The Two Biggest Mistakes of English Teachers

Flashcards to Teach Kids English

The Two Biggest Mistakes of English Teachers (TEFL / ESL)Learning a foreign language is easy. All you need is lots of repetition at a level appropriate to your understanding. These two key factors; repetition and comprehensible input, are so important to language acquisition that they are also the greatest mistakes that foreign language teachers make.

English Teacher Mistake 1 – Teaching at a Wrong Level

It can be difficult to teach at appropriate levels for students. This is particularly troublesome in mixed level classes. Teaching at too high a level will make lessons too difficult to understand. Novice teachers naturally start speaking to students as if they were native speakers. It takes skill and experience to accurately judge the level of students.

Teaching at too low a level for students means that students will not learn anything new. This generally involves too much repetition of targets students already know. For example, introductions every single class in the big private English schools. Or singing the ABC song every class for months on end.

Related to this problem is teaching targets with little communicative benefit. Songs like Old MacDonald, Twinkle Little Star and London Bridge have almost zero language benefit, so why do many teachers use those songs in their classes?

English Teacher Mistake 2 – Not Enough Repetition

Lack of systematic review in meaningful contexts will almost guarantee that anything taught in EFL classes will soon be forgotten. This is my problem with textbooks. Progressing page by page through any book will not give students the repetition they need to internalize the language targets. This is not a problem in an ESL setting because students will be using and practicing the language outside of class for dozens of hours per week. However, in an EFL setting, with typically only one hour per week of English exposure,  it is up to the teacher to provide the quantity and quality of repetition to ensure that students can acquire the language. It is absolutely impossible to provide the necessary repetition in the scope of textbook based lesson plans.

It is easy to become so blinded by the drills and exercises in the class that teachers miss real communicative opportunities. Any student can follow the drill patterns in class, the real test is if they can use those targets effectively in other contexts when they need it in the future. You learn to communicate by communicating, not by memorizing drills. This can start with simple phrases like “here you are” or “bathroom please” and expand from there. This real communication is naturally repeated numerous times over many classes. This is the language that students will begin to understand and use. The language targets they study from the book will most certainly be forgotten and re-learned, repeatedly.

Are you teaching what your students need to learn or are you teaching at too high or low a level?
Are you providing the massive amounts of repetition that will ensure your students have the confidence and knowledge to comfortably speak in English?

Get the answers to those questions correct and your classes will become much more effective.

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