Published 13th October 2021

The Basics of Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Teaching is such an important field. Education is the foundation of anything in life. Possibly because of the pressure this job demands, many of us never think we are able to be teachers ourselves. But the truth is that if you understand the basics of learning and teaching – and your subject matter, of course – you can be a teacher.

At the same time, being able to speak English does NOT mean that you can teach someone else to speak the language. That is a common misconception. There is a lot to learn about teaching English as a Foreign Language before you can consider yourself a TEFL teacher. So, let’s look at the basics of teaching English as a foreign language. This way you can get a glimpse of what life is like as an English as a Foreign Language teacher to see if it is something you think you’d like to do.

Read more: Top 3 Myths about TEFL

The Basics of Teaching English as a Foreign Language
The Basics of Teaching English as a Foreign Language

What is teaching English as a Foreign Language?

Teaching English as a Foreign Language is teaching English to learners who do not speak English as a first language. They might be learning English as a second language or a third or a fourth, and they might be living in their home country learning English at school or at a language school, or they might be in an English-speaking country. EFL learners can be any age, from kindergarten to adults; they can be schoolchildren, university students, businessmen and –women, workers or tourists.

How is teaching English as a Foreign Language different to teaching other languages?

When you look at the basics of teaching English as a foreign language, the major point that sets TEFL apart from other language lessons is the focus on communication. TEFL teachers utilise what is known as the communicative approach. The communicative approach makes communication the focus of the language learning. In other words, the language learning mirrors the real-world situations the learners will use the language in. This is reflected in the language, the materials and the methodology.

In terms of language, TEFL lessons teach language which is immediately useful and relevant for the students. This means the syllabus will include not only the usual vocabulary related to family, education and technology, for example, but also functional language, such as giving advice, asking for directions, and speaking on the phone. Each lesson is related to the students’ lives outside the classroom. This personalises the lessons which makes learning more memorable and effective.

Read more: 3 Factors Affecting Personalised Learning

In terms of content, TEFL lessons use materials that, again, reflect the students’ lives. Any written materials, videos or listening texts will be related to the students’ interests, lifestyles and living situations. A class of teenagers in Spain, for instance, are likely to have a lesson related to football to teach the present continuous, while a class of Japanese businessmen might instead have a lesson related to financial markets to teach the same language point. The content of the lesson is a vehicle for the language and so it can be chosen and adapted to different students.

Methodology in the English as a Foreign Language classroom

Finally, the methodology is probably what is most different about a TEFL classroom. EFL students are encouraged to speak in English from the moment they walk into the classroom. TEFL teachers are not traditional teachers who stand at a whiteboard and lecture their students, who then do grammar exercises in their notebooks.

EFL teachers act as facilitators rather than spoon-feeders. They expose the students to a situation that brings up language. Then they help them identify, decode and understand the language. Finally, they provide opportunities to practise using the language in appropriate circumstances.

This is made possible by the teaching methods we use in the classroom. The most basic lesson plan structure follows what is known as PPP. PPP stands for Presentation, Practice and Presentation. The first step is presenting the context and the language. After this, the learners are given an opportunity to practise the target language in order to ensure accuracy. And lastly, the production stage lets the students use the language in a free context.

Read more: What Exactly is PPP?

This is not the only lesson plan structure, but it is one that is the most widely used, especially by new and inexperienced teachers. It is a very simple and straightforward way to teach the language effectively and this is the reason for its widespread use.

EFL classrooms also emphasise fun in their activities. This may sound cheesy but classrooms generally have a bad reputation, in that we often remember boring lessons sitting at our desks listening to our teachers drone on and on about photosynthesis while we were dreaming of being anywhere but there.

EFL lessons, on the other hand, ensure that learners are involved from the beginning of the lesson and participate and interact with the teacher, the language and each other. This is done by ensuring the activities chosen for the lesson are engaging and relevant.

Adult EFL student raising her hand in class

What do you teach in the English as a Foreign Language classroom?

There are so many different aspects of the language that we need to teach in the EFL classroom. The obvious ones are the two major ones: vocabulary and grammar. When learning vocabulary it’s important to know not only individual words but also the spelling, pronunciation, level of formality of the word, the word family, and the common collocations using the word, among other things. Learning grammar means learning tenses but also the common and appropriate usage of them.

Then there are the skills, both receptive – listening and reading – and productive – writing and speaking, which have a set of subskills which need to be deconstructed, analysed and practised in order to be able to utilise these skills effectively.

In order to incorporate all of these elements into our lessons, we use whatever resources we have available to us. This might be coursebooks or worksheets but we prefer images and videos, as well as authentic materials.

There you have it: the basics of teaching English as a foreign language, in a nutshell. As you can see, teaching English as a Foreign Language is very hands-on and practical. The teacher works alongside the students and guides them towards learning. EFL lessons are very student-centred and include the learners as much as possible. Because of all these reasons, it is not necessary for EFL teachers to be able to speak the language of their learners. Your lesson plans, activities, teaching methods and guidance ensure you provide the best learning environment for your students through immersion.

Does this sound like something you’d want to do? Check out our website or give us a call and we can chat to you about the different TEFL course options we have available to you.

Please note: This blog post was originally published on 4 August 2020 but has been updated.