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Challenges For Students of Different Nationalities

Challenges For Students of Different Nationalities | ITTT | TEFL Blog

I am from the United States and my native language is English. I am currently living in the Philippines, so I have been encountering language issues a lot lately. I have desperately been trying to learn Tagalog, and it is a major challenge.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Gabriel T. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Teacher’s experience of learning a foreign language

Along the way, I have had a lot of help from the native Filipinos that I live with and whom I now call my family. I have asked myself, "How did they learn English so well and what difficulties do they still have with English?" Because English has so many contradictions and strange nuances I have decided to do my Summative Task on number 4- Problems facing students of different nationalities. I will point out some of the strange rules and exceptions that might make English particularly hard to learn.


After I have established a good rapport with my students I will begin to tell them some of the crazy rules and exceptions that English has to offer. I want them to know these because I want them to remember to give themselves a break and not be too concerned with getting everything exactly right. I want them to keep in mind that even native English speakers mess up and that is fine. This should lay the groundwork for explaining that there are exceptions to the rules and that not everything has to be understood as long as you keep the exception in mind.

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The first funny rule I can think of is the alphabet itself. I want to teach the alphabet song to all of my students and then take a look at each letter and see what different sounds that letter makes or can make. For example, the letter g makes at least two sounds by the example of the word gigantic. The first g sounds like the sound j makes and the second g makes the sound like the g in the name Gabriel. Although there are already 26 letters in the English alphabet there are many more combinations that those letters can make. Here in the Philippines, my name is Gab with a being pronounced like the A in the word apple. This has confused me because when I am called to eat I sometimes do not respond because it sounds neither like the Spanish pronunciation of Gabriel or the more familiar way Gabe is pronounced.

Weird exceptions

There are more bizarre modifications that I will attempt to explain. For example, in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries, the a in Gabriel is pronounced like an o like in the word object. So when teaching the letter an in the alphabet it can have several different ways it is pronounced which are also interchangeable with the way other letters are pronounced. Since I am on the subject of Spanish pronunciations it is important to keep in mind when teaching English that English borrows from the Romance languages and many Spanish words are familiar in English especially in regards to places and names of people. One example of how letters can have different sounds is the letter J. In the name Juan, J sounds like W, but in the name John, the J sounds like J in English. To further complicate things the letter J sounds like H in the word Jicarilla, which is a Native American tribe in New Mexico, USA.

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Phonetic challenges

Another strange rule exception is the vowels. A, e, I, o, u, and sometimes y is the normal saying for when going through the vowels. For example, y can make different sounds depending on its placement in the word. if it is at the beginning of the word it sounds like y as in yes, which is more of a consonant sound. In contrast, when it is at the end of the word it sounds like the letter e, like in the word literally. This is another example of how speakers of different nationalities could be confused and how it is important to keep in mind that one must not be perfect to be understood when communicating in English.

The last rule and exception I would like to mention are I before e except after c. This rule is true for words like receipt and relieve, but what about the word height? Maybe the rule should be I before e except after c and sometimes h and maybe sometimes after other letters.

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Spelling challenges

It's a wonder anybody can write in English at all. It is truly a melting pot of languages. I am lucky to have such a gracious new family in the Philippines to help me learn their language. They are so hospitable and although they have rules in regards to culture, they do not show any less hospitality when I mess up. If only teachers took the same amount of patience and forgiving when teaching English maybe more students would learn. Language is like wildfire when it catches on it spreads. I hope to ignite the fire of learning and make it a fun and funny experience in a setting where difficult rules can be the highest point of achievement, but the overall goal is to learn to communicate with other people.

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It's like Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, "People fail to get along with each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they do not know each other, they do not know each other because they have not communicated with each other." If students can get past the fear of messing up and just going for it, then they will have a much better experience. I can be their fearless leader.

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