''You can not be a teacher in the United States today and not come across English language learners,'' said Dr. Deborah Hasson, director of the Hispanic Family Learning Institute and co-director of Toyota Programs for the National Center for Family Literacy.
For Hasson, learning languages is a family story. As the daughter of Argentine immigrants, Hasson's native language is Spanish, but every generation of her family speaks a different language, so she has always been fascinated by them.
She learned English starting in nursery school then, like many children of immigrants, lost her knowledge of Spanish until her grandparents came to visit.
As a college sophomore, she did some tutoring of English while studying in France and eventually earned a master's degree in linguistics. That is when she started teaching ESL in an English family literacy program.
''Children and adults are hungry to learn the language, and there is a strong motivation factor there,'' Hasson said. ''It's special when they understand English. Teaching in and of itself is rewarding. You are touching a life and seeing a spark of understanding – that's what we're here for.''
Hasson said there are a couple of misconceptions about English language learners and this education specialty:
- You must speak Spanish to teach English learners whose native language is Spanish. Hasson said that is not true. Educators must have the skills, strategies and activities to teach a new language but don't necessarily have to know the language itself; and
- English language learners do not want to learn English. In reality, Hasson said that the waiting lists for adult ESL classes are amazing. There are not enough ESL or bilingual teachers to keep up with demand.
It also is crucial in this global economy for native English speakers to learn other languages.
''It's important for people to be multilingual in this world,'' Hasson said. ''In Europe, South America and Africa, people are speaking multiple languages.''
If you are interested in this field, Hasson said the most important characteristic for ESL teachers is that they should have a philosophy that all children can learn. This field also is ideally suited to people who like to travel. Educators can find a job teaching English anywhere in the world.
Hasson recommends the following websites if you are thinking of pursuing a career in bilingual education or currently work as an ELL teacher:
- www.ncela.gwu.edu, the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs includes lesson plans, policy and links;
- www.daveseslcafe.com, an excellent source for lesson plans and activities;
- www.tesol.org, a global education called Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages; and
- www.nabe.org, the National Association for Bilingual Education is focused on the needs of both learners and educators.