Teaching Tips from a Foreign Teacher of English

Teaching a language that was once foreign to you is an interesting experience. The fact that you once had to learn the language yourself makes it easier to empathise with your students. It also means you have a good idea of what might cause students difficulties, so I came up with some teaching tips from this perspective.

English outside of the Classroom

Every person who signs up for an English course wants to improve their English. An obvious but nonetheless very important teaching tip is this: encourage your students to not limit their education to the classroom. Urge them to practice and engage with English as much as possible outside of the classroom too. Use your lessons to give your students the tools to continue with their learning outside of the classroom. Making your lessons relevant to real life will keep your students keen on English.

What helped me immensely was making some English friends. At first, we communicated mainly by wild hand gestures, but eventually, my English improved enough for us to have proper conversations. Being in an English-speaking country offers endless opportunities to practice the language, but thanks to technological advancement students in countries outside of the Anglosphere can also surround themselves with English.

If your students need suggestions for out-of-classroom English activities you could suggest reading books, newspapers, or online articles in English. Wikipedia even has a special Simple English version aimed at the learners of English. To practice their listening skills, advise students to watch films or TV programmes in English, to subscribe to English videos on the internet, to listen to free podcasts or BBC World radio broadcasts. Encourage your students to practice speaking English with other students outside of the classroom or to find a language exchange partner skilled in English. The more acquainted and experienced your students get with English the more confident they will feel about using the language.

Accents and Pronunciation

Another teaching tip is to embrace the variety of accents and make your students understand that good pronunciation is about being easily understood by others and not about completely getting rid of their accents. When I first signed up for the CELTA course I was quite concerned that I shouldn’t be teaching people how to pronounce words in English, because even after living in the United Kingdom since I was 10, the Eastern European intonation lingered in my speech. During the CELTA course, I came across the idea of World English, also known as international English, where English is seen as a global communication tool. Your students are going to come across and will have to interact with people from different parts of the world and the way these people speak English will not sound the same. It’s important for students to get familiarised with a wide variety of spoken English early on, in preparation for the world out there, so if you don’t sound like a BBC presenter, don’t despair.

There are many different resources and books out there to help you teach pronunciation. For some games, you can use in the classroom to teach pronunciation, check out this book.

Phrasal Verbs

You will inevitably find that your students will have difficulties with phrasal verbs. When broken down into individual words the meaning of a phrasal verb is often far from clear. Learning individual words won’t help. So what teaching tip can I offer?

If your students hear and come across specific phrasal verbs enough times they will eventually remember them, which brings me back to the teaching tip of encouraging your students to read and listen to as much English as possible. There are other ways to help your students learn them of course. My dad had this big silver phrasal verb dictionary that I found helpful, but times moved on and now there are many apps for smartphones that do the same job. There are also interactive games available online, for free, which your students can use to improve their knowledge of phrasal verbs.

Teaching tips for spelling

When I first moved to England I found English spelling horrendous. Same letter clusters can be pronounced in several different ways, some letters are silent in some words but not in others and every spelling rule seems to be followed by many, many exceptions. As a teaching tip, I would suggest staying away from spelling lists, which can be dull for students and can sometimes feel a little infantile. Instead, you could structure a lesson around looking for spelling patterns and grouping words with similar spellings together. Such word families are easier to remember than individual words, as one letter order applies to many words. Something else that helped with my spelling and which I found quite fun was finding short words inside longer ones, like a ‘bra’ in ‘library’. You could structure an entire writing lesson around hidden words within words. Finding an ear in hearing is a piece of pie. (Or cake, depending on where you’re from.)

Explaining new words and concepts

Throughout your teaching career, you are going to have to explain many words and concepts in simple terms. A teaching tip here is to be ready to have to come up with alternative explanations on the spot. Repeating yourself slower and louder might help, but if you tried that once and your student is still looking back at you completely puzzled, change your approach. Trust me, not being able to understand their teacher is just as frustrating for your students, as not being able to explain something is to you. You are in it together, so take a breath, regroup, and use a different approach. Think of different words to explain what you mean or be creative and use a prop or act it out. An inventive explanation can be very memorable and could help your students to recall the words you taught them for a long time to come.

My personal experiences and teaching tips, of course, are not conclusive and you will likely find each of your students to have different concerns. Speaking to your students individually about their language goals and worries will help you to know them better and become a more effective teacher for them You never know, perhaps one day, they too will become English teachers and will remember the valuable things they learnt during your lessons.

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About the Author

Aleks Kaye loves cooking, skiing and learning. She completed a part-time CELTA course while working full-time at a university in the UK. She is currently travelling across Canada with her husband David and blogging about it at daleksabroad.travel.blog


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