What makes a perfect English language learner?

This is for TEFL teachers, and also any English learners who might be browsing the web for inspiring articles on how to avoid ending up on the TEFL student blacklist. We’ve all come into contact with English language learners over the years, but which ones have really stood out, made you smile, motivated you to make a career out of English teaching, or merely kept quiet and done their work?

There are many types of English learners: those who you grow fond of and wink at when you see them actually using the latest vocabulary in a class activity, those who you wonder how they would survive if you dumped them in the middle of Leicester Square with nothing but an empty oyster card, and those who you think might be better off in Australia, not to learn English, but get lost in the outback somewhere.

So what is the perfect English learner? I’m sure you all have your own expectations, whether high or low, but here are mine.

Pen or pencil, profe?
Don't care, just do the work.
Photo by Enokson
Pen or Pencil Syndrome

A perfect English student will always have either, but preferably both, a pen or pencil (sharpened would be lovely). There are three types of students who could potentially annoy the hell out of their teacher with regards to the pen or pencil syndrome.

First are the ones who forget them. I just don’t get how kids and adults can repeatedly forget their pen or pencil. It’s like if I turned up for work without my whiteboard.

“Oh sorry guys, I left my whiteboard at my grandmother’s house while I was showing her how to use the interactive pen, so we’ll have to huddle round my notebook.”

I guess it’s mainly the parents’ fault. But then again some kids could lie to their parents if they really wanted to piss them, and us, off.

“Pepe, have you got a pencil today?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Where is it then? I can’t see it in your folder or pencil case.”

“It’s right here, Mama,” says Pepe, holding up his middle finger.

Second are the ones who continuously drop them on the floor. Granted, the tables at my school are a tad on the tiny side, especially for adults, or gym enthusiastic adolescents, but is it really that difficult to keep their writing device near to their book?

Third ones, and the worst, are those who can’t decide which one to use. It drives me mad when students continuously ask me.

“Pen or pencil, Profe?”

“The blue one.”

“No have blue one.”

“Which is your favourite?”

“Pen, pen, pen.”

“Then use the pen.”

“But no is my book, and father say no use pen.”

“Then there’s your answer.”

“So, no pen?”

“No, no pen.”

“But Javi use pen…”

Sound familiar? So, to all those who want to be a perfect student, bring both a pen and pencil, glue them to your hand, and be bold enough to decide which one to use.

Avid listeners

While listening to Eminem rapping, or jotting down the vocabulary from Sex in the City are unlikely to help too much in a B2 exam, listening to music, series, and films in English will improve any students level. It’s not just about listening though. You have to be keen to try to guess the meaning of words you don’t know, try to identify accents, and keep a record of anything new you learn.

Most people are capable of listening, but the perfect students are the ones who listen and take on board what the teacher says, especially when we say things like ‘this might be in the exam,’ or ‘revise your vocabulary otherwise you’ll forget it,’ and ‘to avoid embarrassing situations pronounce beach with a long vowel sound.’

It’s those students who listen to the teacher when helping with pron, or giving tips for improving skills or simple instructions about page numbers and whether to use a pen or pencil, and telling dull anecdotes (and laughing at the useless jokes), who will go a long way in life, and may actually learn some English on the way.

Make an effort

The best learners are those who come to class, sit next to their mates and chat about their school day, don’t listen to the teacher, stare at members at the opposite sex, plan their evenings play station activities in their notebook, question everything the teacher says, argue about their marks, ask what we are doing, or what page we are on, try to check their mobile at every chance, see a new word and ignore it, don’t ask the teacher for help, not pay attention, write their homework on their hand, don’t do it, and forget about English until the next class. If you really want to be a perfect English learner, then do all of the above.

Part 2 on it's way shortly...

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