How to Create an Effective Language Learning Environment for Students

By Jennifer Robertson Montes posted 08-30-2010 06:38


It’s important to create an environment that will allow students to succeed in the language learning classroom.  With such a wide variety of learners with different needs and goals, this can be challenging at times.  Below you will find a list of useful tips to help make your classes even more successful!

  • Come to class ready to go and full of energy.  The effective language instructor must be prepared, dynamic, and creative.  Humor always helps too!
  • Strike a balance between creating an environment that supports learners (sequencing of activities, vary activities for all learning styles, maintain an appropriate pace, give positive reinforcement), and also challenges them at the same time. 
  • For maximum progress, introduce the content at the level that students know plus a little bit beyond their current ability.  It is important to add new content in small “chunks” that students can comprehend, and then give them plenty of practice time.
  • Use an instructional design approach that starts with showing what the language looks like in real context, then give structured and less-structured practice.  When students are ready, provide open activities that allow students to create with the language on their own.
  • Establish your class objectives around language functions rather than vocabulary and grammar topics.  The vocabulary and grammar taught should be directly related to the language functions (objectives) rather than isolated vocabulary lists and rules to memorize.
  • Make learning clear to students.  Write the objectives on the board in every class and check them off as you go through them.  This will help keep all students “on the same page.”
  • Forget about quantity and go for quality.  One of the biggest hangups for instructors is “trying to get through all the material.”  Forget about that!  The goal must be student mastery of the course objectives, NOT getting through the lesson plans. 
  • Present content that students will encounter in the real world.  It must be authentic, relevant, engaging, and stimulating! Make all learning meaningful to the learners’ goals.
  • “Facilitate” the language learning rather than “lecture.”  Think of yourself more like the coach of a sports team rather than a teacher in a classroom.  Get the students practicing, practicing, and practicing. 
  • Take into account different learning styles and use a variety of techniques to convey meaning. 
  • Be sure to incorporate a variety of audiovisuals (picture cards, DVD, audio CD, Internet activities) and realia (newspaper ads, menus, travel schedules, etc.) in the course. Make plenty of use of the whiteboard for instruction.
  • Create an interactive environment that fosters a great deal of communication among learners.  Get students up and moving whenever possible.
  • Keep your teacher talk to the 80:20 rule (80 percent students are communicating, 20 percent teacher is talking).  Speak at a pace appropriate for the level and don’t use language and grammar that is too far ahead of the students.
  • Teach with the goal of speaking 100 percent in the target language, and stick to that goal.  When you absolutely have no other choice, have a “time out” as a last resort and clarify in English.
  • “Facilitate” error correction rather than give the answers.  Give students the opportunity to self-correct and then open it up for peer correction before giving the answer.
  • Encourage students to speak as much in the target language right from the very beginning.  Give them a list of clarification phrases that they can use when they do not understand something.  The new language system will be learned best by struggling to communicate one’s own meaning and by the negotiation of meaning through interaction with others. This is called “strategic competence.”
  • Always repeat, reuse, and recycle content so students see it over and over again. This is absolutely one of the most important aspects of language learning.  The instructor must ensure that past material keeps coming up again and again for students to achieve mastery of the objectives. 
  • Model all new activities so students know what you want them to do.
  • Use a variety of questioning and clarification techniques, and do frequent comprehension checks.  Use clues when students do not understand (pictures, gestures, body language, mini roleplay). 

Creating an effective language learning environment is critical for the success of your students, and it involves many different tactics.  While this list is not complete, it does give you a great starting point.  Look for more articles in the future on this topic at