How do people get jobs in the United States? Internship season is almost upon us, and finding work is not always an easy thing – particularly in an uncertain economy. Many ESL students may be from countries where people are employed through families, political parties or the government. However, most people in America have had to apply and interview to get their jobs.
Therefore it’s important for English teachers to explain to their students the concept of skill. Define and explain the meaning of the word professional as meaning that you are paid to do something. It does not necessarily mean that you are good at it. For example, some professional entertainers and comedians may not be that entertaining to many people, but they are still considered professional because they are paid to perform.
In the classroom, teachers can pair or otherwise group their students to make lists of skills they have and skills they would like to improve. For example, reading, writing and speaking their native language are skills the students already have. Reading, writing and speaking English are skills they want to improve. That, of course, is why they are in the class. Incorporating sayings and quotes like those like the ones below, or others that you may find, introduce and explore the importance of maintaining, developing and expanding skills in a competitive modern economy:
“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”
— American saying
“God helps those who help themselves.”
— American saying
“People rise to their own level of incompetence”
— the Peter Principle of Dr. Laurence J. Peter
“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”
~Dr. Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), Canadian-American educator
When looking for a job, it’s important to assess what employers really want from potential hires. This is a crucial step in drafting tailored resumes, or resumes targeted at a specific employment opportunity. Sometimes, however, the meaning can get lost in messages laden with business jargon – especially for ESL students.
How can we make sense of these ads? Pinpointing key words and how frequently they appear in job advertisements allows English language learners to see straight to the subtext, while identifying unfamiliar business terminology and expanding their vocabulary. Here’s a quick worksheet to get your students started.
DISSECTING A JOB ADVERTISEMENT
1. Find a written advertisement for a job that you would be interested in. Specify and circle action-oriented words or phrases that describe the skills necessary to apply for this position.
2. Place parentheses around words that express achievement or value.
3. Place brackets around superlatives (e.g., outstanding, strong, etc.)
4. Identify and write down specialized terms (jargon) used in the ad.
Which words appear most often? Determine the frequency of use on your own, then run the ad through a word map program like WordItOut or Wordle to check your results.
“Confidence contributes more to conversation than wit.”
~Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), French writer
Conversation styles are wonderfully varied. Just as one size never truly fits all, one conversational approach may not be appropriate depending on the situation. Fortunately, in the English language there are myriad idioms we use to distinguish these different modes of conversation.
Here’s a quick rundown of a few noteworthy idioms to share with your English classrooms. Use your judgment as a teacher as to which idioms and expressions are appropriate for your particular school, class and student population:
Water Cooler Conversation – Workers in offices and other work sites congregate and gossip when getting glasses of water at the water cooler, or cups of coffee in commons or kitchen. “Water cooler conversation” usually consists of talking about what was on TV programs, movies, sports, general chat, “small talk,” (see below) and office gossip.
Small talk – make conversation about the weather, sports, family and other prosaic, everyday topics, usually to start a conversation, socialize with and get to know strangers, or acknowledge respect for and awareness of co-workers, relatives, and other people.
Chit Chat – Innocent small talk. It can become disruptive and distracting when it occurs during class.
Back talk – A heated response, often to a parent or other authority figure, usually without listening or considering what the other person has to say.
Talk past each other – Arguing couples, co-workers and others who state their opinions without listening to what the other person has to say.
NOTE: You can explain that Americans tend to feel uncomfortable and awkward with moments of silence. This feeling differs from some other cultures and language groups, such as Japan, where silent stretches in conversation are prized as moments of harmony. This difference is good to keep in mind, as sometimes people from other countries can perceive Americans as talking continuously, whether or not they have anything to say.
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”
~Marie Curie (1867-1934), Polish physicist and chemistry pioneer
How do people learn their first languages? What are some barriers to learning a second? Finally, how can we, as ESL educators, bridge the gap between them?
Educator Robert William McCaul, writing for the British Council’s Voices Magazine, discusses this in “Can we learn a second language like we did our first?”, a breakdown of renowned (and controversial) linguist and USC professor Stephen Krashen’s theories on the “natural order” of language acquisition. In the late 70’s, Krashen defined language as an acquired skill, and one which children can only “acquire” once they understand meaning. The acquisition is cultivated through careful listening and interaction, and this context is crucial to fluency, and even to scoring high on grammar tests. Why? Because building language skills this way means building on a solid foundation with all the materials on-hand, as opposed to receiving new material little by little and building as we go.
