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Teaching English As A Second Language

Neil Valentine D'Silva
If you are in the very noble profession of teaching English, you will also appreciate the difficulties involved in the job. Here are some original ideas with regards to how you can make the learning effective and fun.
English is like the principal language of the world. The world is getting smaller, and English is playing a very significant role in bridging the gaps. As such, teaching English to those who do not know it, is an almost philanthropic task.
More and more people today are expressing an interest in learning the language. But is teaching English to a bunch of people who have never spoken the language simple? No! Not by a long shot! Let's see why.

Problems in Teaching English as a Second Language

There is this high and mighty feeling associated with English in most countries. People consider English to be on a high pedestal. That's the reason why they are overawed of the language. This 'English is a holy language with which only great souls are blessed' feeling exists in most learners of the language, making it difficult to teach it effectively.
English is pronounced in a very different way from almost all other languages of the world. And every region of the world where English is spoken has a different accent. People who are not used to English find these accents quite intimidating.
There are too many kinds of English. When you are teaching it as a second language, you must bear in mind that your students will not know the difference between US English, Queen's English, and all the sundry Englishes of the world. This could lead to confusions.

Strategies for Teaching

It is not enough if you know how to speak English fluently - teaching the language is a totally different ballgame. Teaching anything is quite different from knowing it, and more so, a language. But if you follow the right kind of approach, you can achieve this task.
Here are some strategies that you can use in your classroom. What is mentioned here is highly generic; and you will have to make changes according to the kind of students you are dealing with.

Building a rapport with your class.

When you enter the class for the first time, give a welcoming smile to your students and greet them saying like, 'Good morning, class! How are you today?' This is a vital first step.
There are many levels at which this works. First, your class is probably intimidated about the very fact that they are learning the most important language of the world, and half of them are probably thinking they will not be able to master even ten words of English.
Your assuring smile and greeting them in a familiar manner helps them bond with you instantly. When they bond with you, they will find learning the language easier.

Building confidence for the language in the students.

At the first meeting, train your students to ask simple English questions, and give their answers. Examples are 'What is your name?', 'Which country are you from?', 'Who is your best friend?', etc.
Many teachers make the mistake of beginning with the alphabet. This is wrong. When you train them to ask questions on the first day itself, your students will definitely show off these questions to their folks. And their interest in the language will be built.
They will come with higher hopes of learning more things the next day. Starting out with the alphabet cannot achieve this 'English is fun' feeling in the minds of your students.

Starting a thought process in the students' minds.

Make it a very firm rule, but subtly implied, that there will be no other language spoken in your class other than English. This will be very difficult at first, especially when the students are hell-bent on translating new English words they learn into their own language.
Do not encourage this. But also remember that the students are trying their best. Be gentle with them when they attempt to translate English into their language. Exhort them to think in English. This is a mammoth task, and can be achieved only after some weeks, or probably months, of teaching.

Building basic communication skills in the students.

Never teach your students. Converse with them about daily things in English. They will talk when the initial icebreakers are done with. When they talk, they'll learn.
Encourage students to talk. Simple questions like, 'Why are you late today?' will help. The student will try to explain the reason in English. You may not want to know it, but just keep talking. As long as the student attempts to talk in English, listen to him.

Handling faux pases and booboos.

Do not convert your English class into a caricature of Mind Your Language. Mistakes will happen in the class, and you have to learn how to handle them deftly. If you laugh at the students, they will be too embarrassed to make any further attempts at speaking the language.
If you do not laugh, students will feel you are only being too kind to them, and might always think they have said something wrong, but you are hiding your amusement. What you could do is, laugh with the student. Yes, this is possible.
You could give a very polite laugh, and then explain the student why, what he or she said was funny. This makes the student laugh too. Invariably! In time, some of the students in your class will point out the mistakes of others. When this happens, follow a subtle approach at correcting the mistakes, laughing with them wherever appropriate.

Carrying on the process.

Be patient. You are a teacher. You know your language, and might have got international accolades for it. But your students cannot even frame three sentences in English properly. Only your perseverance will help them.
Remember that your students are not native English speakers, they will not be able to even ask you their doubts. Be patient with them and encourage them to express themselves.
Teaching English as a second language is really fun if you do it the right sporting way. You have to make it fun for your students too, that's how they will learn better.