It’s no secret that language learners are often some of the most frustrated learners. There’s a lot of pressure, and when you end up not speaking your target language like a native speaker, this can feel like a crushing blow. Setting aside all the advice on how to speak like your target culture (for example, speaking slowly), here are five tips to improve your teaching style.
Deliver clear instructions as you teach
Teaching is like driving a car—if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to get into trouble. So make sure that you’re well prepared in all your lessons and know exactly what they are. That way, foreign students can learn how to overcome difficulties before they even come up.
Reassure students with positive feedback
Despite many years of experience, you can still get tense when a student has problems with your lesson. Helping people feel comfortable in the language they want to learn is important to them, and it also builds confidence. They will come back for more lessons if they know your class will go well.
Focus on the student’s needs
It’s true that building confidence is important—after all, everyone wants to be able talk about themselves and have others understand them. But it’s equally important to spend time focusing on their actual needs. Are they learning the present tense? The use of prepositions? It’s rare to find a student who doesn’t want to feel more confident, so once you have that, you need to move on.
Make sure students get lots of practice
Students don’t really learn a language with just one lesson. The more lessons they take, the more they’ll grow as a speaker of your target language. If you’re not careful, they’ll just be trying to memorize the grammar rules and they’ll never really speak naturally. Now, don’t get me wrong—memorizing is important, but it’s also imperative that students get lots of speaking practice.
Encourage students to experiment with your target language
Students can sound shy during class if they’re the only one who is speaking in the target language. Let them know that it’s okay to experiment with the language. Sharing experiences and opinions is a great way for them to practice their speaking skills.
It’s important for language learners to get good at speaking their target language, but you don’t need to train yourself to become a native-sounding speaker. Students just want some clarification on the rules and how they can apply them in real situations. Give your students more than just explanations about when to use each rule—they also want specific examples and opportunities to practice their skills.
Use precise language to maximize understanding
When you’re teaching a language, you’ll run into the same problems your students do. Sometimes, your students will come to class with an incorrect understanding of a grammar rule or other concept. That’s why it’s important to explain concepts in detail and with precision. It’s better to be painfully clear than giving a vague explanation that doesn’t help students improve.
Don’t forget about those “get out” cards!
I knew an English teacher who was in a university-level business class, where he was asked to teach four levels of English speakers at the university. This meant that he had to help students who were already fluent in English learn how to speak correctly in their target language.
Often, he had students who seemed weak in grammar, but they were great speakers and had no idea what they were doing wrong. After a while, he realized that all these students needed was information on how to use the present tense and prepositions correctly.