You made it! You are now an EFL/ESL teacher with the Trinity College CertTESOL certificate! Well done. Calls and emails are coming in, interviews are lining up, but there is this nagging doubt about a particular group – the multilingual class.

I have good news for you. You are certified and trained to teach English in a multilingual class, and that is why your certificate says – CertTESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Woohoo! 75% of the battle won.

Do you remember those teaching practice classes on Thursday and Friday when the tension was running high just before you entered your classroom?

Do you remember that class with at least three different nationalities in a group of five ELLs (English Language Learners)? There was Conchi, the sweet Spanish lady, straight-faced Oleg from Ukraine, and Jovial Mustafa, from Morocco.

You taught an Intermediate class, and you did the third conditional!

You started with:

If I’d known the Christmas meal was so important to you.… (This is the imaginary situation in the past)

I’d have brought you your special Christmas treat on the wee hours of the 25th…. (This is the imaginary result of the situation in the past)

This seemed like a typical start to a lesson. But then Oleg and Conchi appeared to have a question, and Mustafa was smiling. Back home in Oxfordshire, the Christmas meal meant lunch of the 25th of Dec. To Conchi and Oleg, the Christmas meal meant Christmas Eve of the 24th, and to Mustafa, Christmas was just another Bank holiday. This was your first experience of a multilingual and multi-cultural class.

The Monolingual Classroom

A monolingual classroom means the students have the same first language or mother tongue. Not to worry, you have been trained to teach a monolingual class, and that is why you have the second certificate – The EBC International TEFL certificate. TEFL is Teaching English as a Foreign Language. For example, you teach in an English language school in Spain where your students are locals, so they will be Spanish speakers. However, when teaching in a country with their mother tongue, you TEFL.

Monolingual classroom

The Multilingual Classroom

On the other hand, a multilingual class is a class with students from different countries. This is where you TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. For example, you teach in a community college for immigrants in the US. The students you teach will come from different countries, and the only common language is English.

What could be the possible issues in a multilingual classroom?

Many other TEFL-certified teachers were only trained for monolingual classrooms. You weren’t. You took a dual certificate course, so you can both TESOL and TEFL. First, let’s look at some of the challenges.

There is no common mother tongue or first language in a multilingual classroom.

They can’t help each other with grammar points or an unknown vocab because English is the only language. You can’t get a helping hand from an assistant when the going gets tough, and a simple translation will do the job. It is a real challenge for you, but teachers refraining from using the class’ mother tongue are helping their students learn faster.

Cultural differences in the class

Cultural differences are a great advantage for the teacher. Culture, holidays, food, customs can all be great conversation starters.

Multilingual classrooms

Multilingual classes will have different language issues.

In a classroom of Spanish speakers, you would hear them adding the /e/ in front of words starting with /sp/, /st /. A class of Chinese students may have issues with the “r” sound in English. If these two nationalities were in a multilingual class, the others would understand the mistakes, so the students would not bother trying to pronounce the words correctly. In a multilingual class, the Spanish students will have to drop the /e/ and the Chinese students will need to pronounce the “r” better to be understood by the rest of the class.

Different learning styles

This could be the biggest issue in multilingual classes vs monolingual classes. In some cultures, the teacher lectures and administers tests. In other cultures, students are encouraged to participate in class. Pair work and small group work made up of students from different cultures can be an excellent opportunity to get out of their comfort zones and try a new English learning approach.

As a Trinity College CertTESOL certified English teacher, your career can lead you in many directions, including monolingual or multilingual classes in your home country or abroad. Taking advantage and putting to full use the many unique issues you will face in a multilingual classroom will make you an effective, productive, and much liked English teacher.