tiles


Repetition of sound/spelling relationship pattern:






Not:  come

i_e pattern has more & better examples:  Nine, line, five, drive, lime, time, dime, tie, pie