Friday, November 30, 2007

ESL Student Cancellation Policy

As a self-employed ESL tutor, I have a 24-hour notice cancellation policy. I require that all my students either email or call me at least 24 hours in advance if they are going to miss one of our regularly scheduled ESL lessons. If they don't give me the required notice, they are required to pay for the scheduled lesson.

The way I enforce this policy is by having ESL students pay a deposit at our first lesson. I hold the deposit until our very last class together, or I use it if a student misses a lesson without giving me notice.

In all the years I've been teaching, I think there have only been one or two students who I've had to enforce this policy with. One of my students actually gave very short notice several times and he was aware of what he was doing and paid for the missed classes. I think it was easier for him since his company paid for his lessons. I actually can't remember any other ESL students missing classes without notice who didn't have a really good reason for missing class.

Although I set it up as a strict policy, I do make exceptions when the student has a good reason for not giving notice (e.g., a sick child, a car breaking down, etc.).

I also don't charge students for missing a class when they are sick. I actually prefer that sick students not come to class. The amount of money I'm out for that one class is small compared to the amount I'd lose if I caught a virus from a sick student.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

ESL Website Deception?

I referred to an ESL site yesterday that has games. After trying to figure out the Magic Gopher game, I explored the site a little more. On the front page of, there's a "Test Your Level" section. It tests ESL speakers on grammar and vocabulary, etc.

I took a couple of the tests and I know I got everything right (they were simple tests for native English speakers). Interestingly, for every test I took, my result showed that I'm at an "upper intermediate" level. Well, I know that everything was right. They don't let you go back and check your answers; you just have to keep taking more tests to see how you do.

I thought it's a bit unfair to test ESL speakers and then give them results that show that they are at a lower level than they truly are. The results page tells you to practice your grammar by looking at the materials on the website. I just think it's not very honest to give you inaccurate results just to get you to look further into their site.

Aside from that, some of the materials are good. It's a British English site, so be careful if you're trying to learn/teach American English.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Game on An ESL Site

I don't know how this is specifically related to teaching English as a Second Language, but it's on an ESL site and it's quite fantastic.

If you know how it works, please let me know.

Here's the link to an "ESL game."


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Teaching ESL During the Holidays

Things sometimes slow down in the ESL tutoring world during the Thanksgiving holiday. Sometimes I wonder if it's because of the teachers and tutors or because of the ESL students. The American Thanksgiving holiday is not something that's celebrated by many of my ESL adult students. For a few, it's a time to take a four-day weekend and head to Vegas.

Although, I do have one student who has a kindergarten-aged child who insists on all the traditional trimmings. Since he's only five or six years old and has only learned about the basics of the trimmings in class, his mom takes certain liberties in preparing the meal. They have a traditional American Thanksgiving with some Chinese flavor.

Another thing I've noticed over the last few years of tutoring ESL students privately is that I've traditionally gotten several new students in the month of December. I assumed when I started out that December would be a really slow month. I expected January to be a bigger month, but it's never worked that way. Strangely, December is the busy month.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Teaching ESL with a Spanish Surname

I have a few ESL students whose first language is Spanish. I also happen to have a Spanish last name. I don't put my full name in my ads on craigslist, but I usually do use my last name when signing my first email responding to an inquiry from a potential student. Occasionally, Spanish-speaking students are concerned that I may not be a native English speaker.

When they meet me, they discover that I am a native English speaker and we then have a small discussion about how the southwestern part of the United States actually used to belong to Mexico and that there are many, many people in this part of the country whose families have been here for generations.

Just as a tip to other ESL tutors doing advertising, if you have a distinctly "ethnic" name, it may be useful to emphasize in your ads that you are a native-English speaker (although, I include this in my ad and people still have questions) and/or initially do not use your last name.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Americans Saying Thank You

A couple of ESL students with whom I've worked over the years have mentioned to me the fact that Americans say "thank you" a lot. Since I've heard this from English language learners from more than one part of the world, I tend to think that this could be a true generalization about us.

I'm reminded about this as I'm watching my all-time favorite reality show, "Amazing Race." Every one of the teams consistently says thank you to the cabbies (taxi cab drivers) and other people who help them.

I think that it's true that "thank you" does go a long way in the U.S., as well as "please." So these are two expressions I always be sure to teach the use of to my ESL students. They are useful "survival words."


Saturday, November 17, 2007

List of Reduction Sentences for ESL

"Reductions" are those reduced forms of words that native English speakers use when speaking. They are a major reason that non-native speakers say that American English is so difficult to understand, or that we talk too fast.

I try to help help my students become familiar with common reductions. I have a list I found online called, "WEINSTEIN'S (1982) HIGH-FREQUENCY REDUCED FORMS." Even though it's from 1982, it's still the same way native American English speakers speak. In addition to the list that we go over, I also write some sentences in this "nonsense" language (how American English is really spoken) and ask them to tell me how they would be said in Standard American English. Here's a list of sentences I use for one of my exercises.

Yer gonna wanna give ‘er ‘er medicine before ya leave.

Didja wanna hava glassa wine with dinner? (this is also useful for teaching the concept of "distancing" by using a past tense for a present situation)

I dunno.

I hafta go-ta work tomorrow.

Willya go-ta the store fer me?

Whatcher name?

Whadja do last night?

Whaddaya doin’?

Whacha doin’?

Does ‘e love ‘er?

Teaching ESL students about reductions particularly helps them in improving their listening skills.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

ESL Students and Leaving Voicemails

I've had a few ESL students who are reluctant to leave voicemails. For some, they think that their English isn't good enough. For some of us who are old enough, we can probably remember back to when it was just plain awkward to leave telephone messages on answering machines. So maybe we can appreciate our students', or other ESL speakers', reluctance to leave voicemails.

