4 Tips for Teaching Monolingual Classes | Teaching English Abroad

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Teaching monolingual classes

Okay, so you have English classes where all the students share a common first language? It’s not so uncommon in place like Korea, Japan or China.

It can be a little bit difficult, but you’ll need to keep reading because I have my top four tips for teaching monolingual classes in style!

Monolingual Classes: Difficult to Teach!

Monolingual classes (everyone speaks the same language) can present a difficulty for ESL/EFL teachers. This is because there is often no compelling reason as to why students actually have to communicate with each other in the target language. This is the situation I find myself in at my job in a Korean university where 98% of my students are Koreans. There is the odd international student mixed in, but they most often speak Korean fluently!

Sure, my students have to speak English to me, but in a class of 30 or 40, it’s just not feasible because, as we all know: Teacher Centered is Bad! Working with a monolingual class is difficult for me, who pretends to speak a total of 0 Korean words to my students.

However, the situation is actually far more difficult for Korean teachers because their students often expect them to just use Korean for most of the class. If they try to teach in English, students are usually very unhappy, especially lower-level ones.

A Small Case Study

This post was actually brought about by talking with a Korean colleague of mine who teaches the same students I do-the ones who are preparing for an internship abroad. These students can all speak English reasonably fluently, except that she told me in class, they just all speak Korean to each other and to her.

I find this really bizarre because the students are actually some of the best students I’ve ever taught and are in no way lazy or apathetic. So, it’s not something related to motivation. It’s more related to how the class is set up and the expectations that are there. In this case, there just isn’t the expectation that English will be used exclusively. It’s mostly the teachers fault for speaking to students in Korea in the first place!

Tips for Teaching Monolingual Classes

Here are some of my top tips for how to teach ESL/EFL classes where all the students share a common first language. It can be difficult, but not impossible!

Tip #1: High expectations

The first tip for teaching monolingual classes is related to expectations.

For higher-level classes, I say that I expect 98% English. 2% Korean is okay if you need to ask your partner for a vocab word or clarifying an instruction or something. For lower level classes, I usually say 95-5. I make the point (a lot!) that you only get better at something by practicing that thing and that they’re all really good at Korean! It’s English that they need work on.

Tip #2: Design activities well

The next tip about how to teach monolingual classes is related to what kinds of activities you use.

Make it easier for students just to use English with each other than Korean. It takes some experience and preparation to do this well, but it’s really possible. An example of this kind of activity is a survey for ESL students. Or, 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Teenagers and Adultsavailable on Amazon, which will get your students speaking in English, guaranteed.

Click the picture to buy it now on Amazon:

It’s available in both digital and print formats. Keep a copy on the bookshelf in your office as a handy reference guide. Or, take the digital version with you to your favourite coffee shop for a serious lesson planning session. It really is that easy.

Is there an Audio Version of this Book?

That’s a great question and we’re happy that you asked. There most certainly is! You can get a serious dose of inspiration for you English classes while exercising, doing housework or just when you’re on the go. It really is that easy.

The even better news is that you can listen to the book for free on Audible. You’ll get one free book when you sign up, so why not make it this one, right?

Learn more about the audiobook here: 39 ESL Speaking Activities on Audible.com.

Tip #3: Encouragement and positive reinforcement

Praise students who are making a serious effort to speak in English to each other. Praise them individually and also in front of the whole class. Ignore those who are just speaking the first language instead of hassling them.

Tip #4: Grade the entire class after an activity

I “rank” classes in group activities such as a survey. It’s surprisingly effective, at least in Korea and it can definitely help turn a bad class around so that by the end of the semester, they’ve totally conformed to my master plan of an English only classroom. I will write an arrow on the board:

terrible———-> good———-> excellent

At the end of the activity, I will rank the class according to how they did. If excellent, I will say things like:

I loved how you all spoke together 1-1.

You all wrote your partner’s answers in English.

I heard almost all of you speaking in English. Pat yourself on the back!

If not excellent, I will give suggestions for how to improve. Something like: I heard many students just speaking Korea…that’s a waste of time, we are here to improve our English. Remember: 98% English please! Next time let’s get good instead of terrible!

Tips for Teaching English When the Students all Speaking the Same Language.

Have your Say about Teaching Monolingual Classes

Do you have any tips or tricks for teaching English classes where all the students speak the same language? Leave a comment below and let us know how you do it.

Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. It’ll help other students, like yourself find this useful teaching resource.

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One Comment

  1. Kim

    But there are also some advantages to teaching a monolingual (and monocultural) class: For those occasions when it is easier just to translate a word or phrase, you only need one L1. Also, it is easier to set up some activities (e.g., Who Am I?) since there are common sets of knowledge and often generally accepted ways of doing things. For example, if you are speaking to a class where gender roles are set,it is easier to deal with than if you have an ESL class with some learners only accepting fixed roles and others in favor of gender neutrality. But I think on balance mixed classes are easier.

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