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How To Start Teaching English to Beginners

There are many interesting languages to learn from all over the world. One of the best ways to solidify your own knowledge of a second language is to teach it to people who are just starting their journey on this same path. While native speakers may have some advantages here, even people learning a second language at an intermediate level should be able to teach some of the basics to others. In fact, learners who are trying to grasp the fundamentals of a language that is not their own might have an easier time understanding the mechanics that come more naturally to native speakers.

In any case, English is a great language to start learning or teaching to others. With its use in business and negotiations all over the globe, it has become quite a common tongue. There are different methods by which you can teach English to beginners, and the path that you choose will help you determine the steps that you take. We’ll provide you with some guidelines for one style of learning and teaching below.

1. Make Lessons Into Small Chunks and Divide Vocabulary

Learning any new language, especially when your brain has already created pathways for your own, can be very difficult. The rules might be wildly different from what a learner knows of their own language, and they may need to learn an entirely new way of thinking about the mechanics of speech or writing. An ESL student needs some basic structure that can get them from one point to the next. One of the easiest ways to facilitate something like this is to use introductory lessons that are small enough that the students can digest them easily. Don’t overwhelm them in the first few days of study. You may not even study specific vocabulary for a couple of days.

When you do get to vocabulary lessons, it might be a good idea to put different words into categories that are all similar. For example, you can have a lesson that is centered around cooking, eating or dining in a restaurant. You could even make a series of small lessons around this broad topic. All of them will share some vocabulary in common, but they will also introduce students to terms that are specific to situations around the kitchen, cooking food, or even the social dining experience.

2. Say or Write Words Repeatedly. Allow Students To Listen Actively

Repetition is one way to get new words or concepts cemented in the minds of the students. While you might not do this in other kinds of classes, an ESL setting is precisely where you should do it as often as possible. For example, in the early days of your teaching experience, you might tell students about some of the common greetings you can use in English. Once they know one or two of these, you can use them every day before you start class. If you do the same with typical goodbye phrases, your students will understand appropriate things to say when meeting or leaving someone, and it should all become natural for them quite quickly.

Being able to listen to you use the same words over and over will help some of the students with no experience or training in the language pick up some of those key phrases quicker than they otherwise might. Further, giving them time to ruminate on the words they are hearing will help them remember them. You can also create fun games or quizzes that help them use the words they learned from previous lessons.

3. Use More Than Words

Teaching English to beginners means that you might be working with students who simply don’t have the vocabulary to understand anything you say. That will change over time, but it might be a significant hurdle for you to get past in the first few days of your instruction. The students you teach have access to the same concepts that you do, but neither party knows how to use words to communicate those things in a way that the other one will understand. This is where props can come in handy. If you use things like objects, drawings, or short videos, your lessons will be more streamlined. Additionally, students will understand the concepts you are describing in English with almost immediate effect.

For example, if you want to talk about the subject of pets and care for them, you can show or draw pictures of cats and dogs. Household pets like these look the same to everyone, so students will pick up on what you’re talking about right away. You can show additional things like food bowls, bedding, or brushes to further increase the vocabulary you might use about pets.

4. Play Some Charades

This next part ties into using objects or photos to show things, and it gives you another tool in your belt. If you don’t have any materials that can help you show a particular concept to students, your next best move might be to act it out. The difficulty level here can vary depending on what concepts you want to show, but don’t forget that there are many ways to get a point across to your audience.

If you wanted to talk about words or ideas that relate to gardening, for example, you could act out the action of digging in the dirt with gardening tools. There are also ways to use your hands to mime the concept of a flower blooming or tree growing. As another example, you could scrub the floor or pose as though you are washing a dish at the sink in order to talk about or introduce words that connect to common household chores.

5. Check Their Understanding

It is important not to jump from one step to the next too quickly. If you do, you may end up with a whole classroom of ESL students who don’t understand anything you did in the previous step. It is good to keep in mind that what seems obvious or easy to you will not be so for most of your students. Therefore, taking a small break to check for a basic understanding of the concepts you’re teaching to these beginners should become a habit with you. To do this, try to make your questions or instructions as specific as possible.

English language beginners who don’t understand you may answer in the affirmative as much as possible, and pointed questions will help them understand you better. For example, if you have an exercise in which your goal is to get the students to get into pairs and ask each other five questions each, you can make your instructions specific to that. Check with them about how many questions they will ask, to whom they will speak, and if they have writing utensils to note down the answers from their peers.

6. Do Things as a Group

Helping your students form bonds can be a great way to keep them engaged in the class. It also helps them to feel not quite so alone, particularly if many of your English language beginners are from different countries. Simple group activities like fun songs or basic shows in English can help the group feel more cohesive. Even if you are dealing with adults who are newcomers to the English language, you can watch shows for children that use simple terms and teach vocabulary to viewers.

7. Don’t Spare the Encouragement

Learning English for beginners is a stressful task. There is a lot of pressure to perform well, and most students will want to memorize or learn the concepts as quickly as possible in order to become communicative. All of this is as true for adults as it is for younger students. To keep the learning process fun and somewhat less intimidating, it is important to keep the encouragement flowing freely. In fact, you should try to provide gentle encouragement even when some students make mistakes. Errors are a common part of learning any new skill, and they provide a teachable moment. In some ways, a mistake is just as valuable as any success, and it can help students learn what not to do when it comes to English language mechanics.

8. Prepare Well, Take Plenty of Materials, and Keep Them Talking

Once you know that you’ll be teaching English to beginners, it is important to prepare both yourself and your materials well. Make sure that you know what you will do in advance, and prepare enough lesson plans to last you at least a couple of weeks before you start teaching anything in the classroom. As you do, take time to make some redundant or alternative exercises for those times when one way of teaching a concept just isn’t working. Above all, encourage the English language learners to use their new vocabulary in the classroom as much as possible. Doing so will help them feel more natural and comfortable with their new language quickly.


These guidelines should help some instructors master the basics of teaching English to beginners. However, you should treat each step as a template. What kinds of things you do in your classroom will depend on the different ages and backgrounds of your students. Be prepared to adapt your lesson plans at a moment’s notice. Finally, let the students know that you are learning new processes right along with them.

Are you still not sure? Go and read one of our other posts about how much do you get paid teaching in the USA.

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