ESL Teacher Training Fundamentals - Part One

Posted by Bridget Manley on Oct 1, 2018 10:00:00 AM

In a perfect world, you could easily fill your staff roster with fully trained ESL teachers. But few things are perfect when you’re launching your own ESL school, or in school management in general. You may need to recruit teachers who have little or no training teaching English as a foreign language. As research has shown, ESL teachers need specialized training to do their jobs effectively. Simply practicing “good teaching” isn’t enough.

esl teacher training

Not sure what new ESL teacher recruits need to learn? Don’t fret. We’ve found the essential topics ESL teachers need to know and created a suggested course list you can use to create your own in-house ESL teacher training program. 

ESL Teacher Training Module 1: Foundations of ESL TEACHING

  • The Five Stages of Language Acquisition

  • Language Concepts

  • Factors that Affect English Language Learners

Module 2: Teaching Reading and Speaking Skills

  • Background Knowledge

  • Strategies for Teaching Reading

  • Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary

  • Assessing Comprehension

  • Promoting Self-correction

Module 3: Effective Teaching Strategies

  • Assessing Student Learning

  • Supporting Struggling Students

  • Recognizing and Alleviating Language Learning Anxiety

The first installment of this two-part series covers Module 1. Here, we’ll explore the key concepts in ESL learning theory that form the foundation of effective ESL instruction. The second installment, which covers Modules 2 and 3, outlines best practices for teaching key skills, gauging comprehension, conducting assessments and creating a classroom environment that supports student achievement.

We’ve included a brief description of each courses’ main content as well as course objectives.

When taken together, these courses give your teachers everything they need to know to become the kind of effective ESL instructors you’ll need to staff a top-quality school.

Ready to explore the role of an ESL teacher? Let’s dive in.

Module 1: Foundations of ESL Teaching

The Five Stages of Language Acquisition


  • Describe the five stages of language acquisition

  • Identify the key characteristics and learning needs of students in each stage

 Foundations of ESLLinguist Stephen Krashen theorized that people acquire a new language in much the same way children learn their native language: By speaking and hearing it in natural conversations. His theory of second language acquisition remains a widely accepted model for teaching English as a second language. According to this theory, language acquisition occurs in five distinct stages.

  1. The silent or receptive period: In this stage, learners can respond to simple prompts that require a nonverbal action or simple verbal response. These include instructions like, “Show me the elephant” or “Circle the dog.” Some students may speak very little or not at all during this stage.
  2. Early production: Learners in this phase start using simple but grammatically incorrect phrases. They can respond to simple questions using one or two words.
  3. Speech emergence: By this stage, learners have roughly 3,000 words in their second language vocabulary, and they use these words to construct simple sentences and questions. It’s at this stage that most English language learners begin reading and writing in English.
  4. Intermediate fluency: By this stage, learners are able to use more complex sentences, and their vocabulary includes 6,000 or more words. They also reach an important milestone: They are able to think in their second language.
  5. Advanced fluency: When speakers have reached the final stage, they are able to have fluent conversations in their second language. They need ongoing opportunities to have conversations so they can maintain fluency. ESL instructors who teach advanced fluency students often achieve this goal by focusing on content areas related to English, like American history and social studies.

 It takes most learners two years to reach the final stage of language acquisition, but developing mastery of a second language can take up to 10 years.

Language Concepts


  • Identify key differences between academic and social English

  • Apply effective strategies for helping students acquire academic English

Suppose you have an English language learner who converses freely with her friends in English, but she has difficulty comprehending instructions like, "Retell the story in your own words." What’s happening?

She’s proficient in social English, or the common written and spoken language we use every day. However, she’s struggling with academic English, or the specialized language necessary to succeed in school. Proficiency in one type of English does not guarantee proficiency in the other, so differentiating between the two is essential to offering timely interventions to struggling students.

Academic English is more complex and difficult to master than social English. Here are some strategies ESL teachers can use to teach it:

  • Start with social English as use it as a bridge to understanding more content-specific language.

  • Try activating prior knowledge to help students make connections to new academic vocabulary.

