If I had to teach someone English, I'd probably start with the alphabet, some pronunciation for interaction, and that'd be a first basis to learn the language, along with a few basic words (objects, colors, numbers).

That being done, building a few sentences, the most common verbs (be, do…) and adjectives, probably some adverbs, conjugation, negation, syntax, grammar, etc., and both our heads are spinning in face of the overwhelming difficulty of all that's to come.

How would you plan such a teaching? I know of the Oxford3000 list of most common words, but where should I start, where should I insert what grammar points on the way, and in what order?

Would you make a difference for self-learners?

  • There are many competing theories on how best to teach a foreign language. Some focus on the alphabet, arguably some of the better ones completely ignore spelling at first, and focus only on conversation and pronunciation first, learning reading and writing later (as a child learning a first language does). I think that makes this question off-topic, as it is asking for opinions... unless you can provide some objective criteria on which to answer.
    – Flimzy
    Jan 23, 2013 at 22:46
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    @Flimzy, I think it only a bit off-topic, but not because it is looking for opinions. Rather, it is a bit off-topic because it is looking for an answer about pedagogy, rather than English itself. However, pedagogy for instructing different languages is different, as is the pedagogy for teaching people from different language backgrounds.
    – Ryan Haber
    Jan 23, 2013 at 22:47
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    I most agree with Ryan on this one. And I hope pedagogy is not entirely off-topic on ELL. Jan 23, 2013 at 22:49
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    It remains to be seen how to handle pedagogy, but I would also hope it is on topic: I think we specifically want to attract ELL teachers to this site, and encourage them to ask such questions.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 23, 2013 at 22:54
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    I raised this on meta. Jan 23, 2013 at 22:57

1 Answer 1


There are many different opinions to do so, however in the U.S. ESL standard in Texas at least, is to start with some simple words and phrases, and then after about 1/8 (after 1st month of an 8 month course) of the course introduce the alphabet. After that then you are supposed to teach irregularities, as well as working on grammar and expanding general vocabulary. This is however designated for a student in middle and high school, so different techniques might be preferable for adults.

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