English Innovations

The most significant barrier facing millions of adult immigrants and refugees is learning English Limited English proficiency is an obstacle to fully integrating into life in the U.S.— getting a good job, having educational options, helping your children succeed in school, and participating in civic life. Alongside English language proficiency, digital literacy is also becoming increasingly necessary for success in our technologically advancing society.

  • There are over 9 million adults in the U.S. who are considered linguistically isolated
  • Low-income immigrants are much less likely to have access to technology
  • Limited-English proficient adults make up 10% of the U.S. population but 39% of all low-skilled workers
  • A mere 3-5% of adults with limited English skills are accessing English as a Second Language (ESL) services

Formal systems of language instruction show only modest success in providing ways for adult immigrants to learn English, as demonstrated by weak retention rates and slow learning gains by students. Adult learners typically have jobs and families, and they need flexible learning time.

English Innovations® fills gaps left by the formal ESL system – a system that is not accessible to many immigrant and refugee populations, including: adults with a lower level of education from their home country, migrant workers who need a flexible schedule, permanent residents who lack the language skills to pass the citizenship test, and parents of school-aged children who need increased confidence to communicate with their child’s teachers.

English Innovations provides a contextualized curriculum and integrates technology to address the real-life needs and goals of participants. The social learning model combines a collaborative, supportive classroom environment with online tools that enable self-paced learning outside of the classroom. Our successful model incorporates three key components: English language acquisition, digital literacy and community engagement.

English Innovations: A Unique & Powerful Model

English Innovations is an educational model that facilitates inclusive, social learning for immigrant adults who would otherwise not be accessing ESL programs. The model is comprised of three core components: English Language Acquisition, Digital Literacy Instruction, and Community Engagement. Classes are delivered by community-based host organizations in locations that are accessible to hard-to-reach populations.

The model features blended instruction which means more flexible learning for participants. Research shows that it takes an average of 100 hours for an adult learner to move up one language level. English Innovations participants complete 100 hours over the course of 12 weeks, with 74 hours of face-to-face learning in the classroom and 26 hours outside of class. Self-paced learning is facilitated through loaned tablets with internet access for each participant.

English Innovations seeks to advance the linguistic, civic and economic integration of immigrants and refugees in the United States. Participants are encouraged to use the program as a springboard towards attaining further education, employment, citizenship or involvement in their community.

Core Components of English Innovations

English Language Acquisition

The language instruction component of English Innovations emphasizes a natural method of language acquisition focusing on communication skills for different settings. Students practice English in pairs and small groups with volunteers and peers in a collaborative, supportive classroom environment. A contextualized curriculum explores relevant themes such as applying for jobs, civic engagement and parent involvement. Activities highlight spoken and interactive English, telling one’s story, and self-empowerment.

Digital Literacy Instruction

A technology coach helps students attain digital literacy through tablet and online learning. The coach guides the students through activities that teach them how to use a tablet and all of its corresponding applications such as web browsing, social media, blogging, and video chat. Students build digital skills for life and work through multimedia activities. The class-based portions of the program keep students motivated and immersed in language learning, while the self-paced learning promotes flexibility, allowing individuals to proceed at a pace comfortable for them whenever they have time.

Community Building

English Innovations is adaptable to the needs of each host site and allows for customization to address the interests of specific target populations. Host organizations can leverage the classes to engage and mobilize their local community in a variety of activities or campaigns. Students belong to a cohort and participate in peer-to-peer and project-based learning while having the opportunity to get involved with their local organization. Community volunteers serve as tutors in class at a 5:1 student-volunteer ratio, providing students with even more practice to use the skills they are learning with native English speakers.

Proven Success 

In 2011-12, OneAmerica piloted English Innovations with partner organizations and businesses in the Seattle area, including Best Western Plus Executive Inn, Red Lion Hotel, Renton Technical College, SeaTac Airport, Seattle Public Library, St. James ESL, South Park Information and Resource Center, Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, and Westin Hotels & Resorts. Nearly 300 students participated in the pilot with results showing:

  • Nearly 70% of post-tested students achieved significant language learning gains, with nearly 60% of students completing an entire language learning level in 12 weeks (compared to 41% completion rate in traditional ESL courses).
  • Students achieved rapid gains not only in English and technology skills, but also demonstrated increased confidence, competence and community participation.
  • The program was field tested and success demonstrated that the model can easily be integrated into workplaces, public libraries, community colleges and nonprofit organizations.

In 2014-16, OneAmerica worked with a technology partner, Learning Games Network, to integrate Xenos – an online English learning game – into the English Innovations curriculum. LGN had piloted Xenos in 2013 and found that half of participants made gains in their English language skills over 12 weeks that were equivalent to those from traditional methods over a year. OneAmerica and LGN worked with host site organizations in the National Partnership for New Americans network to implement the integrated model. Over 1,000 individuals were served across host sites including CASA de Maryland, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Michigan United, Promise Arizona, and Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

From both the local and national pilots, we learned that English Innovations can produce tangible results for low-wage immigrant workers and their families, the businesses that employ these workers, and the community-based organizations that are connected to immigrant and refugee populations. The strength of this program lies in its adaptability to different learning contexts. The use of technology enables students to learn on their own terms, and the program’s unique design encourages students to increase their English proficiency while simultaneously developing the digital literacy skills necessary to navigate and utilize online resources.