Diversity, Culture and Language

In discussing the different cultures of our adult students, we should remember that language is also part of culture. Language is also part of personality.

In the US there are over 250 different languages spoken, more by far than any other country.

So we also need to respect and appreciate the languages of our students in our classes and schools.

Often when adult immigrants take classes, especially ESL, they feel overwhelmed and even intimidated by English Only instruction and texts.

There is ample evidence to demonstrate that a bilingual – or multilingual – method of instruction can be very helpful.

For example, a student does not need to know English to learn Biology, etc. Likewise in Beginning English classes, inclusion of the students’ first language can be very beneficial not only in learning a lesson but also in creating a comfortable atmosphere in the classroom.

Now with the use of technology it is easy to create multilingual lessons for adult students.

I know that many adult educators disagree with the above; I hope we might have a discussion about an issue that is growing in importance.

Paul Rogers






Hello Paul, I highly agree with every word of your post. Currently, I teach adult immigrants largely from the Hispanic/Latino and African/Haitian cultures but have recently enrolled Asian/Korean, and European/Russian, thereby increasing the diversity of my classroom. For 13 years of teaching ESL both in a university setting (international students from all continents - now retired) and now part-time for a Literacy Program, I have strongly held to my belief that incorporating the home language of my students periodically into their English lesson plans met with successful outcomes. Indeed, my justification followed the logic that if a student cannot understand the concept of English words/phrases/sentences, then how can we expect them to comprehend the true denotations & connotations of the material? Memorizing English words without providing conceptual meaning is like putting a five-year old child in a college-level classroom.

In addition, the comfort of the classroom environment with splashes of humor proves to be similarly important to a learning atmosphere. I use these two strategies:

  1. whenever a new student enrolls, all of my current students & I give a brief introduction in front of the classroom & offer welcoming remarks. This provides practice for shy students to improve their speaking & listening skills & eventually alleviates their fears of public speaking.
  2. Once a month, I implement a role reversal lesson plan in which my students become the teacher & I become the student. Each culture works as a group to teach me fragments of their language. This accomplishes 2 beneficial results: they see me struggle to learn their language & realize that even teachers struggle when acquiring new information. Sometimes I exaggerate my struggle and laugh at myself to model the notion that making mistakes are part of the learning experience; even more important, they must use enough of their English skills to be able to teach me the meaning, concept & pronunciation of their language.

Dear Victoria, Thank you very much for your letter. I want to know more!!!!!!!! Often teachers say that they cannot use L1 in their classes because the students are too diverse, but you show the way to do it. I hope you will write more. You mention so many important points - yes, exaggeration helps! I will add a few cents later when I get over this flu.

Regards, Paul Rogers 

Victoria, thanks for the good tips on how to include students with diverse language origins in learning English. I heartily endorse laughing during instruction and "periodically" using the native language of students when possible. And Paul, I can't argue with success, which you clearly have using Spanish to teach English. However, keep in mind that English-only environments don't necessarily "impose" English and disrespect students; in fact, if disrespect is present, the instructor has no business teaching anything!

I recognize that teaching through mobile devices without face-to-face interaction might demand more use of the native language in order to get started. Also, among K-12 students, who are often traumatized by being dumped in English-only school environments, using bilingual approaches might well be best, and I think more research supports the practice.

Personally, as an adult, if I want to learn Russian, for example, my Russian teacher doesn't disrespect me by using Russian to teach me his language. I would feel disrespected if he didn't follow my wishes! As with learning any skill, if I want to learn to play the violin, I won't take time practicing on the guitar, which I play well. If I want to learn to swim, I won't spend my time playing tennis, which I do well. If I want to learn English... :) Of course, cultural awareness is basic to engaging students! I am a huge proponent of having instructors become very aware of their own cultural preferences and very sensitive to those of their students. That's basic to good teaching!

One aspect that is rarely addressed in this equation is the adult student's preference! In college programs, I have supervised over 100 part-timers per semester teaching in huge credit ESL programs along the border. There were ESL teachers who taught their ESL classes in Spanish. Their results were consistently below what the English-only teachers had. What I so often noticed in classes taught in Spanish was that students from non-Spanish-speaking countries felt left out. Spanish speakers enjoyed the classes and related to their instructors, but they simply did not learn English quickly. When I asked my students if they would like me to use Spanish/Korean/Japanese/other students' languages during our class, invariably they yelled, "No! We want to learn English!" They wanted to perceive of themselves as English speakers, and I obliged. That doesn't mean that I didn't speak to them in Spanish socially, during breaks, and in counseling/advising sessions. Interestingly, my Korean and other Asian students very often learned to speak Spanish in the process of learning English. Why? Because Asian students heard it a lot among their peers and practiced it. No one taught them how to speak Spanish using Korean!

There are many very kind and enjoyable ways to teach even beginning adult students using English only, starting with the old TPR and similar methods. The list is huge. Students feel so happy when they find themselves speaking English right away, and their confidence soars!

