Three Mistakes Teachers Make That Cause Learners to Fail

Three Mistakes Teachers Make That Cause Learners to Fail

Are you guilty of any of these erroneous practices in ELT or language teaching? Any one of them can easily derail the students’ efforts in language acquisition and learning or cause them grave problems. So, review these areas, make any needed adjustments to your teaching practice. Don’t you be a stumbling block to your learners’ progress.

1. Don’t adapt materials to the learning style and characteristics of the students

Unfortunately, the learning style most reflected in the classroom is that of the teacher. It is paramount that concepts and material be presented in a way most suitable for the learners. Jack C. Richards, principal author of the widely popular Interchange textbook series said, “Student learning styles may be an important factor in the success of teaching and may not necessarily reflect those that teachers recommend.” Why? Because teachers use their own preferences in the class room, not necessarily those of the students. Do an analysis of your class group’s learning characteristics, then apply the results to your teaching.

2. Follow the course book

A course book is usually not intended to be a “bible”, but all too often teachers follow it “religiously”. They do nothing else, nor include outside materials in their teaching. If you read the teacher’s notes that typically accompany an English or language text, you’ll most likely note that the course book is intended to be a guide for teaching with supplementary materials widely used to expand, deepen or reinforce presented materials and themes. Use the course book sequence as a guide. Freely supplement its exercises and course materials with your own creations or at the very least with materials adapted from other sources. As mentioned in point number one, plan your lessons and materials to meet the needs, learning styles and characteristics of your learners.

3. Don’t encourage and promote language practice outside the classroom

With an alarming number of schools and institutes decreasing student to teacher classroom contact hours per week it is essential for learners to receive additional practice and input. There are requirements of as little as four hours per week or even less in many publicly or government-funded educational centers. Can a student really learn a language in only 45 hours? Or put it this way, is it reasonable to expect mastery of any sort in a language after six or seven days in a foreign country where that language is spoken? Spread that contact intensity over a six-month period; does that make language learning and acquisition better or worse? Now, throw in the learners using their first language half of each day of language learning and you have a situation degraded to a nearly impossible state.

Finally, factor in class and semester breaks of several weeks per year and it’s certainly no wonder Jorge, Chen Shen or Efrosini can’t hold even a basic conversation after studying English (or another foreign language) under these conditions for two, three or even more years. Encouragement and promotion of foreign language practice outside the class room is absolutely vital to the success of the learners.

So again, don’t you be a stumbling block to your learners’ progress. If you are guilty of any of these erroneous practices in ELT or language teaching, make any needed adjustments to your teaching practice ASAP. Then watch your learners grow, improve and practice their new language like never before. Please feel free to contact me with your questions, comments or requests.

Written by Larry Lynch
Prof. Larry M Lynch is an expert author and photographer offering Web Content Writing Services for top-quality articles on: Education, Language learning, Salt and Fresh water fishing, exotic foods, South American travel and culture, Ethnic issues – Blacks, Latinos, Indian native tribes, Health, Internet business resources and more… His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape From America, Mexico News, Brazil magazine and hundreds of sites online. For free sample articles and available web content email:


  1. Kieran

    Another factor to take into account is the number of students in the classroom. It’s not easy organizing a stand-up oral activity in a class of 30 kids. Thanks for the advice.

  2. Natasha

    I believe this is something any dedicated teacher learns through experience. However, the article is very good for teachers with no or little experience to learn from the mistakes of others and not one’s own.

  3. Marcia

    What I see nowadays is: teachers not interested in teaching and students not interested in the learning process. I’ve been teaching for some years and what I hear from my students is that they are interested in showing their parents what grade they get. I also see my colleagues not interested in changing anything, but follow the methodology the book offers. They go straight from beginning to the end of the book. I go the other way: offer students a great variety of resources: internet texts, games, thematic class(ex. today we are going to pretend we are in a supermarket. I would say it is an exhausting process, but rewarding as well.

  4. Claire

    Teachers who are guilty of following the textbook so strictly can simply be described as lazy. Not only does it bore the students but eventually bores the teacher to death too! With the material being presented in the same old format in each level, students know what is coming next and how it’ll be taught… they may as well take the textbook home and do it on their own! Put yourself in THEIR shoes, would YOU like to be taught another language in the same way you are teaching them? Could you trudge through a Spanish textbook day in day out hoping that you won’t get bored? Think about your students for once as it may change the way you teach!

