Stories of Adult ELLs in a Public Setting



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There are a number of factors that have been examined in relation to the acquisition of English by non-native speakers. Adult learners also continue to seek ESL classes in large numbers (The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs, 2009). This world is becoming more globalized all of the time (Syrett & Canton, 2015; Friedman, 2007; Fairclough, 2006). There are a variety of reasons why people need to learn to communicate with those from other linguistic and cultural backgrounds (Edmunson, 2009). It has been shown that the background knowledge of participants, such as previous achievement and literacy skills, are a part of success. First language skills are known to be possible contributors to the successful learning of English and content knowledge (Cummins 1979,1981, 2007). It would help instructors to gain a clearer understanding of the needs of this population of students in order to better serve them. Without instructor empathy and support, English Language Learners may suffer (Bifuh-Ambe, 2009; Song, 2008; H. D. Brown, 2000). Such studies have shown that there may at times be a disconcerting disconnect between instructor expectations and student needs. Support and advice from peers is also crucial (Bifuh-Ambe, 2009)   This dissertation will look at the following research questions: • What can instructors and students learn from the stories of individual ELLs? • What are some of the learning strategies adult English Language Learners use to achieve their learning goals? The introduction will define ELLs and the various subgroups which are a part of this category. This paper will also attempt to discuss how a person really gains proficiency in a new language. One prominent theory is that language skills are gained intuitively (Krashen, 2009). Other researchers postulate that this is coupled with an innate capacity for language learning Andrews (2011). Four main themes will be discussed in the literature review. The first is prior knowledge and the impact of foundational skills in the first language (Cummins 1979, 1981, 2007). Though his research deals primarily with young children, Brown (2007) affirms the idea that theories which are applicable to young children could apply to adult ELLs as well. A solid background in grammar and reading skills could potentially transfer from the first language (L1) to the second language (L2) as shown by August (2006), in a study of adult ELL abilities in these areas. Song (2006) also demonstrated in interviews with ESL learners in college that solid literacy skills in the L1 play a role in successfully completing coursework. Huerta-Macias and Kephart (2009) discussed how an instructor helped native Spanish speakers use their language background to make sense of content in a civics class. The second theme is that the L2 can also impact the L1. Gϋrel (2004) shows the importance of maintaining L1 skills by using the language regularly. These skills could suffer if too much time is given to the L2 instead. H.D. Brown (2007) calls this “systematic forgetting” (pg. 64) and indicates that if students have a sense of major themes and deeper meaning in their studies, they are more likely to retain the knowledge they have. The third theme addresses a number of affective factors, including encouragement and motivation, which play a role in an ELL’s learning. H. D. Brown (2000) talks about how instructors can create a supportive atmosphere in the classroom and how this will encourage students to participate. Daraghmeh-Alqattawi (2009) mentions how demonstrating respect for diversity in the classroom is one way that instructors can show support. (Schalge and Soga, 2008) discuss how students who feel they are supported in their studies are more likely to stick with them. A fourth theme discusses the concept of identity and how it is connected to ESL learning (Norton, 2010). She discusses the impact of how students see themselves, their communities and their relationship to society. Chapter 3 will discuss the methodology. Narrative inquiry will be used to review the experiences of two adult ELLs in a public-library based free ESL program. This type of research looks at the lives people live, their stories, and how they are intertwined (Clandinin and Connelly, 1989; Craig, 2009). According to Lopez Pedrana (2009), the relationship between student and teacher is well suited for narrative description. The fourth chapter will discuss the data from individual interviews and a group interview. Lastly, the final chapter will discuss the implications of the study for the future.



ESL, English language learners