Challenges Encountered by Learners of English as a Second Language
Learning a second language is never easy. Learning English as a second language is even less easy. Particularly if you are learning English outside of an English-speaking country. For instance, English language learners in African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Zambia, Malawi, and some other African countries face a lot of challenges because English is not the native language of these countries. Just as there are problems faced in learning English as foreign language, so there are challenges in learning English as second language.
These English language learners often face the following challenges.
1. Unqualified Teachers
This is the most significant and the most overlooked problem. What makes this problem so difficult to solve is that, since many communities are English language learners, they cannot determine who is a good English teacher and who isn't. Whatever the teacher says, whether correct or incorrect, will be taken as correct by the learner.
This has led to a lot of confusion among learners because different teachers tell them different things. One of the main causes of this problem is the difficulty teachers have translating from their native languages. For instance, the word ‘cup’ is pronounced by different teachers as either [kap], [kop], or with a vowel sound that does not exist in English. For instance, the sound /Λ/ does not exist in the sound systems of many African languages, so even teachers sometimes have problems pronouncing it.
2. Limited Learning Environments
When I talk about limited learning environments, I'm not referring to the weather, the availability of furniture in the classrooms, or the location of the school. While all of these factors can affect learning, in learning English, what happens outside of class matters most. In most cases, students only make an effort to speak proper English in the classroom when they are under supervision. Moreover, students don’t always hear people around them speaking proper English. As a result, it becomes more difficult to learn correct English.
Learning materials refer to items that aid in the learning process. Books may be a necessary material, but books are not enough by themselves. Audio tools are also needed. As observed above, if a student sees a sound symbol in a book, how does he/she know how to pronounce it? The fact is, students of English Language graduate into teachers of the English language without ever getting to hear the correct pronunciation by a native speaker.
Students also study haphazardly. They have books to read but they can’t tell how certain words are said. How would a student know how to pronounce the word ‘ewe’? He/she must hear the right pronunciation from his/her teacher or from a native speaker of English. Students tend to learn from movies they watch but they often learn the wrong things because movies contain slang and dialects that are not appropriate in many forms of communication.
4. Students Don't Take Their Study Seriously
In this case, students often think that the same English they speak at home or on the street is the same they will write in their exams. However, because communication doesn't have to be grammatically correct in order to be intelligible, students don’t always always abide by the rules they learned in school and therefore do not get fully educated and/or pass their tests.
It is also the case that students don’t study English as much as they study other subjects. In most cases, students study English only in the classroom when the teacher is teaching. After the class, they drop their books and wait for the next class. They don’t study pronunciation, they don’t study essay writing, and they don’t make an effort to learn new words. They bring every little problem to the teacher during classes, even things they could just look it up in the dictionary. When learners make mistakes and are corrected, they often say “It is not my language after all.” This greatly affects their ability to learn English.
Even with qualified teachers, adequate materials, and exposure to native English speakers, there are still a number of problems that any ESL student will face.
1. Over-Use of Native Language in the Classroom
Students learn another language best when they're forced to use it. Teachers must be vigilant about requiring students to communicate in English and only in English—even if they're just talking to each other. If you know the students' native language, pretend in the classroom that you don't—as that will force them to make requests and respond to questions in English. This problem comes from the cultural demands of the family and society.
2. Students Become Too Dependent on the Teacher
Part of learning anything means figuring out how to solve problems on your own. If a student goes to the teacher with every little problem s/he runs into, then the student will never be able to learn the language on their own. If students insist that they don't know how to say or do something on their own, they need to be reassured that they actually can with positive feedback and encouragement.
3. Strong Students Dominate the Class
No matter how well students are sorted, there will still be differences in how much students know and how quickly they can learn. Setting the pace of the class to to keep up with the strongest students will leave the weaker ones behind. Weaker students shouldn't be forgotten in classroom discussions and activities.
For students who are willing to put in the effort, there are a number of steps they can take to improve their English language skills.
- They must be extra careful to be sure to use correct materials recommended by a reliable teacher of English.
- They must make a deliberate and conscious effort to learn with or without a class teacher.
- The student should get audio materials so he/she can hear the correct pronunciation of sounds and words.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to learning English as a Second Language?
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Jacob Ado Ama