English is a strange language in many ways, with every rule on grammar, pronunciation and spelling probably having a number of exceptions. This can be quite a challenge for teachers of English, especially when they are teaching English as a second language, to French or German students for instance.
Where to start?
The teaching of English as a second language is generally carried out in much smaller groups than in a conventional classroom situation, which can be a real advantage. Here are a few pointers to get started with a new group.
- Establish the current level of knowledge and ability of the students. Are they complete beginners, or do they already have a smattering of English?
- Find out what particular interests or backgrounds the students have. With children especially, ask whether they have any favourite hobbies, games, football teams or books (to list just a few possibilities). These can be incorporated into lessons very easily.
- Make sure that any teaching activities are relevant to the students, appropriate for their age and level of language skills and, finally, interesting for them, as this will encourage motivation to learn quickly.
Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with a particular lesson. This could be, for example:
- Learning some specific vocabulary – not just as separate words, but in a natural context, as they would be spoken.
- Understanding some of the weird differences in pronunciation for the same groups of letters, again in a natural context, – rough, dough, thought and plough for instance – is it any wonder that English pronunciation is difficult at times!
If a specific concept leads to other lesson possibilities, then make a note and plan how to use them for future activities. Be flexible in your approach and remember that the more interesting and fun an activity is, especially with children, the more likelihood there is of the learning being retained.
Total immersion in a language
Many authorities recognise that the best way to learn another language is to have a total immersion in it, within an English speaking family for instance, in the same way that a baby learns to recognise words and language from a very early age.
One organisation, Daily English, found at http://www.dailyenglish.fr/ practises this concept by matching well-qualified native English speakers living in France with French children, usually of a similar age to those in the English family. The children stay for one or two weeks at a time and the English teaching is supported by material from Daily English for more formal sessions, whilst the other learning takes place during a range of normal family activities and outings.
Making lessons relevant and interesting
This is a vital part of teaching English as it can be a source of new vocabulary, learned in an absorbing way. If a child has a passion for horse riding, for example, then they are more likely to want to learn the English words for the different parts of the riding tack, for the horse itself and for instructions on riding and stable management. The same is true of other hobbies, such as swimming, gardening, sports or music.
This article, at https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/oct/31/effective-teaching-10-tips discusses what makes a good teacher. Whilst it refers more to the classroom teacher than the more individual approach discussed here, the points are still relevant.
Most children welcome a challenge and enjoy recognition of their achievements when they have met that challenge successfully. This is as true for learning English as for any other activities. Small, manageable steps in learning result in more rapid overall progress, with the key being for the teacher of English to adapt the learning to the individual student and to hold their interest with interesting and fun lessons.
About the author
I learned within my first few weeks of teaching English how important it was to understand what I was trying to achieve with a particular lesson. If I didn’t know that, then how could my students know what was expected of them and whether or not they had achieved it?