Teaching English Where It Is/Isn’t the Native Language

By Claire Woodall,
CELTA qualified teacher
Currently teaching in Spain, having previously taught in Austria and London, More About Claire

When I was in the UK, to the uninitiated, when asked what I did for a living a standard conversation would follow:

‘I teach English to adults.’
‘Oh, what language do you speak?’
‘No, just English.’
‘But hang on, how can you teach English if you can’t give the translations?’
‘The class is completely mixed and to translate I’d need to speak around 20 languages.  It’s all taught in English.’
‘Uh, what?!’

Claire's Malvern ClassBut that’s the essence of TEFL – total immersion into English; and thus, I think teaching mixed nationalities in a native English speaking country is considerably easier.

Firstly, with some classroom manipulation you can ensure only English is spoken. Seating different nationalities together means English has to be used and students won’t revert into their first language.

Secondly, students will be naturally motivated.  Students will constantly ask for help with the English that is being presented to them outside of class or English they need (hello, requests for classes on English chat up lines!).

Thirdly, language is absorbed by students a lot more quickly because they are practicing outside of class. Teach some funny colloquialisms and I guarantee you’ll hear students using them later in the week when they’re not even aware you’re listening.

Finally, maybe I’m biased, but I really do think that starting my TEFL career in a native English speaking country helped me develop as a teacher – you can’t just throw the translation at your students if they’re having difficulty understanding a new language point, you really do have to think on your feet – miming, synonyms and awful sketches on the board.

Equipped with all of this I’ve taken myself off to Spain, ready to face a classroom of 20 teenagers who can all speak a language I can’t and vice versa, so that works out as 20 vs. 1…hmmm.  I guess this is where the part of TEFL training that emphasises how important it is to ensure only English is spoken in the classroom comes into play. So, create an English environment and stress that for the length of the lesson they are in an English speaking country – posters, postcards, pictures of the Queen, whatever, it all really does help.

Having never been particularly consistent with setting homework I now understand how useful it is in ensuring English is used outside lessons to aid learning.  Homework doesn’t just need to be worksheets, get students to find an English song they like and bring it in ready to explain the lyrics, etc.

Finally, the real advantage you have when teaching English in a country where it isn’t the mother tongue is the likelihood that you’ll be teaching monolingual classes.  With some research you can gain a sound understanding of the specific difficulties your nationality will have with learning English, lessons can obviously then be tailored to meet these needs.

That’s my summary of my experiences so far, any other pointers (to help me settle into monolingual teaching) are greatly appreciated!

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