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All you need to know about teaching English abroad!


Linda Dunsmore

Teaching Ideas

Top Tips for Teaching Absolute Beginners in English as an EFL Teacher

Top Tips for Teaching Absolute Beginners in English as an EFL Teacher | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Teaching the English language to total beginners is a challenge for any teacher - but it’s so worth it! English teachers abroad are regularly faced with two possible situations: A) teaching English to a class with zero knowledge in English (often young learners), or B) having to integrate a new student into your class who has never studied English before and now he/she has to pick up the language quickly.

Where to start?

Many teachers panic when having to teach total beginners of English because no matter how much you learned about teaching English in your TEFL certification course, the reality often looks quite different. However, there are a couple of easy techniques and tips for teaching absolute beginners in English as an EFL teacher that will make your life a lot easier.

Assess the Exact Level of the Student(s)

You can already be prepared to teach English to total beginners before the first lesson has even started. Find out the following information from your co-teachers, the school staff or the parents of the student:

Has the student studied English before? If so, for how long?Some students are placed in total beginner classes even though they have been exposed to the English language before. This means they might know some basics like phrases, words or even grammar.

Can the student read and write in his native language?

What is the student’s native language like?If you’re teaching English abroad, you will likely know what the native language of your students is. Use this information to find out whether the sentence structure is similar to English or completely different and also see whether the language uses Latin letters or a completely different script. This way, you know exactly what obstacles your students will encounter and can plan your lessons accordingly to make it easier for them. For example, Korean students might not be familiar with the English alphabet because they use a different script, called Hangeul. So you will have to spend more time introducing individual letters than with students from Spain, for example.

What brings the student to you? What is the goal of them learning English?For young students, it’s usually the parents who send them to an English language school in order to learn English for educational purposes. When dealing with adult students, the reasons can be quite different. Some need it for their job, others simply want to pick up English for pleasure and some need to learn English because they plan to move to another country.

Do the parents speak any English?This is important to know in terms of help with homework and study at home. Also, if the parents speak English you are able to communicate with them and tell them exactly what their child needs to work on. If they don’t speak English, there usually is a co-teacher at a language school who can pass on any information from you to the parents or even translate in parent meetings.

Some of these questions are answered during an initial interview when a student signs up for the language course. Others will be revealed over time. You don’t need to have all the answers before you start your lesson. It’s often also a great idea to conduct a level test in the first lesson or even beforehand to get an understanding of the level of the students. A quick Google search reveals countless resources for English level tests. Alternatively, many language schools also have their own level test resources available and even conduct these tests before they are placed into your classroom.

What to Teach Absolute Beginners in English

So now that you’ve assessed your students and have some information about them, you can focus on how to actually start teaching them English. A great idea is to think about the most important words and phrases for you to be able to survive in a foreign country! This will most likely be things like asking and stating your name and age, your address and where you are from, as well as things like where is the bathroom and saying how you are feeling (thirsty, hungry, happy, sad).

It’s often a lot easier to teach things like personal information and social interaction first to allow the students to orientate themselves in their new universe called “English”. Once they’ve got these basics down, you can move on to grammar.

Here is a short list of what a newcomer needs to know when starting out on their English language journey:

Personal and family information

  • Name, address, phone numbers, age
  • Spelling of their first and last names
  • Answering questions about grade, age, school, teacher and where they are from
  • Family members (words like brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, sibling, aunt, uncle, etc.)

Social interaction

  • Hellos and goodbyes
  • Asking and thanking
  • Introductions to friends and non-friends; handshaking, kissing, etc.
  • Yes/no questions and answers
  • Asking for help
  • Expressing emotions

Classroom and school

  • Items such as books, desks, whiteboard, pens, computer, etc.
  • Class directions (point to, print, copy, turn the page, etc.)
  • People who work at school
  • Places at school (library, cafeteria, gym)
  • Class procedures (announcements, schedule, rules)
  • School subjects

Time, calendar and weather

  • Days of the week, months, seasons
  • Say and write the date
  • Yesterday, today, tomorrow
  • What is the difference between a weekday and weekend
  • Telling time as well as concepts such as beginning and end, opening and closing, etc.

Body parts

  • Names of body parts
  • Verbs that are related to movement and body functions (run, walk, eat, taste, etc.)
  • Clothing


  • Groups of food (grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables, fats and proteins)
  • Foods in each of the above-mentioned groups (focus on food that is common in the students’ country and your country or an English-speaking country as a comparison)
  • Breakfast, lunch, dinner and what is typically eaten
  • Table manners, restaurant manners


  • Rooms in a house
  • Furniture
  • Kitchen tools and appliances

Incorporate Numbers, Colors, and Shapes

Always aim to use numbers, colors, and shapes when teaching all of the above topics, for example “I live on 123 Main Street,” or “My house is blue.”

Teaching the Alphabet

As mentioned earlier, the alphabet can be a tricky thing to teach, especially to those students whose native language does not use Latin-based letters, such as Arabic, Mandarin or Korean. It is extremely important to go over the English alphabet carefully and spend some time on it, including focusing on pronunciation.

As for students whose native language does use the Latin alphabet, make sure that the students know what the letters sound like in English.

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Are you ready to teach English abroad?

Teaching absolute beginners in English as an EFL teacher is never easy but with these tips in mind, the language journey will go a lot smoother. Also, keep in mind that language learning takes time and effort, so praise your students regularly and motivate them to keep going. It’s the best feeling in the world as a teacher to see the progress of your students happening!

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