Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye to ESL Tutoring for 2007

I had my last adult ESL student of the year today. What a dedicated student to want to meet on New Year's Eve!

Actually, all the students I've had this year have shown great dedication on their journeys to become better English language speakers. This is one of the great things about working with adult ESL students; they are usually there because they want to be. I said goodbye to some students with whom I had worked over a year (and I still miss them!) and said hello to a lot of new students.

ESL tutoring, for me, has been one of the more rewarding opportunities I've had over the years. As a private ESL tutor, I don't have the advantages of things like sick leave or health care benefits, but I do have the opportunity every day to interact with wonderful people, and to travel vicariously and cheaply!

I look forward to another year of working with dedicated and interesting English language learners.

Goodbye 2007.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Teaching English Writing Skills

Some of my adult ESL students are university students. Often, the number one priority for these students is improving their writing skills. They are no longer taking ESL courses, but are taking non-ESL courses and are expected to perform/write as native English speakers.

I find that I use the information I learned in high school (a long time ago!) about writing a paper. The same info I learned in my English courses is still the classic way to write a paper (Introduction, Body, Conclusion, topic sentences, etc.).

For ESL students who are working on their writing, I have them write something between classes and send it to me before class. It often takes quite a while to review the paper on my own time. I'm not only looking for structure, but also for grammar tenses, prepositions, etc.

Working with the student during our regular lessons to review the writing assignment often runs over our scheduled time. I try to keep this in mind when I give the writing assignment. I find that two pages are about the maximum I can cover with my ESL students in an hour-and-a-half lesson. And that's assuming there aren't too many student questions!


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Politically Correct Holiday Greetings

On December 25th, I received an email from a former adult ESL student of mine. She had lived and worked in the U.S. for less than one year. She's now back in her home country.

The subject line of the email was "Merry Christmas." I have to admit that in this time of being overly politically correct, it was kind of nice to hear from someone who hasn't been influenced by our culture and the extreme end we've moved to in the last couple of years. (And I used to be one of those people who were slightly offended by store clerks wishing me a "Merry Christmas.")

And just to make sure I address the title of this entry, the "politically correct" expressions we now use in the U.S. include "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings." "Happy Holidays" is used equally for a spoken or a written wish. "Seasons Greetings" if more commonly used as a written expression.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Many of my adult ESL students are working professionals or business students. In a recent lesson with a student of mine who is a CPA, we were talking about vocabulary related to business keeping accurate records. The phrase "CYA" came up. It stands for "cover your ass."

It was great when a week later my student came to class and told me that she'd heard this expression a couple of times in the last week. I don't think that this was the first week that people in her office used the term, it was just that she wasn't familiar with the expression before our ESL lesson. After our lesson, she was more in tune with the word and now she hears it when it's said.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

New Vocabulary for ESL Tutor

Along with millions of other folks, I went to a movie theater today. I saw "Juno." In a review I read, it was called the "Little Miss Sunshine" of this season. I think "Sunshine" is actually a little better, but I highly recommend "Juno" to all. Enough of my movie reviews!

The interesting thing about "Juno" was all the vocabulary that was new to me! A teenager in Minnesota was the main character, and although I could tell what was going on from the context, there were quite a few new words for me. They were words and expressions that I would have to research in order to teach to my ESL students.

Fortunately for me, all of my ESL students are adults who will very likely never need to know this new vocabulary. However, it highlights the fact that the most useful things for any learner to learn (whether the subject being learned is a language or any other subject) are those things that are pertinent to the student's life.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Using CL to Teach Vocabulary is very popular in the area in which I live and teach. In fact, I do all my advertising for new ESL students there (it's free!). You can find anything you want there.

For an ESL teacher/tutor in an area in which is popular, it's also a great resource to teach life skills (how to find a job or an apartment) and especially useful for teaching acronyms and abbreviations and other vocabulary. I stumbled across this fact last week when a student asked me what "420" meant. He was looking for an apartment and found the phrase "420 friendly" in several advertisements. This isn't the sort of thing taught in most ESL classes!

