Teaching English to absolute beginners is not simple. It is a challenge, no matter if you?re a teacher, a parent or a student yourself. Today, most students have already had some contact with the English language- either through the internet, TV, movies or games. Yet, although they?ve had some exposure to the language, beginners can?t handle the most basic tasks in a foreign language, like greetings or introducing oneself. So, where does a teacher start from?
Studies in the field of language learning have revealed a great method of teaching a second language- the Total Physical Response (TRP). The method implies that during the language acquisition, the information is taken in more easily when it is being taught through physical response. That is, the students must respond physically to the teacher?s statements. TRP has many advantages and it is a fabulous tool when you work with beginners, as it is suited to teaching both vocabulary and grammar. This approach has made my classes more active and more creative and it made the learning process become easy and fun!
Beginners are usually children, who have a deep respect for their teachers and the learning process. For most of them, the teacher is their leader, their guide through the English-learning journey, and more often than not, they look up to their teacher and get very emotionally attached. This might be a key factor in learning, as it makes them become more interested in what is going on in the classroom and it can speed up the process of learning. We?ve all had a special teacher who made us love not only the person, but also the school subject he was teaching, right?
Sometimes, it is difficult to decide where to start from. What do they really need to know at this level? Should you focus on vocabulary, since words are the building block of any language, should you teach them grammar, that links these building-blocks? What beginner students really need to know is basic greetings and farewells, how to introduce themselves and start a simple conversation, and basic instructions. Then you can move on the more complex language knowledge, such as the alphabet, numbers, colours, the objects around them, the most common verbs and so on. Sometimes, we want our students to show progress so quickly that we want to teach them many elements in a short period of time, but this is not how it?s done. One step at a time is the way to go. Also, the focus should be on conversational abilities, which puts all the vocabulary and grammar in a real life context.
What we should keep in mind is that that a person learning a new language has a period of time during which he receives linguistic information without being able to actually speak that language. Until they become more comfortable with the language, they hesitate and sometimes even refuse to speak. Make sure they are aware of they can do, and take the focus away from what they cannot do. Celebrate each achievement, no matter how small, and congratulate them on their progress. Encouragement feels wonderful!
What I like most about teaching beginner classes is that I can use many fun activities such as songs, physical games, miming, drama. They enjoy the activities so much and participate with so much enthusiasm, that they don?t even realise they are actually using English while they are playing. I myself have loads of fun during class, and I am really excited about every little step they take.
So, arm yourself with patience and devotion- the road from zero to English hero is long and bumpy, but the reward is so sweet!