There are many ways to teach anything. I hope that we can also respect that instructors will teach in their ways to meet the goals of their own students. Your success, Paul, points to the fact that your ways can work very well among your students using the many digital  tools that you have developed. Hat's off! Leecy

Hello Paul, Victoria, Leecy and all, This is a great discussion. I want to thank each of you for sharing your thoughts and experiences -- as well as your successes. Indeed, there are many ways to honor the languages and cultures students bring to our classrooms and to teach learners effectively. Respect is at the heart of it.

Looking forward to hearing about other members' experiences on this topic.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Leecy, you raise a lot of issues in you post which should be addressed, so I will try my hand.

First, the issue of L1 in the class is particularly important for Beginning students who know little or no English. Usually older adults who are immigrants who work and have families will flourish with L1 support.

Young adults in college or high school who already know English to a certain extent were never the focus of my articles.

At the present time the drop-out rate for adult ESL students is very high, and I do not think it unreasonable to conclude that an English Only / One Size Fits All approach contributes to this problem.

In my opinion we need to change the policy to allow for a bilingual approach in all adult ESL classes, something I have compared to a conveyor belt strategy.

Well, there is a lot that needs to go into this discussion, but for now I will close with something I posted here last November:

From Nov. 2- There are many benefits of incorporating the students' own language in adult ESL/EFL classes, especially those for beginning students, who know little or no English.

     In doing some research on the issue I came across a few articles that focus on what we commonly called the Bilingual Approach.

     Below is the reference and excerpts from one article by Philip Kerr:

     “The learner’s own language,” by Philip Kerr, Freelance, Austria Abstract

     From: ExELL (Explorations in English Language and Linguistics) 3.1 (2015): 1-7 DOI: 10.1515/exell-2016-0007 Original scientific article

     The learner’s own language (commonly referred to as ‘L1’ or ‘first language’) has been neglected as a resource in the learning of another language and, in some  contexts, it has been banned altogether. The arguments in favour of own-language exclusion are not supported by research and the policy is not followed by a              majority of teachers.

     A reconsideration of these arguments and an awareness of practical suggestions for drawing on the learners’ own language as a resource for learning may help language teachers to enrich their repertoire of teaching techniques and activities.

     Despite its centrality to the processes of learning and teaching another language, own-language use has, until quite recently, been largely absent from discussions of English language teaching methodology.

     Early editions of the most widely used teacher training manuals (e.g. Harmer, 1983; Scrivener, 1994) paid scant attention to the topic. It is absent from the syllabus of pre-service training courses such as CELTA (the Cambridge Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and is very rarely the subject of ELT conference presentations.

     It has been ‘treated as a pariah in almost all the fashionable high-profile language teaching theories of the 20th century – so much so that towards the end of that century, other than at university level, it was no longer discussed in the acaUnauthenticated Download Date | 10/14/16 5:02 PM ISSN 2303-4858       2 3.1 (2015): 1-7 Philip Kerr:

     The learner’s own language is (basicaly absent) from literature as a serious candidate for aiding the learning of a new language’ (Cook, 2010: xv).

     Instead, there has been a mostly unquestioned assumption that the best way to learn and teach English is through English, and English alone. This assumption finds concrete expression in the complete banning of the learners’ own language in some institutions around the world (see, for example, Mouhanna, 2009; Littlewood & Yu, 2011).

For the entire article go to:







I thoroughly agree that learners should be able to reference their first language to help with understanding-- as most teachers know, you can spend a LOT of class time trying to make a simple concept clear or you can allow learners to speak to each other to explain in about 2 minutes...... I believe Rebecca Oxford, who has written much about second language learning and teaching, endorses use of first language as a normal and efficient route, especially for adult language learners-- who will do it anyway..... .  

I also know from my decades of teaching that 1) if a class is monolingual or if there are large groups of people who speak the same language, they will all to quickly hide behind their own language in class-- handling that issue is tricky!!!    and 2)-- while it is helpful when I can speak to students in their language ( I speak French and some smattering of Italian and Spanish), I also know that others are excluded and sometimes insulted when they are left out of the conversation, so I do that only rarely, and with apologies to the others.  I also seriously limit use of first language in certain activities or situations if others will be left out.    

One of the joys of the games is that students MUST use English to play them and I do not worry if they are explaining to each other in their language HOW to play etc.-- there is no advantage in almost any of the games to students chatting about them...:)) Robin  

It has been my experience, bolstered by many conversations such as this one on LINCS, that "absolutes" never apply in language learning and teaching. (Use of "never" intended.)  Learners want to learn, and they will try whatever they can to do what suits them. As their experienced guides in unfamiliar terrain, we can explore in advance, and know the lay of the land to point out the possible dangers, pitfalls, and minor/inconveniences of not trying something new, of not trusting their guideS - the teacher, more advanced speakers of their first language, and their classmates who are learning another language among others. We can choose where we go on the first day, and build into our adventure together the elements we know will make for joyful celebration and feelings of accomplishment along the way, and at the end.
In many ways, a diverse class representing many different languages (and varying cultures within those languages represented) is "easier" to teach. At the same time, the learners themselves, especially the more uncertain-of-success ones, need the consolation of someone who understands even a little bit of a shared language.

