• Teaching beginner students


    The purpose of this article is to provide information about teaching English to beginner students. For the most part, the topic has been narrowed to young beginners.

    A person who is just beginning to study English has some disadvantages. They cannot read and study on their own. They will not understand English instructions. They will struggle to twist their tongues around the English sounds.

    But they have lots of advantages, too. Beginner students bring a very fresh, open mind to English class. They have no base or preconceived ideas about the language and their minds are ready to soak it up! They generally have no fear of mispronunciation. Nor does the teacher have to undo formerly learned bad habits or mispronunciations. They do not ‘face the mental shock of discovering the new language does not express new ideas in the same manner as in their mother tongue.’ Footnote 1 It’s all fresh and new, and they are eager to learn!

    Beginners learn simple conversation quite rapidly. It’s the perfect opportunity to teach basic courtesies and formal introductions. Their faces light up when they can use greetings outside of class, and they will grin when you use what they know.

    Songs are an excellent way to engage the class. They teach vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure all at the same time. Keep the songs short, light, and lively. Songs that relate to the children’s experience, and motion songs are highlights.

    Choral repetition is lots of fun. Any fear that might inhibit willingness to speak melts away when the whole class is chanting together.

    Young learners thrive on vocabulary. And there are a thousand fun ways to teach it. Bring pictures to class. Make posters. Bring real objects. Animals that wiggle and object they can touch will rivet words. They love to study colors, shapes, animals, numbers, members of the family, and things from the house. Ask them to find objects in the classroom of certain colors.

    Flashcards offer excellent competition that stimulates mastery. Pair the students up: who can answer first? Make tests and quizzes that have pictures, and their attention will be captured.

    Beginners need to hear, understand, see, read, and finally be able to speak and write the material they learn. Explain clearly and then practice, practice, practice, repeat, repeat, repeat. The teacher probably tires of the material before the students, so review even after it’s ‘old hat’. The more they hear, and see, the sooner they will speak and write correctly.

    Ask them what they want to learn. Many times there are words they want to know and will jump for the opportunity to ask.

    ‘Know your stuff, know whom you’re stuffing, then stuff them elegantly.’ –Lola May. Know the students, love them, care about their good. It will go a long way in understanding their performance or lack thereof. Young learners should be learning good pronunciation habits, but if they are held to an impossible standard they will become discouraged.

    Beginners, along with the rest of us, will blossom when praised and given words of approval. Praise the smallest bit of progress, encourage good effort, and watch your students learn to love English class.

    Footnote1: Teaching Young Students English as a Foreign Language, by Faye L. Bumpass, p. 6

    Judith Lehman