Teaching ESL: The Do's and Don'ts of Teaching English to Foreign Students

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A concise list of guidelines for ESL teachers. The do’s and don’ts of teaching English to foreign students.

Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) may have a few similarities with teaching the English subject to native speakers, but the list could go on and on as to how different it really is. For one thing, teaching ESL conforms not to the conventional principles of teaching and therefore calls for specialized teaching strategies which are targeted towards addressing the specific learning needs of foreign ESL students.

When considering the prospect of teaching English to foreign students, a teacher should bear in mind that his students are natives of other nations. They have diverse cultures that are most likely different from the teacher’s; their orientation of things may minimally or to an extent be in conflict with that of the teacher’s opinions. An ESL teacher, therefore, is expected to define which actions are acceptable in his practice of profession.

Here are some guidelines on what to do and what not to do when teaching English to foreign students:


1. Speak less. Give lots and lots of chances for your students to speak. A teacher should use only 30% of the class time and apportion 70% for his students to speak. Encourage your students to talk a lot. At the end of the day, they will have felt that they have accomplished that much if they notice that they spoke more than their teacher did. This is especially true for ESL conversation classes.

2. Have an understanding of their native language. Foreign students feel pleased when they hear their teacher speak a little using their native tongue, so it pays to know some common expressions or survival phrases. You can also use some phrases to aid in teaching the English language to your foreign students. Translations to “Hello”, “Do you understand?”, and “Repeat after me” are some survival phrases for ESL teachers.

3. Hone your students’ skills in English on a daily basis. This includes activities for listening, speaking, reading and comprehension, pronunciation and accent, vocabulary and grammar. Knowing a few things about your students’ native language may help you in explaining the differences between sentence structures and grammar points. Teach them a new vocabulary everyday and encourage them to use it in conversations.

4. Keep the class lively and fun. Be able to vary your strategies for each class so to have the students constantly interested in learning. In case of a classroom setting, games and physical activities such as action songs and dances are incorporated by ESL teachers in their daily lessons. In an online class set-up, a teacher’s friendly and perky voice sustains the students’ focus in class.


1. Give negative comments. Positive reinforcements elicit positive responses from your foreign students, and negative feedbacks would only discourage them. Choose your words when giving comments or in correcting their mistakes.

2. Interrupt while your student is trying to express himself. Take notes of grammatical errors and wrong use of vocabulary and expressions, then correct them later. In group classes, it is productive and effective to present the errors to the group and have the students work on correcting them with team effort.

3. Forget to review and assess your students regularly. Make it a point of always reviewing yesterday’s lesson and wrapping up today’s lesson. In this way, there is continuity in the lessons learned. Likewise, keep track of your students’ progress on a regular basis.

Teaching English to foreign students brings about a blend of a variety of emotions and experiences. For an ESL teacher, adhering to these do’s and don’ts, not to mention genuine interest and an earnest dedication to teaching paves the way to achieving one’s curricular goals and objectives.

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© 2010 Christine Jeanne Clidoro


Patrick Regoniel
Posted on Aug 30, 2010
marinel macaraig
Posted on Aug 9, 2010
Posted on Aug 9, 2010