A Few Considerations for the Multilingual EFL Classroom
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As an English as a Foreign Language teacher you may find yourself teaching in any number of situations. Each teaching situation brings with it its own characteristics and features, advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons. The multilingual EFL classroom is one example of a situation you may experience as an EFL teacher.
While many new TEFL teachers imagine that they’ll be teaching children in a country where the first language is not English. For example, teaching kindergarten in Thailand – it is also very possible that you will be teaching learners in an English-speaking country. In other words, teaching learners from a multitude of backgrounds and who speak a range of first languages. Understanding the qualities of this kind of classroom will help you get to grips with the best way to deal with these particular learners and this particular learning situation.
What is a multilingual classroom?
First of all, let’s make sure we know what we are talking about. In the EFL world you could be teaching in an English-speaking country or a non-English-speaking country. If you are in a non-English-speaking country. For example, Spain – you are unlikely to be teaching a multilingual class. Unless your class includes students who are immigrants from various countries. If you are in an English-speaking country. For example, Australia – your students may have different first languages because they are the children of immigrants or bilingual parents or, if they are adults, because they are in the country specifically to learn English. In other words, your students could all be of different nationalities.
Advantages of a multilingual EFL classroom
On the plus side, in a multilingual classroom there is no common language. This may not seem like an advantage but it is. Your students won’t be able to talk to each other without communicating in the common language – English. Learners of English, especially lower level learners, have a natural tendency to speak in their language during their English lessons. This might be for translation purposes or just having a chitchat with their classmates. As a result, in a classroom where all the students speak Italian. For example, there are likely to be moments of Italian conversation throughout your lessons. However, if your students don’t speak the same language, they will be unable to communicate in this way with their classmates, so they will be forced to speak in English if they want to say anything.
Read more: Using Translation in the TEFL Classroom
Coming from different countries also means that the students have different cultures and backgrounds. This can be a great starting point for many interesting discussions and conversations. In the EFL classroom we like to be able to use our students’ backgrounds and life experiences to inform the lessons. Students always enjoy hearing personal stories from their teachers and chatting to their classmates to find out more about each other. This helps them form relationships in the classroom and creates a good atmosphere for language learning. With a multilingual class, there is a natural curiosity to talk to other students based on the fact that everyone comes from somewhere different.
Because these students have different backgrounds also means that they will have different educational histories. They will have been exposed to different teaching environments and so will have different learning styles. Some students might be more familiar with the teacher doing most of the talking during the lesson, while others are more comfortable asking questions or challenging the teacher – in a good way! Some students might be stronger in their grammar knowledge while others might speak more fluently. All of this means that you will need to use a variety of teaching methods, techniques and activities in your lessons to prevent your students (and you!) from becoming bored.
Read more: 3 Teaching Methods for the EFL Classroom
Disadvantages of a multilingual EFL classroom
Of course, there is always another side to the same coin. If students don’t speak the same language, they may be shy to speak to each other if their English level is low. This can be overcome with time and if you are able to create an encouraging and safe learning environment. The EFL classroom should be considered a safe space by your students so they feel comfortable enough to speak even if it means making mistakes. If they are not comfortable speaking in front of a few people they know, there is no way they will feel comfortable speaking English with strangers! So it’s important to help build relationships between your students so they can relax and speak naturally.
If your students speak different languages you won’t be able to use translation as one of your teaching tools. In monolingual classrooms, if the teacher can speak the same language as the students, translation can be utilised very effectively. This is not possible in the multilingual classroom, unless the teacher can speak all the different languages! This is not actually a disadvantage, though, as translation can very easily become a crutch for your students, in that they will talk in their first language because they know you can understand. Not having this as an option removes the risk of translation being over-utilised by your students.
Finally, students who speak many different languages will encounter different problems when learning English. These may be problems stemming from transfer from their first language, pronunciation problems, problems relating to different alphabets, or any number of other problems. As a teacher of a multilingual class you will need to be on the ball to anticipate and address these different difficulties. In cases like this, Google is your friend. If you are not familiar with the languages spoken as first languages by your students, look them up to identify and anticipate the problems they might have in your lessons. This way you will be able to prepare your lessons to be as effective as possible.
These are just a few of the many advantages and disadvantages of teaching a multilingual classroom. While it might seem like for every pro there’s a corresponding con, this also means that for every disadvantage there’s an advantage. If you find you’re having trouble with your multilingual class, think how you can turn a negative characteristic into a positive and you should find yourself enjoying the class more.
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LAST UPDATED: 6th June 2022
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Personal information used for direct marketing
If we are using your personal information to send you direct marketing, you have the right to object at any time. If you exercise this right, we will stop processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes. However, we may keep your information on a “suppression list” to ensure your information is not added to any marketing lists at some point in the future.
Automated decision making and profiling
- ‘Profiling’ is the automated use of personal data held on a computer to analyse or predict things that have a legal effect, or other similarly significant effects, on the individual. Examples would include economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests and location. You have the right not to be subject to a solely automated decision (that is, a decision made electronically, with no human intervention), and this may include profiling (although there is no general right to object to profiling). If you are concerned the Everything TEFL Ltd has made a solely automated decision about you, you can object.
- Please note, Everything TEFL Ltd is allowed to carry out automated decisions with no human intervention where you have given your explicit consent to this processing (although you have the right to withdraw your consent).
- We are also permitted to make automated decisions with no human intervention in the following circumstances:
- The automated decision is necessary to enter into, or perform a contract, or complete a contract involving you and the Everything TEFL Ltd.
- The automated decision is allowed under a law passed at the European Union level, or at the level of the European Union or EEA member state level (i.e., is allowed under national law). The law will provide safeguards to protect your rights and freedoms.
However, you still have a general right to object in both of the above circumstances, providing reasons why you think the processing is having a negative effect on you. If you do object, we will carefully consider your reasons, and decide whether to review the decision-making process in your specific case.
Right to data portability
- If you have provided your information to Everything TEFL Ltd, you have the right to request and receive a copy of that information in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.
- You also have the right to ask us to send the information we hold about you to another organisation.
- There are some situations in which the right to data portability does not apply. For further information, please contact us.
Exercising your rights concerning the processing of your personal information
If you wish to exercise any of the above rights concerning the way in which we process your personal information, please contact:
Risk Management Team
Everything TEFL Ltd
28 – 32 Pembroke Street,
Republic of Ireland
Telephone: +353 (1) 554 6227
Email: [email protected]
Your right to complain to a national data protection regulator (data protection supervisory authority)
- If you think we have processed your personal information unfairly or unlawfully, or we have not complied with your rights under GDPR, you have the right to complain to a national data protection regulator.
- Complaints about how we process your personal information can be considered by the data protection regulator.