Survival English

Survival English is a term we used to talk about the essential English someone needs to know in order to survive – live or work – in an English speaking environment.

Typical students of Survival English might be:

  • going to the US on holiday
  • taking an English course in Australia where they will live for 3 months with a host family
  • going to a conference in the UK
  • attending a wedding in New Zealand

In fact, those students will be in any environment where they have to use English to perform basic functions like:

  • order a meal
  • give an address to a taxi driver
  • ask for a train ticket
  • asking for the toilet
  • find an address

and so on.


Most Survival English students are beginners‏‎. This means you will need to keep things very simple.

Again, there’s no point in putting emphasis on grammar here, you need to have your students confident enough to use some simple phrases in order to be able to perform a specific task whether it is buying a bottle of wine or asking a stranger the time. That is the goal here.

What to Teach in Survival English

The most important thing to do before the class begins is run a Needs Analysis‏‎.

This will tell you exactly what kind of English your students are going to need to know. This varies a lot so you need to get it right. There’s no point spending a lesson on how to read a bus timetable if the students will stay the whole week in their hotel! No, far better to have a lesson about ordering room service!

Once you have worked out what you need to teach you need to then give your students 100% practical information.

Let’s face it, in most cases it won’t make much difference if they use the wrong preposition or perhaps use the past perfect simple‏‎ instead of the past perfect continuous‏‎. Instead it will be much more useful for them if they have the right vocabulary‏‎ to hand and then have practice using it in context.

And this means role plays which are an incredibly useful resource in teaching Survival English. Get your students into small groups and have them practice – as and when appropriate of course – scenarios like these:

  • how to introduce themselves to each other
  • how to ask for and give some personal information
  • how to talk about the weather
  • how to use a menu and order a meal
  • how to explain that they have lost their hotel key
  • how to congratulate the bride
  • how to explain their job

Everyday English

If you are teaching in an English speaking country you may find yourself teaching recent arrivals in that country. In this case you’ll be teaching a slightly different flavor of Survival English.

Here you’ll need to cover essential English to deal with everyday life in the new country. This could be:

  • asking directions
  • identifying food in the supermarket
  • working with numbers and the local currency
  • going to the dentist/doctor
  • dealing with officials at the council or post office, etc…

In other words, you will be teaching them Everyday English. But again, remember that you will still start with a needs analysis in order to find out exactly what your students will find most useful!


Finally, you might also want to include here some cultural tips for your students. Depending on where they come from you might have to explain highly practical differences between what they are used to and what they need to do now. This could be as simple as the rules on jaywalking or crossing the road; maybe the usual etiquette on arriving at a business meeting and so on.

Again, all of these will come from what you learned with the initial needs analysis.

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Posted in How To Teach English.

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