  5. Andy

    Whilst I agree with the basic criticisms of the ‘textbook’ approach in the article, I find it astounding that many/any EFL teachers still adopt it. It is indeed the epitome of laziness, and those that do it should consider a career change. I have never used a text book universally, and nor do I feel the need to. As others have said: the internet is there to be exploited, and if a teacher cannot compile enough interesting material themselves, again a trip to the ‘Jobcentre’ is in order. In their defence, I would suggest that the approach of CELTA training hardly prepares new teachers to be independent in their thinking where this is concerned. Schools’ managements would also benefit from an attitude adjustment.

  6. Lydia

    Re. learning styles of the students – while it is important to take them into consideration, let’s not forget learner training should also be part of effective language teaching. I mean it’s also a teacher’s responsibility to lead the students to a better way of learning a language. For example, the first thing many students do when reading an English article would be checking every unknown word in a dictionary – that’s their learning style. But shouldn’t the teacher guide them to becoming a more efficient reader by following a different routine? For another example, many students learn vocabulary by copying them in a notebook with translations in their language. Again, that’s their learning style. But shouldn’t the teacher introduce better ways of learning vocab, e.g. using context, collocation, etc.?

  7. Angie

    Yeah, it’s hard to believe that some teachers don’t do this, but (sadly!) it’s true. Some of them just don’t bother – it takes time, creativity, you might lose control during the lesson… so… what’s the point? I do believe that learning a language should be fun – not all the time, but most of it… So we need to adapt a lot – especially if we teach teenagers, because they are really choosey and don’t like so many things… which makes our job more difficult… but challenging and interesting at the same time. So get rid of all the boring stuff in the course books – use your own thing, be creative and take chances – you’ll see that it’s worth it! And your students would be way happier for sure! :)

  8. Diana

    This was a useful article, and something I am only too aware of. As a totally new teacher, I’m building up my own resources from scratch, which is quite a hit-and-miss affair. It is also incredibly time-consuming, especially under the daily pressure of planning lessons. My students are my ‘guinea-pigs’, and it’s a very sharp learning curve discovering what they enjoy and what they don’t! I’ve suggested a ‘conversation club’ in my college; the students are keen, but of course there is no funding for this, so if I do it, it will be in my own time, and unpaid.

    I was very interested in what Phil wrote about using song lyrics. I would love to do this, but can’t find anything suitable for Elementary (Entry 2) students. (I’m obviously looking in the wrong places). Phil, you said you could ‘go on and on’ – any suggestions for lower level students, that they have some hope of understanding??

  9. Wasim

    I always prefer providing my students with a variety of activities. I never become the slave of prescribed books. But what shall be done with the management who constantly asks for the book to be finished?

  10. Priscila

    This is a very interesting article indeed but we have to look at the real world. Let’s face it some teachers still do not have access to the internet and they are underpaid and the school does not provide them with extra material which means the teacher has to pay for the extra material with his/her little money. And what about the institutions which only see learning a new language as a business? They don’t care about extra material and extra activities, they just want you to finish the book within a certain period of time which leaves you with little freedom to try anything besides the course book. That is the reality for many language teachers.

  11. Yoan

    This is a great debate. It shows that most teachers do care about our students. In my case I’m very clear about how to avoid the second and third mistakes, however the first one (Don’t adapt materials to the learning style and characteristics of the students) even when I try, I feel I need more training and materials to reach a concrete procedure in this process of working with learning styles, needs of students and their characteristics. The assessment becomes the hardest part to match in this level of individual needs. There should be a methodology to provide a coherent process in the assessment for learning, beginning with diagnose, having a placement test, moving through a training process and having a try to certify a language level to move on again and improve not only language but autonomy. To find a methodology to fit all learners is a difficult but necessary task. Any suggestion is welcome. Thanks.

  12. Ruth Wilson

    Such mistakes can be made by beginner teachers.
    The more experience you have, the better you understand how the learning process works. And I’m sure almost every experienced teacher has his own tactics, and he finds an individual approach to his students. Or do I idealize everything?

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