6 Tips for Teaching Reluctant English Learners

6 Tips for Teaching Reluctant English Learners

You’ve arrived in your new country, you’ve settled in with your host family, and you’ve gathered your arsenal of English-language materials. You’re pumped and ready for your first lesson. When you finally meet your pupils, you let your passion and excitement for the language show…only to realize that they don’t quite feel the same way. Que horrible!

What to do when your students aren’t feeling the English-learning love? Here are some tips that have helped me keep them interested.

  • Don’t force English on them. If they’re already wary of it, making them memorize verbs or repeat phrases is going to turn them away even more. The trick is to make learning English seem like an option, one that’s in their best interest of taking. A good way of doing this is to make English seem incredibly fun, and that they’ll be missing out on the magic if they avoid practicing it (this is especially effective with younger students). Utilizing a “take-it-or-leave it, but it’s your loss if you leave it” attitude has helped me keep students engaged.
  • Keep your lessons short. Nothing kills a reluctant student’s morale more than a long-winded lesson. Bite-sized chunks of info are better both for their memories and their attention skills.
  • Figure out their interests and cater to them. They like food? Plan your lessons around culinary and cooking. Someone has an undying love of cats? Bring in pictures of yours, make up a story featuring them, or play movie clips of the Aristocats. If learning English coincides with what they already like, they’ll be much more likely to engage with you.
  • Change it up. Make every lesson different. People like new experiences, and it’s no different when they’re learning a language. If one day you play a movie, the next day do something more active. Play games, sing songs, draw, color, write, and your students will love you. 
  • Have them teach you words in their language. This has been the most effective tip for me. By giving them some autonomy, you switch roles and allow them to feel in control. Even if someone has no interest in learning, he/she may have some interest in And when that person tells you a word or phrase in their language, it gives you the opportunity for you to teach him/her the English version of it. It’s win-win.
  • Not everything has to be an official lesson. Sometimes it’s good to just talk and play with your pupils. This is less intimidating and doesn’t feel like something they have to do (see Tip #1). Show them you’re not just an English teacher, but also their friend. You’ll go a long way in earning their respect and attention.

Hopefully, utilizing these tips will help you on your English-teaching journey. Always persevere, keep a sense of humor and an open mind, and remember that patience is key. Tomorrow will bring a fresh start. You’ve got this!

Anyone have more tips to share? Let us know in the comments! Happy travels.

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