To this day, I do not know how I knew, but I have a quick story. (I am a terrible "artist" and this was in the faroff days before Google images and picture dictionaries galore.)  I had three SE Asian men from a tribe in Laos in an absolute beginners class. Somehow, the word "hammock" came up. Not from me, you can be sure. Anyway, I tried to explain it, and draw it on the chalkboard. One fellow thought he understood, and said he would explain to the other two. I said, "go ahead." He tried. I watched his body language and said, "not exactly" and explained some more using different words. Then, the second one got excited and started explaining again. This time, I heard a new word, and that coupled with the body language, led me to say, "I think that's it. I'll bring a picture tomorrow and we'll see for sure." IT WAS THE RIGHT WORD.
The human mind can learn more than one language. Humans have been able to for as long as there has been language. We teachers get to be part of something glorious and happy. Aren't we fortunate.


Hello colleagues, Since there has been so much discussion in our community about L1 = first language, primary language, home language, native language, mother tongue, mother language, I wanted to pass along some resources. Did you know that February 21 is International Mother Language Day?

One of the issues related to "mother language" that I've cared about for a very long time is the reality that some children, especially those born in the US, sometimes lose their first language-- and, hence, their ability to communication well with their own parents. I've met families who have spoken passionately about this with me. Unfortunately, many schools are not providing first language support to children, so the responsibility lies with parents and the community to ensure children grow up bilingual. While many parents take this role very seriously, others do not seem to realize the potential implications.

If you have thoughts on an adult educator's role on this issue, please share them.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Susan, I am very glad you reminded us of International Mother Language Day! Yes we as adult educators have a big role to play in fostering Home Language study among our students and the community. We need to set up and develop more classes in L1 Literacy for adults, pre-ESL or bilingual classes for beginners, then a "graduation" on to regular ESL classes that are based on English Only. From there it is just a hop, skip and a jump to college and University!!!!!!

One way to look at it is to see a Family Literacy approach.

I believe strongly that technology will be a key element for the future, despite any cutbacks to service. And smart phones will become virtual classrooms.

There is no doubt that Formal programs at community and city colleges cannot do the work alone. That is why there needs to be a close collaboration with Non-Formal programs, in libraries, community centers, churches, etc., etc. 

Let's work to take support for Home Languages from the conceptual stage to the practical stage.

Yes we can! Si se puede!!

Hi Leecy,  

First, I want to say how much I appreciate your response. I feel these discussions are valuable & fruitful. I want to begin by saying thank you for your support of using students’ first language (L1) “periodically” in the classroom & for emphasizing this word with quotation marks because that is exactly the manner in which I use the L1 in support of my immigrant adults. I apologize if I misled you or any LINCS readers but I didn’t mean to imply that I use L1 extensively. Also, I don’t want to speak for Paul, but in defense of his support of mobile devices and his use of Spanish in his classes, I believe he was promoting them as learning resources to be used periodically and as extension activities. I may be wrong but that is how I interpreted his comments. I sent 3 of my intermediate students to the pumarosa.com website & the one who has responded so far said that he loved it! This is not to say that I will insist on that being a prime way of teaching him English. It is just another resource to be used at his discretion as far as I am concerned.


Likewise, I like that you mention the K-12 problem and how those students are “traumatized by being dumped into English-only environments,” because I’ve met many of those students & listened to their horror stories. Although they are not supposed to attend my “adult immigrant” classes, some of them come with their parents and I don’t have the heart to send them away. Instead, I allow them to sit in the back of the room as observers to absorb as much as they can.  Another story….


Yes, I even used this method when I taught university students but to an even lesser degree than “periodically” since I had no beginner students at that time; basically, I had students who needed ESL support because they were enrolled in college due to inadequate TOESL assessments and therefore, were thrown into an educational environment unprepared. In all my years of teaching in that venue, I state with absolute sincerity that in MY experience, these students were doomed to fail, as I witnessed many (not all) of them unwillingly drop out of classes, switch majors, fail courses, & even quit college due to insufficient support & resources. THIS is a whole different discussion! Sorry, I digress.


In your fourth paragraph, I apologize but I fail to grasp the overall theme of your discussion. I understand your first statement about student preference & fully agree that ESL students should be given the choice of teaching methods as this is the most productive means of making progress & promoting success. I don’t know why I did not mention that in my post, but that is a priority with my new students. In addition, I administer several Learning Styles Inventories (translators necessary) to gauge strengths, weaknesses & preferences regarding visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modes of learning.


However, my confusion comes from trying to figure out if you are supporting one or all of the modes of teaching that you discuss. I can readily agree that ESL teachers who exclusively use Spanish to teach their classes had consistently lower results. On the same topic, I cannot even imagine teaching ESL in Spanish only for Spanish-speaking students but even more so, if there are other cultures enrolled in the same class. Of course, they would feel left out! Whew! The additional hardship of any other-than-Spanish culture having to learn Spanish in an ESL class bewilders me. Why wouldn’t those teachers provide the same “periodic” L1 instruction for Asian, African, European, or any other culture? Even if there are no translators available, we have many sources of technology on our smart phones & computers to lend support. Currently, I assist Russian, Korean & Haitian students using our iPads and/or their smart phones to translate some vocabulary & to grasp difficult concepts which alleviates frustration! They deserve that extra effort.


