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I think that speaking good English comes from a few different areas that need to be concentrated on.|
1/ Confidence; In China, face is a huge issue in society which pervades into the classroom as well. “Face” is counterproductive, destructive and reduces the student’s confidence. How the students learn if they don’t have confidence enough to make mistakes? Mistakes are how we learn and if mistakes are not learned from, we keep making the same ones over and over again and nothing is gained at all.
2/ Environment; Students MUST have an environment within the classroom in which they are comfortable and relaxed enough to try and speak, to make mistakes and learn from them. In my experience, such an environment does not exist in English classes taught by Chinese English teachers. Boredom in such classes “switches” the students off and their mind wanders elsewhere. I am always joking in the classroom, keeping their minds off how difficult they think it is and focused on how easy it is by using humor. I use the book as a general guideline but always apply it to something relevant to them. The textbooks are good guides but are often incorrect I find. I supplement and modernize the book with English they can use.
3/ Motivation; The students must always be kept engaged in the lesson(s) and made to feel that they’re not stupid, they can try and they can win. I use the analogy of Yao Ming and how hard he had to practice to get where he is today. I point out that even Bill Gates made mistakes, but he kept trying because he really wanted to win, he never gave up and look where he is today. I also use their mothers cooking too. I ask; “do you think your Moms cooking was great the first time she cooked? The usual answer is no. I ask, how do you think she’s the best cook, to them, today? They say practice. Bingo! Make the analogies something can identify with and it motivates them if delivered in the right way. There is, of course, a lot more to motivating students but this is the abridged version for this post.
4/ KISS; (Keep It Simple Stupid). Too many students are inundated with useless grammar rules that are not needed when speaking English. There are a few simple grammar rules that apply when speaking English in my opinion. They are;
A: Singular or plural. IE, for singular “is” applies. For plural “are” applies as a general rule. Too many students can’t identify with this so I say “is = 1” and “are is the same as Chinese word for 2”. It’s quite simple, generally applies and they can identify with it. It works for me anyway.
B: Gender. Is it he or she, his or hers, him or her. We each have our own way of trying to teach this one but as long as they get the general idea, I won’t try to perfect it as we can usually understand what is meant.
C: Tenses. I put it this way; “was it yesterday, is it today, or will it be tomorrow”.
A simpler general rule of thumb, which doesn’t apply in some cases, but in most can be; words in the past tense usually have “ed” at the end of them. Words in the present tense usually have “ing” at the end of them. The future tense usually has “will do/go” etc in front of them. I realize that this isn’t a perfect system but it works and serves to confuse them less and they get a decent grasp of this.
Too often, the students are taught useless vocabulary, in my opinion. To have good spoken English doesn’t mean you have to have a huge vocabulary. I show them that the words they know are good enough to have effective oral communication skills. I show them that to communicate orally doesn’t need a long and complex sentence. The shorter and simpler, using the vocabulary they already know, the sentence is, the easier it is to remember and use when needed. The longer the sentence is, that they use, the easier it is for them to confuse themselves and whoever is listening because they tend to forget what they meant, so, keep it short.
5/ Listening; a lot of spoken English comes from the ability to listen carefully, disseminate what is heard and respond. In my classes, I start by speaking slowly and over the course term, I speed up and unconsciously, students start listening in “real time” or real speed if you like.
The other way I teach them listening skills is to, at any time during the class, stop them, give them a subject and ask for a single word on that subject. If a word, said by one student, is repeated by another student I’ll think of some funny way to punish them for not listening. After they are ok at just one word, I ask for 2 words on a subject and finally graduating to a sentence. This makes them listen to each other and it becomes a game to them, even in college. It’s fun, it’s easy and no face is lost. This also helps them learn to think quickly which is essential when speaking with native speakers of English.
This is my way of teaching, it works for me and for my students and is a lot of fun. What I’ve written here touches on the basics only but it gives a general idea on how I do it. The great thing is that the students learn, they have fun and I do too. We frequently laugh, we learn and at the end of the day, that’s the mission statement.
I could go into the Chinese teachers with a critique but this isn’t the place for that. I wrote a paper similar to this for my college and one about the Chinese English teachers too, most of whom even I can’t understand.