English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)


When designing materials for use by students for whom English is a second or other language, there are additional points to keep in mind.

  • What are the students’ most relevant or immediate ESOL needs?
  • What reading, writing and spoken English communication do they do now, and for what purpose?
  • What would ESOL learners like to be able to do more effectively?
  • Consider levels of literacy and language.
  • Use ‘realia’– real life materials from students’ everyday lives. These help make the language understandable and connect classes to the real world.
  • Include themes and exercises relevant to the students’ culture. Develop materials that reflect positively the students’ ethnic groups, customs and lifestyles.
  • Develop materials that involve a high level of learner participation and communication.
  • Materials should encourage the development of transferable skills.
  • Audio material should reflect different accents and varieties of English as spoken in Ireland. Make your own by recording radio programmes, or by recording adult literacy students and tutors talking about different subjects.


Numeracy and ESOL

It’s important to ensure there is a shared understanding of the meaning of words and symbols used in numeracy.

Mathematical concepts are common to many languages and cultures, but they are learned and expressed through particular languages. For example, whereas ‘3 + 3 = 6’ may be widely understood, the English expression ‘three plus three equals six’ is not. Many words used in maths are borrowed from everyday language. These words tend to be ambiguous: they have one meaning in mathematics and another meaning in everyday language. Examples include the words ‘mean’, ‘natural’, ‘power’, ‘difference’ and ‘take away’.


  • Different countries have different conventions for writing mathematics. There are conventions around the way we use symbols. For example, in Ireland the sum ‘seven multiplied by four’ is symbolisedas 7 x 4. In other countries the same sum would be written as 7.4.
  • The same or similar words may have different meanings in different countries. For example, the American ‘ton’ weight is a different unit of measurement to the European ‘metric tonne’.
  • Languages also differ in how they write numbers greater than a thousand and in how they write decimals. The number ‘twenty thousand five hundred and sixty’ would be written as 20,560 in Ireland but as 20.560 in most non-English speaking countries.
  • Although in Ireland ‘nine point four’ is written as 9.4, in many countries the decimal point is replaced by a comma: 9,4.
  • Another common difference is the method of writing long division. For example, if 14 people are sharing a restaurant bill of €62.60 equally there are a number of ways to write the division:




Materials for ESOL Tutors

We’ve developed a pack of materials for ESOL tutors called: The Big Picture.

  • The materials range in level, from beginners through to exercises for higher-level learners.
  • The emphasis is on task-based learning and speaking, each lesson is based on everyday life situations.

Disclaimer: These materials were created in 2005, some of the content may be out dated.

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