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On how to teach English as a second language (Aquí puedes leer este texto en español)

General ideas

Think what you would do if you had to lead people out of a dark tunnel. You'd probably decide to take a flashlight with you to show them the way.


If they are children it's not too difficult to lead them out of the tunnel: they are not afraid, they have all the time in the world, they are eager and open and their speaking organs can be shaped to reproduce the sounds of any language. If you keep talking and talking to them, they will start imitating you and eventually will start speaking like you—right out of the tunnel, so to speak! In this case, your flashlight is your ability to entertain and to demonstrate.


But in the case of adults, your flashlight has to be much more sophisticated. Adults are not as open, they don't have too much time, they are afraid of making mistakes, their speaking organs cannot be shaped to reproduce a second language as easily, and most of them have developed some terrible habits (like pronouncing English words as if they were Spanish). So what do we need to add to our entertainment-and-demonstration flashlight?



We need to add the following elements:


  • Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine that you don't know any English and are trying to learn it in order to improve your life. How would you like to be treated? What would you expect from a teacher of English?
  • Before you start the classes get as much information as possible about who your students are and what they want out of the classes. This information should help you tailor their course.
  • Set clear goals using the information the students give you at the beginning. When setting these goals take into account that most of them can't understand native speakers and are not fluent, therefore you need to offer them a lot of conversation. An example of a clear goal: in a year they should go from intermediate level to upper-intermediate. How do you know if they have reached that goal? When they began their classes they could understand stage 2 (700 headwords) and now they can manage with stage 4 (1400 headwords). Check here audiobooks.
  • Always correct their mistakes: "Do not put you foot there—you'll fall down if you continue that way."
  • Tell them where they are going:"You did this well, but you need to improve that."
  • Always motivate them: Tell them that they can make it, it's just a matter of working hard and being constant.
  • Check their progress. Review vocabulary, sentence structures, etc. impress upon them that they need to study on their own as well. They have to understand that your guidance, even with the flashlight, will not get them out of the tunnel alone: they'll also have to do some walking! Lots of students want the teacher to do the walking for them, but it just doesn't work that way.
  • Check in with them often. Is your flashlight working this time? Are you really leading them out of the tunnel? Are they starting to see some outside light? if not, why? Return to the student for feedback as many times as necessary.

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