teacher

1. Talking too fast. You get excited, you are having fun, the energy of the class is great and you are now talking too fast. The result is that your message is either lost or misunderstood. As odd as it sounds, the solution is not necessarily to speaker slower, unless you are really rattling away. You should instead enunciate more, shorten your sentences by breaking up complex sentences and monitor and simplify your overly complex grammar and vocabulary. Don’t forget to pause often!

2.Talking too much. Yes, we know why teachers become teachers and, admittedly, most do like to chat. However, students need the practice, not the teacher. Here are a few solutions: First, where are you in the session? If you are in the ‘receptive’ or beginning part of the session where input is stressed, then the teacher should be speaking more, but if you are facilitating student production, then you need to give less input. Some ways to ‘curb your enthusiasm’ (and talking) are to remind yourself with written cues on your lesson plan. Also, try leaving a visual reminder that conversation should be 80-90% from the students. Limit yourself to 5 sentences before each activity. If you are modeling (showing, not explaining) this should be enough. Even ‘fading’ from the circle or room for a bit helps!

3. Using an inappropriate tone of voice, often unconsciously. I have seen teachers address adult beginner students with a high pitched, sing-song tone that we usually reserve for children. “Oh isn’t that a LOVELY skit!!! You are SO artistic!!!” Adult learners may have low English skills, but they are not children and they may be very educated. Students may find such tones demeaning. To avoid this, record yourself interacting with your students. Could your tone be interpreted in a negative way? Is this how you normally speak to your friends? Practice speaking less complex sentences without affect. Ask your co-workers about your tone and listen to their answers with an open mind.

4. Using overly complex grammar when it is not necessary. OK, read these two instructions and decide which is more appropriate for an ESL student:
1. “OK, when you get the worksheet, which I am handing out now, you will fill out the answers in the blanks that are provided and then you are going to compare the answers you wrote on your sheet with the person sitting next to you to check them and see which ones are right and which ones are wrong.”
2. Here is a work sheet. (the teacher hands it out) OK, do you see the blanks? Good. First, read each sentence. Then, fill in each blank. Do this now.(pause) Now, share your answers with your partner. (pause) Which answers are right? Which are wrong? Discuss them. (pause) Now, we will review them together.”
In terms of grammar, vocabulary and comprehensibility, how do these two examples differ?

5. Using too many idioms. You are pressed for time, hungry as a horse, spinning your wheels and…you pull out an idiom. Idioms and idiomatic phrases are wonderful. They are interesting and liven up a class. Students love to learn them. However! If you are using too many and not making them comprehensible by the context they are in, then you are not helping the students. So much of English as it is spoken informally is filled with idiomatic phrases and chunks, so much so that we often forget that even simple phrases like ‘What’s up?’ are idiomatic and thus impossible to translate without some help. So, make a decision. Either use clear and literal English or, if you want to introduce idioms or idiomatic chunks, do so in a context that makes the message very clear. One easy way to do this is latching it to language they already know, for example: “Hello Hiro!, What’s up?” “Parking” your most-used idioms or idiomatic phrases on the board for later explanation is also a great technique. And, of course, you should monitor yourself and keep the flood of idiomatic language to a minimum!

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M.A. History (Cross-Cultural Studies), Western Washington University; TESOL Certificate, The School of Teaching ESL. Denny is a teacher educator at S-TESL and delivers most of the 4-Week Intensives each year. Denny has taught ESL at ELS Language Center in Seattle and in Japan at Sundai Junior College. He worked at American Cultural Exchange in Seattle as Center Director and as Director of Marketing.