News & Events
9 Non-Academic Ways to Help English Language Learners Feel Comfortable Speaking
- August 17, 2022
- Posted by: Kelly McLarnan
- Category: Uncategorized
Intro: I have been working this summer to get a group of workers who visit homes to be able to speak and ask and answer questions to clients. The class is extremely good because they are exposed to English speakers all the time, but they are hard-pressed in speaking situations. Since many of my Spanish students want so much to help their Spanish speaking staff, today’s chat is about ways to help them build confidence that seem obvious, but in the moment, they may be quickly forgotten.
1.) Use the power of the most social staff member for good. If you’re lucky enough to have a very social learner who isn’t afraid to try, work with that! There are some ways to correct them well that will help them to see what they did not say correctly, and of course, do it with a smile. (Don’t be the 7th grade grammar teacher who you may well have hated!)
When correcting, it is good to repeat both the question and the answer. Due to structural differences in the language, ELL’s might have as hard a time figuring out who is doing the action and when (past, present, future, etc.) it happened as you do when identifying the verb ending.
- Where is Johanna?
- Going to get change.
- Oh, ok. Is Johanna going to get change, and is she coming back soon?
- Yes, she come soon.
- Thank you! She’s coming soon. That is what I needed to know. Thanks!
Another option for earlier learners would be to give some choices. Is she ______ing or _______ing? Is she at the corner store, or is she at the bank? Upon hearing the answer, try to repeat it for confirmation and say it naturally. This is a lot like giving a multiple choice test. You know often what is wrong, before being able to determine which answer is precisely correct. Try to help them narrow it down from the sea of words they are trying to process.
2.) Speak normally, as much as possible.
It is easy to fall into the trap of saying things like, “She no go there yesterday?” to accommodate your ELL. If you have to resort to doing this, make sure you say it again normally when you have established a shared meaning.
- Did she go yesterday?
- She went yesterday, right?
Then always encourage to let them know you appreciate it. I know I am preaching to the choir here.
3.) Pick a weekly phrase, 3-4 words that you need to say all the time. Make it a joke and keep repeating that sucker. With one of my kid students, our reset button was: If it were easy, everybody would be doing it! This amused that student, but it could easily be something like: Hey Marco, Could you do me a favor? Can you get change?
There’s a lot of pain with understanding the English word “get” in all it’s miserable glory, so reinforcing “get” in the 3 ways that are most common: 1) for obtaining something, 2) to express emotional processes 3) to express a reflexive movement: get up, get over, get down, get around, get paid. . . There are a million ways to use get which always translates weirdly into Spanish. None of them are all that clear because Spanish has very formal structures for these 3 different meanings.
4.) Depending on your audience, pick an idiom and try to explain it! Then use it. In a restaurant you might use: “She’s in the weeds” or something that applies to their life directly. In an informal business setting, you might try “messing around,” “messing up,” or “hurry up.” You can look it up, probably best on DeepL, but it works any which way. Acting it out is an interesting way to get everyone involved, especially on the island where you have some native bilingual speakers thrown into the mix.
5.) Act it out and make them laugh. Emotion of all kinds makes language stick more than anything else. If you are trying to learn Spanish, there is a point of meeting here that’s easy. If you are willing to make a fool of yourself to get the meaning across, the effect on the speaker is often to let go of the shame or embarrassment of speaking.
6.) If things get too crazy and confusing, have a laugh and thank them for trying. Take a break and don’t beat a dead horse. (There’s another crazy idiomatic expression!)
7.) Use songs if that suits your personality! Play your favorite song or sing along to make them smile. Ask them if they understand the song. I like lots of corny songs, and some cheesy and easy listening is always amazing for this. I have had a lot of success with country songs like, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” or slow classics, “Easy Like Sunday Morning.” The other day I played “All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun” to get my early class moving and talking about how it sounds and how it might be pronounced, what it means, and discussing everyday words some might not know. This is good for groups with different levels. Emotions are key to retaining language, so there you go!
8.) Realize how your employees perceive you and know that they definitely can say the things you repeat all the time pretty much in the same voice you do. I recently had an English class that was a group of hospitality workers from various businesses. I knew several of their bosses, and one particular group could yell out all the stressful orders, and things their boss lady said when she got upset. They sounded exactly like her, with her full inflection, and almost zero accent on those words. These adult students gave the perfect imitation of their boss without even knowing each word. They knew the meaning of her words like a song. They could not pronounce well in general, but repetition and emotion get things stuck in the brain!
9.) Post signs in English with colors and labels when possible. Many times employees in all types of industries come to class knowing all the words on the bathroom and business signs by heart.