Becoming a Successful ESL Teacher

         To become a successful ESL teacher, one must not only speak English but be able to apply techniques learned in the classroom to do it successfully. But with immigrants throughout history seeking foreign lands, the evolution of any language is impossible to comprehend without academic and professional guidance. Randolph Quirk said in An introduction to modern English word-formation, “As English has increasingly come into world-wide use, there has arisen an acute need for more information on the language and the ways in which it is used” (as cited by Adams vi). As English is the primary language spoken professionally, it validates, academically, why so many students are entering the classrooms to learn it. As most institutions demand native speaking teachers, it also influences why so many speakers also find themselves in the classrooms as well. Globally, the sector for ESL education forecasts in 2017 a $424.2 billion revenue making it a lucrative industry for teachers both in the classroom and online. But, not every speaker has the ability or the training to thrive there. By analyzing the factors that have made English a lucrative industry, a person will acquire the essential knowledge needed to make academic and professional developments in the field of the education sector.

         The first factor that has influenced the need for English is immigration. Like all languages, English has undergone stages of development as the people who spoke it began to expand. Old English (500-1000BC) began as a Germanic language that found its way to Britain because of adventure and raiding of foreign lands. It says in History of English, “The most important factor in the development of English has been the arrival of successive waves of settlers and invaders speaking different languages” (Culpeper 1). In each, it was the people who determined how English was changed to better serve the speakers as a blending of languages and cultures collided. With waves of immigrants, one does not have to wonder too greatly as to why those changes came. But it is through research that the historical changes to English made the argument for why understanding history can be beneficial to teachers.

         As the week eight module research found, OE was archaic, and Middle English (1000-1500 AD) speakers made changes to it by dropping gender use in verbs and refining their sound by adding an -e ending which changed ME phonology structure. (Mustanoja). The changes led to a first vowel shift that would take place in British English that changed spoken and written English. Early Modern English (1500-1700AD) brought a second vowel shift that once again brought changes to how people used the language.  In Early Modern English, it says, “A crucial difference between the Early Modern English section and those representing earlier periods is the standardization of spelling, which affected most of the written language and led to the disappearance of localizable regional dialects in written material” (Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg). Uniformity was taking shape in British English societies, but socio-linguist studies also brought attention to regional dialects which would also affect the future structure of the language both in British and American English academics.

            The study of English as a language system may well be the greatest influence in the expansion today because it seems the push for uniformity in the 1800s led some people to question why that was so. As the class learned in week two, understanding combining, shortening, blending, functional shifting, reanalysis, and reduplication are valuable tools if you wish to work in the ESL education sector. While a newly learned ESL student may not understand the theories behind these things, knowing how to teach students to combine words to form new words, reanalyzing ways words can be used or shortening words to acronyms are easily accomplished for the ESL student because these same grammar concepts exist in their native tongue. We also learned in class, “Also in the Module Two notes, “Combining: combining morphemes (word parts) in a new way to create a new meaning” (SNHU Blackboard). The knowledge gained in the classroom offers ESL teachers fun ways to reinvent games (like Word Jeopardy) for students to find interests in things like vocabulary. What’s more, ESL learning teaching concepts like lexical variables, phonology, morphology, and syntax specifically for ESL classrooms are important skills to learn as a student to be able as a teacher to demonstrate to prospective businesses. It is through the process of learning about the history that students develop professionally.

