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How to teach English to beginners in a foreign country

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

A teacher stands in from of young students in a classroom who have their arms raised wanting to answer a question

Did you know that you do not need to know the local language to teach English abroad? Along with a qualification such as TEFL, you will usually only be required to have fluent English.

But how do you teach English to learners who do not yet know it at all?

The main challenge of teaching English to foreign learners is content instruction. Instructions of how to do a classroom activity will usually be delivered in English, which obviously is an obstacle for young learners who cannot yet speak it!

English is often the only language spoken in these lessons, either because the teacher doesn’t know the language of the country they are teaching in or the school has instructed them to only speak English in order to quicken learning.

As a result, we need methods to convey meaning in English to non-English speakers more easily. Here are some classroom activities and tactics to try!

Use images

For many learners, the use of images and pictures are massively helpful in remembering vocabulary and concepts across their subjects. Using them for teaching English, however, is especially useful because you are also getting over the barrier of introducing a new language.

When teaching new words, use flashcards and graphics to go with them. Students will both understand that what they are being taught is a new word they must learn and understand the word’s definition thanks to the image.

Repeat phrases

Long, unfamiliar utterances spoken in a new language will just go over learners’ heads. Instead, keep your directions simple and team them with actions. It is also important to make an effort to speak slowly and clearly whilst doing so.

For example, when you want your students to quieten down and listen, have a particular phrase that you use such as “quiet time!” and always team it with a raised hand. As students become used to your short phrases, you can expand them and they will pick up on the new meanings and vocabulary you are using as well.

Initially using the same instructional phrases repeatedly will make your students feel more confident because they will understand what they are being asked to do.

Set up pair or group work

Splitting learners into small groups can make them feel more comfortable to practise saying words and phrases aloud. In addition, it helps them to share ideas and learn from one another.

One activity can be one learner asking their partner questions about their family, favourite foods or hobbies (depending on the topic the lesson is focussing on) and the other answers, before they swap roles. Another is providing each member of a pair or group with a word or phrase which they must mime to the others, who then must guess what their word or phrase is.

The best way to do this is to demonstrate yourself before setting your students off on the activity. For the miming activity, pick a word for yourself, mime it and use a simple question to ask the class what your word might be. Next, give everyone a word and use simple instructions with gestures to indicate they must do this same activity with their small group.

For young learners, using puppets can be useful to demonstrate activities. Having one on each hand and showing them take turns in speaking can show students what they need to do with their own partner.

Take a TEFL qualification with Notting Hill College and begin your journey in teaching English as a foreign language.



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