Teaching English as a foreign language is one of the world’s largest industries. Millions of times everyday students and teachers across the globe meet to study and practice this most useful of international languages. From large college lecture halls, to private tutoring centers, to virtual classrooms, home offices, and kitchen tables, creative teachers step up to help learners along the arduous but rewarding road to English proficiency.
Of all the contexts where the study of English (or any other foreign language) takes place, the homestay language immersion program offers teachers what is arguably the richest loam in which to plant the seeds and nourish the shoots of language and culture learning. After all, what other teaching position involves 24/7 contact hours?
If you are lucky enough to be hosting students in your home and carrying out the design and delivery of an English teaching program, you will want to be at the top of your game to achieve the best outcomes. Here are 5 tips for teaching at your best, all garnered over 20+ years spent in the ESL classroom and teaching as a host parent for English Immersion homestays.
Keep it Real
Authenticity rules when it comes to language learning. For rich input, all the vocabulary lists, models, role-plays, and scenarios in the world pale in comparison to the simplest communicative interactions that fill our days. The more you involve students in solving genuine problems and answering questions that are relevant to their lives and needs, the more engaging and effective you are as a teacher. Homestay immersion programs are ideal for supporting authentic learning experiences.
Practice Active Empathy
Barriers between people are barriers to communication and obstacles to learning. Walk in your students’ shoes. We have all been students at some time, and every language teacher should study one or more languages. Ideally, any ESL teacher will also know what it is like to face the challenges of entering and living in new cultural and linguistic settings. These experiences are the foundation for deep relationships with our students, and they are also the wellspring of practical ideas and approaches we can use in our work.
Tune in Your Teaching
Just as great musicians know the melodies that resonate with particular audiences, excellent teachers tune into the characteristics and needs of each individual group of students. As you prepare to face your English learners, consider backgrounds, experiences, interests, and needs. Then select materials, design activities, and choose approaches accordingly. This may sound obvious, but you will find that most curricula and materials do not make fine-grained distinctions between types of learners. For example, consider two groups of 15-year-old students, one composed of Parisians and the other of children from a rural school in the south of France. Their experiences, attitudes, interests, purposes, and needs when it comes to learning English are likely to be widely divergent. The best teachers develop a deep instinct for “playing to the crowd”.
Always be on the watch for new ideas, and never stop growing as a teacher. The freedom and flexibility of teaching in a homestay setting in particular offers an ideal stage for being imaginative, innovative, and spontaneous. Pursue professional development and keep up with your reading, but also take inspiration wherever you find it. See an interesting television advert? Encounter a funny experience at the supermarket? Have a chore that can be turned into a learning opportunity? Creative teachers are “always on duty” and ready to recognize, adapt, and incorporate material from the environment and their lived experiences into class syllabi.
Let Your Students Lead
Finally, the greatest teachers tend to be anti-teachers – they step aside rather than dominating at the center of teaching and learning processes. Modern views of education suggest that allowing students to engage with their own learning processes while we step away from traditional teacher-centered roles leads to enhanced outcomes. Given the opportunity, students draw on and deploy knowledge of their own needs and capabilities for learning. Working as a supportive guide while giving your students openings to design and direct the class increases relevance and engagement. It also reduces teacher-talk time and promotes communicative activity and language output among your students.