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The best language learning experience

If you're reading this, you're probably curious about finding a good teacher or becoming a better one.  As a native English speaker who has studied French, Greek, and Spanish, I can speak to my own experience with learning another language.  As a veteran master teacher of English as as a Second Language (ESL), I can also speak to how to provide the best language learning experience.

When I studied French in high school, very little time was spent on authentic language.  Instead, we learned  "textbook French."  The focus was on grammar, writing, conjugating verbs, and memorizing vocabulary.  Almost no time was spent on actual conversation.  Needless to say, most students were not inspired. Not only that, during my semester abroad in France, I was ill-prepared to understand and speak the language.  A French friend remarked, "Your grammar is good, but you sound like a book."


The next language I studied was modern Greek.  My first teacher's material was dry and irrelevant.  Again, we were conjugating verbs, learning isolated vocabulary, and translating dated texts; not communicating in Greek.

As you can see, the best language experiences do not come about by rote learning or by ignoring the learner's need to communicate. They do not include boring, stale material, nor do they separate language from communication.  Neither do they involve teachers who do all the talking, while students participate only by filling out worksheets or by repeating vocabulary words but never learning how to use them.

In fact, the best language experience for learners studying English or any second language needs to be lively, relevant, and meaningful.  The best teachers bring infectious enthusiasm and add personality, both their own and the students', to their lessons.  They use fresh ideas and materials that appeal to and benefit the students.  They provide the connection that students need to make the experience their own. 

Of course, the best teachers not only know their subject well but find ways to explain difficult concepts so that learners understand. They are resourceful:  if one way doesn't work to get a point across or to help a learner perform successfully, they find another way.  The best teachers use a variety of techniques and activities to deliver curriculum. They frequently get "off the page" when the material at hand is incomplete or needs to be supplemented by clarification, examples, or practice. They encourage their students to participate and express themselves.  The best teachers answer questions completely and understand that there are no stupid questions.  If they don't know the answer to a question, they admit it.  They promise the students they will find out the answer and get back to them. The best teachers don't dominate the lesson.  They use teaching time as a learning lab where there is a back and forth between teacher and student(s) and among classmates. They use mistakes as teaching tools to remind learners that the classroom is the place to make them, rather than in public or at work. The best teachers are good listeners. They pay special attention to learners as they express themselves and then give them valuable feedback. This includes pointing out mistakes and asking students to make corrections, and if that is not possible, modeling the correct language.  It includes giving students a more conventional way to express an idea, offering more appropriate vocabulary, or  modeling an acceptable sociolinguistic form, such as "Could you check on Adam?" versus "Go check on Adam." The best language teachers understand that people learn by doing, so it follows that students should be producing written or oral communication during each lesson.  The best teachers are patient and encouraging.  When their students are frustrated or unhappy with their English, they remind them that while the desired results may not happen today, they will happen with time and practice. The best teachers can customize lessons to students' needs, interests and levels.  They meet any given individuals where they are and help them get to where they want to go.  At English Advantage, we have some of the best teachers, who provide unique learning experiences.

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