Tips for effective foreign language teaching

Red wooden ladder pointing to the sky

Being a foreign language teacher is definitely one of the most rewarding professions. A good language teacher has a passion for the language and culture they teach and a constant interest in their students’ academic and personal development. Nowadays, the mundane and coursebook-based lessons are being replaced by a vibrant and active dialogue-based and encouraging classroom environment. Here are some tips for effective foreign language teaching that will improve your language teaching techniques and results.


Get to know your students personally

Talk about your hobbies, culture, and interests, especially if you are not native to the country. If you are in love with sports, allow your students to teach you something about them and how a sport they love is played. Bring photos and spend time talking about the culture related to the target language. If your students are young, summing up the lesson with an arts and crafts activity related to what they learned (e.g. a poster of wild animals or mythological creatures related to the target language), will help them imprint the information and see the results on their classroom wall all year long. Spend time doing activities and talking about countries where the target language is native. Include history, arts, and cinema in your lesson plan.


Leave the native tongue aside (most of the time)

Focus on actively using the target foreign language. This might be the obvious thing to do, however, not many teachers abide by it. Using the native language is easy when it comes to giving guidelines for a task, although it results in students facing difficulties switching to the foreign language, and therefore doing the task. The key is to start using a standardized vocabulary from the very beginning, as well as body language, that through repetition will be imprinted on students’ minds, even if they have no knowledge of the language taught. Phrases like “listen”, “open the books”, “thank you” and “may I go to the toilet?” are a great start to using the foreign language as opening students up to early language use boosts their confidence and helps them use it independently. This is considered to be one of the most effective tips for foreign language teaching. You can read more about the effective use of students’ native language (L1) in language teaching from our dedicated blog post here.

Illustration of phrases in different languages


At the same time, speaking the foreign language will set your expectations on its use for the class. If there are students refusing to answer back to you in the target language, the key is to not switch to the native one. In order for the students to use the target language successfully, the teacher should create a safe environment where dialogue is free and mistakes are connected to learning.


Be encouraging and passionate 

You know the language, you are trained to teach it, now it is the time to infuse your energy and love for it. Positive feelings are contagious and you as the classroom leader, are the source for them. Students, especially young ones are wonderful copycats so you could easily imagine what happens when a teacher is inspiring and hopeful. Using words like “good job”, “well done” and “you are great learners” can diminish their insecurity and lack of confidence and even make them more engaged in the lesson and overall learning.

Apart from that, effective language teachers should leave their role and approach the lesson at the classroom desk level by trying to perceive how the lesson flows and what might be or are the possible challenges.

While preparing your language learning activities and materials, you should keep in mind your students’ level and the difficulties each one of them faces, as well as having alternatives for when a task does not work out as planned.

In any case, your hope and optimism as a foreign language teacher should prevail, hindering any disappointment in the classroom. This positivity and patience is crucial in building a relationship and trust as well as in classroom management as the students get to believe in their teacher’s efforts and encouragement to keep practicing.


No one ever disliked a prize

Another source of motivation, especially when teaching kids, is prizes. Kids are attracted to stickers and cute stationery and they could work as an effective motivational factor in completing tasks and activities, especially some mundane ones. At the same time, some competition is always welcome. Establishing a point system based on solid classroom rules, for instance, “homework doing” and “helping each other”, both teach character and motivates students in being responsible and taking the lesson seriously.

leaderboard in gamified language teaching classroom


Creativity at its best

Interactive learning activities and task-based approaches that spark joy, excitement, and even a little bit of mystery are the perfect way to see results in student engagement and learning. Games and kinesthetic activities, such as vocabulary scavenger hunt, matching pictures to words and role-playing are adding an extra element of fun. A great example is practicing “direction giving” vocabulary, where one student is blindfolded and the rest of the classroom is collaborating to give the right directions so as their classmate not to bump on the items put by themselves on the path. Not only is the target vocabulary practiced but also kids enjoy themselves and work as a team, learning to listen and collaborate. 

