The Aims of Teaching English

By | December 26, 2016

The English language has a unique and dominant role to play in the world. There are an estimated 1 billion people in the world that can speak English either as a native language or a second language (Wikipedia).

There are many different aims when teaching English and it might differ when teaching it to native speakers or second language speakers. This blog post is going to focus on the aims of teaching English to second language learners.

It’s good practice for an ESL teacher to write down the aims and objectives of a course or even a class. It’s not so common to think about the aims of teaching English in general. Basically, the ultimate aim is for the student to be able to communicate effectively in English. This aim can be split into lots of smaller objectives.

The main objective of teaching English is split into 2:

  1. The Language Aspect: includes words, sentences, paragraphs, pronunciation, spelling and grammar.
  2. The Literature Aspect: includes the expression of ideas, feelings and experiences.

When looking at the Language Aspect, there are 4 main skills that need to be developed; reading, writing, speaking and listening. At the same time as developing these skills, the student needs to use the language correctly, this involves using grammar correctly as well as establishing the appropriate relationship between the different linguistic components.

Some cognitive objectives would be contributing to the student’s personal, intellectual and professional growth.

At this stage we need to consider the individual aims of the students when learning English. A teacher’s aims and objects should reflect those of the student. For example, if a student only wants to learn enough English to carry out the duties of their job, the teacher’s aims should be to provide the student with that knowledge.

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When considering the student, we should look at the difference between English as a Second Language and English as a Foreign Language because undoubtedly they will have different aims. English as a second language is taught where the local language isn’t English. For example, a Japanese student studying English in Japan would be an ESL student. However, an EFL student would be learning the target language in a country where that language is commonly used. For example, a Japanese student learning English in London would be an EFL student.

The Aims of Teaching EnglishIn most cases, the EFL student will need to use the language for everyday life and will have a communicative need where speaking and listening are probably the most important. In the case of an ESL student, they are more likely to use English for academic purposes and  will probably not use it in their everyday life.

Therefore, the aims of the teacher must, again, reflect those of the student.

Other than the ultimate aim of teaching English, providing students with the skills necessary to communicate effectively in the language, the teacher must change their aims and objectives so that they are the same as the student’s. For example, if a teacher is teaching hospitality, the aim is to ultimately provide student’s with the skills needed to communicate in a hospitality setting.

Therefore, it’s pretty safe to say the overall aim of teaching English is to provide students with the knowledge that they are seeking. If a student is looking to become proficient in the English language, then the overall aim is to allow them to fully understand how to speak, listen, read and write, whilst at the same time understand the meaning behind the language.

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Image “Man, Arrow And Board” by renjith krishnan courtesy of