www.mjcsmith.net Mike Smith - teacher and trainer Brisbane, Australia
www.mjcsmith.net / Help for Teachers of English

Help for ESL Teachers

English is a difficult language to teach well. Here is some advice to help you, but it is by no means complete. Your best bet is to find a mentor close by to where you work.
If you need more help contact me.

See also Help for Students of English.

5 Steps to Teaching English

1. Find a good school or work privately (how?).

2. Continue to learn about teaching (how?).

3. Understand what it is like to be a student (how?).

4. Fulfill the needs of your students (how?).

5. Build your own knowledge of English (how?)


It is a growing industry (good) increasingly dominated by commercial interests (bad). Schools, universities and private colleges have their place, but I'd like to see:

  • more social interaction (real language)
  • less emphasis on objective assessments (exams)
  • more realistic learning targets
  • integrity in assessments
  • less profiteering (by employers and parent companies)
  • more professional development of teachers
  • more recognition (pay and rest) for teachers.
  • national registration for ESL teachers based on performance assessment independent of employers

For language schools try the Australian Yellow Pages under Language Instruction.

Teaching Skills

Tools of the trade. The more you have, the better they are, and the better you can use them, the more successful you will be.

Any good book on teaching will do, but for ESL teaching fun learning activities, warmers, state changers and fillers are most useful.

See Recommended Reading and Useful Internet Sites.


Think of it like a continual training needs analysis on an emotional level. Learning performance is rarely about skill and intelligence. It is usually about motivation and confidence. As a teacher you spend most of your energy on those.

Student Needs

Much like empathy above, but on a more academic and literal level. As much as you can, you must tailor your teaching to the specific needs of the student. Two issues arise: what are those needs? and how do I find time and resources? See Training Needs Analysis.

Learn about English

Being a native speaker is not enough. Students want to know 'why...?' New teachers all have this nightmare. Do yourself a favour and keep ahead of the crowd.

  • sleep with a dictionary
  • remember that language is a reflection of culture
  • read Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue (see Recommended Reading)
  • read George Yule's Explaining English Grammar (see Recommended Reading. This book is a bit tricky but a revelation.)
  • learn about the history of english
  • do not use the expression 'that is just how it is' or similar
  • don't believe the following nonsense:
    • count/uncount nouns
    • prepositions have no meaning
    • conditionals are difficult
    • articles are impossible
    • phrasal verbs must be memorised
  • don't give in, don't give up, don't give out and explain all this to your students
  • don't drink with your students (oops!)

Recommended Reading

The Mother Tongue
ISBN: 0380715430
by Bill Bryson

Explaining English Grammar (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers)
ISBN: 0194371727
by George Yule

The English Verb
ISBN: 3125243025
by Michael Lewis

ESL Internet Sites
There are lots of Internet resources. Here are just a few:







Link to material.

    Updated 20 July 2004