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Summary of Online Discussion on Adult ESL and Workplace Education

Below is a summary of an electronic discussion that took place on the Adult English Language discussion list, April 16-20, 2007. The discussion list is part of the National Institute for Literacy's Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) and is moderated by staff at the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

For information about subscribing to the adult English language discussion list or to read current and past postings, go to

To read background information about the Adult ESL and Workplace discussion, click here.

To read about the guest facilitators, Miriam Burt and Sharon McKay, click here.

If you wish to read or reread the individual postings from this discussion you can access them from the National Institute for Literacy’s Web site at and looking at the “Read Current Posted Messages” section.  From there you can search by  date, thread, subject, or author.  The postings are included with some other topics between posting numbers 1197 and 1240. 

A main topic of the discussion was the differing expectations for ESL workplace classes and for use of languages other than English at work. A few posters mentioned how important it was for all involved—immigrant workers, non-immigrant workers, managers, supervisors, and others—to have a clear view of the purposes of a workplace class and of  possible  outcomes. Integral to this broad topic was the importance of explaining the challenges and time involved in learning a second language to managers, supervisors, and to all involved in workplace education.

A tangential discussion related to perceptions of and reasons for speaking native language on the job. While co-workers and supervisors might be uncomfortable hearing a language other than English at the workplace, others noted that using native language on breaks or in some other situations was natural.  One poster said there was a need for workplace training for monolingual employees in addition to the language training for immigrant workers to explain such important points as the learning and speaking a new language can be difficult and exhausting  and that using native language at work is not a sign of disrespect for others.

Several posters offered advice for planning and implementing workplace classes.  Advice included

  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
  • Develop the program or class with more specific goals than “learn English” or “use English on the job”.
  • Educate everyone at the worksite Plan to deliver instruction in short, manageable cycles.
  • Get leaders involved in workplace education.
  • Use native language when appropriate.
  • Develop strategies to serve multicultural, multilingual, and multi- job description classes.
  • Know up front how you will assess needs and measure changes in performance or behavior.

If you have questions or comments about this discussion or about workplace ESL, please contact

Lynda Terrill
Adult English Language Learners electronic discussion list moderator
May 2007