LESLLA: Read All About It!

I am happy to introduce the first of two posts by guest blogger Raichle Farrelly, a longtime TESOL educator and advocate who is currently assistant professor of applied linguistics at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, USA.  “Rai” has worked in multiple ESL and EFL contexts across the United States, Africa, and Europe, and focuses much of her work and advocacy on preparing teachers to be effective with adults, particularly immigrants and refugees.  In this post, she discusses LESLLA—the acronym for Low Educated Second Language and Literacy for Adults—which is becoming more commonly known as both an association and a field of study.

A growing area of expertise within TESOL is teaching English to adults with refugee and immigrant backgrounds who have had interrupted formal education (see TESOL International Association’s website for the Adult Education Interest Section and Refugee Concerns Interest Section). Sometimes, these learners are referred to as SIFE (students with interrupted formal education), but discussions and workshops about SIFE tend to focus on young learners and adolescents. For adults, the acronym that is becoming more widely used is LESLLA. But before I spell out what LESLLA stands for, I’d like to share some background information.

LESLLA is a grassroots international forum for researchers and practitioners who share an interest in literacy development and second language learning among adults with immigrant or refugee backgrounds. LESLLA emerged organically from a small gathering of professionals at a workshop in the Netherlands in 2005. Since that time, LESLLA has grown to gain the recognition of researchers and practitioners from around the world. LESLLA meets annually, and the site alternates between North America and Europe. Symposia have taken place in Canada, the United States, England, Netherlands, Finland, Belgium and Germany. This year, the 12th Annual LESLLA Symposium took place in Granada, Spain at the Universidad de Granada.

At the closing meeting of the symposium this year, all attendees were invited to participate in a very important conversation signifying a turning point for LESLLA. We have decided as a community of researchers and practitioners that it is time to take LESLLA to the next level—moving from a forum to a professional organization. This transition will involve some important steps, including drafting, voting on, and making official our mission, vision, constitution, bylaws, leadership, and perhaps most importantly—our name!

LESLLA currently stands for Low Educated Second Language and Literacy for Adults. However, at the 11th Annual Symposium in St. Augustine, Florida, USA, we had an important discussion about changing the name. The guiding argument was that describing our learners as “low educated” positions them within a deficit perspective (see an earlier TESOL blog post on Deficit Discourse and ELLs). This summer, there was a lively online discussion through the listserv about alternatives to the name. Many great ideas flowed in, including several that preserve the acronym. In Granada, there seemed to be consensus that we would like to maintain the acronym LESLLA if possible, but change the words. Presently, LESLLA has “brand recognition.” At conferences and in publications, we discuss LESLLA learners, LESLLA teachers, and the LESLLA context. One example of a name change suggestion is Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults. In the coming months, the current LESLLA community, guided by ad hoc committees, will be voting on the elements required to make LESLLA “official.” Final votes will be tallied at the 13th Annual Symposium in Portland, Oregon, USA next summer.

To read further about how to work with LESLLA learners and better prepare teachers to incorporate effective pedagogy in LESLLA contexts, see part 2 of Rai’s post, coming soon!


About Kristen Lindahl

Kristen Lindahl
Kristen Lindahl holds a PhD in linguistics with a specialization in L2 teacher education from the University of Utah. She is currently assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she teaches pre-service ESL/TESOL educators at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Dr. Lindahl has taught K–12 and college ESL, and actively pursues consulting and coaching teachers of English learners in public and English language schools around the globe.
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