Using Technology to Simulate ESL in the EFL Classroom (by Whitney Hunter)

I taught English in South Korea for three years, and during that time, I was exposed to many different methods for teaching English as a Foreign Language. However, in much of South Korea, learning English is valued as more than a foreign language. Looking at many street signs in South Korea, one would find English along with Hangul (Korean). In fact, due to the large amount of trade between Korea and the United States, many companies require employees to take an exam proving fluency in English in order to be hired or promoted. In these ways, one can see that many Koreans value knowing English as a second language, not a foreign language.

With this emphasis on using English in a country with a different primary language, I saw many ways that educational institutions tried to compensate for the fact that it was still an EFL environment. By EFL, I mean an environment in which students learning English spend most of their time surrounded by and using a language other than English.

From an educator’s standpoint, the point of moving EFL education towards ESL education is to bridge the gap of sometimes using English towards using English regularly, along with your first language. The goal here is to mimic an ESL environment by giving your students access to speaking, hearing, reading and writing English outside of the EFL classroom as much as is reasonable. This is because the more exposure that your students have to English, the more confidence and fluency they will be able to gain.

Here are some of the ways that I saw students gain more access to English:

Phone Calls
At some schools, an English teacher or tutor (henceforth teacher) will have a weekly phone call with students. First, the teacher will have a short informal conversation with the student, such as “How are you doing today?” “What did you learn in school today?” Next, the teacher will ask the student the key question that they have, which will require the student to answer in a structured manner, giving reasons and details. After the student has given their answer, the teacher will paraphrase what he or she heard the student say and ask the student to confirm if the teacher had understood them correctly or the student will clarify his or her answer. In the final step, the teacher will ask the student to answer the question again, like a “final draft” of his or her answer. This helps the student to refine their listening and speaking structure when they answer questions. A phone call can also be an opportunity to discuss homework problems or literature outside of the classroom.

From personal experience, I can say that a phone call like this can be helpful to language learners, whether in an EFL or ESL environment. When I was in South Korea, I took Korean lessons once a week. I found that in my Korean lesson, I could understand and speak Korean a lot easier than I could outside of my lesson. I think this was partly because as a second-language speaker, it can be intimidating to use your beginner-level language skills with people who might not be as helpful or flexible as your teacher. Further, sometimes students relate language knowledge to specific places. If you only study in one location, such as your classroom, than you might find it difficult to retain your skills in other settings, such as the market, even though you may have studied those words earlier that day in class. Therefore, having a phone call outside of class can be really helpful for using the language you are learning in another setting.

In keeping with the concept of taking English learning outside of the EFL classroom, the Internet provides numerous opportunities for student to read and write in English at home. This isn’t simply doing homework. With blogging and social networking platforms, the homework possibilities become so much more with the added element of interactivity. A teacher can set up a class web page or blog and require students to respond to a question each night. This simulates a journal; however it takes the journal to another level because instead of it being a personal journal that is only sometimes shared with the teacher and classmates, it will always be viewable on the class’s web page or blog. By reading each other’s comments and responding, the students can also learn from one another.

Learning Management Systems
The best advancement that an EFL institution can make in trying to simulate an ESL learning environment is investing in a Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS can provide a wealth of opportunities for EFL students to engage with English outside of the classroom by sharing data, such as videos and documents. Students can also collaborate on the LMS, perhaps working together with live video chat options. Teachers can require their students to keep a study group and work on projects together outside of class. With the study group taking place on the LMS, it takes out the hardship of meeting in person for a group project; instead, students interface with each other in real time on the LMS and still get access to improving their language learning outside of the classroom. Another strength of the LMS is that it has limited public access, protecting your students’ privacy.

In this age, there’s a lot of technology that we can use to simulate an ESL environment for our EFL learners. There are many practical ways to integrate technology into our lesson plans so that students can gain confidence in using English as a second language, no matter what geographical barriers they may face. Access and practice hold the key, and we can learn how to improve our students’ access to education and practice by learning from others.

Note: This article by Whitney Hunter originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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11 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    Thanks, Whitney!

    The idea of using phone calls for additional contact time is a good one. Some of my students also like to use email for more language practice. For many of my students, a phone call in English is beyond their ability, but community by short email messages is possible. It also gives me a better idea about their language level than I can sometimes get in class.

