When it comes to teaching English, non native teachers feel they are the second choice to anyone born in a nation that speaks English as their first language, and the schools we apply for a job and our students’ parents think the same thing most of the time.

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In England, English is taught through English. This is not always a choice: we usually teach in multicultural classrooms and do not know the language of our students, so we have a more conversational approach. To simulate the English methods, many TEFL professionals who teach English in a non-English speaking country are quick to point out that while speaking the language of their students, during the lesson they have as a rule that they can only speak English.

This, in my opinion, is a mistake. The methods used in England work because they are specific to England, but are less effective abroad, for both cultural and structural reasons. 

For example, lately, I am teaching English in an Italian state school and even if I have taught English in England to Italian students, the same methods, here, would not work. 

Speaking the language of our students offers a huge advantage, especially when our students start from a very low level, and in this article, I will explain why the full immersion method does not work in monocultural classes and why I think you should speak the language of your students.

1). Class Size

The size of the class and the number of students is probably the biggest obstacle for a teacher. In London, I had classes of 6 to 12 students. In Italy, each of my classes has an average of 25 students. The classrooms are very large, and even though I scream to make everyone feel good, the students are shy and whisper, and it is very difficult to hear what they say even if they are very close to me.

Furthermore, we all wear a surgical mask that softens the voices of the students and impedes me to read their lips.

In addition, 25 students aged 11 to 14 who talk to each other generate a lot of noise that covers their peers’ voices and even mine.

It would be impossible for the whole class to participate if we spoke only English.

2). Time available

I have 3 hours a week in each class (about 25 students each). In this period of time I have to perform my administrative duties, correct homework, question the students, grade them, tell them to keep silent and when I finish all that, I have to teach some English. I have to be quick and effective because I don’t have much time to take it slow.

3). New Corona Virus Procedures

At the time of writing, we are experiencing the second year with the Corona Virus. The lessons in person are done with the mask (both teachers and students). Strict hygiene rules must also be observed, including sanitizing the tables every hour. Students have to spend most of their breaks at their desks and cannot move to work in groups.
This makes the lessons very static. To catch their attention, I walk among them and call them to the board, but the easiest way to carry on the lesson is the good old “Open the book on page X” from when I was a student.

4). Humor and grabbing the students’ attention

For the reasons above, grabbing students’ attention is very difficult.

I use humour a lot in my lessons. It’s a way to get to know the students early and have them follow me. I tell them some interesting stories, and when their attention is all on me, I explain the hardest parts of the lesson until their attention begins to wane, then shoot some jokes and I lighter the tone.

5). Short and effective explanations

Being able to speak the students’ language, I can quickly explain the boring parts in particular, and instead of spending an hour making students understand that the object I am talking about is called APPLE, I can say “Guys , in English this is APPLE. Now let’s move on to PEAR”.

6). Digressions and Deep Talks

One of the most interesting parts of my lectures are my digressions on deeper topics. For example, recently a student asked me what I thought about pizza with ketchup and I used it as a metaphor to talk about English as a lingua franca and to explain why in my opinion English no longer belongs to one culture, even if many British people think they are the masters of English (like us Italians with pizza).

In other lessons, precisely because we speak the same language, we faced difficult sensitive topics such as racism and immigration (there are many foreign students), explaining that just because someone speaks Italian badly, it doesn’t mean they are stupid, and that is okay to laugh together at what they say, as long as then they help their classmates to understand and improve.

This depth in the topics we deal with and being able to discuss culture, and not only language is impossible in England, where we can speak only English and can touch very superficial levels in our relationship with students.

Conclusion

Speaking the language of our students is something we should take advantage of to be more effective in our lessons. This way, our teaching is not just limited to learning a foreign language, but especially when we work with young students, we can open their minds to important issues that inspire them to become better adults. 

Just as, in the collective imagination, all the Italians cook well (even if it is not true), so those born in English-speaking countries are seen as better English teachers. We don’t have many advantages to compete on equal terms with native speakers and this is an excellent card that we have and use to our advantage.

Although I enjoyed very much teaching to Chinese students, personally, I prefer to give lessons to Italians and Spaniards, because I can establish a deeper relationship with my students, whose languages I speak.