TEFL Q and A, Chapter 1: TEFL--The Basics

Q: I know that TEFL stands for teaching English as a foreign language, but just how important is it for a TEFL teacher to know a lot about the English language?

A: It's good to do as much research as you can so that you feel confident when you’re in front of a class. For your research you can start with English Grammar in Use (Murphy, 2003) and the Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary (Sinclair, 1987).

Q: If I know a lot about the language I'm going to teach, what would you say are the most important principles of effective teaching? Is there anything I need to bear in mind all the time?

A: Yes, try to remember the words understanding and use. If you can't help your students understand and use the language, then you will not be an effective teacher. The most effective way of helping students understand language is by setting up a context.

Q: I'm worried about how much I speak and what I should say in front of class in general. Do you have any advice?

A: Most new teachers talk far too much in class because they feel nervous and uncomfortable. They tend to think aloud. After two or three lessons, they normally communicate more effectively, but it's always good to monitor how much you speak.

Q: I suppose I need to write something on paper before I go into each class--to remind me what I need to do. What sort of things should I write?

A: You're right. You absolutely do need to develop a plan and write it down. Write some basic information about the lesson and more detailed information about how you want to structure your lesson. We will come back to this topic and discuss it further in a later chapter.

Q: OK, but let's go back to what I say in class. Should I correct all the mistakes I hear?

A: As a rule, it's important to give clear messages to your students about whether they're speaking accurately or not if that is the point of your lesson. If they're not speaking accurately, you can wave your outstretched palm-down hand and diplomatically tell them what they're saying is incorrect. However, if a student produces an accurate sentence, say "Good" loudly and enthusiastically. Then everyone in the class knows it's right.

Q: That sounds interesting, but it also sounds a bit mechanical. Can't I vary the way I speak to students, so that it sounds more individual?

A: You're absolutely right. As you gain experience, you'll find yourself being able to focus much more on the students. You'll find out about each of them as a person and as a learner. And you will, as you say, begin to speak to each in a more natural, individual way.

Q: Another concern of mine is that I'm not the most dynamic of people. Should all teachers be dynamic? And if they're not, what can they do about it?

A: Not all teachers are dynamic, but most students do seem to prefer more dynamic teachers. If you're not very dynamic, you can do the following things: (a) raise the volume of certain words you use at key points of a lesson (e.g., "And now we are going to..."), (b) try to move around the class in a decisive way, demonstrating that you know exactly what you're doing and why, and (c) make sure that all the activities you do with your students are short ones.


Kenworthy, J. (1996). Teaching English pronunciation. London: Longman.

Lewis, M., & Hill, J. (1985). Practical techniques for language teaching. Hove, England: Language Teaching.

Murphy, R. (2003). English grammar in use. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Scrivener, J. (1994). Learning teaching. Oxford, England: Heinneman.

Sinclair, J. (1987). Collins COBUILD English language dictionary. London: HarperCollins.

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