            The second factor that has influenced the ESL industry is what some refer to as the nature of English. Is British or American English a better system to learn? One might think the answer depended on who was speaking it, right? You would not believe how difficult it is to globally teach when teachers come from a range of English-speaking countries each with a distinct dialect that influences how pronunciation is taught. What rules and vocabulary exist in one country might have sounded like a foreign language in another before such studies led to things like the Interlingua English Dictionary. Written structure has more uniformity between the languages than spoken word, but it is through a spoken word that society sees the best representations of the way in which language is used to serve them. Besides a few spelling and vocabulary differences in written text, the sound is an expression of the people it represents. Most individuals in the world recognize people based on their dialect, but few truly care about dialect as long as the teachers know how to teach phonology techniques. For example, British English speakers use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) whereas American English does not. They only make one sound which is why knowing the IPA is useful for American teachers since global speakers and dictionaries will cite this format as a baseline for pronunciation. American teachers, specifically, can use this knowledge to accommodate students who have learned from a variety of BE, AE, and AE dialects. Also, for students who want an ESL certification like CELTA or DELTA, it is imperative to understand the IPA guidelines as there is a section specifically on pronunciation based on British English vowel sound standards. I bet you are wondering what this has to do with the nature of a language, right? Being able to adapt as an ESL teacher is a factor many institutions worldwide look for in teachers because of such challenges I just presented to you. It is also through a combination of spoken and written word that teachers find great advantage in the classroom. We can use our facial expressions, body movement, props, and any other thing we think will help to teach because the nature of any language is found through expression. That ideology does not change with a language. The body’s use of recognition is a great tool for teachers and students who do not speak the same languages. When we talk about the nature of English, we are referring specifically to how we use English by either speaking or writing it. It does not matter if the accent is different as long as the knowledge is gained by the speaker. The lesson I teach my students when they are worried about their pronunciation is simple. Accents are just beautiful ways to express that you have conquered a foreign language. I speak to them in Spanish to relay that message. They might laugh which is why I do the exercise. But, then I ask them if they understood me. Yes? A lesson well taught I say which defines why ESL teachers become so in the first place! We do not strive to make you a reflection of us. We instruct to help ESL speakers immigrate in the world as they can cross borders that language one (L1) speakers would never achieve without a language two (L2) status. That is how the nature of English grows which defines the nature of gaining a second language.

            The third factor ESL teachers need to consider is learning and applying linguistic elements in the classroom. Linguistics is, “the study of human speech including the units, nature, structure, and modification of language” (Merriam Webster). The problem with linguistics for an untrained teacher is that each language utilizes specific areas in the mouth. Pronunciation, therefore, can be an issue unless you learn how to use the mouth, tongue, teeth, and lips to make specific sounds. As we learned, the nature of English is natural for L1 speakers, so no thought process goes into speaking because we learn from birth how to speak from those around us. For any L2 speakers, they do not have influence in their local communities, so it is difficult to practice daily. You must learn these techniques if you want to speak coherently, but if you do not surround yourself with other L2 speakers, it might be an issue to students. These are the type of problems teachers must overcome because nature has left the classroom, and you (as the teacher) are probably the only native reflection for the student. For any ESL teacher, knowing the most effective strategies to teach each part of linguistics is essential to achieve success in this field. However, it is not always easy unless you have tried a variety of linguistic approaches. As I noted earlier, pronunciation is a vital part of a student’s journey in learning a second language, but it is also part of the teacher’s journey as well in learning how best to teach this element in the classroom. A key technique I have applied in my classrooms for teaching spoken American English is The Color Vowel Chart developed by Shirley Thompson and Karen Taylor. Teaching sounds, as opposed to alphabet, help L2 speakers adapt from the IPA structure of the romantic languages to AE pronunciation quickly.

Image 1: The Color Vowel Chart and Learning Tool

ESL image 1

(Taylor & Thompson)

Each color represents a distinct vowel sound in AE.  For future teachers, learning these strategies are invaluable techniques that they will undoubtedly utilize in their ESL classrooms. It has allowed me to teach countless students over a six-year period an easy way to speak a foreign language. By showing institutions the techniques you will implement in their businesses, it shows you have the skills necessary to not only help students succeed but to help the business succeed as well.

            The final factor that has influenced the ESL industry is growth. It has also changed the path of prospective students during that time, too. Five years ago, the ESL industry grossed $131.7 billion, and the GSV EDU Education Sector Factbook 2012 predicted a 25% increase annually between 2012 and 2017 (Market Data Retrieval). By 2017, the market was predicting ESL industry revenue of $424.2 billion worldwide. By analyzing this growth pattern, it helps potential students decide to enter this field because the growth shows it a formidable sector of education.

