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How to Teach English to Complete Beginners Abroad

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Being an English teacher abroad definitely has many benefits. You get to combine travel with your passion, able to explore other countries while also earning an income–and most importantly, doing what you love. However, being a traveler in a country that doesn’t speak English is already difficult enough. When you have to teach the language to complete newbies, it’s often a bigger challenge.

Whether you are offering English tutoring services or are employed in a school, here are some tips that can help you be more equipped to teach English to foreign students:

1. Go for an individualized approach

In countries where English is a minority language, people have widely different levels of written and verbal skills. Some students have picked up the language through mass media or listening to other English speakers. Others may have only started learning it at school, and even then only know the raw basics. That said, it is extremely important to take an individualized approach when it comes to teaching a classroom of beginners.

Offer additional help to students who have trouble picking up the language, especially for students that can’t even form full sentences yet. If there are some students that are ahead of their classmates, offer them extra material to work on, but avoid letting other students overtake the others too much. Even with an individualized approach, the class should learn at a relatively similar pace so that everyone is on the same page.

2. Speak in simple, short sentences

Speaking complicated, long-winded sentences won’t help your students learn. In fact, doing this will confuse them even further. Instead of using too much English to give instructions or feedback, keep your sentences as short and simple as possible; enough to convey the message but not too much to overwhelm your students.

For example, you might say “for today’s session, we’re going to be learning about adverbs, so take out your books and turn to page 134.” For beginners learning English, this sentence is hard to understand, especially if it is spoken fast. So instead, say something like “take out your book and turn to page 134.” After the students follow your instructions, you can follow up with “we are going to learn about adverbs today.” Simple, short, and easier to understand.

3. Use gestures

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Gestures are extremely helpful when teaching a language to beginners. Physical cues can help students understand what you are trying to convey, especially with words that are completely unfamiliar to them. For example, when saying the word ‘listen’, put your hand up to your ear. It’s a universal sign for listening or hearing. Or when you say the word ‘write’, make a writing motion with your hand.

Facial expressions can also serve as context clues when you are telling a story. When teaching to a classroom of beginners, you may need to work on your acting skills to convey the mood of the story on your face, which can help make it easier for students to follow the plot and the emotions therein.

4. Frequently check for understanding

No matter how well you’ve explained something, you can’t be sure if your students really understood it unless you check. However, this goes beyond simply asking “did you guys understand the lesson?” Often, students feel embarrassed to admit that they did not understand and thus keep their questions to themselves.

That said, you should also watch for physical cues and facial expressions that indicate confusion. Sometimes, you can determine if your class has truly understood the lesson if there are no blank eyes staring back at you and the students are nodding in understanding.

Moreover, it helps to regularly remind students to ask questions whenever they feel lost or confused with the lesson. Tell them to raise their hands if they have a question or save them for later when you are done discussing a particular topic. English is a difficult language to learn, and it’s important that your students know this so that they don’t feel bad about not picking up lessons right away.

5. Use a lot of visual aids

Teaching any language is easier when you are equipped with an arsenal of visual aids. Pictures, skits, videos, drawings, and gestures help students better understand what you’re trying to teach, rather than relying purely on speech.

Being an English teacher in a country that speaks little English is tough, but as you can see, there are a lot of ways you can make it easier both for yourself and your students. Apart from helping students learn, utilizing these strategies can also help you become a better teacher and broaden your horizons in the future.

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