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4 Key Classroom Management Skills for English Teaching Abroad

Children in a classroom in Thailand.
A classroom in Thailand. Photo courtesy of Worldteach.

English is a major language in the world today. Some reports say that the number of people speaking English as their first language is equivalent to the number who use it as their second language, and that their combined number is equal to those who speak it as a foreign language (*Braine). Furthermore, as many as 75 countries consider English to be an official language used in social and business circles. This means that there is high demand for people from traditionally non-English speaking countries to learn the language to be able to increase their competitiveness. Teaching English as a second language (ESL) or English as a foreign language (EFL) in non-native English speaking countries is even more challenging and it requires teachers to have excellent classroom management skills to ensure a successful learning process.

There are several skills that an educator will need when teaching English abroad:

  1. First of all, it would be highly beneficial for all parties concerned if the teacher learns how to speak some of the local language. This is because communication between teacher and student would be more difficult if both of them speak totally different languages. Instructions can be clearer for the student if initially given in the local language. Moreover, retention of correct English meanings, pronunciations, grammar, syntax, and nuances will be much easier if associated with local terminologies.  For teachers, learning the basics of the local language will help to speed the learning process in an ESL/EFL classroom.

  2. ESL/EFL teachers should know about the country in which they are teaching in order to be able to apply their knowledge inside the classroom. By knowing about the country, its traditional culture, prevailing educational systems, practices and even its pop culture, the ESL/EFL teacher will be able to adapt training styles, topics, and activities to accommodate these characteristics and local norms. For example, students from some European countries are more receptive to robust exchange of ideas when compared to their more conservative Asian counterparts who may not be accustomed to answering direct questions. In these situations, the teacher who knows the culture beforehand will be better able to adjust classroom activities, such as letting Asians discuss in smaller groups rather than in bigger numbers. Topics that will be used for practicing conversations or English composition can also be adjusted accordingly, such as political issues that are taboo in Yugoslavia or religious topics that may be unacceptable in Middle Eastern countries (*Huizenga). When the teacher accounts for the cultural landscape, the students will be more comfortable participating in the learning activity and the teacher will not be disappointed with the possible lack of response or unexpected reactions from the students. Another aspect which may still be considered as part of knowing about the country’s culture and practices is the mode of dress expected of the teacher. Countries such as the United States or Britain may find it acceptable for their teachers to wear casual clothes while other countries might expect their educators to wear more formal or traditional clothes. By adhering to dress codes, the teacher demonstrates respect for the country and the educational institution, while at the same time providing an example for the students to emulate. Furthermore, non-adherence to this code of dressing or any other local practice may even contribute to a lessening of the students’ respect towards their teacher. 

  3. A third skill that ESL/EFL teachers should possess in order to properly manage a classroom is the ability to institute discipline. First impressions are difficult to change, which is why it is imperative that the teacher should be able to establish from the outset that he or she is the authority inside the classroom. This is only possible if the teacher is able to implement ground rules and is consistent in their enforcement during the whole term. In addition, students have the tendency to misbehave once they feel that rules are no longer being enforced. Thus, punishments may be necessary but employing reward systems have been found to be more effective in encouraging proper behavior. Punishments have greater tendency to bring down a person’s morale and dampen enthusiasm while rewards boost the student’s confidence. Clearly stating, enforcing, and ensuring that students understand the rationale behind the rules will make them see their relevance towards the learning process.

  4. A fourth important skill in classroom management is the ability to make the learning process enjoyable. This means that the ESL/EFL instructor should be able to employ different teaching styles and activities that will sustain the interest of the students, especially towards an unfamiliar language. The teacher should be creative enough in using various teaching tools to allow the students to have “auditory, visual, kinesthetic and tactile” (*Vernon) experiences in which they can identify using the English language. Visual aids such as photographs, posters, or calendars may be used by English Language Learners (ELL) in practicing how to give descriptions while auditory aids such as news or voice recordings can help in evaluating and practicing pronunciation, vocabulary or correct syntax. It must be remembered that the educator should also enjoy the work; otherwise it will reflect on the manner of teaching and ultimately affect the students.

Learning a second language, be it English or any other language, is always an advantage in business and in the practice of a profession. The advent of globalization has made it imperative for people to learn English, which is the most commonly used language in the world, to become more competitive. It is, therefore, the responsibility of educators and educational institutions to make learning English possible and pleasurable for all students.

References and More Information

Braine, G. (2005). Teaching English to the world: history, curriculum, and practice. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Questia Database

Huizenga, J. (2008). Ten tips for teachers of English as a foreign language. Transitions Abroad.

Vernon, S. (2008). The five golden rules of good classroom management.


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