You might be wondering how on earth you will get on in your classroom, in the heart of a remote country, if you don’t speak the native language. Without a word of the native language to your name, there you are. You are not alone because teachers abroad regularly ask me these two questions:
– When is it appropriate to speak to our pupils in their common tongue?
– What do we do if we don’t speak the native language?
The short answer
It’s better to use English all the time, or at least as much as possible.
With two possible exceptions
– Even if I speak my pupils’ native language, I still teach in English. However, sometimes, to save time, I will use the native language to explain the rules of a game or a concept. This use of L1 is purely to save time and for the sake of clarity.
– I will also tell a child off in the native language, ‘Would you like me to call your father, or do you prefer to behave nicely?’
Here’s how to teach English if you don’t speak the L1
Many teachers are in classrooms where they have no choice; they don’t speak the native language.
The good news is that it’s perfectly possible to teach English when you don’t speak the students’ language. And it’s not as hard as you might think! For example, when I was in Nepal, I was forced to find a way to communicate with the kids since I spoke no Nepalese whatsoever.
However, the answer is not to jabber away to a class of beginners who have no idea what you are saying. You will just alienate them. Instead, use limited language and vocabulary and repeat yourself often.
– The secret is demonstration, not explanation. This goes for how to play a game or a rule of grammar. For a game, physically show the children what to do using simple commands and actions. However, this won’t be enough with a complex game, but with my simple and fun language drill games you’ll have no trouble explaining how to play.
Teach basic commands
It’s a great help if your students know basic commands, such as pass, take, point, look, find, stand up, sit down, come to the front, touch, go to, freeze, write, draw, spell, shhh, etc.
To teach a new word, first you need to explain (or demonstrate) the meaning of that word. After that, you drill it with games so pupils remember it. For instance, to teach the word ‘pass,’ take an object and place it in a pupil’s hand. Take their arm and move the thing over to the child next door; indicate by pointing that the child is to take it. When they do, you repeat ‘pass’. Repeat this action with several pupils, saying the target word over and over. In this scenario, you need pupils to understand that the word is ‘pass’ and not ‘take’. Ask a pupil to pass a book, ‘Dan, pass the book to Flores. Flores, pass the book to Javier’.
Once pupils understand the meaning of five or six new commands, drill them with a listening game, like Simon Says, which is a perfect game for commands. There’s a complicated variant for older pupils so they don’t get bored in my teen/adult games book. Enrich the game with words students already know, mixed in with the new words to keep their attention.
If you have any questions or would like to read more about teaching ESL to children, please visit my pages on teaching preschool, primary or teens and adults. There are fun, effective games for all ages, in download from this website, or in paperback. Here is my Amazon Author page: Shelley Ann Vernon’s ESL resources. You are welcome to contact me too, I love hearing from teachers.
I hope to hear from you soon!
Shelley Ann Vernon