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Teaching ESL to Adults

Teaching ESL to Adults
An ESL Tutor's personal experiences with adult second language learners. Her tips for lesson plans, grammar tips, resources, meeting new students, and being a self-employed English tutor. TESOL, TESL, TEFL.
Articles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


My ESL Tutor, the Tour Guide
2008-04-10 06:18:00
Sometimes the duties of an ESL tutor go beyond the typical job description of a tutor. I happen to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. My ESL students come here to study English and/or to study at the local universities. While they're here, they also like to do some sightseeing.Some of my entire ESL lessons have been sessions about local, statewide and even national sights. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about talking about all the wonderful places I've been in the U.S. and making recommendations or planning travel itineraries. The English part of the lesson falls to the wayside. But I guess this is part of the flexibility of the ESL tutor. And, especially in private ESL tutoring, the English language learner is ultimately in control of the lesson. If he or she wants information or recommendations about where to travel and what to see, I'm pleased to provide the info.Visit this page on my website for a more traditional list of the duties of an ESL teacher.--end--
More About: Tour , Guide
What is "Metalanguage?"
2008-04-01 05:03:00
When English language teachers (and other languages, too) talk about "metalanguage," they primarily mean the "language" used to talk about the target language. A simple example would be if I say "present perfect progressive sentence" to talk about the form and functions of a sentence like "I have been studying English since I was a child."Using metalanguage is an easy way for teachers (and others) to talk about a language. It's not a great idea to use metalanguage to teach English language learners. It's better to go directly to the target language. For example, if I'm teaching the Simple Present, I would use and elicit the target language. I might ask, "What do you do every morning?" In this case, I am hoping to get something like, "I eat breakfast." I am using the Simple Present, rather than talking about the Simple Present.I do use some metalanguage when I am teaching advanced ESL students. They usually know all the names of grammar parts, and so it saves a lot of time to use ...
Making Assumptions about ESL Knowledge
2008-03-25 01:10:00
I was tutoring an advanced ESL student today. He's a doctoral student at one of the top universities in the U.S. He asked me to primarily help him with his writing skills. I always focus on the areas my advanced students want to focus on, as opposed to beginning ESL students who need me to guide the directions of our ESL lessons a lot more.Some small thing came up today about pronunciation. I started talking about the many vowel sounds English has, yet we only have five vowels (sometimes six with the letter "y"). I wrote and said, "a, e, i, o, u." He asked me to repeat the vowels. He said that this was the first time he'd heard a native speaker say the vowels. I usually try not to make assumptions about what English language learners know or don't know. I'll often ask about something just to make sure. I never thought to ask about something as basic as the vowels. I learned that I still make certain assumptions and need to be even more conscious.--end--
More About: Knowledge , Assumptions
Happy St. Patrick's Day
2008-03-17 23:37:00
St. Patrick's Day is one of many holidays celebrated in the United States. I have to admit that this is not one of the holidays about which I know much. What I do know is probably part myth, part reality, and part childhood pranks.As a tutor teaching ESL to adults, I am often able to use holidays as conversation topics. I can also use some holidays to discuss certain aspects of American history and culture. Of course, this has me doing most of the talking. The best holidays are those that are also celebrated in my students' home countries or those American holidays that are similar to those celebrated in their home countries. This gives the English language learner an opportunity to talk about a subject with which they are familiar.--end--
More About: Happy
Words Used by Native English Speakers
2008-03-13 05:36:00
One of my ESL students gave me a topical Chinese medicine for sore muscles. I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to read the directions, but my student assured me that the directions were also written in English . Indeed, they were.In fact, the directions were very well written in perfect English. My experience with products made in non-English speaking countries is that the directions are often a little "off." The grammar or spelling or word choice is usually off.I was impressed by the very clear and grammatically correct English used for the directions. The one thing that was a clear sign (to me at least) that the directions were not written by a native speaker was the use of the word "sportive." The directions said something like, "for use on sore muscles caused by sportive injuries." Yes, sportive is a legitimate word. And any native English speaker will understand the use of this word. However, a native speaker is going to use the word "sports" in this instance.Word choice i...
