Expert tips on how to survive in an English Only classroom

Most ESL companies operate on an English Only environment. This means that the teacher can Only respond in English, students are Only allowed to speak in English and any and all materials need to be in English. The question is, does this generate the best learning environment? What student excels in an English Only environment and which one will need additional support.

For us teachers, there is little to no choice if we want to create an English Only environment. This has many reasons, primarily the wishes of the companies we work for, but additionally, most teachers don’t speak the native language of the country they work in. So, for all of those that are in an English Only environment, we have asked experts in the field to give us tips and tricks on how to survive.

The English Only classroom concept

The start of English Only education is around the end of WW1, after which the US saw an influx of immigrants. To facilitate these new people, classes were set up. Out of convenience to the teacher, the concept of English Only was created.

Around the middle of the 20th century, the field of linguistics was created and the first theories were set out. One prominent theory of the time was the Language Acquisition Theory (LAT). This theory stipulated that the quickest way to language acquisition was through a native instructional language, so English.

Till this day, the English Only approach is prevalent in the ESL market, even though more and more research points to a bilingual acquisition approach. In this approach, the teacher speaks both English and the native language. This way he/she can give clearer instructions and the students can ask more specific questions.

The English Only classroom, pro’s versus con’s

Though most pro’s and con’s can be debated and definitely depend on the teacher and his/her approach, an overview can be made.

· Pro’s

Creating an environment of full immersion requires students to acquire a new language. There is no way around it. A completely English environment creates a more realistic setting since most people around the world will not speak the native language of the country you are teaching in.

Furthermore, the English Only environment will speed up language acquisition. No time is wasted on a language that your students already speak, their native language. Instead, every minute is dedicated to English.

· Con’s

Those that can be considered weaker students are falling behind. They don’t understand instructions as well as others and will constantly be left out. Additionally, they will be less likely, and able, to ask questions.

Debatable is the speed at which English is learned in an English Only classroom. Since lessons require a lot of TPR, mocking and mimicking, time could be won with a simple explanation in the native language of your students.

So, how do I survive in an English Only classroom?

The best thing to keep in mind is that a completely English Only classroom isn’t possible and you as a teacher should not have this as one of your end goals. Try to have your students understand that at all times they should try and speak English first. Then, if they really struggle, they could ask/answer in their native tongue.

When you see that a student is struggling, or you see that they simply don’t understand what you want them to do, pause the lesson. Ask one of your better students to translate your message in their native language and ask if they have any questions. This way you’ll be assured that everyone knows what is expected of him/her.


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