Sunday, November 15, 2015

Supporting English Language Learners on License Exams

As immigrants flood into the United States, we have a responsibility to provide them with opportunities. It's what we do in the Land of Milk and Honey.


One of the problems I'm seeing in the mining industry has more to do with the language barrier than knowledge and skills. That's why I was recently hired to spend some time working with one of my client's most talented hoisting engineers.

Here's what we did.

We started off with some pre-assessment and reading activities. It was through identification of trouble words that we found Google Translate and Images to be helpful tools. 

Google Translate

Finding the right word can be tough. Although bilingual dictionaries are very useful, using Google Translate and thinking critically about the results can increase the benefit of translation. But these are skills that students still need to learn under the guidance of a good teacher because, as we know, literal translations can be problematic.



The student was preparing for his fourth attempt at an engineering license exam. When we went through some of the content, he understood the concepts very well. Reading for understanding was his struggle.

Here's our process that ultimately helped him to move beyond his affective filter – the point at which a language learner is no longer comfortable taking risks.

  1. Select a chunk of content for the learner to analyze for troubling or unfamiliar words (any words, not just content-related), and underline or otherwise mark them for study.
  2. The learner then writes a prediction for what he thinks each word means.
  3. Use Google Translate to look up the words and discuss the different possibilities in the primary language. This is an opportunity for the student to teach the teacher, which is critical for building a healthy atmosphere for learning. This conversation should be misty English, of course.
  4. Prompt the learner to use context clues from the selected chunk to determine the meaning of the English word.
Most discussions will lead to an understanding of the word. For the words that are really tough or unfamiliar, incorporate Google Images.

Google Images
Maybe the learner is close to understanding the context of a word and is still unsure. Teach them to routinely look up the word on google Images to make a visual connection with the context they may already understand. 


Using Google Images like this is a great way to move toward not needing to translate for understanding.

More Tools
Consider other tools that support ELLs. Perhaps it's an extension or a tool within an app that makes learning content in English more accessible.

Chrome extension Speak It!
http://youtu.be/GFj2XdZYrv8

Quizlet reads it to you and allows teachers to record their voice for each card. Students like hearing their teacher's voice.

Google Docs and the ability for live commenting.

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