TEFL Tips: Grading Your Language

I’ve come across the viewpoint that teachers should keep their language natural, and while I definitely see the value in this, especially for higher level learners, I think it can be taken too far. I think it’s just a fact that if you teach lower levels, you need to grade your language, at least as one of the techniques you use, for a class to function at its best, and you’re not hurting students by doing this. Students don’t need to understand every word, but having routine “glitches” where no one understands not only waste time but also affect student confidence.

I certainly agree that making a habit of using incorrect grammar or drastically mispronouncing words is not the way to go. But I also think the need for speaking a bit more slowly and enunciating more is a given when teaching – and the fact is, this alters the natural-ness of your speech. Speed and a certain way of pronouncing things are parts of what make up natural speech, and when you change those, you’re not just speaking “naturally but slower” – you are in fact speaking unnaturally.

Of course students also benefit from being exposed to – rather – natural language and realizing that they can function even without understanding every word. It’s fine to use words and constructions they don’t know yet – as long as you make a reasonable effort to ensure they will get the gist.

One important strategy is of course to plan what you are going to say, to some extent – and if you explain instructions, for example, with one step leading to the next, students’ own logic can help them when their language skills can’t. I think that a lot of time spent putting instructions into words they know can be better spent taking a step back and figuring out a logical way to present it all: what do they need to understand – not in words but in concepts – for the activity to make sense? If you can model the activity or frame it in a way that just builds on what they are already doing, the need to grade your language also decreases.