I completely love your blog. I'm prepairing to teach in Korea next year. I'm currently working with some college ESL students from China. Can you give me some tips on how encourage them to open up and not slip into Mandarin with each other? Thanks.

The answer to that really depends on a few different factors, I think. Especially what level they are at. If their English isn't terribly high, the best way to get them to open up in a classroom environment is to make sure that they have all of the tools that they need to say what they want to say in English. That's the number one problem I've seen when a teacher is complaining that the students won't stop talking in ____________, is that the students haven't been given the proper vocabulary to be able to say whatever it is in English. People who haven't ever spoken a second language to a native speaker won't necessarily understand that very well, but when you don't have the words, you simply don't have the words.

That doesn't mean that you have to hand out worksheets every class with lists of vocabulary, though. You can give them the language they need most effectively through how you phrase your questions. For example, when you ask, "What did you do this weekend?" and they get that panicked look in their eyes, don't just stop there. Ask, "Did you do something at home or did you go out?" It's not difficult for them to take that question and quickly turn it around in their minds, with the vocabulary you just handed them: "I went out this weekend." Or, did you meet your friends or your boyfriend? Did you eat something nice? Did you try something new?

Second langauge speakers are concentrating on enough as it is just making sentences, so leading the conversation very directly is a lot more helpful for them. They may be the best conversationalists ever in their native language, but they need a little help in English. After a while, they'll get confident enough to start talking without being led.

As far as getting them to stop sepaking in Mandarin, the best way to go about that is to give them time limits. If their level is high enough, then they should make a promise not to speak any Mandarin during your class time at all. If they are still struggling a bit and need to help each other out, then do maybe the last half of the class in English only -- for everybody. My students have a really difficult time speaking in English at all, but when I give them just the last fifteen minutes of class to not say one word of Korean, they really do their best to stick to it. Because, I always emphasize, it's only fifteen minutes. And you can do anything for fifteen minutes. If I tried to tell them to only speak in English for the entire class? I wouldn't even get five minutes out of them.

Instead of telling them they need to only speak English to each other at home (which is never going to happen, and therefore is setting a goal for them that they already know they'll fail), challenge them to speak only English at home for one hour every night. Then, after a week, move it up to two hours. So on and so forth.

This brings back a lot of good memories of my old job in New York. And makes me think a lot about the things I need to be working on now, as a foreigner, for myself. Thanks for the question.

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1 comment:

Aryn said...

Oh my, I didn't think you would respond to me so fast! Thanks.

See, the thing is, at the moment, I'm not a teacher yet. I'm more of a tutor/conversation leader and I had seen that you had worked in that sort of line before you moved to Korea. I would have explained that better if formspring didn't have the character limit.

So, essentially, at the moment, I am the at home practice. But you gave me some great tips, thank you so much. I'm working with three students, they're all about my age, and are all three different levels. I have a girl who clearly isn't afraid to speak and will actually get the conversation going when I can't keep it running, I have another girl who I think has been afraid to try to speak, but she'll come out of her shell and talk, but my first girl is more advanced than her. And then I have one guy and I don't know what his level is because he will turn to my first girl to get her to translate for him. I've heard him speak and he's not hard to understand, but I have a feeling I'm dealing with a little more face saving with him than I am the other two.

But again, thank you. I'm gonna hold onto your entry for when I do start teaching and also the questions to ask are so helpful.

Again, I absolutely love your blog and am so pleased to find a female expat blogging like you are. I was beginning to freak out that I'd get over there and I'd be a girl swimming in a sea of American men.