How to be an Effective EFL Teacher
by David Martin
Would you like to be an EFL teacher and Teach in Japan?
We are honored at How to Teach English in Japan to be able to publish David Martin`s informative article. Martin has written some great textbooks that are fun to use. I can`t recommend his books enough! I am currently using some of them at a Japanese university and at Kevin`s English Schools. Martin of course spent many years himself teaching English in Japan and knows Japanese students very well.
“So if the university really wanted to make valid tests it would do two things. One, it would make a database of high ID questions which I am in the process of doing. Two, it would put listening portions on all of their exams as these are consistently of higher validity, although we can also make bad listening questions as well. It`s kind of logical that reading and listening passages would give us better tests because they present a meaningful context that mirrors most real language use. Answers for the individual grammar and vocabulary questions are mostly memorized in cram schools and thus can be gotten right, without really knowing the meaningful use of English very well.”
–Tim Murphey, The Tale that Wags, p. 16-17.
(Pictured: an Enoshima Sunset, by Richard Baladad)
by David Martin
Over the short history of the ESL/EFL field various methods have been proposed. Each method has in turn fallen out of favor and has been replaced with a new one. Audiolingualism, functionalism, communicative paradigms, and now the fad is “task-based syllabuses.” In his critique of the task-based syllabus Sheen (1994:127) points out, “frequent paradigm shifts in the field of second and foreign language teaching have not resulted in significant progress in language learning.” Since no method has been proven to be more effective than another, many teachers have jumped on the “eclectic” bandwagon. Common sense would have this as the best available choice since variety is the spice of language.
(EFL Teacher Photo: Cherry blossoms by Richard Baladad)
Other than considering method, what can the EFL teacher do to ensure success? What follows are some DOs and DONTs that I have found to be very useful in teaching EFL in Japan. None are revolutionary; these are principles I didn’t necessarily learn in ESL graduate school, but should have been taught.
1. EFL Teacher: Learn your students’ names.
This cannot be overemphasized. You will be able to control your class better and gain more respect if you learn the students’ names early on. If you are one who has a poor memory for names, have all the students hold up name cards and take a picture of them on the first day of class. On the second class, impress them by showing them you know all their names.
2. Establish authority from the beginning.
Expect your students to use English 100% of the time, and accept it if they only achieve 95% usage. Do not let them get away with speaking their mother tongue to communicate with their partner. Deal quickly with inappropriate conduct in a friendly yet firm manner.
3. Be overly prepared.
If you don’t have a clear lesson-plan down on paper, then make sure you have a mental one. You should know about how long each activity will take and have an additional activity prepared in case you have extra time.
Teaching ESL to Adults
Teaching ESL to Adults
4.EFL Teacher: Always consider
Why are your students studying English? How will they use English in the future? What do they need to learn? If many of the students are going to study abroad at an American university, for example, then the teacher should be preparing them for listening to academic lectures and academic reading to some extent. If, on the other hand, most of the students have no perceived need for English in the future, perhaps you should be focusing on useful skills that they may use in the future, but may not be essential–skills such as understanding movie dialog, listening to music, writing an email to a pen pal, etc.
5. EFL Teacher: Be prepared to make changes to or scrap your lesson plan.If the lesson you have prepared just isn’t working, don’t be afraid to scrap it or modify it. Be sensitive to the students–don’t forge ahead with something that is bound for disaster.
6. EFL Teacher: Find out what learners already know.
This is an ongoing process. Students may have already been taught a particular grammar point or vocabulary. In Japan, with Japanese having so many loan words from English, this is especially true. I have explained many words carefully before, such as kids, nuance, elegant, only to find out later that they are now part of the Japanese language.
7. EFL Teacher: Be knowledgeable about grammar.
This includes pronunciation, syntax, and sociolinguistic areas. You don’t have to be a linguist to teach EFL–most of what you need to know can be learned from reading the students’ textbooks. Often the rules and explanations about structure in the students’ texts are much more accessible and realistic than in texts used in TESL syntax courses.
8. EFL Teacher: Be knowledgeable about the learners’ culture.
In monolingual classrooms the learners’ culture can be a valuable tool for teaching.
9. EFL Teacher: Don’t assume that your class textbook has the language that your students need or want to learn.
Most textbooks follow the same tired, boring pattern and include the same major functions, grammar and vocabulary. The main reason for this is not scientific at all–it is the publisher’s unwillingness to take a risk by publishing something new. Also, by trying to please all teachers publishers force authors to water down their materials to the extent of being unnatural at times. It is the teacher’s responsibility to add any extra necessary vocabulary, functions, grammar, or topics that you feel the students may want or need.
10. EFL Teacher: Don’t assume (falsely) that the class textbook will work.
Some activities in EFL textbooks fall apart completely in real classroom usage. It is hard to believe that some of them have actually been piloted. Many activities must be modified to make them work, and some have to be scrapped completely.
11. EFL Teacher: Choose your class textbooks very carefully.
Most teachers and students are dissatisfied with textbooks currently available. Nevertheless, it is essential that you choose a textbook that is truly communicative and meets the needs of your students.
12. Don’t neglect useful vocabulary teaching.
The building blocks of language are not grammar and functions. The most essential thing students need to learn is vocabulary; without vocabulary you have no words to form syntax, no words to pronounce. Help your students to become vocabulary hungry.
13. Proceed from more controlled activities to less controlled ones.
Not always, but in general, present and practice more structured activities before freer, more open ones.