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Reading and Adult English Language Learners
According to the 2000 Census, more than 35 million adults are non-native speakers of English, and 9 million adults do not speak English well or at all (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). This population has become a significant part of adult education programs. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in program year 2003-2004, 43.8% of adults enrolled in state-administered, federally funded adult education programs were enrolled in ESL classes.
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) included a category for the “non-literate in English.” This category represents adults who could not be tested on the main part of the NAAL because they did not have the English literacy skills. Two groups make up this category:
Adults who could not be tested on either the main part of the NAAL or the alternative assessment because they did not possess the English or Spanish oral skills to understand the interviewer. Two percent of those who were tested fell into this category. In 2003, nearly two-thirds of the adults in this category were deemed unable to participate due to a language barrier; the remainder were unable to participate due to a cognitive or mental disability.
White and Dillow’s (2005) preliminary analysis of categories that might indicate non-native English speakers indicated that the average prose literacy scores of Asians/Pacific Islanders increased, rising 16 points between 1992 and 2003; the average prose literacy scores of Hispanics decreased 18 points from 1992 to 2003, and average document literacy scores of Hispanics decreased by 14 points.
The background questionnaire given to those who participated in the NAAL included questions on language background, as well as education background and experiences. Further analysis of these background data-–though, unfortunately, no data exist for the two percent of adults who were unable to respond to the interviewer’s questions in either English or Spanish--is needed before we truly can identify the English literacy skills of non-native English speakers in the United States. For an example of such a study done after the 1992 assessment, and a possible reference point for comparative analyses with the 2003 results, see the NCES publication, English literacy and language minorities in the United States (Greenberg, Macias, Rhodes, & Chan, 2001).
This resource collection provides background about reading and adult English language learners and gathers resources that directly address the particular topic of adult immigrants learning to read in English. Little research has been conducted with adult English language learners in ESL adult education contexts because the complexities of adult ESL (e.g., a diverse mobile population and varied learning contexts such as workplace, family literacy, and general ESL classes) make research in reading somewhat challenging.
While this is not a definitive list of research in reading for adult English language learners, it is representative of what is readily available online and in print. CAELA does not endorse any particular set of materials, and we encourage users of this collection to give thoughtful consideration to all resources and materials. Because this collection is still being constructed, CAELA welcomes comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Activities to Promote Reading Development” in Practitioner Toolkit: Working with Adult English Language Learners. National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) and National Center for ESL Literacy Education (NCLE) (2004)
Adult English Language Instruction in the 21st Century Carol Van Duzer and MaryAnn Cunningham Florez (Issues in Preparing Adult English Language Learners for Success Series, 2005)
Ask CAELA: Vocabulary Acquisition in Adult English Language Learners (2006)
How Should Adult ESL Reading Instruction Differ from ABE Reading Instruction? Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft Peyton, & Carol Van Duzer (CAELA Brief, 2005)
Reading and Adult English Language Learners: A Review of the Research. Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft Peyton, & Rebecca Adams (Center for Applied Linguistics and National Center for ESL Literacy Education, 2003) Also available in print version at http://calstore.cal.org/store/detail.aspx?ID=221
Reading and Adult English Language Learners: The Role of the First Language. Miriam Burt & Joy Kreeft Peyton (ERIC Digest, 2003)
Research on Reading Development of Adult English Language Learners: An Annotated Bibliography. Rebecca Adams and Miriam Burt (Annotated bibliography, 2002)
Excerpts from CAELA materials
Factors Influencing Adult L2 Literacy Development
Adults learning English come from diverse backgrounds and have widely differing experiences with literacy in their first languages. A number of factors influence the ways that adults' English literacy develops and the progress that different learners will make in learning to read English. They include level of literacy in the first language and in English, oral language proficiency in English, educational background, personal goals for learning English, and the structure and writing system of the first language. These factors must be taken into account in all areas of instructional program planning, learner placement in classes, and instructional approaches.
The chart below identifies six types of L1 Literacy and their possible effects on L2 literacy learning
What Research Says about Teaching Reading to Adult English Language Learners
The ERIC Database
You may find additional information, in the form of bibliographic references and citations, in the ERIC database. For access, go to: www.eric.ed.gov
Articles and Reports
Aebersold, J. A., & Field, M. L. (1997). From reader to reading teacher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Birch, B. M. (2002). English L2 reading: Getting to the bottom. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Brown, D. (2000) Principles of language learning and teaching. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education.
Chiswick, B. R., & Miller, P. W. (2002). Immigrant earnings: Language skills, linguistic concentrations, and the business cycle. Journal of Popular Economics, 15, 31-57.
Cummins, J. (1991). Language learning and bilingualism (Sophia Linguistica Monograph No. 29). Tokyo: Sophia University, Sophia Institute for International Communication.
Ellis, R. (1997). Second language acquisition. Hong Kong : Cambridge University Press.
Eskey, D. (2005). Reading in a second language. In E. Hinkel (Ed.) Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 563-580). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Flahive, D. E., & Bailey, N. H. (1993). Exploring reading/writing relationships in adult second language learners. In J. Carson and I. Leki (Eds.) Reading in the composition classroom (pp. 128-140). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Folse, K. S. (2004). Vocabulary myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
Greenberg, E., Macias, R. F., Rhodes, D., & Chan, T. (2001). English literacy and language minorities in the United States. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. NCES 2001-464. http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001464
Hadley, A. O. (1993). Teaching language in context. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Kruidenier, J. (2002). Research-based principles for adult basic education reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. Retrieved February 8, 2005, from www.nifl.gov/partnershipforreading/publications/html/adult_ed/index.html
McLeod, B., & McLaughlin, B. (1986). Restructuring or automaticity? Reading in a second language. Language Learning, 36, 109-123.
