How to Teach Someone English (as a Foreign Language)

How To Teach English, Teaching Around The World

Many people think that teaching English‏‎ is simple. There is a common misconception that if you can speak the language, you can teach it but the simple fact is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Teaching someone English is challenging for lots of reasons.

It’s a bit like saying because I eat regularly I’m going to open a Michelin starred restaurant. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

So, for people who think it’s just a matter of walking into a classroom and speaking, this article is a very general introduction to teaching English for people who have never taught before. It gives just the vaguest idea of what is involved and how to go about teaching.

If you are serious about learning how to teach English to someone who speaks it as a second language then it may be worth looking at our online TEFL certification course.

Know your Students

Before you can figure out how to teach someone English you need to know why they are learning and what they need to learn…

People don’t just learn to dance. They learn ballroom dancing. Or Latin American dancing. Or line dancing.

And it’s the same with English.

People learn English for different reasons and they learn different sorts of English because of that. Why they want to learn English is very important to you, their teacher.

Some people want to learn enough English just to go on holiday and order a meal. Others want to be able to conduct international business. Others want to pass an English exam so they earn more money at work.

So why do your students want to learn English? In other words: what sort of English do they want to learn?

  • General English‏‎?
  • Business English‏‎?
  • EAP – English for Academic Purposes‏‎?
  • Or perhaps one of the other varieties of English‏‎.

The next step is to find out how much English they know already. Most people around the world have at least a very basic knowledge of English even if it is just a few words: pizza, taxi, police, chocolate, golf, jazz, ninja… These are all words which are pretty well understood everywhere in the world.

At the other end of the scale you might be teaching someone who has spent their life working with spoken English but finds it very hard to read and write in English. Or maybe someone who speaks reasonably good English already but wants to improve.

Obviously, teaching English to someone who knows only the basics will be very different to teaching a student who is already at an advanced level.

Finally you want to find out a little bit about what your students enjoy. A 16 year old boy will not enjoy the same things as a 40 year old woman and vice versa!

This process of working out what your students know, what they need to know, and what they find interesting is called a needs analysis‏‎ and is a critical step in teaching English. If you don’t do a needs analysis then you may well be wasting your time as a teacher.

Understand Your Own Grammar

So you know what your students like, what they want to learn and how much they know already.

But how much do you know?

You may well be able to speak English perfectly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know how English works. In the same way that most of us know how to drive a car, how many of us really understand how the internal combustion engine works?

You may not have a student ask you, “When do we use the present perfect simple‏‎?” in the first few lessons but you will very soon have a conversation like this:

Student: I have went to the cinema.
Teacher: No, I have gone to the cinema.
Student: Why do we say that?

So why do we say, “have gone” instead of “have went”?

So as a teacher you do need to have a decent knowledge of the basics of English grammar in order to explain to your students why something is the way it is.

NB: If you know little or nothing about grammar, or if you need refreshing your memory our Grammar foundation course for TEFL teachers might help.

What’s the Scenario?

So you know all about your students and you know about English grammar. Next comes the teaching set-up.

There are many different teaching scenarios and each one needs a different way of teaching. You might be teaching in a classroom in front of 40 students. You might be teaching a private lesson in someone’s front room. You might even be teaching online.

Each scenario demands different skills from you as a teacher.

What would you do if two students started arguing at the back of the class?

Or if your students wouldn’t listen to you and refused to take any notice of anything you said?

How much do you charge for a private lesson if you go to a student’s house or if they come to your house?

What do you need to consider when teaching English to someone who is Arabic? Or Chinese? Or European?

What happens if the boss in your school doesn’t pay you?

In other words, it’s not just about learning how to teach someone English, it’s about knowing how to adapt to the scenario, manage your students and understanding their needs… And so much more….

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that if you can speak English it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can teach it.

But the good news is that teaching English isn’t difficult. It’s not rocket science.

The basics of English grammar are reasonably logical and reasonably simple to learn, and classroom management (keeping students in order) isn’t hard to master once you know how.

So if you are thinking about teaching English, don’t just step into the room blind and start talking. Think about what you need to do and above all get a little training in. This will make you much more effective as a teacher and make your job much easier as well.

Related Articles

ICAL TEFL Resources

The ICAL TEFL site has thousands of pages of free TEFL resources for teachers and students. These include: The TEFL ICAL Grammar Guide. Country Guides for teaching around the world. How to find TEFL jobs. How to teach English. TEFL Lesson Plans....

read more

6 Tips to Make your ESL Classes More Effective

Teaching is undeniably a challenging job, in fact many consider it one of the most difficult careers you could choose. Nevertheless, being a teacher is an enriching experience. Through quality education and effective teaching methodologies,...

read more


  1. Aminah Naveed

    Ok I need some help I’m only 12 yrs old nearly becoming 13 in a month I’ve been addicted to Koreans for 2 hrs now and always wanted to go there and have a job there I think a good way is to teach English there but I don’t have the skills like how to teach or when how to explain it to them I’m always thinking early about jobs because in in yr 9 in highs school the time where u have to pic your courses for your future job so plz can u help me even though I’m really young I want to start early to make it easy for me in the future

    • Pete West

      HI Aminah,

      Your enthusiasm is amazing but you are far, far too young to be thinking of getting a job as an English teacher. By all means read about it and start preparing yourself. Our TEFL resources are a great place where to start. You can search them by key word and by category.

      And when you turn 17 contact us again and we will be more than happy to help you become a certified teacher of English so that you can make your dream come true!

  2. Steven Clark

    i have returned from Prague and met some interesting people but they are not reaching their full potential and I want to reach out to them (for free) to help them develop their english to help them further in life. How can I do this by keeping it simple for them to learn and understand from me but also for me to plan/prepare and execute something that is going to be effective, productive and that they will learn from?

    • Pete West

      HI Steven, our 120hr TEFL course would be ideal to help you prepare for the job. You will learn about current theories and trends in second language learning as well as the psychological, sociological and pedagogical factors which affect the learning and teaching of languages.

      At the same time the ICAL course will provide you with practical ideas and techniques that can help language learning in any situation: in a private lesson; school setting; business classes; missionary work; community project; online teaching; etc.

      By the end of the course you will be familiar with everything you need to make any lesson a fruitful and enjoyable experience for both yourself and your students.

      Alternatively, feel free to use our reseources to learn more about good teaching methods and practice.

      In any case, good luck with your endeavors!

  3. Ayesha Tabassum

    Hi, I am 18 , and have been living in Saudi Arabia since I was One . I am an Indian and one of our Arabic neighbour has offered me to teach her 10 year old daughter , English.
    So , just wanted to thank you that this article was really very helpful , since the girl has very little knowlege about English. I am tutoring her somehow tho as I know a little bit of Arabic .
    This is my first year in college as an Humanities student . I am planning on taking your 120 hrs TEFL course once I am done with college . had a little question , Will your TEFL certificate allow me to teach here in Saudi Arabia ? Like is it really internationally certified. I would love to know the answer.
    Have a good day ! ( By the way , your website is great!)

    • Pete West

      HI Ayesha, yes, our TEFL Certificate is accepted in many Middle East countries, including Saudi. Feel free to drop us a line for more info anytime. Good luck with your college studies.

  4. Anjana Ashokchari

    Hello… Im only 13 years old, but I have a friend who only speaks Hindi. I need to teach her English, but I don’t know what the basics are. Could you help me?

    • Pete West

      Hi Anja, feel free to browse our TEFL resources for ideas, tips and techniques. There is plenty of information, and you can search it all by key word or by category.

  5. Yevgeniya

    My niece just came from ukraine to the US. She will be taking esl classes in school to learn english in a few weeks, but I would like to get her prepared with some basic words before she goes to school. What are some words or phrases I should start with?