Another really fun activity is “running dictation”, a personal favorite. Students work in pairs. There is a text taped on a classroom wall to which one student is running, reads as much as possible, and goes back to their pair to repeat it, as the pair is writing the text down. This activity is also allowing students to practise spelling and it is boosting their listening and critical thinking skills.

The classroom environment and lessons should be personalized. Factors such as the age and the students’ personal liking are contributing. You, as the language teacher, should find out what students enjoy, whether it is storytelling, the use of language learning software technology, activities related to songs, or arts and crafts, and tailor the lesson accordingly.

Learning something through an enjoyable activity is most likely to have long-lasting effects and result in greater student participation.


Make language teaching and learning technology your best friend

Textbooks are great as they give a syllabus and a secure path to follow. However, relying only on them makes the lesson at least mundane and definitely less multi-leveled. Apart from the supportive activities mentioned prior to that, external material using technology would make your lesson more fun. Practically everyone is using digital devices and the internet and, when teaching using these mediums, students get to engage in the lesson much more than using conventional means.

Practical tips on how to integrate technology into language teaching and learning:

  • Project three pictures (e.g. a frog, a building, someone brushing their teeth) and encourage students to use their imagination to make up a story. For a more advanced group, a timer would be a great idea.
  • There are plenty of websites, like Quizlet, that offer gamified audio-visual online exercises through which students can practise in teams on the smartboard or on their phones.
  • Again, with the help of a smartboard, students can play Pictionary and Drawing dictation.
  • Their favorite youtube music can be a great tool to accompany an activity. For instance, kids can make a circle passing two balls and every time the music is paused, one of the students imitates an animal, and the other guesses what it is. This can be done with plenty of target vocabulary like sports, routine activities, and verbs.
  • Social media is a great source of not only information but of teaching material. Having a class discussing a widely debating post on Twitter or Facebook works also as an idea pool for any aspect of their life. 


Be a clown (or an awesome actor, depends on your point of view)

One of the most amazing features of teaching is the use of body language and gestures to illustrate a word or concept no matter what, it can never be considered excessive. When first learning a foreign language, students have limited knowledge. One of the first steps is teaching students concrete words, things we know from our senses, like fruit, verbs, sports. Translating a couple of words only every now and then is ok but the students’ learning should be done using the target language. Let your body language explain what “nose”, “playing guitar”, “horse” and “funny” mean. In that way, students will always be focused on the target language. Do not be intimidated if in cases, some students have a problem understanding what you try to communicate. Try to change your gestures and use your own imagination.

This method is truly funny because students, regardless of their age, get to see their teacher in plenty of non-serious moments, resulting in breaking the ice and bonding. Apart from that, this teaching style is a great source of activities. You can ask the students to use their body language to show you how well they studied. As a warm-up on the next lesson of teaching the animals, for example, you can ask one student to come up with an animal in the target language and another student to show what animal it is using their body language. If teaching kids, this activity also boosts their creativity skills. After having used this method a couple of times, get the students to come up with movements for the new vocabulary topics.


Be the teacher you dreamt of having

Truth be told, learning a foreign language depends on the student’s will and effort, although the teacher’s role is equally vital. External motivation has direct results in students’ improvement and, for many, an inspirational teacher is the one both focusing on speaking practice and confidence-boosting. Knowledge transmitting is done implicitly, which means students learn things without conscious thought. This includes a large amount of knowledge input over a long time frame. This method is usually used when teaching kids. However, a combination of an implicit and explicit (analytical and with conscious learning- usually to teach adults) method is the ideal one as each student, regardless their age, is reciprocating in different styles.

illustration of variety of language learning activities


There’s life outside the language classroom

An effective language teacher should encourage their students to work outside the classroom environment. Conversing or writing in the target language is a remarkable way to practise the language in the real world and outside of the safe classroom environment. To test their knowledge and learn from others. Websites like PenPal World and volunteering for projects is a great way to do it. And let’s not forget the movies and songs as a way to learn new words, get familiar with tough grammar, and boost their listening skills.


Sanako provides language teaching and learning software for schools and universities in 114 countries and for +50.000 classrooms. Contact us now to learn more about our solutions and book a FREE remote demo to see our software in action.

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This blog post was last updated 27 June, 2023.