7 key differences between ESOL and secondary school English

Teaching English is a challenging and rewarding profession that requires different sets of skills depending on the learners’ background and objectives. Two areas of teaching English that are significantly different in terms of pedagogy and general dynamics are teaching English in secondary school and teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). In this blog post, we will explore the main pedagogical differences between these two areas of teaching for those thinking of transitioning from the secondary school classroom to ESOL.



In spite of the significant rise in the number of EAL (English as an Additional Language) learners in UK schools (see the BELL Foundation website), students are typically native English speakers who have already developed basic language skills.  On the other hand, ESOL learners are non-native English speakers who may have limited or no knowledge of the language.


Learning objectives and teaching strategies:

In secondary school, the primary learning objectives are usually focused on developing reading, writing, and comprehension skills in English. These skills are important for students to achieve academic success in their future studies. In ESOL teaching, the primary learning objectives are focused on developing the four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) and providing students with a foundation for fluency and communication in English. ESOL teachers aim to develop the learners’ practical communication skills, so they can communicate effectively in real-life situations.


Teaching materials:

The teaching materials used in secondary school are usually designed for native speakers, with a focus on literature, grammar, and composition. The materials often require a higher level of comprehension and analysis. In ESOL teaching, the materials are tailored to meet the needs of non-native speakers, with a focus on practical communication skills and real-life situations. ESOL teachers use materials that are easier to understand and encourage students to practice communication skills.


Classroom dynamics:

The classroom dynamics in secondary school are often more structured, with a focus on discipline and adhering to the curriculum. Teachers typically use a lecture-style teaching method where students take notes and complete assignments. In ESOL teaching, the classroom is often more interactive, with a focus on communication and engaging students in the learning process. ESOL teachers often use group activities, role-playing, and games to encourage students to practice their communication skills.


Cultural awareness:

Cultural awareness is more important in ESOL teaching than in secondary school teaching. Teachers need to be aware of cultural differences and adjust their teaching style to accommodate the cultural backgrounds of their students. ESOL teachers need to take into consideration different cultural values, beliefs, and practices when developing lessons and interacting with students. This is important to create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment for all students.


Language barriers:

In secondary school, language barriers are not usually a significant concern, as most students are already proficient in the language. In ESOL teaching, language barriers can be a significant challenge, requiring teachers to use different techniques to communicate effectively. ESOL teachers need to use clear and simple language, use visual aids, and adjust their teaching style to accommodate the learners’ language abilities.


Learning pace:

In secondary school, the learning pace is often set by the curriculum and the teacher. The teacher follows a set syllabus and ensures students complete assignments on time. In ESOL teaching, the learning pace is often set by the students’ abilities and progress, requiring teachers to adjust their teaching style accordingly. ESOL teachers need to be flexible and adjust their teaching pace to accommodate the learners’ abilities and needs.


In conclusion, teaching English in secondary school and teaching ESOL are two different areas of teaching that require different sets of skills and teaching methods. Understanding the differences between these two areas of teaching is important for teachers to develop the most effective teaching strategies to meet the learners’ needs and objectives. Teachers who understand the differences between teaching in these two areas will be better equipped to deliver effective and engaging lessons that cater to their learners’ needs.


Click here to hear Andres’s story of his transition from secondary teacher to ESOL teacher.

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