AEIS Newsletter

AEIS News, Volume 6:2 (October 2008)

by User Not Found | 11/01/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Letter From the Editor
  • Articles
    • Problem-Posing: The Core of It
    • English as Symbolic Citizenship: How Inglés Sin Barreras Impacts the Lives of Spanish-Speaking Transmigrants in the United States
    • Elderly Immigrants and Language Learning
    • The Mtaya Miracle School
    • ESL Dialogues for Migrant Rights
    • Longitudinal Research on Noncredit ESL Students at City College of San Francisco
    • Goal Setting Made Realistic
    • Interpreting CASAS
  • About This Member Community
    • About This Member Community

Leadership Updates Letter From the Chair

Donna Kinerney, AEIS Chair 2008-2009,

Greetings and Salutations!

My name is Donna Kinerney and I’m the chair this year for the Adult Education Interest Section (AEIS) of TESOL, the national professional organization for ESOL/ESL teachers. By day, I’m also the instructional dean for adult ESOL and literacy programs at Montgomery College, a community college in Maryland, where I oversee federally funded adult ESL and ABE programs. In past lives I’ve taught ESOL in K-12 and worked in refugee vocational ESL programs, so I’ve been involved in the field in one degree or another for many years.

I’ve also been a member of TESOL for many moons as well, but a couple of years ago, I was asked if I’d consider working more closely with the AEIS as the chair. Of course, I hemmed and hawed and wondered how much time it would take and what the advantages might be. I did wind up running (unopposed thankfully!) and have been working with the AEIS Steering Committee for the past two years.

In this new capacity, I’ve learned a lot more about TESOL and the AEIS so I thought I’d share with you some behind-the-scenes factoids and observations that you might find interesting or helpful to you as you go further in your professional journey. (And hopefully you’ll feel like you might like to participate more as well!) In case you aren’t already a member, please check out the Web site at There you’ll find a plethora of professional resources, training opportunities, and advocacy information.

Here are the top things I’ve learned, in no particular order:

1. On size: TESOL, with its 14,132 members, is, by professional association standards, an organization of significant size. However, I did not realize that the AEIS was such a big player within that group. The AEIS, currently with 2,348 members, is the largest interest section of TESOL. These numbers are impressive, particularly given that our particular subset of the field is largely a part-time workforce, and point to our collective interest in professional activities and development.

2. On being new: If you’re new to TESOL and are thinking about becoming more engaged, there really is a place for you. There are jobs with a range of time commitments and if you’re willing to do more, the AEIS Steering Committee is a great place to start. Though you do serve for several years, the leadership cycles are staggered so that there is always somebody ahead of you in the cycle who tells you what you need to know and do and gets you ready for your next year. TESOL is impressive in that respect. In terms of organizational duties, there really is a ladder that you’re more than welcome to climb. A next logical step after working in an interest section might be, for example, the Interest Section Leadership Council, a group of several people that represent all of the interest sections. It’s not just about giving something back though; by joining in on the AEIS activities; I’ve gotten an enormous number of networking opportunities that I would not have otherwise had. Not only does that help me professionally, but it helps our program and ultimately our students.

3. On professional development: If you’ve ever been to an annual convention, you know how enormous these are: For example, 9,300 attended the 2008 conference in New York. But that isn’t the only way to take advantage of professional development opportunities. TESOL is making a special effort to reach out via the Web and distance learning to provide and support opportunities online. Webinars, online training programs, and most recently a resource center for teachers to submit lesson plans to be shared are all among the professional development opportunities that are particularly useful for adult ESOL teachers who might not otherwise have access to a convention.

4. On meetings: I’ve been to a number of large-group meetings now while at the conventions and these are very enlightening if you’re open to learning about organizational development and policymaking. I’ve heard heated debates on hotel costs at conferences, reduced convention rates, and TESOL policy. And I have a newfound appreciation for Robert’s Rules of Order. I see why you really do need a parliamentarian. I had never actually seen all of “the rules” in action, and there is nothing like them for keeping a large crowd focused and on the road to decision making.

5. On policy: I’ve been very struck by the amount of passion that goes into policymaking and the willingness to listen to all perspectives. I hadn’t known, for example, much about the TESOL caucuses before I was a member. TESOL caucuses offer networking opportunities for members of TESOL with common social, cultural, or demographic identities. As such, the caucuses do an enormous amount to link up people who may be working under some very difficult circumstances overseas and to provide educators with professional support and advocacy, reminding us that TESOL strives mightily to be a truly international organization with commitment and engagement that extends beyond the borders of the United States. By the same token, I’ve also been surprised by the wide-ranging extent of TESOL’s advocacy in the United States. Just recently they released a policy statement on the credentialing and training of adult education teachers, emphasizing to us that there is yet another avenue for us to make our voices heard.

6. On proposals for conventions: This is probably the number one area that I hear questions about. Last year, TESOL received 2,737 proposals for the convention in New York and accepted about 23 percent. This is about the average acceptance rate, so the competition is pretty stiff. Here’s how we choose the proposals. Each spring, right after the convention has ended, we put out the call for proposal readers, folks who are willing to read and rate the submissions for the following year’s convention. Proposals are due in June and shortly after that, we assign the proposals to the readers; each has to be read by a minimum of three people. Once we’ve done that, the readers start evaluating the submissions, using a standardized 25-point rubric to consider the title and objective; the timeliness and appropriateness of the topic; the significance of the content; the clarity of the proposal abstract; and the contribution to the convention and/or to the field. Working online over about a 10-day period, readers evaluate each submission, scoring it from 1 to 5 in each of these areas. The AEIS chair and TESOL’s Central Office staff make the final reviews and selections, deciding what to do if one person has submitted multiple proposals or if several proposals are very similar in topic. In doing that we try to avoid having the same people make all of the presentations and try to ensure that as many people as possible can present. Though the online system we use to complete these functions can be unwieldy, I’m sure it beats the days of having to fax and mail the proposals all over the globe. As an interest section, we’re allotted a proportion of the available convention presentation time slots based on the number of submissions we received. As you can see, it’s all about the numbers. In order to get more presentations in a range of topic areas, we have to have more submissions. In AEIS, we received 190 proposals and 55 were selected; at 28 percent, this was a bit higher than the overall acceptance rate.

Finally, I’d like to encourage you to get involved in some way if you haven’t already done so. We need proposal readers, presenters, committee members, and all sorts of help, but in turn there are many opportunities and resources for your growth as well. And as we all know, if something is helping us, we can often use it to help our students and that’s what it’s all about in the end.

I’m enjoying hearing from so many of you and look forward to meeting more of you as the year goes on. Please do let me know if you have any questions or need any assistance. Though I certainly don’t have all of the answers, I can most likely help you find someone who does.



*You may hear your colleagues refer to the national organization as Big TESOL to distinguish it from the local affiliate groups such as the Washington Area Teachers for English for Speakers of Other Languages (WATESOL).

Letter From the Editor

Susan Finn Miller,

I am delighted to share a most wonderful issue of the AEIS Newsletter with you! This issue contains articles on diverse topics that are among the most interesting we’ve had during my tenure as editor. I want to personally thank each of our contributors, all of whom presented at the convention in New York City, for sharing their work in this way. I am certain each reader will find something to enjoy.

Topics include some that are very practical, such as Sylvia Ramirez’s goal-setting processes and Maria Koonce’s helpful resources for preparing adult learners for standardized assessments. Some contributors share personal stories, such as Carolyn Kulisheck’s writing about the village of Mtaya in Zambia and how she is connecting Zambians and adult English language learners in the United States. Other writers take up issues of concern to teachers. For example, Char Ullman investigates and reports on the unfortunate impact on the lives of immigrants of a costly English language program that is aggressively marketed to Spanish speakers. Allene Grognet shares important information for teachers who work with older adult immigrants and refugees. Sharon Seymour reports on a 7-year longitudinal study focused on transitioning adults attending noncredit ESL classes to credit-earning college classes. Not surprisingly, those who attended more ESL classes were more likely to transfer to postsecondary and to earn degrees.

Most ESL teachers in the United States have a deep concern about how the political climate and immigration controversies are affecting immigrants. Nancy McNee shares her personal story of teaching in an area that recently experienced Immigration Customs Enforcement raids that tore families apart and devastated a community. Nancy shows how adult English language learners in her class grew to understand their legal rights. Juliette Salas’s instruction is inspired by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. She writes about how learners in her adult ESL class were empowered to produce a documentary to challenge budget cuts to adult ESL funding in New York City.

Once again, I want to thank our generous contributors! Readers, you too can share your work with your colleagues across the globe. Please consider contributing to this newsletter. Doing so is a great professional development opportunity in and of itself!

Have a great year!

Articles Problem-Posing: The Core of It

Juliette Salas,

The purpose of this article is to disseminate ideas from an adult education presentation at the 2008 International TESOL convention in New York City. Problem-Posing: The Core of It was presented by Juliette Salas and Solange Farina of the Borough of Manhattan Community College and Dana Fox of Hunter College Intensive English Language Institute. The presenters hope that the principles set forth in this presentation will serve as a model for future branches of education.

