This is a question that friends, relatives and passersby often ask me upon learning that speaking the mother tongue of the students in the classroom is forbidden (in most cases). So how do you teach English when even communicating with your students at times is so hard? This is for everyone who has ever asked me this question.
1. Use the English they know
You have to use two things when teaching English: (1) whatever knowledge your students already have of English, and (2) the basic understanding of language that they have. False beginners, high-school students, the elderly… everyone knows a bit of English. You have to use that basis, as small as it may be, to explain new concepts and words in order to build their knowledge. If your students really are starting from the very beginning, you use such things as picture dictionaries and other visual aids.
2. English is a language like any other language
There are similarities between English and your students’ mother tongue. All languages (correct me if I’m wrong) have verbs, nouns, tenses and pre-defined sentence structures. It’s not like you’re teaching a newborn baby it’s first words. The basic understanding of language is probably already there so your job is just to teach the new form.
3. Speak clearly
The way you speak is almost as important as what you say when teaching. Any student of a foreign language knows that you cannot keep pace with native speakers at first. It takes time to train your mind and ears. As a teacher, then, you have to consciously speak in a manner that your students can understand.
4. Talk simply
I cannot stress this enough! Particularly when defining new words, we have to use terms as simple and familiar as possible. Complicating your speech is unnecessary and misleading. It’s all about developing and building up until more complex terms can be used.
5. Ask lots of questions
Concept check, ask reflective questions, ask comprehension questions, ask how your students pet turtle is… anything! Asking questions shifts the focus away from you and it encourages language production.
Well, that’s my basic 5-part answer. It’ll try to keep it in mind for the next time someone challenges me on how to teach without speaking the same language as my students.
Anything to add to my 5 steps? Leave it below!