How to teach beginners - for teachers; 10 Common Mistakes Language Learners Make - for students; Personal experience - Anna Goldina.
As a rule, teachers of foreign languages have at least an Upper-Intermediate level of the language they are teaching, and often much higher. It comes as a no surprise, that we have already forgotten what it’s like to begin learning a language, what pitfalls and difficulties beginners encounter and what they may benefit from best. Teaching beginners also poses issues of its own - they don’t know the language and won’t understand much of what you say in the target language. We have already talked about working with high levels, and now it’s time we addressed the opposite.
L1 and L2
As we have already discussed in the introduction, beginners have little to no background of the language and will not understand you, if you immediately start speaking in the target language with them. Does it mean you will have to know and use their native language? Not necessarily.
Sharing one common language with your students may help with explanations and instructions, but your goal is still to expose them to as much L2 as possible from the very beginning. One way to do that is to teach them classroom instructions, which will vary depending on the format of your lessons: “open the book”, “come up to the blackboard”, “work in pairs” for offline and “click on the link”, “scroll up/down”, “go to the next slide” for online lessons. By doing so, you will minimise the need for L1 use in class.
When it comes to low levels the general rule is to keep everything simple and short. The same applies to giving instructions. Imagine you want your students to do a matching exercise. If you say: “Now you are going to match the pictures and their meanings. Look at the pictures and find a corresponding word in the list”, the students will most likely get confused. They cannot yet comprehend and follow long wordy sentences. So, you may want to simplify the instruction and use body language to indicate what you mean: “Now connect pictures and words.”
Speaking of the body language, TPR - Total Physical Response - is an indispensable tool to use when working with low levels. Miming words, producing sounds, asking students to mime words or actions back is what you can do. And don’t worry about looking silly! Of course, adult learners may be less enthusiastic about activities that involve TPR, but you can still use it where grammar of vocabulary is connected to physical movement: imperatives and action verbs, objects for everyday use, even instructions themselves can be mimed. The tool is often used with higher levels for uninterrupted correction - when you point back to indicate a past tense, or forward for a future one.
We have discussed how to give explanations and instructions, but there is more to it than that. You need to make sure that your students understand what you have asked them to do or what you have taught them. Concept Checking Questions (CCQs) and Instructions Checking Questions (ICQs) come in handy here. You will use them when you need to make sure you have got the message across, instead of asking “Do you have any questions?” or “Is everything clear?” (the answer will most certainly be yes or stunned silence, but the truth will be far from it).
Ask Yes/No questions to put less pressure on your students. For instance, How many questions will you ask? Will you speak to one student or ten students? Will you write the answers or just listen?
Asking these questions will give you immediate feedback on what students understand and will provide a necessary reassurance to students that they have the right idea of what they should be doing.
Visual aids and props
The best way to explain what something is to a beginner (much like to a child) is to show a picture of it. Visual aids can illustrate objects, animals, emotions, actions and so on. They help make abstract things more concrete and easier to retain, they make information understandable and possible to grasp and they are also a lot of fun! And of course, we retain knowledge better if we have some emotional connection to it, and visual learners will also remember new words faster.
Scaffolding is breaking up the learning into chunks and providing a tool, or structure, with each chunk. When scaffolding reading, for example, you might preview the text and discuss key vocabulary, or chunk the text and then read and discuss as you go. You also use it to gradually build up students’ confidence and fluency, because the information is presented in manageable pieces. When teaching speaking, it is important to provide an example structure of an answer, for instance - opinion, explanation, example. If you pre-teach some collocations the students may use on their answer and leave them next to the questions, the students will be prompted to use new phrases in their answer, thus saying more than they could have without any aid.
Although it may seem that students have very quick progress and you may feel the desire to speed things up (after all, there is so much for them to learn!), it is crucial to step back and let them process the new information. Lower levels are only exploring the new language and they need time to think it over on their own. Allow some individual working time during class, encourage questions, keep a reasonable pace and don’t rush them!
