What is a Beginner EFL Student and How Do You Teach Them?
When you decide to take a TEFL certification course with the intention of teaching English abroad, in your home country, or online, it is difficult to know who you will actually end up teaching. Once you have finished your training you could end up teaching primary aged children, teenagers, or adults. They could be from any country worldwide and they could be at any level of English language from beginner to advanced level. In many ways it is a bit of a lottery, so you should ensure you are ready to deal with all types of environments. After a while most teachers develop a preference for the type of student they prefer to teach, however, the beginner EFL student is often the most feared.
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
So what actually defines a beginner EFL student? To make sure you are clear on what the different language levels are, you should be familiar with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR is an internationally recognized rating system that is used to categorize a language learner’s proficiency in any language (not only English). Each level of the framework has specific goals regarding grammar, vocabulary, and fluency which the student needs to reach in order to be classified at that level. This level can then be used to make sure every student is assigned to the right class to suit their current language ability.
Why is a student’s language level so important?
Ensuring that your students are in the right level of class is vitally important for their language development. If they are placed in a level higher than they should, their understanding will be limited and their progress will likely grind to a halt. In contrast, if they are placed below their language level they won’t be learning anything new and will quickly become bored and unmotivated. If you are confident that you know the correct level of your students you will be able to prepare appropriate lessons using the right level of materials that will allow your students to thrive and move forward in their learning.
So what is a beginner learner?
The CEFR states that a beginner learner should be taught essential vocabulary only, covering areas such as household objects, place names, family words, and basic adjectives. A beginner EFL student should be able to construct simple sentences, ask basic questions, and know how to use basic personal pronouns. Typical characteristics of a beginner student will include speaking slowly with regular hesitations and false starts. Their English pronunciation is also likely to be strongly affected by their native language.
It is worth noting that in this day and age of easy access to English language media you are less likely to come across absolute beginners who have no knowledge of English whatsoever. In contrast, the likelihood of having false beginners in your class is increasing all the time. A false beginner is someone who has a good surface knowledge of English words and phrases that they have picked up from the media, but are not actually capable of producing the language themselves.
Should you use translation with a beginner learner?
As most native English speakers have a history of learning foreign languages using translation techniques, it is a common misconception that this is how we should teach our beginner EFL students. Although translation does have its place on occasions in the classroom, it is generally avoided as much as possible in favor of the immersion method of language learning. This simply means that the students are immersed in a classroom where only English is used throughout the lesson. So if our students have little understanding of English and we avoid using translation, how do we go about teaching English to beginner-level learners?
Use appropriate language
One of the basic rules of teaching lower-level English learners is to pay close attention to what you say and how you say it. You should ensure that you speak slowly and clearly at all times. All your dialogue needs to be in short, simple sentences, with plenty of repetition to ensure the students have understood the most important points. The vocabulary and grammar you use should also be chosen carefully to make sure it is within the student’s level of understanding. Body language can also be a good way of backing up what you are saying in a lower-level classroom.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
When teaching beginner EFL students it is necessary to take things slowly and to go over the language points you are teaching on a regular basis. Drilling of words and phrases is essential to allow the students to perfect their pronunciation and to ensure they retain the information in the long term. Once you have taught the target vocabulary or grammar point, you then need to reinforce it using games and activities. Each lesson point will also need to be revisited regularly in future lessons to further enhance long-term retention.
Keep it visual
In modern-day classrooms teachers generally have access to a wide range of materials and equipment to help them enforce the lesson point, such as projectors, whiteboards, flashcards, course books, and even the internet in many cases. When teaching vocabulary to lower-level learners it is a simple yet highly effective method to use images to back up the content. When teaching animal vocabulary it is clear that having a picture of a tiger alongside the word on the board will be a big help to the learner. Just remember that any images you use should be clear and obvious.
Keep it realia
Following on from images, using realia is an even better way of promoting understanding when teaching vocabulary. The term realia simply means any real object that you bring into the classroom to use as a prop. Although you probably won’t be able to bring a real tiger into the classroom, a stuffed toy tiger makes a good substitute. Using real objects to reinforce language is a proven way to boost retention and it also makes things that much more interesting for everyone involved.
Keep the learners involved
It is worth remembering that successful EFL teachers generally keep their lessons focused on the students themselves and this is particularly important at beginner level. If students are constantly involved in the lesson and are able to feel in control of their learning, their confidence will grow and so will their progress. One of the most important tips to remember when teaching EFL is to never spoon-feed the class. The teacher should use elicitation techniques to draw knowledge and ideas from the students and to help them work out things on their own whenever possible.
Also Read: 7 Alternatives to Boring English Worksheets
Keep them talking
You could be forgiven for thinking that beginner EFL students will have little to say in the classroom, but this is typically not the case. While they might lack the knowledge to say exactly what is on their mind, they are likely to be keen to speak out. As the basis of language learning is communication, it is up to the teacher to provide the language and the opportunities for the students to use it. If you ensure that the tasks you set are not too difficult, and provide the preparation time to allow them to complete them to the best of their ability, you should see significant participation throughout the lesson.
Are you ready to teach English to beginner EFL students?
Although many teachers are a little daunted by the prospect of teaching beginner EFL students, many others who actually do it are surprised at how fun and rewarding it can be. Given the right attitude and approach, TEFL qualified teachers should be able to provide the perfect environment to help lower-level students thrive. In return, you should get a great deal of job satisfaction and gain significant experience that you can take into other jobs in the future.
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