1 Purpose of the Guide

We have developed this guide to provide you:

  • the perspective of people learning a new language
  • identification of skills that you already have
  • conversation starters for your first meeting
  • concise approaches that work
  • ways to build your confidence and the confidence of the adult learners
  • approaches to avoid
  • links to websites that provide more detailed information, including actual lesson plans and materials

This guide does not provide:

  • detailed theory and skills required by teachers teaching English to adults in programs such as English as a Second Language (ESL), English as a Foreign Language (EFL), English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and others.

Adults with limited English skills are unable to access all the health care resources that are available and could be useful to them. These adults are usually under a considerable amount of stress, such as adapting to a new country and often have limited family support and finances, which makes them vulnerable to illness. Assistance with learning about nutritious foods, exercise, recognizing signs of illness, accessing the health care system, and dealing with stress are especially needed.

Adults learning English may be from poorer countries that only provide limited medical care. The people from those countries do not know about or expect support in learning about healthy living practices. By being involved in classes for adults learning English, student nurses can assist the adults in learning about health promotion to keep themselves and their families healthy while learning English. In return, student nurses gain experience in engaging the adults in conversations about health and using the nursing process in a community environment. This means that both the adult learners and nursing students gain in their knowledge of healthy living and effective ways of working together to benefit the health of the community.

Effective communication is a basic necessity for health promotion. This applies to adults learning English as well as people who have limited understanding of spoken and written language, termed low literacy. The Canadian Public Health Association provides statistics on their Plain Language website that showed that 49% of Canadians had low literacy skills in 2012 (https://www.cpha.ca/plain-language-service). The Association promotes plain language to increase literacy, especially health literacy which is defined as “the ability to access, understand and act on information for health.” This guide is consistent with the plain language approach, especially the section titled ‘Building on your Communication Skills’.

This guide is organized in three parts to:

  1. Prepare you with sufficient information to feel informed and relaxed when you work in an environment with adults learning English
  2. Initiate a working relationship with the teacher and learners
  3. Engage adult learners in discussions on health promotion using tips on good communication and what to avoid


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