4 Big Lessons I Learned as an English Language Teacher

These days, I seldom teach. My days as an English language teacher may not be as active as it used to be. This is so because I’ve moved on to other pursuits, like writing and photography. Yet, I have gained much insight about language teaching, and in this post, I share my 4 important lessons as an English language teacher.

As I reflect on my more than a decade in the field, I’m glad for these precious lessons which I hope can help any aspiring English (or any) language teacher.

Earlier in my teaching, I wrote a similar piece on language teaching, What Language Teaching Is for Me My views then were mainly from my idealist or starry-eyed perspective as a newbie. But to turn such ideals into reality, teachers need to employ effective strategies to help their students learn, plus lots of patience, diligence, and love.

  • Language teachers should start from a place of seeing where their students are coming from.

Teachers need to empathize with their students. With empathy, they can understand how to open their students’ minds and hearts to language learning.

I can generally classify the students I handled into two: those who were more practical in their learning approach; and those who were more dogmatic, so more prone to being perfectionist as well. Often, they were from non-English environments in Asia: China, Vietnam, Korea, Myanmar, among others.

So as an English language teacher, help your students realize that learning English as a second or as a foreign language is a skill. Help your students understand the need to approach language learning from a non-academic perspective. That is – being able to see language as a SKILL to develop, and not merely one of their course subjects in school wherein they acquire knowledge.

Many of my students were open-minded towards language skills development, so they came from that place where they could easily learn, and grasp not only rules, but nuances.

More importantly, they didn’t feel as easily frustrated, whenever they made mistakes. They could easily internalize the language faster than this next category of language students.

Those who saw English as an academic subject with plenty of rules to memorize etc, including vocabulary – had a more difficult time learning or picking up the language. They were also more resistant to unlearn whatever wrong usages they had acquired (fossilizing their errors).

  • Language teachers should focus more on their students’ progress, no matter how minimal.

Praise your students for each progress they make to help them grow more self-confident and fluent. Although it is equally important to point out their mistakes, avoid acting like a language police, out to arrest anyone committing blunders in grammar, or pronunciation, or sentence construction, among others.

I was like that in my early days – striking terror in the hearts of my students. So  many students would tremble, even cry at the slightest effort of mine to correct them. They would stammer or remained tongue-tied. Then I realized, I must have made them feel embarrassed, lost face. They’d rather play safe by keeping quiet.

  • Language teachers should continue honing their language teaching skills.

Through regularly attending teachers’ conferences and workshops, including 2 language teaching certificate courses, as well as finishing a master’s degree program in pastoral ministry, I experienced being a student again and again– and each time gave me an opportunity to observe different speakers/lecturers/facilitators, more certified teachers and professors, and learn from their teaching styles.

I learned what presenting styles were more effective for students like me. At the same time, I could put myself in my students’ shoes, so as the years went by, I evolved as a teacher by becoming more understanding – strict but caring and patient – and creative as well.

You should do your best to continue your language teaching education in any way you can. It is all worth the effort.

They say an effective language teacher is one who facilitates learning. SO don’t just teach, but involve your students in their learning and make them responsible for their progress.

Learn with them too; show  you can also make mistakes and that’s OK.

  • Language teachers should have a genuine love for learning.
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When you enjoy learning, that joy will radiate to your students and they’ll be inspired to learn as well. That joy will give you the spark to teach more effectively because it delights you to share whatever knowledge you have acquired.

How can a language teacher inspire her students to learn? You may leave your comments down below.



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