UPDATED: Oct 19, 2019
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ESL, or English as a Second Language, is a major area of teaching in countries where English is the primary language spoken, but many do not speak English. Learning English can be difficult. Even with the best teachers, it is a notoriously hard language to learn, with continually shifting rules and sometimes confusing similarities and differences to other languages. That said, ESL is becoming increasingly important with growing immigration and increased dependence on English across the globe. These resources and ideas may be able to help you learn, understand, and use English more easily!
Learning vocabulary in any language can be difficult, particularly for those who may have trouble with memorization. However, building your vocabulary is crucial in learning English. Mnemonic devices can help, as can separating words into broad categories. For example, learning everyday language, food and drink words, location words and emergency words categorically may help you remember vocabulary more clearly. Vocabulary is also essential for other aspects of learning, as one of the goals of fluency is not to have to translate constantly!
- Garfield Community Center: Beginning ESL vocabulary
Grammar is another hugely important aspect of learning English and is important for second language learners in particular. While English does share some grammatical conventions with various other languages, understanding why words are in certain places can help the vocabulary you have been practicing make more sense. Grammar is vital for being understood clearly, but it can also make learning to read, write, and spell in English easier. Learning grammar is challenging, but by reading in English often, it may start to flow more smoothly.
- Tidewater Community College: Grammar and integrated skills
- TESOL International Association: Why K-12 need to know about ESL grammar issues
For non-native English speakers, spelling in English can present some challenges. For those used to a language in which words are written as unique, stand-alone symbols, the spelling of English words can be tricky. Also, many words in English do not sound like they are spelled, and letters can represent several different sounds, sometimes even in the same word! Spelling is difficult even for native speakers of English, so patience, practice, and persistence are all keys to learning how to spell correctly and being able to look up the spelling of something when in doubt!
Punctuation varies significantly between languages, and in English, there are multiple types of punctuation to contend with. Sometimes punctuation means the end of a sentence, and sometimes it is part of one. Sometimes punctuation is included to indicate tone, and sometimes it is there only to serve as the stopping point for an idea. Although proper punctuation is necessary, it can be difficult, and keeping a reference guide handy can be helpful! Luckily, there are many resources for learning, understanding, and referencing punctuation. Even native speakers often have to look up punctuation or think about how to punctuate a sentence. One of the best ways to remember punctuations is they have an easy to use and readily accessible guide available to you at all times. It is also important to pay attention to punctuation whenever you read.
Reading & Writing
Reading and writing are closely related. The more you read, the more easily you will write, and vice versa. While reading and writing in English can be difficult, especially if you are trying to translate in your head, it can be a great way to learn the mechanics, flow, and grammar of a language. One of the best ways to learn English is to read in English. Do not just books, but also include newspapers, magazines, flyers, and even cereal boxes! Being exposed to English in a variety of reading is a great way to learn!
- Master’s in ESL: Best practices for teaching ESL: speaking, writing, and reading
- University of Washington Bothell: ESL: reading strategies
Listening comprehension is crucial if you want to interact with English speakers, but it can be challenging. English has a different cadence than many other languages, and English speakers talk at different speeds depending on where they are from. There are also, like other languages, many accents. To navigate this, ESL students need to practice listening just as much as speaking, reading, and writing!
- Madison Area Technical College: English language learners (ELL): websites: listening & speaking
- Saddleback College: ESL websites to help you learn English
Resources for Students
ESL students can benefit from a considerable number of resources available to aid their learning. There are both free and paid resources for ESL students, and students learning English have options about how to study on their own, online, in a class, and many more settings and times. Students should explore all possible options and may want to try several different methods of learning to see what best fits their learning style. Some students do better in a group setting and some in an online or self-paced class. Trying several options is a great way to see how you learn!
- University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries: ESL/ELL Education: Interactive websites for learning
- SUNY Empire State College: ELL/ESL resources
Resources for Teachers
ESL teachers also benefit from a large number of resources. Teachers of English as a second language should also stay up to date on teaching options, teaching technology, and learning styles. Also, teachers may also find that they are more inclined to a particular style of teaching, and should try several different types of instruction, settings for teaching, and teaching methods. There are also many resources for teaching available, and a large support and education network for ESL teachers.
- Busy Teacher: ESL learning styles: 9 ways to teach visual learners
- ESL Teacher EDU: How to become an English as a second language (ESL) teacher
- State of New Jersey Department of Education: Bilingual/ESL education websites for teachers
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