Is there a way to turn haters into lovers?

I’ve never had a student who would openly say that they hate my subject. Not right to my face anyway. I remember a few who did say they didn’t like English, though. These were either the students who I had just started teaching, so they had had some previous (presumably bad) experience, or those who I had been teaching myself for a while (and thus I felt it was me to blame for their lack of enthusiasm).

Needless to say, one should always be wary of taking things too personally. Let’s not bash ourselves too much about things we can’t control. Instead, let’s stop and carefully analyse all the possible reasons why students may actually dislike English classes in general. Here’s a list I’ve compiled for myself and those potentially interested.

  1. Some students simply find the lessons boring, no matter what; for the most part, they can’t relate to the topics typically covered in English courses.
  2. They reckon it’s not a serious subject with all those silly games and fun activities.
  3. They feel like English classes are a waste of time; after all, they can learn English from movies, video games and YouTube.
  4. They dread failure; they are anxious about tests and other high-stakes events which can spoil the joy of learning virtually anything.
  5. Although they don’t mind listening and reading, they hate performing in class. It is the productive skills, i.e. speaking and writing, which they find extremely threatening.
  6. They hate being constantly in the limelight; they find it particularly uncomfortable to expose their feelings and personal views.
  7. English classes may be hard to swallow for individualists who need their own pace and who feel the others are just holding them back (including the teacher). They may also feel the teacher’s methods are not suitable for them, e.g. they find the communicative approach to teaching an L2 totally off.
  8. Related to the previous point, they don’t enjoy pair/group work; they feel like they can’t learn much from their peers so they don’t see the point in collaboration of any sort.
  9. They hate being taught/told what they (think) they already know, i.e. they don’t see the value in recycling the language over and over again.
  10. They feel the lack of some sort of tangibility and immediate achievement; the outcomes and success may often feel elusive throughout the process of L2 acquisition, especially when they hit the plateau stage.
  11. They don’t feel comfortable in a particular group. They feel their level of English is not high enough in comparison with others or they feel other types of peer pressure.
  12. The lessons are potentially challenging for highly sensitive students who crave structure and certainty. Successful mastery of English is preceded by a long journey with lots of unpredictability along the way. It’s a highly individual process, too. Nothing can be fully granted to anybody at any stage. In other words, you can never promise that if a student does X, they will automatically achieve Y. Inevitably, this can be off-putting for some.

There’s a high probability that by reading the list, you’ll actually get to the bottom of the problem. For me, part of the mystery has been solved: it’s not just the teacher to blame in the end. Let’s stop trying to please everybody at all costs. As teachers, we can indeed adjust a few things here and there, but there are some issues that are too complex for us to fix for good, no matter how competent and professional we are. Sometimes, all we need to do is to accept the fact that each student is an individual coming from a different background. What I’m saying here is that there will always be some students who hate English. What is more important is that there will certainly be a few that will love our subject, and these are the ones we should focus on primarily because you know what, the ‘lovers’ may eventually pass some of their enthusiasm on to the ‘haters’. Also, and most importantly, by finding out what is actually so loveable about our classes we can eventually find solutions to some of the problems mentioned above.

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Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages and levels for almost 30 years. You can find out more about me and my passion for teaching here on my blog.

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