TEFL Tips For Teaching Lower Levels

I love teaching lower levels – I find it challenging and rewarding both. Challenging because it takes thought and planning to ensure you are communicating effectively with learners who don’t speak much English and rewarding because the progress they make – and the result when you succeed in communicating – seems proportionately more than that of higher level learners.

Different schools I’ve worked at have had different policies for lower level learners; when only native speakers are working there, they may avoid giving complete beginners to new teachers, but in general, all teachers teach different levels. In some schools with both local and foreign teachers, local teachers work with lower level students and foreign teachers with higher levels. There are pros and cons to both policies of course, but I have to say I’m not a fan of the often underlying assumption that foreign teachers/native speakers “couldn’t possibly” teach lower levels in English only and similarly that non-native speakers can’t teach higher levels.

There’s no doubt that it’s very important to put thought into how you will convey instructions and simply the meaning of words for lower levels; it’s also important to have a sense of “how much” of something you are going to cover and how much they need to know. Often a good guide is something I overheard another teacher say “teach them what they need to know to do the task at hand”. There may be a lot of useful information connected to a grammar point but you run the risk of overwhelming your learners if you get bogged down in detail.

I also think it’s extremely important, especially if you teach adults, to be able to, in your own mind, separate their language ability from their “level of maturity” or mental ability, for lack of a better term: of course the fact that they can’t express their complex thoughts in English certainly doesn’t mean they don’t have complex thoughts. This sounds so obvious, but when there is a language barrier it can be a very real issue.

The language and even some of the activities you deal with may to some people seem reminiscent of grade school, but they are not children, and it’s important that you demonstrate that you know that. It’s hard to put into words how exactly to do this…but I think students realize when you do, and it will make teaching lower levels much more enjoyable and effective.