English language student tired of studying and learning.

You are a teacher of English as a foreign or second language. It’s morning, you walk into the classroom. At the front of the class sits Lena. She smiles weakly. Only in 5th grade, her sadness disturbs you. She’s been learning English for two years and is struggling with her reading and writing.

Jon, 11 years old, is staring out of the window. He fails every English spelling test. His difficulties are surprising because he seems to be articulate and bright.

It’s the evening class. Dina, 23 years old, leans over her desk at the back. She looks bored. She still reads and writes poorly in English but if she wants to get her degree, she has to pass her compulsory English requirement and it’s your job to help her succeed. 

In front of Dina sits Nati, aged 22. He wants to be a doctor. He speaks English fluently because he lived in Australia for six years as a child. Despite his proficient verbal skills, Nati reads slowly and fails almost every exam because he never completes the answer sheet.

Above are four common examples of English language students who are not keeping up with the pace of the class and each with his or her own unique problems.

Students Feel Like Failures

Approximately 20% of your English students struggle and feel like failures. They don’t understand why their hard work doesn’t bring results. You don’t understand why either because your teacher training taught you methodology but not how to recognise the reasons students might not be progressing.

Today, in classrooms and now online, hundreds of struggling of English language students of all ages and levels sit frustrated and suffering and feeling like failures. Teachers of English as a foreign language or second language often wonder why they can’t keep up and view them as ‘slow learners’ or think “they are not motivated and are just not trying hard enough”. Most teachers aren’t trained to instruct language students who do not fit into the ‘norm’.

Teachers Are Overwhelmed

Teachers are often overworked, on survival mode and their busy schedules keep them from investigating their students’ problems further. So, when not wondering whether their students’ disinterest is the cause of poor grades, they blame class sizes or their own teaching methods and simply do not know what to do.

In reality, over a fifth of all students have some type of learning difficulty or disability, the definitions change depending which country you are teaching in. These learning differences may have been diagnosed or not but the added load of studying foreign languages will be more more than challenging. For them, every day becomes an excruciating confirmation of their academic inferiority to their class mates. Of course teachers can’t assume every student having difficulties has a learning disorder other factors need to be taken into consideration first.

What teachers should know, learning disorders do not go away and mature students may be dealing with difficulties too.

Become Informed

If  teachers gather a little background information about their students and add to that an understanding of the definition of learning disabilities and specific learning disorders, they should be able to identify ‘at risk students’ sooner and get to the bottom of their difficulties.

How to do all that without training and little time to do any research? The posts on this site plus free how-to-guides with handy checklists are here to help. They will show teachers how to begin to:

  • identify students with learning difficulties
  • adapt their approach
  • adjust their methods
  • help struggling students learn
  • prevent weaker learners feeling misunderstood and inadequate

What can you do now?

1. Get free resources

Join other teachers and professionals and give yourselves a break. Check out and download how-to-guides and toolkits showing you how to quickly and easily recognise and help struggling students and get other resources to help save time.

2. Carry on getting the informative benefits from this series and read:

Struggling Students: Top Forgotten Factors to Consider First

Understanding Struggling Students: Learning Disability Definitions Unraveled

EFL ESL Students Struggling? Four Little Known Theories Explain Why

Copyright Lesley Lanir. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.


If you have concerns about students, consult with educators and other professionals in your education establishment or school to determine what steps to take and how problems can be addressed.

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