5 more tips for teaching conversational English to young adults

Hello fellow teachers and teachers-to-be, and welcome to another one of my teaching tips texts. There’s nothing game-changing in here, just some helpful tips that I wish I would have learned earlier in my career.

I hope one or two of these help a few people out there.

Without further delays:

1-Don’t be afraid to correct their mistakes.

When I first started teaching a year ago, I was so shy to correct my students that I would rarely do so, to the point where they eventually took the liberty to tell me that I should be more strict. After all, they’re there to improve, and if you don’t show them how to improve, they will stagnate. Listening to you is not enough.

There’s a balance to maintain however, which brings us to the next tip.

2-Don’t correct every single mistake.

When you’re learning a new language, nothing is more frustrating than to be stopped at every word. It breaks your concentration and jumbles up the words you took so much care selecting and placing in the correct order to form your sentence.

It can and will kill motivation faster than anything else.

I teach 2-month courses. During the first 2 classes, I barely correct my new students, and analyze their level and correct them accordingly. If the student’s  a beginner, I prefer to focus on pronunciation of sounds that are really off (here in Vietnam they have a lot of trouble with S and SH) but I don’t really care if they pronounce TH without the H (tanks instead of thanks, for one).

For my new groups, I always tell them right away the most common mistakes of their fellow countrymen (In Vietnam they skip the last syllable of every word, the finishing sound I call it) and that this will be my main focus for the next 2 weeks. Believe me, it takes about 4 weeks for someone to start saying becauSE when they’ve been saying becau’ all their life – and everyone around them does it too. Four. Weeks.

When most of the group has stopped doing these mistakes, then I’ll move on to other things. At this point usually I’ve mentally noted who’s struggling with what (they confuse coming and going a lot, and to doesn’t exist in their language (I go market)) and the students who are slower at correcting themselves get my harsher corrections. I literally yell BECAUSE!!!” if they dare make the mistake again after 5 weeks.

3-Don’t correct them during an oral presentation.

To me, an oral presentation is the most important part of their practice, and generally the one students hate the most (I used to be terrified of standing in front of my classmates when I was a kid).

The students got the topic beforehand, and some time to prepare, and they carefully chose their words and built their sentences to sound as smart as possible. On top of concentrating in a different tongue, they have to fight the stress of performing in front of other people.

If you add to these factors a teacher interrupting them at every turn, they will shut down, make a presentation as short as possible, or flat-out skip the next classes. I’ve seen it happen.

What I do is I listen to them carefully, make a few jokes sometimes to show I’m paying attention, and I write down their mistakes on paper. When they’re finished I will tell them their strong points and their mistakes and help them correct them… Unless it’s been 5 weeks of becau’… then you deserve my wrath in the middle of your presentation.

4-Use what they already know to explain things.

When I give my “How to give directions” class, I use a map of Ho Chi Minh city. When we talk about dating, I ask them how it works in Vietnam and name local well-known spots. If I talk about accidents or being late, I’m not going to talk about cars or planes – I talk about motorbikes and trains.

I like to explain words with real-life examples or stories so the students can get an image in their head. I was giving a lesson on Tourism and I introduced the word “Surreal”. The first time I explained that word I started talking about the Grand Canyon – only to realize that none of my students had the slightest idea what or where that canyon was (and I had to explain the words Grand and Canyon after that). I then started talking about Halong Bay. Not only did I get puffed chests of national pride, but I saved precious oxygen and classroom time.

To give more details, I also like to say that Surreal means something is so pretty, so cool, so special that it’s almost like it’s magical, like Harry Potter. They love that little magician weirdo and scribble “like magic” right away in their notes.

5-Use sounds they already know to help them pronounce words.

Following the previous tip, if you’re trying to teach them a new sound that they’ve never heard before, sometimes repeating sssssss and shhhhhhhh for 5 minutes will amount to nothing ,except everyone laughing at the situation (which sometimes is a good thing). Try to use sounds they already know (you need to learn their language a little bit in order to do so). For example, in Vietnamese, “Hello” is “Xin chào”. The S sound is in the “Xin”, and the Sh sound is in the “Chào”. Which means they already use these sounds, they just never really paid attention to their mouth before. Usually when I use these words as an example it helps quite a lot.

For some reason, if a student is really struggling, I’ve found that sometimes the only way they learn was by watching a fellow student do the sound – someone from their own mother tongue.

I have no idea why.

That’s all I can think of at the moment, I hope it helped!

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