English is a challenging language to learn–perhaps one of the most difficult. Why? Along with crazy (and rather inconsistent) grammatical rules, different dialects, and complicated lexicons, part of communicating in the English language requires a knowledge of conversational cues and phraseology. English even challenges native speakers! The fact that more words break spelling rules rather than follow them is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to answering the question: why is English so tough to acquire and retain? In this blog, we will share tips for teaching English conversation online.
Contrary to popular belief, English conversation is much more than teaching dialogue. Though this is a large part of the philosophy in English conversation, it is not everything. English conversation teachers usually work one-on-one, in small groups, or in full classes to help language learners develop skills to read, speak, write, and comprehend colloquial English.
Teachers drive and fuel conversation (in immersive English) with students, create a curriculum to help the language learning process, and offer feedback to learners on how they can improve in the future. As a teacher for students in other time zones, this job often comes with weird work hours and may require very early mornings and super late nights. Though this isn’t always the case, it should be expected in working with students across the globe.
If you enjoy meeting new people, learning about different cultures, and conversing with a diverse array of learners, consider teaching conversational English online!
With any teaching job, preparation is always essential. There’s nothing more stressful than logging on for a class that you are ill-prepared for. In order to offer your student a quality learning experience, make sure to have:
By being prepared before your session, you respect your student’s time, resources, and money, as well as your own!
Another way to be prepared is by researching and learning more about your student’s cultural background. More often than not, an English language learner will come from a country outside of the U.S., especially if they are choosing to learn online. Taking the extra time to recognize your own cultural biases and assumptions will prove to be beneficial in the long run.
In addition to becoming more aware of your student’s culture and customs, learning a little bit of their native language is a good idea, too. Not only will this allow you to communicate where there is a disconnect in the English language, but learning your student’s language will also help them feel more comfortable and valued. A second language learner’s native tongue is an asset, not a barrier.
It can be used to build more connections between linguistic similarities and differences in the native and English language and further help students to grasp concepts that otherwise may be overwhelming or confusing. Because each language has a specific and unique set of rules and order, you will also broaden your understanding of linguistic diversity and be able to empathize with your student.
Not all English conversation students will be school-aged. In fact, many are adults who are eager to learn the language for professional or personal reasons. Know how to cater to your audience. Students, no matter their age or language proficiency level, are going to be more engaged when you bring up questions that apply to their age and stage of life.
Additionally, aim to pick out topics that are relevant to their interests and this time period. Chances are, constructing a lesson about landlines and chat rooms will be an outdated and irrelevant lesson. Be aware of what learners need to know for this era. Here are some unit plan ideas to get your teacher gears turning!
English conversation is heavily taught through discussion and repetition, so make sure to have relevant and interesting subjects to bring up for your student’s individual needs.
Everyone wants to feel valued, respected, and welcomed in their classroom, students and teachers alike. Learning a new language can be discouraging at times, too, so try to keep the virtual classroom fun and upbeat. Support your student with an abundance of praise when they pronounce a word correctly or answer a question in the right word order. Smile frequently. Ask genuine questions to get to know them better. Be animated and enthusiastic, especially since body language cannot as easily be read through a screen.
Even if your student doesn’t understand all the mechanisms of the English language, body language, and facial expressions are universal. A new language system is a lot to learn and can undoubtedly become overwhelming. Students need you to have fun with your job and with them! Only then will they feel secure enough to learn in an enjoyable environment.
Ask Questions When Teaching Online
Ask all the questions! And then ask follow-up questions. This is how students, especially apathetic or reserved ones, will open up and participate.
Teacher: What did you do yesterday?
Student: I went swimming.
Teacher: That sounds like fun! Where did you go swimming at?
Student: I went to the pool.
Teacher: Very nice. Are you a good swimmer?
Depending on your student’s language proficiency level, you could ask more open-ended questions, too. Asking students what their opinions are on a matter, for example, is a great way to open up the floor for free talk and critical thinking. Use your judgment to know how to push them beyond their comfort level.
Asking questions will also help learners understand how to phrase interrogative sentences in English too. Use this time to teach your student how to ask questions, not just answer them. After they respond to your initial and follow-up questions, tell them to ask you the same thing. In doing this, they are not only learning how to reply to someone but how to initiate conversation in a more personable and natural way, too.
If your student doesn’t know how to respond to your question, that’s okay! It is your job as a teacher to demonstrate how it is done. Offering your own example response will give students something to model.
Teacher: What did you do yesterday?
Teacher: I went to the park yesterday… What did you do yesterday?
Student: I went to the pool yesterday.
Offer a few examples to allow your learner to see and hear the pattern. Check their understanding. Then, you can take it a step higher and model a different or more complex way to answer the same question. Then after you model yours, allow the student to try.
Teacher: Yesterday, I went to the park. I walked around the lake at the park and saw some ducks. Now, your turn. What did you do yesterday?
Student: I went to the pool and played with my friends.
Remember, part of demonstrating is showing facial expressions, using body language to cue and prompt response, and even emphasizing specific words. Demonstration is more than just leading by example; it is facilitating learning with every tool that you have.
Have you ever heard another person fluently speak a foreign language? Were you confused because they didn’t enunciate or slow down? Put yourself in a language learner’s shoes for a moment. It doesn’t feel great, does it?
To help your student comprehend English better, make sure to enunciate your words, speak without an accent (if possible), and remember to project clearly. Muttering or hesitating with your words every once in a while is understandable, but if you keep teaching with frequent stutters, the fluency of your sentences will be compromised.
It will be more difficult for your learner to acquire fluency in speaking English if what they hear demonstrated are choppy sentences. Since articulacy is more important than grammatical precision in conversational English, make sure that your words are easy to hear and understand. This is especially important to remember when teaching online!
As an English teacher, you need to know how to balance support with independence. There is a difference between enabling and helping, and in the same way, there is a difference between allowing for independence and throwing your student to the wolves. This is a skill that will develop as you get to know your student better, but here’s a good general rule of thumb–wait.
Allowing your student adequate time to process and reply is vital in teaching any subject, but especially in second language learning. Wait-time will help you, as the teacher, determine if your student needs extra help in a certain subject area or if they just need more time to comprehend and formulate a response. Unpressured time to answer independently, even if their response is not completely accurate or correct, should be a large part of the language learning experience. A lingering silence is the sound of gears turning!
While you are teaching English conversation to your student, make sure to take applicable notes on strengths and weaknesses that you notice in each session. This way, you will be able to offer helpful feedback to your student with specific examples. Don’t be afraid to give them constructive criticism–they are here to learn, after all! Just be sure to include lots of positive affirmations, too!
Chances are that your student is going to need a consistent schedule of conversation classes in order to become fluent in the English language. At the end of each session, if not already done so, ask your student when you will see them again. Confirm the time and date with them before logging off to ensure you are both on the same page.
Take note of these tips, and your experience in teaching English conversation will be that much smoother! Have any other tips or tricks for anyone teaching a course online? Share with us!
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