The only time that I insist that students call me (and possibly have to leave a voicemail) is when they are potential new students who I haven't met or who haven't been referred to me. This is just for the sake of safety. It helps me to get a little bit of a feel for the person I may be meeting. I meet my students in a public space, so I have less of a safety issue than someone who meets new students in a private location.

This is just one of those safety tips I want to mention for private ESL tutors.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Using Upper Case Letters in Emails

Many of my adult ESL students want to improve their business ESL skills. This includes speaking and writing skills for a specific purpose.

Writing effective emails is one of top priorities for most of my students. As I've mentioned before, we often review emails they've written in the past week and make corrections. I don't only look at grammar issues, but just as important, we review the "tone" of the emails.

One of the things I rarely have had to mention to my ESL students is how WRITING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS (OR UPPER CASE LETTERS) is equivalent to shouting or yelling at someone. If you're teaching business ESL for emails, I'd recommend mentioning this to students just in case.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

ESL 099 on Yahoo Answers

I got another "Best Answer" on Yahoo! Answers. The question wasn't too tough, but I guess most things aren't tough when you're familiar with them.

The question was, "Does anyone know what does ESL 099 mean?" Written correctly, the question would be, "Does anyone know what ESL 099 means?"

My answer was, "Usually, something like 'ESL 099' is the name of an English as a Second Language course at a community college or university (in the U.S.).

Depending on the school, a level '099' course is probably one of the beginning level courses for the school. That does not mean that it is a beginning level ESL course (for absolute beginner English Language Learners), but that it is one of the school's courses for ESL students to help bring them up to speed to succeed in other college courses."


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Enjoying ESL Lessons

One of the really cool things that happens for me (and I think my ESL students) is when we are at the end of a lesson and I start to use language to indicate that the lesson is coming to a close (for example, "Do you have any plans for the weekend?") and my student says, "Are we finished already?"

My adult ESL students are often surprised at how quickly our one-and-a-half hour lessons go by. (Here's another teaching opportunity for expressions like, "Time flies when you're having fun.") It makes me feel good that my students enjoy our lessons together and that they go by so quickly for us both. These are also the lesson I really enjoy.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

New Intermediate Student and Grammar

I'm excited to have a new adult ESL student who is at an intermediate level. Most of my students lately have been very advanced ESL students. While this is enjoyable in a lot of ways, having more to teach is even more exciting.

With my advanced ESL students, mostly we practice conversation skills and sometimes pronunciation. Only occasionally do we need to review grammar points.

With most intermediate ESL students, grammar review is also a part of our lessons, although the review is more extensive than for advanced students. I actually like grammar and enjoy teaching it.

I look forward to refreshing my English grammar teaching skills.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Using Craigslist to Advertise for ESL Students

As a private ESL tutor, I continue to find my students through posting free advertisements on My postings have allowed me to earn a living teaching ESL to adults for quite a while now.

The effectiveness of depends on the area of the U.S. you are in, or even the area of the world--as it is now available in many cities around the world. I'm fortunate to live and work in an area where a huge percentage of the population, including English language learners, knows about

I would love hear about other options ESL tutors use to find students. Please send me any ideas you have and I will be sure to post them so that they may be useful to other tutors.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

ESL and Tone of Voice

One of the things I bring up with my adult ESL students is "tone." The words that we actually use when we communicate with someone in person only make up a small percentage of what we communicate. Body language and the tone of voice we use can be much more revealing. In fact, I believe I've read that body language actually makes up something like 90% of what we communicate (I think the percentage is smaller, but it is something near this).

Our tone can also convey what we truly mean. If I scream, "I'll do it," to someone who asks a favor, the listener probably will think that I am angry and don't really want to do "it." Or "I'll do it," in the proper tone can convey a true willingness to do something.

The same goes for questions. The tone of a question can convey many different feelings or thoughts. For example, if I yell, "Who did this?," probably no one will want to "take credit." If I say it in a very appreciative tone, the doer will probably get the impression that the thing he or she did is appreciated.

Tone is very important in our communications and can convey our true feelings. Different cultures have different "tones." As ESL teachers and tutors, we may want to make sure that the tone our students use truly conveys what he or she intends.


Friday, November 2, 2007

My Favorite ESL Books

If you're a new ESL teacher or tutor, you may be wondering about the best ESL reference books and ESL textbooks out there. If you work for a school, hopefully they will have a library of books you can use for your students and ESL reference books for yourself. The type of ESL library you can expect will often depend on the budget of the school and whether it's a private language school or a public school.

If you're a private ESL tutor, then you will have to build your own library. I've added to my ESL blog photos and links to the ESL books I highly recommend and have in my personal library.

If you click on the photos of the books, you will go over to Amazon. They have used copies of most of these books. I highly recommend used copies and hitting your local used bookstores to save money.

However, although I've found some really great reference books, I've never found the ESL books I've listed here at used bookstores. I think that once an ESL teacher gets a hold of these books, he or she probably never lets them go!

For more information about these books and others, you can read my ESL Textbook Evaluation page on my website.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Correct Spelling and ESL Students

During private ESL lessons with my adult students, I usually take any opportunity I can to provide "real life" learning. I think I've already written about helping my students to write checks properly and safely.

Another thing that often comes up when my students write checks for ESL tutoring fees is the spelling of the word "forty." More than half of my ESL students over the years have written "fourty." That makes perfect sense, since "four" is spelled with a "u."

This unnecessary change is just part of the English language.

Today, as I deposited some checks at my bank, I found it interesting that the bank teller (a native-born American and native English speaker) commented that whenever she sees "forty" she immediately thinks to herself that the checkwriter doesn't know how to spell. Then her next thought reminds her that it is correctly spelled without a "u."

Just another way that English is not logical, even to native English speakers.