6 Tips To Communicate Effectively With ESL Students

9 May, 2023


In a global world with largely open borders, the volume of linguistically and ethnically diverse learners is rising. In London alone, more than 300 languages are spoken in schools, and 20% of the students speak English as a language in addition to their native tongue.[i]

It’s a well-known fact that English language skills can have a positive impact on income and personal growth. Hence, working professionals aspire to move to English-speaking countries for better job opportunities and quality of life. However, the road to assimilation is riddled with challenges, primarily, those related to language and communication.

In the past few years, a lack of in-person teaching while battling a global health crisis further disrupted learning for English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students who faced the two-pronged struggle of adapting to a new language and culture and navigating unfamiliar technology. In a 2020 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, teachers reported that at least 20% of English language learners faced greater obstacles than their peers during virtual learning sessions.[ii]

As COVID-19 restrictions lift and the demand for English language teaching grows, educators are taking steps to get creative with new tools, upgrade the curriculum, and improve the quality of ESL lesson plans. While each instructor’s approach to this problem may vary, here are a few useful guidelines for communicating, nay, connecting more effectively with ESL students.

  1. Practice Empathy Relentlessly

Language teaching, like any other subject in education, demands that the instructor possess a strong sense of empathy. Understanding ESL students and their unique requirements is the key to empower them to succeed. Mental health check-ins or just listening actively and attentively shows your students that you trust and support them.

Asking ESL students for feedback on the course work or lesson plans and encouraging open discussion in the classroom strengthens understanding, empathy, and mutual respect. Remember, not all students have robust support systems at home and undergo diverse experiences and challenges. Practicing empathy in every area of your teacher-student relationship can help instil a sense of confidence and motivate your pupils to succeed.

  • Focus On Vocabulary Building

A rich vocabulary can help students achieve greater precision and fluency in expression. Exposing ESL students to new words, especially, those that are relevant to current events and resourceful in their own diverse circles, enables them to understand and retain new words better through context and articulate personal experiences from their everyday lives.

As an ESL teacher, you can help enhance the linguistic range of your pupils in all major areas of language use like writing, reading, listening, and speaking. Introducing new words through storytelling, gamifying classroom sessions by rewarding students who incorporate less-used terms in their examples and discussions, and using visual aid to improve recall, are a few practical methods to develop ESL students’ vocabulary and enhance their power of expression.

  • Identify Potential Biases

Often, subconscious biases and prejudices can influence our thoughts and actions without us being fully aware of its presence. Consciously letting go of internalized judgements and introspecting on your own biases and reactions, can help make changes where necessary to how, as language teachers, we conduct ourselves in classrooms.

Many schools and universities also require a more diverse faculty to mirror the cultural heterogeneity of students and foster openness and inclusivity, which is currently lacking in UK universities based on a study by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).[iii]

Taking stock of your own biases is essential to making your students feel safe, welcomed, and valued. This ensures they’re fully focused on language learning and can participate with more confidence.

  • Use Relevant Tools And Technology

From language learning apps to online translators, there are tonnes of accessible tools and applications that can enhance the language teaching process by tackling specific ESL student pain points. For instance, a thesaurus app is a convenient way to discover similar or synonymous words and can help pupils expand their vocabulary by using it regularly. Many ESL students are used to thinking in their native tongue, and online translation tools can assist them in finding English alternatives at their fingertips.

Incorporating audio or visual aid, podcasts, captioning videos used in classrooms, or using AI content tools for sentence framing ideas, can help develop students’ vocabulary and support their language learning growth.

  • Use Cultural References

To build connections in the classroom with and among students, it is essential to foster inclusivity by covering literature from other cultures too since they are more relevant and relatable to students. While content written by English language legends like Shakespeare or Wordsworth are more likely to be found in traditional textbooks, revamping curriculum to include stories that students from diverse backgrounds are exposed to, strengthens their sense of identity and makes learning more engaging and contextual.

  • Customise Learning Materials

Traditional language teaching texts can be over-explanatory, excessively focused on rigid grammatical rules, or even dull and lacking diverse cultural contexts. To combat the challenge of engaging ESL students, developing authentic learning materials that derive from real-life experiences and contextual language use, can foster creativity and motivate students to learn the new language.

While resources like newspapers, podcasts, opinion pieces, and magazines ensure you have plenty of authentic texts to choose from, you must also consider your students’ ages, interests, and technical aspects like their CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) level, to make the right choices while developing customised learning materials.

However, there are too many factors to consider and very little time. But don’t worry! You can navigate such arduous processes with a tool like Text Inspector that provides extensive language analysis in a matter of minutes. Simply copy the text you wish to include in your syllabus and paste it in the Text Inspector box for analysis. You will receive a rating for your content based on 200+ metrics benchmarked against the CEFR, including information related to its difficulty level, readability, vocabulary use, and much more. This enables you to tweak your texts before sharing it in the classroom and ensures you develop optimal learning materials for ESL students.

Teaching English as a foreign language can be challenging. Therefore, we hope you found these tips useful and are excited to use such strategies to improve the effectiveness of ESL lesson plans, create an immersive experience for students from diverse backgrounds, and inspire them to succeed in what they set out to achieve. 


[i] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/sep/04/britains-multilingual-children-we-speak-whatever-language-gets-the-job-done-

[ii] https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-22-105815.pdf

[iii] https://www.studyinternational.com/news/lack-diversity-uk-universities/


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