I am happy to announce there are several programs currently using the IWTLE textbook with beginners. At the end of 2016, various programs and schools in Pennsylvania, Missouri, California, New Jersey and Maryland started using the textbook with beginners and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. In an effort to support instructors, I keep an open channel of communication with programs and even provide some sample instructional videos to help in the process of implementing the lessons. There are, of course, people who purchase the textbook through amazon and other sources and they don’t always communicate with me directly, but the streaming of the audio files tells me people in other countries are also using IWTLE. These include Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Mexico, Colombia, and several others. For instructors looking for some instructional ideas, or would like to see how I implement aspects of the textbook, I will share some videos of me working with actual students in my class. I will try to produce more videos as time goes on. Please feel free to contact me directly or share your comments. Thank you.
Aspects of the textbook
Reading and Writing Workbook
Since the release of the “I Want To Learn English” textbook this past spring, its reception and demand has steadily increased. This past summer more schools, community colleges and learning centers have been piloting and adopting the “Swing Differentiation” model the textbook employs. This, as you can imagine, is welcomed news. With it has also come some new requests. In speaking to ESL coordinators and directors at community colleges, the conversation of a reading and writing strategy for beginner level ESL students has consistently come up. Naturally, I have been asked if this is something I would be working on. Well, as it so happens, I have been working on a reading and writing workbook for beginners.
This workbook complements the IWTLE textbook in that it incorporates the themes from its four units. These include the phonics components of vowels, digraphs, consonant blends, diphthongs and other elements of the textbook. I figure it would be a good idea to look a little closer at the characters, the situations throughout the book, the puns (of course) and explore various cities throughout the United States. I recently mentioned to someone in a meeting about the textbook that it is in the “trial stages.” What this means is I already have lessons, activities and components being tested with students in the fall semester. Once these trials are complete and data supporting its effectiveness is concluded, it will be published.
What makes the coming months even more exciting is there will be additions made online (this website) for students and instructors to interact with that continues the work in the IWTLE textbook. There will also be more assessments available for instructors and more listening activities for students to practice with. And more video lessons will be available for both students learning and instructors to see modeled lessons and to give ideas and strategies to use the components of the textbook in their classrooms. For students, there is a video on short vowels that was recently posted (see You Tube video below). Others will follow, so stay tuned.
Why Phonics is Important For Adults
It is common practice for elementary teachers to go over phonics in the early grade levels (PK-1st grade). Little children have an inherent ability to absorb the phonetic structure of (any) language. Noam Chomsky attributes this to the L.A.D or Language Acquisition Device. It is widely believed by the teen years this L.A.D. begins to dissipate and people generally lose their abilities to acquire the essentials of a new language. This is believed by many to be due to the fact that by the young adult years, the mind has acquired what it needs to survive socially, culturally and otherwise. In contrast, it is also believed if people continue to learn new languages throughout their youth, the L.A.D. remains strong and people have been known to learn many new languages throughout their adult life.
There have been a slew of studies to support the existence of the L.A.D. and its attributes, so it is difficult to argue the “use or lose it” tendency inherent with it. This is important to keep in mind when considering the difficulties adults encounter when learning a new language, especially the English language. English is an especially difficult language to learn because of its “Frankenstein” composition. English is comprised of several world languages (Old English, Latin, Germanic, Danish, Norse, French, Greek, to name some), and many of their original rules traveled with them into English. This is quite evident when someone is trying to understand the many pronunciations of “ough” in different English vocabulary words, for example. The English language is filled with such examples. Although these complexities seem arbitrary at times, they really exist as a culmination of old pronunciation rules (and syntax) and a creole effect, meshing several languages in parts and morphing with trending acceptances to the rules. If this seems confusing to the native English speaker, imagine the confusion to non-native speakers and people new to the language. The one thing that can tie everything together is establishing English at the phonetic level. Having a strong phonemic awareness is tied to literacy, as well as listening and speaking skills. Before tackling the daunting, complex rules of the English language, ELLs should first establish a strong phonetic foundation.
The National Institute for Literacy published a report in an effort to “strengthen literacy across the lifespan” authorized by the U.S. Congress under two laws: the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The report’s section on “Alphabetics” (Chapter 4) is at the heart of what the I Want To Learn English textbook was designed to do with adult ELLs. The Phonemic Awareness Training and Phonics Instruction chapter gives a comprehensive synopsis of the complexities of teaching phonics to adult learners (click here to read the report). Many of the highlighted issues in this report are primarily what IWTLE addresses in the strategies and methods employed throughout the textbook. Instructors and administrators are encouraged to review this report. When the issues in the report are compared to what the student textbook covers, it will become apparent this textbook was tailored to meet the phonemic awareness needs of adult English Language Learners struggling with literacy and overall communications skills. With grant funded programs becoming more competitive and the needs for adult English learners to acquire the language more efficiently in order to apply their acquisitions at the workplace, the need for excellent language learning tools grows. “I Want To Learn English” takes all of these factors into consideration and works to resolve the fundamental needs of ESL students, which in turn will contribute to the improvement of communication in the workforce and make adult ESL (and high school) programs become more productive.
An Audio Sample From The Textbook “I Want To Learn English”
Here is an audio sample for the “soon to be released” Level 1 ESL Textbook “I Want To Learn English.” It comes from Unit 3 which focuses on consonant blends. The textbook will be released in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
33.1 Listen to the following short conversation and repeat. Then, practice with a partner.
Student A: Excuse me, sir. Where is the Florida school?
Student B: It’s on twelfth street.
Student A: Do I need to travel very far?
Student B: It’s just three blocks away. If you walk fast, you can get there in a few minutes.
Student A: Thank you very much.
Student B: Oh, you are very welcome.
Voice-overs and Other Updates
The one thing that has consistently made me curious about ESL textbooks is the homogenized voice actors on so many English learning tools and textbook audio companions. I understand the need to establish “standardized” English vernacular to model for students just starting to learn the language, but the reality is Americans have all sorts of accents, including those from other nations. Essentially, I believe, making simulated conversations without any ethnicity other than Caucasian is truly an unrealistic representation of the American melting pot ELLs face in work and community interactions. For this reason, I have enlisted the help of people with various backgrounds to help with creating the simulated conversations that go with the I Want To Learn English textbook in development. And not only do they vary in ethnicities and accents, but also in age. Some very young voice-over actors (including my 7 year old daughter) and members of our senior citizen community participate in this project. I like the idea of using some of these dialogues for the swing differentiation conversations and listening activities because they present more challenges for those students in the upper proficiency levels.
What is truly useful about having different people participate in the simulated conversations is the sense of “real” people. The nuances in speech are difficult to master when your first language is not English. Americans take this for granted, of course. This is one of the principle reasons it is essential to have a myriad of voices simulating conversations: to give adult ELLs a sense of being in a authentic conversation. Or at least, listen to them for the purpose of deciphering meaning and recalling details about the subjects being discussed. Perhaps this will be realized as students progress, not only in their overall test scores, but in their confidence level and English proficiency. This will ultimately pay major dividends for students working through general comprehension activities to improve their hold on the language, as well as in their improve their articulation skills.