Students of any age groups learning new languages in new cultures are often self-conscious. However, if you are a teen ELL (English Language Learner), being an ESL (English as Second Language) student adds extra pressure. They want to make sure that they learn things correctly and not look or sound “different” from others in their peer group.
Make Mistakes Insignificant
When we spend too much time “correcting,” we make teen ESL students more nervous and self-conscious. Rather than correcting them constantly, create a place where they can practice their new language without being worried. Rather than correcting every single thing by calling it out, simply repeat it back using correct placement or pronunciation. Let the student hear the correct way to do it, but make the mistake less critical.
Sometimes mistakes happen because teen ESL students are trying to speak in slang or typical speech of local teens, and they do not understand the context. Let them learn the relaxed colloquialisms that are popular in your area. Teens do not want to sound “different” to their friends. Help them be “cool”. See here for slang words teens and Gen Zers are using in 2020 (it is quite educational for the teachers, too).
Bond with Them
Any teen wants the world to know their opinions matter. This is no different for ESL teens. As an ESL educator, you will have to treat them as equals, and really listen to what they have to communicate to the world. This also will allow ESL teens to open up to you about struggles and feel more confident in the classroom.
Praise Hard Work
Praising the hard work of ESL students who are struggling can be invaluable. Learning English is hard. For ESL learners, beating themselves up for “perfection” is not productive. Let them know that it is hard, but they are not alone.
Get them Talking via Games
Help your ESL teens talk and practice while they are having fun. Games are a great way to introduce language and culture in an engaging way. Here is 9 Resources ESL teachers use to teach K-12 ESL learners
Help ESL teens focus on communication
Help your ESL teens to focus on what is important – communication rather than accent improvement. Improving how you sound is only a small part of language learning – being able to connect with others is the most important goal. There are many resources like the ELSA Speak app that helps ESL students practice English oral communication skills. If you are an ESL teacher in a school, there is ELSA Speak B2B offering for schools.
There are many things you can do to teach teens ESL, but you will never accomplish anything if they do not feel comfortable in your classroom. Teach them that they are important and that mistakes are okay. Teens need a safe space to learn. Encouragement and camaraderie go a long way.