There are a variety of factors that may contribute to why ESL learners may not be functionally literate. They may come from countries where unrest, war or other factors have interrupted their learning, or where their access to education may have been restricted.
What is the difference between an adult ESL learner and an adult ESL literacy learner?
The key assumption is that ESL Literacy learners work toward the same language outcomes as literate ESL learners, but their learning does not progress as quickly because they lack transferable literacy concepts, knowledge, and strategies from their first language; they are working on both language and literacy at the same time. It is critically important to identify ESL Literacy learners at the point of entry to programs and to carefully diagnose individual strengths, weaknesses, needs, and challenges. Placement in appropriate classes is essential to their learning success. ESL Literacy learners require specialized instruction and ongoing support to address both their language and their literacy needs. These objectives are best accomplished in separate classes devoted to ESL Literacy.
Information retrieved from Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks.