ESL Teaching - The fun way or the old way - how do students learn better, and what kind of teacher are you

Is there more than one way to introduce and teach a language? What techniques work better than others?
Is classroom fun the key to students’ success or is language learning all about hard work?

Where I come from, English is taught strictly by the book. The teacher is at the blackboard writing and writing or at their desk reading and dictating. Students sit at their desks and get engaged with the language when it’s time to do the exercises.

A good student is the one that strictly follows every movement the teacher makes, listens carefully, and gives correct answers to the teacher’s questions or the exercises at hand.

A good teacher is the one who explains English grammar time and again,gives multiple examples and explains everything in the mother tongue of the students, so that they can understand what means what and what works how. A good teacher corrects the mistakes students make on the go. Strictly by the book.

Have you had this kind of a teacher? Are you that teacher?

If this is how you studied English as a second or a foreign language before you became an teacher yourself, then you know one thing: studying English is no fun, it is hard work. You surely remember that many of your classmates quickly became demotivated, because it was hard. In my personal experience, there was a time when all my classmates depended on me for their test results (yeah, I know it’s called cheating), because it was too hard for them to remember all these rules and apply them later. For them, English was all about rules and correct spelling, which they found impossible.

And because this is the way we were taught English as a foreign language, it is quite possible that it will become the way we teach it if we choose to become English teachers.

Changing Perspective

Some 10 years after I first started studying English (which is my first foreign language), I ended up studying Finnish. All my classmates speak English, and my Finnish teacher speaks English as well. How easy: she says the word in Finnish and then translates it into English so that we understand.

No such thing. The very first class and she only speaks in Finnish. ONLY. This is how it began, and it is how it went on. Oh, did I want to quit?

In class, we (the teacher, too) toss balls at one another counting the numbers, repeating words and asking questions, run around like crazy to sit next to the person holding the right-color paper, draw pictures from a stack and act out waiting for the rest of the group to guess the right word.

Are we having fun? Of course, we are, that’s all we are doing. All I am thinking at this point is: “OK, when does REAL studying begin?”…

Seven months later, we all speak some Finnish. Not ‘all’ Finnish, some, but all of us can do it.

With English, it probably took me 3 years of hard work.

Conclusion:

In my opinion, which is influenced by my most recent experience, language study DOES NOT HAVE TO BE HARD WORK. As is turns out, it can be a lot of fun.

So, how to be a motivating English teacher, who achieves quick results?

BALANCE!

Have fun half the time and work hard the other half.

1. Move away from the blackboard.

It is probably a good idea to sometimes just forget about explaining and writing while your students sit back and listen. That only makes you the active party, and they become the passive party, which is completely wrong. Ask them to come to the board, and act.

 2. Introduce games as a way of English teaching.

Anything you can come up with, which is fun, entertaining and positive,will help you achieve the best results no matter if you work with children or adult students. Everybody loves to have fun, and positive associations help remember things better.

Besides, there are types of students who already feel enough pressure that they must learn the language (in the case you work with people with other professions but need certain English skills fast to advance in their careers further.),that being in class for them is stressing enough, and they could use the fun.

3. Engage along with your students.

When you start a class game or a fun activity, don’t just wait for the students to complete the task. Play along with them.

4. SPEAK, SPEAK, SPEAK in English during class.

Many English teachers teach English by interpreting the vocabulary to the class’s mother tongue, and explain grammar the same way. As easy as it is for the students, it doesn’t do them much good because it creates a sort of a safety-place for them.

However, the more you speak, the more they listen, and the more they become accustomed to the sound of this unfamiliar language. Step by step, the unfamiliar language becomes familiar. It isn’t so scary any more. You can always pick the most suitable words in English to explain grammar. You can always act out a verb or show a picture of a thing to illustrate the meaning.

5. Make your students speak in English.

Encourage your students to ask their questions in English and speak to you and their classmates in English. As much as they can. It doesn’t have to be correct. The important thing here is TO TRY to speak. To use the English vocabulary they already know, to construct the sentences they already can.

At the end of the day, a language is all about communication. It is about action. The action of speaking. Do not make your students the passive carriers of a foreign language they understand but cannot speak freely and with confidence. Let them start speaking early and be active early. It’s OK if they make mistakes and it’s not all “proper English”, you will understand, you are their teacher.

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Background in English Studies. Likes nature, technology, languages and the age we live in.