Challenges that English Language Learners Face
As we have experienced first hand, teaching any given subject is quite challenging to say the least.
Teaching is also one of the most rewarding professions when all that you do ends up changing the lives of others.
The plain truth is that we do the best we can with the resources that we have and the obstacles that we have to overcome.
Teachers are not the only ones in the classroom who have to make the best with what they have since students also have problems and limitations.
The problems and limitations that students face can be summarized as having unqualified teachers, a limited learning environment, classmates not taking classes seriously, overuse of native language in the classroom, students becoming too dependent on teachers and strong students dominating the class.
6 Challenges that English Learners Face in the Classroom
These are six of the most common challenges that English Language Learners face in the classroom.
#1 Having Unqualified Teachers
I don’t want to run my mouth and say that teachers intentionally neglect the job they do because that’s not the case with most of the passionate teachers out there.
The problem is that teachers don’t know when they don’t know something.
As I think about this topic, I reflect a lot about my experience as in English professor in higher education.
I remember being confident about the subject matter but I clearly had some misconceptions about what teaching really was.
I remember that I place a lot of emphasis on oral presentations, a common practice that I second guess now since it is not very practical to increase student talking time.
If I could go back in time, I would try to not overuse that strategy. I probably did that because it was something very common and it still is.
Experience is not something that you get by taking university classes. I think that the best solution to that problem is providing demo classes through social media channels so teachers and students can see what an English class is really like.
Having examples of different strategies could help teachers who really want to excel but they don’t know where to look for professional growth.
Getting a TEFL certification is also a great opportunity to discover more about best teaching practices. Education can not be improved if we still teach using techniques that have proven to be obsolete and that have yielded poor results.
#2 A Limited Learning Environment
Another one of the major problems students face is the lack of resources in current conditions, we have experienced that first hand as we teach large classes.
We know that no communication class can be properly taught if your numbers of students go from 26 to 36 students.
If you have 120 minutes to teach a subject to a certain group, how many minutes of individual attention can you devote to each one of them? If you have 30 students.
That’s the equivalent of four minutes each.
Having a crowded classroom is nothing but a recipe for trouble since no teaching and assessment can be carried out successfully with that amount of students.
If you feel overwhelmed by that scene, think about students in such classes seeing their teachers not being able to perform as they want.
Let’s add to the number of students, the fact that most classrooms are filled with desks, chairs, whiteboards and markers, a classroom that no teacher would envy except for the ones who don’t have one. You might wonder about the impact that modern strategies can have in 17th century classrooms.
Solutions to these problems are centered in the labor that the government officials do.
Having small classes could help in ways that no other measure can. Investing in education implies that you need to invest in infrastructure.
#3 Students not Taking Classes too Seriously
One of the major problems that take place in the classroom is students doing the minimum effort to get the minimum score to pass classes of all types including English.
We are seeing how English taught in schools and high schools is not taken seriously by higher education institutions.
I have worked for three universities and what they have in common is that the introductory classes are about common topics that learners allegedly had to learn in school or high schools.
Students who don’t want to learn English are usually a problem for those who want to learn.
Students who have a low interest in learning English frustrate the learning of others as they are disruptive in class and no good class can be taught when teachers have to deal from time to time with students who constantly interrupt.
The other problem that disruptive students cause is that they take away so much energy from their teachers since those students don’t pay attention during classes and then they demand additional explanations.
A possible solution to these problems resides in our ability to see rules right from the beginning and good communication with parents of learners who disrupt classes. Good school and high school counselors can help mitigate such bad behaviours and clear standards about how far boundaries should be pushed.
#4 Overuse of Native Language
Another one of the major problems is the culture of using the native language in language classes. I think that sometimes students abuse it and teachers too.
A class that is dominated by the native language won’t produce desired results. Some teachers don’t regulate how much native language learners use in class.
I am also guilty of charge since I think that it’s tedious to spend a lot of time and thoughts into becoming part of some sort of English police that monitors if people whisper something in any other language than the language that you try to target.
I think that the overuse of the native language in classes is due to the lack of linguistics goals that students have when they come to the classroom.
English is not something that can be forcibly taught. Strict rules are far from being the solution since students could take it the wrong way and might choose not to talk in classroom, whisper to classmates or communicate via messaging apps in order not to enrage their professor.
I think that the right steps to make a language class sound like a language class has to do more with setting realistic expectations and introducing useful vocabulary that students can use in class.
You won’t be able to see learners using structures that you haven’t taken the time to teach them.
Also we have to remember the problem is not using the language but the overuse of it as stated by Georgiana (2012) in her research about overusing mother tongue in English language teaching in which she explained that “Instead of going through long explanations in the target language, it is sometimes easier and more efficient to give a translation of a vocabulary item or an explanation of a grammar point”
#5 Students Dependency on Teachers
There are classes in which the dependency on the teacher is created, students usually call him for help or ask him or her to correct grammar problems and mispronunciation.
I am totally on board with students taking the initiative and asking questions and clarifying doubts but that’s not the right approach since the teacher won’t be there to solve problems 365 days a week or solve problems for everybody.
Ken (2020) stated that “excessive dependency creates problems for both teacher and student. An overly dependent student can command so much of your attention that you have little time left for other students” (par.1).
To eliminate this dependency, teachers must teach students to think critically about the language they are learning, they have to understand that they must be confident and at the same time aware that there must be issues with grammar and pronunciation since that’s part of the journey that all language learners go through.
Teachers should also encourage language learners to help each other by asking simple questions such as:
- can you check this out for me?
- Can you spot any mistakes in my writing and pronunciation?.
Those types of questions foster cooperative learning and a language learning implementation of critical thinking.
Another strategy is to teach learners to figure out how to correct problems themselves by using tools such as grammarly, linguee and a good dictionary like the cambridge online dictionary.
#6 Strong Students Dominating the Class
The problem of one student dominating the class is one of the problems that students face when there is no clarity about what language levels are.
Language levels exist for very important reasons. The main reason for language levels to exist is the opportunity to learn with others who are in the same path that you do.
The problems with no implementing levels go from one student dominating the class and some students feeling not so good in a classroom in which other classmates have serious advantages over them.
The solution for this problem is a no-brainer, the application of placement tests would solve these problems and will create awareness about the importance of learning in an environment according to your expectations.
Another recommendation for those students by the Eberly Center (n.d) when they recommend instructors to “use physical objects to guide conversational turn taking and discourage any one person from dominating the discussion” (par.8).
I think that we must be aware that english language teachers face challenges when they have to teach under conditions which are far from being ideal.
Learners are also affected by those situations. Sometimes you won’t be able to find an easy fix for the problems covered in this paper.
You might have to experiment a little and A/B test to see what works best for you and your classes.
Students have to acknowledge that there are also situations that are beyond their control but they still can learn English if they make an effort since there are a lot of resources to complement what you learn in the classroom.
Administrators have to be aware that teaching English is not like any other subject where you can simply get 25 to 35 students stuck in the classroom and expect the results that you will get other like social studies or science.
- Shore. K (n.d.). The overly dependent student. Retrieved from https://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/shore/shore047.shtml
- Georgiana. C (2012). Overusing mother tongue in english language teaching. Cultural and Linguistic Communication, 2(3), 212-218. Retrieved from https://www.ijcr.eu/articole/84_30_IJCR%203-2012.pdf
- One student monopolizes the class.(n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/solveproblem/strat-monopolizes/monopolizes-01.html