Academic journal article Adult Learning

Transforming English Language Learners' Work Readiness: Case Studies in Explicit, Work-Specific Vocabulary Instruction

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Transforming English Language Learners' Work Readiness: Case Studies in Explicit, Work-Specific Vocabulary Instruction

Article excerpt

Abstract: This qualitative study examined the impact of a six-step framework for work-specific vocabulary instruction in adult English language learners (ELLs). Guided by research in English as a second language (ESL) methodology and the transactional theory, the researchers sought to unveil how these processes supported the acquisition and application of work-specific vocabulary in three adult ELLs. Data were collected in two levels, before and after training. The first data analysis identified and used two themes to develop training modules' curriculum: (a) policies and procedures related to state and federal regulations and (b) customer service. After participants completed training, the second data analysis identified two additional themes transcending across the three cases: (a) employees' views in English language proficiency skills and (b) growth in writing within their own continuum of English language development. Data revealed how an explicit, work-specific vocabulary instruction approach has the potential to increase ELLs' varying levels of English language proficiency, acquisition, and application of work-specific vocabulary, and, simultaneously, confidence in how they view and use English in the workplace.

Keywords: adult ELLs, adult ESL, work-specific vocabulary instruction, work readiness, curriculum development

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Across the nation, adult English language learners (ELLs) represent one of the fastest growing segments of the workforce population by a wide margin (Green, 2007). Research estimates first and second generation immigrants will account for all labor force growth in the United States between 2010 and 2030 (Batalova & Fix, 2010; Lowell, Gelatt, & Batalova, 2006). In examining future workforce trends, Hispanic, limited English proficient workers will be the fastest growing segment of the workforce (Green, 2007). In addition, Spanish-speaking immigrants demonstrate lower levels of literacy in English and are more likely to have experienced interrupted formal schooling making it more difficult to acquire literacy skills in their native or second language (Wrigley, Chen, White, & Soroui, 2009). Because such factors can impact the rate of literacy skills development, the need for intensive adult literacy programs extending far beyond social, basic oral language skills is imperative.

Review of the Literature

According to Ullman (2010), adult English as a second language (ESL) education first originated "as part of the settlement house movement made famous by the Hull House in Chicago ... in 1889" (p. 4). One of its major goals was to serve the needs of immigrants through adult education classes, which included English language learning classes. By the early 1900s, Ullman (2010) further noted explicit instruction for adult ESL immigrants grew extensively. However, because adult English language teachers primarily used children's literature to teach, many people felt insulted and dropped out of programs.

Current research has documented major transformations and improvements in adult ESL programs. However, the limited availability of programs, coupled with stretched personal schedules, work, family, and lack of child care support, have left many limited English-speaking adults without access to these programs (Wrigley et al., 2009). In fact, Batalova and Fix (2010) found "62% of immigrant adults with low oral English proficiency had never taken an ESL class" (p. 529). In addition to limited access and personal factors, Wrigley et al. (2009) found adult ESL program content has been a major factor for lack of participation. They posited most individuals feel they already have enough social skills to cope within their environments, but desire training focused on academics or work-specific language skills. To this end, various models and approaches in adult ESL education have emerged in past decades, for example, workplace ESL. According to Isserlis (1991), this model focuses on developing the specific language and literacy skills essential for a specific job function within the workplace. …

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