Friday, February 15, 2008

Three Critical Problems in English Language Teaching and Learning and What to Do About Them

What Can You Do?
English language students, you can’t live with them, you can’t do without them. What’s a frustrated English as a Foreign or Second language teacher going to do? English language teachers, there are good ones, so-so ones and then there are those that justice would only prevail if they were permanently excused from the classroom. So what’s a near-desperate English as a foreign language learner to do?

Critical Problems
Here are the first three of the English language learning classroom’s most critical problems with comments on what might be done in dealing or managing each one. We’ll continue the discussion of the final two critical problems in ELT in a second article.

1. Lack of Learner Motivation
Students skip class, and when they do show up it’s likely due to fear of failure more than anything else. They may lack any semblance of attention during class, chatting with classmates, doodling in their note books or, (gasp!) in their textbooks. What experienced English or other foreign language teaching professional hasn’t faced the problem of reluctant, unmotivated learners? One key to increasing motivation is to use activities matched to the personalities, learning styles and characteristics of the learners as often as practically possible.

2. Insufficient Time, Resources and Materials
You know the old adage, “you can never be too rich, too thin or have enough English or foreign language vocabulary. So what can you do when charged with teaching English or a foreign language in only one or two hours per week? One of the only times that was ever successfully accomplished was with the pouring out of Holy Spirit on the apostles during Pentecost. (Acts 2:1 – 11) Add too little time to a decided lack of resources and virtually zero other resources in many third-world classrooms and you have a critical teaching / learning situation indeed. But there are ways, even on the lowest budget, of producing virtually free or very inexpensive English language teaching and learning aids for use in the EFL or foreign language classroom.

3. Over-Crowded English Classes
The number of learners in a class room can range from one, for those who teach individual private learners, to 15 or twenty learners in a typical classroom up to “multitudes of 35 or forty or even fifty or more learners packed into a language leaning situation. Forget anything even remotely resembling “individual attention”. Either the throng “gets it” or they don’t with little available to the teacher. When I’m faced with over-sized groups I immediately implement strategies using choral, small group and pair work to help in lessening the load on both me and my large group of learners. I also separate out a few of the more “advanced” learners to help me with group work elements. It doesn’t solve all the problems, but it’s a good start.

Your Ideas, Suggestions and Comments, Please
While it would be absolutely impossible to provide detailed answers to such critical, world-wide problems in the English language teaching and learning classroom here, we can recognize our limitations and constraints, and collectively make an effort to address and overcome them. If you have ideas on any of these problem topics, feel free to share them in comments, e-mails, forums, ELT conferences and teacher meetings. Who knows, your voice may be just the one to break open the problem with a universally workable approach or solution.

For some of my greatest tips, tricks and techniques for quickly and easily learning virtually any of the world's 6912 living languages just go to:

Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. Now YOU too can live your dreams in paradise, find romance, high adventure and get paid while traveling for free. For more information on the lucrative, fascinating field of teaching English as a Foreign Language, get your copy of his no-cost, full multi-media, hypertext-linked pdf ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know” by sending an e-mail to with "free ELT Ebook" in the subject line. Need professional, original content and photos or images for your blog, newsletter, e-zine or website? Want more information, have a comment or special request? Contact the author by e-mail for a prompt response.


Anonymous said...

there are critical problems in english language teaching and learning ,because of some schools
lack resources, or the students are of 35 a 45 in a classroom, and it's very difficult to work with this number of students.
besides there are teachers don't use others activities or strategies of motivation for learning of this language.

Anonymous said...

The problem of not motivated students, the lack of time for the processes of learning, and the excess of students in each classroom, I insist, is structural in this society with the proper responsibility of the current government and the Governments that have preceded the current, and does not just affect the teaching of English language, but affects almost all school subjects to be taught in both basic primary and secondary education and can be lower than in proportion to the university training . The point is that we must be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

Lack of motivation, poor resources and over-crowed clsses are undoubtedly some of the most critical problems that teachers have to face in our schools, not only to teach English, but also almost all the subjects.
Lack of motivation may be the result of many factors as the the way itself that subjet are presented to them; most of the time students find the contents have nothing to do with the actual world. Many students, I believe, feel that stay in school six hours a day, is a complety waste of time because subjects don't meet their wants or needs; on the other hand most of the students don't have goals to achieve, they don't know where they want to go then, I think, are techers who must always be looking for methods and strategies to motivate and make learning challenger to get better results and one of them is to take in acount the multiple intelligences to prepare activities.
About lack of resources, insufficent time and over-crowed groups, the responsability is of our educational system but teachers have to use their creativity to overcome the problem. I've found so useful using practices of Dynet method as circuit training, choral and groups activities to work with either small or large courses and to get resorses I've used many strategies from taking the students toys until make the students prepare cards and posters that have been used before with other courses.
There are many problems but there are many teachers trying to solve them.

Julio Tulande said...

What can a language teacher do in these situations? I think this is a question many of us have tried to answer at least once in our professional lives, but, although not impossible, the problem is very difficult to deal with. I consider important for a teacher to take into account that from the quality of the work we do we are going to either see bad results or amazing ones. Therefore, I believe that teacher motivation is what's important here, because it doesn't matter if you live in third-world country, with fifty students in your class and absolutely no resources, as lons as your motivation for teaching is high you will always find ways to deal with the frustration these problems bring about.


One of the common problems at teaching English, in this case, is the over-crowded class where a teacher can find more than thirty students in a very small classroom, without a tape recorder, no television, no posters, no DVD or sometimes without markers neither board. It is always difficult to carry out activities where students can improve their communicative skills; is not possible to personalize teaching and as consequence not good results are shown every day. Besides this, the class-time is often very short (once or twice a week, one or two hours daily), so the lesson plan is not developed as programmed was and next class is often a review of the last one stopping the teaching-learning process. The teacher does not know what problems there are in the students learning process, he or she cannot to solve them because is difficult to distinguish a specific learner with a specific learning problem.

Larry said...

Over-sized or over-populated classes are a severe problem in many countries, and not just "third world" countries either. How about groups of 80 or 100 learners! Don't scoff, it happens, unfortunately. Lack of resources is another severe condition too many EFL teachers can face. I'll be discussing this is more detail in later posts.

Thanks for all your pointed comments.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch

ziya said...

I teach in a highschool and there are 25-45 students in each classes.Ant the most important problem I have observed is the lack of motivation.
The students believe that English is like math and it^s difficult to learn.

Another problem is lack of technological devices.just boadr and a pen.And the rest is left to the teacher.

Unknown said...

i am teaching in a technical college to DAE classes. the problem i feel that i have only 2 sessions of 45 min per week and almost my interaction with the class in after one week and till then the students have forgotten the previous lesson .........

Anonymous said...

However, as the EFL teachers, we must try to get the brilliant idea to overcome or at least to create manageable circumstances for the learners. As those problems are found everywhere