I must address TPR (Total Physical Response). Literally, my students love the animation I put into my lessons, from standing on the desk to crawling on the floor! Even with this method, I still cannot agree with English-only classes, but as a disclaimer-that is only my opinion. Sometimes, I believe I should have auditioned for the “Dead Poets Society” film. For those who have watched that movie, you must have an idea of my performance in my classes. For those who have not seen this film, I HIGHLY recommend it!!!  Carpe Diem


Finally  -  No doubt, the teachers using various methods used in our ESL classrooms deserve applause for their efforts. I wholeheartedly respect and laud those teachers who strive to build enough confidence in their students to assist them in reaching successful goals. Although I do not agree with some teaching styles, I maintain that if those teachers reach success with the students, then they deserve the same praise. I would hope that even if they do not agree with my teaching styles, they would, in turn, respect me for successes.


Thanks for your patience with this lengthy response.

Have a wonderful day,


Thanks for another thoughtful response, Victoria! I totally agree with your views and appreciate that you are expressing them. And like you, I bow to Paul's success and contributions using so many great tools! I'm a fan, in fact, as Paul well knows! :)

Just to clarify a bit, the theme I had intended to develop in Paragraph 4 was  that in my long, long experience working with non-native speakers in community literacy programs, abroad in the Peace Corps, in credit programs, and everything in between, students always asked me to use English whenever I could to teach them. It was their preference. In fact, working with basic literacy, I would beg Spanish or Portuguese speaking students to allow me to teach them to read in their own language first, which research fully supports, and then to move into English. Nope! They wanted English all the way! English-"only"/most of the time was their preference, and I know that it is mine. Of course, English-only doesn't represent a rule imposed with a whip. In my classes, students often talked to each other in their native languages to discuss confusing issues; some learners learn best when dialoguing with others. English-only is a philosophy that supports helping students slowly become confident in using English, even if it is sometimes scary.  I love this poem, attributed to Apollinaire:

“Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, we're afraid!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, We will fall!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.”

I've been pushed in so many ways and flown. I find that good learners want the same. :) Leecy

Hi Leecy, your clarification made me realize that our philosophies, although not the same, are quite similar. Perhaps we differ in a matter of degree. From this sentence where you say, "Of course, English-only doesn't represent a rule imposed with a whip." to the conclusion of that paragraph, you reiterate exactly what I have been saying about “helping students slowly become confident” during their English instruction. I never meant to imply that I use L1 side-by-side with English instruction. On the contrary, I use L1 periodically and only when it becomes necessary to teach conceptual understanding or as you say, to “discuss confusing issues.” My use is minimal & infrequent but obviously more than your students’ and your “English-only” preferences. As I said, I believe our slight difference is the degree in which we use L1 in our classrooms. Surely, it also has to do with our teaching styles and our students’ backgrounds. In addition, you show high regard for your students by honoring their preference.


Thank you for the poem. I do indeed love it as I am a self-proclaimed poet.


However, I suppose I take the interpretation quite different than you. Again, our slight difference is determining when a student can fly. Most of my students had past experiences in which English-only created so much intimidation, embarrassment & fear that they quit those classes. Don’t get me wrong, I push my students when I feel they are ready & it is beneficial to them, but then, and only then, when their confidence overrides their fear. Nervous is fine, not fear.


With all due respect, I sense that the greatest difference in our teaching styles comes from personal past experience. You say that you’ve been pushed in so many ways & flown. I consider myself a “good learner” but will admit that several times in my high school years, I was pushed & felt traumatized. One poignant example: in 9th grade, I never healed from the fear of public speaking until I went to college as a 37-year old & my English professor gave me the guidance & support to help me realize I could deliver a speech. Since then, I’ve spoken to crowds of thousands & although still nervous, I do perform well.


Truly, our styles differ but if our students succeed, then that proves to be the ultimate reward for them. Thank you so much for a fruitful discussion.

On the same page, indeed, Victoria! Thanks for the comments your shared. As a teacher trainer in many fields, I often remind teachers to not only respect the learning preferences of students, but their own cultures and teaching/learning preferences. Teachers are people, too! When I imagine the ideal learning environment, it is one in which both the teacher and learners are having a ball; I don't care how elevated the level or demanding the outcomes. I know there is research out there, but I forget the sources, that provides evidence that when we are laughing, we are learning, English Only/English Mostly/English Sometimes or other labels, that is  a wonderful concept! It is one that I totally endorse! :))))) Leecy

Hello Leecy,  Thank you so much for your supportive response. I apologize for not responding sooner but got caught up with family matters. The thing I admire most about you, Susan and my other colleagues on this site shows in the caring attitudes we all share for one another and for our students. Although I am a fairly new participant on LINCS, I have gained a wealth of information, guidance and encouragement. Without exaggeration, the numerous websites and links online that I collected from LINCS and put into a personal excel list for my ESL students provide tremendous assistance to my role as a teacher. I look forward to continued growth in my field. Thanks!

