I love teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), and I love to hear my students and fellow teachers tell me that I am a good teacher. I am dedicated to becoming a better English teacher every day, and here is my philosophy on teaching ESL as well as some techniques that I use to help my students learn.
Who is responsible for learning?
Some people think that the teacher is the holder of all knowledge, and therefore the teacher must transmit their knowledge effectively before there is any learning. On the other end of the spectrum, some people think that the student is entirely responsible for learning regardless of what the teacher does. The truth is that language learning has always been a cooperative adventure between the teacher and the student. I prepare every day for every class as if learning depends entirely on me, however I know that I cannot force anyone to learn anything. As the teacher I help guide the learning process while looking for the wisdom and knowledge within each student to emerge, and so in that sense I observe the language acquisition as it happens and I do whatever I can to facilitate that learning process.
How much talking should an ESL teacher do?
Teacher Talk Time (TTT) is a commonly discussed topic among language experts and schools. Many teachers talk way too much in class. In the program where I earned my TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), I was encouraged to keep TTT to about 50% or less. There is even a method called the Silent Way in which students are expected to speak 90% of the time as they help each other learn, while the teacher mostly gestures silently in the classroom. The amount of talking that I do depends on many factors, such as the level of my students, the topics to be covered, whether we are practicing pronunciation, etc., however I feel strongly that my students must do as much of the talking as possible.
Language is Communication
The ESL teaching methodology most commonly used today is called the communicative method, in which communicating in the language is both the means and the goal of language learning. You learn to speak English by speaking with someone in English. I agree with this approach because this is how each of us learned to speak our first language … we spent years listening and speaking our native language before we learned to read and write it.
However, I am also “old school” in that I feel that it is very important for my students to learn grammar and to speak in grammatically correct ways, especially students who are trying to pass the TOEFL or IELTS exam so that they can begin university studies. (TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language; IELTS – International English Language Testing System).
I also feel very strongly about teaching my students to pronounce English correctly, because if their pronunciation is poor it inhibits their ability to communicate effectively. I have met many people who appeared to know a lot of English, however their pronunciation was so poor that I could barely understand them. That is not communication!
How to Learn a Language
In addition to having years of experience teaching English as a second language, one thing that enables me to help my students learn English is that I have learned a second language. I started learning Spanish at the age of 48, and I am proud to say that after 4 years of learning I passed the DELE exam administered by the Cervantes Institute in Spain indicating that I had achieved the B1 intermediate level; once I pass the B2 exam, I will be considered an advanced user of Spanish. So, while not everyone learns a language the same way, I am clear on what methods work better than other methods.
Learning a language should never be drudgery, so I make the learning as fun as possible while also setting and reaching language learning goals. And speaking of setting goals, I make it clear to students that there is no magic pill that they can take as a substitute for time on task; while some methods work faster than others, it still takes an estimated 3 hours of study and practice every day for 10 years to go from absolute beginner to advanced fluency.
We must work on all four of the language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
In my experience, as I learned more and more Spanish words I was better able to communicate, and therefore I encourage my students to build a large vocabulary of the most commonly used English words. Sometimes teachers are required to have students learn words for tests, however memorizing a bunch of words that are quickly forgotten afterward is a waste of energy. As a result, I encourage my students to have fun learning new English words by watching videos, listening to music, reading the news, and learning words on topics that interest them. When learning new words is enjoyable, students remember those words and are able to use them when communicating.
Another key to learning a language is the willingness to make many mistakes … that’s how we learned our first language, and that’s how we learn a new language. If you only know 100 English words and a few verbs in the present tense, start speaking English to everyone in order to make many mistakes.
In addition to taking classes and using books to learn a language, there are many computer programs, apps, websites, podcasts, etc., that are available nowadays to improve language learning. Not only do I encourage my students to use them, but I also use them whenever possible when teaching English.
English for Spanish Speakers
I enjoy teaching English to all people, and I am particularly skilled at teaching English to Spanish speakers because I am able to use my Spanish language skills to simplify and improve learning. I also work with businesses and non-profit organizations to improve their online marketing and business strategies. My business skills and English teaching experience can better equip your staff, improve your operations, and expand your global reach.