How to Teach English to ESL

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Teaching English to English as a second language (ESL) students can certainly be challenging, especially if you don't have the training to do so. You should understand the current level of your students and help them to achieve their goals, which are undoubtedly different for each student. Tailor your class to the students' needs--use games and play for teaching very young learners and conversational practice for adult students.

1 Assess the students'

Assess the students' current level of English. Use the first class as a "get to know you." This helps the students become more comfortable with you and helps you to know your students better. Listening to their introductions, you can determine a basic level of English ability and their main reasons for studying English. For example, some students may be studying to live abroad, while others just want to comfortably get around on their vacation. However, if you're teaching ESL in the United States, you can assume that the student is learning English to get a job or to function in American society.

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2 Focus on conversational skills

Focus on conversational skills. It's nice to be able to read English, but many students need the most practice in conversation. Start with standard conversations, such as meeting a neighbor for the first time or ordering food at a restaurant. As students build their confidence in speaking, they'll be able to expand their conversational abilities.

3 Use a textbook to teach grammar

Use a textbook to teach grammar. English is a difficult language to learn, and a textbook will help students understand the finer points of the English language. For example, "There is a book on the table" and "A book has been placed on the table" both technically say the same thing, but they have slightly different nuances. Grammar is especially important for students who are trying to pass a standardized English test, such as the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), which tests general English for the workplace or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which tests English for academic settings. Textbooks are widely available, but you should choose one that suits the purpose of the class. For example, don't choose a book that is too childish if you're teaching adults.

4 Take a multimedia approach to language

Take a multimedia approach to language. Teaching English to ESL students doesn't have to be all about you standing in front of the classroom giving lectures on grammar. You can use alternative resources to help students understand the language. For example, using clips from popular TV shows can help students learn colloquial speech and improve their listening skills.

5 Play games to help reinforce knowledge

Play games to help reinforce knowledge. Games are an essential tool for those who are teaching ESL to children, but they also work well in adult classes. You can use anything from bingo games to computer games to crossword puzzles to help your students remember vocabulary and practice grammar.

  • Be aware of cultural differences that may seem strange to you. For example, students in some countries may not make eye contact when speaking to you or may not appreciate casual touching, such as giving a high five.

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.