Image 2: GSV EDU Education Sector Factbook 2012 Growth Expectations for the ESL/ELL Market.ESL Market

(Market Data Retrieval)

         One-fourth of the world speaks English at a practical level, but what is interesting is that two-thirds of the teachers are L2 learners simply because there are not enough native teachers to fill those positions. It was one consideration in entering the ESL industry in 2012. My goals were simple: 1) get a degree 2) teach in the classroom 3) gain experience by observing students and teachers so that I could find how best to go forward academically and professionally. Teachers have shelf lives, and it is best to know where one is going when you are almost at the age of expiration. But nothing is ever simple if you are observant to the industry you are a part. I realized when mentoring L1 Spanish speakers who also later became L2 English teachers that they lacked the necessary skills that native teachers have because the books they used to learn English were developed for native teachers, so the non-native ESL teachers were being ignored globally where teaching techniques and marketing strategies were concerned. I then set a third goal: develop teaching techniques for L2 teachers who know the language but not necessarily how to teach it. I accomplished goal one and two at the same time as I taught while also a student. To say experience is the best teacher is overrated. It was the techniques I learned while as a student that helped me grow stronger as a teacher. Every problem has a solution, but not all solutions can be obtained in front of a class of students looking to you for the answer. That is why building a strong foundation academically was necessary for me professionally because I learned how best to help students based on their needs. It also helped me to see how I can add my individual contribution to the industry by looking to the two-thirds of L2 English teachers who need guidance. To accomplish my final goal will not be easy. I plan on going on to get a degree in Curriculum and Design so that I have the academic foundation I will need for such a project. I also need research and experience with different speakers globally to see how best to implement the teaching strategies I believe will help them grow professionally. As I achieve each goal, it allows me to know that I am closer than I was in 2012 when I first set these goals. It also helps me to stay focused on these goals as I achieve them one by one.

            Overall, the growth of an industry is important to consider for any student who wishes to fulfill a professional path. Because English has become instrumental for businesses and speakers alike, it is important for ESL teachers to know best how to service this industry. Because this is a global industry, a teacher with a degree is much more marketable than a certification. A teacher with a Masters in English and Writing is going to be able to write what I know instead of reading what everyone else thinks. A teacher with a Doctorate in Curriculum and Design can set the standards herself. Every single experience matters whether it is positive or negative as lessons can be learned if we are paying attention to them. It is by learning our differences in the industry that makes us so much stronger as a viable part of education. By setting academic and professional goals, one has a roadmap to succeed in the education industry. More importantly, a teacher is not boxed into one country, so the job outlook grows as the industry expands. As history has shown, the English language remains a viable language as more immigrants seek new adventures. It is how we adapt to the changes that matter the most as it is our students who depend on our ability to do so to succeed. In education, the success of our students is the most important thing that we should focus on as that is what makes us successful as teachers!


Works Cited
Adams, Valerie. An introduction to modern English word-formation. No. 7. Routledge, 2016.
Culpeper, Jonathan. History of English. Routledge, 2015.
“Linguistics.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
Market Data Retrieval. The Global English Language Learning (ELL) Market. EdNet Insight. 2017. ednetinsight.com/news-alerts/voice-from-the-industry/the-global-english-language-learning–ell–market.html. Accessed 19 August 2017.
Mustanoja, Tauno F. A Middle English Syntax: Parts of Speech. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2016.
SNHU. Module Two: Reformation. SNHU Blackboard. (n.d.). bb.snhu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-16420606-dt-content-rid-53617800_1/courses/ENG-550-17TW5-MASTER/ENG-550%20Student%20Documents/ENG%20550%20Module%20Two%20Overview.pdf. Accessed 20 August 2017.
Taylor, Karen, & Shirley Thompson, Shirley. The Color Vowel Chart. English Language Solutions, LLC. 2012.

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