You are right, Victoria. Caring is the basic ingredient in all mixtures, isn't it? Thanks, also, for providing evidence of application to practice in your post. We are always looking for evidence that our LINCS discussions influence actual practice! It's always good to know that our forums are helpful in the field! Leecy


Hi, Victoria, I just wanted to post a short note about something you said that is often overlooked in ESL, namely: 

"if a student cannot understand the concept of English words/phrases/sentences, then how can we expect them to comprehend the true denotations & connotations of the material? Memorizing English words without providing conceptual meaning is like putting a five-year old child in a college-level classroom."

Often it is very important that a grammatical concept, for example, is thoroughly understood before moving on to appropriate exercises, and using the students own language is the fastest, easiest and most effective method of doing so.

I have a hunch that such an approach also speeds up learning.


Hello Paul,  I just posted a very lengthy response to Leecy and addressed your comment for using L1 periodically in our ESL classrooms. I won't repeat myself so you might want to check it out. Anyway, I appreciate your note from yesterday. By all means, we are in total agreement that L1 serves to not only clarify grammatical concepts for our students but just as important, incorporating L1 into our lessons helps to uplift their mood, increase their confidence, lessen tension, and build their self-esteem during those light-bulb moments. Oh yes, I believe as you do that this is "the fastest, easiest and most effective method of doing so....and that such an approach also speeds up learning. I must tell you a few recent episodes that happened just two days ago: we were discussing pronunciation of the 44 phonemes & for some reason, my students had difficulty distinguishing the pronunciation between the long ow sound (grow-slow) and the short ow (how, now). Well, I prompted the students to put their mouths into that 0 shape for the long ow but for the short ow, I pinched my arm & yelled out OW! They laughed so hard and before I knew it, they were all pinching themselves and each other to practice it. Next example, mostly my Spanish students have difficulty pronouncing the ch sound. They use the sh sound so I tell them, for example, the confusion in a conversation if they say shop when they mean chop and vice versa. Okay, for that TPR I correct them when they should say ch by interrupting them and saying & dancing the cha-cha-cha. Seriously, my regular students are joining in with me lately to help the new students. I love it! Tonight I have class so I must close but I'll be back soon.

Blessings, Victoria


Hi, Victoria, Thank you for your note. Do you mean to tell me you are having fun teaching pronunciation? And they still pay you? WOWOWOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I divide the sounds into a rank order of priority. I have found that the G/J, short i, short u, Th.., V, along with learning about the silent E and that there is no E sound before S words.....can all be covered by the alphabet, the numbers, and greetings. BUT it also takes many repetitions for a whole month or so before it "sticks.' 

Pumarosa is particularly good on pronunciation and I have also written a text that may help and made a few videos- inglesconprofepablo.com PRONUNCIACION.

If PRONUNCIATION is included in the lessons, vocabulary building, verb tenses and a "good feeling" toward learning English all develop much better.

Please keep in touch, maybe email is better = pumrosa21@yahoo.com

Regards, Paul 

Paul et al, speaking of having fun teaching, I'll share a story. One of my classes ran from 11-11:50, just before lunch. We were discussing different types of music around the world. Students were yelling out sentences describing jazz, samba, etc... One student raised his hand. "Teacher, I have one." Sure, Miguel, go on. "Tango- Teacher, 'tango' hambre! Let's go." :))

Hey Paul,  Honestly, we're like twins in the classroom! Although I'm teaching the entire alphabet with focus on the vowels, I literally have been emphasizing all of the short vowels, then as you say, "TH - V - G/J - silent E"   Even though all of these are difficult & require lots of practice, the most difficult is helping my Spanish students to avoid the E before they pronounce words beginning with S. Whew! We're working very hard on that one.

I went to your website & watched a few minutes of your video. Since I don't speak Spanish, I could only follow parts of your lesson but I will pass this on to my students as I did the pumarosa.com website. So far, two students have now found it to be beneficial for them. Also, I sent a note to your email. Did you get the message?

Hi, Victoria, ok - I hope your students like some of my videos! I did not receive an  email from you - so my emails are: pumarosa21@yahoo.com and paulwaynerogers@gmail.com - 

My adult ESL students love your website! They said it was very helpful, so I asked them to give me more feedback in a few weeks.

Aha! I figured the /a/ was missing in your email. Sorry I have not written in a few days but my sister had surgery yesterday, so I've been away from my computer. I'll write soon.

Dear Ms. Rainis,

Please try our MakeBeliefsComix.com, too, in your work.  It's a free comic generator where they can create their own comic strips online, print and email them.  It has been used for ESL programs at City University of New York and many other schools in adult ESL programs and there's a video in case you want to learn how students use the site: http://www.makebeliefscomix.com/How-to-Play/Educators/video.html

It also offers hundreds of writing prompts printables and free e-books which also spur writing and creativity.


