The Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County – Karolina Gombos

Karolina Gombos, Adult Educator


The Importance of Functional Literacy for English Language Learners through Key Vocabulary Development


Karolina teaches lower intermediate adult learners at The Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County. When understanding language learning, the levels of language proficiency are dynamic, which means that they change as students grow and learn. These levels are reflected in the Council’s usage of the Canadian Language Benchmarks. TESOL also provides descriptors of the levels of language proficiency that accounts for the changes that take place are organized into five levels: starting, emerging, developing, expanding, and bridging (Herrell & Jordan, 2019). Karolina teaches students who are typically in the emerging stages of learning. When Karolina has students that are more fluent than others, or moving through the stages of learning more quickly, she will ask them more questions than others in order to differentiate or tailor the teaching to their current level of their learning.

“Collecting” words (Herrell & Jordan, 2001) is a strategy for helping learners develop better speaking and writing vocabularies. The development of an extensive vocabulary, and an understanding of word meanings, is ­essential to successful verbal interaction. The following documents showcase language learning with adult learners where they are connecting to the topic of “family” by learning and understanding new vocabulary using very simple sentences in the forms of writing, listening, and speaking. The first document has adult learners listen to a question to comprehend each family relationship with a prompt to choose an answer from three possible options.

The next document has adult learners write the correct family relationship for each expression, increasing the difficulty by forcing learners to use the memory of their newly learned vocabulary.

The final document has adult learners share information about their own family by responding orally to the following prompts. Later, these adult learners will bring in artifacts that represent aspects of their families that they will talk about with their peers. Karolina every day will ask them impromptu questions about their families to encourage practicing dialogue on this chosen topic. If there is a key vocabulary word the adult learners are unlikely to be familiar with, Karolina will quickly use Google Translate to translate the word into the 6-8 native tongue languages of the learners in her class to ensure everyone is understanding. 

These three documents show the progression of learners gradually increasing their language learning abilities on a certain topic by purposefully intersecting all dimensions of literacy through reading, writing, speaking, viewing, and representing. Each mode works in tandem with one another. Combining modes of literacy helps contribute to these adult learners building greater skill competencies and their own sense of confidence in expressing themselves in the target language, which in this case is English.

This type of language learning progression can be seen in different teaching unit examples. For instance, Karolina teaches her adult language learners about reading store receipts. After learners acquire new vocabulary, these three documents below, along with their instructions, show the progression of learning new words, and then applying these new words to comprehend information. The first document has learners follow various prompts when reading a receipt. Learners are given straightforward questions as well as multiple choice and true and false. Thus, even though learners still may not be strong in writing in English, through the variety of types of responses, the learners can share their comprehension nevertheless. The second and third document are much more challenging, requiring learners to reproduce and comprehend instructions. Moreover, the choice of focusing on how to read and understand a receipt is an important aspect of functional literacy that will serve adult learners in managing their everyday lives.

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