What Can You Do?

English language students, you can’t live with them, you can’t do without them. What’s a frustrated English as a Foreign or Second language teacher going to do? English language teachers, there are good ones, so-so ones and then there are those that justice would only prevail if they were permanently excused from the classroom. So what’s a near-desperate English as a foreign language learner to do?

Critical Problems

Here are the first three of the English language learning classroom’s most critical problems with comments on what might be done in dealing or managing each one. We’ll continue the discussion of the final two critical problems in ELT in a second article.

1. Lack of Learner Motivation

Students skip class, and when they do show up it’s likely due to fear of failure more than anything else. They may lack any semblance of attention during class, chatting with classmates, doodling in their note books or, (gasp!) in their textbooks. What experienced English or other foreign language teaching professional hasn’t faced the problem of reluctant, unmotivated learners? One key to increasing motivation is to use activities matched to the personalities, learning styles and characteristics of the learners as often as practically possible.

2. Insufficient Time, Resources and Materials

You know the old adage, “you can never be too rich, too thin or have enough English or foreign language vocabulary. So what can you do when charged with teaching English or a foreign language in only one or two hours per week? One of the only times that was ever successfully accomplished was with the pouring out of Holy Spirit on the apostles during Pentecost. (Acts 2:1 – 11) Add too little time to a decided lack of resources and virtually zero other resources in many third-world classrooms and you have a critical teaching / learning situation indeed. But there are ways, even on the lowest budget, of producing virtually free or very inexpensive English language teaching and learning aids for use in the EFL or foreign language classroom.

3. Over-Crowded English Classes
The number of learners in a class room can range from one, for those who teach individual private learners, to 15 or twenty learners in a typical classroom up to “multitudes of 35 or forty or even fifty or more learners packed into a language leaning situation. Forget anything even remotely resembling “individual attention”. Either the throng “gets it” or they don’t with little available to the teacher. When I’m faced with over-sized groups I immediately implement strategies using choral, small group and pair work to help in lessening the load on both me and my large group of learners. I also separate out a few of the more “advanced” learners to help me with group work elements. It doesn’t solve all the problems, but it’s a good start.

Your Ideas, Suggestions and Comments, Please

While it would be absolutely impossible to provide detailed answers to such critical, world-wide problems in the English language teaching and learning classroom here, we can recognize our limitations and constraints, and collectively make an effort to address and overcome them. If you have ideas on any of these problem topics, feel free to share them in comments, e-mails, forums, ELT conferences and teacher meetings. Who knows, your voice may be just the one to break open the problem with a universally workable approach or solution.

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