Teaching English is defined by who you teach and where it is that you teach. Teaching English to students whose first language is not English but who live in an English-speaking country such as Canada or Australia is teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).
English as an Additional Language (EAL) is not always a second language (it could be a third or fourth); thus, EAL is preferred. Teaching English to students whose first language is not English who live in countries or regions not considered English-speaking, countries where English is regarded as a foreign language is called teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL).
What Is the Reason for the Distinction
The different terms clarify the context, or learning environment, in which the students are studying the language. EAL students live in English-speaking countries, meaning that their study of English is either a part of their schooling, to advance their credentials, or as a way for them to learn how to live in their community as a new migrant, how to catch the bus and buy groceries, etc.
Students learning English in this context will have exposure to the language outside of the classroom, such as with people in the community, on television or radio, and through readily available books and magazines. It will be a language they will most often speak and use in their daily lives, even if they speak their first language at home with their family.
Speaking first languages at home paradoxically helps in learning English, so always recommend parents maintain their first language with their children if possible.
Teaching Culture as an EAL Teacher
When we teach a language, we also introduce culture as the two are inextricably entwined. Your context (including who your students are) as an EAL teacher will dictate the level of cultural teaching you will want to include in your program.
For young children growing up in an English-speaking culture, not many explanations will be needed; they will probably learn as they go. Older children and teenagers will have access to the culture outside of school. They probably won’t look to you for help in interpreting and understanding situations; they will most often turn to their friends or colleagues for that.
Simply letting these students know that you are there for them if they need it would probably be enough support for older children unless they recently arrived, in which case more assistance in understanding their new culture may be required.
However, adults who have migrated to a new country will need you to be a cultural ambassador and explain how the society functions and what is expected in particular circumstances. They may also have many questions which you should allow time for in your teaching.
Teaching Culture as an EFL Teacher
Learning English as a foreign language means that the time spent in the classroom speaking and using English may be the only time the student uses English in their day.
Less exposure will mean that students will be more reliant on the teacher for understanding the ins and outs of the English language and the cultures attached to it. In an EFL setting, you will be a kind of cultural ambassador and an English teacher.
The motivation students have for learning English will be affected by the context. English as a foreign language will most often be learned as a subject either at school or other institutions. The competency and proficiency students achieve in the language can dramatically affect their options for further education, which will mean that many students study very hard.
Often schools in EFL contexts will prioritize reading and writing in English over speaking and listening as this is how exams are taken. However much you would like to balance out their skills, you must consider what the students need from you.
Do they need to speak and listen to English with a high proficiency level? Or is the reading and writing prioritized by the school more important to them at this stage in their learning? These are difficult questions, and these issues will have to be decided by you, the students, the institution, and sometimes the parents.
In addition, motivation in an EAL context can be variable. Sometimes students don’t want to participate in EAL classes as they don’t appreciate being labeled and indirectly told that they do not speak or write English like their classmates. These classes then can be a source of embarrassment for some students.
Rate of Learning
Generally speaking, students learning in an English-speaking context will usually progress much faster than students learning English as a foreign language, which is a direct result of the extra exposure to the English language they have.
Therefore, programs of learning from an English-speaking context cannot automatically be transferred to an EFL context; the learners are not the same and should not be treated as such.
The Context Influences and Informs the Learning
The context in which you teach, either EAL or EFL, can influence
- What is taught
- How it is taught
- The motivation of the students
- The amount of time students have to practice the language (especially speaking and listening)
What is taught and how it is taught to students depends on each particular context. Schools across the globe have varying curriculums and different expectations of students, and it is your job to ensure that your students meet these expectations.
Motivation can be influenced by context; however, an enthusiastic, welcoming English teacher can generate and grow motivation in even the most resistant student. Finding out just what your students require from their English language lessons is the place to start to help your EAL or EFL students get exactly what they need from your classes.
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