How can esl teachers teach English if they don't speak the native language?
You might be wondering how on earth you will get on in your classroom, in the heart of a remote country, without a word of the native language to your name. Teachers regularly ask me this question:
- When is it appropriate to speak to our pupils in their common tongue?
- And what do we do if we don't speak the native language?
The short answer is:
It's better to use English all the time, or at least as much as possible.
With two possible exceptions:
- If I speak my pupils' native language, I will give the class in English, but sometimes, to save time, I will use the native language to explain the rules of a game, or a concept. This is purely to save time and for the sake of clarity.
- I will also tell a child off in the native language, 'Would you like me to call your father or do you prefer to behave nicely?'
Many teachers, however, are in classrooms where they have no choice, they don't speak the native language.
The good news is that it's perfectly possible to teach English when you don't speak the native language, and it's not as hard as you might think! When I was in Nepal I was forced to find a way to communicate with the kids since I spoke no Nepalese whatsoever.
- The answer is not to jabber away to a class of beginners who have no idea what you are saying. You will just alienate them. Use limited language and vocabulary and repeat yourself often.
- The secret is demonstration, not explanation. This goes for how to play a game or a rule of grammar. For a game, physically show the children what to do using simple commands and actions. This won't be enough with a complex game, but with my simple and fun language drill games you'll have no trouble explaining how to play.
It's a great help if your students know basic commands, such as, pass, take, point, look, find, stand up, sit down, come to the front, touch, go to, freeze, write, draw, spell, etc. To teach a new word, first you need to explain (or demonstrate) the meaning of that word, and then drill it, with games so pupils remember it. To teach the word 'pass', take an object, place it in a pupil's hand. Take his or her arm and move the object over to the child next door, indicate by pointing that the child is to take the object. When they do, you repeat 'pass'. Repeat this action with several pupils, saying the target word over and over. In this scenario you need pupils to understand that the word is 'pass' and not 'take'. Ask a pupil to pass a book, 'Dan, pass the book to Flores. Flores, pass the book to Javier'.
Once pupils understand the meaning of five or six new commands, drill them with a listening game, such as Jump the Line (from 176 English Language Games for Children). Simon Says is also a perfect game to drill commands. There's a complicated variant for older pupils so they don't get bored in my teen/adult games book. Enrich the game with words students already know, mixed in with the new words to keep their attention.
Be sure to let your students and teaching assistant, if you have one, know the English only rule too.
If you have any questions, or would like to read more about teaching ESL to children, please visit my pages on teaching preschool, primary or teens and adults. There are fun, effective games for all ages, in download from this website, or in paperback. Here is my Amazon Author page: Amazon. You are welcome to contact me too, I love hearing from teachers.
I hope to hear from you soon!
Shelley Ann Vernon