Yet, even in 2016, the latter is how much of academic language learning is structured. We teach language in segments, with a heavy focus on grammar – and the order of these segments can greatly affect our understanding of the larger whole. Too often students are expected to digest a certain amount of information at the same pace as everyone else. This approach clearly doesn’t account for individual learning styles and places significant pressure on students. Fortunately, McCaul says that it doesn’t have to be this way – and we agree! By making all assignments meaningful, and basing lessons around a variety of fluency-focused, communicative lessons, ESL educators and tutors can reduce Krashen’s so-called “affective filter” by forming a rapport with students – and open a gateway to more compelling conversations!
What do you think? Is this a method you would implement as an educator?
“People have one thing in common: they are all different.”
~Robert Zend (1929-1985), American writer
Compelling American Conversations provides an invaluable resource for teachers in the common situation of teaching multilevel adult ESL classes with ongoing enrollment. ESL teachers with multi-level classes must plans lessons that address the needs of the new students constantly entering the class without repeating material studied weeks or months ago by longtime students already in the class. Compelling American Conversations (CAC) provides an ideal remedy for this situation, as topics, vocabulary and skills can be revisited without repeating the exact same material.
For example, an adult ESL teacher who is teaching job interview skills to her students might cover CAC pages 80-81 in February. By the following May, this same teacher has 12 new students in her English class, as well as 15 of the students from February. The teacher needs to cover job interview skills again to meet the objectives in her course outline, but she doesn’t want to repeat the exact same material that 15 of her students already covered in February. What can the teacher do?
CAC has the solution. If the teacher covered CAC pages 80-81 in February, now, in May, she can review the vocabulary on page 81, and continue on to material that will be new for all students on pages 82-86. English teachers of multi-level classes can keep these options in mind when using CAC, maintaining material in reserve for lessons in the weeks and months ahead.
Lessons can also be adapted to the needs of your individual students and instructional schedule. Of particular value to multi-level groups is the capacity to initiate a topic in one chapter, and then return to the same topic weeks or months later for review, or to introduce the topic to a new group of English students, or to a group which includes former students.
“Education is helping the child realize his potentialities.”
~Erich Fromm (1900-1980), German social psychologist and pscychoanalyst
By Andrea Schmidt, Guest-writer
Standardized tests: how helpful are they in assessing one’s true skill level? This question has been asked by students and teachers alike, time and again. There is no denying that these tests’ formulaic questions often cover the subject in question’s essential foundational skills. But we must ask ourselves whether they scratch more than just the surface in terms of measuring the student’s true capabilities.
For instance, take my experience with the SAT. I was never talented in mathematics, but I wasn’t incapable either. A quick learner, I often solved a variety of equations correctly if allotted ample time. Then there was the math section on the SAT. While I admit that there were plenty of equations I wouldn’t have been able to solve without reference – or an SAT prep course – regardless, there were also plenty of questions that I would have been able to solve, had the test not been timed. I was never quite able to think on my feet with numbers, but this wasn’t an indicator of my abilities in understanding the material itself.
That being said, when I took the free EF Standard English Test, I should have known to take it with a grain of salt. The test promises to assess your current levels of English understanding in only 15 minutes, which almost seems too good to be true. But nevertheless, I went in optimistic. Reading and listening comprehension were always things I excelled at – even on the SATs.
This test – the express version of a lengthier endeavor – consisted of two segments that assessed those same qualities through multiple choice questions surrounding an audio clip and a short reading, respectively. I thought it was fairly straightforward and clever. Though unintimidating in length, it still covered a lot of ground; designed for the test-taker to pick up on subtleties for a complete analysis, each section focuses on clarity of communication more than vocab or grammar – something we here at Chimayo Press have always championed. So, since English was my first (and only) language, it should have been a breeze, right?
Well, the results were mixed. The test ranks you on a scale of low to high proficiency, with each of these further broken down into the upper and lower range within that ranking – think of the difference between getting a B+ and a B-. The first time I took the test, I scored with high-medium proficiency levels; in other words, a solid B+. Which wouldn’t have bothered me, had I not assumed my score would be in the A range. (My first language, remember?) So I took the test again. This time, I scored in the highest proficiency levels after changing a few answers at best. All that stood between me and this score was a second read-through of the material, it seemed. This could very well be the same for other students/test takers. If given a little more time, and possibly a larger variety of questions, would it improve the accuracy of the assessment?
That topic is likely covered ad nauseam on the internet, with focus groups assembled to get to the bottom of it. All I can offer is my own experience. And while I can attest to the fact that the EFSET is as quick and painless as it advertises, I hope that educators who utilize this tool keep that in mind. After all, the road to language proficiency was never quick and painless.
Andrea Schmidt is a former intern and current designer and deputy editor for Chimayo Press.