Bill Zimmerman

Creator, MakeBeliefsComix.com

Hello Bill. thank you so much for the link to http://www.makebeliefscomix.com/How-to-Play/Educators/video.html as I consider it to be valuable for my intermediate students. Personally, I also enjoyed it. Admittedly, I only spent a brief time on the website but plan to visit it again soon with my students and at home. Also, I appreciate your respect in addressing me as Ms. Rainis but please feel free to call me Victoria.


As a reading and ESL Specialist for children, it's interesting to see the choices to teach pronunciation for adults. When teaching children with dyslexia and other reading difficulties, much emphasis is placed on the phonemic awareness, and the students try to figure out where the sound comes from after repeating words with a common sound. The use of a mirror(or camera on phone) for each student is crucial in teaching pronunciation.  Implementing multi-sensory instruction while teaching also helps tremendously.  When teaching the short vowels, we sing a song or  chant about the vowels and then look at the picture w/ the vowel while doing and action for it.  For example "Aa alligator"  and say the short a sound three times while moving our hand like an alligator eating an apple.  We put an egg on our elbow e, and stand like an i and dot our head(just like an i) and pretend we have an iguana on our head.  We do this for all the vowels.  The long alphabet is on top of the board, and they realize a long vowel sounds exactly as the letter in the long"alphabet and the short vowels sound like the ones that are under the board.  If we read the word cake we say "the "e" is silent the vowel is long, the a says a."  All of these have either a song or a chanting sound to go with them so they stay in their head for many years to come.  Obviously, this would be much better to explain in a video, but my point is, do not underestimate the use of multi-sensory instruction for teaching a language.  I also think that many of the techniques used to teach students with dyslexia may help many adults learn to read.  This would definitely be an interesting study.

Lisa Hamid




Lisa, thanks for this, now....give us more!!!!! Please.

I hope some day adult ESL classes will all include phonics lessons from day one. Let's return to Phonics!

Here is a text from 1879 published by Project Gutenberg that I think people will find interesting:


This First Reader may be used in teaching reading by any of the methods in common use; but it is especially adapted to the Phonic Method, the Word Method, or a combination of the two.

I. Phonic Method.--First teach the elementary sounds and their representative, the letters marked with diacriticals, as they occur in the lessons; then, the formation of words by the combination of these sounds.

For instance, teach the pupil to identify the characters a, o, n, d, g, r, and th, in Lesson I, as the representatives of certain elementary sounds;

then teach him to form the words at the head of the lesson, then other words, as nag, on, and, etc. Pursue a similar course in teaching the succeeding lessons. Having read a few lessons in this manner, begin to teach the names of the letters and the spelling of words, and require the

groups, "a man," "the man," "a pen," to be read as a good reader would pronounce single words.

II.  When one of the letters in the combinations ou or ow, is marked in the words at the head of the reading exercises, the other is silent. If neither is marked, the two letters represent a diphthong. All other unmarked vowels in the vocabularies, when in combination, are silent letters. In slate or blackboard work, the silent letters may be canceled.

III. Word Method.--Teach the pupil to identify at sight the words placed at the head of the reading exercises, and to read these exercises without hesitation. Having read a few lessons, begin to teach the names of the letters and the spelling of words.

IV. Word Method and Phonic Method Combined.--Teach the pupil to identify words and read sentences, as above. Having read a few lessons in this manner, begin to use the Phonic Method, combining it with the Word Method, by first teaching the words in each lesson as words; then the elementary

sounds, the names of the letters, and spelling.

V. Teach the pupil to use script letters in writing, when teaching the names of the letters and the spelling of words.

Copyright, 1879, by Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co.

Copyright, 1896, by American Book Company.

Copyright, 1907 and 1920, by H.H. Vail.



In presenting McGuffey’s Revised First Reader to the public, attention is

invited to the following features:

1. Words of only two or three letters are used in the first lessons.

Longer and more difficult ones are gradually introduced as the pupil gains

aptness in the mastery of words.

2. A proper gradation has been carefully preserved. All new words are

placed at the head of each lesson, to be learned before the lesson is

read. Their number in the early lessons is very small, thus making the

first steps easy. All words in these vocabularies are used in the text

immediately following.

3. Carefully engraved script exercises are introduced for a double

purpose. These should be used to teach the reading of script; and may also

serve as copies in slate work.

4. The illustrations have been designed and engraved specially for the

lessons in which they occur. Many of the engravings will serve admirably

as the basis for oral lessons in language.

5. The type is large, strong, and distinct.

The credit for this revision is almost wholly due to the  friends of McGuffey’s Readers,--eminent teachers and scholars, who have contributed

suggestions and criticisms gained from their daily work in the schoolroom.

