How to Teach English as a Second Language

How to teach English as a second language? Stick around if you want to know more about catching your students' interest and attention.

How to Teach English as a Second Language

Teaching English as a second language is probably one of the best things you can do if you love the English language. You’ll not only get to share your love of the language, but you’ll also help those who could fulfill their life goals if they learn English. Here are 10 tips that will completely transform your teaching experience.

  1. Teaching English as a second language using videos
  2. Teaching English to foreign students
  3. Teaching English to adults
  4. How to teach English in a fun way
  5. Use fun language learning apps to break the routine
  6. How to teach English abroad
  7. English as a second language for kids
  8. Read and analyze fiction stories together
  9. Attend educational shows to get inspired
  10. TESOL, ESL, and TEFL Certifications

How to become an ESL teacher

I was 17 years old when I discovered I wanted to be a teacher. I honestly owe this one to my brother who was 5 at that time. His teacher had this tradition of inviting parents to the classroom on Fridays to read stories. That particular Friday it was my mother’s turn, but she asked me to go instead. And I was simply overwhelmed. Those little kids were more eager to discover new things than Spanish conquistadors ever have been to discover new lands. That was my “Eureka!” moment. The next thing I did was research what I needed to do in order to become an ESL teacher. Depending on the requirements of the country and the institution in which you intend to teach, you may need to complete a pedagogic module and earn an English certification.

But how to teach English as a second language? Will I ever be capable enough to do that?

If you are having the same dilemma I had back then, the answer is “Yes, you can be and you will be.” and I’m saying this today: 3 amazing years since I officially am an English teacher. But we all know that becoming a teacher isn’t the hardest part. Actually, teaching feels like walking on a burning wire sometimes. In a heavily technologized visual era you yourself have to be a student in order to teach others. Times change. People change with them. And my point is that you can’t teach English as a second language (this being my personal example) in a traditional way in a world that shakes hands with artificial intelligence and has drinks at the bar with the entertainment industry. You have to find new ways of catching your students’ attention.

And I did. Honestly, it’s not entirely my merit because my tactics are mostly inspired by my experience as a student. What I did was make a list of all the strategies that worked for me and my colleagues. Next, I adapted this list to today’s trends, applied it in my classroom, and conquered two new lands called “interest” and “attention”. If you want to conquer the same lands in your classroom, stick around with me. I summed up my strategies in a list that I like to call “The Decalogue of the Modern Teacher”.

1. Teaching English as a second language using videos

I have a lot of friends that learned the basic English vocabulary by watching English cartoons. You might have some too. And I’m actually pretty sure that this is not a government secret: people (regardless of their age) learn faster and better when adding something they really enjoy doing to the learning process.

Although this is a great teaching tactic, don’t let yourself be carried away. The first thing you want to do is research. The method won’t work if your students don’t like the movie or the cartoons that you have chosen. The secret is to stay anchored in modernity.

Pro tips:

  • Adapt the content according to the age. I hope this doesn’t surprise you, but kindergarten kids won’t care a bean about TEDx Talks.
  • Use English subtitles! This is a must. Listening to fluent English speakers might be hard in the beginning.
  • Discuss and review in English. I know they usually don’t have opinions, but if they watched something that was of interest to them, they will want to talk about it. Our desire to express certain opinions makes us more eager to break language barriers.

2. Teaching English to foreign students: listen to music

Teaching English to foreign students becomes a piece of cake when you use music. I know it’s not math, but I still consider it a universal language. As I mentioned before, my brother is 12 years younger than me. That means he hasn’t had a lot of contact with what we call today “old music”. Still, the only English lesson he mentions from the 4th grade is one that implied analyzing John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

I know what you think and no, I don’t advise you to choose a Nicki Minaj song. Put “quality” and “modernity” in a balance before making your choice. Good luck!

3. Teaching English to adults: organize debates

Teaching English to adults is tougher than teaching English to kids (if you ask me). But if Frodo managed to destroy the ring, you can teach adults some English too.

Just joking. They are a bit stubborn, but there are ways to win them over as well. A well-chosen debate topic can cultivate their stubbornness into something useful such as learning a new language.

Pro tip: Adults are bigger children. That means that you can also watch movies and TEDx Talks and review them together.


4. How to teach English in a fun way: create

Creation is catharsis. Give your students time and some keywords and you will be amazed.

