how we teach — the Language Experience Approach

The Language Experience Approach (LEA) used by our tutors is a textbook-free method well suited to one-on-one teaching relationships. LEA is a whole language approach that promotes reading and writing through the use of personal experience and oral language. The method uses a learner's existing language skills and prior experiences to create an individualized teaching text. As they work with these texts, learners relate to their tutors verbally and in their own words. They are taught grammar, spelling, pronunciation, and vocabulary from that text—a text whose content and meaning they already understand because it comes from their own life.

The LEA method allows tutors to adjust their teaching to their learners' individual needs. The learner who co-owns a small business with her husband, for example, and is in charge of billing and payroll, learns appropriate language that applies directly to her needs as a businesswoman. Her vocabulary lists would include words like database and Quicken or to administrative terms like federal tax, FICA, and deduction. Similarly, the father who juggles two jobs while supporting his family, and whose wife also works, learns words and concepts like childcare, aftercare, and Headstart. Learners are immediately taught the language skills that apply to their ongoing individual needs, and in the order that their needs arise.

In short, by using the Language Experience Approach, and by training tutors to use their learners' narratives as teaching texts, we are able to meet each learner's requirements specifically and continually. We also avoid having to purchase expensive textbooks that all too often go quickly out of date, are sometimes inappropriate culturally, and which view English as an academic skill rather than a communicative skill for daily use.

LEA is a highly oral approach to language learning. The complexity of what is taught is determined by what a learner is able to express verbally. Learner and tutor talk regularly about what is going on in the learner’s life; these experiences are captured by a transcript which becomes the teaching text. If a learner’s speech reveals a grammar problem, the text captures it and the tutor teaches accordingly.

Finally, LEA avoids one of the larger problems in English as a second language textbook publishing. The stories textbooks include often are out of date or irrelevant, are too focused on academic mastery, or are written in English that is so simplified that it is inappropriate for an adult who has had the wherewithal, intelligence, and drive to settle in a new country.