Published 21st May 2018

students in group speak english

It can be really frustrating for teachers when we hear our learners speaking their own language in the EFL classroom. After all, we know they know how important it is to speak English as much as possible. Yet still there are many times we find they lapse into speaking in their mother tongues.

This is not always a bad thing. Translation can be used very effectively in the classroom and in such cases the first language can be a useful tool. Other times we need them to speak English to practise language, consolidate learning or to feel comfortable speaking the language.

What we don’t want to do is create an atmosphere in which our learners are afraid to speak. Classrooms with strict “English only” rules can be demotivating to learners. Instead, there are more subtle ways to encourage our EFL learners to speak English in the classroom.

Start to Speak English

Start as you mean to go on. Speak English to your students as soon as they walk in the door. If you need to make announcements, do it in English. If you need to speak to a particular student, do it in English. If you want to ask about their weekend, do it in English. This will help your learners get in the habit of speaking English as soon as they walk in the door.

Talk about their real lives

Don’t limit your English to your lesson materials. Use English to ask them about recent events, ask for information that you need or to make small talk. Doing this will blur the line between their lessons and the outside world. Hopefully, this will lead to them using English outside the classroom as well as inside.

Teach classroom language in English

You may find your students switch to their first language when they really need to know something or ask for something. Teaching them how to ask questions in English will mean they speak English more often. For example, Can I go to the bathroom?, Can you say that again?, What does ______ mean?

Provide English-English dictionaries

We should already be encouraging our students to use dictionaries when they don’t understand a word. Using an English-English dictionary will help them create links between words and their meanings in English. This prevents the extra step of going through translation and helps them think in English.

One of our main goals in teaching English as a Foreign Language is to instill in our learners a love of the language. We would like them to love it as much as we do and want to use it. We don’t want them to be learning English because they have to, but because they want to. Using these simple steps we can subtly encourage our learners to speak English in the classroom. This should help them use the language more naturally and comfortably.