  • Create stories. In high school, I had quite a big list of words I could not ever remember and my English teacher advised me to create a story using these words. Her technique worked like magic. To this day, I still create stories with words that I tend to forget.
  • Create poems. Your students might be reluctant to this strategy, but the creation process will rock their world making them proud of themselves.
  • Or rap battles. This is a bonus. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to foresee that students will love it!

5. Use fun language learning apps to break the routine

Language learning apps are our best friends. They are the best assistants that you can ever have! No kidding.

It’s true that technology made us more choosey. In modern times, tradition bores us. But technology is also the one that electrifies our world and enhances our experiences. Mondly, for example, is a language learning app that takes language learning to another level using augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and chatbot technologies.

It sounds futuristic. I know. But that’s exactly the reason why your students will love learning English as a second language using this app. Give it a try and enjoy the experience together.

6. How to teach English abroad: organize intercultural nights

Love goes through the stomach. You knew that already. What you didn’t know is that language learning works the same.

The first sentence that my gourmand friend learned when we went to Turkey was “I am hungry.” in a perfect Turkish. Is that surprising? I don’t think so.

Food makes us happy. Good food makes us eager to learn more (food) words in a new language. Why shouldn’t we, as teachers, use this info in our own best interest? You can organize intercultural nights and discuss a lot of interesting things about the USA and UK’s cultures, but my guess is that traditional food will still be the star of the night.

7. English as a second language for kids: celebrate English holidays

Kids from all over the world simply love Halloween. For them, it makes no difference that this is an American holiday. And trust me: your students are no different. As long as they have fun, it doesn’t matter what holiday you are celebrating.

The thing with Halloween is that they get to be superheroes for a day. You too. Finally checking “become Batman for a day” off of your bucket list, eh? How awesome is that?

On a more serious note, I can assure you this is really efficient. One kid in my class was so excited about this task that he handcrafted magic wands for all his colleagues and made a really convincing essay on “why Neville Longbottom is the real hero of Harry Potter”.


8. Read and analyze fiction stories together

This is another great strategy that I learned from one of my teachers. But as I mentioned earlier, you have to be 100% sure that you made the right choice. Harry Potter, as you may have already realized, works like magic in this situation.

Start with enough to catch their interest and attention. Then encourage them to come up with alternate endings and new characters. The possibilities are endless and the learning process will happen without them even realizing it. The only thing that may stand in your way is the teaching methodology. Adapt that to your students’ best interest and you should be ok.

Bonus tip: Good teachers may be different from a student’s point of view. Look for inspiration everywhere around you. Even in cinematography! Start with Damien Chazelle’s masterpiece – Whiplash – and observe how a teacher should not behave. Seriously. That guy was the king of all awful teachers.

9. Attend educational shows to get inspired

One of the most inspiring educational shows that you can ever go to is The Bett Show. Hundreds of companies from all over the world gather at Bett every year to discuss how education can change the future using the latest technologies.

My guess is that this kind of event can inspire you to be a better teacher to your young students. Every day, technology becomes a bigger part of their worlds and we, as teachers, should keep up with the pace. Until super smartphones or super-smart robots will eventually replace us, we are still a crucial part of the global learning process. Although I find it hard to believe that scientists will ever be able to create a software so developed that it replicates the energy, dedication, and enthusiasm of a good teacher.

10. TESOL, ESL, and TEFL Certifications

As any good teacher would, you care about your students. Their great results and knowledge are the sum of your actions as a great teacher. Furthermore, depending on their age, your role as a teacher is similar to that of a parent. In other words, you will always be their teacher. Even when they will become adults, their life will still be influenced by your actions. No pressure!

That is why you should advise them to get their English certification before graduating high school. Not only this will be a good exercise, but it will also help them in their careers. English as a second language in your CV isn’t just a plus anymore. It has become a must. Cross this one off their lists before life does it for them. Good luck!

Are your students looking for fun ways to learn English as a second language? Here’s a cool recommendation!

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Diana Lăpușneanu - Linguist at Mondly Blog

Diana is a Linguist at Mondly by Pearson. Learning English as a second language early on fueled her lifelong passion for language learning, leading her to pursue a diverse array of languages as a hobby alongside her academic endeavors. With a Master’s Degree in advertising and a fascination for historical linguistics, she brings a unique perspective to her role, making language learning fun for readers worldwide.

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