7 Most Common Stumbling Blocks Facing ESL Teachers

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via amberer.blogspot.com
via amberer.blogspot.com

Teaching English as a second language (ESL) is a phenomenal option for anyone interested in having a career while living abroad. There are many incentives to teach overseas, especially for young people looking to get some practical experience. Teaching ESL is not a profession without obstacles, however. Knowing what to expect is the first step in avoiding these problems. Listed below are seven of the most common stumbling blocks for ESL teachers, ranked in no particular order.

#1: Adapting the lessons to fit the student.

Teaching ESL often means having students of varying ages and abilities in the same class. It’s difficult to teach the same lesson to a young kid and a middle-aged business professional at the same time. Some schools will allow for more autonomy than others when it comes to lesson planning, but a good ESL teacher must be able to immediately tweak any lesson so it fits all students.

#2: Jumping into the lesson too quickly.

Many teachers have a lot of material to cover but the first five minutes can be a great way to set the tone for the rest of the lesson. Spending a few minutes making small talk with the students gives the teacher a chance to remove the teacher/student barrier while students practice their English. Tardy students also don’t miss anything important or disrupt the class.

#3: Know how to address a question that you can’t answer.

via IETLS or TOEFL group, Facebook
via IETLS or TOEFL group, Facebook

This is a tricky subject, especially for ESL teachers who haven’t cracked open a grammar textbook since middle school. Students are often rigorously tested on English grammar and might have had more recent practice with it. The best bet is to focus on conversation, which is often more important to them anyway. Be prepared to tell the students you want to focus on the lesson and you will answer their question next class. Don’t lie, but avoid appearing unprepared.

#4: Battling the class clown.

The teacher must always be in control of the classroom. The natural tendency is to come down hard on the one goofy troublemaker. However, in countries like China, students spend almost all their time in school or studying. This translates into burned out and unenthusiastic pupils. Harnessing the goofy student’s energy and redirecting it in a positive direction can inject some much-needed life into the classroom.

#5: Making sure students ask for clarification.

It may come as a surprise that students do not possess the vocabulary to ask a question—they literally might not know how to say, “I don’t understand.” Introverted students may not feel comfortable asking questions in front of the class in any subject but it’s even harder in a foreign language. Make sure the vocabulary is clear and address the students one-on-one when possible. Foster a welcoming atmosphere.

#6: Talking about yourself.

Many ESL teachers have led full lives, traveling and meeting people even before they start teaching ESL. Sharing with your students is a great way to build rapport, but the students need to practice speaking, not the teacher! Make sure the student talk-time is maximized. Asking about their lives also shows interest and promotes an open learning environment.

#7: Learning to speak simply.

When teaching English to non-native speakers it becomes apparent that our speech patterns are more complicated than we realize. Teachers must learn to speak in a manner the students will understand. We take our vocabulary for granted, so it comes as a surprise when a student doesn’t understand a simple word. This also means being prepared to offer synonyms or alternate ways to understand a word at a moment’s notice. It can be one of the most challenging parts of the job (how does one describe a word like “air?”)

So, which stumbling blocks do you struggle with when teaching ESL, and how do you overcome them. Let us know in the CommentLuv section below.

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Brilliant or Insane contributor Forrest Miller is a writer and an educator, specializing in ESL. He is from Oregon, currently living and teaching in China.

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