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Language Goals for ESL Adult Students

by Michael Mason

Learning English as a second language can be a challenge for adults. Setting reasonable and measurable goals are important to success. Many states have created documents to guide both teachers and learners in successful ESL acquisition. Generally, most guidelines follow those created by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville's Equipped for the Future program. Their guidelines are grouped into four umbrella standards: listening actively, speaking so others can understand, reading with understanding and conveying ideas in writing.

Listen Actively

The ability to listen and understand English involves goals that generally revolve around personal safety and survival. An example of a survival skill at a basic level is understanding when somebody asks for your name. At an advanced level, a survival skill is understanding a police officer's commands. Goals involve listening for and recognizing familiar phrases and being able to predict appropriate responses during an informal conversation. One method to reach this goal quickly is to listen to repetitive audio such as the lyrics to a song.

Speak So Others Can Understand

Not being understood can be frustrating for a non-native English speaker. A simple goal is the ability to ask for the price of an item at a farmer's market. An advanced goal is the ability to have a conversation with your child's principal at school, or to describe a book in enough detail that a librarian could assist in finding the title. Practice is the key. A fluent friend who will be honest about your ability is priceless.

Read With Understanding

Understanding the written English language is also important. The ability to understand road signs or select a meal from a menu is a lower-level skill, while a higher-level skill is the ability to choose appropriate classes from a college course catalog. This skill allows the language learner to feel more comfortable immersed in a language that is not his own. Many students find this the most natural place to start.

Convey Ideas in Writing

The goals for writing fluency are very similar to those of speaking. A student could have a beginning goal of being able to write basic personal information, such as his name and address. As students develop a larger vocabulary and spelling skills, their goals will expand to creating personal documents, such as a cover letter for a job application or a letter to an editor. Even with less-fluent speaking skills, a learner who finds himself comfortable with the written language can feel a sense of accomplishment when a reader understands what he wrote.

About the Author

Michael Mason has a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Master of Education in education. He has taught high school language arts and adult-level GED classes. He currently teaches adult basic education classes in a medium security detention facility. Prior to his career in education, he was a manager for a successful hotel company and a 911 dispatcher.

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