Teaching English to learners of English as Second Language could be really tasking. It is in fact more tasking to native speaking teachers than non-native speaking teachers. Non-native English teachers may understand the problems of second language learning more as they would have had the experience themselves as learners. However, there are strategies that may be used to enhance the learning.

The teacher should first identify problems faced by the learners

Problems of second language learning are peculiar to learners according to their native languages and linguistic environments. Although there are general terms like ‘mother tongue influence’ used to explain second language learning difficulties, the actual problems are not the same. An Arab speaker does not have the same problem with Swahili speaker. The intonation of the two languages is different, the sound systems are different, and the lingo-cultural background is different. Grammatical differences in the languages can affect the learning of English by speakers of those languages.  Therefore, the success of teaching English to a second language Learner depends greatly on the teacher’s awareness of the learners’ language background.

Train learners to thinking in English

Most learners don’t know they think in certain languages. Some are surprised when you ask them what language they think in. Language of thought is very significant in learning a second language. A person whose native language is Hindi would think in Hindi. Teachers should help learners to know that they should change their language of thought to English if they have to learn it. This will not affect their proficiency in their native languages, especially if they have attained good level of proficiency already. As they think in English, they easily notice instances of communication difficulty all by themselves and try to solve them. Very difficult problems could be taken to more proficient speakers of English for help.

How can the teacher ensure that the learner adopts English as his/her language of thought?

  • Give the learner an assignment to write down expression problems discovered in their thoughts.
  • Write how they are able to solve them.
  • Present the ones they are not able to solve.
  • During lessons, you can ask the learner to do a description in the mine (maybe of you or something around) before saying it out.

Understand that this task is going to take some time to achieve. With persistence and continuous check, the learner will eventually make it permanent.

Avoid the use of other languages during classes

Ensure that learners do not speak their native languages as soon as the class is on. No matter their level in the learning, they must use English forms, no matter how poorly, to communicate in the class. Learners tend to be less serious with learning if they can still communicate in other languages. Ensuring they use English makes them forced to think and use English. After the class, whatever expression they have used will remain with them and they will be glad to use it when they have the chance.

Engage learners in group discussions and oral presentations

Learners should be given group works and be inspected closely. When learners work in groups, they speak with one another freely. They could discuss stories or any topic they find interesting. The teacher should sometimes involve in the discussion and try to engage reserved ones in the group. They could also be made to discuss certain obvious language problems they have noticed. This will go a long way in helping learners solve the challenges in learning English as a second language.

Correct every wrong usage instantly

When a learner speaks incorrectly, the teacher should endeavor to correct the learner immediately if possible. The learner may forget what he has said if it is delayed. Making the correction immediately will help the learner to pick the correct usage better while the situation that warrants the usage is still fresh.

Things to Avoid

  • Stigmatizing reactions
  • Laughing at incorrect usages
  • Telling learners that they can never learn
  • Making learners feel inferior because of their inability to measure up or learn fast
  • Showing disappointment at slow learners
  • Getting angry with learners because of mistakes they make or because they fail to get some things right within a specific time

Read more on Six Ways to Teach English as a Second Language.


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