Category Archives: Economy

Boston Companies: Paying Employees to Learn English

“During most of his work week, Cesar Orantes dons a hair net, rubber gloves, and a white apron flecked with fish scales for his job in quality assurance at Stavis Seafoods, a wholesaler in Boston’s Seaport District. But for four hours each week, the Guatemalan native removes his protective gear, gathers with several of his co-workers in the company’s break room, and turns his attention to something very different: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other fundamentals of English.” S. Pfeiffer, The Boston Globe

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Blount Team in Fall River, MA

Excerpt: Get paid to learn English? Some companies offer immigrant workers that very perk By Sacha  Pfeiffer Boston Globe

“The classes are free and held during the workday, and Orantes is paid his regular wage while sitting in the makeshift classroom. Stavis even gives him and his colleagues a bonus if they attend a certain number of classes. As Orantes improves his English language skills, he is also boosting his workplace performance, since the better he can communicate with customers and colleagues, the more effectively he can do his job.

Faced with a labor shortage in the robust Massachusetts economy — the state’s unemployment rate of 2.9 percent is the country’s second-lowest, along with North Dakota — employers are increasingly relying on immigrant workers, and a growing number of businesses are devoting resources to on-the-job English language instruction.

image- Cambridge English

At least 35 Massachusetts companies provide free English classes, according to a Globe tally. The training lets them retain promising employees, promote from within, and identify workers whose potential was previously hidden behind a language barrier.

Employers offering this benefit, which is often partially paid for by state grants, range from hospitals to manufacturing firms to food service companies. Some even schedule pre-dawn courses to accommodate overnight workers, who finish their shifts with an English class before clocking out for the day at 7 or 8 a.m.

‘If we hire somebody who doesn’t cut up the right seafood for an order because they can’t read the order form, that’s not good customer service,’  said Stuart Altman, a co-owner of Stavis Seafoods, which says at least 20 percent of its 133-person workforce are immigrants, mostly Latino and Asian. Currently, 18 of them are enrolled in the company’s English class.

By offering English instruction, errors are reduced, Altman said, and ‘this gives us an opportunity to train the next generation of middle managers, and puts them in a position to succeed the best they can.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Many companies offer immigrant workers perks.
  2. Some places have makeshift classrooms.
  3. Workers can communicate with customers and colleagues.
  4. Massachusetts is faced with a labor shortage.
  5. Employers are increasingly relying on immigrant workers.
  6. Potential was previously hidden behind a language barrier.
  7. Many people are enrolled in the company’s English class.
  8. Many nonprofit organizations provide instructors.
  9. Requests for grant funding for English instruction is in demand.
  10. There is an economic benefit for employers.

Reading Comprehension

Fill-ins

Directions: The following sentences are from the article. Choose the correct word for each blank space from the word list  or make up your own words.

The YMCA of ___Boston has ___English___at the Langham Hotel and at ___small businesses in Chelsea. Interest in English training is so ___that JVS has tripled the ___of classes it offers in ___years, from nine in 2009 to 27 this year, according to___development director Mandy Townsend.

WORD LIST: training, number, business, provided, Greater, recent,  robust, numerous,

Grammar Focus

Using Adjectives  to describe pictures    

Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article  and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.

For a review of Adjectives visit ESL Voices Grammar

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them  discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following  topics.

  1. “If employees aren’t comfortable speaking up and can’t make themselves understood, that prevents them from moving up and prevents the company from taking advantage of their expertise.”
  2. “Employees who are competent in English aren’t just better communicators; they also better understand workplace safety rules, and English proficiency makes them more digitally adept, since hospital and hotel workers who clean rooms, for example, must sometimes chart their progress on hand-held devices that require basic English literacy.”
  3. “…the classes [are] a huge investment from the company’s standpoint . . . because while they’re in class that’s a significant loss in productivity, so we end up having to pay overtime for other people to produce the work we need to produce.But offering classes during the workday increases attendance, he said, since some employees have second jobs and family responsibilities that prevent them from taking courses before or after work.”

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.

ANSWER KEY

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