How can you teach English to people who don’t know any English?

Teaching English to students who have no prior knowledge of the language involves adapting your existing teaching methods to suit the situation at hand. For all beginners, several key teaching strategies are essential:

  • Simplicity in Instruction: Use simple, clear language and instructions.
  • Constant Checking for Understanding: Regularly ensure that students are following along and comprehending the material.
  • Ample Practice Opportunities: Provide numerous opportunities for students to practice what they have learned.
  • Visual and Contextual Teaching: Show, don't tell by using visual aids and real-life contexts.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Encourage students with positive feedback.
  • Engaging and Relevant Content: Keep lessons interesting and relevant to the students' lives.

By tailoring your approach to the specific needs and backgrounds of your students, you can effectively teach English to those with no prior knowledge of the language.

1. Keep it simple: you need to remember when teaching beginners that your language level has to be at the same level at least and only slightly above theirs at most; otherwise they are not going to understand you.

2. Also there is little point in the teacher over-talking. One of the ways in which we can reduce the teacher talk time down to its lowest possible amount is to be visual rather than verbal: certainly at the starter level and within all levels in fact, visual information is a far easier way to transmit information than trying to talk about it.

3. Keep them talking: as often as possible, get those language learners talking. It's through actual use of the language that they are going to learn most quickly.

4. One of the ways in which we can help to keep them talking is to use questioning and repetition, so use repetition drills for pronunciation whenever possible.

5. Another method that will help to keep students talking is to use pair work. Individuals working on their own have no real reason to talk to each other and what we want to do is to get them talking as much as possible. By using pair work we maximize their opportunity for student to student interaction.

6. Be supportive, always try to be supportive and praise as often as possible. Praise will increase the students' confidence and will also get them used to the idea that when they give an answer they will be supported for doing so. It is also important not to praise every little thing, as it will lose its value.

7. Respond to individual needs, at the starter level or the beginner level particularly, there are going to be a whole range of individual needs that different students will have. You will have to respond differently to each student to keep their confidence level up.

8. It is very important that you are patient. You cannot expect the students to pick up everything that you say immediately, so you need to be patient and you need to be prepared to cover material again until they understand.

9. Play lots of games: You should try to play lots of games and what interactive games will allow you to do is to get the students talking to each other as often as possible. The games should be related to the lesson content and the game should have some form of realistic context.

10. It is important that we don't overcorrect. Students' confidence can be brought down very quickly if we correct every single mistake that they make. Making mistakes is part of the learning process so try only to correct where absolutely necessary.

Also read: What are the Five Student Levels in ESL Teaching?