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5 Challenges ESL Students May Face and How to Overcome Them


Learning any language is challenging in itself. Students need to overcome their initial language barriers, remove language anxiety, and try to acquire as much knowledge as possible. The same goes for learning English as a second language. And, it’s your job as their teacher to help them strive.

There are numerous challenges that ESL students may face, but none of them are unsolvable. This is why it’s important to learn how to help your students overcome them. Below, you’ll find the list of the 5 biggest challenges of ESL students and tips on how to help them overcome those issues.

Let’s take a closer look.

1.Previous Learning Experience

A major factor in the process of learning English as a second language is the starting point of the student.

If the student is starting from scratch, it might be easier for them to adopt proper knowledge from their English teacher. But, if the student has had previous learning experiences that have been poorly conducted, it may be a problem.

Here’s why:

  • students adopted some language rules poorly or wrongly
  • students are used to a certain system of learning a language
  • student believe they already know the things that are being covered in the lesson

To help your students overcome this problem, you’ll need to:

  • detect the weakest spots in students’ current knowledge
  • slowly guide them back to those lessons and provide proper explanations
  • challenge them to revise their previously acquired knowledge

As an ESL teacher, you have to help your students polish every segment of their learning process and continue to improve from a solid base.

2.Using Native Language in the Classroom

Your ESL classroom is your students’ number one source of language knowledge and information. Their native language should have nothing to do with it.

Still, so many ESL students tend to keep using their native language in the classroom, in different situations:

  • to chat with a classmate
  • to plan how to do an exercise or a class project
  • to ask the teacher to clarify something

This will make the native language dominate the ESL classroom, while it should be the other way around.

As a teacher, you need to impose clear rules that only English is to be used in the classroom. Also, make sure to:

  • only address your students in English, even if you meet them on the street
  • only answer questions your students ask in English (with your help, if necessary)

Set an example, and stick to your rules, until your students reduce or eliminate their native language from the classroom.

3.Literal Translations from the Native Language

Your students’ native language is always going to dominate their mindset and influence how they think about other languages, including English.

This is why ESL students often face the challenge of:

  • thinking in their native language
  • translating their thoughts and ideas directly into English

This leads to bizarre sentence structure, improper word order, and even translating idioms, which are simply absurd.

To overcome this problem, ESL teachers need to:

  • teach their students how to think in English
  • do more conversation exercises
  • assign more essays

This goes for both oral and written exercises, so always be on the lookout for literal translations and help your students avoid using them completely.

4.Learning Outside the Classroom

Your classroom is your students’ primary place for learning English. But it’s not enough.

ESL students often face the challenge of not knowing how to keep learning, even when they’re not in the classroom. This leads to a lack of practice and poorly adopted knowledge.

As a teacher, you should guide your students through the process of learning English, even outside the classroom. Give them suggestions on how to do it, such as:

  • watch movies (without subtitles) or listen to music in English
  • get together with other students to practice conversation
  • write essays on the topics they find interesting
  • watch TED talks or other YouTube videos in English

You can even organize movie nights or other fun activities students would enjoy being a part of.

5.Lack of Teacher Feedback

Students love when they can see actual changes for the better in their ESL journey. This keeps them motivated and inspires them to invest more hard work.

But, if you don’t provide enough feedback, students might start feeling lost and lose their will to learn. This is why we strongly recommend that you:

  • provide both positive and negative feedback regularly
  • provide both oral and written feedback regularly
  • help your students understand their strong and weak points, and give advice on how to keep improving

You can use services like Topessaywriting if you need help with writing feedback reports to your students to make sure you do it professionally and accurately.

Final Thoughts

Learning English as a second language is a challenging process. There’s going to be a lot of bumps in the road for your students. The important thing is that you help them stay determined and motivated.

Use the tips we've shared above to help your students avoid facing these most common challenges or overcome them with ease. It will make their ESL journey much more effective and enjoyable.

About the author: Jessica Fender is an educational blogger and content specialist at, a resource with ratings of the top 10 websites for students. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with students of all ages and making learning easier for them.