Just last week I was sitting in Gramercy Park sipping tea with a close friend. We were approached by a group of scholars creating a video for a fair about the human race. We were asked: “What does it mean to be human? Are humans a necessary part of this world?” The profundity of these questions leads an educator to ask: What is our purpose as a race and how can we educate our students to perpetuate this purpose?

In essence, Problem-Posing: The Core of It gave a powerful response to these questions. In this workshop, participants viewed clips of the Adult Literacy Budget Cut Documentary, which was made by adult literacy English Second Language (ESL) students at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). The documentary was the product of the students’ effort to avert the 2005 Adult Literacy budget cuts. From a pedagogical standpoint, the purpose of the adult literacy documentary was to create a problem-posing classroom, empower students to become leaders in their communities, reinforce all four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), and demonstrate the importance of the adult literacy programs. It responded to the question: Why should we, as humans, fund adult literacy across the nation?

One of the main sources of funding for adult literacy is the Workforce Investment Act. Only 3 percent of the students in need of General Equivalency Diploma, Adult Basic Education, and English Second Language classes can be funded. In 2005, the Bush administration proposed a budget that would cut 60 to 80 percent of this funding. Because of this enormous lack of funding in adult education, many of us teach mixed-level classes. One student can write complete sentences yet lacks vocabulary and proper syntax to create intelligible conversation. Another student has acquired basic interpersonal communication skills, yet still cannot write all of the letters in the alphabet. So what do we do? Drill them? Give them fill-in-the-blank activities? Teach them in groups?

When I first starting teaching ESL, I sat down with grammar textbooks for several hours a night trying to figure out the students’ language needs and then created interactive lessons to address them. I did picture stories to elicit the continuous tense and skits to promote dialogue. I used exquisite interdisciplinary thematic curriculum. But there was still something missing. The lessons were too routine, not meaningful, and though students were practicing all four skills, the language wasn’t really penetrating to a level deep enough for them to “own” the English.

I soon came to realize that these students have so much going on in their lives. In fact, adult education students are overloaded with taking care of their children, thinking about where their next meal will come from, and/or figuring out how they are going to enter college without legal documents. Regardless of their educational background or socioeconomic status, they are all overwhelmed. When it comes down to it, we need to look not only at their language needs but at their socioemotional needs as well. To what extent does their lack of English interfere in their lives as immigrants? What is preventing them from assimilating in the U.S. culture? As a group of adult educators, we know that they all have some level of difficulty obtaining employment, entering college, and communicating in their daily lives because of their lack of fluency in English.

How do you lighten the load for students and teach them the English language at the same time?

Use the problems that are overloading the students as a tool to instruct them. However, before you begin problem posing and solving, it is necessary to view the classroom through a different lens. View your students as representatives of our world. Honor their stories and use these to reflect upon the state of our existence. What do their stories say about us as a human race? How can we as educators transform the intensity of our students’ lives into strengths that will put them ahead of the rat race? The answer is to teach critically. According to Joan Wink (2004), as critical educators, we need to encourage students to name, reflect critically, and act on authentic problems.

Naming the Problem
As critical pedagogues we identify the students’ focus and facilitate discussion to guide them to identify problems in their lives. In the case of this project, Steve Hinds, a staff developer at City University of New York (CUNY), discussed the 2005 budget-cut issue with the adult literacy students. The students had already read articles and prepared questions to further synthesize and conceptualize the issue. Afterward, they were able to restate the issue in their own words as it applied to their lives. Although this problem affected the entire class, the students could have also chosen individualized problems. For example, in another problem-posing project, a Chinese-speaking student identified that he needed to improve his pronunciation to get a better job. Through taping himself, he realized that he confused the /l/ and /r/ sounds.

Why not teach explicitly? Couldn’t you differentiate the position of the tongue in “long” and “wrong” for this student?
I have found that if students are figuring out the mismatch between their interlanguage and target language, they experiment until they specifically understand the problem. In the case of this student, he was able to state that the position of his tongue should be further back for words with the /r/ sound. The point is that once the students have identified the problem, they take ownership of learning. The content is meaningful and the students are motivated to use language to solve the problem. School life is no longer separated from home and work life.

Reflecting on the Problem
According to James Hiebert (as cited in Savery & Duffy, 2006) on constructivist methodology, “Cognitive conflict or puzzlement is the stimulus for learning and determines the organization and nature of what is learned.” As our students experience cognitive conflict in an effort to better understand the problem, they are also struggling to understand and use the English language. They are learning new vocabulary and applying it to solve an authentic problem. They are interpreting various tenses and putting them into conditional sentences to hypothesize the outcome of their proposed actions.

Once the BMCC adult literacy students named the problem, they reflected on the budget-cut crisis. As their teacher, I put them in charge of solving the problem. They met in groups, wrote proposals, and presented them to the class. In their proposals, they chose a plan of action. After sharing proposals, they chose to create a documentary to demonstrate the importance of adult literacy programs.

Taking Action
After students reflected on the problem, they acted on it. Through a constructivist framework, students learn by interacting with the environment. The adult literacy students wrote and interviewed other students, administrators, and educators at community-based organizations, New York City libraries, and the CUNY colleges; they practiced the pragmatics of asking U.S. citizens to sign petitions. They listened to their own video clips, paraphrased key ideas from texts, and wrote letters to politicians. Inside and outside of the classroom, the students were implicitly learning grammar through speaking, listening, reading, and writing about the budget-cut crisis. They were struggling to co-construct their knowledge of the problem in order to achieve the authentic goal of preventing the 2005 adult education budget cut.

How does critical pedagogy encourage our students to be transformative intellectuals?
If we teach students language solely from a textbook, we risk limiting their thoughts to single words or phrases and a response to somebody else’s work. If we elicit information from them, we are guiding them to the solution. We are not empowering them to be leaders.

Paulo Freire (2000) believed that through problem-posing we work toward a common goal of conscientization. Conscientization is education as a means of consciously shaping the person and the society. We use our current knowledge base to construct new knowledge to solve problems. It is through this process that liberation is achieved.

The answer is clear that those who are able to name, reflect critically, and act on authentic problems will become transformative intellectuals. As transformative intellectuals we critically analyze the world in which we live and act upon its injustices. Isn’t this our goal as a human race?

Q & A

At the end of Problem-Posing: The Core of It, workshop participants asked the following questions:

Did it take you a long time to feel comfortable using the problem-posing method? What if you don’t feel comfortable with it right away?
It took me a long time to realize that this method was the most comfortable for me. It is important that you use the method that you feel is most comfortable. Teaching and learning is a reciprocal process that takes time.

How did the students feel about not using a textbook?
Some students took to the constructivist method more readily. Other students still wished they had used a textbook. In fact, one student who was very actively involved in the documentary asked me, “When are we going to learn grammar from a textbook?” Many students believe that education should be taught from a textbook because that is how they were taught in their native country.

We don’t have access to technology or video cameras. How could we go about doing a project like this?
The documentary was the project that was chosen by this group of students. The end result can be anything from a newsletter to an e-mail.

Is this problem-posing possible in very low level ESL classes?
Yes, of course. It simply means making the language the problem. For example, a problem could be that I can’t create a shopping list in English.

Did the adult literacy 2005 budget cut get averted as a result of this documentary?
The petitions that were signed by many New Yorkers helped to increase adult literacy education funding in New York State by $1 million. Several people and organizations facilitated this process.


Problem-Posing: the Core of It was presented at the TESOL convention to offer an additional method for teaching students. Many people inspired the adult literacy students at BMCC to complete this project. Thanks to Maryann & Alexander Salas, Ceil and Mike Freda, Denise Deagan, Irma Lance, and John Gallagher for their support creating the documentary; Jerry Spencer and Jiamin Yao, Jhon Rojas, Lloyd Handwerker, and Dana Fox for footage, editing and production support; and June Wai for demonstrating the importance of constructivism in education. Please e-mail with any questions or comments. Namaste!

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed: 30th Anniversary sub edition. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Gass, S., & Selinker L. (2001). Second language acquisition: An introductory course. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Kumaradivelu, B. (2002). Beyond methods: Macrostrategies for language teaching. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Savery, J., & Duffy, T. (2006). Problem based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. Educational Technology, 35, 31-38. Retrieved January 10, 2007, from
Wink, J. (2004). Critical pedagogy: Notes from the real world (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Juliette Salas has taught adult literacy for over 5 years. She currently teaches at P.S. 17Q and is an adjunct professor at New School University in New York City. Juliette uses principles of yoga and the teachings of Tyohar in the Pachamama community to inform her instruction.

