EFL outside the classroom

Using Resources / Lesson Planning / Student Levels and CEFR

Diary submitted by Damian L, Madrid

I have had many students ask me at the end of the class about what things they could do outside the class to improve their English. The first time a student enquired on this, I was thrown off. I had been too focussed on improving what was going on in the class to realise that just as vital a part (or even more importantly) to learning a language, is what goes on outside of the class. That day I struggled to come up with a well thought out response to give my student. However, that night, I hurriedly went home to construct a useful answer to be able to give to my student. And so, I had a ponder…

Learning a language requires time, patience, and determination (among an array of other things!). There is some debate on the exact figure, but it is generally recognised that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to become an expert in a field. So, let’s consider English fluency to be that ‘field’. Now, even if my students were racking up 10 hours of English lessons per week, it would still take them 1000 weeks to achieve becoming an ‘expert’. That is roughly two and three-quarter years. That’s a long time to be having 10-hour week English lessons, and that’s not even considering the cost!  

Now, you might think that most students don’t want to become an expert, per say, but the exaggeration, in my opinion, expresses the point wonderfully. No student (at least none that I have encountered!), would be willing to put themselves through such a gruelling and sacrificial task – and rightly so! Thus, we are left with the seemingly difficult goal of getting our students to that magic number of hours with far fewer English lessons. How can this be done? You might ask. Well, in my student’s question lies the answer – outside the class.

We must therefore help our students become independent learners and provide them with strategies to help them learn outside the classroom. You may think that with your students already having to do English lessons, the last thing they’ll want to do is learn English outside the class. However, by integrating English into their daily lives, they will see huge improvements in their fluency. Each bit of exposure will add up and they will be astonished at the change it will make. 

Furthermore, if you get them to use English outside the classroom environment by tying it in with their interests, students will soon be learning English without even knowing it. Getting your students to see life as the playground to practice what they have learnt in class will give them a more real and profound understanding of English and may well motivate them to work harder in class time too.

I therefore found myself returning to my inquisitive student the next morning, having consulted numerous articles, with the following strategies which he could adopt:

  • Watch, read or listen to the news in English
  • Watch your favourite TV series in English and without subtitles
  • Read your favourite book or magazine in English (in short snippets) 
  • Set aside a specific time each day with your friends to only speak in English with one another.
  • Do crosswords
  • Change your phone into English
  • Use an English learning app
EFL outside the classroom tefl trainer blog

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