Ways to Foster Better Communications Skills for English Language Learners

Think about how you communicate with other people during an ordinary day. Are you emailing, texting, calling, talking in person or using social media? We exchange information so frequently and easily that we may not even give it much thought.

Developing effective communication skills is important for everyone, but it can be even more so for adult English language learners (ELLs) who want to improve their English for reasons related to education and employment.

ELL educators who have completed an advanced education degree in ELL can help meet the particular needs of adult students to foster communication skills for success in work and postsecondary education. Following are examples of strategies that educators can use to help ELL students improve their communication skills.

Use Real-World Content

It is no surprise that engaging students with authentic content can encourage communication skills and better prepare learners for college and careers. Establishing students’ goals for learning English is the first step in selecting teaching materials.

Are students interested in current events, pop culture, sports or the latest technology? Prioritizing real-world content can make learning more accessible and purposeful, which drives motivation. Tips for selecting content follow:

  • With ready-to-use podcasts, blogs, videos, images and other digital content, there is almost no need to create new instructional materials.
  • The news is a great way to get conversations going with anyone — and that is true for adult English learners as well. Whether local, national or global, the news is a great tool to help a learner develop listening and speaking skills.
  • Invite students to suggest materials they find interesting or useful.

Connect to Prior Knowledge

From preschool to postsecondary levels, connecting or activating prior knowledge plays an essential role in academic achievement. This teaching strategy is exactly what it sounds like: accessing what students already know to support their understanding of new content.

Activating prior knowledge is especially important for ELLs as it values what they bring to the learning experience. Building on students’ prior knowledge can also:

  • Boost confidence in using English
  • Support vocabulary acquisition
  • Facilitate learning new information
  • Improve retention

The practice of connecting to prior knowledge and experience is one way to ensure that instruction is culturally relevant or responsive. Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is defined as “using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them.”

Rather than focusing on language as a barrier to learning, this asset-based approach connects with students in meaningful ways, which can increase engagement.

Teach Listening to Understand

Knowing how to listen is an essential communication skill. However, it involves much more than “hearing.” For English language learners, active listening is a valuable strategy for improving understanding.

The internet offers abundant sources of real-world videos for listening practice. For example, YouTube videos are sure to cover almost any interest, such as sports, science, food, fashion, music, technology and travel. TedEd is another great option.

In English with Love recommends the following tips for using videos to support listening skills:

  • Pre-teach vocabulary, including idioms and phrasal verbs students may not know.
  • Keep the focus on listening by having students listen the first time without subtitles or a transcript.
  • Students can listen a second time with subtitles or a transcript.

Listening activities also offer an opportunity to foster verbal skills. Invite students to share their opinions about videos after listening. Use questions to guide a discussion and reinforce vocabulary.

On a final note, while learning English can be a struggle, it is worth reminding students that being multilingual is an asset. According to Chron.com, speaking more than one language can improve employment prospects and lead to higher wages.

If you have ever thought about making a career shift to teaching ELL, now is a great time to get started. According to Pew Research, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. is growing. ELL educators can make a difference by supporting adult English learners in building the communication skills they need to achieve postsecondary- and work-related goals.

Earning a relevant Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) can prepare educators for success in ELL settings. For example, Eastern Washington University’s M.Ed. – English Language Learners online program prepares educators for teaching at the college level, nationally and internationally and at Adult Basic Education (ABE) centers.

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s M.Ed. – English Language Learners online program.

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