How to Teach English as a Foreign Language

When I first started teaching English back in late 2011, I was terrified. I remember being doubled over with nausea before my first ever class. Most mornings I’d wake up with my heel tap-tap-tapping under the bedsheets, my first thought of the day being “Why do I keep waking up alive?”

But as time went by I became comfortable in the classroom and I learned to trust myself. I started learning tricks and modifying my methods. Over time, my confidence has grown. “Too much”, some might say. Others have called my teaching style “arrogant,” “reckless,” and “offensive.” But these critics don’t understand that I am a master of my craft.

If you want to get a good idea about my success rate, just ask my students. They´ve only got wonderful things to say about me.

“¿Cuál es la pregunta?” – Juan

“No entiendo.” – Fabian

“Quiero aprender Inglés!” – Jorge

Clearly I know what I’m doing. So trust me, Dear reader, when I tell you that the following tips are guaranteed to help you become a better teacher:

1.) Teach through demonstration.

This is the tactic I use most often and the one I find most useful. Most language learners prefer fluency over accuracy, but I find that using this strategy provides a happy medium between both. This is how it works:

Go into the classroom and write that lesson’s target grammatical structure on the board. For example:

“Present Continuous Tense.”

Below that, write an example sentence using using that structure:
“I am having an argument with my roommate about who is the best Sex & the City character.”

Read the sentence to the student and then have them read it out loud. Then ask, “You see?”

The idea is for the student to figure out the new rule on their own rather than being told the grammatical structure. This leads to more fluent language production. Keep repeating “You see?” until they understand how to use the present continuous tense. Point to the sentence on the board regularly. This simple exercise might take up more than one class.

Protip: Assign a season of Sex & the City as homework.

2.) Use multimedia

For a fully immersive English experience, a student should be exposed to the language by using a diversity of media. Film clips are a great way to show language being used in context. By way of illustration, I’ll recount a particularly successful lesson I had with a student not too long ago. He was a fairly basic student, and I started the class by asking him about his last holiday:

Student: Last year I flied from Santiago to Buenos Aires-

Me: Flew.

Student: Que?

Me: The past tense of “fly” is “flew.” It’s an irregular verb.

Student: Ai! Los verbos irregulares son difíciles!

Me: Oh, but don’t panic. I’m certain you’ve encountered this word many times before, you just weren’t aware of it. Here, let me show you…

I quickly accessed my student’s wifi, illegally downloaded Titanic, and then let it play for my student. A substantial amount of time later, the moment came.

Jack leads Rose over the railing of the Titanic. Her eyes are closed. He asks Rose if she trusts him and she says “I trust you.” Next thing, Jack tells Rose to open her eyes. Rose opens them and exclaims in amazement, “I’m flying Jack! I’m flying!”

Right there I pause the film and point at the screen.

“Aha! See? ‘Flying.'” Silent moments pass while the lesson sinks in.

“Admittedly,” I continue, “this isn’t the word in its irregular form, as we’d discussed, but you know…”

I could see that my student wasn’t quite satisfied, so I played the rest of the film for him so that he could grasp the new word – flying – in its entire context. The upside of this is that it turned into a three-hour class so I could charge him double.

I'm flying Jack!
Protip: Other useful vocabulary hidden in Titanic includes the phrasal verb “hold on” and the correct pronunciation of “Southampton.”


3.) Exude confidence

A student wants a teacher who is confident in their craft, and in order to do that it’s important to hammer home the idea that learning the language is easy, and any failure to improve is a direct result of the student’s inability to learn. Statements like “This is really easy,” and “why aren’t you getting this?” are extremely helpful in motivating the student to do better.

Good Will Hunting
Protip: Raise your voice in anger when correcting a student.

4.) Give breaks

Most English classes are between 60 and 90 minutes long. Everyone knows that this is far too long for a normal human being to be able to focus on anything. An optimal English class should require no more than 20 minutes of focused teaching. That is why it is quite normal to excuse yourself several times during a class to go to the bathroom. Be sure to take a book with you so that the student knows you’ll be a while. Bathroom breaks should range between 15 and 20 minutes at a time.

Protip: Choose books that are long and challenging. If you finish your chapter too quickly your student won’t get the rest they deserve.

Teaching English as a foreign language has its challenges, but I’ve never regretted my decision to do it. There are too many benefits to mention, but whether it’s helping someone develop a skill, providing an outlet for someone who just needs to talk, or gaining an overwhelming yet insignificant sense of superiority over another human being because you’re better at something than they are, this lifestyle has something for everyone.


3 thoughts on “How to Teach English as a Foreign Language

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