More About: Words , Speakers , Native
"There" vs. "Over There"
2008-03-11 23:17:00
I hear many ESL speakers use "over there" when "there" sounds like the better option to me. If I hear it consistently from a student (or even from a friend whose native language is not English), I will try to offer a correction or suggestion.My difficulty with this particular choice of words is that I myself do not have a clear handle on the reason(s) that one choice should be made over the other. I haven't seen this explained in any of the ESL textbooks I use for my ESL students or for my own reference. It's one of those slight differences that I can discern as a native speaker. I know in the particular situation which is better, but I can't give a generalization of why one is better. So I've just had to try to give examples of when to use which.If I find something definitive or if you have any suggestions for me, I'll be sure to offer them here.--end--
Help with Writing College Essays
2008-03-11 00:56:00
For ESL teachers teaching writing, the teaching isn't only about grammar and punctuation. It may not even be about teaching structure or how to do an outline first. Sometimes, helping ESL students is about helping them to think about the answer to a question they may not have thought about before. Sometimes, being an ESL tutor is like being a psychotherapist.I was recently helping two young community college students with a writing assignment for their English class. One student was nineteen years old and the other was twenty years old. The question for which they had to write an essay was something like, "What matters in life at any given time and what really matters in life are often different things. Write about three things that really matter. Give details. How have these three things helped to shape your moral world view." Although these are not the exact words of the question, they are very close. The first thing I thought about this question was that the question was not wri...
More About: Writing , College , Essays
International Women's Day
2008-03-09 00:20:00
Happy International Women's Day to my ESL students, and to all.I find it interesting that all of my students studying English (both male and female and no matter what country they are from) know what day today is. I suppose it shouldn't be surprising. Probably more interesting is the contrast: only about half the Americans I know are aware of the day.--end--
Writing and ESL College Students
2008-03-08 02:52:00
About a quarter of my ESL students at any given time are attending university or community college. These English language learners tend to need help writing papers for classes. The challenge for me as an English tutor is the limited time with which we have to work and complete the paper.College ESL students who have sought out my service as an ESL tutor have wanted help in completing their papers and not specifically to learn grammar, vocabulary, and all the other typical topics covered in ESL classes. Of course, they often need these things as well, but the most important thing is the looming deadline and getting the paper completed. As an ESL tutor, I find that I have to find a balance between suggesting the way something should be written (for the sake of expedience) and honoring the words, intentions, and ideas of the student. For me covering the general topic of "writing" has been a challenge, especially when the English language learner is still struggling with the English l...
More About: Writing , Students
Gung Hay Fat Choy!
2008-02-07 17:00:00
Happy New Year to my Asian ESL students and everyone else. This Spring Festival is one of the more (if not the most) important traditional Chinese holidays. It's also celebrated by other East Asian cultures and countries.While it is important and useful for ESL students to learn about holidays in the English-speaking country in which they live, I believe it's also important to learn about holidays celebrated by English language learners in their home countries. PLUS, holidays are excellent conversation topics for ESL classes. They are a great opportunity for ESL students to use their knowledge and to share it with others.--end--
Super Tuesday
2008-02-05 20:11:00
Today is "Super Tuesday " in the United States. That means that a large number of states in the U.S. will have their primary elections today to determine which two candidates will run for the U.S. presidency. This is a particularly historic day as it is the first time in American history that an African American man and a white woman are running for the Democratic nomination for the presidency (Shirley Chisholm, an African American democrat ran many years ago--and Angela Davis has run a few times--but these were more symbolic).Many of my adult ESL students are surprised by some things about this election. One of the things that surprises the majority of my students is that this is regular work day. In many other countries, people are given the day off to vote. They are also surprised that it's such a big deal to us that a woman is running as many other countries have already had women leaders, even though they are supposedly less "progressive" than the U.S.I'm surprised, and please...
More About: Super Tuesday
New ESL Teacher Starting Private Tutoring
2008-01-29 06:19:00
Andrea from the U.S. writes:Hello! I am a college student majoring in TESOL. I'd like to do private tutoring out of my home after I graduate in December. Do you have any good advice for someone who is interested in doing this? I've been doing an internship in a high school and will be going overseas for student teaching in the summer. I've found I am better at one-on-one instruction. Anyway, I'll be visiting this site more often, as it seems very helpful!Hi Andrea,I'm not sure if you were looking at ESL Tutor or Teaching ESL to Adults . On the ESL Tutor site, you can look at the list or Article Topics for things like "self-employment" or "meeting locations," etc. Incidentally, I don't recommend teaching out of your home; too many horror stories. Check out the Article Topics list and if you have any specific questions, please feel free to write again.Good luck,Debra
More About: Tutoring , Teacher , Private
"Speak Like the Natives"
2008-01-28 19:29:00
A couple of days ago, I was chastised by someone who read one of my blog entries. She was "flabbergasted" by the fact that I call myself an "English language tutor." You can read her full Comment and my response here: Expressions for Physical Descriptions (look at the Comments section of the blog entry).I was reminded of a college professor I had for a Research class in the mid 1980s. He was an older gentleman who had "old-fashioned" ways and ideas. Although it was a Research class (with papers and statistics and such), he would often take the opportunity to tell the class what he felt about the issues of the day.One class, he went on a tirade about how we should only use the generic "he," "his" and "him" in our research papers. He told us how he felt about the use of "he/she," "s/he," or even "he or she," and other such variations to include the female in our writing. He believed that the masculine pronoun should continue to be used in all cases and that what the "women's libbers"...
