How to Be a Good ESL Teacher

by Elise Wile

Olympian Doug Larson once said, “If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers.” Learning a second language is never easy, and certain aspects of English can be especially confusing to ESL learners. As their teacher, however, you can work to understand the obstacles that stand in your students' learning so that you can remove them.

Tailored Instruction

Good teaches convey information in a way that students can understand, but great teachers connect with their students. When you get to know the students you are teaching, you learn what their individual goals are, and can tailor your instruction accordingly. For example, if you have a class full of people who are hoping for jobs in the tourism industry, you can include activities that will address the linguistic demands of that trade. On the other hand, if your students are hoping to get into an English university, you will need to emphasize written language skills.

Relevant Activities

The best way to learn a language is to become immersed enough in the culture that you hear comprehensible English, which helps to develop an intuitive knowledge of grammatical structures. However, this isn't always practical. An effective way to teach ESL students is to engage them in activities that use English in ways that mirror everyday life. As an effective ESL teacher, you should be able to develop relevant activities that grab students' attention and fully engage them in the language-learning process. At times, you may find yourself lacking sufficient resources, which will require you to develop language learning activities on your own, drawing on your knowledge of your students and their specific needs.

Knowledge of Linguistics

Having a working knowledge of your ESL students' native language is helpful because you can teach students about the differences between the two languages. Since first language patterns tend to transfer to the second language, explicit instruction can prevent some common errors. For example, if you are teaching English to Spanish-speaking students, you can explain that in English, adjectives usually come before the noun, rather than after it. Besides syntax, you can apply your knowledge of your students' native language to pronunciation, idiomatic expressions, and other aspects of the English language.

Patience and Flexibility

Second language learners, like any other students, bring a variety of educational needs to the table. You may have students who have reading disabilities or speech impediments that make using their native language difficult at times, never mind a second language. You will need to have the patience to work with students who need extra assistance, as well as the flexibility to adapt your instruction to their needs.


About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

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