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How you believe humans acquire their first and second languages will likely affect how you teach English as a second language to your students. If you subscribe to the affective filter hypothesis of Steven Krashen - the language development and acquisition expert - for example, you may spend a lot of time encouraging your students to be more confident in themselves in an effort to help them progress in their abilities to produce English. (More about language acquisition theory)
Though the individual philosophy of English as a second language of teachers may differ, they share common goals. How those goals are achieved are based, in part, on what language acquisition theories you hold, whether you teach children or adults, as well as your individual teaching style and background.
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The main purpose of teaching English as a second language is to teach students English. That is basic. However, there is much more involved in teaching ESL than cramming new vocabulary into students' minds.
The teacher's purposes in teaching English revolve around her students' reasons for learning English. Students need English to communicate in their daily lives, to progress in their careers, to go to college or graduate high school or get a GED. These are just a few of the many reasons adults and children want and need to learn English.
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It is vital for the English as a second language teacher to incorporate students' life goals for themselves into her ESL teaching philosophy. It is the teacher's responsibility to help students define how they want to learn and how they wish to reach their goals. The teacher then utilizes her knowledge of teaching, second language acquisition and English to instruct the students, using the students' goals and preferred learning methods as a guide. Children's ESL learning is more structured than that of adults; however, teachers can still engage students by doing interesting activities with them according to what they are interested in and making it as much like play as possible.
Keep it real. Use as much authentic material as you can in your classroom. ESL students are there to learn English - English that is used every day - unstilted, perfectly accented English. Listen to the radio with them, read magazines, take field trips to restaurants, grocery stores, museums, and libraries.
ESL is also meant to prepare students, both children and adults, for living in (not completely separate from) the culture of the English-speaking community in which they reside. Sharing the student's culture and appreciating it in the classroom is important. Helping students navigate their ways through social interactions and in their communities, however, comes from a foundational understanding of the English speaker's culture. This can be taught in the ESL classroom.
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Theories and Life
Study linguistic theories, and apply them in your ESL classroom. However, remember to talk and listen to your students. Incorporate your students into your philosophy of English as a second language. What do they want to know? What do they need to know? What are their backgrounds, and what knowledge do they bring to the table? Life is the big world outside of the ESL classroom. Prepare your students to enter it with confidence, and teach them the skills to handle unfamiliar situations in their new language.