ERIC Identifier: ED321551
Publication Date: 1990-06-00
Author: Buchanan, Keith
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington
Vocational English-as-a-Second-Language Programs. ERIC
There are an estimated 30 million people in the United States with native
languages other than English. This group includes refugees, migrants, immigrants,
permanent residents, and citizens. Within this group are a number of limited-English-proficient
(LEP) teenagers and adults that represent many different native cultures,
economic and social backgrounds, and levels of education and literacy.
These individuals, whether seeking a first American job or looking for
better employment, encounter a job market that is changing drastically
in the kinds of jobs it can offer to individuals with insufficient English
skills. For example, agriculture once hired large numbers of LEP workers,
but now employs only one-fourth as many people as it did twenty years ago
The new job market, offering employment, for example, in hotels, hospitals,
construction, or manufacturing, welcomes workers with specific occupational
skills, and, more importantly, the ability to interact in specialized forms
of English. As a result, a growing number of limited English proficient
individuals are seeking courses in Vocational English as a Second Language
(VESL) that combine language education with instruction in job-specific
skills. For these individuals, studying a second language is a tool for
advancement; it is not for enjoyment, it's a payoff (Crandall, 1985).
VESL refers to the English needed to interact with English-speaking
customers or employees, to fill out job applications, and to use manuals
or catalogues. The goal of VESL is to teach the language required for successful
participation in training programs and for job performance. Occupational
language demands are emphasized, such as training clerical workers to order
supplies or to take phone messages, and occupational contexts are used
to teach the English needed for employment or for successful participation
in vocational classes.
It is necessary that participants receive instruction on the appropriate
strategies or styles for interacting with employers, co-workers, and customers.
VESL classes should teach students how to initiate conversation, and how
and when to interrupt others, respond to others, and end a conversation.
Teaching students to ask for clarification is essential and should be emphasized
early on in a VESL course. A VESL class must enable the learner to acquire
strategies to get more information, to clarify misunderstood information,
or to be able to ask for repetition without losing understood names, terms,
numbers, or directions.
VESL programs can be located in vocational-technical schools, vocational
classrooms, or at a worksite. The aim of these programs is to help LEP
individuals find and keep skilled, semi-skilled, paraprofessional, or technical
VESL PROGRAM MODELS
Several different program models have evolved in VESL to meet the different
skills, educational levels, English proficiency levels, and vocational
goals of students. The length of time spent in English classes, the degree
of integration of language and vocational training, and the relationship
between the ESL instructor and the vocational instructor all vary, depending
on the type of program (From the Classroom to the Workplace: Teaching ESL
to Adults, 1983). Kremer (Kremer, 1984) considers these four approaches:
"The ESL Approach" highlights language training within an employment
and vocational context. Classes include: (1) general ESL classes with employment-related
concepts that emphasize language competencies in job skills such as those
listed in CASAS Life Skills Competencies List; (2) general VESL classes
that teach workplace communicative skills, such as responding to complaints
and requests and seeking clarification, and (3) occupation-specific classes
that instruct students in the language competencies needed for a particular
"The Vocational Approach" includes programs that take place in a vocational
setting. These programs provide training in specific occupations and in
language skills related to the particular occupation. Specialized ESL and
cross-cultural training are also provided to students entering vocations
such as autobody repair, air conditioning/heating, and healthcare.
"The Work Experience Approach" combines workplace experience--in public
or private sectors--with classwork in VESL and sometimes with vocational
skills training. Work experience programs demand extensive time commitments
for the two components, but provide support during the transition from
training to employment. Students gain local job experience and a reference
in order to break the cycle of no experience/no job. Prospective employers
can benefit by knowing trainees' work abilities, and by learning about
the cultural backgrounds of their future employees before hiring them.
"The Workplace Approach" focuses on programs that take place at a particular
job site, stressing language skills related to specific job areas. Emphasis
is placed on job functions, occupational knowledge, career development,
and organizational culture. The classes may be offered by companies, community
colleges, adult education programs, and trade unions.
BILINGUAL VOCATIONAL TRAINING PROGRAMS
Another important VESL training model that should be mentioned is the
Bilingual Vocational Training (BVT) model. BVT programs are appropriate
especially in communities with a population of LEP workers who share a
common native language. The native language is used in training with ESL
or VESL included. The intent of BVT programs is to speed the access to
full employment of those LEP individuals who are unemployed or not fully
employed. The federal government offers financial support to BVT programs
with funds from the following agencies: The Department of Labor under the
Job Training Partnership Act; the Department of Education's programs for
bilingual, migrant, and vocational education; and the Office of Refugee
Resettlement. Several programs are supported by private businesses.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR DESIGNING A SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM
Several considerations are important to the development and implementation
of a successful VESL program, including finances; administration, staff,
and staff development; curriculum development; needs assessment; post program
support services; and cross-cultural training.
"Finances." Where will the funding come from? The Job Training Partnership
Act, the Refugee Act, or other general local school district allocations
are commonly used resources for setting up programs throughout the country.
