The Basics of Teaching ESL to Adults

English is one of the most complex languages we have on this earth. To those who learned it from childhood, it seems easy enough. For those whose teeth and tongues have become used to certain un-English phonetic sounds, however, sometimes learning English can be frustrating. Written English is often also affected by the oral and it can be quite confusing. Even among people who have spoken English all their lives and speak no other language apart from English, the word ‘than’ is sometimes confused with the word ‘then’ because of the way it is pronounced within the United States. It is very important, therefore, for the teacher who is teaching English as a second language to come to the class armed with respect for his students.

One thing I learned as a child is to encourage people who are learning a language that I am proficient in. Joking with mistakes that they make or trying to mimic their wrong placement of syllables or inflections can discourage them from trying to speak the language as often as they should. Some teachers make the mistake of joining the class to laugh at a student’s mistake. In a language class, it should be a taboo. Learning a second language is like learning to walk. You need the mistakes to grow just as a child falls in order to learn to balance on two legs.

Another factor that is necessary in teaching English as a second language is a primer. Some teachers think that the students are too old for these primers but you need to start from scratch. The advantage here is that adults, who know what the material intends to achieve, move faster with it than children do. A primer must be used on the side while the syllabus of the particular institution under which the tuition is taking place is pursued.

Added to these, the student must be made to listen to as many everyday conversational tapes as possible. Usually, people who are studying a second language tend to indulge in transliteration. They form a sentence in their first language and then translate it word for word in the second language with no respect for subject-verb agreement or even positioning of articles. Sometimes the articles are completely ‘chopped’ off. The tapes, thus, will help them memorize these everyday expressions so they can gradually begin to ‘think’ in the second language.

Furthermore, a constant practice in Lexis and Structure helps a great deal. There must be hundreds of questions for the student to play with. In the subway, on the bus, at work or at home, the student must be toying with these exercises.

For the purpose of being brief, I will end here by stating that a student learning English as a second language must be made to understand that reading should be a habit. They should be encouraged to read more of classical literature and books written by women, who are usually sensitive to language and are more careful to be correct. Thrillers are good but not for beginners. Thriller writers are often adventurous with the language for the sake of creating suspense and quickening the pace of the narrative.