Helping students become independent learners in today’s English mania world

tedMovieLearning English has become the world’s new mania with about 2 billion people around the world trying to learn this universal language, says Jay Walker in this TED talk. There are many manias, and this one in particular cannot necessarily be categorized as something good or bad. The reasons for learning English are so many nowadays that it ultimately becomes a necessity that people and governments try to find a “solution” for. Some governments do standardized testing, others like in Colombia, demonstrate the use of English either through courses or tests which are requisites for graduating from higher education programs. The standards will continuously increase to the point countries can assure that their citizens are competitive in today’s world. This does not mean that the other languages are being lost, simply that we have a lingua franca that allows us to “solve problems”, as Walker puts it. It is truly a universal language that lets us communicate and that indeed is what we as teachers should be focused on in our classes.

The world has other universal languages. Mathematics is the language of science. Music is the language of emotions. And now English is becoming the language of problem-solving.” – Jay Walker 

As teachers there are many strategies that we can apply to facilitate learning a second or foreign language, but from my experience turning your students into independent learners is the best tool and strategy you can give them. This will make learning the language their responsibility, not ours; we are meant to be facilitators and the more we let our students take an active role in their learning process, the more they will go on to learn the language independent if we are or aren’t there as their teachers to guide them.

How to make our students independent learners?

These are some strategies that have worked for me in the classroom to make my students take responsibility for their learning process. I hope they work for you.

1. Students should always use a dictionary.  They should have an English-English dictionary ( or Thesaurus ( be it physical or as an app (it makes things so much easier). In class when vocabulary is requested have them refer to their dictionary. If they have a lower level and you find definitions are not for them, I’ve found that Google Images makes a great dictionary!

“Teacher, what is peacock?” Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 10.18.11 AM

2. Have students read out loud. When you do a writing exercise have students read their exercised out loud, so they can identify some mistakes on their own. Once they are done, whatever wasn’t identified by them is most likely an error not a mistake. (What’s the difference between an error and a mistake?). Have them keep a record of their errors so they can gradually become aware of them and correct them on their own.

3. Know when to correct. Correcting at precisely the right moment can make a difference. When is the right moment?

4. Make reflective questions. When teaching a specific goal, make sure that the linguistic and communicative objective is clear and that at the end of the lesson you question your students; this will let your students self-evaluate their learning process. Always give feedback that will reinforce or guide their self-assessment, but make it specific!

5. Create meaningful assessment instead of continuous testing. Keep track of your student’s progress and long term development through a variety of tasks that allow the use of the language. “Place as much value on process and progress as in the final product”- Edna Sackson

6. Make connections. Always make a rational connection with the knowledge they already have, their experience in the outside world and the language you’re teaching them.

7. Everyday English homework. Try to get your students in contact with real English as much as possible and to fulfill tasks that are everyday activities for them and will be meaningful to them.

There are many other strategies, but these are the ones I use the most. You can take a look at the following articles so you can find out more strategies to help you make your students independent learners. Trust me they’ll thank you later!

Some interesting articles 

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning

Independent Learning in the Classroom

Helping Learning Become Independent Learners

Tips to Help Students Become Independent Learners

Jay Walker Jay Walker: The world’s English mania #TED :