Worksite programs are funded by individual businesses for training their
own limited-English-proficient employees. A consortium of workplaces, such
as a group of hospitals training healthcare workers, may also pay for their
own training programs for employees.
"Administration and Staff Development." VESL program administrators
ensure the cooperation of groups that may have never worked together before,
such as businesses, counselors, and ESL instructors. The orientation of
a VESL program staff should include: training ESL/VESL teachers to work
with vocational education and employment issues; training vocational instructors
to work with LEP students; and preparing counselors and teachers to help
students with job-related matters, including job placement.
"Curriculum Development." For a general VESL program, the staff identifies
materials and recommends how these materials can be adapted to meet the
language needs of LEP adults. This adaptation may involve simplification
of the language or adding or deleting topics (Clevesy & Kremer, 1988).
For specific workplace programs, a whole new curriculum may need to be
written. The developers of a curriculum analyze work tasks and communicative
goals in order to break them into discrete units for which language and
culture can be taught.
"Needs Assessment." An important first step of any VESL program is to
assess the specific educational and vocational needs of students. The language
and educational abilities, cultural backgrounds, and vocational goals of
students should be determined prior to their participation in a program.
This kind of assessment will help establish reasonable training goals.
The needs of the target population service providers, community agencies,
employers, and the local job market should also be evaluated before establishing
a VESL program to determine what present and future employment opportunities
exist and what kind of training should be offered. Any needs assessment
will be an ongoing process as student, community, and job market needs
are continually changing (Kremer, 1984).
"Support Services." A successful VESL program should provide job counseling,
job placement, vocational training and cross-cultural training.
"Cross-Cultural Training." LEP workers with poor language skills may
resort to inappropriate language or gestures on the job in an effort to
make themselves understood. Even workers possessing better language skills
may relate to a supervisor in a manner appropriate in their native culture,
but considered impolite or too deferential in an American workplace. An
employer's awareness of the cultural differences in such a case may help
change a potentially bad experience into a learning experience for the
worker. The supervisor can instruct the worker on what kind of behavior
is appropriate. Proxemics, greeting behavior, and non-verbal communication
strategies should also be addressed.
A KEY TO SUCCESS: COOPERATION
Content-based ESL curricula in math, science, and social studies are
usually developed through cooperation between ESL staff and content area
specialists. In VESL programs, this effort includes more levels of cooperation.
Businesses and educators must work together at every phase, from the first
needs assessment to the ultimate goal of full employment for the LEP trainee.
VESL staff members must work to understand each others' responsibilities:
Vocational teachers gain an understanding of the challenges faced by nonnative
students and their teachers, and ESL teachers gain an appreciation of the
tasks involved in learning a specific vocation. Together, vocational and
ESL teachers can write a curriculum that consists of appropriate training
goals, including job skills and job language. Finally, counselors and teachers
can assist businesses by placing LEP trainees in suitable jobs and helping
with their adjustment to the new worksite.
"CASAS life skills competencies list." San Diego, CA: Comprehensive
Adult Student Assessment System.
Clevesy, R., & Kremer, N. (1988). "VESL resources: A guide to instructional
materials 1988." Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles Community College District,
Office of Occupational and Technical Education.
Crandall, J. (1985). "Directions in vocational education for limited-English-proficient
students and adults. Occasional Paper No. 109." Columbus, OH: Ohio State
University. (ED 264 436)
Friedenburg, J. (1987). "The condition of vocational education for limited-English-proficient
persons in selected areas of the United States." Columbus, Oh: Ohio State
University. National Center for Research in Vocational Education. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 284 974)
"From the classroom to the workplace: Teaching ESL to adults." (1983).
Center for Applied Linguistics. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.
ED 227 694)
Kremer, N., (Ed.). (1984). "Approaches to employment related training
for adults who are limited-English-proficient (ERTA-LEP)." Sacramento,
CA: California State Dept. of Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service
No. ED 255 744)
FOR FURTHER READING
"Annotated catalog of bilingual vocational training materials." (1986).
Berkeley, CA: Americas Corp.; Miranda and Associates, Bethesda, MD. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 274 827)
Bradley, C., & Friedenburg, J. (1988). "Teaching vocational education
to LEP students." Bloomington, IL: Meridian Education Corp.
Bradley, C., Killian, P., & Friedenburg, J. "Employment training
for limited English Proficient individuals--A manual for program development."
Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Education.
National Center for Research in Vocational Education. (1987). "Evaluation
guide for bilingual vocational training." Arlington, VA: Development Associates,
Friedenburg, J., Gordon, R., & Dillman, M. (1988). "The LEP series:
Recruit LEP students for vocational programs; Conduct intake and assessment
for LEP vocational students; Adapt instruction for LEP students; Administer
vocational programs for LEP students." Columbus, OH: Ohio State University.
National Center for Research in Vocational Education.
Smith, N., (1986). "Teaching job-related English as a second language"
(rev.). Washington, DC: Office of Vocational and Adult Education. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 269 640)