A new language teacher’s survival guide

Young and confident male teacher

A career in language teaching can offer a wide range of exciting and rewarding experiences. But it can also be really challenging, especially for those just starting out in their careers. Sanako’s language teaching tools have been used in classrooms and schools across the globe since 1961. So we’ve learnt a little about what life as a new teacher is like.

This blog post is designed to give new language teachers some practical hints and tips to help you navigate the classroom effectively and create a positive learning experience for your students.

Good luck!


1. Prepare well

The more prep work that you can do before starting a new teaching job the better! You’ll be much more confident if you arrive on Day 1 feeling ready to go. This is particularly important if you’re teaching in a school or in a country that you’ve never visited before.

Before starting the role, take the time to find out if your institution expects you to teach a particular curriculum and what materials (if any) you’ll be provided with or required to use. Ensure that you’re completely familiar with all of the above – this content will all be new to your students, but you should know it in every detail.

Similarly, try to understand what language teaching approaches are deployed by your new school. Is the focus on building accuracy or fluency? Is teaching focused on learner or practitioner-led techniques? All of the above will help you to devise a plan for the first few weeks of term – this will help you plan what lesson / topics will be delivered when.

If at all possible, visit your new school before starting work. Get to know your classroom and where all key facilities are (e.g toilets, library, language labs etc.)


2. Set expectations

As the saying goes: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” 

Your first engagement with students will set the tone for the rest of your time with each group. It’s important therefore to set your classroom rules and clearly lay out your expectations of your students on the first day. Depending on the age of your students, working together to draw up a classroom contract could be a good idea.

But having done so, you will need to set aside some time during the first few weeks to reiterate those principles in order to build positive behaviour in the classroom. However, this saves time in the long run as your learners will be clear about what they need to do and how they need to behave. The consequences of not doing so should also be clear to all and consistently applied when required.


3. Get to know your learners

It sounds obvious but make a real effort to learn ALL of your students’ names and start using them as soon as possible. It quickly helps them feel part of the group and shows that you’re taking a real interest in their progress.

Encourage learners to do the same with their classmates through games and activities that help the group get to know each other. It will also help the group to settle into their studies by reducing the nerves everyone feels when entering a new environment for the first time. These approaches are particularly important outside of formal education settings where students probably don’t know each other and appear initially to have little in common.

Using a class map or seating plan can help build familiarity over the first few weeks. Of course, it’s also important that you’re able to pronounce students’ names correctly – ask if you’re not sure and take the time to practise getting it right!

As well as learning their names, use the first few weeks to build up an understanding of their language abilities. Identify those who may need extra help or support AND those who could be stretched further. This will help you to put in place personalised strategies to keep both groups engaged and making good progress.


4. Plan engaging language lessons

Ultimately the key to your success will lie in your teaching practice and lesson delivery. So take the time needed to carefully plan your language lessons and the key learning outcomes for each one. Build well-structured language lesson plans that include a variety of different interactive activities, such as listening exercises, speaking practice and group discussions. Try to keep the pace lively and leverage technology as a teaching tool to bring learning to life.

Wherever possible, incorporate authentic materials like newspapers, magazines, songs and videos into your lessons. These materials provide invaluable real-world context and make learning more relevant and enjoyable for your students. It also exposes them to a range of different accents and cultural perspectives.


5. Consistent classroom management

Depending on your level of teaching experience, handling a group of language learners in a classroom could present some challenges. Your classroom management skills will certainly develop and improve with experience, so don’t be discouraged by any initial problems.

  • Where possible, try not to focus solely on disciplining poor behaviour, rather try to acknowledge and reward students for their effort, participation and achievement.
  • Sometimes, a simple shift in your physical presence or a well-timed glance can address poor behaviour without the need for verbal correction. 
  • Smooth transitions between learning activities can be crucial for minimising disruptions. Have a clear plan for how you’ll move from one lesson segment to the next.
  • When issues arise, address them promptly and calmly. Avoid engaging in power struggles or public shaming. Instead, use private conversations to discuss concerns and find solutions collaboratively.


6. Pace yourself

At the start of any new job, it’s understandable that you’ll want to wow and impress your students and colleagues. But it’s also important to try and maintain a realistic pace to keep your workload and stress at manageable levels. Use timetables, calendars, apps or to-do lists to keep track of what needs to be done and by when.

It takes everyone a little while to get into a steady routine, so be realistic about how much can be achieved from the get-go. And try not to obsess if everything doesn’t go to plan (it won’t!) – there’s always another lesson in the timetable where you can revisit a topic or check students’ understanding.

One great idea is to be proactive in building your support network. Connect with other language teachers, both experienced and new, to share experiences and resources. They can act as a useful sounding board and provide emotional support, especially when things are tough. Don’t forget to check what support your manager / institution can also provide – they should be available to meet on a regular basis to review progress, offer support and answer any questions.

Finally, never forget that embarking on a career as a language teacher can be a fulfilling and life-changing experience. Both for you and for the students you teach. By following these practical hints and tips, you can create a positive and effective learning environment for your students, while growing as an educator. We’re certain that you’ll smash it!

Whatever language you teach and whatever teaching experience you have, Sanako’s teacher-led language instruction tools include a wealth of unique features that help language educators teach languages more efficiently and more successfully. It’s why the world’s leading educational institutions choose Sanako as their preferred supplier to support online and in-person lesson delivery.