Here are some ways that ESL teachers can be more effective.

Teaching hint 1: Content

Content and grammar go together as learners strive towards the goal of L2 proficiency and communication skills. The various sub-skills of grammar, listening, reading, writing, and cultural awareness all work together in the language acquisition process.

Grammar is especially important to ensure communication, but the material presented should be meaningful and relevant to the learners' daily lives. Grammar is best presented in a meaningful context rather than in isolation.

Communication is at the heart of L2 learning. Students advance as they learn English by using English to transmit a message or to find information through reading or listening. These processes also require knowledge of the target culture.

Teaching hint 2: Culture

The background knowledge for L2 learners to comprehend also includes culture; a reading passage or oral message passage may be linguistically understood, but the real meaning may depend upon a cultural concept, a common proverb or saying for example, that the language learner may not fully comprehend (Pfister, G. & Poser, Y. 1987).

For example, the expression “He really struck out.” would not be clear to someone without knowledge of baseball. Teachers need to make sure that the learners have the a priori knowledge to understand the meanings.

Note the ATFL National Standards:

Through the study of other languages, students gain aknowledge and understanding of the cultures that use that languageand, in fact, cannot truly master the language until theyhave also mastered the cultural contexts in which the languageoccurs (National Standards, 1996).

Teachers need to be aware that cultures are different and that there are variations within cultures.

“It is also important to help students understand that cultures are not monolithic. A variety of successful behaviors are possible for any type of interaction in any particular culture. Teachers must allow students to observe and explore cultural interactions from their own perspectives to enable them to find their own voices in the second language speech community (Peterson, E. & Coltrane, B., December 2003).”

Cultural and linguistic instruction is intertwined. Designing curriculum that connects culture and linguistic competence can combine form-focused language teaching and cultural instruction (Byram, Fall 2011).

When ESL or a foreign language is taught, the culture is taught as well. Cultural competency is a prerequisite for successful ESL instructors.Global competency is the understanding of various cultures and relating them to one’s own experiences (Flammia, M. December 2015).

“Globally competent individuals take a world view of events and see connections between the global and the local. They are skilled communicators who possess intercultural awareness and sensitivity. They know how to work with diverse others and to manage knowledge to create shared understandings (5).”

Teacher training should include cultural understanding. A culture or contrastive culture course including the home cultures of the learners will help teachers gain empathy with their students.

As I wrote previously, “Equipping teachers and other staff to build effective relationships with students, parents, and staff from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds is key for improving student learning and the success of schools in a diverse community. Placing value on our cultural and linguistic diversity and understanding cultural sensitivities is vital to success in education (Magrath, D. August 2014).”

ESL students are not all the same.

“Amongst the first group of students I ever taught—a group of high school students who were all English language learners—was a 17-year-old who had never attended school and didn’t know the alphabet. We started with how to hold a pencil. A young South Korean student in the same class spoke little English but had a great deal of content knowledge in her first language Another student from Yemen struggled to learn English and—his older brother told me—was frustrated that he couldn’t transfer his understanding of math into English given that our numbers are written differently (Aguilar, E. December 2, 2016).”

Besides methods, linguistics and culture, teachers need to know the basic principles of second language acquisition (SLA).

“The problem is that most language teachers and even some methods instructors are not familiar with contemporary findings on SLA. Teacher prep programs tend to focus on methods, assessment, and classroom management, but very few provide a sound foundation in the principles of SLA and how they should inform practice (Grabe, C. February 6, 2017).”

Knowing English well does not qualify one to be an ESL teacher. Potential teachers need to learn the skills necessary for teaching L2 in general and English in particular. Teachers need to track the linguistic forms produced by the learners and be able to use successful teaching strategies including an understanding of the various cultures represented in the student body.

“Language teachers should also develop a differentiated language awareness, language learning awareness, and intercultural competencies in order to diagnose their students’ performance and, ultimately, enable then to develop competencies in the whole range of media-, and text-related objectives of the curriculum (Konig, J. et al Spring, 2017).”

Traditionally, ESL training includes linguistics, culture methods, and testing.

Teaching hint 3: What teachers can do

It is possible for the instructor to develop texts and skill-building exercises where the content of the passages should deal with the learners' immediate environment and the situations they face every day along with an insight into culture. Campus and town activities are a good starting point as are simple descriptions of people and places.

Students in beginning classes can read descriptions of the campus, the bookstore or the student center. Later passages can deal with cultural contrasts and similarities. The instructor might imagine a situation that a foreign student in this country might face; perhaps a humorous situation that would hold the students' interest more than just a descriptive passage.

Here are three suggested strategies for reading instruction:

With the first strategy, the students select reading material of interest that is within their reading ability level. After reading it, the students write a reaction report.

In the second strategy, the teachers are role models and participate in independent reading with the students.

The third strategy recommends that teachers frequently give feedback on students’ readings and interactions during the reading process (Wu Hui-Ju, 2011). Skill-building exercises help the students further analyze the material and expand their vocabulary (Magrath, D. April 15, 2015).

Help students realize that their view of the world is culturally bound, and both teachers and learners need to begin to appreciate the different cultural frameworks used to perceive the world (Hadley, 2001).

Teaching hint 4: Engage

Encourage discussion and interaction. You may introduce controversy if you have a high intermediate or advanced class.

Debating an issue and trying to persuade others are great ways to become invested in a topic. This is true not only in current affairs, but in literary and historical analysis.

You might pose questions such as, “Why do you think the character responded as she did?” or “What do you suppose happened to John Smith when the crew accused him of mutiny?” You’ll have to be prepared to step in if the exchange of views threatens to deteriorate into an overly emotional argument (Abla, C. January 22, 2019).