Tips for how to get your private ESL students talking

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As a trainee or novice ESL teacher, one of the most difficult things that you will face is trying to get some of your private ESL students to talk. Here are some tips to help you to get your private students talking.

For some students, speaking in English in the classroom – where almost everyone is making mistakes – might not be a very daunting experience; however, as soon as they are ‘isolated’ and exposed to the critical ear of a private ESL teacher – they may suddenly be unable to utter a single word. In order to get your students talking, you should, first of all, consider how you can build up their self-confidence: this is the key to everything. Start off by engaging them in subjects that are relevant to them: their families and friends, their pets, their hobbies and interests, their ambitions and fears, and their likes and dislikes.

In conversing with the students, consciously adjust your language to a level that is comfortably understood by them: you may have to speak at a lower level than their actual CEFR level. While talking to them use encouraging words and expressions: be patient, smile, nod in agreement, and show that you are interested in what they are talking about: even if you are not really interested. Don’t forget, professionalism demands that you give the appearance of being interested although you may not be: your show of interest will motivate and encourage them to speak, and that is your objective.

Help them out when you find them resorting to their L1, but don’t rush to supply the required words or expressions at the sound of the first ‘er’ or ‘um’. Ignore trivial speech errors: correct only those careless errors that they could have corrected themselves, for example: ‘He like it’ could be responded to with a gently uttered ‘likes’ – to which the student would most like respond with ‘ likes, sorry’. If you find they are apologizing for their mistakes too often, tell them that it’s not necessary: they aren’t doing anything wrong that they have to apologize for.

After they have finished speaking, you can discuss the more serious mistakes that they made. Encourage your students to use simple sentences and compound sentences: they are very easy to construct and use; they are also relatively easy to teach – and you should have taught them these types of sentences before they enter the B2 level of the CEFR.

Additionally, the use of questions such as ‘What do you think (of)…?’ ‘Can you describe/explain/suggest/summarize…?’ and so forth, forces them to respond with more than just a ‘yes/no’ reply. Finally, role play should be used frequently once the students have developed sufficient self-confidence.

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