The English language teachers, as well as any other teachers, encounter various professional problems concerning lesson planning, class management, student motivation, coping with unpredicted issues, and numerous other problems. There are many specific problems that usually only foreign language teachers meet, e.g. the usage of the mother tongue during the lessons etc.
One of the most important problems the English language teacher faces is student motivation. For learning of any new language motivation is crucial and the teacher must understand its importance. It is especially essential when teaching young students and adolescents. There are two types of motivation: extrinsic (stimulus forms outside the classroom and individual, forced by external influence, e.g. different rewards, social approval etc.) and intrinsic (motivation comes from inside the classroom or personal interests of the student, e.g. method of teaching, activities presented in the classroom). The key problem connected with motivation is its sustaining. The teacher’s main task is to help students to sustain their motivation. (Harmer, 21) The teacher’s professionalism is very important factor for motivation. Teacher’s support and help are also vital for student motivation for learning foreign languages. The encouragement of students and good teacher-student relations are highly important for students’ self-esteem and confidence.
Students with normal self-esteem enjoy the learning process and are more likely to acquire the language, e.g.: students are not afraid to participate in class discussions, group work etc. Students with healthy self-esteem are motivated to use foreign language in communication which makes their linguistic skills more developed. (Ebata) To motivate students the teacher must conduct lessons in the way which will interest them and incite their participation. The tasks must be of appropriate level of challenge, i.e. adjusted to students’ level of language competence (neither too complicated nor too easy). The tasks that give practical value in real life, for example students’ presentations on the topics of their interest, class discussions on exciting matters, will benefit in motivating students to learn and to use their language knowledge.
For students it is very important to be part of decision making in the class, so they feel responsibility for their learning process, and feel that they have influence on what is happening. (Ebata) To maintain and sustain student motivation teacher should encourage students with adequate feedback, support, guidance, and clarity of expectations. Student motivation gives them higher chances to be successful in the process of learning a new language and, what is very important, to be satisfied with the results of the learning. (Harmer, 22)
Learner autonomy is a problematic question and it is often confused with self-instruction. The teacher’s role is to create and maintain a learning environment in which students are more autonomous. Learner autonomy is a concept supported by Henry Holec in the European language education. Learner autonomy is a learning strategy and self-regulator for active and mindful learning (Dörnyei, 195). Holec’s first works on learner autonomy date back to the 1980’s and the concept becomes more and more popular nowadays in the language teaching. Some scholars interpret learner autonomy as independent language usage, others as independent language learning.
There is also a general connotation of learner autonomy that combines independent language learning and independent language and all the factors that foster autonomous learning. There is a big amount of the notions corresponding a synonymous meaning of learner autonomy: learner independence, self-direction, autonomous learning, independent learning etc. Basically they are almost equal in the meaning and have been used to denote related concepts (Thanasoulas) Autonomy and independency are synonyms though; learner autonomy does not promote learner’s independency but interdependency between the teacher and the student and the capability of learners to cooperate in the process of learning. “Learners take their first step towards autonomy when they recognize that they are responsible for their own learning” (Thanasoulas).
There two basic types of learning process. The first one is the active approach to learning “I learn” – learner is responsible for their success or failing. Teacher guides students showing examples and helps when there is the need of it. The second is the passive approach “I am taught” – teacher is supposed to teach everything, the teacher is responsible for failing. Learner development is used to refer to methods of encouraging learner autonomy in which teacher is seen as a person responsible for fostering learner autonomy. (Little) In the cultural aspect, learner autonomy gained greater popularity among Western pedagogues than Eastern. Culturally Eastern, e.g. Chinese, cultures are known as collectivist and Western as individualistic which has the greatest influence on the promotion and development of learner autonomy in Asia. Learner autonomy in different cultural contexts has been the subject of dispute. Culture is very important for language learning, as language is a cultural phenomenon. Culture has the biggest influence on any language correspondingly on the learner. But regardless of the cultural background, at the starting point learner is able to control their own learning process. Supportive engagement of students’ autonomy can be recognized as the base for further development. “Learner autonomy entails a variety of self-regulatory behaviors that develop – through practice – as a fully integrated part of the knowledge and skills that are the goal of learning”. (Little) Usage of L1
The usage of mother tongue is a very important and controversial issue in teaching English and other foreign languages. It is especially important when teaching young students or at beginner level. It is natural that at lower levels L1 is used more frequently. The usage of L1 should be determined by the age group of learners, their level of English and purpose of learning of the language. However in an English-language classroom most of the attention must be paid to English and it should be used as much of the time as possible. The usage of the L1 must be minimized during English-language lessons. (Harmer, 39) The usage of L1 is sometimes necessary for giving instructions, particularly when students are at lower levels of language acquisition, or for better understanding of the task when some aspects are not clear.
