Challenges in Teaching English as a Foreign Language


Teaching English as a foreign language remains one of the most rewarding careers in the education sector. Tutors must identify the emerging needs of every learner in order to deliver appropriate instructions. It is also agreeable that the teaching process can be demanding since there are certain problems that might arise. Competent educators should monitor every challenge to ensure that it does not disorient the learning process. This paper identifies a common problem in teaching English as a foreign language and the best ways to deal with it.

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Identified Problem

Learners of English as a foreign language experience various challenges that can affect their outcomes. One of the common issues is the continuous use of the first or local language (Xhemaili, 2017). Whenever providing instructions in English, many ESL teachers acknowledge that students tend to use their mother tongue frequently, even in the classroom. This problem affects the effectiveness of the teaching process, thereby obstructing the targeted students from succeeding in class (Wu & Wu, 2014). Educators should, therefore, consider a number of evidence-based strategies and approaches if they want to record positive results.

Evidence-Based Approaches

Illes and Akcan (2017) acknowledge that the use of the first language, whenever providing English instructions and ideas to foreign learners, is something that should be pursued with caution. Even though the strategy can improve the way, children process thoughts, ideas, and directions, Copland, Garton, and Burns (2014) believe it can deter learners from developing the intended competencies, ideas, and concepts in English. The usage of the native language in class can also undermine learners’ confidence. Students may feel that they miss much of the instructions unless they are translated into their mother tongue. Thus, tutors should also employ evidence-based approaches to discourage their students from using their native language in class.

The first approach that has been supported by many educationists is the provision of adequate time (Abdalla & Mustafa, 2015). Instructors who follow this strategy allow their students 5-10 seconds to recall the ideas gained in class. This moment of reflection discourages them from using their native language. The second approach is the use of an elaborated input strategy (Akbari, 2015). Throughout the teaching process, teachers can repeat instructions, paraphrase them, use appropriate syntax to empower their students. These approaches will make it easier for the targeted students to comprehend every idea. It is also well advised for teachers to be supportive throughout the learning process.

The use of visual aids, such as pictures, graphs, videos, or realia, is something that has been encouraged by many researchers in the education field. According to Wu and Wu (2014), this strategy makes it easier for students to recall specific English words or instructions. Visual aids also support the learning process by assisting students in absorbing the content faster and delivering quality results in a short time. Teachers who focus on these approaches find it easier to achieve their goals.

The concept of increased verbal communication or interaction is another powerful method for discouraging learners from using their native language in class. Teachers who embrace the strategy use authentic materials and stories to improve learners’ motivation levels and to prepare them to deal with real-life situations. The approach has been observed to create the best environment for sharing ideas and improving the targeted skills (Ostovar-Namaghi & Norouzi, 2015). The strategy also benefits learners’ English conversation practice.

The application of specific rules in an ESL classroom can encourage students to communicate in English. Such rules, for example, could be based on a carrot and stick approach: rewarding students who adhere to using English and penalizing those who continuously resort to their native language. The practice of evidence-based punishment approaches will facilitate the learning process and help to create an appropriate learning environment, which will enable students to realize their full potential (Macias & Sanchez, 2015).

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Appropriate Approach

Although the above discussion has outlined several strategies to encourage ESL learners to focus on English instructions, the use of strict class rules appears to be the most appropriate and feasible method. To begin with, tutors who focus on the educational needs of international students should utilize their competencies to design suitable rules and models for teaching (Ismaili, 2015).

Such regulations will be characterized by an effective penalty system. For instance, individuals who are caught communicating in their first language in class can be punished accordingly. The punishment system should concentrate on the needs of the learners in an attempt to empower them (Mohebbi & Alavi, 2014). For example, students who use their first language in class can be penalized by having them recite one or two English poems in front of their colleagues (Mohebbi & Alavi, 2014). This approach will prevent students from reverting to their mother tongue because many learners might not have the courage to stand in front of their classmates.

Instructors who decide to use this strategy can go a step further and have learners who communicate in their first language come up with stories or compositions and share them with the class. They can also be required to answer several questions posed by their fellow classmates (Xhemaili, 2017). This evidence-based approach is, therefore, useful and capable of supporting the needs of many students and making them successful.

