Tuesday, 10 April 2012

What is different about teaching ESOL (compared to EFL)?

Someone asked me this not so long ago and I have been giving it some thought. Here are my conclusions. ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) is for learners who live in an English speaking country and need it for everyday life. Their needs are often urgent and they are keen to learn but they are often dealing with many challenges.

The learners I teach are usually in the age band 30-60 but I also have some that are 70+. They will have come to the UK for a range of reasons and many will be asylum seekers and refugees from countries like Iran and Iraq, the Congo and Somalia. They often have extended  families and some will be dealing with court cases regarding children. Without English, they struggle to deal with health, education and job seeking. Tragically many older women never had the opportunity to go to school in their native countries. As well as learning English, they have to learn how to be in a classroom and how to listen and interact with a teacher and each other.

Most of my current learners are Muslim and I have had to learn about their faith and how it affects their lives. I now understand far more about the customs and practices - especially with regards to dress and the wearing of the hijab.

The English that I teach has to be functional and I do role plays  so that learners can practise making telephone calls and talking to a doctor about their problems. They now call me Doctor teacher and I have given advice on medication they have bought without knowing what it is and have also administered plasters to cut fingers and advised on rashes and bruises.

I love teaching ESOL because I can be creative and I am surrounded by a wealth of resources. When I was teaching in Spain, I would often wish for access to realia like leaflets and adverts for example. I can use the classroom and the external environment for my lessons. My school is in Tottenham and to say it is vibrant is an understatement. There are frequent police raids on the drug dealers outside and incidents involving the kids from the local school. Nowadays, I simply shrug my shoulders and say "That's Tottenham!" and the learners nod in knowing agreement. It is a tough place and they have tough lives but I am truly inspired by them all and celebrate their daily progress.

1 comment:

  1. It's encouraging at least to find people actually making an attempt to learn the language. It is sadly all too easy (and practically encouraged) for long-term visitors to the UK to live in little enclaves, having nothing to do with the local residents and not needing to learn the language.
    I hope that you get some of these learners coming along literally simply because they believe it is important to speak the language, not because they're finding it necessary.
    I always enjoyed roleplays, whether with my students in Madrid or on the immersion programs though. Great fun!
    It's fantastic that you're enjoying your job so much. Maybe one day you'll even be able to do it somewhere without drug dealers outside the door though! ;-)


Blog Archive