English as Symbolic Citizenship: How Inglés Sin Barreras Impacts the Lives of Spanish-Speaking Transmigrants in the United States

Char Ullman,

Have you ever seen the brightly colored books from the Inglés Sin Barreras series on students’ desks? Have students ever asked if they should buy this often-talked-about program? When I was teaching adult education ESOL in Tucson, Arizona, I had these experiences on a daily basis. I also had conversations with students who told me that they felt terrible because they had bought a really expensive English language program (Inglés Sin Barreras) and had never used it. Some people even told me that they felt that they were good language learners before buying Inglés Sin Barreras, and now that it occupied space on a bookshelf above the TV, perhaps with the plastic broken on the first of the 12 volumes, they felt like failures at language learning.

After hearing stories like that, I realized that Inglés Sin Barreras has a profound impact on learners’ identities and beliefs, and I needed to investigate the social process that was being manifested among Spanish-speaking migrants in relation to this product. The study came to be called “Consuming English,” and the purpose of this ethnographic project became to understand the identities and ideologies that are produced among Spanish-speaking transmigrants in relation to Ingles Sin Barreras.

What Is Inglés Sin Barreras?
Inglés Sin Barreras is the most advertised commodity on Spanish-language TV. It is more advertised, in fact, than Coca-Cola or McDonald’s. Commercials for Inglés Sin Barreras air every 15 minutes from dawn until dusk on both Univision and Telemundo. It is mentioned in Spanish rap songs and jokes are made about it on the popular variety show, Sabado Gigante. The program was also featured in the film Spanglish. In sum, Inglés Sin Barreras is a pop culture phenomenon (Porter, 2002).

The program consists of 12 books, DVDs, and CDs that present basic English to Spanish-speaking adults. Steeped in the audiolingual approach, the program focuses on repetition of basic vocabulary. Dialogues are used, and there is no overt grammar teaching. The program includes workbooks in which learners complete exercises and get to learn songs from “America the Beautiful” to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” They watch travelogues complete with tourist information about major U.S. cities.

The program retails for up to $3,000 and is sold in the way that new cars are sold. That is, the client buys both the product and the financing. As with the new car approach, it is difficult for the consumer to find out the actual price of Inglés Sin Barreras. I paid $1,400 for it (having done the negotiation through my university’s purchasing office), but I have met many people who bought it for $3,000. One young woman showed me a contract in which she agreed to pay $5 a month for it for the next 50 years. She was 19 years old.

Because the program is very expensive and its primary clientele is Spanish-speaking migrants, many of whom are low-wage earners (and some of whom are surely undocumented), almost everyone I’ve worked with has bought the program on credit. Most people buy Inglés Sin Barreras at 21 percent interest. When I conducted a survey of 300 Spanish-speaking migrants, 99 percent of them knew about Inglés Sin Barreras, either through the TV advertising or through a friend or family member.

Inglés Sin Barreras is a luxury commodity that happens to be marketed to people who have the least access to capital in the United States—recent immigrants from Latin America who are desperate to learn English. I have not found any language program for English speakers to learn another language that retails for a comparable price. Virtually everyone who wants to buy Inglés Sin Barreras on credit can do so, because the credit is managed through the company itself, not a bank. One man told me that he put the program in his closet without ever unwrapping it, because his goal was to enter the credit system in the United States, not to use the program to learn English. Because it is very difficult for immigrants to establish credit in the United States, even if they had credit in their native country, this is a wise approach. However, this strategic use of the program is also high risk, given the instability of most migrants’ work lives. One late payment means that interest rates climb, which of course can ruin the credit that people are trying so hard to establish.

TESOL Presentation
The poster session that I presented at TESOL 2008 in New York outlined what I had learned to date about Inglés Sin Barreras. It was also an opportunity to talk with teachers and to find out what they knew about the program. I learned that many teachers had heard of it, but few were aware of the impact that it had on students’ lives. Most of the teachers I spoke with had seen the identifiable graphics: black, red, orange and yellow skyscrapers against a bright blue sky with a big golden sun at the center. Some had watched the persistent commercials for Inglés Sin Barreras on Spanish-language TV. The poster prompted lively conversations about language learning and what it might mean for migrants to belong to the United States as a nation.

How Were the Data Gathered?
Because I was interested in how people interpret the world around them (ideologies) and how they construct and are constructed by those beliefs about the world and their place in it (identities), an ethnographic study was the best way to answer the questions I had asked. Ethnography is the cornerstone of anthropological research, and it is a holistic research methodology that involves participant observation, interviewing, and document analysis. It is an attempt to understand a whole cultural system, and it is a good way to explore why things happen the way they do.

I collected and continue to collect the data for this project at an adult school in Tucson, Arizona, where I had previously worked as an ESOL teacher. It was important to nurture the connections I had built there, because it is difficult for researchers to build trust with members of migrant communities. Arizona has been an especially hostile legislative climate for immigrants since 2001, so when that trust is built, it is precious. This project has five stages of data collection. Parts one, two, three, and half of stage four have been completed. The stages are as follows:
1. A survey of 300 Spanish-speaking migrants taking ESOL classes at the adult schools in Tucson. The survey focused on demographic information and knowledge about and access to Inglés Sin Barreras.
2. Interviews with the 11 percent of people (from the survey) who owned or had access to Inglés Sin Barreras. Thirty-five interviews were conducted about how people used (or did not use) the product.
3. An ethnographic study of the Lexicon Corporation, the company that produces Inglés Sin Barreras. The goal was to find out what the company thought about the people to whom it sells its product. This involved interviewing, participant observation, and document analysis conducted over the course of 2 months.
4. Focus groups (five people at a time) who viewed a TV ad for Inglés Sin Barreras and discussed the ways in which they interpreted it. In the end, 100 people will have been involved with this stage of the project.
5. In-depth ethnographic work with people who
(a) bought Inglés Sin Barreras,
(b) borrowed it from the library (they seem to have used it more than those who bought it), or
(c) inquired about it, but decided not to buy it.
The goal is to compare these varied relationships with the product.

What Does Inglés Sin Barreras Mean in Immigrants’ Lives?
The migrants who had recently bought Inglés Sin Barreras told me that buying the program made them feel like they were investing in themselves and in their future in the United States, a line directly out of the advertising for the product. These people were filled with hope, and most of them hinted to me that they were in the United States without documents, saying things like, “Life in the U.S. is unstable for us migrants” or “Who knows how long I will be living here?” But none of them had actually used the product. The majority of people had owned Inglés Sin Barreras for between 3 months and 15 years. Of that group, most people had spent a few hours watching the first of the 12-volume program and expressed anger and shame that they had not been able to complete it. Many people told me that they were embarrassed that they had spent so much money and had not used the program. But seldom did I hear that the program might be deficient—only that they were lazy, or that they were bad language learners. A Mexican man in his 50s who had bought the program almost 10 years ago, and was now in a level-one ESOL class at the adult center, shared with me his thoughts about and experiences with the program. After 15 minutes, he became impatient and said that he had to return to his ESOL class. “I don’t want to lose any more time studying English as a result of Inglés Sin Barreras,” he said.

At the same time, Inglés Sin Barreras operates as a status symbol. In household after household, I have seen the program displayed on a shelf above the TV, a focal point in most people’s homes. Bookshelves in other contexts are often home to encyclopedias.

The program also comes with a mini-dictionary on a keychain, and a Mexican woman in her 40s told me that she wears the keychain like expensive jewelry, matching her clothes to the red, blue, and gold that predominate in the logo. She also said that when other migrants see her wearing the dictionary, they know that she has spent a lot of money. I asked if it also meant that she had learned English, and she smiled crookedly and said “No.”

Symbolic Citizenship
Arlene Davila notes that “the politics of images and style become a central site for reversing social inequalities, at least at the symbolic level, [since commodities are] so central to the expression of class distinctions and power” (2001, p. 47). Although purchasing the program does not contribute to legal citizenship, which has been foreclosed for so many Latin American migrants, it may allow them access to what Rosaldo (1999) describes as cultural citizenship. He conceptualizes cultural citizenship as membership in civil rights struggles that transcend national boundaries. If legal citizenship is unavailable, what other kind of belonging to the nation might be possible? Learning English can make one feel like a part of the local community in some parts of the, even if significant barriers such as residential segregation and poverty remain. But language learning, as all of us know, is a long-term proposition, and it impacted greatly by the educational background that the learner brings from the first language. For migrants who have limited experience with formal education, and who have just arrived in the, joining the American system of credit and debt may be a more tangible way to prove that you are part of the than mastering English.
For a long time, the notion of consumer “choice” has long been equated with democracy in the United States. Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen (1992) argued that commerce played a primary role in the integration and Americanization of new immigrants at the turn of the 20th century by connecting democracy with the buying of consumer goods. It seems that today, when the paths to legal citizenship are so limited for many migrants, buying a product that symbolizes the United States, like Inglés Sin Barreras, has its allure, in that it serves to legitimize those who buy it.

Indeed, much that is associated with Inglés Sin Barreras operates in the realm of legitimization. Although its producers are right to emphasize that learning English is a first step toward a sense of belonging in the United States, it seems that the colorful product that sits on students’ desks is more related to the consumption of English as a product, rather than the learning of English as subject matter.


Dávila, A. (2001). Latinos, inc.: The marketing and making of a people. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ewen, S., & Ewen, E. (1992). Channels of desire: Mass images and the shaping of American consciousness. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Porter, E. (2002, Feb. 13). Quirky English course evolves into a fixture of Latino pop culture – Poor immigrants flock to buy pricey home-study set. Wall Street Journal.
Rosaldo, R. (1999). Cultural citizenship, inequality, and multiculturalism. In R. D. Torres, L. F. Miron, & J. X. Inda (Eds.), Race, identity, and citizenship: A reader (pp. 253-261). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Char Ullman, PhD, is a professor at the University of Texas-El Paso, where she studies globalization and language use among Mexican migrants. She has worked in adult education ESOL for many years.

Elderly Immigrants and Language Learning

Allene Guss Grognet,

Some 32 years ago, I worked on a project with the National Council of Aging to investigate memory and language learning (Grognet, 1989). It was a time in U.S. history when many of the refugees coming from Indochina were in their 40s to 80s. And many were nonliterate or only semi-literate. It was an interesting project, but back then, it was an academic pursuit. Now that I am among the elderly population, and memory is indeed an issue, the pursuit is no longer academic. It is very real!

Since the 1950s, approximately 2.5 million immigrants and refugees have come to the United States from Germany, Poland, Cuba, Mexico, Honduras, Vietnam, Bosnia, the Sudan—the list goes on. They range from highly educated, multilingual former cabinet ministers to nonliterate hill tribe people who practiced slash-and-burn agriculture. Starting over again in a strange country is traumatic for immigrants of any age. For elderly persons, it has been particularly difficult. At a time in their lives when they should be looking forward to the respect and reverence that traditional society affords elders, they find themselves transplanted in a culture that is focused on youth. They have lost their homes, probably many of their family members, and, most of all, their honored status.

Let me just throw out a few quotes.

  • From a Vietnamese woman: “The old are obsolete here in America. Neither respected nor deemed important.”
  • From a Nicaraguan man: “In Nicaragua you are defined by family, community, and when you lose that, you lose a big part of who you are.”
  • From a Mexican woman: “What I worry about most is that my memory is not what it used to be. Who’s related to whom. Without me people who used to be relatives will be strangers if they meet on the street. My English is not good. My grandchildren laugh at things I don’t understand. America is much more their country than mine.”

    These immigrants, and many like them, have adjustments to make, among them a new language, new culture, and new expectations. In their countries, it is not expected that one would start learning new things in the elder years, but that is exactly what most have had to do.

    What do we know about language learning and age?
    There is no research evidence that suggests that older adults cannot succeed in learning another language. Older adults who remain healthy do not show a decline in their ability to learn (Ostwald & Williams, 1986). However, we also know that it is easier for prepubescent children to acquire a language and to speak it without an accent. Researchers are not sure why this phenomenon occurs. One theory claims it is connected with cerebral elasticity (Lenneberg, 1967); another theory attributes it to developmental differences in the brain pre- and postpuberty (Walsh & Diller, 1978); and yet another theory highlights the changes in self-perception and willingness to change one's identity that comes after adolescence. Whatever the reason, more effort needs to go into language learning by adults than that by children.

    In some important aspects, though, adults may have superior language-learning capabilities. Researchers have shown that neural cells responsible for higher order linguistic processes, such as understanding semantic relationships and grammatical sensitivity, develop with age. Especially in the area of vocabulary and language structure, adults are better language learners than children. Though children may be better at mimicry, older learners are more able to make higher order associations and generalizations and can integrate new language inputs into already substantial learning and experiences (Krashen, Long, & Scarcella, 1979). Instructional programs that capitalize on these strengths can succeed with older learners.

    What factors affect language learning?
    Physical health is an important factor in learning at any age, and chronic disease may affect the ability of elderly people to learn. Many immigrants and refugees have had little or no "professional" medical care throughout their lives and suffer the residual effects of illnesses that went untreated. This may affect physical mobility, or the converse, the ability to sit for long periods of time. Like other elderly adults, they may be affected by hearing loss and vision problems. The ability to understand oral English, especially in the presence of background noise, may be affected, and older learners may have difficulty deciphering written English displayed in small type, especially if their native language does not use a Roman alphabet. The changes that have occurred in diet and climate sometimes affect immigrants physically, and are most often seen in elderly people who have been in the United States 3 years or less. Finally, short-term memory loss, which often occurs with aging, can adversely affect the older learner’s success (Baker, 1985).

    Mental health is probably the single most decisive factor in immigrant and refugee language learning. Depression is very common in the elderly population, and it is often somaticized in such forms as loss of appetite, short attention span, nightmares, and inability to sleep. It is not surprising that refugee elders are depressed. Many have experienced war, disorder, uprooting, and in some cases the horrors of torture, rape, and the violent death of loved ones. Immigrants, as well, have been uprooted from what they know and can understand. Some may no longer be considered wise and due respect. They do not speak English well enough to talk on the telephone, shop, or use public transportation, and they may sense that they have lost their traditional role as the purveyor of cultural values. Depression does not permit one to concentrate well, thus reinforcing the cycle of not being able to speak English and deal with the demands of everyday life (Adkins, Sample, & Birman, 1999).

    Cultural expectations, such as what old age should be, what the role and place of the teacher is, or how a language should be taught, also impinge on learning. Cultural beliefs, values, and patterns of a lifetime are not easily changed, even though new circumstances and surroundings may not support old ways (Bryant, 1997).

    Attitude and motivation are key factors in any learning but especially in language learning. The greatest obstacle to older adults learning a language is the doubt in the mind of the learner that older adults can learn a language. Unfortunately, this doubt is often shared by the language teacher as well. Another barrier is the fact that there is often no real need for older adults to learn English. Children, and especially grandchildren, become the negotiators in the new country. Though there may be loss of status in letting younger family members become one's voice, this is often preferable to attempting a learning task that is perceived as hopeless. Many immigrant adults fear failure because it often means loss of "face." They are often reluctant to take the risks needed in language learning, risks that children take for granted (Giles & Coupland, 1991).

    What are successful strategies with the older language learner?
    Four major ways in which teachers can encourage the older language learner are (a) by eliminating affective barriers, (b) by incorporating adult learning strategies into their teaching, (c) by making the learning situation and the learning materials relevant to the needs and desires of older immigrants, and (d) by tapping into the goals of the immigrant community.

    Eliminating affective barriers means first and foremost belief on the part of the teacher that older adult learners are not necessarily poor learners. This step is key to reducing anxiety and building self-confidence in the learner. Teachers need to emphasize the positive, focus on the progress learners are making, and provide opportunities for them to be successful. Students must feel that they have learned something every time they leave a classroom, or wherever the learning is taking place. Such successes can then be reinforced with more of the same.

    Taking adult learning theory seriously can help build successes. Andragogy (or adult learning theory) assumes that learning situations take into account the experiences of the learner, providing the opportunity for new learning to be related to previous experiences. Furthermore, the adult learner should be involved in analyzing both the new and old experiences. Andragogy also assumes that for the adult, readiness to learn is decreasingly the product of biological development or academic pressure, and increasingly the product of the developmental tasks required in work and/or social roles. For the older immigrant learner, the key here is developmental social roles. Finally, andragogy assumes that children have more of a subject-centered orientation to learning, whereas adults tend to have a problem-centered orientation to learning (Knowles, 1984). This means that language learning must incorporate strategies appropriate to adult learners. Learning situations that adults perceive as putting them in the position of being treated as children are bound to interfere with their learning.

    By making the learning situation, the curriculum, and the teaching materials relevant to the immigrant adult, teachers demonstrate that they take andragogy seriously. What is taught, as well as the learning environment, should be based on what older learners want and need to learn. Needs analyses of the target populations in a given community should be carried out and, of course, adult learners should be consulted about what they want to learn. For older immigrant adults, particularly, the learning situation needs to be viewed not only in terms of teaching a language, but also in terms of the fulfillment of cultural and social needs.

    The high dropout rate of older refugees and immigrants enrolled in many traditional adult education classes attests to the fact that adults are also not willing to tolerate boring or irrelevant content. Texts that stress dating or dorm rooms or the learning of grammar rules out of context are of little interest to adult learners. Though some may want more grammar, because that is the way they previously learned a language, they often find that when grammar and vocabulary are embedded in the situations they will encounter, they remember more. When lessons are relevant, adults not only come to class but seem more willing to risk using their new language outside of the classroom.

    It is also important that the learning environment acknowledge age. Presentation of new material should have both listening and viewing components to compensate for auditory or visual impairments, and there should be good lighting and the elimination of as much outside noise as possible. Activities that follow a presentation should provide opportunities for learners to work together, focusing on understanding rather than producing language. Class activities that include large amounts of fast-paced drills, extensive pronunciation correction, or competitive exercises will often inhibit the older learner’s active participation.

    Methodology should also acknowledge age. Learning strategies that rely more on long-term memory rather than short-term memory and that integrate new concepts and materials with already existing cognitive structures tend to be best for older learners. This means that learning by rote, which relies on short-term memory, may not be successful, even though many adult refugees and immigrants believe that rote learning is the method of choice. Conversely, though many immigrants may be reluctant to role play, they may find that putting new words to familiar situations can be a satisfying experience. Recycling content, slowing the pace of instruction, and downplaying the role of formal assessment are also helpful. A balance needs to be struck between the teacher's beliefs and desire to show progress and the beliefs and desire of the older learner.

    Language teachers also need to encourage older learners to rely on those learning strategies that have served them well in other contexts. By allowing different approaches to the learning task inside the classroom, teachers can help students discover how they learn best. A visual learner may need to write things down, even though the teacher might prefer that students concentrate on listening. Nonliterate learners might rely on auditory and memory cues, even though teachers tell them to write in their notebooks. By paying attention to learning channels, be they auditory, visual, kinesthetic or tactile, teachers will reduce frustration and will help older learners to be comfortable in the learning situation.

    Finally, by tapping into the goals of the community, the teacher can form an essential bond with the older immigrant or refugee. Language-learning goals for older adults must mesh not only with individual goals but with familial and community aspirations as well. For instance, elders need to share and pass on their culture to younger generations. Teachers might use these concerns to create language-learning situations.

    Glimpses of Some Success Stories
    Language-learning programs, particularly for older persons, have been sparse. Those that incorporate more than just language learning seem to be the most successful. In Philadelphia, Project LEIF (Learning English Through Intergenerational Friendship) used college-age tutors to teach and learn from older adult refugees (Henkin & Weinstein-Shr, 1989). Tutoring took place in a community learning center as well as in the students' homes. Retired Americans are also recruited as tutors for refugee youngsters. In California, older Mexican women learned English as part of a training program for babysitters and daycare workers. Among other new skills, they are now not afraid to answer the telephone or to initiate emergency calls (Ramirez, 2005). In the Washington, D.C., area, illiterate elderly Cambodian women learned English around a stove, a kitchen table, and a sewing machine. Among their new skills was the ability to write their names and addresses and to recognize warning signs on household products. In Iowa, older men and women told stories from their homeland to bilingual aides. The aides in turn translated and wrote them down, so that children could learn from them. The new skills that these immigrants learned are communication with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, however haltingly, and the passing on of cultural values. In Wisconsin, familiar music was used as warm-up drills, because when you mentally repeat or process a new word or sentence, you have to imagine sound, rhythm, and the resonance of the words as if you are saying them out loud. This in turn gave Hmong women the ability to use musical images which they then translated into everyday language.

    Continuing Needs
    A hopeful sign for language-learning projects for older people is the beginning of a dialogue between the aging and immigrant networks. As the American population gets older and more focus is being put on keeping the mind alert, attention is being turned to the nonnative-English-speaking population as well. In April 2007, USA Today had a front-page article on aging and keeping the mind tuned. There is much the two fields can learn from each other. Sharing what works is a first step, and effective demonstration projects can then be adapted and replicated.

    The scene is not as hopeful in the case of research on language learning for the older adult. Few studies have been conducted that investigate the specific characteristics of the older adult language learner. While there is much research on Alzheimer’s disease (in a sense, a deficit model), there is little research on the interaction of memory, age, and language learning, as well as attitudinal characteristics of the learners. Cole (1990) showed that memory does not decay enough to put learning at risk, because the process involves more factors than just memory, such as anxiety, interest, effort, meaningfulness, pace, frequency, and repetition. DeBot and Makoni’s (2005) book on elder language learners and sociolinguistic theory and Wendy Wang’s (1999) article from her dissertation on immigrants who have lived in their new environment for more than 40 years and did not learn the language shed some light on the subject. Light and Burke (1990), Coupland (1997), and Haarman (2008) have added to our knowledge. But we need much more. Such research would benefit not only the immigrant older adult but the American population in general, as we become an older nation.

    Adkins, M. A., Sample, B., & Birman, D. (1999). Mental health and the adult refugee: The role of the ESL teacher. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education.
    Baker, P. M. (1985). The status of age: Preliminary results. Journal of Gerontology, 40(4), 506-508.
    Bryant, J. (1997). Crosscultural communication and aging in the United States. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
    Cole, L. (1990). Multicultural professional education: Curriculum approaches. Rockville, MD: American Speech-Hearing Association.
    Coupland, N. (1997). Language, ageing and ageism: A project for applied linguistics. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 7(1), 26-48.
    DeBot, K., & Makoni, S. (2005). Language and aging in multilingual contexts. London: Multicultural Matters.
    Giles, H., & Coupland, N. (1991). Language attitudes: Discursive, contextual and gerontological considerations. In A. G. Reynolds (Ed.), Bilingualism, multiculturalism, and second language learning: The McGill conference in honour of Wallace E. Lambert. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
    Grognet, A. G. (1989, Winter). Elderly refugees and language learning. Aging.
    Haarman, H. (2008, February). A cognitive perspective on language learning in young and older adults. Paper presented at the Interagency Language Roundtable Plenary Session, Foreign Service Institute, Arlington, VA.
    Henkin, N. Z., & Weinstein-Shr, G. (1989, Winter). College students tutor older refugees in English. Aging.
    Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in action: Applying modern principles of adult education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
    Krashen, S. D., Long, M. A., & Scarcella, R. C. (1979). Age, rate and eventual attainment in second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly, 13, 573-582.
    Light, L., & Burke, D. (Eds.). (1990). Language, memory and aging. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
    Lenneberg, E. H. (1967). Biological foundations of language. New York: Wiley.
    Ostwald, S. K., & Williams, H. Y. (1986). Optimizing learning in the elderly: A model. Lifelong Learning, 9(1), 10-13, 27.
    Ramirez, L. (2005, Summer). The babysitters. Latino Life.
    Walsh, T. M., & Diller, K. C. (1978). Neurolinguistic foundations to methods of teaching a second language. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 16(1), 1-14.
    Wang, W. (1999). Age and second language acquisition in adulthood: The learning experience and perception of women immigrants. TESL Canada Journal, 16(2), 1-19.

    Allene Guss Grognet is the emeritus vice president of the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) and director of CAL’s Sunbelt office in Florida. She has been involved in teaching, teacher training, research, writing, and administration of TESOL for the past 51 years, but her first love has always been adult education.

    The Mtaya Miracle School

    Carolyn Kulisheck,

    In September 2004, I visited Zambia for the purpose of donating money I had collected from my friends for several orphanages that care for orphans of AIDS. Toward the end of my trip, my Zambian friends took me to visit an animal park in the eastern province. On the way, we stopped by the small village of Mtaya. This is where a truly miraculous series of events began to take place. A 20-year-old man named Connet Mwanza had gathered together the village’s youngest orphans of AIDS to teach them. These small orphans presented a short program for us, reciting poems about being orphans of AIDS, singing songs, and reciting the alphabet. Connet had achieved all this with no school and no school supplies. These small children were enchanting but also disturbing. They coughed incessantly; large patches of hair were missing, and white blotches appeared on their black skin. Their clothes were ragged, and they were barefoot. The young man and his orphans captured my heart. With my remaining $800, I asked AFRICARE to build him a school. Within a week, the village had formed a committee and started work on the one-room red brick school.

    In June 2006, I returned to Zambia to attend the official dedication of the school and to take school supplies donated by my church and friends. These donated funds paid for window panes, a wooden door, and 30 desks for the one-room school.

    Upon arriving in the village, I was greeted by the children who came running, calling out, “She has come.” The village women greeted me with songs and dances. They sang, “We will never go back. We will only go forward.” Connet told me they were at the hand of death but were brought back to life. He was referring to the previous year’s drought and famine. One of the children had died. Because of the existence of the school as the center of the village, the U.N.’s World Food Program came in and started a feeding station next to the school. I observed this time that the children were much healthier. They were not coughing as much, the patches of missing hair had grown back, and their skin was smooth and dark.

    I spent several days doing art projects with the children with the assistance of Connet. I spent the afternoons talking to the people of the village about their hopes and dreams for the future. On June 7, 2006, the dedication ceremony took place, attended by visiting dignitaries. The children performed and the women danced. The entire village came out to celebrate the miracle of the little school of Mtaya.

    I returned to Mtaya in February and November 2007 to check on the children’s progress in the school and also to talk to the community’s women and committees and leaders about ways in which the village could become self-sufficient, healthy, and educated.

    They now have started several small businesses that they hope will help the village become more self-sufficient. The businesses include the following:

    Sewing: Seventeen women belong to the sewing group. They have mastered the use of the manual machines and are now making clothes to sell in Zambia and tote bags for me to sell in the United States.
    Piggery: There are seven pigs and two of them are pregnant. The pigs' living quarters are spic and span, and we hope to be selling pigs in the near future.
    The community nutrition garden: The villagers planted maize, tomatoes, spinach, and cabbage. As this food is harvested, it will be fed to the children at school.
    Sunflower seed oil: The villagers planted a field of sunflowers for the purpose of making sunflower seed oil for their own consumption in addition to selling the surplus.
    Capenta: Some of the widows who take care of the orphans are desperately poor. I purchased a large bag of capenta (little dried fish), and two of the widows are selling small bags of capenta to the surrounding villages.

    I work with the Fairfax County Public Schools Adult ESOL program in Virginia. Before my third trip to Mtaya, I showed a short video of the Mtaya project to several of the ESOL classes and then suggested that the students write letters to the villagers, who speak English. In their letters, the students often included photos of themselves and their families, their children’s artwork, or even a page of stickers. They wrote about their countries, why they came to the United States, their jobs, and their dreams for the future. Upon receiving the letters, the villagers were thrilled to have communication from the world outside of their remote village. As soon as I handed out the letters, the villagers became completely absorbed in reading the letters. The villagers speak, read, and write English so there was no problem in understanding the meaning of the letters. These letters, which expressed messages of hope and love and encouragement, were cherished. For the next few days, people in the village were busy writing their letters of reply. This exchange of letters between the villagers and the ESOL students has taken place three times and is now eagerly anticipated by both the villagers and the ESOL students alike.

    The Fairfax County Public Schools Adult ESOL program has adopted the Mtaya Community School, the orphans, and the villagers as a special project. For the winter social, the program held an online auction, and for the spring social, a bowling party. The funds from both activities were donated to benefit Mtaya.

    I will be returning to Mtaya in June 2008. During this visit I plan to arrange for the sewing group to make uniforms for the children to wear to school. I have also discussed with the villagers starting a soybean project in order to sell the soybeans to a church. The Fairfax County Public Schools Adult ESOL program donated enough money for me to buy one blanket for each family in the village. It will be winter in the village and some of the villagers told me that they have never had a blanket before. They just lie down on the dirt in their huts and go to sleep. I will check on the existing projects such as the piggery and the community nutrition garden to make sure they are sustainable. And finally I will spend time with the children and help them practice their English.

    Carolyn Kulisheck is currently an ESOL specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools Adult ESOL program in Fairfax, VA. Previously she taught English to adult immigrant students in Virginia and Maryland.

    ESL Dialogues for Migrant Rights

    Nancy McNee,

    In March 2007, ICE (Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement) agents took more than 60 immigrants from their homes in the Canal area of San Rafael in the early morning hours. San Rafael is a city in Marin County, north of San Francisco. The Canal is a neighborhood in San Rafael of mostly Latino immigrants; roughly 11,000 people live there. The people of the Canal are hard workers. Many of the men work in construction and landscaping and many of the women are domestic workers in the homes of the wealthy people of Marin.

    Around 5 on that March morning, while it was still dark and most families in the Canal were still asleep, ICE invaded homes and dragged parents away in front of their crying children. Many parents were not even allowed to get dressed but were handcuffed and taken away in their pajamas, humiliated in front of their children. In the days and weeks following the infamous raid, which caused irreparable damage to the families of the Canal, the Canal became a ghost town. Terrified and traumatized, children did not go to school (even though many children in the Canal are U.S. citizens). Remaining parents, although desperately in need of money (even more so, once many of the main providers were gone), did not go to work. ICE had achieved its goal of spreading fear and paralyzing the community. If children could sleep, they slept with backpacks packed and ready next to their beds, in case ICE came again in the middle of the night to take them away. This was true of U.S. citizen children of immigrant parents and immigrant children alike—no one in the Canal was unaffected by the raid.

    In fact, most immigrants in the Bay Area were terrified by large-scale raids like this one, which were taking place all around the Bay. Although San Francisco is a Sanctuary City and Mayor Gavin Newsom has asked law enforcement not to cooperate with ICE, the terror was no less present in the city. In the weeks following the San Rafael raid and other large raids that were conducted in the Bay Area cities of Oakland and Richmond, few of my adult ESL students dared to come to class. My classroom was eerily empty, as were the streets in immigrant neighborhoods.

    At the same time that all of this was happening, I was taking a class called Human Rights Education as part of my doctoral program at the University of San Francisco (USF). The professor, Dr. Susan Katz, was teaching about human rights conventions and covenants. For me, the most meaningful and important document that we studied was the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Created in 1990 and entered into force in 2003, I was not surprised to learn that the United States had not ratified this convention.

    In 1996 the current anti-immigrant, xenophobic hysteria began. That was the year when three of the most punitive laws ever (or at least since 1920) were passed against immigrants. Since then, the situation for migrant workers and their families in the United States has rapidly deteriorated, with the increased militarization of the border, the criminalization of innocent people, racial profiling, and the passage of more and more punitive legislation. Eleven years later, the treatment of migrant workers in the United States had become so bad that Jorge Bustamante, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, was sent by the United Nations to conduct a 3-week investigation into the situation. Published in May 2008 (and available at the Web site of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights at, Bustamente’s 27-page report describes unbelievable human rights abuses suffered by migrant workers and their families in the United States. In 2001, From the Borderline to the Colorline; A Report on Anti-Immigrant Racism in the United States was presented at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance. The recent publication of these international reports and others like them indicates that the world is aware of the serious and escalating human rights abuses against migrant workers in the United States. So why do we seem so unaware of what is happening in our own backyard? Amidst popular public rhetoric and myths about the American dream and colorblindness, it is easy to ignore the suffering all around us.

    For the human rights education class at USF, I was required to develop a curriculum for teaching human rights. I decided to create this unit of dialogues for my adult ESL students. (Please note that I wrote dialogues 1-8 but dialogues 9-11 were created by the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.) The wide variety of settings for the dialogues are meant to reflect the unfortunate truth that human rights violations of migrants are taking place on a daily basis in every sphere of existence in life in the United States—at home, at work, and on the street (at the bus stop) and in every region of the United States in urban, suburban, and rural areas. I wrote Dialogues 7 and 8 (about rights violations in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and Southern California after the fires, respectively) after reading Jorge Bustamante’s report to the United Nations, which he wrote after a migrant rights investigation tour of the United States, which included several days in each of these areas. Bustamante interviewed migrant workers in each of these cities and met with many immigrants rights organization leaders in the same cities.

    I created the dialogues based on community education resources prepared by immigrant rights organizations after the nationwide, large-scale raids of 2006 and 2007 and on other research regarding the immigration and the law. My aim in creating/compiling this unit of dialogues was to teach the language and vocabulary needed for defending rights, provide information about international human rights laws, and inform my students that they have rights in the United States (regardless of status).

    “You mean we have rights?!” asked a student from Guanajuato, Mexico, incredulously. This was the initial reaction of my adult ESL students to my introduction of the unit. The student asked the question in a joking manner and the other students laughed. Humor helped make a very serious topic enjoyable, and we employed it throughout the unit. The students enjoyed donning dark sunglasses and super-macho attitudes to play the roles of ICE agents. Although the students enjoyed performing the dialogues for each other in a lighthearted way, at the same time it was evident to me how important the issues portrayed in the dialogues were to the students. They were highly motivated to learn the useful English language in the dialogues and were very interested in the international human rights laws. In the United States these students are constantly criminalized and punished by the law. They were delighted to hear how the tables had turned and the United States was now being called to task by the international community for its treatment of them. My Mexican students especially loved hearing about Jorge Bustamante’s mission to the United States. Learning that they had a champion for their rights at the United Nations who was also a Mexican was very empowering to the students.

    Each of the 11 dialogues begins with a description of the setting, characters needed to play the roles, a list of important vocabulary for optional preteaching, and suggested props. It is my hope that other adult ESL instructors will adapt the dialogues to the specific levels and needs of their students. I also hope that others will use the resources provided to create their own dialogues for migrant rights. Because of who our students are and the current climate in the United States, adult ESL instructors are necessarily immigrant rights advocates. We must inform ourselves about current international human rights laws and put pressure on the U.S. government to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families without further delay. Our students’ lives and well-being and the lives and well-being of their families depend upon it.

    The current tactics being used by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security depend on fear, terror, and a general ignorance about the human rights of migrants and their families. They also depend, to a great extent, on the imbalance of power created by the “language barrier.” In Wisconsin, immigrants who have completed a “Know Your Rights” workshop receive a sticker that says “I Know My Rights.” It has been reported that ICE avoids approaching homes where the sticker has been posted inside the front window or door. We need to make sure that the Know Your Rights cards make it into the hands of those who need them. Language teachers can no longer ignore the day-to-day realities of their students. We need to teach our students language that is useful, meaningful, and empowering. When our students know their rights and have mastered the English language needed to defend them, the tables are turned.

    Look for the unit of dialogues will be available in the near future at the Teachers’ Resource Center on the TESOL Web site (

    *Please note: Most administrators see the value of teaching language in meaningful and motivating contexts. However, it is definitely possible to align dialogues like these with standards and outcomes if necessary. For example, a lesson on imperatives might involve a dialogue with sentences like the following: “Open the door! Show me your ID. Sign this order of voluntary deportation. Tell me your neighbor’s name.” A migrant rights curriculum with a grammar focus would not be difficult to create. Noticing can also be used to call attention to the grammar in any dialogue.