Cincinnati, June, 1879.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of McGuffey's First Eclectic Reader, Revised Edition, by William Holmes McGuffey







Hi Paul,  

I am happy to share ideas, So please inform me of the best way to do it. Although phonics is a big part of teaching reading instruction, don't overlook the importance of sight words.  Students must also learn to read the Fry words and phrases, The first 100 Fry words and their variations make up approximately 50 % of all written language.  Teaching these to students will increase their reading ability and confidence.  Since most of these words just need to be learned, I often create a song or chant to go with each word.  For example..O-U-T "out", O-U-T "out", O-U-T   O-U-T  O-U-T "out"! Hearing an entire class chant this is a lot of fun, and they have a better chance of retaining the word..  It will also carry over to words such as shout/pout/spout.  A game I created to help with sight words is called "Slap It".  I have the sight words written on note cards and each time I place a card down all the students have to read the word, I continue until a card says "It".  The person that slaps "it" first takes the cards.  We continue until all cards are gone.  It's a lot like Slap Jack but uses sight words instead.   It is key for both children and adults to stay active and engaged while learning.



Hi, Lisa, well I think that if phonics were included in adult ESL from day one, a lot of problems would be solved.

So - First, tell us more about Fry words. Then describe a lesson designed for adults in a class of 25 beginners. How do you incorporate phonics, etc. into a class every day?

I developed my own particular kind of phonics with Spanish speakers, which you can see in Pumarosa.com.

I agree 100% about how it is  important to focus on the 500 most common words and then the 1000 etc. So please tell us more about that.

Once students know that their pronunciation 'issues' will be helped in class, it is  like the sky opens up. No more frowns!!


Hi Paul,   

One of the best ways I have seen to incorporate Fry Words, also known as instant or sight words, is what we use for teaching students with dyslexia or reading difficulties.  It is from the Scottish Rite Hospital's  dyslexia reading program, Take Flight.  Day 1:  Students echo and read the 1st 10 instant words on flash cards.  Day 2: Read same ten words in columns  Day3:  in rows  Day 4:  in phrases and sentences.  Then repeat same cycle with words 11-20 The next session will be 1-20.  Then begin 21-30 set, 31-40 set, then 21-40 set, etc. This could be done as a class also.  Each night they bring the sheet home for homework.  It's a lot of repeated practice that takes very little time.  

Another activity I do is have some Fry phrases on the wall and before they sit down for class or leave, they must read them. I sometimes time them to see how many they can read.  Don't underestimate the power of a timer.  You could put them on the wall and have students time themselves.  They could keep a time journal in their notebook.  The more they read them, the better they will get.




Lisa, I looked up Fry words and found this site: http://bjh.dadeschools.net/assets/fry_complete_1000.pdf

So first I want to say I am in agreement with the method. I believe that without phonics from Day One, it is very difficult for people to learn to speak well. When English learners improve their speaking, they also increase their Listening Comprehension and they gain confidence.

The question is how to apply the Fry Word method to adult English as a Foreign or Other Language learners.

Let me just outline what I have developed. I use the same approach basically - the first 500 words, the first 1000 etc. - the Basic Vocabulary.

For Beginning students I arrange the lessons in topics: Greetings, Food, The House etc. The vocabulary is bilingual with a phonetic spelling based on how Spanish speakers would write the word: Table - Mesa  - Teibl. My method can be seen on Pumarosa.com. Lesson 15 is a summary. In any case, phonics/pronunciation is "woven" into all my lessons in a "live" class., for at least 3 months. When the students get comfortable speaking, they "graduate"!

I believe that we should teach: Pronunciation/Phonics - Speaking/Listening  - Reading - Writing and Translating - The Whole Language Approach.

This method not only is effective but the students like it because they learn how to solve a vexing problem - speaking English!!!

Anyway that is my story in a short form. 


Hi Lisa,  you have given a good description of the way I use singing, music & rhythm in my classroom. Although I do not have any dyslexic adults, they definitely learn better through multi-sensory instruction. As a matter of fact, I also use facial expressions, hand & body gestures, and I've been known to become quite animated to increase word, phrase, or sentence comprehension. Indeed, most often I insist that my students join me, such as, jumping jacks, crawling, pushing & pulling, etc. In addition to creating excellent recall with these strategies, they also prevent boredom from sitting in their seats for long periods of time.

I really like your suggestions, such as the alligator eating an apple and putting an egg on the elbow & especially standing up to dot the "i"  -  For sure, I will incorporate those lessons. As a matter of fact, I recently began prompting my beginner students to use the website www.starfall.com and these strategies fit perfectly. Thanks for your post!!

Hi Lisa, have you seen the website englishcodecrackers.com? Patsy Vinogradov and her colleagues in Minnesota learned about methods for teaching dyslexic students and examined how those methods could help our ESL literacy students. It's a great site with many practical ideas for teaching. Shelley


Shelley, this is  very interesting. I do not know how it is related, but I would guess that about 10% of adult Spanish speakers have a great deal of difficulty pronouncing certain words or sounds, such as GOOD for "WOOD". It has perplexed me for years, so I am going to study englishcodecrackers.com. Reminds me of the Bletchley Circle.



