How to Teach English

When considering how to teach English, there are two main issues to consider. The first is the overall approach to language learning, and the second is the hands-on nitty gritty steps you need to plan for different types of lessons. I'll start off by discussing the former and then move onto the latter.

There have been various approaches to language learning over the years, and how you yourself have been taught would normally highly influence how you yourself teach. But this may not necessarily be the best way forward. Consider some of the following approaches ....

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The Academic Approach

The Academic Approach to learning views language as an academic study, and means learning in the same way that we would learn Latin, for example. Grammar and translation from L1 (the learner's native language) to L2 (the language being learnt) are the highest priorities. Grammar and language rules are studied, so that students are able to produce accurate, elegant translations, and are able to read and study literature. Lessons are in L1, and there is very little pronunciation work and there are not many speaking activities. The role of the teacher is as a dispenser of knowledge.

With this method of learning the students know a lot about the language, but have difficulty speaking it and being understood.

The Direct Approach

The Direct Approach to teaching language was developed in the 1870's, and sees speaking as the primary focus. The lessons are exclusively in L2 with many questions and answers. Meaning is conveyed through pictures, pantomime, real-life objects, dialogues etc. Students are initially taught through everyday vocabulary and sentences. For more information on this approach, look here.

The role of the teacher is as a partner to the students, but the teacher needs to be a proficient speaker of the target language. This method works well with small groups of well-motivated adults, and is therefore not used in schools.


Audio-lingual Approach

The Audio-lingual approach is based on the premise that learning is done by forming habits. Repetition is used to extinguish old habits and create new ones, so dialogues are repeated and repeated. There is zero tolerance for errors, which are immediately corrected, and lots of praise is given when the student does well. You can find more information here.

This method can be useful to get students talking quickly, but students are restricted to set dialogues, so it doesn't encourage creativity or the expression of your own ideas.

The Communicative Approach

The Communicative Approach views language as a means of communication and the exchange of information. Learning is most effectively achieved by communicating with other people, so lessons include pair work, group work, personal ideas and authentic materials. Errors are part of the natural process of learning, so students practise fluency and error correction simultaneously.

The role of the teacher is as facilitator, motivator and organisor. There is more information for you here, should you be interested.

Step by Step Guidelines

The technique most commonly used in ESL nowadays on how to teach English is eclectic, using mostly the  Communicative Approach, but adding some methods from the other approaches (eg drilling and grammar). 

At this stage, you might be saying to yourself that this theory is interesting and all very well, but it's not going to help you teach your students tomorrow when you step into the classroom. So for that reason, I have put together some guidelines for the different aspects of teaching that are required for teaching ESL.

I have found that one particular activity when done for more than half an hour can become a bit boring, so I try to break up my lessons into smaller segments to keep them more dynamic. So if I have a reading lesson, I would also do vocabulary and/or grammar. If I do listening, I would also add speaking and /or pronunciation etc etc.

But when planning the different types of lessons, it's easier for the teacher (and students) to have a structure to work with. These are the following outlines that I have put together on how to teach English (if there's no link I haven't written it yet, but the intention is there):

Reading Lessons

Listening Lessons

Writing Lessons

Speaking Activities

Grammar Lessons

How to teach vocabulary


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