Nation, I. M. P. (2000). Learning vocabulary in lexical sets: Dangers and guidelines. TESOL Journal, 9(2), 6–10.
Nation, I. M. P. (2005). Teaching and learning vocabulary. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 581–595). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum
New report on adult literacy levels. (2005). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2005/12/12152005.html
Schaetzel, K. (2000). The future success of a story is in the preview. Thai TESOL Bulletin, 13(2), 64-73.
Showalter, E. (1985). Feminist criticism in the wilderness. In E. Showalter (Ed.) The new feminist criticism: Essays on women, literature and theory (pp. 243-70). New York: Pantheon.
Thomas. W. P., & Collier, V. (1997) School effectiveness for language minority students. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. www.ncela.gwu.edu/pubs/resource/effectiveness/thomas-collier97.pdf
Web documentation for NAAL general audience report. (2005). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/naal/PDF/2006470_WebDoc.pdf
Newsletters and Journals
The following links will connect you to further publications on a wide variety of topics related to reading, second language acquisition (SLA) and literacy.
American Association for Applied Linguistics
Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition
International Reading Association (IRA)
National Reading Conference
National Institute for Literacy
Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), U.S. Department of Education
The Adult English Language electronic discussion list is sponsored by the National Institute for Literacy and moderated by staff at CAELA. Discussions focus on issues related specifically to adults learning English. Participants include ESL teachers, program administrators, policy makers, and other stakeholders who share resources, ideas, news, and concerns related to adult ESL. (The archives of discussions can also be searched by keyword from this Web page.) Other pertinent discussion lists, such as Family Literacy, Health and Literacy, and Women and Literacy are also available from this link.
National Center for ESL Literacy Education. (1998). Research agenda for adult ESL. Washington, DC: Author.
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (2001). Adult ESL language and literacy instruction: A vision and action agenda for the 21st century. Alexandria, VA: Author.
This section gives a selection of research, training materials, and other information available online related to reading and adult English language learners. More entries will be online shortly.
Bell, J.S. (2000). Literacy challenges for language learners in job-training programs. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 57(1), 173-201.
The author studied a pre-apprenticeship job-training program held at a community college in central Canada, in which learners from a variety of language backgrounds were enrolled. The study sought information on factors (language and literacy challenges) affecting progress in such programs through student questionnaires, interviews, and participant observation in the classroom. The framework used for literate competency was the Luke and Freebody (1997) four-tier model. Discussion outlines the preferred teaching characteristics which learners identified as helpful and explores the possible long-term impact of learning initial literacy in a second language. Includes a 46-item bibliography.
International Adult Literacy Survey Database www.statcan.ca/english/freepub/89-588-XIE/ials-eiaa.htm
This database allows users to retrieve literacy data--prose, document, quantitative--on over 25 countries described in this data tool. This database is a joint project of Statistics Canada and National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Institute for Educational Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Education.
This Web site offers many reading resources based on the research that NCSALL has conducted as well as a link to Focus on Basics: Connecting Research and Practice. Pertinent information includes the research brief, “Patterns of Word Recognition Errors among Adult Basic Education Native and Nonnative Speakers of English” and a link to the ESOL Lab School at Portland State University, which has been conducting research on a variety of adult ESL topics including reading such at the study on sustained silent reading available at www.labschool.pdx.edu/research/methods/experiments.html
Teacher encounters with adult ESL learners acquire a new focus when those learners have minimal experience of literacy, whether in L1--first--or any other language. Such learners' needs often include: introduction and access to truly basic reading and writing skills; bilingual support; and teacher acknowledgment that this is likely to be their first experience of formal education. This paper describes the outcomes of an action research project. During 2001-2, the Adult Migrant English Program [AMEP, Australia] Research Centre funded an action research project with a class of preliterate women from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and southern Sudan. The majority of students in the project class were young women who had minimal experience of formal schooling, and whose exposure to written text, if any, had been largely confined to religious texts in Arabic, the L1 of only one student. The project class focused mainly on reading and writing. The author reports on her journal entries, organizational and pedagogical issues arising, and discusses definitions, teacher assumptions and expectations, and syllabus contruction. Changes occurred in three major areas: in teacher attitudes and approaches; in the school’s relationships with the learners’ communities; and in the general curriculum and the learning environment.
This Web site, part of a collaborative endeavor by the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the U.S. Department of Education includes resources about adult reading at www.nifl.gov/partnershipforreading/publications/adult.html
In March 2006, The Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center (VALRC) announced a new publication available online, Teaching Reading to Adult English Language Learners: A Reading Instruction Staff Development Program. The development of the trainings and subsequent document was funded with a federal English Literacy and Civics grant from the Office of Adult Education and Literacy, Virginia Department of Education. This document was prepared by the Center for Applied Linguistics for the Adult ESOL Program, Office of Adult and Community Education, Fairfax (VA) County Public Schools. According to VALRC: