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Issues in Teaching Speaking Skills to Adult ESOL Learners

Volume 6: Chapter Five
Kathleen M. Bailey

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In Chapter Five, Kathleen M. Bailey discusses issues related to teaching speaking skills to nonacademic adult ESOL learners. Bailey reviews some demographics of this population and their needs, pointing out the significant portion of adult education students that they represent. As Bailey suggests, it is important for adult English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teachers to understand the components of spoken language if they are to provide effective instruction in this area. She thus describes the units of spoken language and contrasts spoken and written language. She next outlines components of communicative competence and their relevance to adult ESOL learners.

In looking at adult ESOL instruction, Bailey provides an overview of the instructional methods used over the last 60 years. She then reviews various means used to assess speaking skills. As the author notes, effective practices in teaching speaking to adult ESOL learners has not been widely researched. She briefly describes one useful study in this area and discusses standards developed within and outside the U.S. that promote effective practice. She notes the need for better preparation of adult ESOL instructors and points out some promising curricular developments, such as content-based instruction, use of authentic materials, and English for special purposes (ESP), particularly workplace ESOL.

Among her recommendations for practice, Bailey supports the combination of interactive communicative language teaching with language-awareness activities to encourage both fluency and accuracy. She also advocates pre-service training programs in which novice teachers work with the specific population of nonacademic adult ESOL learners. With respect to research, Bailey offers a list of questions to be explored, including those that examine the most effective in-class activities, the role that technology can play in the teaching of speaking, and the ability of assessments to predict learners’ success in using English in work and social contexts. As the author suggests, policymakers should be aware of the needs of adult ESOL learners and work to develop partnerships among government officials, the private sector, labor unions, and nonprofit organizations to support adult ESOL programs. In addition, since standards have been developed for adult ESOL learners, Bailey recommends that policymakers devote more resources to the implementation of those standards and that researchers investigate the impact of those standards on instruction and assessment.

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Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL