Many adults face their language and literacy situation as a fait accompli. There is no need for this to be true! Most adults are absolutely able to acquire literacy, both for their own success and for the success of their children and other family and community members. It is important that the correct approach be taken in teaching an adult, addressing the student’s background and difficulties.

Print literacy can be defined as the ability to understand, communicate persuasively and effectively, being able to seek pertinent information, critically think in as evidenced by information curation, produce and engage in the written word, modalities and texts and through this hone speaking and listening literacy, interpersonal skills and critical thinking skills.

Who are the English Language Learners (ELLs), English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) and English as a Second Language (ESL) students and why do they lack print literacy?

Researchers break down this population into three groups:

  • Pre-Literate people come from a culture and language without print literacy, or one in which language is just beginning to be written and is not widely available. These students are not print literate in any language.
  • Semi-Literate people understand that print carries meaning, but they are unable to decode or encode print themselves. This may happen when a person’s formal schooling was interrupted for whatever reason, such that the student may not have been in school long enough to master basic skills. This group may include learners who were in the other categories at an earlier time.
  • Non-Literate people come from a culture and language with print literacy, but who have not yet, themselves, become print literate.

Literacy has a tremendous effect on language processing and cognitive skills. Literacy affects many areas, including visual spatial skills, visual motor skills, visual processing and visual perception.

Teaching an adult without print literacy skills gives both the learner and the educator immense rewards and is truly life changing for all parties involved.

Professional development for teachers is vital in understanding and thereby in helping these populations to succeed in learning and in their future endeavors. Similar to other teaching environments with any type of students, one must learn the art of engaging the students in oral skills, have sensitivity to the learners and develop specific strategies for success. Specific to this field, the educator must also spend time acquiring at least basic knowledge of the cultural history of the student, as well as varying angles to expand emergent literacy skills.


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