Friday, April 13, 2007

Conversations About Death

ESL teachers are often looking for topics for conversations for their ESL students. Current events are always popular topics, but you have to make sure that the student(s) is familiar with the topic. One way to make sure that your student, or students, is familiar with the topic is to provide a short reading on the issue before the discussion. You can then ask specific questions to prompt the ESL students for discussion about the topic.

Or you can pick timeless topics, such as death and dying. Of course, this topic may be too sensitive for some students, especially younger students, but I think I would feel comfortable using it as a topic of conversation with my adult ESL students.

Every culture must deal with death. And every culture has its own traditions, norms, beliefs, and even verbal expressions around death. I can imagine that a classroom full of ESL students from all over the world could have a potentially fascinating conversation.

I work one-on-one tutoring ESL adult learners. Many are trying not only to improve their English, but also to learn about American culture. One of the things that has recently come up is what Americans say when someone they are close to has just died, and also what to say to the person who has just lost a loved one.

As Americans, we use euphemisms for death. We say, "she passed away" or "he's gone to meet his maker." These can also be called idioms. They are simple enough to teach just as any other vocabulary. A little different is what we say to someone who has just "lost" a loved one. Perhaps the most common expression is, "I'm sorry for your loss." This is a more common verbal expression of sympathy. Perhaps an interesting discussion is why Americans refer to someone's death as a loss. The word "loss" has over a dozen different meanings.

So as you can see, the topic of death and dying can be used for at least two purposes affecting verbal skills: as a conversation topic and as a vocabulary lesson. For a long list of questions to guide an ESL conversation about death, visit ESL Conversation Questions.

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