How to teach english as a second language?

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As an ESL PhD I can offer you what research and philosophical frameworks have agreed on for many years on end:

1. Second language learning is incidental- You have to provide the lessons in a real-life environment with maximum exposure to the target language, preferably in an 80-20 format which will lead to 100 target language.

2. Formal teaching of second language should not be mechanized, instead, the teacher should be a guide to using it properly rather than the executor of it. In other words, no memorization, no tediousness. That blocks the affective filter of the student and in turn makes it lose the motivation.

3. Expose the reader to as much visual imagery and words in the target language as possible. This is called Extensive Reading and it is a proven tool to establish text to language connections, and sound/symbol connections.

4. Kinesthetics are a plus. Teach by doing and they will learn by doing. Instead of saying "sit", go ahead and sit while you say it. Build games with rhyming words, expose them to songs and music, and to the culture.

5. Do not translate. Do not translate. Do not translate. Do not translate. Do not translate. Instead: Point, do, enact, body talk, paraphrase, scattergory it, whatever, but do not translate. The student has the flexibility and the INNATE ability to learn language because we learn the second language the same way we learn the first, therefore, we all CAN do it. Its only a matter of time.

saraadel | Student

I've been teaching english for two years now and i faced some problems at the begining. first let your students know how important it is to learn this language and any other language. let them figure out the tips you are going to use e.g what are the best four ways to learn any language? some will say reading, listening, and writing but others may have diffrent answers like watching tv etc. prepare your lessons very well and let them guess the meaning if it is still hard put the word in an easier sentence. make the class fun by telling the the common mistakes in english e.g you can't say i ve got a blue jeans pants. explain that jeans gives the same meaning of pants. let them start by writing about themselves and their contries. don't expect that they will all be smart. but always remember that it is good to make friend with them and that you appreciate their effort and at the same time waiting for more. also remember to break the ice with the shy students

kimmc0812 | Student

Depending on the age of the learners, using lots of visuals along with the written word is effective.  Also use all modalities when preseneting lessons - visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  Try to use real life situations and objects when possible. 

mdernaika | Student

Well, that all depends on who the students are, how many, and in what situation. Are the students mixed language backgrounds or the same?  Similar English levels, or different?

I have taught ESL and EFL.  Both require different approaches. Without knowing your specific situation, I can't really help much, but here are a few general ideas.

For ESL classes, I make them watch TV with the captions on, listen to the radio in English, write out song lyrics, read English short stories and essays, and so on.

Games are very helpful since most ESL students are terrified of being embarrassed by a mistake. I have used UNO to good effect teaching colors, numbers, and simple rules.


athnam | Student

Your best bet is to take some training or classes. Barring that, there are plenty of websites online that can help. Check out: (probably the most resourseful and reputable)

...and a couple books to start with:

Constructivist Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners‎

by Sharon Adelman Reyes, Trina Lynn Vallone
Limited preview - 2007

English Language Learners in Your Classroom: Strategies That Work‎

by Ellen Kottler, Jeffrey A. Kottler, Chris Street - Education - 2007 - 199 pages
This third edition of the best-selling Children With Limited English offers connections to currentresearch, new strategies for building communication skills, and instructional ..


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