A.   What Is ESL Literacy?

ESL Literacy is a program for individuals who are learning English as a Second Language and who are not functionally literate in their own language for a variety of reasons. They may:

  1. Be speakers of a language that lacks a written code, so they may not have needed to know how to read or write until coming to Canada;

  2. Have had very little education (one or two years) in their home countries;

  3. Have gone to school for up to eight years, although sometimes with sporadic attendance for reasons, such as family responsibilities, ill health, war etc. They understand, to some extent, that the written word signifies meaning. However, they don't usually have the skills to read new words. They probably lack what is often termed "study skills," such as organizing papers in a binder, dating new papers, reviewing new material or doing homework. They may tend to avoid reading or writing whenever possible, and may have preconceived notions of reading and writing that might hinder progress in the class;

  4. Have come from a country with a non-Roman alphabet. They will have difficulties learning to read English, adjusting to the new phonetical and syntactic nature of the English language, but have acquired reading and study skills, which can transfer to a second language situation. (Bell & Burnaby; 1984:3-6)

Three other groups of learners may also be in ESL Literacy classes, BUT THEY ARE NOT TRUE ESL LITERACY LEARNERS:

  1. Learners who may have learning disabilities,

  2. Learners who have been through trauma of some kind, and

  3. Learners who are literate in their native language, but who may prefer (for various reasons such as age, health, family situation) to participate in a slower-paced class with a more collaborative approach usually found in an ESL Literacy class.

An ESL Literacy class may have any combination of the above learners. It is crucial to recognize how their life and education experiences and feelings can affect learners' confidence in learning. Experienced ESL Literacy teachers often speak of the need to consider the whole person when developing and delivering an ESL Literacy program. These considerations extend to programming timelines, content and instructional methodologies.

There is a continuum of ESL Literacy learners (see illustration), with commonly used literacy terminology. There is controversy in the field over the use of these terms. They are used here, however, for the sake of clarity.

Canadian Language Benchmarks www.language.ca

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