Published 5th April 2019


Teaching English as a Foreign Language is an umbrella term which can actually manifest itself in a number of different forms. EFL teachers can teach different ages, different lessons, different levels and, of course, different nationalities. Though the majority of EFL jobs are teaching young learners in a monolingual class, there is every chance you will find yourself teaching English to a group of adults who all speak different first languages. In other words, teaching English to adults in a multilingual environment.

Just as with every different EFL class, there are certain things you need to bear in mind when teaching adults who come from different language backgrounds, social situations and cultural environments.

First language interference (Part 1)

First language interference occurs when learners make mistakes when learning English because of their first language. This can be because of a similar word or pronunciation. When teaching a monolingual classroom, it can be easier to predict which words or language are going to cause problems for your learners because you only have to consider one language. With multilingual learners it can be difficult to consider all of their languages.

First language interference (Part 2)

Another aspect of first language interference is learners using their first language to communicate in the classroom. This is often when learners want to have a conversation with their friends and they find it easier to chat in their own language. Thankfully, in multilingual classes this is not a problem because usually the students don’t speak each other’s languages so they can only speak to each other in English.

Cultural backgrounds

With students from different backgrounds and cultures, you need to be sensitive to this. The teacher needs to make sure they are aware of the different views and sensitivities of the different cultures in their classrooms so they can avoid an awkward or politically charged situation. A wrong choice of topic for discussion can cause a serious breakdown in the relationships in the classroom and so the classroom atmosphere.

Different personalities

As a result of the difference in cultural backgrounds, the difference in personalities between your students may be more marked than in other classes. Some adults are not shy to speak their minds and voice their opinions, which should be welcomed, unless it is discriminatory or inappropriate in any way. Always maintain control of the discussions in class, so that you can steer the conversation in another direction if necessary.

Though there may be challenges teaching multilingual adults, we should celebrate their differences. Having students from different countries brings a welcome diversity to our classrooms.