When you first start teaching English as a Foreign Language, you are often thrown straight into teaching only a few days after arriving. You may not be fully comfortable with your surroundings and may be struggling with culture shock. Sometimes teachers don’t know how to talk to their students in a friendly way due to the language barrier and just have trouble overall communicating. Below, we outline a few of the words that we feel it is important to learn the translation of when traveling to a new country for TEFL.
Hello/Good morning- Greetings are typically the first words anyone learns when they start to learn a new language. Learning some basic greetings can help you come across as more friendly with your students, but also your co-workers and students’ parents (if applicable). Remember that different languages have different functions for formal and informal speech, so it is important to match honorifics with the audience you are speaking to.
Please/Thank you- Once again, these are words that will help you appear more friendly and approachable. You do not want to overuse the native language, but sometimes students just need to be asked politely and sincerely before they respond. Showing that you are willing to go to the effort to be polite is a good thing for any teacher.
Hot/Cold/Hungry- Sometimes, you will be in the middle of an engaging lesson, when you look around and see that students aren’t paying attention. You might hear them repeating words and looking a little distressed and don’t know why. It could be because the room is either too hot or cold, or it may be that they students have been studying for a long time and are hungry. EFL students may also feel too embarrassed to ask for help, or think that you can’t help. By learning these words, you can quickly identify why the students are uncomfortable and help them out.
Metalanguage- While metalanguage is best used in the language you are teaching, it can help to learn a few simple words from the students L1. Words like “noun”, “verb” and “adjective” often have literal translations in other languages and it can be useful to draw on these for quick reference when students don’t recognize new vocabulary or need a reminder of English metalanguage.
That’s funny/fun- Learning to tell when students are enjoying a game or activity can be as important as practicing the language itself. Students, especially young students learn much better and faster when they are interested and engaged. Hearing students praise your class in their own language is satisfying and also shows that they are paying attention.
I hate it/don’t like it- Sometimes you will ask a student to perform an action as part of a task, such as work together with another student, or do something slightly embarrassing (as an example). Students who do not want to play along will often say “no” in their own language because they don’t want to get into a debate with the teacher in a language they struggle to command. Recognizing when a student is not responding to a task is just as important as when they are.
Students’ names- In an EFL context, it can be difficult for a teacher to learn all of the students’ names. Particularly in cases where names can be hard to pronounce. Some teachers (and schools) prefer to give the students “English names” to help with cultural exchange, however, students always appreciate when the teacher cares enough about connecting that they overcome this.
Are you ok?- It is a random occurance, but every now and then you will be faced with an upset student and have no idea why. Perhaps, they are ill, just had an argument with a friend, got some bad news, or something entirely different. It can often be quite hard to comfort a student or even know how to help them when there is a language barrier. Learning the simplest form of checking if someone is ok is a massive benefit. They may need medical help, or they may just be sleepy.
Really?- If you have a class of teenagers or children, you may have to stop what you are doing because the students are chatting instead of listening. Especially for new teachers, this can be highly frustrating, as you don’t know enough of the students’ L1 to know what they are talking about. Are they gossiping about you, are they discussing the lesson or something completely different. Learning to feign understanding can stop students chatting pretty quickly. Next time you have students gossiping behind your back in class, shoot them a quick “really?” in their own language, the results may surprise you.
In English, it is good to brush up on your metalanguage and grammar. Make sure you know what you are talking about when you come to class. Don’t forget that students do learn from repetition, so if there are words or phrases you repeat, students will pick up on it. Even if it is something as simple as saying “…ok?” when giving instructions. On this note, you may want to prepare yourself to give some different types of feedback. By varying the specific words you use to praise and correct errors, you demonstrate that you are treating the students individually, which is great, excellent, awesome, fantastic and wonderful.
Is there any particular word we missed that you think is essential to learn in your students’ L1 when teaching English language? Leave your comments suggestions below.