Published 13th December 2020

7 Common Misconceptions about EFL Learners

Although Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is becoming more widespread, it is actually a relatively unknown field. There are many ideas which people might have about being a TEFL teacher and about teaching English as a Foreign Language which are believed by and large to be true, but with experience can be proven to be unfounded.

Some common misconceptions related to being a TEFL teacher are:

* If I can speak English, I can teach English.

* I need to be able to speak the local language.

* Being a TEFL teacher is just one long holiday (sorry!).

* I’m too old to teach English as a Foreign Language.

* Teaching English as a Foreign Language is not a career.

Read more: Top 3 Myths about TEFL

But today we’ve chosen 7 common misconceptions about EFL learners and their learning experience. Even if you don’t have experience specifically in TEFL you might have entertained these thoughts at some point without realizing that they’re completely off the mark.

So let’s set the record straight once and for all.

1. All EFL learners are Young Learners

Many teachers have an image of themselves teaching English in Thailand to a class of 6-year olds. And while this is a perfectly feasible situation, it is not, actually, the norm. Of course, there are loads of jobs teaching in kindergartens and primary schools around the world, but a large percentage of EFL learners are young adults or older.

While young adults can be taught in high schools, adult learners often take lessons through a language school or language centre. Schools often prefer to have local teachers teach their Young Learners while hiring foreign TEFL teachers for older students. So while it’s totally possible that you’ll end up teaching a class of 6-year olds, it’s just as likely you’ll find yourself teaching a class of 26-year olds.

Read more: 6 Differences Between Teaching Adults and Young Learners

2. EFL learners are a blank slate

This is possibly a hangover from the previous point. If we expect our learners to be Young Learners, then we expect that they don’t have much life or learning experience. Subsequently, we can expect them to come into the classroom with a blank slate, waiting for us to fill them with information. Because our learners are often older – and, in fact, even when it comes to Young Learners – this is not true.

All learners bring their previous experiences with them into the classroom, be it life experiences, previous knowledge, or their learning history. As TEFL teachers we need to build on all of these in our lessons. We cannot assume our learners have no knowledge of English or sports or food or whatever topic we’re talking about.

Instead, we can utilize this knowledge to encourage participation from our learners and increase interest and engagement in our lesson activities. What’s more, it’s easier to learn something new if you can relate it to previous knowledge, which is helpful in the language learning classroom.

Read more: 5 Ways to Make Language Learning More Meaningful

3. Young Learners are Beginners

Some teachers might assume that, based on their age and their language capabilities, Young Learners are Beginner English level students. Because teaching Young Learners also can involve teaching how to read and write and playing lots of games, this can tend to make us think we are teaching very simple English.

However, there are definitely instances in which you might find your 6- or 7-year old learners can speak English to quite a high level. Or even, you might find one or more of your Young Learners has an English-speaking caregiver so already has an Advanced level of English even though they are only 8 years old.

It can be tricky for teachers of Young Learners to reconcile their age with their level. Even if their English level is higher than you expect, you still need to choose activities that are appropriate for their cognitive level and intellect, even if the language is not simple.

Misconceptions about EFL learners

4. Adult learners are Advanced learners

The corollary of this is expecting your adult learners to automatically be Advanced learners. Again, age is not a reflection of the level. Adults are such a big group of learners, they vary in so many ways. You can have young adults who are Advanced learners and middle-aged students who are Beginner learners. If you are teaching English to speakers of a language that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet, you may need to teach literacy as well.

With each class you teach, it is best to walk in with few expectations. There are certain assumptions you can make based on their first language, but you should never assume anything based on their age. Even learners of the same age will differ in certain respects, and, of course, you never know what will interest your students until you have met them.

5. EFL learners learn best with traditional methods

It is difficult to unlearn certain ideas. If you were taught a foreign language at school, chances are you were taught in a very traditional way. Your teacher more than likely stood at the front of the class, lecturing and making copious notes on the blackboard. As a student, you didn’t do much besides listen, take notes, do grammar exercises, and recite dialogues given to you by your teacher.

In the EFL field, we teach a little differently. We focus on communication and our main aim is interactivity in the classroom. TEFL teachers value student participation highly and encourage our students to ask as many questions as necessary. We rely on our students to think for themselves and work out language with our guidance, rather than us spoon-feeding them the rules.

This has proven to be a very successful way of teaching English as a Foreign Language and this is how you will be expected to teach no matter in which part of the world you are in.

6. EFL learners are highly motivated

We all realise and understand the importance of being able to speak English in this day and age. It follows then that our learners should have a high level of motivation to learn the language. However, as speakers of English, we might not realise how hard it is to learn and become proficient in English. Even the most dedicated students can lose their motivation at times.

Then, it is also quite possible that our students are not taking English lessons out of their own volition. It might be a compulsory subject at school or their parents or even their employer might have signed them up for lessons. You can imagine if you are in the classroom not by choice but by obligation then if you don’t enjoy learning English you would naturally find the lessons a struggle.

Read more: How to Promote Motivation in the EFL Classroom

7. If EFL learners are at the same level, they have the same needs

Nothing could be farther than the truth. Yes, they have, on paper, the same level of English. However, as individuals, there is no doubt they are very different. If they speak the same first language we are able to anticipate certain difficulties they may have with speaking English but other than that no two students are the same. They may be learning English for totally different reasons, or be very different kinds of learners.

After all, this is the beauty of TEFL. No matter if you are teaching the same age, same nationality, and the same level, no two lessons will ever be the same!

One Reply to “7 Common Misconceptions about EFL Learners”

  1. EFL learners are very diverse. Everyone has a different goal, level of preparation and motivation, different interests. It can be confusing and intimidating when you’re just starting out as a teacher. But you know, probably no one as a beginner can avoid some mistakes in EFL teaching. Flexibility is what you need to master in order to work with EFL learners. That is an individual approach to each student. It does not mean that it is necessary to create a special program for each student individually (it’s impossible). Just to change some elements of the already existing program for each student, if he needs it.

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