Top 5 Problems When Teaching EFL

Any classroom, whether you are teaching in Taiwan or Guatemala, has its set of challenges and problems when teaching EFL. If you haven’t taught before and came across this article in preparation for teaching EFL, then this might sound scary: There isn’t a way to avoid these problems. However, there are, of course, ways to prepare for these challenges that can arise.

Let’s have a look at the top 5 problems when teaching English as a Foreign Language.

1. Students Don’t Speak English In Class

If you have a class full of young learners, then it is very likely that they will speak more in their native language (L1) than in English.

The Solution:

You might be aware that every class is different. However, it doesn’t matter what the students’ English proficiency level is or how old they are; every student in class needs to understand that, at the very least, they need to try to speak as much English as they can. For young learners, awarding points for speaking only English in class could work very well.

2. Dependent Students

This EFL problem occurs when the students in your class are constantly seeking attention or assistance. There are two scenarios here: They may either ask you to assist them in completing an exercise or say they cannot or do not know how to complete the task on their own.

The Solution:

It is vital to empower your students and let them feel as if they are able to complete the exercises. For example, say they have to complete an exercise on choosing ‘many’ or ‘much’ with countable/uncountable nouns, you can do the first or first two exercises on the worksheet with them. Ask the students, “Is it many apples or much apples?” They should answer “many”; then ask them why – the answer should be something along the lines of apples are things you can count. Your students may simply feel overwhelmed by the exercise, but by nudging them in the right direction, they should have the confidence to complete the rest of the exercise on their own.

3. Students Take Over

On the other hand, students taking over the class is another common problem and can easily happen when you are a new teacher or just the new teacher of that particular class. Two possibilities are (1) when a student comes in all excited over something, tells the class, and then the class gets all excited or (2) the students think they can improve the activity you have picked for them.

The Solution:

The obvious: Take your control back. But how? You need to let them know – firmly and kindly – that the lesson needs to take place, but that if work is finished in time, they can have some time – a few minutes, really – to talk about whatever it is that they are excited about. Or, as for the second case, you need to let them know that you have already planned this activity or game, but will consider their ideas for the next one.

4. One Student Takes Over

This third problem when teaching EFL is related to the third challenge above; however, in this scenario, only one student – usually an eager beaver – dominates the lesson by blurting out the answers or raising their hands first. These students typically like to win and are quite competitive.

The Solution:

There are quite a few ways that you can deal with this. One way is to take straws or pebbles (or something like this) with you to class. Consider the lesson and how many times – ideally – there are questions to answer, etc. Give each student, for example, 4 straws – meaning that they have 4 opportunities in the lesson to answer questions or say something. Once the straws are finished, they have to stay quiet, unless you call on them. Turn this into a game for young learners, whereby there is some sort of prize for having no straws left at the end of class. This will also help the quiet students – hopefully, they will want the prize and speak up a bit.

Another solution for this eager beaver student is to make them the helper for the day or lesson. The student can help you to give out books, write things on the board when necessary, or help other students find the right answers or complete an exercise.

5. Unmotivated/Bored Students

For any EFL teacher, no matter whether you are still a newbie or very experienced, this problem when teaching EFL is something that is bound to happen from time to time. Your students’ eyes will glaze over – whether it is from no motivation, no interest in the lesson, or because what (or how) you are teaching is boring.

The Solution:

It is easy to blame the students, the grammar you are teaching, or even the course book you have to work from. Unfortunately – and this is the truth – the reasons for your students’ boredom or lack of motivation is you. After all, you are the teacher and, thus, you are responsible for keeping the students engaged. There are always ways to make the lesson more fun – doing research on the internet, seeing what other teachers do, and adding your own interesting ideas should be a priority.

Last Thoughts

There are of course some other problems you can experience in an EFL classroom, from students being late and not doing their homework to not doing what you ask them to do; nonetheless, the problems when teaching EFL discussed in this article are the top 5 that any teacher can and will encounter in their class.

About the Author

Denine Walters currently works in the events industry and freelances as an EFL teacher, writer, and proofread/editor. Previously, she taught online English lessons to students from all around the world, and before that, she lived and taught English to young learners in Taiwan. In what free time she has, she likes to travel, watch Netflix, read, and do scrapbooking and grammar quizzes.


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