What is the most effective way to manage time with an unconfident learner?

Learning Timing as an EFL Teacher

Diary submitted by Katie J., Madrid

What is the most effective way to manage time with an unconfident learner?

Time management has always been a difficulty of mine: catching buses, essay deadlines, meeting for coffee… Personal or academic, the struggle has never ceased. As an EFL teacher therefore, time management seemed one of the more insurmountable obstacles to occur. Especially with a more unconfident learner, what is the best way to juggle speaking, grammar and comprehension in such a limited space of time?

Especially with unconfident beginners, one of the first obstacles to overcome is their reliance on their native language. One student with whom I had particular timing difficulties was at a very low A1 level. Due to his lack of confidence and knowledge, comprehension proved to be especially strenuous under the time constraints as he struggled to process the information unless translated into Spanish: his native language. For unconfident learners – particularly beginners – the shift from thinking in the mother tongue to thinking in the native language is often a difficult adjustment and one which normally requires additional time.

Under these circumstances, there are often two methods in which to resolve the dilemma. The first is to focus on one particular skill that needs improving and devote more time to that; meanwhile, the second is to focus on all sections equally, merely condensing the information so as to not be time-pressured.
Certainly, research has offered differing perspectives; ‘The Natural Approach’ as theorised by Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell (1983) has argued that “language acquisition occurs only when students receive comprehensible input”. As such, greater emphasis should be placed on “reading and listening comprehension” especially for beginners. Often – as in the case of my aforementioned student – it is in these areas where a beginner student most struggles, and in which the student will request to spend the most time. As such, choosing to use the time to focus on one area in greater depth can demonstrate greater sensibility to the student’s needs, and thus enhance their confidence in the teacher.
Meanwhile, Amos Paran (2012) has lamented “the continuing, paradoxical separation of language skills”, arguing that “our understanding of language use [entails] a relationship between at least two skills (and often more)”. As such, a more effective method with some unconfident learners could simply be to focus on all sections equally, even if in lesser depth. One unconfident learner at an intermediate level benefitted more from such an approach. Her lack of confidence did not so much stem from her reliance on the native language but rather her deviation from it, struggling to become accustomed to using English. For this reason, it was more effective to focus on all skills albeit in somewhat lesser depth; it was not that she was weakest in one skill, rather that she needed to accustom herself to their usage.

Although time management can be more difficult with unconfident learners, the level of the student does often define which approach is best to take. For beginners, using the time to focus on comprehension in greater depth can be the most advantageous for language acquisition. Meanwhile with intermediate to higher levels it is simply a case of developing confidence, in which all skills are necessary, albeit if they need to be condensed.



  • Krashen, Stephen and Tracy Terrell. The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom (San Francisco: The Alemany Press, 1983)
  • Paran, Amos, ‘Language Skills: Questions for Teaching and Learning’, ELT Journal 66.4 (October,2012) http://seas3.elte.hu/coursematerial/DavidGergely/Amos_Paran_2012_Language_skills_highlights.pdf, accessed 18 April, 2018

What is the most effective way to manage time with an unconfident learner?

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