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Teaching English to Absolute and False Beginners


Most ESL / EFL teachers agree that there are two types of beginning students: Absolute Beginners and False Beginners. If you are teaching in the USA, Canada, Australia, a European country or Japan, chances are that most beginners you teach will be false beginners. Teaching false beginners and absolute beginners require different approaches. Here is what to expect from false and absolute beginners:

False Beginners

Beginners that have already studied some English at some point in their life. Most of these learners have studied English at school, many for a number of years. These learners have usually had some contact with English since their schools years, but feel that they have little command of the language and therefore want to begin 'from the top'. Teachers can usually assume that these students will understand basic conversations and questions such as: 'Are you married?', 'Where are you from?', 'Do you speak English?', and so on. Often these learners will be familiar with grammar concepts and teachers can launch into descriptions of sentence structure and have students follow along reasonably well.

Absolute Beginners

These are learners who have had no contact with English at all. They often come from developing nations and often have had very little education. These students are often more challenging to teach as the teacher can not expect learners to understand even a minimal amount of English. The question,'How are you?', will not be understood and the teacher must begin at the very beginning, usually with no common language with which to explain the basics.

With these differences in mind, I would like to make a few suggestions about teaching absolute and false beginners on the following pages.

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