Articles for Teachers

The Challenges of Teaching English As a Second Language
By:Aaron Whirl

Teaching is a difficult profession regardless of the particular subject taught. But there are some particular challenges that come with teaching ESL that make this among the most uniquely difficult areas in which to be a teacher.

The biggest challenge of teaching ESL concerns the simple fact that the students and the teacher speak a different language! Because this is the very nature of the ESL class, this is a challenge that infects every ESL classroom. This is compounded by another unique challenge inherent in the ESL teaching profession: the fact that many untrained or inexperienced native English speakers are offered teaching positions at schools around the world. Many of these teachers are college graduates who are attracted to the adventure of traveling around the world, the easy access to jobs, and the potential to earn a lot of money and pay off their student loans.

The resulting situation is one that can be very frustrating for teachers and students, not to mention parents and school administrators. Teachers with minimal training or experience may find themselves easily frustrated and overwhelmed by the challenge of instructing and controlling a class full of youngsters who do not understand basic English commands. Inexperienced teachers tend to use complex words and idiomatic expressions when talking to the children, as they haven't become aware of the importance of simplifying their speech. As a result, students quickly get lost. They may begin acting out, yawning, talking amongst themselves. The teacher responds by yelling angrily, still using words that go over the children's heads. The teacher blames the students. The students have no idea what is going on.

Yes, teaching ESL can be a very trying and frustration-inducing experience.

Perhaps the most important things for ESL teachers to do are to come to class with a full reserve of patience and to consider carefully every word that is spoken by the teacher in class. When teaching young, beginner-level students, it will be necessary to find a way to communicate using only the sparse vocabulary words that they have learned. This means being very animated in class, drawing pictures and acting out certain actions ("flying") or certain nouns ("airplane"). Games are another very useful way to teach ESL, as games give the class a chance to interact using the English skills they have learned, and they may give students more of an interest in learning English.

Another useful trick is to bring in worksheets to start every class. By starting off every class with a vocabulary worksheet, for example, the teacher can set a particular starting point for the class. Then, for the rest of the class, any of the vocabulary words introduced/reviewed on the worksheet are fair game; the teacher should feel free to use these words, and the students should be able to understand them. These words can then be incorporated into a game later in the class. By regularly bringing worksheets into classes, it is possible to quickly expand students' vocabularies and teach a class that is more productive and enjoyable for everyone involved.

For ESL/EFL teachers who are struggling to create productive and inspiring classes, it is worthwhile to consider regularly bringing in ESL worksheets: For ideas and examples of worksheets that can be used in ESL/EFL contexts, click here > > Lesson Plans for ESL:

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