Not long ago, I had a lesson with a young Chinese boy. The circumstances of that lesson, and past experience, have prompted me to write this article. For the most part, my classes go off without a hitch. My students are usually polite, behaved, prepared, and eager to improve their English. However, every so often things do not work out quite so well. As a result, we made a list of best practices for students. In other words, these are things you can do to ensure your class is a pleasant experience for yourself and for your English coach.
Children with a limited vocabulary should not be left in a class alone with a native speaker.
As an example, let’s take the class I mentioned above. The young boy in question was maybe 6 or 7 years old and his English vocabulary was clearly limited. In the beginning of the class his father was there helping him to understand what I was saying. Unfortunately, the father walked away, after a short period of time, and left the child and I to fend for ourselves. As a result, we were limited to doing just the class material. I was unable to get the boy to actively engage because he was unable to comprehend anything I said, which forced me to spend a great deal of the lesson typing instructions and requests in the chatbox. In a one hour class, this is not such a big deal. However, in a 25-30 minute class, this becomes a real concern.
Not only that, but the child is just that. A child. After about 15-20 minutes he started to get antsy and possibly a bit frustrated. As a result, he started to lose focus and he started rocking (back and forth) and leaning back in his chair, drawing on the whiteboard and he switched from speaking softly to periodically and randomly screaming answers out.
Find a quiet place to do your classes
In the session I referred to above, the boy’s younger brother was clearly in the same room. The brother was making quite a racket, which interfered with my ability to hear the student. This isn’t fair to me or to the student who thinks he made a mistake when I ask him to repeat something I did not hear because his brother was making noise. So, if you have children remove them to another room while you have class. Find something for them to do to occupy their attention for the length of your class.
Also, make sure nobody is watching television, listening to music or talking in the room where you are having class. If they are in a neighboring room, ask them to keep the volume down.
In addition, I strongly suggest purchasing a headset (preferably) with a microphone.
Review your previous class(es) before each new session
One thing I have found is that many of my students do not review what they learned in class. For some reason, they finish a class and go about living their life as if English never existed. I never quite understood this. If you really want to improve your English then, in many ways, studying outside of class is even more important than the classes themselves.
No. I am not saying you do not need to take English classes. Of course you should.
What I am saying is that the self-study time is where the real improvement comes from.
So, what you want to do is after each class review what you learned. Study the vocabulary and corrections, and then review that same information before your next class. It’s best to study it throughout the time between classes so that you have mastered it before your next session. So make sure you review those notes you took in class.
Take notes in class
As mentioned above, you should be taking notes in class. Any good English tutor will write down (type) your corrections, vocabulary (definitions and pronunciations) and other information into the class chat box. You should copy this information into a file that you use for notes.
I usually suggest (to my students) that they should use Google Docs or Microsoft Word via One Drive so that everything is safely stored in the cloud. However, it really is a matter of preference and the choice is totally up to you. Personally, I store all my notes in Google Calendar. I schedule the class and I store my notes in the Description field.
This is perfect for me because I can refer to my notes for a particular class. However, this will probably not be the best option for a student and I repeat my advice above about using MS Word or Google Docs via the cloud.
If you want a “free talk” class, then make sure you are prepared.
I can not begin to tell you how often a student will book a free talk class and then come class time, he/she will have no idea what they want to talk about. It is important to understand that a conversation should work in at least two directions. It should never be left to the teacher alone to always carry and direct the discussion. I have had many “conversations” with students that were more akin to me interviewing them than they were conversations. I would spend 30-60 minutes asking students questions and hoping for more than short answers. Like I said, this is not a conversation. This would be an interview.
In the first few classes, this interview style discussion is understandable. However, over time and with a certain amount of instruction from your English coach, you should be able to start taking a more active role in conversations.
Not only that, but it’s easier to discuss topics that you are interested in or knowledgeable about. This is another good reason for the student to pick the subject(s) to be discussed. This will make it easier for him/her to participate taking the burden off the teacher’s shoulders and making it more like an actual conversation.
How to prepare for a conversational English class
So, how do you prepare for a free talk or conversational English class? By making a list of topics you want to talk about. What subjects are you interested in or passionate about? Start with the ones you are well versed in. Perhaps, there are some topics you want to talk about, but you don’t know much about them. Well, this is a great time to start learning about them. Don’t you agree? Another good option is to discuss current events with your English coach.
Small Talk is a great place to start
I always suggest starting out with a little small talk. Ask your teacher how he/she is doing. Maybe ask about their family next. Move on to asking them what they have been up to (doing) since your last session. Then you can find a way to segue into one of your prepared topics of conversation.
It’s not a race. Take your time.
Many students get nervous when they first start classes with a new teacher. As a result, they have a natural tendency to start talking and reading fast. Others feel that since the class time is limited and they are paying for it, that every second counts. So, they also tend to talk and read quickly. Like I said, it is natural and normal. However, it is also a very bad idea.
When you talk fast you are more prone to make mistakes. This applies to native speakers, as well. When you read too quickly, there is an increased chance that you will misread a word. For example, I had a student the other night who, while reading out loud, said “these” but in the text the word was “those”. Other students will change singular words to plural and vice versa (plural to singular).
So, relax and slow down. Take your time. You will make less mistakes, probably learn more and hopefully, have some fun.
A big deal – something very important
Akin to – similar to or like
Engage – to participate
Prone – likely
Segue – transition or change topics
To be well versed in something – to know a lot about something
Vice versa – the opposite of or reverse of something