What does teaching English abroad to non-native speakers involve? What is the process in the classroom to ensure that every non-native English speaking student is not left behind and is able to acquire the necessary skills both in speaking and writing the language?
First things first, it involves the careful choice of appropriate and simple material to use in the classroom. This applies not only to materials such as prescribed texts, or teacher-generated content, but also simplicity in language used in the classroom, and in instructions given to students regarding class activities. The choice of content for use in the classroom is obviously dictated by the level of the students so what works for an adult class will not necessarily work for a children’s classroom. Teacher interests in certain topics or themes are helpful in guiding students in the class, but so are the interests of the students themselves. This is particularly visible in classrooms in which discussions take place as the level of engagement increases dramatically when the discussion centres around a topic that is familiar to the students or one they have the most knowledge of. This is also a good way to get the attention and contribution of those students who are usually shy or reticent due to their language competency, to become much more involved in the classroom.
Visual aids work great. I’m reminded of one of Vinston teachers, John, who while teaching, video-called his mother back in the UK to show his classroom of kids that cats in the UK actually do look like those in China since the kids were curious. They were satisfied to observe that cats in the UK indeed resemble those in China. There won’t always be extreme cases such as this one I’ve used here as an example but, always remember the adage, “show, don’t tell”. Students are able to make refences or remember better when a visual aid is present. Showing vs. telling is also a valuable skill to teach to students, especially in writing when teaching tools such as the employment of “active language”.
Language teaching, especially to beginner English speakers requires a fair bit of “performance” from the teacher in terms of approach, and also in inflection of certain words and phrases. The idea is to keep students focused since it is a new area for them and they may easily lose interest if they do not follow what is going on in the classroom. For this reason, it is always important to gauge understanding of the lesson or activities as the class runs. This way, you are able to identify students who may require extra attention, but also, evaluate you own work in terms of what content works, and which does not.
It is especially important to pay attention to student understanding in the classroom since – due to a different culture, especially in China – students may not readily speak out or raise their hands to communicate that they do not understand.
Also important is the building into the lesson practice time, whether for written tasks, pronunciation or speaking and reading tasks. You are working towards the goal of language competency and as such, students must be able to develop skills that will aid them in the acquisition of a new language. A lot of examples here are also important to build confidence in the students at each level. But, it is also quite important to instil in students language, reading and writing skills beyond the classroom and this really is the mark for a successful class.
Teaching English in China is a fun experience for a lot of students and teachers themselves. The ultimate hack to success in the classroom is keeping students motivated and excited about the learning process.