Friday, March 30, 2007

English Conversation Practice

Most of my students are advanced level English as a Second Lanuage speakers. Many have learned grammar very well in their home countries, but most do not feel comfortable with their English speaking skills. The majority of our tutoring sessions focus on speaking skills. The trick, sometimes, is in finding a topic that the student has enough knowledge about (and vocabulary) and feels comfortable enough to speak about in English.

Knowing something about your student's interests will help with this. When I first meet a potential ESL student, I ask about their hobbies, their likes and dislikes, what they do in their spare time, etc. This way, I can choose topics that are interesting to them when we meet. I often try to find an article (often on Yahoo!News) relating to one of their interests for them to read before our meeting. Using an article as the topic of our conversation practice accomplishes several purposes: (1) new idioms and phrasal verbs are introduced within a relevant context, (2) new vocabulary is introduced, (3) the student can exhibit understanding of written English --at least the central meaning, and (most helpful to the English tutor), (4) an article helps to focus the tutoring session.

I often start with a couple of open-ended questions, for example:

1) What is the article about?
2) How do you think the writer feels about the subject?

And then I ask more pointed questions, for example:

1) What does the word xxxxx mean in this sentence?
2) What does this phrase means?
3) Other specific factual questions that the article answers.

I'm lucky that I have a lot of different interests and know a little bit about a lot of different things (just enough to get into trouble!). So when I'm lucky enough to have a student who is a "talker" I can help increase their speaking skills by asking some questions that help stretch the abilities of the English language learner.

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