Teachers use L1 to give better explanations when the instructions are complicated or when students need help. In these cases using of L1 is helpful and necessary. “The usage of L1 is beneficial in terms of explanation of grammar, vocabulary items, difficult concepts and for general comprehension”. The mother tongue is used in English classes for translation of words, different concepts, phrases and texts into L1 and back into English. Teachers use L1 to make the lessons less stressful and to lift the sense of misunderstanding. Teachers must help students to understand the differences between their L1 and English (pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and stylistic differences).
Knowledge of those differences by foreign learners of English is essential for understanding correct forms, meaning and use of English grammar and for vocabulary usage to reduce making mistakes in English as much as possible especially at lower levels. (Harmer,39) The main task of the English teacher is to create English-language environment in the classroom as much as it is possible. The reason for that is that in most cases students hear and use the English language at the lesson of English. L2 is especially important in speaking activities to practice the language.
Very often the English language teacher faces the problem when the class is multilevel, i.e. students are of different level of language knowledge. There are different strategies teacher can use to manage this issue. One of the solutions is differentiation, i.e. treating students of not the same level in a different way. Teacher may give easier tasks to those of lower levels and more complex to more experienced ones. “When planning instruction for a multilevel class, teachers must ﬁrst consider the varied proﬁciency levels of their students.
In general, many students perform at the same or similar level; however, there are always students who perform “below” level and others who perform “above” level.” (Teaching Multilevel Classes) The English language teacher must also be aware of the fact that the same student may be at different levels of four specific language skills: reading, speaking, listening, and writing. For example the same English intermediate class student may be: intermediate level speaker, pre-intermediate writer, intermediate listener and pre-intermediate reader. “A teacher must be cognizant of each student’s strengths and weaknesses during instruction and when assigning tasks.”
Students can also help each other working in teams and groups, so that higher-level students assist their lower-level peers. The teacher in a multilevel class can also use the same materials and different tasks. “We can encourage students to do different tasks depending on their abilities.” There are different ready-made materials adapted to teaching multilevel student that teachers may use as well. At English language lesson any student shouldn’t feel inferior in any way; it can demotivate them from learning the language and make them feel much less confident. The teacher must be very careful and supportive and manage a multilevel class so that every student was an equal participant of the lesson. (Harmer 177)
Encouraging students to talk
Every English language teacher understands that speaking at English language class is very important. There is no use of learning any language whether it is not used in real communication, even if the students’ level is low. Oral activities are especially essential for developing communication skills and language abilities. Very often English teachers face the problem that students don’t want to talk at the lessons. There are various reasons for that, e.g.: some of them are afraid of speaking a foreign language; some students may feel less confident and afraid of making mistakes; some of them are simply not used to speaking at language classes etc. Some students may simply be introverts .The teacher shouldn’t force them to talk it will in most cases simply demotivate them. The teacher should encourage such students to talk using different strategies and technics, for example use pair work or group work. Pair work is less stressful for the students reluctant to talking, because they don’t feel that much the pressure as they feel speaking in front of the whole class. (Harmer 183)
To foster students to speak teacher may also ask them to make notes first, because some students are worried about thinking and speaking at once. The teacher gives time for answering the questions and then students read them. Teacher should avoid asking “yes or no” questions, so that student gives full answers. The English teacher must be encouraging and support students especially when they make mistakes. The teacher should tactfully correct the mistakes because any disapproval can demotivate students and make them even more reluctant to speaking. The best way is first to point out the good aspects of the answer and then with the help of suggestions to enable them to understand and to correct their own mistakes. The teacher may also note students’ mistakes and individually explain them to them. (Harmer 184)
1. Dörnyei, Zoltán. The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Routledge, 2005.
2. Ebata, Makiko . “Motivation Factors in Language Learning.” The Internet
TESL Journal, n.d. Web. 1 June 2014. . 3. Harmer, Jeremy. How to teach English. Pearson Education India, 2006 4. Little, David. “LLAS Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies.” Learner autonomy and second/foreign language learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 June 2014. . 5. “Teaching MultiLevel Classes.” EnglishClub. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2014. . 6. Thanasoulas, Dimitrios. “What is Learner Autonomy and How Can It Be Fostered?.” The Internet TESL Journal, 1 Nov. 2000. Web. 31 May 2014. .