Learning English as an additional language

We speak to seasoned teacher of EAL, Vici Egan, about strategies from students learning to speak English

1. From your experience, what are the greatest challenges that ELLs (English Language Learners) face when developing their English skills?

Fear of trying might be the greatest challenge that ELLs face. Students who are keen to learn will do so. It is important to try to allay fears of making mistakes. That's the only way to learn. Keep trying and don't give up. It takes time but, to borrow an old adage, practice really does make perfect. Of course, individual students, as with any new skill, face individual challenges and as a teacher/tutor, it's our job to tap into those areas and find ways to bridge the gaps. There are also certain grammatical concerns and linguistic demands that might be common within nationalities. For example, many Asian languages don't have articles or plurals so that might be a weakness for those students; certain diphthongs, consonants and vowels may present more challenges for some nationalities than others.

2. You have taught all over the world. Have you found any strategies that universally help students to improve their English?

Students from different countries have different grammatical issues but the same learning strategies work for all. Practice in speaking, reading and writing are universally crucial for improvement. With my students, I will identify three problem areas in a piece of their writing and focus on those. The student will correct these errors with guidance and then work on specific exercises to target these areas.

3. What advice can you give to anyone hoping to become more fluent in English?

Read, read, read! Anything and everything. Reading helps improve vocabulary, sentence structure and general knowledge. Read newspapers. They are aimed at the language ability of a Grade 6 student (an 11 year old). Guess the meaning of words you don't know, from the context, then look up the word and see if you were correct. This is a skill that improves with practice. You will also start to learn which words are essential to understand and which words aren't. Listen to the news every day in English. If you're a music lover, look up the lyrics of your favourite songs. Watch movies in English. Speak. Talk to native speakers. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to try. Take risks.

4. And what can parents do to help their child to improve their English?

For younger children, read to them - often. For older ones, try to enforce the advice given in number 3. Encouragement and positive reinforcement go a long way.

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Vici Egan has taught English as an Additional Language in schools in Nigeria, Mexico, Turkey, Cuba, England, Greece, Canada, Singapore, Beijing, Manila and Hong Kong, where she has lived and worked for the last fourteen years.

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