Teaching English as a foreign language is not only a job, but also an interesting experience involving many rewards and challenges at the same time. Students’ interest in learning English, their curiosity in finding out new things about a foreign culture, each progress in their work, each new word they are able to use by themselves in grammatically correct sentences are only some reasons why teaching English as a second language is a rewarding career choice. Each teacher can complete the list of rewards with his own examples.
Challenges are also an important part of each teacher’s job. In their daily lives, teachers must overcome many problems outside the classroom. The salary and the poor social status of teachers, unsatisfied parents are only some examples. At the same time teachers must face many different challenges when they are in the physical or virtual classroom. They must learn to constantly adapt their methods, tools and teaching styles to their students’ needs. Given the fact that students have different personalities, learning styles, likes and dislikes, levels of English, devices they use during the English class etc., it is not an easy task to be always focused on students’ needs. This often means dealing with plenty of problems in the classroom and working to find solutions. This article underlines some of the most common problems faced by the English as a second language teacher.
Persistent use of students’ mother-tongue
Most of the students consider that speaking only English in the classroom is difficult and they prefer to use their mother tongue. At the beginning of the twentieth century it was forbidden to use students’ mother tongue in the classroom. Attitudes towards the use of students’ mother tongue have changed recently. More and more research has proved that the use of students’ native language in the classroom can be an important learning resource. There are situations when the limited and strategic use of students’ mother tongue is necessary (checking comprehension after reading a text; introducing a certain grammar concept that is very time-consuming, giving instructions for a certain activity in English is confusing for students, explaining a word in English is too time-consuming, the translation of a key-word is very important for the meaning of a text etc.). Nevertheless, students must be encouraged to use English as often as they can. The first step a teacher can make in this sense is to create an English atmosphere in the classroom. The map, the flag of The United Kingdom or other national symbols on the walls, some pictures of English personalities or important buildings from The United Kingdom, English-language posters, an English background in a virtual class can be useful.
Beside the English atmosphere, teachers can establish a set of rules related to the use of students’ mother tongue in the classroom. For instance, they become ”deaf” each time when students use their mother tongue instead of English or they ”punish” those students who use their primary language, asking them to recite a poem in English. No matter what strategy the teacher chooses, it is important to encourage each effort to use English.
Fear of English
The main goal of teaching English is to make students use by themselves the language they learn in real life communication. Teaching English is useless if students know many things about pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and literature, but they are not able to communicate in English. One of the major obstacles a learner must overcome is the fear of speaking English. Embarrassment, timidity, lack of confidence, poor pronunciation, fear of making mistakes, fear of being ridiculed by other students, worries about not finding the right word are only some reasons why students are afraid of speaking English. It is teacher’s job to help students overcome this fear. A relaxed atmosphere in the classroom and an encouraging attitude to each attempt to speak English no matter how slight are the first steps to be made in this sense. Even if many teachers consider choral repetition a method out of fashion, it can help students to pronounce words without any inhibition. Teachers can ignore some mistakes when they are interested in fluency instead of accuracy. Students must also know that it is forbidden to laugh at your colleagues’ mistakes. Beside these techniques, the best method to help students to overcome their fear of English is to give them the chance to practice and to communicate in English. Teachers should remember that students need time to think, to prepare their speech in their minds. Speaking all the time in the classroom, being over helpful, giving more explanations than necessary are only some common mistakes that teacher make. Teaching talking time is an important issue when learning about teaching. The more a teacher speaks himself in the classroom, the less opportunity is for the students to use English by themselves.
It is difficult to explain what disruptive behaviour means, because it can take various forms. Students are late, they fail to do their homework, they do not cooperate keeping silence most of the time, they play with their microphones. On the contrary they are noisy and they use their first language, even if they are supposed to speak English. Each teacher has experienced this kind of situations at least once. Most of the students, especially the young learners get bored very quickly and they are not able to pay attention to their teacher for a long time. As soon as they get bored, they begin to do anything else than they are supposed to do (they become agitated and noisy, they chat with their fellows, they use their mobile phones, they look through the window, they turn off their cameras etc.). It is teacher’s job to maintain their interest, even if in some cases this task can be very difficult. The traditional teaching based on ”talk and chalk” is out of date. If a teacher speaks himself most of the time, standing in front of the class, while students listen to him, there are great chances that they get bored. Some possible solutions to maintain their interest are to use modern technology, to organise a variety of activities in the classroom, to change these activities as often as possible, to use games such as Bamboozle, Quizziz, Wordwall, Jigsawplanet, Speeder, Paddlet, Etwinning Projects etc. involving some movement, to make sure that students understand what they are expected to do, to avoid using boring material such as very long texts without pictures, to use attractive life stories, to use pair-work even in the virtual classes by means of breakout rooms.
In some cases, students do not cooperate, despite teacher’s efforts to create a pleasant atmosphere and to engage them in the activities. Some other factors such as family’s attitudes to English, previous learning experience, students tiredness, students’ home life, societal attitudes to English learning etc. or other disturbing factors must be taken into account. As a teacher, it is important to identify the cause of such behaviour, to keep calm and to find the proper solution.
The traditional teacher of the nineteenth century, whose teaching was based on the ”Grammar-translation method” used to talk in front of the students most of the time in the classroom. The modern teachers realised that this kind of teaching is inefficient, because the main goal of teaching English is to make students use this language by themselves. This is why the “Communicative Approach” began to be used in the classroom. This method is based on the interaction between students and its main goal is to make them speak English as much as they can.
This is why students work often in pairs or groups. Asking them to work in this way means in some cases a lot of noise. Students have to move around the classroom, they have to talk to their fellows, seats must be reorganised. Some teachers avoid activities involving pair or group work for fear of being too noisy and disturbing other teachers. In fact, controlled noise is a sign that learning takes place in the classroom. The advantages of pair and group work are so important that it would be a great mistake not to organise this type of activities: students get the chance to communicate in English with their fellows; they have the opportunity to speak English in small groups without being afraid of making mistakes in front of the whole class; they can know better their classmates.
Teaching English can be a very challenging job. It became a general truth that those who decide to choose this career do not do it for the money. Vocation and passion are the keywords in this job. No matter how demanding this profession can be, the rewards of teaching English as a second language are evident. The welfare of the students are in teachers’ hands and in some situations English can make the difference.
Teaching English does not mean only educating children in the sense of making them able to communicate using the target language, but also having an important contribution to their future career and personality. Seeing your students becoming better than you is the reward that motivates teachers to overcome any challenges and to do their best in their jobs. “ To teach is to touch a life forever”.
Harmer, Jeremy(2001). ”The practice of English Language Teaching”, Third Edition. Longman.
Scrivener, Jim (2005). ”Learning Teaching”, Second Edition. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Limited.