In an earlier blog post, we identified 10 of the biggest challenges that language teachers faced as part of their teaching practice – they included classroom management, dealing with parents and being far away from home. These challenges were identified from a review of the literature in the space and from feedback from Sanako’s global customer base.
As part of generating this feedback, we’ve continued to ask language teachers about their work through surveys and through social media posts. It’s hugely important for Sanako to understand the needs of our customers, so that we can ensure our products and services help make their lives easier.
This blog post summarises 7 additional challenges that were identified by teachers in our latest customer survey. As before, we would be really interested to hear your thoughts. Are there other challenges that you think we should include? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your additions and with comments on this list. Get involved with the conversation on our social media channels – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
1. Creating lesson materials and resources
One of the biggest challenges teachers referred to most frequently was the demand to create tailored content for each lesson. Of course, it’s challenging and time consuming for teachers to do so, but the benefits for students and educators are notable. Students are more engaged when the lesson is specifically designed and more motivated to learn, which in turn reduces incidents and the need for classroom management.
Having said that, it’s important that teachers’ workload remains reasonable. So language teaching software solutions and apps can be a huge help in minimising teachers’ time and effort – Sanako Connect, for example, enables teachers to easily upload a wide variety of resources for any lesson, all of which can be mapped to a curriculum or lesson plan. Educators can also save and organise all of their lesson content on the platform and this material can then be easily reused and repurposed for other age groups or for future classes.
2. Working out which pedagogical approach is best
There is a wide variety of different approaches to language teaching that have been developed by practitioners and researchers over many years. These vary from those which aim to make language teaching as real-world as possible (Communicative language teaching or CLT) to those like Total Physical Response, which prioritise the use of activity and movement to support learning.
In our explanation of the 10 “best” language teaching strategies, we emphasised that such approaches should be a source of support for educators not stress. It’s incredibly difficult for advocates of any approach to claim that theirs is definitively the best, since every language classroom, educator and student is different. So our advice to educators is always to be flexible and open-minded – try out the different language teaching approaches, tailor them to your specific context, review the impact they have and adopt those which work for you and your students.
3. Handling a new generation of students
From boomers and Gen X to Millennials and Gen Z, every generation of students is different. But it’s all too easy to jump to conclusions and generalisations about the differences between these groups. In research published by Harvard Business Review, these generational differences were revealed to be actually quite small. So it’s important for educators to recognize that learners’ needs change over time and to respond to what you actually see in your classroom.
As such, it is important to ensure that educators know and understand their students, whoever they might be. Seek out information about their lives, their backgrounds and their motivations. Listen, react and respond accordingly, adding to the picture with careful classroom observations. These insights will help language educators to plan their lessons more effectively, adapting content to students’ actual preferences rather than their demographic profile.
4. Making lessons relevant
Most language students are learning a language with a specific objective in mind – perhaps it’s to help them communicate when they travel or perhaps the qualification will help them to get a new job. In any case, students want and need a core foundation of skills that will help them to flourish in real-world situations outside of the classroom. It’s essential that educators prepare students for such eventualities rather than just helping them to pass an exam.
Communicative language teaching or CLT approaches are used in language teaching worldwide and can help educators struggling to make lessons relevant. Such approaches rely on extensive use of group / pair discussions, role playing and collaborative tasks to maximise exposure to the target language. When assigning tasks, try to tie them in with students’ ambitions – consider cover letters, CVs and interview practice for job seekers, for example.
For further detail on CLT, please see our two additional blog post on the subject:
- 8 reasons why teachers should use the communicative language teaching
- What are the advantages of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)?
5. Engaging the disengaged students
Unsurprisingly many educators told us that they struggled to keep all students engaged in their lessons at all times. Aside from asking how realistic an ambition that actually is, there’s much that educators can do to try and keep students motivated and involved in their learning.
Ultimately, it’s all about personalisation – i.e helping students to clearly see and feel that their lessons and learning activities have been thoughtfully tailored and personalised to their preferences. Get creative about how students complete / submit your assignments and try mixing up the materials used in lessons. Educators who offer dynamic and flexible content motivate their learners to go the extra mile and to make more than expected progress
6. Making the most of educational technology
It’s now a fact of life that most language lessons involve the use of some element of technology. Whether that’s listening to a podcast, accessing lessons via an online language lab or taking online vocabulary tests, technology is definitely here to stay. Yet for many teachers, this is a cause for concern. They tell us that they feel uncomfortable about using it, are unsure about what to do or are nervous about things going wrong. But thankfully there’s lots of help at hand to support educators and help them become more confident.
The first stop for educators should be to seek help and support from your institution – is there training available that you could do or could you seek back-up from a colleague, who’s passionate about EdTech (Educational Technology). Every school has at least one! Reach out to suppliers and see what resources they offer. Sanako, for example, runs a regular webinar programme where language teachers from across the word share their advice and best practice. And finally, why not build a personal learning network through social media? Whatever you’re struggling with, there’ll be someone online who can offer help and advice. Follow key #s that relate to your interests or types of technology and you’ll quickly spot who knows what they’re talking about! You can also check out our other post about social media’s language teaching communities to find out more.
7. Teaching students of different abilities in the same class
In an ideal world, students would be in a language class with other students at the same ability level. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible or practical and teachers are often faced with teaching students at very different points on their language learning journey. Inevitably this means that it can be difficult to pitch lesson content correctly as for some, it’s too hard and for others it’s too easy.
In order to keep students on track, it’s therefore vital for educators to identify what level of proficiency each student currently has. Most informal language teaching institutions will offer students a CEFR test (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) at the beginning of their course. If yours doesn’t, do check out the free tests developed by expert providers such as Cambridge English and EF. Once you know if students are basic, independent or proficient language learners, you can then develop a personalised and tailored plan to help them to achieve their goals and potential. Sanako’s blog post on the topic here has further detail on the type of lessons to then deploy.
Sanako salutes and supports language teachers everywhere. We know the challenges that they face on a daily basis, so we’ve designed our solutions to improve learning outcomes in classrooms around the world. Contact us today for a free demo or a product trial and we’ll show you how our technologies can make your teaching more effective.