The Most Common Problems in ESL Classrooms
Teaching English as a second language (ESL) is a rewarding career, yet a
challenging one. As facilitators of learning in ESL classrooms, there is a great
demand for teachers to constantly adapt to studentsí attitudes and needs. This
might be basic, but imagine being in front of 30 students having very different
personalities, attitudes, learning styles and language levels. Constantly,
teachers face problems common enough in ESL classrooms. For neophytes, these
occurrences mean failure to control the class but for experienced ones, it is an
opportunity to grow and be flexible.
Excellent ESL teachers are able to recognize the most common problems in ESL
classrooms, and devise ways to reach solutions. Modifications in teaching
methods and strategies to tailor fit the kind of students in a class would mean
a more productive and interesting
environment for both
the teachers and their students.
The Problems and their Remedies
Here is an outline of the most common problems in ESL classrooms and how to
deal with them.
1. The Use of First
This is probably the most common problem every
ESL teacher faces. Speaking the first language is an instinct for almost
everyone. For ESL students, this might mean not being able to totally adapt to
using second language or the difficulty achieving it. Lack of confidence in
using the language in front of the class adds to this problem as well. See why
students' confidence in speaking is extremely important for ESL
To solve this, an ESL teacher must be encouraging enough to persuade
students to speak English, and only English in class. When students start to
whisper to each other in their native tongue, do not hesitate to ask if there
are questions. Another common solution is setting a rule of imposing penalty to
whoever was caught using their first language in class. This penalty can be in
the form of an English recitation or song in front of the class.
2. Inability to
Often times, students in ESL classrooms
would nod in agreement when the teacher asks if instructions are clear. In most
cases, especially with beginners, students are shy to ask as they may be laughed
at by their peers. As a result, they pretend to understand and do assigned tasks
the way they perceive they should be done. To deal with this, ESL teachers must
make sure instructions to a homework or activity are clear enough for everyone.
When students start to talk to each other with looks of confusion, consider
restating the instructions.
As much as possible, write them on the board.
Teachers can even use pictures or gestures to get ideas across. Make use of
model sheets or videos to let students understand fully what you expect them to
do. Speak clearly and make sure you have every student's full attention.
3. The More Advanced
Students Dominate the Class
Students in an ESL
classroom tend to avoid being asked not because they donít know the answer.
Frequently, this might be because they find it hard to grasp for the right words
or it takes some time to construct ideas in another language. As a result, many
of the more advanced students are likely to raise their hands first and get to
answer or speak in class often. When the teacher wants the class to progress
faster, many of those who shy away will be left behind as advanced students are
To settle this, teachers should give equal opportunity to all
class members. This can be done by randomly choosing studentsí names for a
recitation. Give enough time for students to think. When the classí ďeager
beaversĒ are too persistent, let them play the role of helpers. Assign them to
assist their peers. Assigning them to give
peer feedback takes some of the
weight off of the educator and keeps advanced students busy.
4. Students Lack
Interest in the Lessons
In many cases, teachers would
always wonder why students just canít stop staring at the book and scribble
answers on the worksheets with bored, uninterested faces. What was actually
misunderstood is the fact that teachers might be the one who bore the students.
Following too much structure in class will absolutely make the student feel
forced to study and thus feel less motivated. In answer to this, ESL teachers
can use the subject of the lessons as bridges to real-life situations. Engage
the students by integrating technicalities of the language with things they can
For example, donít just explain tenses of the verbs and give generic
examples but use them in making sentences with situations real to the students.
Talk about college plans, vacation, funniest experiences, unforgettable events
or love. Make your topic fun. This will not only model use of the language but
also makes learning memorable.
5. Students Are Too
Dependent and Unprepared
Students might automatically
wait for the teacher to utter the correct answer instead of having to figure it
out by themselves. When students do not want to think, their ability to learn
independently and be
self- directed in learning is hindered. They might not be
able to learn and benefit from self-study. To remedy this, ESL teachers should
make sure students value individual participation in class. Instead of giving
out the answer right away, solicit answers from class members continuously. When
no one seems to get it right after several tries, give hints but do not tell
answers directly. Additionally, when dealing with adult ESL students, the
inability to do homework outside the classroom is common. This is especially
true when students are working. To cater to this, give options. Instead of
homework, agree on having a regular five-minute practice session for every
student per meeting.
Confirm how much time they are willing to commit to and be
clear that despite the demands of jobs, it is essential not to stray away from
their purpose of reaching goals in language learning.
The Teaching Goals
There will always be problems in ESL classrooms. It takes an innovative and
flexible ESL teacher to keep students engaged and interested in class. More than
just teaching the content, teachers are to inspire, empower and motivate the
students to improve language skills. The ultimate goal of ESL classes is to
develop studentsí ability to communicate in the English through their mastery
and understanding of messages and their meanings by
grammar. Depending on studentsí level and age, demands
vary. The technique is to make sure everyone knows and understands the goal for
As an ESL teacher, one should not mainly attend class to
follow the structured coursework, but create an environment where students learn
with fun. When students are kept engaged in the lessons, they learn more than
they realized as their teachers move closer to achieving the goal of teaching
English and producing students equipped in the language.
5 Ways to Use Criterion Referenced Test in the Classroom
Photo Memoir: Writing Assignment
Top 5 Things to Know About Your ESL Studentsí Backgrounds
Group Work in College ESL Classrooms
How to Teach Business English in ESL Setting
Benefits of Using Graphic Organizers in the Classroom
How to Use Storytelling in Language Teaching
How to Correct Student Essays
The Most Common Problems in ESL Classrooms
Tips on Teaching ESL Students Vocabulary
Praise: A Great Motivator for Student Achievement
Peer Feedback is a Great Tool in Writing Classes