    When you had students using LMS, were they platforms created by the school you worked for? Or were they adapted from 3rd party platforms (like Ning, for example)? Did you find that students needed support in using an LMS with navigation in English, or was the navigation in Korean?

    Fascinating ideas, Whitney. Thanks again!


    • Hello Barbara,

      Thank you for your thoughts. I like your use of short email messages on two counts: firstly, like you said, some students’ ability is not to phone call level yet, so, email messages can help students to increase their ability without freezing up; next, in my experience writing ability develops very slowly and in many classrooms is not emphasized as much as conversation or test-taking English skills are, so giving students a chance to get more frequent feedback on their writing can really help them to develop their writing.

      In response to your question, the LMS was created by the school I worked for and all of the navigation was in Korean except for course-based content, which was at or just above the students’ tested ability level. The younger students still had some trouble, but the older students didn’t have trouble with it. This school year, I am going to try a free Google Apps program called LearnBoost and a class webpage to supplement having such a comprehensive LMS.

      Thank you again for your thoughts and question.


  2. Hi Whitney (and Barb !)

    Great post and what that I can very easily identify with having taught for 3 years in China.

    I too think the phone call idea is great. Of course it depends on the number of students and the willingness of the teacher, but from a language learner perspective it is one of the tougher challenges out there. Talking with someone every now and again could ease some of that “unknown” environment attention and really help SS become more comfortable.

    As Barb says email is another important environment and with that and the telephone I think they might very well be the two situations our SS will be most often faced with in their professional lives.

    I too am interested in what LMS platforms you used. It really depends so much on schools and school policy, but there are tons of mainstream and less mainstream options available.

    Cheers, Brad

    • Hello Brad,

      Thank you for your thoughts.

      I agree with you regarding the challenges of a phone call, particularly the number of students, willingness of the teacher. Another challenge that your response reminded me of is potential privacy issues; certainly most schools do not have the budget for a quality control program. Instead of a phone, perhaps Skype would be best suited, due to the ability to use the chat feature, share documents (even short ones), and use video even with multiple parties. A teacher could hold short scheduled study sessions or give feedback at a scheduled time, so as to not “always” be at work.

      I agree with you about e-mail. I recently read an article about how teachers can give ongoing feedback to students via e-mail, and it’s useful for sure. I found few of my students K-8 utilized my e-mail address, but maybe I should have encouraged them to do so more frequently!

      The LMS program was created by the school and mostly in Korean; however, the course content was in English at or above the students’ tested ability level. This year, I am going to try out a combination of a class web page and use the free Google App LearnBoost to supplement some of the features I’ve gotten used to having access to.

      Thank you again for your thoughts and comments.


  3. Kevin Cozma says:

    I enjoyed reading your article, Whitney. I liked the part about the blog. I have one for students to read and comment on, but I will take your advice by using it more actively. I will post some questions for the students to answer. Thank you.

    One informal way I try to have students use English outside of the classroom is by going out for meals with them in small groups. Since I don’t read Japanese well, it gives the students an opportunity to describe the foods on the menu.



    • Hello Kevin,

      Thank you for reading the blog and for your thoughts. I love hearing that you’re interacting with students using a blog and taking the English lesson outside of the classroom by having meals together. I think these kinds of experiences can create engaging implicit opportunities for learning and also create memories while building lasting relationships.


  4. The point about adding extra exposure to the language outside of the classroom is a very important one and certainly deserves to be highlighted!
    In Korea can students watch films in English that aren’t dubbed? Or perhaps listen to foreign radio / news broadcascts in English? In Israel foreign programs are just captioned, not dubbed and many people find that helpful.
    Great post!

    • Hello Naomi,

      You bring up some interesting questions. Students have the option of watching shows and movie rentals without subtitles. Aside from animations, most English movies have subtitles instead of dubbing at movie theaters. Some teachers use a lot of authentic materials from the internet, such as foreign radio and news broadcasts–these opportunities are great because it exposes students to different types of speaking styles, such as different dialects, intonations, accents, etc.

      Thank you so much for your feedback!


  5. kefyalew says:

    i am very excited reading your information concerning use of simulation 4 teaching language

    • Thank you, kefyalew! The more English an EFL student can be exposed to and encouraged to interact with in a meaningful way that is fun for them, the better!


  1. September 29, 2011

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