How to Teach English to Absolute Beginners

English speaking media has become a truly global phenomenon. Whether it be blockbuster Hollywood movies or the latest pop single, English is by far the most widely disseminated language across the global culture.

Because of this, the vast majority of ESL students have had at least some contact with the English language. They may be familiar with how the language sounds, with basic greetings, and may even be able to string a few sentences together. From an educational perspective, these types of students are called false beginners.

Every now and then a teacher comes across a true beginner, someone who has no previous exposure to the English language. For these people, even basic pronunciation can be a difficult task for them. True beginners require a slightly different teaching approach than false beginners. Here we will look at the basics of teaching an absolute beginner.

Don’t Carry Any Assumptions: With an absolute beginner, a teacher must assume that the student knows nothing about English. Having this assumption will ensure that nothing is glossed over or skipped. 

Drill And Repeat: Repetition is key when learning a new language. The student will need to write or pronounce a word or sentence many times if they hope to internalize it. With absolute beginners, this process may need to be undertaken longer than with those who previously had some familiarity with the language.

Use Total Physical Response: This powerful teaching technique was developed by Psychology professor James Asher. “TPR uses physical movement that mimics the way infants respond to language. The premise of this technique is that it lowers the level of inhibition and stress a student may have while learning a new language,” writes Josh Harden, a tutor at Writinity and Researchpapersuk. TPR has been used with great success in teaching students both young and old. 

Incorporate Props And Pictures: Using props and pictures, especially when dealing with vocabulary, is extremely important. Many people are visual learners and many studies have demonstrated the increased learning capacity achieved when visual learning aids are incorporated into lessons.

 Don’t Move On Until Ready: English, just like anything worth studying, is something that builds upon previous success. Teachers often make the mistake of moving too quickly with material or moving on from topics a student does not yet have a full grasp on.

Doing this will almost certainly ensure a student’s failure to truly grasp basic concepts in the English language. “Languages are one of those topics where the learning curve is fairly steep. The basics, such as spelling, grammar, and pronunciation, are the most difficult. Without a mastery of the basics it is hard to imagine anyone becoming fluent in English, much less any language,” writes Charlotte McCann, a teacher at Draftbeyond and Lastminutewriting. Students find languages often come to them much quicker once they have learned the basics with a high degree of proficiency. Teachers working with absolute beginners should do their best to ensure that their students have a firm grasp on the basics before they move on to anything else.

Incorporate Conversational Exercises: Students who learn a language in a purely written format often have a great deal of trouble speaking a language and their conversational comprehension skills are usually quite low as well. Encouraging students to listen to phrases, questions, or commands, and having them respond is an important part of building speaking confidence as well as increasing conversational comprehension.

Always Build On What They Know: As mentioned above, English is a process where each new bit of information is built on top of some bit of understanding. Lessons should have a high level of connectivity and relevance to the previous lesson. This is how most subjects are taught, but unfortunately is the realm of language studies it is not always so.

Create Homework With Clear Instructions: Getting students to study outside of class can be a challenge in its own right. It is not made any easier when the homework instructions are complicated, poorly written, or not sufficiently simple to allow even the poorest students to understand. Much attention should be given towards the development of home exercise material.

Provide Flashcards: Students for generations have used flashcards to help them study and for good reason. They are an excellent study tool and have shown to be an effective manner to deal with simple memorization, such as vocabulary, verbs, or nouns. A teacher can even make students create their own cue-cards as part of a homework assignment.

Conclusion: Learning a language as an absolute beginner can be extremely difficult. Unlike some other languages, such as the romance languages, English has many grammatical quarks that may not seem to follow any logical pattern or structure. Because of this, many students have a difficult time learning the language. By following the above tips an ESL teacher can ensure that their true beginner students will have all the necessary tools needed for success.