What does ESL mean? Welcome to the global challenge of teaching the next generation to communicate in the world’s most spoken language!
ESL is the abbreviation for ‘English as a Second Language’ and it describes English language programs to educate people whose native language isn’t English. The main goal of teaching ESL is to improve the English proficiency level of students, depending on their language skills, learning abilities, and future plans. All ESL programs teach reading, writing, listening comprehension, grammar, vocabulary, and conversational English. ESL classes are usually small to optimize the student’s social and cultural exposure to a native English-speaking ESL instructor.
English is by far the world’s most spoken language – Ethnologue’s 2021 edition puts the number of English Second Language speakers on 978.2 million, with 369.9 million native speakers (older than five), which brings the total to 1.348 million in 146 countries. Comparatively, Mandarin Chinese, as the world’s biggest native language with 921.2 million speakers, is spoken in only 38 countries.
With unemployment among young people being a global problem, the pressure to be proficient in English as a second language is growing. This is especially true among graduates and young professionals who wish to become more suitable candidates for the limited number of quality jobs available.
These factors are pushing the demand for native English-speaking ESL teachers. The emergence of online teaching, thanks to advances in internet technology, and the Covid19 crisis have brought about significant changes for ESL education. Numerous online platforms have emerged, putting the ESL instructor in contact with foreign students without leaving home. Online ESL classes have become a fantastic supplementary way to teach ESL, but it does not replace the value of physical classroom interaction with an ESL teacher.
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Graphics: Courtesy of Ethonologue.com (2021/ 24th version)
The main reason for the rising demand for ESL is global communication. ESL has become part of general education in most countries of the world, with English being recognized as a global means of communication.
Another major reason for the growing demand for ESL testing among students is that those who wish to study abroad must take intensive and accelerated courses to pass the required levels of English proficiency.
These proficiency tests for tertiary admittance were usually IELTS and TOEFL, but the Covid_19 crisis saw a 43% drop in foreign students at American universities and colleges in 2020, and Duolingo’s cheaper test is now also accepted by 3,000 of the 10,000 main institutions.
The third reason for studying ELS is that English is the global language for business and has become a job requirement for many professionals and businesses.
First and foremost, the ESL industry as a rule only accepts native English-speaking teachers from bona vide English-speaking countries, being the UK, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
An ESL teacher’s specialty is teaching non-native speakers of all ages and levels both the essentials of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of spoken and written English while giving the students confidence in the everyday usage of the language. They teach their students to communicate clearly and comfortably with native English speakers. ESL teachers typically teach any English level; their students could be international students or students in their home countries where English isn’t the first language. They can teach English online or in person.
ESL teachers can work with non-English students of all ages, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. It’s important to know that if they choose to work in a public school setting they must achieve state-specific credentials. ESL teachers serve as both an educational and cultural bridge for students, linking them to a new cultural experience of countries where English is the native language. As such, ESL teachers help students identify the similarities between the two cultures. In this regard, they become much more than language teachers, in a way they become history, geography, music, and art teachers by educating the students about the two cultures simultaneously, the native and the English one.
However, ESL teachers should not be confused with foreign-language or even non-native English language teachers. Unlike foreign language teachers, who educate students with whom they share the same language, ESL teachers usually educate students with whom they do not share a common language. Therefore, ESL teachers are trained to overcome cultural and language barriers; they use lots of TPR, give simple explanations, creatively drill repetition, employ pictures, props, videos, games, and all kinds of demonstrations in their classes. An ESL teacher’s job is thus both demanding and interesting. The main characteristic of a good ESL teacher is a love for cross-cultural teaching and languages. The best ESL teachers are those who have traveled extensively; have learned other languages, understand other cultures and, above all, love teaching.
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If you are a native English speaker with a fairly neutral accent and from one of the English-speaking countries, here’s some basic information that you’ll probably find useful:
- To become an ESL teacher, you don’t need previous teaching experience, but it’s preferable.
- You need at least a bachelor’s degree. (Some online companies bend this rule, since work permits and visa rules do not apply, but some governments are enforcing stricter conditions to ensure high standards of education).
- Either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language), or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification is required for all ESL teachers. It’s important to turn to a reputable course provider and it should offer at least 100 hours of certification. Select a provider with great reviews and wide international recognition.
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The key to the most effective language teaching and learning is “meaning-making” (for ESL as well as other students). The method of “meaning-making” is the process by which people interpret and understand situations and events. It is proven to be much more effective than simple vocabulary recall. It requires favorable conditions within the classroom and awareness of each student’s needs. Using these methods and tactics every student and teacher can have a rich, useful and fulfilling experience.
Therefore some of the most important goals of ESL teachers are:
- Securing environments that successfully provide “meaning-making “opportunities, instead of just learning and revising vocab and facts;
- Securing supportive environments with appropriate learning challenges without creating a feeling of anxiety;
- Providing thorough feedback to the students for their work and active progress;
- Creating tasks that give students enough time to process questions and answers;
- Letting students show their knowledge in non-verbal tasks and activities like charades, role-playing, interactive games, drawings, etc.;
- Addressing new students on a one-on-one basis and assigning them buddies from the classroom to help them integrate into their new learning environment;
- Urging students to explain academic topics and lectures in their first language at home;
- Using active methods that encourage students to learn by doing and to use critical thinking processes;
- Focusing on teaching the meaning and explaining full concepts rather than just focusing on correct and incorrect grammatical forms;
- Being consistent with their teaching and learning strategies.
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Small interactive ESL classes
As in all classes, the benefits of ESL start in the classroom. By implementing quality ESL programs, ESL teachers teach English but not at the expense of a student’s native language. Each individual needs to stay true to his/her mother tongue while learning English, for many reasons, including personal identity, family and community connections, academic success, and future employment prospects.
- Personal identity: A well-organized ESL class, taught by a competent, engaging, and empathetic teacher, will prioritize students’ identities. There is an inborn pride in knowing the language of your culture and heritage. The students develop a sense of historic identity and cultural connection when an ESL class teaches both academic and social English while preserving students’ fluency in their native languages.
- Family and community connections: Where two or more languages are predominant it’s very important to maintain the student’s original language in neighborhoods. The benefit of ESL is that both children and adult students who learn English are able can communicate with native-speaking friends and family within the community while reaching out to people who communicate only in English. These ESL students can become the bridge between their families and the rest of the world.
- Academic achievement: Studies have demonstrated that students who partake in ESL classes that preserve native languages excel academically.
- Future employment opportunities: Bilingual adults are kind of privileged having more employment opportunities than their monolingual colleagues. The need for well-educated bilinguals continues to grow worldwide.
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ESL teachers are at the forefront of creating a world where more people can communicate across language and cultural barriers. The ESL market is expanding dramatically as the demand for English as the global language is growing, driven by factors such as the competitive nature of the employment market among young graduates. ESL connects people and countries and ESL has become a popular lifestyle for English native speakers who love cross-cultural teaching.