    Resources for Teaching Immigrant Rights

    Bay Area Immigrant Rights Web site: Especially see BAIRC Toolkit for ICE Raids and Know Your Rights printable materials in English and other languages.

    National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Web site: See the list of NNIRR reports available for order; especially good are reports on racism against immigrants and the latest one, on ICE Raids (Over Raided and Under Siege).

    Report submitted to the U.N. General Assembly in early March 2008, by Jorge Bustamante, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants after his 2007 mission to the United States (report available at NNIRR Web site

    The text of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, available at

    The Web site of the International Labour Organization:

    ACLU Web sites

    The following report (in English and Spanish) is from the Central American Solidarity Association (CASA) of Maryland Web site ( and is excellent to use with preliterate or emerging literacy adult ESL students because of the cartoon drawings depicting ICE actions and the prevention of human rights violations (created to be community education materials):

    Educational Materials: Protect Yourself from Immigration Raids, March 2007 (A Collaboration of CASA of Maryland, Inc., Detention Watch Network, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyer's Guild)

    Materiales Educativas: Protéjase de las Redadas de Inmigración, Marzo 2007 (Una colaboración de CASA de Maryland, Inc., Detention Watch Network, y el Projecto Nacional de Inmigración del National Lawyer's Guild)

    Other Resources at the CASA de Maryland Web site

    Working Conditions of Domestic Workers in Montgomery County, Maryland, May 2006. By George Washington University School of Public Policy Graduate Students, Report Commissioned by the Health and Human Services Committee of the Montgomery.

    In Pursuit of the American Dream: Day Labor in the Greater Washington D.C. Region, 2005. By the Center for the Study of Urban Poverty, University of California, Los Angeles. Funded by the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Washington Area Partnership for Immigrants, a funding collaborative of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.

    Nancy McNee is an ESL instructor at City College of San Francisco. She is a doctoral student in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco.

    Longitudinal Research on Noncredit ESL Students at City College of San Francisco

    Sharon Seymour,

    Major findings of a longitudinal research study on non-credit ESL students at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) were presented at TESOL O8. The complete report, Pathways & Outcomes: Tracking ESL Student Performance, by Steve Spurling, Sharon Seymour and Forrest P. Chisman, (2008) was published by the Council for Advancement of Adult Learning (CAAL) and is available for no charge from their website ( Two earlier studies published by CAAL, Passing the Torch: Strategies for Innovation in Community College ESL (2007) andTorchlights in ESL: Five Community College Profiles (2007) highlighted the need for more longitudinal research to study the progress of students over multiple years.

    Pathways & Outcomes includes an overview of the ESL programs at CCSF with chapters on (a) enrollment and persistence patterns for all ESL students, (b) learning gains, (c) transition to credit and success of non-credit ESL students in credit, (d) stop-outs, and (e) the effect of matriculation services and program enhancements on transition to credit for a cohort of students. The report focuses on non-credit ESL students’ transition to credit ESL, but information on credit ESL students is provided as well.

    CCSF ESL Program
    In 2006, ESL enrollment totaled 25,361 students in the non-credit ESL program and 3,981 in the credit ESL program. The non-credit program offered ten levels of instruction, from Literacy to Low Advanced. Courses offered include general ESL courses (ESLN), which have integrated listening/speaking/reading/writing curricula, focus ESL courses (ESLF), vocational ESL courses (VESL ), literacy courses and citizenship courses. The curriculum focuses on life skills. The credit program offers seven levels of instruction of English for academic purposes. Courses offered include integrated reading/writing/grammar courses, listening/speaking courses and a variety of elective courses including pronunciation, accent improvement, speaking, editing and grammar review.

    ESL is the largest department at CCSF. ESL comprised 34% of all college enrollment from 1998-2006, 58% of non-credit enrollment and 12% of credit enrollment. Both non-credit and credit ESL enrollment declined between 1998 to 2006, with non-credit declining by 9% and credit by 25%. In non-credit ESL, 67% of students first enrolled in the Literacy level or the Beginning Low level (CCSF levels 1 and 2). In credit ESL, 65% of the enrollment was in the higher-level classes.

    Cohort Studied
    The longitudinal study tracked the progress of students for seven years who first enrolled in ESL at CCSF in 1998, 1999 and 2000 using data available from the college student data system. Data from 1998 to 2006 is reported. The cohort studied totaled 44,761 students and included 30,095 students in non-credit ESL and 6,666 students in credit ESL. In non-credit, only students enrolled in general ESL and/or ESL focus classes were studied since 86% of the enrollment was in these classes and level advancement could be measured for these students. Only new students in 1998, 1999 and 2000 who enrolled for eight or more hours in non-credit ESL were included in the data. Thirty-seven percent of the non-credit students in the cohort were Hispanic and 35% were Asian. Fifty-two percent of non-credit students were 30 years old or older. Credit students were 58% Asian and 16% Hispanic and 80% were under 30.

    Persistence of ESL Students
    Enrollment for 21 terms over seven years was possible for the cohort studied. This includes fall, spring and short summer terms. Thirty-eight percent of non-credit students enrolled for only one term in the seven years studied. Fifty-eight percent enrolled for one to three terms, and 15% enrolled for seven or more terms. Students who first enrolled at the Literacy and Beginning Low levels were more likely to persist for multiple terms. Asians persisted for more terms than Hispanics. Students who were 40 years old or older had the highest persistence rates. Students who were 16-19 years old had higher persistence than those 20-34.

    There were 5,500 new to non-credit ESL students who had fewer than 8 hours of attendance in 7 years, which would have been 12.6% of the total if they had been included in the cohort studied. Students who were more likely to attend more than 8 hours were students who first enrolled at the Literacy and Low Intermediate levels (CCSF ESL 6), those who were Asians, and those 50 years old or older.

    Level Advancement
    Learning advancement was measured by advancing a level in the program, for example from CCSF ESLN 1 to CCSF ESLN 2. Instructors made promotion decisions primarily at the end of the fall and spring semesters based on student scores on department level tests and instructor assessment of student performance and progress. ESLN (general ESL classes) are 175 hours (10 hours a week for 17.5 weeks) for the fall and spring terms. Students were generally not promoted for the summer term because it is much shorter (44-60 hours) and smaller; only about one quarter of students can enroll.

    Over a period of seven years, 56 % of non-credit ESL students did not advance even one level. Of the 44% who advanced, 39% advanced one level, and 26% advanced two levels. Students who first enrolled at the lower levels were more likely to advance. Low rates of persistence were a major reason that level advancement was limited. Put another way, among those who attended less than 50 hours of class, only 8% made educational gains.

    Students who advanced more levels received more hours of instruction. It took a median of 108 hours to advance a level, 152 hours for Asians and 86 hours for Hispanics. Students who first enrolled at higher levels required fewer hours to advance. The students who didn’t advance were primarily those who attended few class hours. Half of the students who did not advance attended fewer than 50 hours. Another 30% attended 150 or fewer hours. Ninety-five percent of the 44% of students who advanced at least one level received 50 or more hours of instruction.

    In summary, students needed to not only enroll for more semesters but also attend enough hours in the semester to advance levels.

    Transition of Non-credit ESL Students to Credit
    Eight percent of non-credit ESL students transitioned to some kind of degree applicable or non-degree applicable program during the seven years studied. Of those who transitioned, 88% took academic transfer courses and 74% took credit ESL courses. Academic transfer courses are courses that are accepted for transfer to the colleges in the California State University system. Since only a small number of those who took academic transfer courses did not enroll in credit ESL, credit ESL can be considered a pathway to academic transfer courses. Many students co-enrolled in credit ESL and transfer courses at the same time, with some enrolling in transfer courses prior to or after taking credit ESL.

    The last level of enrollment in non-credit ESL was the strongest predictor of whether students would make the transition to credit, regardless of the first level of enrolment in non-credit. Twenty-three percent of students at the Intermediate level transitioned compared to only 3% of students at the Literacy and Beginning levels (CCSF Level 1-3). The more non-credit levels completed the more likely students were to transition, although this was less strongly related to transitioning than last level of non-credit enrollment.

    The majority of students who transitioned had completed multiple levels in non-credit ESL. Transition to credit was positively related to hours of attendance in non-credit, but the increase in transition rates for each 100 hours of attendance was modest.

    Asians transitioned to credit at a higher rate than Hispanics, 16% compared to 5%. Students aged 16-19 transitioned at the highest rate, 17%. Transition rates were about the same for the other age groups, between 8-11% but declined to 3% for students who were 50 years or older.

