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From ESL Zero to Hero: How to Teach

Absolute Beginners
In todays globalized world, most beginner ESL students have had some contact with
the English language, usually through the Internet, movies or TV.
They have most likely studied English at some point in their lives and abandoned their studies
they are often referred to as false beginners. But every now and then, we come across
an absolute beginner, someone who has had so little exposure to English, they cant even
handle the most basic greetings, verbs or vocabulary. hether you are teaching a complete
group of absolute beginners, or a few within a group of false beginners,here are some tis that
will hel your students go from ESL zeroes to heroes!
How To Teach Absolute Beginners
1
"rioritize Learning #oals
$bsolute beginners have had so little e%osure to the English language, they
have absolutely nothing to build on. !aturally, youll start with the basics, but
consider what theyll need to know first. "oes it make sense to start with a list
of foods in English# $r colors or numbers# %robably not. hat they need to know first
is how to introduce themselves and greet others. The natural progression from there is
the use of the verb &to be' (I am from) He is from, etc*+. Then youll progress on
to ossessives (my country, your name, his family+ and so on*#ive riority to the
language they will need first and foremost.
2
&ont $ssume $nything
&ont ma'e assumtions about what your students 'now. ,ssume they know
nothing. -or example, to practice the verb to be, you ask them what nationalities they
are, only to find out they dont know how to say nationalities in English. (ountries and
nationalities should be taught first, and then practiced with the verb &to be'. ,nd this
goes for a multitude of vocabulary and expressions. "ont assume a student will be
able to answer you if you ask, &How are you?' ,bsolute beginners wont know how to
reply, unless youve specifically taught them.
3
(elebrate Small $chievements
$bsolute beginners will tell you they dont sea' English ) till the very end of the
course. hat theyre thinking is that they dont speak English fluently, or like you, for
example. But make sure theyre aware of what they can do. .f on the first day of class
theyve learned to greet each in English, end your lesson by celebrating this,
&Congratulations! You can now introduce yourself and greet each other in
English'. Ta'e the focus away from what they cant do and focus on what they
can do instead. This proves to be tremendously encouraging/
4
*se Their Senses
$bsolute beginners may not have enough 'nowledge to understand
e%lanations, synonyms, definitions, i.e. anything you describe with
words. .nstead, use their senses to maximi0e learning. The easiest to use with
beginners are visual aids like flashcards, but dont forget to include lenty of
gestures, as well as real life ob1ects. The use of realia will allow you to utili0e several
senses at the same time, and its often more engaging than two2dimensional pictures.
"ont forget to use things they can smell and taste, too/
5
Show, &ont Tell
+ecause they havent been e%osed to the English language enough, try to
minimize their reading of dialogues and conversations, and act out the
situations, instead. 3onsider this4 when you teach students to reply to a &How are
you?' do you have them read this short exchange first or 1ust act it out directly# $f
course, its a lot better to simply show them how to reply. This goes for most of the
expressions and functions they will have to learn.
6
+uild on ,hat Theyve Learned +efore
It is essential for absolute beginners to review what theyve reviously learned,
and its a great idea to start each lesson with a brief review. But you can also re2
use previously taught language points and introduce them into a new context. 5ay you
are now teaching your students how to as' for directions. 5tudent , is walking down
the street with a friend, 5tudent B, when they run into 5tudent 3. , introduces B to 3
(they review how to introduce someone+, and then 3 asks , for directions.
7
-ee It .eal
/ust because students are absolute beginners, it doesnt mean they cant handle
real life situations. 6ou should still teach in context, and provide as many examples of
real life situations and real props as you can. Even though real maps, brochures or
catalogues are filled with vocabulary they wont understand, it is important to help your
absolute beginners deal with, precisely, these types of things. 5how them how to
pinpoint the information they may need like a phone number, address or website. 7ake
sure they understand that it doesnt matter that they cant read the entire brochure, the
important thing is that they learn to obtain what they need from it.
+y the time your absolute beginners finish their course, they will robably still not feel
confident enough to say they 0sea'1 English. Thats 2-. The idea of 0sea'ing
English1 is too vague in this conte%t.
Try providing them with some specific examples of what they can do now4 go shoing by
themselves, ask for assistance, order food in a restaurant, etc* ,sk them to remember what it
was like when they knew none of this. Tell them they are your heroes for learning so much and
overcoming their language barriers. They will feel like heroes, too/