Thursday, 30 May 2013



I don’t normally run guest posts on this blog, but when the noted blogger Will Lake offered to write one, I jumped at the chance. (Notice I said ‘noted’ there, not ‘notorious’.) Here it is:


To quote Don, “Learning a second language is no walk in the park.” And I couldn’t agree more! But I also believe that teaching a second language, especially English, is equally no walk in the park! English is probably the most widely used language in the world and as a result, each and every person uses the language in their own unique way. Yes, sure we can give the students the basics they need to make the most of the language, to communicate with other speakers and to make themselves understood. The tricky part comes when they want to understand native speakers!

They ask: “Teacher, how can I improve my listening skills?” I reply (according my training, research and judgement): “Listen more!” They ask, “how can I improve writing?” Again, I reply ‘Read more!” But is it really that simple? I’ve started to wonder.

Let’s take a look at the way us ‘native’ English speakers use the language. Are you a Scotsman, Georgie, Scouse, Mancunian, Londoner or even from the West Country? Maybe you hail from the United States and have a deep south accent? Or you might even be of Indian descent and speak the lingo with thick Indian accent? It’s no wonder that students often feel flummoxed when trying to listen to English!

So why should we pity the poor teacher you might ask? Well, where do we as teachers, start to teach a practical listening lesson that actually gives EFL students the ability to listen to a native speaker speaking his (or her) normal everyday English? How do we explain all the different little sayings, slang words and everything else that every different English speaker uses? Ones that us native speakers understand fine! How do we explain that a ‘chuck’ in Manchester is a word that older women use to greet younger people, whereas in Australia it means ‘chicken’.

How do we sift through the world of ‘lol’, ‘whr r u’ and all the other acronyms, abbreviations that litter our everyday lives with the advent of mobile phones and the world wide web? Where in the world do we begin to teach students how we really use our language?

This brings me back to Don’s original sentence. “Learning a second language is no walk in the park”. Yes, I agree, unless they are living in an environment where English is spoken all around them, they will find it extremely difficult to get the stage where they can understand most of what us native speakers say. From a teacher’s point of view, the language is so vast, and evolving at such a pace, we find it difficult to know where to start! All we can hope for is that we teach them the correct way to speak English and that us native speakers start to use the correct way of speaking English sometime in the near future just to give students, and us teachers, a fair chance!

In the face of all these obstacles, I’ve seen some truly wonderful students over my few years of teaching English and if you apply yourself you can do anything! The students that find success in learning a second language are ones that truly apply themselves! The same goes with English teachers; the successful English teachers are ones that develop their skills and meet the needs of their students.


William Lake is a Lecturer of TEFL at Build Bright University in Siem Reap, Cambodia. He publishes a blog called <a href=””>Blog About ESL</a>.

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