More About: Speak
Teaching "N," "L" and "R" to ESL Students
2008-01-28 02:21:00
Penny from the U.S. writes:Please help! I am a former French teacher volunteering to teach English to foreign adults. My Chinese lady cannot pronounce the nasal "N" as in nose. She says "L" instead. Is there some way to help her hear and say the sound?Hi Penny,Thank you for your email. L, N (and ng) and R are really difficult for Asian language speakers. I've even read that they (some Asian language speakers, Japanese, I think) cannot actually hear the difference. In my experience, I don't spend time training them to hear it, but rather, to say it.What I do is use pronunciation books that have pictures of what their tongues, breathing, lips, etc. need to do to make each sound. I highly recommend the pronunciation book I refer to on this page ESL Textbook Evaluation. It has great drawings (I can't even figure out what some other books are trying to show), and explanations. It also shows you which sounds to teach first (e.g., N, then L, then R).Good luck,DebraESL TutorTeaching ES...
More About: Students
How to Correct Consistent ESL Errors
2008-01-27 03:07:00
Ben from Canada writes:Hi, I have been teaching one-on-one English classes to adults for a while. My classes are usually conversation based with some focus on form. One of my current students is a native French speaker and he has recurring problems with using have/has, do/does, and plural 's'. I correct errors and give him a lot of feedback; however these problems have become somewhat fossilized. I was wondering if you had any advice about how to stop students from making these same errors over and over again. I thought of getting him to write down the error when I correct him, but I am unsure whether this will disrupt the flow of the class too much. Thank you for your time.Hi Ben,I have the same problems with many (if not all) of my students. The "s" (either added or dropped) is particularly troublesome. I haven't found any magic key for these three recurring errors. I understand what you mean about not wanting to disrupt the flow. Depending on the purpose of the class, I ofte...
More About: Errors , Consistent , Rect
Essay Outline for ESL Students
2008-01-24 21:44:00
I'm meeting with an ESL student I met a couple of months ago. At that time, we worked on a Personal Statement for college admission. Today, we're meeting to go over how to write an essay. This particular questions comes up over and over again with my ESL college students. So I decided to make a printout of the Outline I recommend that students follow.Here it is:Simple OutlineI. IntroductionII. Point AIII. Point BIV. Point CV. ConclusionDetailed OutlineI. IntroductionA. What is the paper aboutB. What are the points that will be coveredC. Transition sentence to Point AII. Point A (Topic Sentence)A. Sub-point aB. Sub-point bC. Sub-point cD. Point A conclusion and transition to Point B (one sentence)III. Point B (Topic Sentence)A. Sub-point aB. Sub-point bC. Sub-point cD. Point B conclusion and transition to Point C (one sentence)IV. Point C (Topic Sentence)A. Sub-point aB. Sub-point bC. Sub-point cD. Point C conclusion and (possible) transition to ConclusionV. Conclusion (different t...
More About: Students , Essay
Expressions for Physical Descriptions
2008-01-24 01:20:00
As I was walking to meet a new ESL student today, I was wondering what she would look like. The majority of my students are and have been Asian. After I write a description of myself to them, sometimes they write back with a description of themselves. It's usually something like, "I'm Asian and have black hair." As you can imagine, this description isn't the most useful, but I usually can tell who a new student is when they walk through the coffee shop door.Today's new student was from France. She didn't provide me with a physical description, but I wasn't too worried. Just curious. Like I said, I can usually tell a new student the moment they walk through the door because they look like they are looking for someone.I mentioned yesterday that I used to write that I have "olive skin." I also (a long time ago) used to write that I had "salt and pepper" hair. While this is also an expression, it's easier to figure out than "olive." So I was thinking about the whole description, ...
More About: Physical , Expressions
Consciously Choosing our Words
2008-01-23 07:16:00
I meet my adult ESL students in a coffee shop. For our first meeting, I send an email with the address and detailed directions to the coffee shop. I also send a brief description of myself. I used to say that I had "light olive" skin. This is a typical expression used in the U.S. to describe someone with "light brown" skin. It's such a typical expression that I never gave it a second thought, until one day...I met a new ESL student and he told me that he wondered what I would look like because he had no idea what "olive skin" would be like. I've changed the wording of my physical description in my intro email!It just served to remind me that no matter how conscious I am of the English language and all it's aspects, there are some parts of our language that are so internalized that we don't even give them a second thought.
