Teaching the English language to students whose first language is not English certainly has its frustrations. English language learners may struggle with cultural barriers, comprehension of written or spoken English, or even fear of speaking English. Here are some tips for teaching English language that can apply to most ESL teaching situations.
Get to Know Your Students
Getting to know students is important for teaching any subject, but it is especially important for teaching English language learners because they are from different cultural backgrounds. It is helpful to do research on the cultural backgrounds of your students. Look especially for taboos and social norms. You do not want to speak or behave in a way that will offend your English learners.
English language learners need to be comfortable in the classroom so that they do not fear speaking up in English. Create a relaxed atmosphere. Use teaching strategies that encourage students to interact with each other and the teacher. Also, be careful not to make assumptions about what your English language learners know or about how they learn.
Vice versa, be aware that English language learners may be assuming certain things about your teaching methods or modes of assessment. In the United States most teaching encourages students to ask questions. Elizabeth Bifuh-Ambe points out that a student from Korea has learned by the Confucian method and will accept whatever the teacher says.
Know the Ability of English Language Learners
When teaching English language, match your expectations of student results to their ability. As suggested by Kathleen Vance and Dale Fitzpatrick, think about building students’ English skills like climbing a ladder one rung at a time. First build listening skills using English that is one level above them.
Teach Content-Specific English Vocabulary
An English language learner is trying to understand every word she hears. Lack of English vocabulary makes this frustrating. Teaching vocabulary is vital to student word recognition. Provide visuals and show videos with captions.
Think of how we have conversations with children. We use simpler English but at a normal pace. We use language about present situations like setting the table for dinner. We ask who and what, yes and no questions.
Provide a Structured English Language Classroom
English language learners need to know what is coming next. Note taking, written assignments and test taking are complicated by their lack of English skills. Teaching English language also involves teaching English learners strategies for doing these tasks.
Teaching how to learn before teaching concepts is vital because English language learners are hindered by their lack of prior knowledge of English and of their teachers’ methods.
Vance and Fitzpatrick suggest that teachers give English language learners mock tests and assignments. Feedback from mock tests makes the language learner familiar with English directions and classroom expectations.
In preparation for written or oral assignments, have students use graphic organizers to aid their comprehension.
Increase Prior Knowledge
English language learners need opportunities to learn English outside of the classroom. In a mainstream class, pair an English language learner with a peer coach who is a native speaker. In cooperative learning, have mixed groups. If the entire class consists of English language learners, look for peer coaches or socializing opportunities outside of the classroom.
If possible, arrange for English language students to visit classes and observe prior to being admitted to those classes.
Tell language students in advance what the next lesson topics are. Provide vocabulary and notes in advance where possible. Encourage English language learners to listen to books on tape in English. Show them how to watch television with the captions on.
Visit Websites for Additional Tips
Your best source on teaching English language is always others who are teaching English language. Go to websites like onestopenglish or UsingEnglish. com for more tips. You can avoid most of the frustrations of teaching English language by following these tips and seeking support from other teachers.
- Bifuh-Ambe, Elizabeth. “Literacy Skills Acquisition and Use: A Study of an English Language Learner in a U.S. University Context.”
- Vance, Kathleen and Dale Fitzpatrick. “Teaching Tips and Assignment Ideas for ESL Students.”