The last point is simple and clear - go back to what you have already studied at planned regular intervals. It is true, that beginners are only building up on their grammar and vocabulary and use almost everything they acquire in the following lessons - after all, this is the most basic vocabulary, - they are still very vulnerable to forgetting.
A selection of great lessons for Beginners and Elementary students:
Introductory lesson, A0-A1 - can be used to get to know each other, find out the student’s background and what prior knowledge they have.
Let’s meet each other A0-A1 - this lesson focuses on introduction, asking for and giving basic personal information and sentence structure.
Monday to Friday, A0-A1 - a very visual and colourful lesson about everyday activities, Present simple and time.
Asking for directions A1 - imperatives, action words, prepositions of place and movement. The lesson includes a lot of visual aids and practice!
Our holiday A1 - a lot of Present Continuous practice, pictures, vocabulary related to free time and holidays
Vocabulary and Grammar Review A1 - this lesson can be used for planned revision. It contains exercises on To be / Countries and Nationalities / Family / Possessive 's and Possessive Adjectives / There is / There are / Plurals and Have got
Places, Weather, Present Continuous A1 - this lesson can be used to study the difference between Present Simple and Continuous tenses, learn how to describe place and what you do there, and role-play a video chat with your friends from vacation.
Do you teach beginners? What problems if any do you encounter?
10 Common Mistakes Language Learners Make (and How To Fix Them)
WITH THE WORLD becoming more interconnected, more of us are required to have heightened language and communication skills. Learning a new language depends on patience, discipline and time. Three elements which are difficult to practice and fit into an everyday schedule. Personally, I have struggled to learn different languages. French and Portuguese were relatively easy to pick up due to their similarity to English. Japanese, on the other hand, was a real challenge.
Through my personal learning experience and ten years in education, I’ve noted a few common mistakes people make when learning a new language. Here 10 common mistakes people make when learning a new language and some helpful tips to keep you in a good mindset.
1. Getting discouraged by your mistakes.
Let’s start with the basics. Mistakes are ok — in fact, they are necessary. By making mistakes, you are creating a learning opportunity for yourself. Whether it’s a grammar point or a lack of vocabulary, making mistakes is all part of the fun of learning a new language. Practice patience, be kind to yourself and take your time.
2. Misunderstanding how you learn.
How you learn is just as important as what you learn. Everyone is different, and each person absorbs information differently. There are seven distinct learning styles ranging from visual to aural to physical. Do you enjoy reading about your interests? Would you prefer a more hands-on approach to learning? Do you retain information easily or do you need constant reminding? Understanding these and other questions can help you create a learning discipline that will help you to retain a new language.
3. Not starting with the sounds.
When learning a new language, it is important to start with how a language sounds. While reading and writing can be enticing, all languages will have a unique sound to them. That is why it is important to start with listening and repeating at first. Reading and writing should not be ignored, but for the sake of fluency, they should take a backseat to verbal exercises.
4. Focusing on the wrong vocabulary.
You should be mindful of what kind of vocabulary you are learning. Ideally, you want to create a base of vocabulary, a foundation, that you can grow from. If you are a beginner, focus on useful vocabulary. Numbers, colors, vehicles, family members, and food are usually great places to start. The core purpose is to get you speaking right away, so start with simple, practical vocabulary.
5. Not building sentence vocabulary.
Building sentences is an essential part of learning a new language, and it is often overlooked. There are many common phrases that every language has a version of which can start you off. “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “I’m sorry,” and “Thank you” are very common terms and usually easy to learn. Adding common everyday expressions to your studies will help you grasp the language faster.
However, there are basic sentences that can help you expand your base vocabulary. Start by using a selection of simple verbs, then combine these with your base vocabulary to start speaking simple sentences. After these get easier, you can begin to add more complex syntax like prepositional phrases and adverbs.
6. Focusing too much on grammar.
If you are just starting out in a language, don’t worry so much about grammar. I have often found myself getting caught in grammar confusion when it doesn’t serve me in that moment. Grammar lessons can come later down the road, but for now, you need to have your vocabulary down so that when the grammar lessons come around, you won’t get stuck parsing your sentence construction.
7. Stressing over pronunciation.
As mentioned before, every language will have its own unique sound. Some of the more exotic languages can have sounds that you are not used to making. When I was learning Japanese, there weren’t too many crazy sounds to learn since it’s predominantly a monotonic language. However, going from Japanese to Hebrew has me moving my mouth in completely different ways. But don’t worry about that! Pronunciation will come over time. The more you practice a language, the more you will pick up on the unique sounds. If you are speaking with natives, they will also help you with pronunciation.
8. Listening to native speakers.
Quite often, people will study a language and then try their skills on native speakers. However, they will sometimes get frustrated when the native speakers communicate with other native speakers. In my time teaching English, I have always tried to slow my speech down so that I can be more easily understood. Remember that listening with intent is good enough. Trying to achieve speed in your speech is important, but practice is not efficient if you’re not doing it correctly. If you’re getting upset because you can’t understand native speakers, relax.
Remember, this is not a race, it’s a journey.
9. Not giving yourself enough time.
Many people I have met who try to learn new languages tend to give up quickly because they lack motivation and results. This is understandable. Learning a new language takes time and patience. Give yourself credit for your early achievements and set goals for yourself to battle lack of motivation.
10. Not being in the right mindset.
Sometimes when teaching, I can see when a student is just not into the lesson that day. Our lives sometimes get in the way of our goals. This is something to keep in mind. Before I jump into a lesson, I usually give myself a language “pep talk.” This talk reviews what I learned in the last lesson and prepares me for new information.
Learning a new language is not easy and takes a lot of dedication. Keep in mind of how much time it took for you to master your own language! The most important thing is to not give up and keep with your routine and learning the language.
Did you make any of these mistakes when you started learning a language?
Hello! My name is Anna, I have been teaching English for over 15 years. I have a
TKT certificate and go on to fine-tune my teaching methods.
How do you usually work with beginners?
Lower levels are both thrilling and challenging to work with for various reasons.
On the bright side, teachers and students alike are rewarded with rapid progress,
which, in turn, fuels their enthusiasm. There also tend to be fewer fossilised
errors and students are generally more receptive to correction. On the downside,
real-life language application might prove to be discouraging and intimidating for
the student. From the teacher's perspective, language grading and non-verbal
prompts as well as thorough scaffolding are a must.
However unnerving language immersion outside a classroom might be for
elementary students, it strengthens their receptive skills, enriches their
vocabulary and provides an opportunity to use previously acquired language. It
is the responsibility of a teacher to select and frame corresponding target
language and its application outside class. We have the ability to shift the focus
towards collocations or even individual words through songs, short stories, films
or video clips - authentic speech, yet accessible to our students. Graded readers
and videos are the most obvious, although not the only resources available to
language learners. Completing forms and social profiles, writing blog posts and
even posting photos should be exploited to apply drilled knowledge and skills in
natural situations, thus allowing students to internalise the knowledge and
evoking further curiosity.
Taking up a new activity, we are determined to achieve immediate results since,
with rare exception, most people are driven by results and not the process. Thus,
setting realistic goals is key to success and sense of achievement. Striking the
right balance between praising your student’s progress and indicating the path
ahead could be a solution.
Not only students, but teachers, too, fall victim to conjectures. Many a teacher
has fallen into a trap of misconceptions regarding use of target language, the
underlying assumption being that adults are reluctant to use gestures in class.
While this reasoning has its grounds, I would argue that gradually fading non-
verbal accompaniment to teacher’s talk resolves the issue of comprehensive
language exposure. In on-line contexts such scaffolding is even less obvious.
Where we gesture unconsciously in person, might appear unnatural in front of a
computer screen. Nevertheless, the effort is worth making and is likely to prove
rewarding once your students adopt the approach and refrain from the use of
their native language with the help of body language.
Working with lower levels, no doubt, appeals to me because nothing can
compare with the joy and gratitude of a student finally being capable of
expressing themselves in a foreign language and being understood by their
interlocutor. I am thrilled to observe students internalise language and assist
them on the journey through graded exposure, scaffolding and role plays.
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