Applied Linguistics Winter Conference
March 1, 2014
Strategies for Encouraging Adult ELLs
to Speak English Outside of Class
Alexandra Dylan Lowe
SUNY/Westchester Community College
Why are we here?
Do you recognize any of these
• A student who doesn’t answer the
telephone when it rings at home.
• Or who asks for Con Ed’s
Spanish-speaking customer
service representative
• Or who shops only in Brazilian
stores where they can speak
Recognize any of these?
• Or who only goes to doctors who speak
• Who wouldn’t let their children have
play dates with American children
because they are afraid to speak to the
playmates’ mothers.
• Or who uses an online book reading
service to read a bedtime story to their
children rather than read in English to
Rome wasn’t built in a day . . . . and
neither is self-directed learning
Self-directed learning:
5-step process
Step 1: Consciousness-raising on Day 1
Step 2: Advice from fluent ELL’s
Step 3: Discovering the secrets of
successful ELLs
Step 4: Making a Personal English Plan
Step 5: Success Books Logs - Tracking
implementation of the plan
Step 1: Consciousness Raising
from Day 1
The Mixer:
“How do you
practice English
outside of class?”
Debriefing . . . . What did you learn
from your classmates?
Favorite TV shows in English? Movies?
What books have you read in English?
Who do you speak English with?
The English hours add up . . . .
Our Students
Their Children
6 hours/week of ESL 30 hours/week of school
2 hours/day of cartoons on TV = 14
2 hours/day of video games = 14
Play dates = 2 hours/week
Total: 6 hrs/week
Total: 60 hours/week
The Pemex Parable
Step 2: Advice from Fluent
Non-native Speakers of English
No more TV in Spanish.
Keep the TV on in English when you are home.
You have to make a plan for yourself.
Find someone you work with and ask them to
how say this or that.
– Read in English.
– Talk to old people.
Step 2: Advice from Fluent Non-Native
Speakers of English
– Seek out English speakers and imitate
– Talk to yourself in English. Try to think
in English.
– Play your favorite DVDs over and over
again, picking up new words each time.
– Jot down new vocabulary words and
idioms. Use them right away.
Step 3: Discover the secrets of
successful adult ELLs
Step 3: Discover the secrets of
successful adult ELLs
Step 3: Discover the secrets of
successful adult ELLs
• Run away from people who speak your language.
Be in contact with as many English speakers as
possible. Ask them to correct you.
• Expose yourself to America and to American
culture. Avoid stores and other locations in the
U.S. where they speak your language.
• Watch movies and TV without Spanish subtitles.
Use English closed captions.
• Just try to speak – if necessary, use gestures.
• Try to think in English.
• Keep a pencil and a notebook with you to write
down new words and expressions.
And still more “secrets”
• Talk to somebody with modern tools, such as
Skype, Facebook, YouTube, QQ.
• Watch TV.
• Don’t hang out with Arabians.
• Carry a notebook around and write down new
vocabulary words
• Don’t to [sic] make Japanese friends
• Read newspapers
• Listen to music and try to find out the lyrics.
• Don’t be affraid [sic] of asking when you don’t
know the meaning.
Step 4: Make a Personal English Plan
March 2014
Here are 3 ways I plan to spend more time speaking English this
I plan to spend _______ minutes/hours speaking English every day.
Here are 3 ways I plan to spend more time listening to English this
I plan to spend _______ minutes/hours listening to English every day.
Edgar’s Plan
“In my job, at least one small word or a
short phrase I’ll add to every people I
receive, not only with the “Hello, how are
you?” This method will be the beginning
to a possible conversation. 20 people a
day I say hello, 3 of them answer me
back, I’ll have talked at least 3 persons
every day. And it’s only the beginning.”
Step 5: Tracking Success
Getting Ahead in English Outside of Class
Success Book
Log for the week of ____________________, 2014
Log for theWHAT
weekI of
__________________ , 2014
March 1, 2014 Asked the librarian to demonstrate how I
can download free audiobooks (“talking
books”) to my smartphone
March 2, 2014 Watched a movie in English on TV
March 3, 2014 Used my computer to practice grammar
March 4, 2014 Had lunch with a classmate to practice
speaking English
March 5, 2014 Listened to the news in English on the radio
in the car going to and from work
March 6, 2014 Watched “Criminal Mind” on TV.
Met with my conversation partner.
March 7, 2014 Listened to a “talking book” on my
Weekly Total
30 minutes
1 hour
30 minutes
1 hour
30 minutes
1 hour
1 hour
30 minutes
6 hours
Success Book World Record
45 hours in one week !!
Some of the changes students start
to make:
• They start answering the phone at home.
• One student started scheduling weekly
play dates for her son with an American
boy his age, and then would spend 2
hours talking with the boys’ mother.
• A Mexican waiter started sitting with the
American waiters at the communal meal
after work, rather than sitting with the
Mexican busboys.
And still more changes . . . .
• Seeking out English-speaking co-workers
• Talking to their cable company’s customer
service rep in English
• Talking to strangers in public settings
• Helping their children with their homework
and reading to their children in English
• Ramping up their own reading –
downloading audiobooks from the library
(Dreams of My Father, Fifty Shades of Gray,
Harry Potter)
And even more changes . . .
• Talking to the customers at their
husbands’ small business (garage,
upholstery business)
• Going out for a beer with teammates
after a soccer game instead of heading
• Joining “Meet Ups”
• Joining a student club on campus.
• Volunteering
Success builds success!
Getting Ahead in English Outside of Class: Next Steps,
Getting Ahead in English Outside of Class, Day 1,
Lowe, Alexandra Dylan, “Self-Directed Learning: Personal Speaking
Plans for Adult ELLs”(TESOL Connections, December 2012),
Lowe, Alexandra Dylan, “Self-Directed Learning Strategies for Adult
ELLs” (TESOL Connections, March 2012),
Thank you for joining me today!
Alexandra Lowe
(914) 329-0166

Strategies for encouraging adult ELLs to speak English