Learning English as a Foreign Language: What Teacher Should You get for Your Child?

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Learning English as a foreign language can be a daunting task. Students from different nationalities often face difficulties caused by the disparity between their native language and English. Students looking to study in Britain face the IELTS or equivalent examinations, testing their ability to listen, read and speak English confidently and independently. Having the right teacher, a specialist in not just teaching English, but teaching English as a foreign language, can be crucial to a student's language development.

u2 mentor, Francesca (English Language & Literature, Oxford University), gives an overview of her experience qualifying as a specialist English Foreign Language Teacher and what to look out for in an equivalent teacher for your child: 


What To Look Out for in a Foreign Language Tutor: An Oxford English Graduate's Experience

As an English Language and Literature graduate from Oxford, I decided to enrol in a month-long full-time course, learning how to teach English as a Foreign Language. As a result, I have taught EFL (English Foreign Language) students for a year and have a number of insights which I will share with you:

1. Check whether your tutor has an English Foreign Language qualification

Whilst it is possible to have good teaching with an English-speaking tutor from a respected University, if your child is struggling to learn English as a second language, it could be beneficial to  choose a tutor with a specific EFL qualification. The most important thing, whether as a prospective teacher or as a parent trying to find a good fit for their child, is to research how respected and thorough the tutor's qualification is. Unlike a University education, where the graduate’s grade and success is often largely their own and a large component of their work is self-taught, how to teach can’t be learned from books. An EFL teacher will ideally have done at least 120 hours of taught study and will have a qualification awarded by a respected governing body. This means that the teacher will have undergone extensive schooling in all the areas of EFL teaching, as well as having been taught how to lesson-plan carefully and will have had the opportunity to observe several classes as well as to teach their own and receive thorough feedback from experienced teachers.

2. What counts as a good certificate?

A good certificate covers not only the practical experience, but the theoretical underpinnings of EFL teaching. During my course, we had four assignments to complete – all of which involved careful thought and study, attentive observation of our students, and reflective evaluation of our progress and abilities. Having an exceptional academic record does not necessarily translate into good teaching. I soon learnt that despite my Oxbridge education, excellent research and essay writing skills and strong command of English, teaching English as a foreign language required a thorough understanding of my students' needs that took a length of time to learn. Each student must be listened to and given equal and ample opportunity to speak, my students must thoroughly understand the grammar I was teaching them and each stage of learning must be walked through thoughtfully and logically.

A good certificate is not the be all and end all of EFL teaching. Much of the above can and will be learned on the job. Nothing replaces years of experience – but the best teachers will have both a respected certificate AND experience. 

3. So what qualities will a good foreign language tutor have?

A good EFL teacher will put all of this experience into practice. They will:

  • Have an exceptional academic record from a respected University, with a strong understanding of the English language.

  • Excellent communication and written skills.

  • Ability to inspire their students with general confidence and motivation through enthusiastic, interesting teaching.

  • Be creative: they will come up with creative ideas and ways to engage their students

  • Know how to structure a lesson and how to engage both passive (reading, listening) and active (speaking, writing) skills.

  • Understand cultural and linguistic differences: Different nationalities will face different problems caused by the disparity between their native language and English. While individual students will, of course, face individual problems, there are certain issues that are far more likely to come up for students from particular countries, whether issues of tense, word order, pronunciation etc. One of the key resources that I was introduced to on my course was a book by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith called ‘Learner English’, which explains in detail all of the potential problems that arise from this – which EFL teachers call ‘interference.’ For instance, Chinese and English are very different phonetically, and some English phonemes don’t have Chinese counterparts, which inevitably causes comprehension difficulties. Another book that I’ve found extremely useful in my teaching has been ‘Ship or Sheep’ by Ann Baker, which uses the concept of ‘minimal pairs’ - isolating two phonemes that language learners have trouble distinguishing between, and providing examples for students to try. Japanese students, for instance, have trouble with /l/ and /r/, so the book will help them pronounce the difference between ‘lead’ and ‘read’, ‘light’ and ‘right’ etc. This has been infinitely useful when teaching: instead of being taken aback when I come up against an obstacle, I can consult tried-and-tested textbooks that I know are specifically designed to help teachers overcome that particular problem.


These are a few of the things to expect and look for when finding an EFL teacher for your child, as well as things for a prospective teacher to expect when enrolling on a good EFL certification course. It can be a real joy for both the teacher and the learner when the teacher is confident in their knowledge and abilities, and when their students can feel themselves learning and progressing. 

By Francesca (English Language and Literature, University of Oxford)

Many of u2's mentors have taken qualifications to teach English as a foreign language and are familiar with English examinations for foreign students such as the IELTS. If your child is in need of a specialist, we'll pair them with a suitable mentor from Oxford or Cambridge University.