Can you help me with my English?

Jonathan Seath, former Principal of Colchester English Study Centre provides some tips.

Sometimes we have requests from clients to help improve their English. Clearly a good use of English is important for being able to become a full member of the community, communicating with local services, finding employment and of course keeping up with your own children!

Here are a few basic guidelines. First find out about clients’ learning and study needs and in particular about their specific reasons for wanting to improve their English. Checking their own educational background will also provide useful information. I have taught a taxi driver who needed English to pass his UK driving test. I helped another student to prepare for a vocational training course where working with the English of the course turned out to be very helpful. Some female students may never have been to school and need to learn to read and write. Usually in the long term, it may also be possible to find a place on a local English course for the more general student.

Clients benefit enormously from the personal contact with their teacher and their sessions with you will improve confidence, social skills as well as their English. Most clients will be used to using two or more languages already. Even if you have no experience of teaching English as a foreign language, your time and input is extremely valuable and will benefit clients enormously. You can also find a large number of resources online if you wish to find more teaching ideas.

Remember the main aim of your lessons is to improve a client’s communication skills in English and in this way, to make their experience of living in the UK much more enjoyable and successful.

Teaching Tips

  1. Always try to speak a little more slowly and clearly, whilst maintaining your natural pronunciation (don’t exaggerate sounds or use ‘foreigner talk’.)
  2. Encourage students to communicate about their own lives and help them with any words they need as you go along. Using new words to communicate about your own life helps you remember them. Role-play useful situations: shopping, talking to teachers, going to the doctor etc.
  3. Get students to repeat things, ideally at natural speed. Repetition practice is extremely important when learning a foreign language.
  4. Reward success with praise and smiles. Try not to focus on problems too much but correct repeated mispronunciations when you can (students can often correct themselves if you prompt them.)
  5. Don’t correct all the time when trying to improve fluency. If clients have problems with some basic linguistic structures (in English we use ‘do’ to ask questions ‘Where do you live?’ when many languages say ‘*Where live you? or ‘*You live where?’) you may need to look for extra resources online to help.
  6. Get them to ask you questions as well as answering them.
  7. Encourage private study of any kind. They are living in an English speaking environment and so the resources available are very large. They may also learn from their children’s school books.
  8. Zoom is the best platform for online teaching and you can find out how to use it on YouTube.

Key resources:

Council of Europe:

British Council:



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