Hi Paul,

I agree with most of what you wrote:  "In discussing the different cultures of our adult students, we should remember that language is also part of culture. Language is also part of personality. In the US there are over 250 different languages spoken, more by far than any other country. So we also need to respect and appreciate the languages of our students in our classes and schools. Often when adult immigrants take classes, especially ESL, they feel overwhelmed and even intimidated by English Only instruction and texts. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that a bilingual – or multilingual – method of instruction can be very helpful. For example, a student does not need to know English to learn Biology, etc. Likewise in Beginning English classes, inclusion of the students’ first language can be very beneficial not only in learning a lesson but also in creating a comfortable atmosphere in the classroom. Now with the use of technology it is easy to create multilingual lessons for adult students.I know that many adult educators disagree with the above; I hope we might have a discussion about an issue that is growing in importance."

I am not sure, however,  that it is correct to say that "In the US there are over 250 different languages spoken, more by far than any other country." The U.S. Census American Community Survey (ACS) report published in 2013 for the year 2011, answers the question about how many languages are spoken in the U.S. this way:      "...while no definitive answer to the question is available, a tabulation from the 2006–2008 ACS listed over 300 languages spoken in the United States." However,  Papua New Guinea, with over 800 spoken languages, and other countries, have more spoken languages than does the U.S. For another example, according to WOLFRAM ALPHA there are 453 languages spoken in Nigeria. Nigerians living in the U.S. who are studying English (the official language of Nigeria, but certainly not _the_ language, or even the most widely spoken one) often appreciate their teachers asking "What is your first (or mother tongue) language?" as an opportunity to describe their language and culture to other students and the teacher.

In any case, your point that a lot of languages are spoken in the U.S. is certainly correct. Your points that language and culture are intertwined and that we need to respect students' cultures and first languages are also important, perhaps especially now that many, including legal, immigrants, wonder if our country welcomes and appreciates them.


David J. Rosen




I have found myself embroiled in the world of language learning despite having only a tiny amount of knowledge about it.  I was a high school science teacher.  Now I am an adult educator for a non-profit where my clients needs are varied and diverse.  I want to help them as much as possible in a short time; however, language acquisition is a lengthy process. From the course: "Meeting the Language Needs of Today's Adult English Language Learners," I am finding that rote memorization of vocabulary words and brief lessons on English grammar will not help my students in the long run.  I am excited to start teaching useful learning strategies.

Hello Miriam, Thank you for affirming the value of the free LINCS online course "Meeting the Needs of Today's Adult English Learners." I love this course because it shows how teachers working with all levels of English learners can enhance the rigor of their lessons to build language acquisition which, in turn, supports learners to achieve their important goals. Best of luck to you!

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

The ideas presented in the listening portion of "ting Digital Literacy into Adult English Language Instruction" are relevant to all levels and topics being presented to ELLs. The use of podcasts and videos for developing listening skills will provide students with real-life experiences in listening. There is a multitude of interesting and motivating resources such as TED talks, ello.org, and Crash Course which can be used to activate students prior knowledge and provide instructional input. While it is important to preview these resources to make sure that the appropriate level of language is used for the class, resources can provide students with a variety of voices and dialects to comprehend, experiences in listening for a variety of purposes, and also grow the students' knowledge base. 

Hi Jana, Thanks for your thoughtful post and for the recommended resources. I'm eager to check out Crash Course. That's a new one for me.

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP 


I love crash course and use it on my own time to bone up on history and several other subjects. I was excited to see how it could be integrated with the ELL courses. I think that podcasts are another great resource as students can find their own particular field of interest, but I was trying to think of a way that would behoove more kinesthetic learners. I fear the more we incorporate technology into education the more likely we are to leave these types of learners behind. I was considering using instructables.com for projects (its how I build knick knacks) but I will have to test it through trial and error. 

As an ESL teacher abroad teaching classes where students have just received tablets/chromebooks for their own use in the class, I am eager to add in the content from this program to expand on our lessons and hopefully to help them to relate to English in everyday use.

At this point in time, I don't have any ESL students in my class. But this is something that I could incorporate with my current students who are low learners.


Objective of this activity is for students to practice digital skills and to review professional correspondence skills.


Email an effective business letter to the client letting them know that you have accepted the event planning project they have requested.

  1. Include all elements on a business email.
  2. Use Event Planner or Event Manager as your position in the email.

Information for the business letter:

  • Your company address: Events 700, 4567 Salisbury Street, Raleigh, NC 27615
  • Client: Emma Davis, Corporate Training, EduTrain Corporation, 2345 Business Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin, 53704
  • Event: Instructional Conference for 100 attendees four months from this week and Thursday-Saturday.
  • You will be planning the entire event except travel.
  • Be brief in your letter but include the proposed dates
  • When you have keyed in your letter, run spell check and proofread to check your letter for spelling and grammatical errors. Check it again to be certain you have everything in your final version correct.
  • When you have finished your letter, color code the parts of the business letter in the following way:

·  Heading — Blue

·  Inside address—Purple

·  Greeting—Green

·  Body—Black

·  Closing—Red