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Teaching an English as a Second Language Speaking Class

by Alan Cohen 5 months ago in how to
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Tips and Thoughts

Teaching English as a Second Language is fun and rewarding. You meet students from across the globe, learn different cultures, bring different cultures together, and give them the gift of English. Yes, the gift of English.

English is the international language of business. Companies from across the globe pay for their employees to learn English. Students who want to study in the United States, England, and Australia need to be proficient in English. Many immigrants live in the United States. They need to become proficient in English to get better employment, study, and enjoy American culture.

Teaching English consists of four components: speaking, listening, grammar, and writing. Many ESL teachers want to teach speaking. It appears easy and fun. No grammar. Well, teaching speaking is not always that easy and it includes grammar. Here are some tips to help you teach speaking more effectively.

Do not ask yes/no questions

Teacher: Do you like music?

Student: Yes.

Teacher: Do you like rock ‘n roll?

Student: Yes.

Teacher: Do you like jazz?

Student: No.

This conversation leads to a repetitive yes/no pattern that does not benefit the student. Ask who, what, where, when, why, and how questions.

Teacher: What type of music do you like?

Student: Rock ‘n roll.

Teacher: Answer with a complete sentence.

Student: I like rock ‘n roll.

Teacher: Why do you like rock ‘n roll?

Student: I like to dance.

By asking who, what, where, when, why, and how questions, your students need to use vocabulary. That is good. You want to force your students to think. They appreciate it. Their goal is to speak, and you want to ask questions so a conversation engages between the teacher and student.

The grammar component

Teacher: What did you eat for dinner last night?

Student: I eated pasta.

Teacher: You ate pasta, no eated pasta. Repeat, I ate pizza.

Student: I ate pizza.

Students will make grammar mistakes as they speak. Correct them.

Pronunciation mistakes

Teacher: What did you do last night?

Student: I talk-ed with my best friend.

Teacher: It is not talk-ed but talked with my best friend. Please repeat, I talked with my best friend.

Student: I talked with my best friend.

Conversations about controversial topics

Current events and controversial topics make great conversation. It provides your students to use their English language skills for a serious topic. However, these topics can become heated. You need to set some ground rules. I tell my students that there is one rule – you are debating and discussing the issue. You do not insult a student because you disagree with his or her opinion. Express your disagreement by debating the viewpoint, not the student.

Remember, the students are debating the issue to improve their English language skills. It is not your job to influence their opinion because you disagree with their opinions. Your job is to correct their grammar and to correct their pronunciation. You are not teaching politics or current events; you are teaching English.

What if no one speaks

Sometimes your students are not responsive. You may have previously asked them to come prepared to discuss a topic, but they are quiet. Your syllabus may list a topic, but the students are silent. So, what do you do?

In a speaking class, it is the teacher’s responsibility to engage the students in conversation. I use a simple solution to get my students talking. I change the topic to something that they want to talk about. My job is to improve their English-speaking abilities. It is not to understand a current event or whatever the original speaking topic was. If they are speaking, I am happy.

Other ways to teach conversation

When people converse and speak, it is not always in a debate or a structured class format. We talk while enjoying a coffee. I’ve had speaking class in a coffee shop. Great conversations are part of a great meal. So, once I month, I’ve had my students bring in a food from their country. Everyone would cook including me. We would eat and talk. I would walk about and listen to the students and make corrections as needed. Students’ conversation topics ranged from sports to recipes, to the food they were eating.

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Alan Cohen

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