The learning environment

The success of students in acquiring a new language is related to the learning environment.

As I wrote last June, in addition to classes and activities, the overall learning environment is a factor in retention and student progress. Students need to feel like participants in the program rather than just observers. Each student needs to be more than just a number.

Some of your struggling ESL students may have a quiet, even introverted attitude that may discourage them from the typical ESL activities such as group work, conversation and collaborative language learning.

Their learning style may be more individual, but they will miss out on opportunities to advance in L2 acquisition. More socially active students will be more likely to take the learning outside the classroom and into the community and engage with native English speakers on a regular basis.

Students show evidence of becoming lifelong learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichment (National Standards, 1996).

Student attitudes

Teachers will encounter students who give up and drop out of L2 classes, including English as a second language courses.

Many language teachers encounter students who find languagelearning challenging and give up when they make mistakes (Lou, N. & Noels, K., 2017).

This attitude can be one of the reasons for students leaving programs and lower enrollments (232). A way around this problem is to set short term goals that will enable students to see progress. Most ESL instructors have studied a foreign language and know that it is a process that takes time. Students may reach a plateau and seem to stop learning for a time, but then they will restart and move ahead, which is often normal in L2 acquisition.

Language learning can be a challenging endeavor, and it is inevitable that many learners will face disappointments, big and small (233).

With a positive mindset, students will feel more confident and be more likely to achieve their goals. It may be helpful to make an analogy to sports. One does not become a champion soccer player the first day. It takes constant exercise, practice and skill building (and a lot of time on the bench) to become a first-team player.

Giving encouragement and avoiding hurtful comments go a long way in keeping students on track in their ESL program.As teachers, we can lower the affective filter for our ELL students by making them feel safe, welcome, and comfortable in our classrooms.But sometimes we don’t even realize there are things we say or do that may raise the defensive shield of these students (Gonzalez, V. November 5, 2017).

Gonzalez makes the following suggestions for classroom teachers. First, she says that classrooms should not be English only, which goes against the grain of many programs.

Empower students with the knowledge that having more than one language is an advantage and a beautiful thing! And embrace the fact that using the native language supports the development of the target language (6 Things We Should Never Say to Our ELLs).

More hints

Telling students that something does not sound right can be ineffective since that do not have an ear for the L2 phonology and syntax.

Knowing that other languages don’t always transfer directly helps us to understand that ELLs need massive amounts of practice hearing, speaking, reading and writing in English (6 Things We Should Never Say to Our ELLs).

Other suggestions by the author include not insisting that students only read English books and use only English at home; instructors should avoid telling them that they should know English since students learn at different rates. Also, there is a difference between academic and social English.

Acquiring academic English can take five to seven years. Sometimes students’ social English skills can fool us into thinking they are fluent in English (6 Things We Should Never Say to Our ELLs).

It may be useful to draw an analogy from music. The following is from my own experience. You can play the saxophone well using a play-along book and CDs, but when you start playing with a community band or a jazz combo, you suddenly realize that you have a lot more to learn. Music is a way to inspire ESL learners and increase their confidence. Other activities can include drama team, sports and even volunteering in the community.

One should not assume that students from some countries may be better than those from other countries because their L1 is from the same language family as English.

Just like native English speakers who are born in America, ELLs from different countries vary and come to us with unique strengths and weaknesses. As educators, it’s important that we not generalize people (e.g., Asian = good at math).

Instead of making assumptions or stereotyping, we need to get to know our students and their families. Everyone is unique and is an individual. We have to take great care not to lump people into groups and labels, especially not our students (6 Things We Should Never Say to Our ELLs).


Students are motivated to learn English even if they are learning another L2 since it is becoming a world language necessary for business, politics, science and education.

Students are motivated because of “…the global status, ubiquity, and cachet of English as an international language, one that is heavily promoted by educational and other institutions as well as by popular cultures, the Internet, scientific knowledge mobilization, and mass media communication as well as social media.” (Duff, P., 2017)

If students are lagging behind or having difficulty, one should encourage them by reminding them how important English is for their eventual success in their chosen fields. English is often seen as the preferred second or additional language because of its perceived benefits and prestige (598).

Research shows that support helps LEPs in subjects besides just English. Such help can be the difference between success and failure.

Designating early elementary students who are close to being proficient in English as English-language learners can have "significant and positive effects on the academic achievement" of the students, new research concludes (Mitchell, C. November 9, 2017).

This vital support led to higher achievement in other subjects and improved the students’ changes of success.

The study concludes that additional support that students receive as Englishlearners helps foster higher achievement in language arts and mathematics than students who were on the cusp but were identified as initial English-proficient students—and, as a result, did not receive the extra services (Does English-Language-Learner Classification Help or Hinder Students?).

Students with a positive attitude towards the host nations’ culture will be more likely to succeed. If one is learning French, for example, a high interest in French cuisine will provide motivation.

Students who have positive attitudes are more highly motivated, which strengthens the likelihood that a variety of desired behaviors will emerge, such as greater class participation, continuation of language study, and better retention of language skills (Al-Seghayer, K., January 29, 2013).


Finally, you as an instructor should become familiar with the various cultures and belief systems of your students.

As an ESL/EFL teacher, you want to promote a positive learning environment for your students. In order to do this, you must have some understanding of the culture and customs of your students. Cultural awareness begins with developing sensitivity and understanding of your students' beliefs, attitudes and values. You will need to familiarize yourself with your students' cultural characteristics, history, values, belief systems, and behaviors (, 2018).