English for Beginners or Teaching Basic English

02/19/2012 10:26
by our basic English guru Marina Bleyer
Marina Bleyer - English - Teaching Basic English specialist

I have been teaching English for Beginners classes for over 12 years, and I have a nickname “The Queen of Basic English” at Bell Language School for international students.

Basic English is usually a class of international students who come from all over the world: Japan, Russia, Turkey, China, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Vietnam, Haiti, Israel, Argentina, Switzerland, France, Germany, and many other countries. Most of our students are newcomers to the United States. Basic English students are often lost, disoriented, and scared because they do not understand even the basic English, cannot read or write, and do not know how to explain themselves in everyday situations. Beginner students are mostly very shy in class because of their fear of making mistakes particularly in pronunciation and grammar.

When international students come to Bell Language School, they feel protected and more confident because, even though the teacher speaks only English in class, basic English teacher speaks slowly and clearly and makes sure beginner students understand her. Students in beginner classes know that their classmates speak as little English as they do and feel that it is safe to make mistakes. They feel teacher’s support and encouragement for every little success, with every effort they make. I always use a variety of interactive and fun activities to motivate international students to use basic English and participate actively in class without fear of errors. This way class runs in a relaxed, friendly, and stress-free atmosphere.

On the first day of the English for Beginners class, I try to remember the names or sometimes nicknames of all of my students and make sure the students know who their classmates are and where they are from. Thus, the beginner students practice basic English structures to talk not only about themselves but also learn a lot about the other cultures.

In English for Beginners class, we usually start with basic things like the sounds of the alphabet, spelling and reading rules, and basic English grammar structures. At the beginning, I simplify vocabulary, grammar, and speaking speed to the degree necessary to be understood, and keep my instructions simple and logical in class. As the students' English ability increases, so is the complexity and speed of my instruction.

I do everything in my power to make my English for Beginners classes interesting for students because I know that bored students will not remember much of the lesson. I keep students involved and interacting with me and each other even if they use only basic English structures. I vary the types of skills and activities we practice in English for Beginners class, add games, or discuss real-life situations like getting around town, going to the bank, visiting a doctor, or seeing a Broadway show. I use group work or pair work, reading aloud to correct pronunciation, checking the answers together after finishing a writing activity, crossword puzzles to help students memorize new words, and many other teaching techniques for students. To boost internal motivation, I remind students of the benefits that even basic English can provide, such as English-speaking friends, better chances to get into college, easier shopping, or less stress at the doctor's office.

I understand that native languages of students provide a basis for figuring out how English works. Sometimes the native language can affect English phrase making. For example, the Japanese or the Russian languages do not use articles (a, an, the), so correct article usage is frequently difficult for Japanese or Russian English learners. Spanish speakers may forget to use "I am..." with an adjective instead of a noun. To my students’ advantage in English for Beginners class, I am familiar with specifics of a few different languages what helps me understand the origins of certain errors related to their native language. With gentle corrective feedback, international students keep improving their basic English in English for Beginners class.

Little by little, basic English students start believing in their ability to master the English language. When they build self-confidence, they are not afraid anymore to take risks, use the vocabulary, grammar, listening, and conversation skills they study in class, and start to speak English.

Marina Bleyer 2012 Feb