Five steps to your students’ success

The circumstances and objectives of ELT students around the world vary greatly depending on, among other factors, age, level of understanding, cultural differences and access to material. Subsequently, there is no magic technique that can be applied to dramatically transform the level of all students across the board, irrespective of the plethora of schools and online courses that claim otherwise.

Becoming proficient in another language can be compared to the transformation of your body – there is always the temptation of giving in to the quick fix diet plans that promise dramatic results within one month, but the chances of this yielding long term results are very slim. Despite this, there are a number of proven steps that can be taken by ELT students regardless of their place on the learning continuum in order to improve their general level.

1) Watch TV and films in English WITHOUT subtitles. OK, it may not be so fun at first as learners won’t understand everything, but if they choose to watch TV and films with subtitles in their native language then they will only tune in to the words that appear on the screen, and the English that they hear will not stay in their minds.

2) Listen to songs in English. Encourage your students to consider which style of music they like in their own language, and to find English songs that are sung in that style instead. The lyrics to most songs can easily be located online, and learning vocabulary associated with a melody is far more likely to lead to memorising than through reading alone.

3) Make it clear to students that a significant amount of the English that they learn in the classroom, and through doing exercises from text books, does not reflect the style of English that they will hear being used by native speakers in every part of the world. If they plan on travelling to a certain part of the world in order to work or study, it would be highly advisable in advance for them to research and become familiar with the regional variations of the style of English spoken by people from that part of the world.

4) Similarly to step number 3, explaining the use of contractions among native speakers is essential to communicating naturally and proficiently. The words ‘has’ and ‘is’ are both replaced with an apostrophe and the letter ‘s’ in the following two sentences:

Peter’s in London


Peter’s been to London

Replacing these words in this way, and many others besides, is common practice among all native English speakers, and will significantly improve your students’ level of fluency if assimilated into their learning practice – needless to say, the earlier this is taught and understood, the easier it will be for students to use contractions naturally.

5) Clarifying the different register of formality in spoken and written English will contribute towards students achieving a more comprehensive grasp of the language. Consider the terms ‘get a job’, ‘get better’, ‘get worse’, ‘get used to doing something’… All of these would be completely acceptable in a verbal context, but would sound unprofessional in an academic essay, report or formal email. Instead, we could choose synonyms such as ‘obtain a job’, improve’, ‘deteriorate’ and ‘become accustomed to doing something’.

Needless to say, there are plenty of other steps that can be taken in order for your students to succeed – but those included here are some of the ones I have seen have the most significant overall improvement on fluency levels of ELT students. However, as every ELT teacher soon becomes aware, the most significant factor on a student’s success is their level of motivation and reasons for learning.

Martin Wilson has been working as a teacher of English to non-native speakers for over 13 years, since qualifying from St. Giles International College, London, in 2004. His Trinity Tesol Certificate was followed shortly after with a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Philosophy from The University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Martin’s experience within the various fields of ELT has been plentiful, and has involved teaching children and teenagers in Thailand, as well as asylum seekers and refugees throughout Europe, and university students and business professionals in London, UK. In this series of blogs, Martin aims to share his insights into the world of ELT, including tips and tricks for students and teachers alike, in addition to observations and reviews regarding current available material and resources. Martin can be contacted at

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