It’s taken me a fair few years of TEFL teaching to get the most out of my ESL class. When I first began, I treated my students as if they were native English speakers, that understood everything that I said. Little did I know that after my first couple of weeks, a few students had complained to their course supervisor, that I was speaking too fast, and they couldn’t understand.
Although sometimes picking up the pace in class can beneficial for your students, doing it right off the bat is definitely a bit unfair.
So, how do you get your message across in a fluent, simple way?
This is definitely a point that gets overlooked in my opinion. Nearly all ESL teachers will have an accent of some kind, controlling and fine tuning that accent is important in the classroom, as it can lead to lack of understanding and confusion. Not only this but making sure your words are slower and generally pronounced well is vital.
Lets look at this sentence; ‘what do you mean?’. In most cases this sentence would be slurred together to say something like; ‘whadoya mean?’. It just happens when you’re talking at speed. This simple sentence would now be gobbledygook to a lower to intermediate ESL learner, because you haven’t asked it clearly. So try being clearer at the beginning of the year, and as they get used to your voice, things will become smoother.
I kid you not, I basically survived my entire first 6 months in China, solely using body language. Actions are universal; pointing, numbers, and all sorts are understood world wide. Using actions and lots of body language when you are teaching really helps get the message across. Be eccentric in your actions, too. If something is humungous, fling your arms out as far as they’ll go to show you’re talking about something damn big! It can be a real life saver sometimes!
Allowing time for understanding
Sentences can be really long. Duh, obviously they can be long, but sometimes because of this, students need a sec just take it all in. This particularly happens when teaching new words or telling a story about a personal experience, because what you’re saying is a bit lengthy, they struggle to keep up. So, when you’re talking for a prolonged amount of time (over 30 seconds), make sure you’re breaking it up with pauses and really, like I said above, speaking clearly. By doing this, you stand a better chance of most of the class getting what you’re saying first time.
Asking clear questions about what you’ve said
This point above ties into this one, too. When you are talking about something, or tying to explain it, it becomes a lot to take in and gets boring. To make sure people are remaining involved and focussed, try chucking a few related questions in from time to time. If you’re telling a story, just ask something like; ‘Don’t you think that’s interesting?’ or ‘That’s funny, right?’. Something simple just to check that they’re still actually switched on.
Nodding doesn’t mean understanding
This is one of my most hated things…ever. The ‘yes teacher’ nod. It took me a while to clock on to this, about 2/3 months into my first year to be precise. I noticed that as I was getting into a story, or going through slides in a PPT (generally teaching adults here), people would happily sit there paying attention and nodding, smiling every time I made eye contact. All the right signals to let me know that what I was saying was going straight in! Win, I am a teaching God. But then after my slides, or story, when I asked some simple questions, no one could answer. In fact, they were looking at each other confused at what I was asking, like it wasn’t even part of the class. It was very frustrating. So I have now learnt that, just because someone is nodding, it definitely does not mean they are understanding what you are saying. So try all the points above to make sure that when you see them nodding, you can be sure that they truly understand you. The funniest and most ironic thing is, now I do the same thing when people are talking to me in Chinese and I don’t really know what they’re talking about, such be life.
Hopefully these points will make communicating in class fun and enjoyable. These days my classes really enjoy some personal stories I have about the topic they’re learning in class. I would say that the most important thing to take away from this, is to just try and be really clear when you are talking about something a bit tricky. It saves a lot of headache.