Training for English as a Second Language Audiences

Last July, I handed over the keys (so to speak) of a brand new, 8-day training curriculum to a set of trainers in India.  I was confident the training program was well-designed.  But I hadn’t actually seen it in action until this week.

During the first hour, I began to grow concerned.  The facilitator was following the instructions just fine, but there wasn’t much audience participation.  Doubts about the design began to creep into my head.  Was the content not relevant?  Were the lessons not interesting?

Looking over the audience, we had attendees from India, Ethiopia and Nepal – not a single native English speaker among them.  I started to wonder if they just didn’t understand what the facilitator was talking about.

Then came an activity in which they were asked to put some concepts in order.  They did it fairly easily.

Next was a short role play.  They seemed to be applying the concepts that had been taught just fine.

If this was a more traditional lecture, the truth is they would not have learned anything.  The only way I could see if the training program was making any sense to these English as a Second (or Third) Language learners was by seeing them do the activities.

Good instructional design and incorporating sound adult learning principles is key to creating engaging learning experiences for audiences of native speakers.  But when it comes to working with learners from a variety of backgrounds and overcoming language barriers, then building opportunities for learn-by-doing and challenging learners to apply what they’ve learned is a must.

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