Our life is a constant process of learning and exploring. Learning foreign languages is very interesting, exciting, and challenging not only for a student, but also for a teacher.
Being an ESL teacher is more than only teaching. Every day preparing for my classes I try not only to use the course book, but also try to feel my students and find some extra activities which are interesting for learners’ level, age, and preferences. The greatest challenge I have faced in the classroom was when I substituted for one of the teachers in my school in Vladivostok, Russia. The level of students was “Beginner-adults”. So when I came into the classroom students told me in their L1 that they did not speak English and wanted me to explain all material in Russian. I was not encouraged by such kind of an idea, but started the lesson smiling and saying “Sorry, only English”. The main focus of the lesson was vocabulary (some adjectives describing things). The lead-in part worked well, and the students were excited and ready for the presentation stage. I used some pictures which were handed out to one group of students, the rest of them were given some cards with words. The learners walked around the classroom and tried to find pictures for their words. In the feedback we checked and drilled the words, I asked them the concept checking questions, and about all of the students gave correct answers. But then a couple of students said “No understand. Translate” and the rest of students supported them. I did not want to translate and explained the material by using an extra set of cards, and concept checked again. It was hard but it worked.
To my mind, if I faced such kind of situation again, I would grade my language and instructions more, but I would not use the L1 of the students even if it was a monolingual group. One the one hand, it is hard for the students to stop translating into their L1 and start “thinking in English”. On the other hand, it is very useful to speak only English in the classroom, because it is a good way for practicing not only the target language of the lesson, but the material learnt before. The students listen to the teacher’s instructions so that they can memorize some new words too, and then use them in their speech.
Moreover, I would use more realia for the presentation stage, so it would help students understand the meaning of the words better, and they would not ask me to translate them. I think using realia or visual objects for presenting vocabulary is a good and effective way. The students are more interested and motivated to learn.
To sum up, teaching and learning a language is challenging but interesting. I always analyze a lesson I taught to see what worked well and what could be improved next time, that is why teaching is a constant process of learning.