In addition to developing lesson plans to deliver in class, ESL teachers and tutors can also ask students to bring back new words or expressions they find in some of the ads. However, you need to be careful that all students have internet access before giving such an assignment.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Improving ESL Speaking Skills

One of my advanced ESL students told me today that she attended a professional conference last week. This was the third year of her attending this particular conference. She was very pleased to report to me that this was the first year that she spoke a lot to new people. She told me about the self-confidence she felt about speaking English and she attributed her comfort with English to our sessions.

ESL tutoring sessions are often without a specific way to assess student progress. I can often "see" or "hear" progress over several sessions, but it's not so easy for English language learners to notice this progress since it is so gradual. It's wonderful to have an event, such as a conference, for students to notice their progress. It's wonderful for them and it's wonderful for me to hear!


Sunday, December 16, 2007

ESL Teachers Using Students' First Language

Generally, ESL teachers are now trained to speak only English to their ESL students, regardless of the level of the English language learner (this usually requires using TPR for beginners). Since ESL students are from all over the world, this is fairly easy to do since the ESL teacher usually doesn't know all of the languages of his or her students. However, it's not uncommon for an ESL teacher to speak at least one other language at least to some extent.

When I have students whose first language is Spanish, I refrain from using my Spanish speaking skills. When a student has trouble expressing himself or herself because he or she does not know a particular word or phrase, then I encourage the student to use other words. And when I use a new word or expression that the student does not know, I also try to explain with other words.

Occasionally, I find myself "cheating" and using the Spanish word for a new English vocabulary word, but I do it rarely and only if I feel it's necessary (due to time constraints, etc.). However, I still believe it's best to try to stick to English for the benefit of the student.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ESL Students Taking Notes

As a private ESL tutor, the majority of my students are advanced English language learners who primarily want to work on their speaking skills. And as a teacher and a human, I like to think that some things I say are noteworthy! So it pleases me when my students take notes about corrections I make or new vocabulary (words, phrases, idioms, etc.) I offer.

In fact, although there are all different types of learners (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.), I tend to have a lot of faith in the technique of writing things down to help you remember them in the future, no matter what the student's preferred method of learning. I will occasionally recommend to a student that he or she take notes; not extensive notes, just reminder notes, at least. The majority of students follow my suggestion, but not all students do.

I think that it's important to remember that learning really is about the student more than about the teacher. So the compromise I make (with myself) is that I take notes during our sessions (it's like writing important points on a chalkboard, but I use a yellow pad of paper) and offer them to my students at the end of our lesson. I do this for both students who take notes and students who don't. Hopefully, this helps my ESL students. I know it makes me feel better!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Nouns, Adjectives, Adverbs and ESL

Many of my ESL students tell me that they want to improve their vocabulary. One of the tricks I teach my students is how learning/knowing one word can often lead to two or three other words.

For example, if I start with the word "thought" and I know that it is a noun, I can guess that adding "ful" to the end of the word may give me an adjective, "thoughtful." In this case, adding "ful" works to make another word. Adverbs can often be formed by adding "ly" to the end of the adjective, "thoughtfully."

Another example is the word "care"." "Careful" and "carefully" follow the same rules as above and form two new words.

Of course, there are many exceptions and this doesn't always work. This just one more tidbit to teach ESL students to help increase their vocabulary.


Friday, December 7, 2007

ESL Students During Winter Holidays

You would think that the ESL tutoring world would slow down in December. At least I used to think so. However, since my first year of private ESL tutoring, I have consistently had many inquiries from new students. I have three appointments with potential students already set up for next week.

Of course, it's holiday time and most "working stiffs" usually get a little time off for the winter holidays. The life and schedule of self-employed people is certainly flexible, but there is always the offset of no income.

So, just a note for self-employed ESL tutor working in the U.S., December is actually a good month to develop your ESL student base.