    Success of Non-credit Students in Credit
    The non-credit ESL program is a major source of students for the credit ESL program. Forty-five percent of credit ESL students in the cohort had previously enrolled in non-credit ESL. Transition students were as academically successful in both credit ESL and academic credit courses as were credit origin students in terms of GPA and credit hours passed. Transition students placed at lower levels in credit ESL than did credit origin ESL students but took the same number of levels of credit ESL as credit origin students. The success of most transition students in credit courses did not vary significantly depending on the number of non-credit ESL levels taken or the last non-credit level taken. This is probably because most students transitioned from the Intermediate level of non-credit ESL. Transition students whose last non-credit level was Intermediate High (CCSF Level 7 or 8) succeeded in credit courses at slightly higher rates however.

    Twenty-five percent of transition ESL students attained a degree or certificate at CCSF. This is the same rate as credit origin students and three times the rate of the total new credit student population. ESL students, both credit-origin and transition, attained nearly a third of the certificates and half of the degrees awarded to students who first enrolled in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

    Twenty-three percent of all credit ESL students transferred to 4-year institutions, the same as all new credit CCSF students in 1998-2000. The rate for credit origin students was 25% and for transition students was 16%.

    Stop-Outs in Non-credit
    For this study, stop-outs were defined as students who had attended non-credit ESL who did not enroll again in the following fall or spring term but then later re-enrolled. Forty-eight percent of students who returned for more than one term did so, which represents 30% of the cohort. Most students who stopped out, 74%, did so only once. The median length of a stop-out was the equivalent of two academic years for students who stopped out only once and slightly less for students who stopped out twice. Most stop-outs began at the Literacy and Low Beginning levels. Asians were less likely to stop out than Hispanics, but age was not significantly related to stopping out.

    Stopping out did not have a negative effect on persistence and learning gains. Stop-outs enrolled for more terms but attended about the same number of hours and advanced the same number of levels as continuously enrolled students. However, a smaller percentage of stop-outs transitioned to credit (8%) than did continuously enrolled students (13%).

    Effect of Matriculation Services on Non-credit Students
    Receipt of matriculation services (i.e., placement testing, counseling and orientation) was associated with the number of hours of non-credit ESL and persistence, but the relationship is not strong. However receipt of matriculation services was found to be strongly related to transition to credit ESL.

    Effect of Program Enhancements on Non-credit Students
    Program enhancement included enrollment in ESLF (focus) courses, enrollment in accelerated ESL courses (designed to cover two levels in one term), and enrollment in other non-credit courses. Fourteen percent of students in the cohort took advantage of one or more enhancement courses. Most selected only one option and the most popular choice was ESLF with 33% choosing this option. Twenty-seven percent enrolled in other non-credit courses at the college, primarily business and ABE/GED classes, and 2% enrolled in accelerated courses; however, only a few sections of these were offered. Students who began at higher levels were more likely to take advantage of all enhancements.

    Students who took advantage of the enhancements enrolled in ESL for significantly more terms and advanced more ESL levels. Enrollment in enhancement courses was strongly related to transitioning. Eighty-one percent of students who transitioned took advantage of one or more enhancement course(s). The enhancements had a cumulative effect. Students who selected two or more options persisted longer, took more levels of ESL, and were far more likely to transition. Students who selected all three options outperformed those who selected only two. The study was not able to determine if the educational experiences provided by these options created these effects or whether students who chose them were highly motivated and would have performed at higher levels anyway.

    Recommendations to Increase Learning Gains and Transitions

    Based on the results of this study, the report makes the following recommendations:

  • structure programs to maximize opportunities for students to advance in proficiency level
  • try managed enrollment to encourage persistence and attendance
  • try fast-track programs
  • provide matriculation services and other student services to encourage success
  • target students most likely to succeed
  • create a culture of success that expects high levels of achievement.
  • Sharon Seymour has, an MA in TESOL, 30 years experience teaching non-credit and credit ESL and served as ESL Department Chair at City College of San Francisco for 10 years.

    Goal Setting Made Realistic

    Sylvia Ramirez,

    Recent research on learner persistence emphasizes the importance of working with students to set short and long term goals. In ESL we ask our students, “Why are you coming to school?” and they inevitably answer “to learn English.” However, this answer does not help them focus on specific steps they need to achieve that nebulous desire. Goal setting helps students identify realistic goals that are achievable within a certain period of time. Then students can move step-by-step through the activities to achieve the goals. They own the process and the results.
    I use a Goal Form developed by Ron Fujijara at Long Beach Adult School. (To learn more about Ron’s goal-setting process, go to <>) In my class, I take digital photos of all the students and help them complete the Goal Form. I work together with students to perform the following:

    1. Brainstorm realistic and attainable goal statements. For example: “to learn English” is too general, and “to learn 5 vocabulary words” is too specific
    2. Complete the Goal Form, and after revisions, type the information and insert the digital picture
    3. Present the Goal Form information to the class, sign the form, and post it on the classroom wall
    4. Review Goal Forms periodically and make changes as needed

    At the end of the term, students are required to report their progress towards the attainment of their selected goals. They respond in writing to the following questions:

  • What were your two goals for this term?
  • What was your plan to meet these goals?
  • In your plan, which activities did you do well? Why?
  • Which activities were difficult? Why?
  • Did you accomplish your goals? Why or why not?
  • I provide my students with sample answers and a model paragraph to assist them in developing their individual progress reports. During the last week of the term, students read their individual reports to the class.
    My experience has shown me that students are often very insightful about their progress. One student wrote that he didn’t complete all assignments because he missed too many classes. He realized that he had to make school a priority in order to learn more English. Another student wrote that it was impossible to write in English for 20 minutes every day. In the future, she plans to set a more realistic goal of 5 minutes every day. A third student told the class he couldn’t watch TV in his native language with English subtitles because his television didn’t have that capability. He is now looking for a newer TV that displays subtitles. They also reported many success stories. A young woman wrote she would try to only speak English with her husband, a native born English speaker. She said it was extremely difficult in the beginning, but they have made progress. He now understands he has an important role in helping her learn her new language. An older man said his goal was to read English better. He read English stories to his grandsons every week. They loved the extra time with their grandpa, and he says he now feels more comfortable reading in English.
    I believe creating a plan with specific goals is powerful for students. Because they identified their own goals and constantly reviewed and revised them, the process allowed them to think critically about what they needed to do in order to learn English. It promoted responsibility and documented progress. They were so proud to read their initial Goal Forms and, then, report their progress through their final paragraphs.
    More information about how we encourage goal setting at MiraCosta College and sample forms can be found at


    Comings, J. Parrella, A. Soricone, L. (1999). Persistence among adult basic education students in pre-GED classes. Report #12. Cambridge, MA: The National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy
    Ms. Ramirez’ article on Goal Setting first published in A Collection of Gifts, Issue 2, Fall 2006, MiraCosta College, Reprinted with permission.
    A Collection of GIFTs is a collaborative effort of MiraCosta's Writing Center and Teaching Academy. She recently presented an academic session on goal setting with Gretchen Bitterlin and Donna Price Machado at the TESOL conference in New York. Their PowerPoint presentation and handouts are available online at Click on: Articles and Presentations

    Sylvia Ramirez is a professor at MiraCosta College and coordinates the large noncredit ESL program. She has more than 30 years teaching and teacher training experience She is a co-author of the new Ventures ESL series from Cambridge University Press.

    Interpreting CASAS

    Maria Koonce,

    Preparing adult English Language Learners for US assessments
    This article summarizes a session presented at TESOL in New York. The demonstration addressed the need to prepare adult English Language Learners (ELLs) to successfully show progress through standardized pre and posttesting. Many ELLs do not have experience in objective assessment prior to coming the United States. The new era of adult ESL includes strict accountability and performance-based funding. The specific life-language-skills being evaluated in most approved standardized tests through Reading, Listening Comprehension, and Speaking are high stake funding criteria for adult education programs throughout the country.

    Presently, teachers adhere to the framework and curriculum, and utilize published materials to help adult ELLs to acquire English language skills. However, educators have limited resources to help adult learners acquire the specific test taking skills needed to succeed in standardized assessments required by funding sources. The purpose of this TESOL session was to distribute a comprehensive guide developed in Broward County, Florida to assist teachers with targeted activities for all levels of the Adult ESOL program.

    The specific standards being tested in each level are correlated to interactive classroom practices. Sample practices were demonstrated in the session. Participants role played a scenario where a patient struggles to express symptoms to a doctor, followed directions to find a hidden object in the classroom, paired up to interpret a restaurant bill and determine the gratuity to be added, and worked in small groups to describe a randomly selected illustration. Suggestions for preparing adult ELLs for objective testing were also demonstrated through a pre and post-testing activity.

    The handouts utilized in the session are included here.

    Dr. Maria Koonce has been an educator, training consultant, and author in the fields of Foreign Languages, and English as a Second Language, since coming to the United States from Uruguay, with a Fulbright Scholarship.

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    ESOL in Adult Education Interest Section (AEIS)

    The ESOL in Adult Education Interest Section serves the interest of adult students in ESL programs, their teachers, and administrators. It brings together the knowledge, concepts, and skills of both English as a second language and adult learning and instruction.

    Your 2008-2009 Steering Committee

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