What are the Common Problems of ESL Students?

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This is about understanding the students feelings in the ESL classroom and it may help you teaching your students more effectively.

5 Students in a row who want to learn English.
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Common problems of The ESL student

For a variety of reasons, the English language is regarded as one of the most difficult to master. There are many reasons why English as a second language (ESL) students fail to acquire the language. It can be from the complicated spelling and phrasal verbs to pronunciation and strange grammatical structures.

However, this article is not focused on the technical aspects of teaching, it is more about the students feelings, but it may help in you teaching your students more effectively if you understand their fears and needs.

Things to Keep in Mind

There are several things you can keep in mind as a teacher while planning your classes and one of the most important is to make the learning environment comfortable and stress-free.

Learners will be less likely to become frustrated and more likely to comprehend what you’re teaching them if they are relaxed and having fun for a start. However, there is so much more.

Understanding some of these problems comes some way in helping solve these problems for the student.

Here are some of the problems I have found that students encounter in the classroom and online.


Learning English can be a daunting task. It’s common to feel self-conscious when practicing, especially in the presence of native English speakers.

These emotions occur when ESL students believe they are unable to effectively express themselves. Things that are ordinarily simple to ask for, such as “may I go to the bathroom,” become considerably more complex when they have to consider each phrase and how to integrate them.

It’s critical to practice as much as possible to assist overcome this fear of embarrassment.

Classroom practice.

The simplest method is to help the student practice in the classroom. I always start the English learning process by teaching basic and easy-to-understand phrases. I will teach things like, “Teacher I want a glass of water”. “Teacher, I want to go to the bathroom”. “Stand up”, “sit down”, “open your book” etc.

With a bit of work upfront not only will it instill confidence in your student, but it will also make it easier for you as the teacher. Once your students gain confidence in their capacity to communicate, they will be able to speak more effectively with others.

Another thing I like to do is say “you are better at speaking English than I am at speaking your language”. A good idea is to get them to teach you some basic words in their language as it shows that you are not scared about making mistakes.


Children and adults are frequently exposed to a “new language” in a classroom setting, which can result in an overly structured approach to learning the language.

in my opinion, there are better ways of doing it. There are now lots of different ways to make the learning experience fun and interesting. My ethos is “laugh and learn”

There are a few different teaching styles and techniques you can use in the classroom and online to make sure your students aren’t bored.

Teaching Styles.

The teaching style I follow is TPR or total physical response. In my opinion, it brings a lesson alive and is much more fun for the student. This is a little of what it is about.

Total Physical Response.

T.P.R is a language acquisition method developed by psychology expert, Professor James Asher. TPR uses a combination of language and physical actions to engage students in the language learning process.

Total Physical Response has a lot of benefits, particularly for beginners and young learners.

  • The pairing of movement with language is innately associated with effective learning
  • Students actively use both the left and right sides of their brains
  • It works with both small and large groups
  • It sharpens students’ listening skills
  • Students are not required to speak until they are ready to, therefore creating a “safe zone” that greatly lowers inhibitions and stress
  • Students will appreciate the change of pace and potential for humor.
  • Kinaesthetic learners (who respond well to physical activities) and visual learners (who learn best with visual cues) will get a lot out of TPR.

You can find out more about the other teaching styles in my post, Teaching English Abroad.

Student Topics.

You can start by selecting a topic that your students enjoy. It may be movies, video games, or anything else, and you’ll use it as a springboard to create your own “learning” around it. It’s critical to pick something that the pupils, not you as the teacher, are interested in.

Playing Games.

Bring your classroom alive by playing learning games. Make sure your games are both age-relevant and lesson-relevant. They should not be used as just having fun, there should be some learning intent involved with the game or activity itself.

So use some of the free resources you can find online and integrate them into your teaching, whether online or in the classroom.

Here is a link to my favorite top 10 websites for teaching English, which includes sites for games and other activities.

It also provides additional links to other online and classroom games and activities.

There are also the more traditional games that don’t need extra resources. This can help when you are teaching a lot of classes with many students in each class.

If you teach in Vietnam, class sizes can get up to and above 50 students per class, it can become expensive if you are constantly handing out paper-based activities.

you can play more traditional games like “Hangman” or “Charades” and “Stop the Bus” and so many more. Have a look here to find some more ideas. How to Engage Your Students


There’s no shortage of places for people to practice their English, from English coffee clubs to online communities like Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, they may make a great friend along the way. (But please teach some internet safety rules).

Assign a homework assignment in which your student must join an online group to practice English. They may also be able to provide language exchange lessons. Obviously, this is intended for older students and is not suitable for younger students.

You can also get them to watch a movie with English subtitles in the classroom and then ask them to tell you what is happening.

Or translate a comic book into English so you can understand as well. 8-))


There are a lot of things that we can do to help our students, we are only limited by our own imagination.

Who Am I?

My name is Stephen and I have been teaching ESL/ EFL for over 15 years and have my own school in Vietnam. I am also the author of this article and the owner of this website.

You can look at my last YouTube Vlog about TET in Vietnam below.

TET flowers

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