More About: Words
"Slow Children at Play"
2008-01-21 06:56:00
One of the things I try to impress upon my adult ESL students is how intonation and all it's components are just as critical as grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc. Knowing what words to stress in a sentence and when to pause are important in making oneself understood.I was reminded about the importance of pauses when I saw a sign today that said, "Slow Children at Play ." If you've paid attention to this typical sign over the years, you may have noticed that the words have been spaced differently than they used to be. Now, the "slow" is separated from "children" so that it's not read as "slow children" (possibly meaning children with learning difficulties). With written English, it's easier to show the pauses where they need to be. With spoken English, we need to use the pause to make ourselves understood correctly.--end--
Limiting Use of Modals with ESL Beginners
2008-01-14 07:30:00
I make it a regular practice to teach modals to my intermediate and advanced ESL students. I describe modals as those words that give "feeling" or extra meaning to verbs. I also explain how they can be used to sound generally more polite, especially when making requests.However, I limit my teaching of modals when I work with beginning ESL students. Although, I may suggest that they memorize certain phrases like, "May I have a cup of coffee." I'm thinking about modals tonight because I was watching my all-time favorite reality show, "Amazing Race." In short, this is a TV show about pairs of people racing around the world. I love this show because it's yet another way for me to travel vicariously.Tonight, the teams were in Taiwan. Only one of the teams had a member who spoke "Chinese," so most of the others were stumbling along and looking for help from the locals without speaking the local language. One team member asked for directions by saying to a local, "Would you be able to sh...
ESL Writing Students
2008-01-12 02:43:00
Most ESL schools are notorious for not paying their ESL tutors for lesson preparation time. As a private ESL tutor, I have a little more control over the types of students I accept and how much time I spend preparing lessons (of course, when an ESL teacher or tutor is starting out, he or she spends a lot of time on lesson preparation).Working with ESL students who want to improve their writing skills will almost always take longer than working with students who, for example, want to improve their speaking skills.To do a good job of teaching students, I have to spend a significant amount of time correcting writing assignments for students. To maximize my time as a private tutor, I find that it's more efficient for me to limit the number of ESL writing students I take on.--end--
More About: Writing , Students
Intonation for ESL Speakers
2008-01-10 05:53:00
I've mentioned before that most of my adult ESL students are advanced level English speakers. They know the rules of English grammar better than me! Yet, when it comes to speaking and listening skills, my students always have room for improvement. Many come to me saying that they want to improve their pronunciation.I use a three-pronged approach to teaching adult ESL students "pronunciation." Often, when they come to me and say that they want to work on their English pronunciation, they say that they want to learn how to say different words correctly. Well, this is indeed one of the prongs. The other two are specific sounds and intonation.To me, intonation is perhaps the most important part of pronunciation. I believe that even when someone does not say a word or sound correctly, I (the listener) will still be able to understand the student if the intonation is correct, or nearly correct. On the other hand, perfect word and sound pronunciation with "terrible" intonation is not goin...
More About: Speakers
Stressing the Outline for ESL Writing
2008-01-09 08:38:00
Several of my adult ESL students want to improve their writing skills for college courses. Most are very advanced English language learners, although some have only intermediate writing skills. Working with intermediate students to improve their writing skills can take quite a while because of all the potential English grammar errors (and word choice, syntax, etc.).When working with these students, not only do all of the above components of English have to be addressed, but also how to structure a paper. I've mentioned before that much of what I teach about how to structure a college paper, I learned in high school. It's solid advice.As I work with one particular student who is very advanced (she started studying in the U.S. at the beginning of high school), I'm finding that I have to stress the outline part of the writing process to help her to become a better writer. It's tempting to rush this process, but it's really essential.--end--
More About: Writing , Outline
Difference Between "Hear" and "Listen"
2008-01-03 00:27:00
Many of my ESL students are confused about when to use the verb "hear" and when to use the verb "listen." I wonder if this may be because in other languages (at least Spanish--escuchar), the same word is used for both English words."To hear" is used when a sound comes to your ears. For example, I hear loud music coming from next door. Or, I hear the dog barking outside. Or, I hear the baby crying."To listen" is used when a person wants to hear something and is paying attention to it. For example, I am listening to a wonderful new CD. Or, I am listening to my brilliant ESL tutor's explanation about verb tenses.Compare, "I was listening to some music when I heard the phone ring." Here, I am actively listening to some music and the sound of the phone ringing was a sound that came to me without my taking any action.P.S. I love the dictionary, Longman Advanced American Dictionary because it knows that students get these two words confused (and many others) and if offers examples of the ...
