Chapter 1 Why Teach ESOL Learners Maths?



Teaching maths to ESOL learners has become very attractive to those who deliver education for adults, whether in FE colleges or out in the community, as providing learners are enrolled for some form of assessment, it is funded by the government via the SFA (Skills Funding Agency). This is subject to certain criteria, such as those learners must not have passed a Level 2 or equivalent Maths qualification in the UK in the last five years, but this is unlikely to be an issue for the vast majority of ESOL learners. I have taught this subject for nearly ten years and I have not met one yet.

This website is intended to guide two groups of teachers: maths teachers who have little or no experience of ESOL learners, and ESOL teachers who have little experience of maths. It aims to help them to understand some of the difficulties learners face when dealing with the UK maths system in all its glories, including such gems as our idiosyncratic spelling system (why is there no ‘u’ in ‘forty’?), and our stubborn adherence to the metric/imperial system of measures, a system which most of the native population is equally at sea with. Not to mention our sudden insertion of nautical references, a hangover from our seafaring past, and our annoying habit of using one word in more than one way, such as hangover.

It is not the intention of this website to cover all the topics in the Adult Core Curriculum, whether you are teaching towards Functional Skills qualifications, or the new Adult qualifications which are portfolio based. I have tried to cover many of the topics that ESOL learners have particular issues with, where what happens in their first language differs from what happens in English, such as the use of commas and points in decimal numbers, or where the pronunciation of their own language differs from English (such as non pronunciation of word endings), leading to confusion and misunderstandings all round. These tend to be topics that native English speakers often have no trouble at all with, as they have used the mathematical conventions for so long they are ingrained into their very psyche. The worksheets at the back of this publication have been designed and refined over almost ten years of teaching ESOL Maths to fill in those missing bits of knowledge that are key to understanding.

The maths levels in terms of the Numeracy Core Curriculum are often not applicable here; we are dealing with the building blocks that support much of the subsequent maths work, and they can be needed by those whose levels range from below Entry 1 to Level 2 or beyond. They are also, most importantly, needed in real life.

When you are working with ESOL learners whose maths and language skills are at Entry Level the assessments are topic based, so it is possible to choose a topic in ESOL and FS maths that is the same. For instance, ‘Shopping’ appears in both exam topic banks of many exam boards. This will help your learners enormously, especially at the lower levels, as it limits the amount of vocabulary they will need to know. In the maths exams learners are allowed the use of a bilingual dictionary, but not all learners will have one. Electronic dictionaries are now allowed, but the speech function must be turned off (along with internet access of course), and some of my Chinese learners rely heavily on hearing the word rather than seeing it written.

Each year that I have taught ESOL Maths my learners have taught me something new which has added to the bank of resources which I now share with you. These are included ready for photocopying or scanning and I hope you will find them useful. If you or your learners spot a gap, please send me a copy of your resource and it might be included in the next update, suitably acknowledged of course!

Finally, I try to be very considerate to ESOL learners. They are among the bravest people I have ever met.

JMS 2013/14