I believe I’m lucky to be a non-native teacher of English. I live in the same language environment as my students, I know where problems can lie because I could have (and indeed, I have) faced them myself. I’m a just learner who is given a chance to teach. From my viewpoint, that is such a winning position! So my main take on this post is: share what you know works for you. They’ll get the hint and find their own way.
The activity that I’m keen on including during one of the very first classes of the course is all about encouraging students to see English beyond our classroom. We draw two simple mind maps and brainstorm ideas for ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ ways to learn a language. The input we usually have as a result is astounding. The informal map is filled with ALL the kinds of things you’d recommend them to do to get involved with English outside of class. What’s been my personal eye-opener about this activity is that I do not have to utter a single word. To quote Chuck Sandy, “a teacher can totally step back”.
They already know where English is around them and how to get the most of it. Some play computer games on international servers, others watch favourite cartoons and TV series in English. Some remember that they most often have to read user guides to devices in English, others note that they can pick a free English newspaper in cafes. Songs, TV channels, films with or without subtitles, books, airport signs, brands, podcasts – ideas pop up from all students in the classroom and everybody learns something new. We then critically look at what we’ve come up with and discuss which of these ways are best for each one of them.
Yet, I have my own special favourite that I like to share. I advise my students to switch all the gadgets they have into English. That is, I advise them to change to operating system of their phones, ipods, computers and whatever else they might have into English. By doing so they turn their immediate surroundings into English. It’s so easily done and the effect will not leave you waiting for long. A phone which operates in English becomes your English-speaking friend. A Google search conducted in English gets new results. There’s a whole new world of the Internet instantly open through this one-click door. English becomes your reality and with it come confidence, knowledge, and a broader mind!