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Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Teacher teaching English as a Foreign Language
Teacher teaching English as a Foreign Language

When teaching English as a Foreign Language, you should always remember that you’re teaching students for whom English is not their first language. They’re probably not interested in becoming scholars of Shakespeare and most likely, at least initially, just want to be able to order a meal in a restaurant. For many of these students English could very well be their third or fourth language. I remember editing a Nigerian post-grad university student’s Master’s thesis – and English was his fifth language! So yes, some students may be needing to learn English in order to attend university or college, but many will really just want to be able to learn conversational English so that they can make themselves understood reasonably well.

When teaching English as a Foreign Language to beginners, you’ll probably find that most students have had at least some contact with the language through television, movies or the Internet. It is not often that a teacher comes across absolute beginners, unless they’re very young children and their family speaks no English. These youngsters have nothing, or very little, to build on, and their teacher must begin teaching the language virtually from scratch.

So, in this situation, it is best to assume no knowledge of the language at all, and start with the basics. This should be done in a fun and interactive way, allowing the student’s time to gain their confidence.

Preparation and Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Good planning and preparation is essential for all lessons, but especially the first lesson with a new group of students. Take time to allow the students to feel relaxed in their new environment, making sure that you encourage everyone to participate, but taking it slowly with the obviously shy students.

Having a suitably laid-out classroom, with video and screen facilities, and a large board for writing, is important. In this regard, seating arrangements should be carefully worked out so that you’re visible to all students. Classroom arrangements and seating plans are always important, but especially so with young children.

Prepare packs of word cards that are to be handed out and can quickly be held up for all to see. These include words such as ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, and different colours, pictures of common objects (perhaps including some animals), letters of the alphabet and numbers from 1 to 10.

Regarding the lesson, the teacher should have a carefully worked-out lesson plan and a clear purpose – and don’t forget a contingency plan in case things go wrong.

Work out appropriate and effective learning strategies. There are several different learning techniques, but the best is probably the Direct Method, which places emphasis on students’ language and participation – rather than grammar – with certain aspects of the Communicative Language Teaching method. The latter technique involves students’ communicating functions such as expressing feelings, making a request, declining an offer or describing something.

English as a Foreign Language – First Lessons

When the first class begins, start with the basics – a simple greeting combined with gestures, smiles, and exaggerated body language including nods or shakes of the head.   One could start with something like ‘Hello, I am John’ (said with much smiling, gesturing and pointing.) ‘What is your name?’ Use your imagination and try to be inventive.

That’s a good beginning, and you can carry on from there. In future lessons you can work through the alphabet, colours and numbers from 1 to 10. As they progress, proceed simply, with nouns (man, woman, car, tree etc.) then move on to simple verbs (run, walk, jump, swim).

Use gestures and pictures to aid understanding.  Then carry on with simple phrases (‘Hello, how are you? I am from … etc.’). Slowly work up to longer sentences, and easy sentence constructions. Depending on what progress you are making, you can slowly build up to tenses. Unfortunately, English has no fewer than twelve of them!

In time you will be able to work up to adjectives, articles and punctuation. Then you can attempt to correct errors in pronunciation, especially difficult sounds, and their spelling – never an easy task!

There is no reason why a classroom shouldn’t be a place where the students not only learn but also have fun. As a teacher you should try to maintain a sense of humour and let the students have fun when learning – but be firm and always remember that you are the boss. If you get the process right, you will have many students lining up to be taught English as a Foreign Language – which, by the way, is shortened to TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language or ESL (English as a second Language).

If you would like to do a course teaching English as a Foreign Language then a  TEFL course is the way to go.


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