  • Ask compelling questions that require students to use higher-level thinking skills, even if they can’t convey their ideas fluently yet. Remember, English proficiency is not a prerequisite to stimulate advanced thinking.

Factors That Affect English Language Learners


  • Identify the main factors that impact a student’s language learning abilities

  • Describe the role that parents and the community play in ESL education

A range of internal and external factors influence a student’s ability to master a new language. The seven most crucial factors are motivation, attitude, age, aptitude, intelligence, personality and family and community influences.


Motivation is a critical factor in a student’s ability to acquire another language, yet not all motivators are the same.

  • Students with an integrative motivation are interested in the culture and people who use the target language and want to converse with them.

  • Instrumental motivation, by contrast, is driven by the knowledge that learning English is essential to the learner’s professional or personal goals.

  • Intrinsically motivated students are driven to learn a new language because they want to feel accomplished and self-determined.

  • Extrinsically motivated students, by contrast, are driven by external rewards, like feedback, praise or the potential for higher earnings on the job.


Linguistic scholar Rod Ellis describes attitude as the beliefs students harbor about the culture of the target language and their own culture, as well as their beliefs about their teachers and the activities they assign.

The relationship between attitude and achievement are mutually reinforcing. Students who feel positively about learning English tend to learn more, and learners who experience success in their English classes tend to adopt more positive attitudes toward English.


When is the best time to learn a new language? For many scholars, the jury is still out on that question. The critical period hypothesis posits that the pre-pubescent brain is most receptive to language learning, yet other research suggests that adulthood is the best time to learn syntax and morphology. Young children have a better chance of attaining near-native accents, yet studies show that adolescents learn new vocabulary faster than either adults or young children.

Regardless, studies indicate that age does play a significant role in language learning. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to respond to the unique aptitudes and needs of students at every age.

esl student


A student’s aptitude, or innate ability to learn a new language, is contingent on a distinct set of skills, like differentiating between different spoken sounds and recognizing patterns in speech. Some students are naturally more adept at these skills than others.

Researchers agree that having a low aptitude for language learning doesn’t automatically bar a student from acquiring a new language. It simply means that students with greater aptitudes for language learning will usually acquire English faster and more easily than those who don’t.


The traditional definition of intelligence — or “the general ability to master academic skills” — has limited application in ESL education. It can predict how well students perform on language skills tests, but it’s not an accurate predictor of their ability to master English for everyday use.

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, by contrast, identifies eight different types of human intelligence. Students with strong verbal-linguistic intelligence are adept at producing work that involves oral and written communication, yet any type of intelligence can be effectively leveraged to promote language learning. For instance, students with strong musical intelligence can retain sentence frames more effectively through song, while students with strong bodily-kinesthetic intelligence respond best to the Total Physical Response (TPR) method.


Some ESL students have higher self-esteem, which makes it easier for them to risk making mistakes when speaking or writing. Others are more inhibited and risk-averse. Still others are naturally more anxious about learning a new language. These and other personality factors will influence a student’s willingness and adeptness to learn English.

Family and Community Influences

Studies shows that parental involvement can make a significant difference in student achievement, particularly with English language learners. Home and community influences also shape a students’ perception of themselves and their culture, which in turn influences their attitudes about learning English. Positively engaging school faculty, parents and community members, then, is a critical component of their success.

Depending on their confidence in their own English speaking skills, parents of young English learners may be reluctant to participate actively in their child’s education. Teachers can invite parents into the process by encouraging them to perform simple but powerful activities at home. These include:

  • Ensuring their children complete their homework every night.

  • Asking their children to describe what they learned in English class that day.

  • Giving their children a quiet place to do their homework.

The ESL classroom is a community unto itself, and teachers can make sure that parents, community members and other stakeholders are welcome there. They can invite parents to participate in their children’s classes during the school day. Or, they can invite former students to talk to a class of adult learners and describe how learning English helped them pursue their professional and personal goals.

What to Expect From Module 2

 Be sure to check out the next installment of this series. There, we’ll uncover practical strategies for teaching, reading, comprehension, and vocabulary development, as well as methods of assessing students’ growth and alleviating language learning anxiety.

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