Book by: Orem, Richard A
Review by:
Kris Rugsaken
Advising Center Coordinator
Ball State University

The title of this book attracted my attention because I have taught English as a second language (ESL) methodology and bilingual education as well as have worked extensively with an adult basic education program. Although I sought topics of debate and areas of disagreement more than new knowledge, I found the book to be quite impressive. It refreshed my fading experience and furnished new imagination and information.  As the title suggests, this book clarifies issues related to teaching English to non-English speaking adults.

As Orem pointed out in his first chapter (pp. 3-5), the number of adult English language learners in the United States is increasing rapidly and steadily.  These learners are here to stay and need help from a variety of fronts if they are to contribute to society. Readers interested in helping this population group will find that the book details how adults learn and how they acquire another language, along with some common principles supporting effective instructions. 

Orem wrote this book from his own experience; he went from knowing little about teaching English as a second language to becoming an expert in the field. He presents several basic ideas for teaching language skills from oral to life survival skills, all from his direct experience in many teaching and learning situations. Every chapter explores different teaching methods, tools and techniques used by well-recognized ESL experts. Those not trained in linguistics will find that each chapter helps in preparation to teach ESL adult learners. Readers will learn several models and approaches for teaching literacy skills that go beyond basic understanding and speaking skills not only how to survive but also how to contribute to society. For those ready to accept a new challenge teaching English to adult learners, Orem also proposes ideas on how to organize instruction, ranging from setting objectives to the selection of appropriate teaching approaches and materials, and how to evaluate. 

A very important aspect of teaching English as a second language is how to teach cross-cultural skills.  One cannot “learn a second language effectively without also understanding the culture of those who speak the target language” (p. 78). Likewise one cannot teach effectively without understanding the learners’ culture.  Readers will have a clearer understanding of the dimensions used for presenting differences between American and non-American cultures, including Low and High Distance Index and Individualism versus Collectivism. Other cultural influences on learning behaviors are discussed.  In the last chapter, readers will learn more about state and federal policies related to English as a second language. Other policy discussions include employment and access to public education for adult ESL learners. Also discussed is the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Standards (2003) in which Standard 7 outlines employment conditions and staffing. 

As the number of immigrants from non-English speaking countries steadily increases we, as educators, must squarely face this issue. Teaching Adult English Language Learners will become an essential tool for every educator. This text is compact, easy to understand and is full of information that can be applied to situations dealing with adult English language learners. Although the text does not detail methods for teaching each language skill or cite specific problems encountered by adult English language learners, it does provide sufficient information for non-linguistically trained individuals to deal with daily concerns for this population group.

Teaching Adult English Language Learners. (2005). Book by Orem, Richard A.  Review by Kris Rugsaken. Malabar: Krieger Publishing Company. 152 pp., $23.75 (hard bound). SBN 1-57524-219-2

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