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Literacy and fluency in English seem to be related to economic self-sufficiency. Immigrants who are literate only in a language other than English are more likely to have noncontinuous employment and to earn less than those literate in English. An analysis of the 2000 U.S. Census data on immigrant earnings revealed a positive relation between earnings and English language ability. For this and many other reasons, immigrants want to learn English. Forty-two percent of the participants in federally funded adult education programs are studying English. Yet barriers such as time, transportation, and childcare may keep many from attending classes.

Offering English as a second language (ESL) classes on the job is a way to provide instruction to those who have problems accessing programs outside of work. Learning in the context of work can improve work skills while improving language skills.

Please see the links to CAELA and other resources below for more a discussion of issues and strategies in integrating workplace content and skills with English language learning. If you would like more information on this topic, contact Miriam Burt at

Digests & Q&As

Assessing Workplace Performance Problems: A Checklist

English that Works: Preparing Adult English Language Learners for Success in the Workforce and Community

Evaluating Workplace ESL Instructional Programs

Improving ESL Learners' Listening Skills: At the Workplace and Beyond

Integrating Employment Skills into Adult ESL Instruction

Issues in Improving Immigrant Workers' English Language Skills

A Learner-Centered Worker Education Program

Planning, Implementing, and Evaluating Workplace ESL Programs

Selling Workplace ESL Instructional Programs

Union-Sponsored Workplace ESL Instruction

Workplace ESL Instruction: Varieties and Constraints

Workplace Literacy Programs for Nonnative English Speakers

Other CAELA Resources

Learning to Work in a New Land: A Review and Sourcebook for Vocational and Workplace ESL (Available for sale from the CAL Store)

Literacy, Work, and Education Reform (Available for sale from the CAL Store)

Senior Scenarios: What Would You Do? (excerpted from A Guide for Providers: Engaging Immigrant Seniors in Community Service and Employment Programs written by CAELA staff members and published by Senior Service America and the Center for Applied Linguistics. For a complete copy of the guide, click here). These nine scenarios examine issues that may occur in work situations. The scenarios are based on real situations that the authors encountered in classes and the workplace. These scenarios could be used as self-study exercises to identify strengths and challenges immigrant seniors bring to the workplace as ways of meeting challenges. The scenarios could also be used to help program staff distinguish between individual employment issues and cultural misunderstandings, as group activities in which service providers facilitate discussion with staff who work with immigrant seniors, as problem-solving activities with immigrant workers (seniors or not), or as part of orientation for staff working with immigrants. Although these scenarios were developed specifically with elder immigrant workers in mind, the situations, problems, and solutions are also relevant to other workers and workplaces as well.

Summary of Online Discussion on Adult ESl and Workplace Education, Arpil 16-20, 2007

The Vocational Classroom: A Great Place to Learn English (Available for sale from the CAL Store)

What are factors to consider when planning for, setting up, and evaluating a workplace program for immigrant workers?(Ask CAELA, December 2006. This response includes an interview with Miriam Burt)

Workplace ESL Instruction: Interviews from the Field (Available for sale from the CAL Store)

Other Resources

Building Basics: ESOL Toolkit for General Construction, Landscaping, Painting, and Plumbing (created by the Virginia Adult Literacy Resource Center) basics/
According to the preface, "Building Basics is intended to be used with adult ESOL students in publicly-funded or community-based programs who have expressed a need and desire to learn English in the context of some of the building trades. These lessons may also be used in instructional settings within the workplace, e.g., contracting or landscaping companies. It has been written for teaching students with English language proficiency levels corresponding to the three lowest National Reporting System levels..." The curriculum contains four modules: general construction, landscaping, painting, and plumbing.

Cultural Orientation Resource Center
This extensive Web site which was established to link overseas cultural orientation with domestic resettlement programs, offers a great deal of both background and up-to-date information about refugees and their concerns, which can be useful to instructors and employers. The Web site includes Fact Sheets which give pertinent country and cultural background about such groups as the Sudanese, Iraqi Kurds, Somalis, Haitians, and Cubans as well as questions frequently asked by refugees. This site is maintained by the Center for Applied Linguistics.

AFL-CIO Working for America Institute through the help of the Joyce Foundation.(May 2004). Getting to Work: A Report on How Workers with Limited English Skills Can Prepare for Good Jobs.
This project investigated "the state of practice among programs that seek to help workers with limited English proficiency (LEP) get and keep good jobs." (p. 5). The project reviewed eight programs within four industrial sectors: hospitality, manufacturing, construction, and health care, identifying 4 stages that were relevant across the board: getting started, designing the program, supporting participants and creating the conditions for learner success, and building for continuous improvement. The study also identified six areas of challenge: learner assessment tools and utilization of assessment results; participant data tracking and evaluation;curriculum development; staff development; funding; and issue of equity and equality on the job (p. 6) and offers several policy hypotheses and recommendations.

Steps to Employment in Ontario
This site is a project of the Ontario Administration of Settlement and Integration Services (OASIS) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Partners include labor unions, employment centers, and public school boards. This site includes a series of downloadable workshop manuals--each with enough material for ten days of full-time instruction.The Steps to Employment manuals include workbooks for participants, notes for instructors, and implementation guides. These manuals provide orientation, workplace law, and workplace culture information as well as job specific vocabulary and information. Manuals in the series include computer, education, construction, food service, automotive services, home health aide and several others.

Wrigley, H., Richer, E., Martinson, K., Kubo, H., & Strawn, J. (August 2003). The Language of Opportunity: Expanding Employment Prospects for Adults with Limited English Proficiency. Center for Law and Social Policy & National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium.

This report provides a description of who adult with limited English skills and an analysis of how they are "faring" (p. 5) and addresses the issue about whether (or to what extent) and how English language and job services may be effective. The report includes recommendations for program design and operations as well as state and national policy. Recommendations include," create programs that combine language and literacy services with jobs skills training," "offer short-term bridge programs that transition participants to job training and higher education more quickly," and "create career pathways for adults with limited English skills." (p. 8)