On Beginning a Course
A first lessons is tricky business. Sometimes the students are already familiar with the lecturer and the field/department, sometimes less so, but beginnings, however small, are always experienced with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. This is why the first lesson of every course should be given proper attention, and doubly so when English is thrown into the mix. Indeed, in my viewings of academic courses in English, I often found that the students had n​ot been aware of the language of instruction when signing up for a course, and were caught off guard. Yet even with such information at hand, students don't always know what to expect – is their English good enough? How do they come off in their second or, for some, third language? How do they compare with the others in class? Will they lose credit because of their linguistic skills rather than their academic ones? What if they don't always get everything? What language should they take notes in? In other words, fight or flight?

Therefore, the first lesson of a course, especially one taught in English, should focus not only on the syllabus and requirements, but also and primarily on clarifying expectations and mitigating potential challenges. Here are some suggestions on how to do so:
  1. Address the elephant in the classroom – start by drawing attention to the fact that the course is taught in English. You would be surprised at how many students would find it surprising.
  2. Present English instruction as a mutual challenge – Let the students know that their help and cooperation are important to you and useful to them. Encourage them to stop or even correct you.
  3. Adjust the language level - despite the prestige it dons on the lecturer, showing off one's English sends the wrong message. Instead, try putting yourself in the shoes of an intermediate speaker. This should not prevent you from using jargon and professional terminology, but help mitigate these with the proper tone, tempo and degree of clarity.
  4. Offer positive feedback and encouragement – let students see from the outset that speaking English in your classroom is non-judgmental and much appreciated.
  5. Offer guidance – let students know about best practices, such as how to take notes, what they may do to improve their English outside of class, and what to focus on in terms of language and content to reduce stress over getting everything.
  6. Consider glossaries and pre-reading – if that is an option, let students know that they will get a chance to review the materials before each class to help follow the lecture or do some translating beforehand.
  7. Evaluation – be clear about how much English affects evaluation in the course requirements, if at all. Consider multilingual assignments/exams, drafts and/or rewrites.  
  8. Be self-aware – students can, so to speak, smell fear or condescension. Make sure your speech, facial expressions and body language don't show dissatisfaction with the course format or the level of the students.
  9. Create a friendly environment – not matter how difficult a course is, students' sense of openness and support from their peers helps build confidence. Consider group or pair work already in the first lesson, or some other team-building activity.  
As surprising as it sounds, students evaluate courses, especially at first, based not on content, but on the kind of treatment, interaction and support they are going to receive from both the lecturer and the other students. Tap into these expectations, and you are bound to still find a lot of students in the registry and the classroom when the fight gets tough.