Teaching Material | Teaching English Better

Committing Re-Starters in the EFL classroom


Customarily, the English-teaching community views re-starters or late starters of English with a suspicious eye. In the late 20th century, the media, the industry and cultural transformations have embraced the use of English on a global basis.

By Marina Siskou, EFL Teacher

A consequence that is observed is a soaring population of learners who wish to commence and/or perfect their English. This student population commonly consists of learners who might have reached a decent point in their English studies that was required in their time. But now new challenges necessitate the completion of their studies. Similarly this student body also consists of learners who halted their second language education on account of unrelated causes.


The perception of restarting learners


It has been mentioned that EFL teachers tend to be skeptical towards commencers.


The commonest reasons for the perception of this highly sensitive ESL/EFL learning group include high degrees of hesitancy, low degree of persistent engagement to their learning commitments, high frequency of withdrawal, mental, sentimental and, in many cases, eventually physical disengagement.


Teachers, on the other hand wish for long-term collaborations in order to create a steady curriculum, a teaching and examination routine with minimal disruptions.


Disruptions are the nightmare of the teacher, especially the freelance English instructors as they can be left with an unpredictable void in the middle of the year and the subsequent predicaments that it ensues.


The teacher can create a feeling of a language learning community wherein every learner belongs. For the weakest students, the teacher can adjust the question, only to make all voices heard in the classroom. 


Approaching needs analysis of restarting learners 


Holistically considered, the needs and expectations of re starters are elusive. To a scale, this evasiveness is justified, as it happens with all people who lack meta linguistic background.


The ever-existent requirement that appears during their needs analysis is their articulate desire to “communicate effectively in English”.


A statement that does not serve to the enlightenment of the EFL teacher.


“Communication” covers an infinite spectrum of circumstances and human experience, a plethora of which does not even require verbal speech.


If we take for granted that the potential learners do mean the involvement of verbal means of communication, in which set of situations do they refer to?


 Which is their desired audience?


How do they envisage themselves in the mid-term?


An ambiguity accosts the reasons and expectations of the commencers. Consequently, a needs analysis questionnaire designed by the teacher can help restarters self-reflect, can force them disambiguate the cause that made them contact a teacher and assume the challenging commitment. The acquisition of a certificate is also another source of motivation.


The underlying reason might be conveyed as a needs analysis discussion unfolds. Sooner or later, the potential re-starters might confess that they have always wished to resume their studies. So ask them the reasons for the undertaking and their expectations in order to aid them delve into their real motives and needs.


Emerging elements in a restarters’ class 


Traditionally, commencers comprise the two extreme ends of the sentimental spectrum. Either they will be learners disheartened and demotivated, self-deprecating with regard to their progress, or suspiciously optimistic and enthusiastic. The EFL instructor cannot be drifted by any of those emotional states and predispositions. Both extreme reactions derive from fear which surrounds all novel endeavors.


Learners will gradually temper their responses and get accustomed to the fact that the learning procedure encompasses times of success and failure, and that they have to be comfortable with both realities during all learning stages.


Re starting learners’ characteristics and a word of advice


One major and persistent obstacle with the learning audience of restarters is the high probability of errors fossilization. It is likely for this target group to manifest perpetual resistance to absorb, practice and produce correctly the instruction, majorly grammar and syntax.


Frequently, re-starters will exhibit high degree of difficulty to re-learn the declension of verbs in various tenses, the correct use of the definite and indefinite article, the subjunctive case, the modality, conditional sentences and the reported speech. This difficulty might arise despite their initial relative easiness to understand it when presented by the instructor.


Learners’ instinctive response upon presentation of the grammar unit, for example of the Past Perfect, would be the fallacy that they remember it from their past education.


The reality though is that they remember the terminology and probably they remain oblivious to its formulation and use in written and oral speech production. One potential solution to counter the misconception of prior knowledge would be offered if the teacher assigns a task wherein they have to complete the intended grammar unit.


The task should be allocated prior to the presentation of the grammar unit and it should involve the predominant use of the intended material. Close texts can be designed to this end, open close texts; exercises that require reading comprehension are some appropriate tasks to be assigned beforehand. This is an effective tool to help them realize firsthand the need for fresh presentation, practice and production (The PPP TEFL teaching methodology).


Another key strategy to eliminate fossilized errors is consistent revision.


Assume, for instance a teaching session that predicts the instruction of the conditional sentences. During this session the focus is shifted towards the advanced notion of conditionality and complex grammatical-syntactical structuring.


The emphasis of the teacher is upon the presentation of the function and formulation of the conditionals. Always remember though, that a stable number of re -starters will have forgotten the fundamentals of the fist conditional, i.e.  the Present Simple tense.


Normally they will not ask the teacher to explain the Present Simple in the session devoted to the Conditionals, because they fear possible humiliation. Be proactive as a teacher and seize the opportunity to revise the present simple tense in order to include all learners in the procedure.


The second major obstacle that appears into the restarting learners is the unhomogeneity of their learning backgrounds. Bear in mind that commencers come from very diverse backgrounds.


In the setting of private language schools commencers are roughly classified into the levels, and this classification is predominantly based upon the learners’ stated desires, rather than on objective examination of needs analysis and placement screening. The equilibration of the learners’ level and skills requires time, revision, differentiated instruction and optimism. It is imperative to prevent learners’ estrangement that can arise either amongst the learners or between the learner and the target language. It is advisable to infuse a sense of belonging to all restarting learners.


The teacher can create a feeling of a language learning community wherein every learner belongs. For the weakest students, the teacher can adjust the question, only to make all voices heard in the classroom. People who endeavor to commence their English language education carry a sense of excitement and fear in varying proportions.


The approach of “teaching without teaching” for commencers of English is of utmost effectiveness.A key principle to this strategy is to inherently trust the learners, in the same context that a fresh starter should be trusted and continuously encouraged.