Web Tool

Learners of English as a foreign language can benefit from a wide range of online-based platforms or tools that offer clear instructions, videos, and vocabulary lists. Some of these tools can also aid teachers to engage their learners, thereby deterring them from using their first language. One of the best web tools for addressing this critical challenge is English Central (“Learn English,” n.d.). English Central provides authentic videos and employs an interactive learning system to foster the learning process. It is online-based, and its web-link is “”

This web tool is developed to satisfy the unique needs of learners of different levels. International students can refer to it to check the pronunciation of complicated words or the ways to deal with grammatical mistakes. They can also improve vocabulary by learning widely used expressions. The tool also offers numerous videos that can ensure that every ESL student is engaged throughout the process (Sibomana, 2014). It is, therefore, appropriate for teachers to identify the unique needs of their learners and design the most appropriate model for using this web tool in class.


As indicated earlier, class rules and penalty systems as a powerful approach for addressing the problems associated with the use of the first language in ESL classrooms. This approach has been selected because it has the potential to deliver timely results and assist learners. The ideas behind the strategy are supported using the operant conditioning theory (Omomia & Omomia, 2014). This concept asserts that punishments discourage children from committing offenses or making mistakes (Pennington & Richards, 2016). On the other hand, the use of rewards can encourage students to embrace the most appropriate practices and eventually foster the learning process.

The second justification is that the penalty method or system augments the development of adequate skills and competencies in the targeted language (Omomia & Omomia, 2014). When a given student is forced to recite a poem or story in English, he or she will be keen to avoid grammatical mistakes, use new vocabulary, and improve his or her communication skills. The approach also supports the learning needs of different students by introducing new words and phrases to them (Fernández-Guerra, 2014).

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Additionally, the inclusion of an efficient web tool will stimulate the use of visual aids and discourage learners from speaking or sharing ideas using their first language. These aspects will create a favorable learning environment and deliver positive results. The most important thing is for educators to develop the most appropriate models for dealing with emerging problems and ensuring that the diverse needs of different learners are addressed efficiently.


This discussion has revealed that different problems will always occur whenever teaching English as a foreign language. This understanding should, therefore, encourage instructors to identify the most appropriate approaches for addressing some of these challenges. The use of evidence-based initiatives such as rules and punishment systems can guide and encourage ESL students to use English in class. This strategy can be combined with appropriate web tools such as English Central in order to deliver positive outcomes and make it possible for different students to achieve their potential.


Abdalla, M. E., & Mustafa, E. N. (2015). Problems of teaching and learning spoken English in Sudan. SUST Journal of Humanities, 16(4), 43-53.

Akbari, Z. (2015). Current challenges in teaching/learning English for EFL learners: The case of junior high school and high school. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 199, 394-401. Web.

Copland, F., Garton, S., & Burns, A. (2014). Challenges in teaching English to young learners: Global perspectives and local realities. Tesol Quarterly, 48(4), 738-762. Web.

Fernández-Guerra, A. (2014). The usefulness of translation in foreign language learning: Students’ attitudes. International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies, 2(1), 153-170.

Illes, E., & Akcan, S. (2017). Bringing real-life language use into EFL classrooms. ELT Journal, 71(1), 3-12. Web.

Ismaili, M. (2015). Teaching English in a multilingual setting. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 199, 189-195. Web.

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Learn English with the world’s best videos. (n.d.). Web.

Macias, D. F., & Sanchez, J. A. (2015). Classroom management: A persistent challenge for pre-service foreign language teachers. Profile: Issues in Teachers’ Professional Development, 17(2), 81-99. Web.

Mohebbi, H., & Alavi, S. M. (2014). An investigation into teachers’ first language use in a second language learning classroom context: A questionnaire-based study. Bellaterra Journal of Teaching & Learning Language & Literature, 7 (4), 57-73.

Omomia, O. A., & Omomia, T. A. (2014). Relevance of Skinner’s theory of reinforcement on effective school evaluation and management. European Journal of Psychological Studies, 4(4), 174-180.

Ostovar-Namaghi, S. A., & Norouzi, S. (2015). First language use in teaching a foreign language: Theoretical perspectives and empirical findings. US-China Foreign Language, 13(9), 615-622. Web.

Pennington, M., & Richards, J. C. (2016). Teacher identity in language teaching: integrating personal, contextual, and professional factors. RELC Journal, 47(1), 5-24. Web.

Sibomana, E. (2014). The acquisition of English as a second language in Rwanda: Challenges and promises. Rwandan Journal of Education, 2(2), 19-30.

Wu, R., & Wu, R. (2014). Challenges of adults in learning English as a second language: Focus on adult education in China. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 5(5), 1132-1138. Web.

Xhemaili, M. (2017). The influence of mother tongue (Albanian) in learning and teaching EFL. Web.

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