Teaching English to children can be a fun and highly rewarding experience. It provides the opportunity not only to travel to exciting destinations, but also gain a rewarding career watching children develop their language, confidence and social skills. When most people think of teaching abroad, they think of teaching EFL (English as a foreign language). However, opportunities also exist in ESL (English as a second language).

At first glance, the two terms, EFL and ESL, may appear to be pretty much the same thing, however, they contain several key differences. Mostly, those teaching English as a foreign language are doing so in a country where English is not the native language. People who teach English as a second language work with young students (most often) that are based in native English-speaking countries but new to the language.

As ESL teachers work in English-speaking countries, it provides the opportunity to teach English to children without having to live in a country that would require knowledge of a foreign language to communicate outside the classroom setting.

There are a variety of different setting in which a teacher can obtain an ESL position. Some public and private schools may offer ESL classes along side regular grades. This makes for an easy transition once students are ready to “graduate” from an ESL class.

Other options, such as language schools, may cater specifically towards students who require ESL teaching. These schools may have more resources available that cater specifically to ESL learning.

Finally, it is also possible to teach ESL outside of a traditional classroom setting. In the last few years especially, many online teaching opportunities have emerged. Teaching children online is a flexible work from home option that allows you to earn money and make your own schedule. Some families may want to hire a private tutor for one-on-one learning. In this scenario, lessons can be catered specifically for the individual student, allowing the teacher to adjust the pace and order of lesson plans to fit the child’s unique scenario. In Europe, there are numerous summer camps that teach ESL courses that allow children to enroll alongside their parents.

ESL Student-Teacher Relations

As a children’s ESL teacher, you’ll be working with younger students who are at odds to communicate in their home country. As a result, they are often shy and nervous in a classroom setting. However, they have a much more immediate need to grasp the language as they will be encountering it on a daily basis outside of the classrooms and will therefore be more motivated to learn and will likely pick up the language at a fast pace.

When working with young students, the teacher will be one of the first people they will be able to communicate with in English. As a result, it is highly important to establish a positive relationship with your students. Since ESL teachers may end up working with students from all over the globe in one classroom, the same relationship formula may not work for an entire class. For example, if a teacher refuses eye contact with a student from France, it may cause them to think that the teacher views themselves to be “too good” for their students. Contrastingly, Chinese students may go out of their way to refuse eye contact, as it is not part of their customs.

In general however, here are a few points that can help establish positive student-teacher relations:

  • Become familiar with the native customs and traditions of the students
  • Avoid pointing at and touching students
  • Never chew gum in the classroom
  • Provide positive feedback and an encouraging environment

Most importantly, ESL teachers need to remember that children in their classes may be having a difficult time adjusting not only to the school in their new country, but also to everyday life. If a child seems to be struggling emotionally, ESL teachers may need to help coach them through some of these challenges.

Tips for Teaching Children

ESL teachers are often required to develop their own lesson plans, so knowing how to structure a school day is a vital skill. Developing these plans may seem intimidating at first, but there are many online resources for ESL teachers. Altogether, it’s important to first establish the level of English your class possesses is. Unlike with EFL, the kids will also be trying to use what they learn in their external environment, such as words and phrases they’ll encounter in everyday life.

Slang phrases and references to popular culture will also be important as the students will encounter this type of vocabulary in the outside world more than formal grammatical structures. Regardless of the lessons and activities that are being planned, these tips can prove helpful:

  • Children have short attention spans, but will pay attention for longer periods if they are actively involved with interactive lessons instead of being lectured.
  • Remember to speak slowly and annunciate, but do not use a tone that may (even unintentionally) belittle students.
  • Have a back up plan (even just a fun game or song) in case a lesson proves unsuccessful or finishes early.
  • Encourage students to speak amongst themselves in English. This is especially important if you have students who speak the same native language.
  • Have fun! Incorporate ESL games and activities whenever possible.
Contributed by Judi Zienchuk

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