More About: Hear , Listen , Difference , Diff
Happy New Year to Readers and ESL Students
2008-01-02 08:02:00
It's interesting to me how "we" celebrate January 1st as the New Year . I guess what's more interesting to me is that so many of my ESL students celebrate the New Year according to the Lunar Calendar. It just seems to make so much more sense. Or at least many of my ESL students are so clearly able to explain to me the significance of the New Year according to the Lunar Calendar (or the "Chinese New Year" as most of my students call it).Anyway, I wish all my ESL site readers and my ESL students a very Happy New Year.--end--
More About: Students , Readers , Happy New Year
Goodbye to ESL Tutoring for 2007
2008-01-01 02:37:00
I had my last adult ESL student of the year today. What a dedicated student to want to meet on New Year's Eve!Actually, all the students I've had this year have shown great dedication on their journeys to become better English language speakers. This is one of the great things about working with adult ESL students; they are usually there because they want to be. I said goodbye to some students with whom I had worked over a year (and I still miss them!) and said hello to a lot of new students.ESL tutoring, for me, has been one of the more rewarding opportunities I've had over the years. As a private ESL tutor, I don't have the advantages of things like sick leave or health care benefits, but I do have the opportunity every day to interact with wonderful people, and to travel vicariously and cheaply!I look forward to another year of working with dedicated and interesting English language learners.Goodbye 2007.--end--
More About: Tutoring
Teaching English Writing Skills
2007-12-29 05:58:00
Some of my adult ESL students are university students. Often, the number one priority for these students is improving their writing skills. They are no longer taking ESL courses, but are taking non-ESL courses and are expected to perform/write as native English speakers.I find that I use the information I learned in high school (a long time ago!) about writing a paper. The same info I learned in my English courses is still the classic way to write a paper (Introduction, Body, Conclusion, topic sentences, etc.).For ESL students who are working on their writing, I have them write something between classes and send it to me before class. It often takes quite a while to review the paper on my own time. I'm not only looking for structure, but also for grammar tenses, prepositions, etc. Working with the student during our regular lessons to review the writing assignment often runs over our scheduled time. I try to keep this in mind when I give the writing assignment. I find that two page...
More About: Writing , Teaching , Skills
Politically Correct Holiday Greetings
2007-12-28 06:59:00
On December 25th, I received an email from a former adult ESL student of mine. She had lived and worked in the U.S. for less than one year. She's now back in her home country.The subject line of the email was "Merry Christmas." I have to admit that in this time of being overly politically correct, it was kind of nice to hear from someone who hasn't been influenced by our culture and the extreme end we've moved to in the last couple of years. (And I used to be one of those people who were slightly offended by store clerks wishing me a "Merry Christmas.")And just to make sure I address the title of this entry, the "politically correct" expressions we now use in the U.S. include "Happy Holiday s" and "Seasons Greetings." "Happy Holidays" is used equally for a spoken or a written wish. "Seasons Greetings" if more commonly used as a written expression.--end--
More About: Holiday Greetings , Politically Correct , Rect
2007-12-27 07:24:00
Many of my adult ESL students are working professionals or business students. In a recent lesson with a student of mine who is a CPA, we were talking about vocabulary related to business keeping accurate records. The phrase "CYA" came up. It stands for "cover your ass." It was great when a week later my student came to class and told me that she'd heard this expression a couple of times in the last week. I don't think that this was the first week that people in her office used the term, it was just that she wasn't familiar with the expression before our ESL lesson. After our lesson, she was more in tune with the word and now she hears it when it's said.--end--
New Vocabulary for ESL Tutor
2007-12-26 03:33:00
Along with millions of other folks, I went to a movie theater today. I saw "Juno." In a review I read, it was called the "Little Miss Sunshine" of this season. I think "Sunshine" is actually a little better, but I highly recommend "Juno" to all. Enough of my movie reviews!The interesting thing about "Juno" was all the vocabulary that was new to me! A teenager in Minnesota was the main character, and although I could tell what was going on from the context, there were quite a few new words for me. They were words and expressions that I would have to research in order to teach to my ESL students.Fortunately for me, all of my ESL students are adults who will very likely never need to know this new vocabulary. However, it highlights the fact that the most useful things for any learner to learn (whether the subject being learned is a language or any other subject) are those things that are pertinent to the student's life.--end--
More About: Vocabulary
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