Let them talk

Hey guys. How’s your new year stuff going? Good? Terrible? Same! I’ve been doing quite good in the reading department, and have been exercising almost every day. Go me.

That’s not what I’m here to talk about. What I’m here to talk about is how I view English conversation lessons as they pertain to me.

Disclaimer: everyone teaches differently, especially when it comes to teaching a language. This is just my experience. Yada yada.

We good? Awesome.

So, since coming to Japan I’ve taught the gamut of ages, from toddling kidlets to folks who’d been retired for a decade or more. It’s been an interesting experience because every age group brings their own strengths and desires to the classroom, and you have to react accordingly. For kids I find that they react a lot better when we play a load of games- the more active, the better. For adults, helping them figure out how to share their political views can be challenging- especially when they’re voicing opinions about your country! 

Whatever the case though, when I see other teachers with students one thing kind of bugs me- how much the teacher talks about situations the students don’t understand.

Imagine you’re a beginner student hoping to pick up a second language for work or for an upcoming trip. You go into class and, in the target language, the teacher says, “Have you heard about [this conspiracy theory]?”

You shake your head, and thus begins a thirty minute lecture you can barely understand about something you can’t quite grasp. Wasn’t there a lesson for today?

Mind you, there are students out there that love that kind of thing. At the right level, they’ll get into it- asking questions, scribbling down notes, the whole thing.

But other times, you see their eyes glaze over as they politely nod along to the teacher’s words, waiting for it to be over.

If you’re new to teaching OR are used to teaching in a particular style, it’s easy for this to happen. Especially in a land like Japan where students are often taught in a lecture setting where you don’t interrupt the teacher- you let them do their lecture and if it’s not interesting to you, you wait it out by doodling, napping… The usual shenanigans when kids get bored.

I dunno about you but I feel pretty cruddy if a student falls asleep on me.

But let’s say you really want to share that conspiracy theory or that news about the celebrity or whatever. What can you do so they don’t roll their eyes and pull out a comic book?

Here’s what I find works:

Me: Hey student, did you read the news yesterday?

Student: [answers either yes or no; if yes, I press them about what they remember. Then,]

Me: What do you know about [topic]?

Student: [answers again. Sometimes they know all about it, sometimes they have no clue.]

Me: Well, according to the news [blah blah blah]. 

I give the student a chance to react, then ask them questions on the topic depending on their level of interest. If they’re keen we’ll go into more detail. If not?

I move on. I’ll save the topic for another audience.

Fellow conversation teachers, I get it. I really do. Teaching similar lessons day in and out can be super boring. But that’s why you get the students talking about what they like. If you only discuss what you’re into, you’re only going to bore yourself further. 

Let them talk. Let them practice. Let them share.

Let them learn.

You might learn something yourself in the process.

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