I have taught English for years. I never really learned to teach ESL other than by experience. If you think experience is the best teacher than you will appreciate this post. It is a quick no-nonsense guide on what you need to know to teach a language. I recommend, if you are a native speaker, you do not go to a ESL teaching school to learn how to teach. It is a waste of money and time.  It would be better if you developed your own teaching style.

You can not teach anyone a language

The biggest mistake teachers make is assuming the responsibility is on them. Wrong. The student has to teach themselves. This is why so many people complain they never learned anything in language classes. They have this expectation that someone will put a language in their brain while they sit back.

You must tell your students this on day one. You must tell them clearly that it is their responsibility alone to learn English or any other foreign language and that it will take patience and work. Also tell them that there is no such person as a language genius. Only people who have an interest in studying.

You are not writing an English language book

Do not feel you have to hand prepare every lesson and print everything you can from the Internet for your special student. Why? There are people who write books for a living, grammar, vocabulary and all. If you think you can do a better job, than you should write a book, but do not waste your energy making special lessons for your students. You are here as their private English tutor and not to create a tutorial with full lesson plans and write a book for them.  I know this sounds hard but I know what I am talking about. Students have huge expectation and will drain you.  First day tell them they have to buy this book.  Make them buy a book.  I like Murphy’s grammar for English language students.

Give lots of homework

If you want students to learn pile on the homework. If they do not do it during class give them a really disappointed look and do it during class. Waste their time because they are wasting yours by not doing what you asked. They all have lame excuses. Simply say do these 3 chapters. During the start of the class do not go over every exercises only the ones they look like they do not understand. After which you must make them explain the rule to you, not you explain the rule to them. Them teaching you is more effective.

If they complain they are not learning, give them more homework. Almost all language students are like to whine. They have to understanding teaching and learning come down to the student studying. Class is just cream and fun where they can practice what they taught themselves.

If they speak advanced or upper intermediate English then teach them like you learned English in high school.  Give them reading and writing assignments from classic literature and have the discuss it in class.

If they need help achieving comprehension make them listen to the radio in English one hour a day. I use to make free English MP3s for download on my website for each student on the words they are learning.  But I do not as the students start to get demanding and needy and expect you to do it. Therefore, I just refer them to a professional disk or the radio. And yes I think radio is better than movies.

Learn English by teaching

You are a native speaker. Do not expect to know every rule. If you do not know the rule ask them to research it. In fact I make my students teach me grammar. They learn by teaching.

English language conversation lessons

Most of your lessons should consist of fun English language conversation. They could pay a non-native speaker to teach them useless things like the perfect tense. You as a native speaker should ask them about 25 questions during your hour with them.  I give my students an hour not some lame 45 minute or 50 minute class. You should just fire them off and let them speak. You should not speak too much, they should.

Speak slowly and clearly and relaxed, not like a NYC fast slangy talker with idioms they will not understand. You want to build their linguistic confidence. You are really a language coach.

Again you are not teaching them, you are having conservation and fun with them and correcting every or almost every mistake they make. They are really looking for practice as they had enough grammar on the perfect tenses in school. Find everything you can from movies to radio programs and video games to get them engaged in learning English. Your role is to build their confidence and make them enjoy learning so they are motivated to do their homework and keep studying with pleasure.

Keys to teaching English

  • tell them they have to teach themselves the English language
  • make them get a book and do homework about 1 to 3 chapters a week
  • class should involve about 20% grammar and 80% fun but corrective conversation
  • make them listen to the radio one hour a night if they need help with pronunciation or comprehension

If you have any questions let me know.  I also wrote this guide if you have not seen it, how to learn English fast. I teach English now only for fun.