Of the hundreds of thousands of readers of this blog who visit the site daily (the real figure may be slightly less than that by a few hundred thousand – I haven’t checked the stats lately), how many of you have seen the other blogs hosted on the Career Development website at jobs.ac.uk? There’s Dr. Catherine Armstrong’s Just Higher-ed – a weekly blog on the life of an academic. Then, there is Haris Aziz’ Real Life of a PhD student.
Haris recently wrote a very interesting blog on George Polya’s ten commandments for teachers. In a shameless bit of plagiarizing, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of those tips in a TEFL context.
1. Be interested in your subject
Your enthusiasm for English – particularly in the context of it being a foreign language – is essential to effective teaching. Having an interest in the English language will motivate you to learn as much as you can about it, which in turn will make your lessons more authoritative. As Haris noted, there will be times when the subject can bore you, particularly when you have pressures at work, or even outside of work. But maintaining your enthusiasm for English is a must in the long run.
2. Know your subject
It’s all too easy to presume that as a native English speaker you are already qualified to teach. However, the English language has such an enormous variety of uses, and the linguistics behind it are so deep that it takes considerable study to truly understand English. Of course, you are not expected to know all, but “an in-depth understanding of the subject is most important before entering the lecture room.”
3. Know the ways of learning
In a TEFL context, this means understanding the psychology – or mental processes – behind learning a foreign language. If you have learnt a foreign language yourself, you should have some idea of these learning methods already. Being aware of this aspect of learning can improve your lesson planning and help you to identify with your students.
4. Read faces and empathise
Haris pointed out in his blog that “Being able to put oneself in the place of the students is critical for communication.” I would certainly concur. As a private teacher, my classes consist of one to five students. In this very close context, it is easy to see whether your students are getting to grips with what you are teaching them. This means that you have to be aware of whether you are pitching your English classes at too high – or possibly low – a level, and alter accordingly.
You also have to be aware of the need of explaining some things more thoroughly to certain students. Taking the time to communicate properly with your students and gauging their interest and their needs is very rewarding in terms of English language results.
5. Give not only info, but know-how
This is so important in TEFL. You can offer translations of words that are not understood, you can give clear definitions of grammatical concepts, you can explain idioms and phrases all day long, but your students really need to understand how to use language in a very practical and contextual way. Stimulating the kind of thinking that helps them understand English a separate, unique language is essential.
A method that is often used in TEFL is to get the students to define unknown words by looking at the meaning of the sentence and the surrounding words. This helps them to think logically, and at the end they will never forget the meaning of the word.
I’ll be back soon with the final 5 commandments for TEFL teachers. Thanks, Haris!