July 10, 2010

English as a Second Language

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As I mentioned in my previous post I have spent about 3 ½ years learning German, and I have spent a significant amount of that time in Germany. This past year I decided to pursue teaching English as a Second Language, more commonly known as ESL. I have always been told that as a native speaker I was lucky, English is one of the easiest language to learn, but it can also be very confusing. I didn’t really appreciate that until I had to memorize the names for the 12 different time forms and be able to explain them to each of my classes. English may not be as difficult as French, German, or Arabic, but it is a language that will always surprise you. So let me give you a few helpful hints from a teacher’s perspective of surviving in an ESL classroom.

The first tip may seem obvious, but speak English! English as a Second Language classes abroad or at home will generally last 90 minutes at a time. In these 90 minutes it is absolutely vital that everyone speaks English, and only English. Many people (especially classes with adults) get very nervous or even embarrassed to speak English in front of their coworkers, neighbors, or friends. While I completely understand being hesitant (I’ve been sputtering through German for awhile now), taking the initiative and speaking in and outside of class is the only way to really acquire English. Lots of students may also feel that their mistakes will make the teacher think less of them, “they should have known that” or “we covered that material last week”. Truth be told ESL teachers are just happy when students speak, at all. If everyone spoke English perfectly, us teachers would all be out of a job!

My second tip is also pretty basic- ask questions! Not just some questions, but lots of questions! Questions often fuel the learning atmosphere and allow the teacher to focus the lesson plan on what is most helpful to the students. Some of the best lessons I have taught were not because of my own planning, but because my students had simple questions that spurred into great discussion topics. As the old saying goes, “no question is a stupid question”.

My third tip – communicate with your teacher. Even if your teacher speaks your native language always try and ask your questions in English. This is difficult I know, but it is a great way to practise and really enforces what is being taught in class. Also let your teacher know if you have any specific needs. Maybe you learn best by having notes written on the board or maybe you learn really well with worksheets. Feedback from students on the materials and methods being used in class are very useful to ESL teachers. Also if you are too nervous to ask questions in front of the class, approach the teacher afterwards or during a break. Learning English as a Second Language is all about comprehension and application, so make sure you ask questions!

Finally, as I usually “preach” in this blog, sign-up for classes offered in English speaking countries. International Projects is a company that sets up challenging yet comfortable English as a Second Language programs abroad, with an amazing staff of native speakers.

So break out that old or new English textbook and be an active participant in your next English as a Second language classroom!

Check out our English Schools in Brighton.