Challenges of teaching English as a foreign language

Published: 20th March 2009
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There are two different kinds of languages. Your first language or native language is the language you are born into. This is the language your parents or family speak. This is the earliest language you learn. This language is acquired through life experiences. The second kind of language is called a second language or a foreign language. This language is typically learnt in the classroom from a teacher. There are some crucial differences between these two types of languages. The first language is learnt unconsciously. Therefore, it is imbibed at a very early age. There is no need to apply yourself consciously to attain the rudiments of this language. However, the second language is the result of a conscious learning process. It does not come naturally. This explains why almost all people face some amount of difficulty while they handle a foreign language. Of course, they may perfect the foreign language in due course. But, this requires some amount of hard work.

Understanding the difference between these two types of language is important to anyone who wants to learn a foreign language or teach a language that is foreign to students.

As far as foreign students of English are concerned, there are several difficulties. So, teachers of English do face some tough challenges when they teach English as a foreign language. The first of these is pronunciation. English has certain characteristics in pronunciation that is absent in other languages. Examples are the aspirated 'P' that comes in words like 'Pen', the way 'th' is pronounced with a friction or the difference in the pronunciation between 'V' and 'W'. Native speakers of the language do not need to think about these features. But when you teach English as a foreign language, teachers have to explain and teach these minute differences to their students. Keep in mind that most of the students who take up English as a foreign language are adults with well defined language habits that make it difficult for them to accept these differences completely.

Another difficulty teachers often face when they teach English as a second language is grammar. For non-native speakers of the language, some aspects of English grammar are hard to decipher. This is true of any language that is imbibed as a second or third language. Grammar is always the tricky part. Many people cannot make out the difference between some of the tenses in English, simply because these may not exist in their own languages.

One of the biggest challenges faced by people who teach English as a second language is to make their students 'think' in English. Most non-native speakers make mistakes in English because they automatically think in their native language and translate the thought into English. Thus, they make use of usages that are non-existent in native English. When a student learns to think in the second language, it can be said that he or she has acquired the highest degree of proficiency in that language.

People who take up teaching English as their career must appreciate the difficulties students from other countries face when they come to learn English. This understanding helps them teach their students more effectively and makes the entire process of teaching a rewarding and fulfilling job.

International TESOL Teacher Training offers TESOL certification courses for teaching english as a foreign language.

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