Tips on Communicating
by Judie Haynes
Provide clues to meaning
- Use drawings, dramatic gestures, actions, emotions, voice, mime, chalkboard sketches, photographs and visual materials to provide clues to meaning.
- If necessary, repeat your actions using the same simple structures and actions.
- Simplify your message as much as possible breaking them into smaller, manageable parts to give newcomers a chance at comprehending.
- Make sure the student's attention is focused.
- Don't insist, however,that students make eye contact with you when you are speaking to them. This is considered rude in many cultures.
Modify your speech
- Talk at a slow-to-normal pace, in short sentences.
- Use a pleasant tone
- Use simple sentence structure (subject-verb-object) and high-frequency words
- Use names of people rather than pronouns.
- Pause after phrases or short sentences, not after each word. You do not want to distort the rhythm of the language.
- Avoid using the passive voice and complex sentences.
- If you have something important to convey, speak one-on- one to the newcomer rather than in front of the class. The anxiety of being in the spotlight interferes with comprehension.
- Ask simple yes/no questions so that newcomers have an opportunity to respond.
- Accept one-word answers or gestures.
Be an active listener
- Give full attention to your newcomer and make every effort to understand his / her attempts to communicate
- Talk in a calm, quiet manner. Raising your voice does not help comprehension
- Demonstrate your patience through your facial expressions and body language.
- Give your ESL students extra time to respond.
- Encourage new learners of English to act out or to draw pictures to get their meaning across.
- Don't jump in immediately to supply the words for the student.
- If the student response is heavily accented, correct by repeating the words correctly. Do not ask the student to repeat the correction. This can be very embarrassing.
- Resist the urge to over correct. This will inhibit newcomers so that they will be less willing to speak. Allow students to use a bilingual dictionary for words that can not be acted out.
Check comprehension frequently
- Don't ask "Do you understand?" unless you have taught it. This is not a reliable check since many students will nod "yes" when they don't really understand.
- Teach the phrases (or have a bilingual volunteer teach them) "I don't understand," "Slowly, please," and "Please repeat."
- Write down messages so students have a visual as well as auditory input. Make a list of phrases you want your student to learn and to understand. Ask a bilingual volunteer to work with the student on those phrases.
When students can't understand you, speak slower and enunciate; do not speak louder.
Body language is important; use it to your advantage to help convey meaning.
Be aware that not all body language is universal (ex: pointing -- seems like a good idea, but it is often offensive)
Use diagrams and pictures to help explain vocab
Repeat, repeat, repeat...and then write down.
Ask your students to explain what you just said.
Be aware that some words do not exist in your students' languages (ex: crib, awkward)
If you think it will help, explain to your students that learning English takes a long time (1 to 7 years, depending on learning ability, age, motivation, and level of fluency the student wishes to achieve)
Try not to make your student feel pressured to speak quickly; this societal pressure often discourages non-native speakers from participating in conversations.
Things Teachers Can Do to Improve Their Students' English:
Remember that adults think like adults, even if they speak like children.
Remember that reading/writing skills could be superior to speaking/listening skills, or vice versa.
Simplify your words but don't use baby talk -- leaving out articles does not help the student! "I Go School" is not a useful phrase to know.
Don't be afraid to use conjunctions -- they are used in everyday speech. Conversely, limit idiom use.
Speak clearly but naturally.
Pause between words.
Be careful if you use children's books; some students may be insulted.
Learn a few words (hello, goodbye) in your student's language.
Teach your students how to use the library. Encourage them to borrow books and movies so they can practice.
- The Pine Hills Library in Albany has a great ESL section, check it out!