3 Techniques to Employ When You Don't Speak Their Language

3 Techniques to Employ When You Don't Speak Their Language

Joyce B
by Joyce B 10,923 views

You don't have to be the odd man out simply because you are the only person in your class full of people that doesn't speak the native language.

Follow these 3 techniques to connect with students even when you don't have language in common.

What to Do When You Don't Speak Their Language

  1. 1

    Slow Down, Speak Simply, and Repeat

    When learners don't yet speak much English and you don't speak their language, you have to find ways to connect with them, and get them to start learning English fast. There are three key things to do in this circumstance—speak slowly, speak simply, and repeat yourself often. It sounds simple, but it isn't as easy as it might seem. You can master speaking slowly, clearly, and repeating yourself often, but it does take some practice. You want to annunciate for clarity without sounding condescending. Slowing down language means that you more clearly pronounce syllables, don't shorten words, and also focus on correct grammar. Speaking simply translates into using only tenses or vocabulary that the students have learned. That can be challenging when students have only learned the verb to be, because you are so limited in what you can say. If vocabulary comes up that they are unfamiliar with, you must define words in an uncomplicated manner and provide examples.

    Repetition is important because students need explanations several times before they should be expected to master it. It might feel to you that you sound like a broken record, but in reality the students need to hear the record 10 more times. The same also goes for practice. For example, you might think that you have practiced the verb to be so many times the students will cringe if you attempt to review it again. However, when you listen to your students they are still making errors, or still seem uncertain about usage. This is a common occurrence at lower levels, so it goes to show that students do indeed need a lot of repetition of grammar points. Think of each point as a building block to the next; in order to move forward, they must master foundational elements first. Students don't have to display perfect language skills to move on to the next point, but they should show good understanding and be able to occasionally discern their own mistakes.

  2. 2

    Teach Situationally

    When language is a barrier and students don't have much English to communicate with, focus on the function of how they are going to use any given point. Practicing grammar without providing practical application is not only dry, but also frustrating for learners. The main point of studying a language is to be able to use it in everyday circumstances. Keep practical application a focal point when creating activities and exercises. Students will gain a lot through situational examples, role plays, Q and A, and games that inspire lots of practice.

    Most every point in an ESL curriculum can somehow be practiced within a situation. Many of them are obvious, like using prepositions of motion to practice giving directions, or creating recipes when talking about food vocabulary and quantities. Part of the fun of being an ESL teacher is devising entertaining and creative ways to elicit grammar points in natural language. Think of ways you can get your students talking outside of just following the examples on the board. Give them opportunities to branch out. For example, instead of just having students ask each other like/dislike questions, give them a situation where this could naturally happen. Tell students that they are attending a party where they don't know anyone. Their goal is to find at least three people with similar interests and start up a conversation. You could make this more interesting or challenging by assigning them particular personality traits or preferences that are not their own. That way they have to be creative with their question-asking and try to create a connection through communication. This is a perfect example of giving students situational practice so that the language they are acquiring has meaning and practical application when they step out of the classroom.

  3. 3


    When language many be a barrier your best source of communication will be finding ways to animate your explanations and instructions. Using exaggerated body language and facial expressions should become second nature when you are communicating with little language. Smiling and laughing a lot also helps to lighten the mood and can help make students feel comfortable. Along with animated expressions, if you can show students time and time again that your instructions will be illustrated by clear examples, they will begin to learn your style and catch on very quickly. Utilizing hand gestures as you speak will also become a way that students can begin to infer language if they don't understand completely.
    You can also involve students in getting in touch with their physical side by introducing the game of Charades. Students of all ages and levels love to challenge themselves with this interactive game in which they must represent language with actions. It's a wonderful way to practice vocabulary, sentence structure and comprehension checks for various points. Students will enjoy the challenge and find the game an interesting activity of self-expression.

Teaching English to a class of students who don't have any exposure to your language might seem a bit daunting at first.

There are many ways to connect with people around the globe without language as the common denominator. Take a look at these 3 techniques to connect with students, and get in touch with all of your students all of the time.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please help spread it by clicking one of those sharing buttons below. And if you are interested in more, you should follow our Facebook page where we share more about creative, non-boring ways to teach English.

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