5 things TEFL learners find really hard

Confused faces and perplexed expressions are the currency of the English classroom. Whether it’s intricate interplays between the past tenses or the nuances of your own vernacular, there’s bound to be something that throws a spanner in the works of linguistic mastery. That said, there are a few things that most all TEFL learners will find hard, going from the dreaded phrasal verbs to mind-boggling idioms. Hit the blackboard with these in mind and you should be better prepared to handle the hitches and get your students speaking fluently.

TEFL learners
2 Classroom | © joan vila/Flickr

Phrasal verbs

Why does a car ‘break down’ if it doesn’t move downwards? How can a driver ‘pull over’ if he’s not pulling? How can ‘make up’ mean to create lies and to become friends again? Good questions one and all, and common asks from TEFL learners when it comes to teaching the dreaded phrasal verbs as target language. Be ready to be left speechless, because these compound doing words are amongst some of the hardest to logically explain in all of English. You may even find yourself questioning the reasoning behind them too! How to deal with it? It’s probably best to just tell your students to accept it and learn them – there are thousands to get through!


We all know the one about the panda who eats, shoots and leaves, right? Well, no matter if not, the point is that while many of the differences in humor across the globe are certainly down to culture instead of than language, there’s no question that there are many jokes that rely on some witty wordplay or double entendre. These are the ones we’re talking about here; the ones that will get any master linguist of English chuckling away to themselves. Be ready to do some hefty explaining if you do happen to crack one of these corkers in the classroom. And remember, language-reliant comedy works both ways!

TEFL learners
Decent language prohibited – a confused sign abroad | © Grace Kat/Flickr


Move over Yoda, your syntax simply ain’t good enough for my TEFL learners. For teachers in pursuit of the King’s English, it’s important to eradicate any of those curious nuances that many students from around the globe will encounter when formulating word order. In many destinations this will be one of the trickiest aspects of the language. Why? Well, a whole host of countries hardly focus on using syntax at all, and you can pretty much get away with using words in any order you like – I’m looking at you Spain and Poland! So: Teach syntax, think you are ready to?


Perhaps those TEFL learners are stuck on the idea of leaving a particularly hot kitchen. Maybe it’s that rather sinister breaking of the leg they are still wondering about. Or, is it the perpetually green ‘other side’ – wherever that may be – that’s got them thinking? Idioms, idioms, idioms – there’s a reason these curious little turns of phrase are considered to be an indicator of expert linguists. Yes, they will be tricky to get through, but if you can get your students using them during that all important talk time, then you know you’re doing something right!

TEFL learners
Listen | © Ian T. McFarland/Flickr

Regional accents

From Arkansas drawls of the Deep South to twangy Bostonian, mellifluous Cockney to the rugged Scottish highland accents, everyone’s got one! The luckiest English teachers will have neutral tones of voice, making it easy for their TEFL learners to understand precisely what it is they are saying. The ones in for a challenge will have strong regional nuances. If that’s you, don’t be put off. Part of learning English properly is being able to understand the broad range of global accents that go with it. And look on the bright side – there might just be a whole group of folk speaking with your local twang on the other side of the planet by the time you’re done!

Can you think of any other challenges that the budding TEFL learner comes up against in the classroom? Or, do you think you’re ready to get qualified and get on the road? Be sure to check out our selection of online courses and placement positions around the globe.

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