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Old 18th January 2010, 10:49 PM   #1
Grimace
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Default how to give a private conversation class

Hey everyone,

I'm not sure where this belongs on this forum (or if it even belongs here), so the moderators can move this to wherever they see fit.

I've just picked up a conversation class with an adult to add to my abundant collection. She claims she wants to improve her English so she's not as nervous when she has to speak it on the phone at work, and she wants to focus to be primarily on speaking. Now, I have ample experience giving classes to children and teenagers with school in mind, but not a lot of purely helping someone break through the barriers of nervousness and lack of fluency. I had a conversation class several times a week with a retired man over the summer, but all he wanted was basically a sounding board to speak to. Since his English was so near to perfect, I barely needed to utter more than a sentence every 5 minutes or so (he was absolutely fascinating anyway, so I shut up and listened as a matter of course).

So, my question is how do I approach this new class I have? When people say they want "conversation only", is that just a code for "I need grammar and vocabulary, but just don't flood me with paper"?

Any ideas or experiences would be much appreciated!

Cheers,

Grimace
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Old 19th January 2010, 12:42 AM   #2
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I should think you have to gauge what her level of English is first, if her grammar and vocabulary is decent enough, then you should work on her fluency but also on listening comprehension.

Sometimes we Spaniards know what we want to say but we have two problems:
1.- We do not want to sound ridiculous, and I think that is one of the reasons why English and French accents (by Spanish) is usually very bad

2.-We are frightened to have a conversation because we do not understand what the other person says. It is the typical example that we know how to ask for a place, but then we do not understand the directions.

If she has to speak English at work on the phone it can be particularly difficult, because you cannot see the face and guess half of what they say by the lip movements and the expression of the face. So I would suggest working also on audio to train her ear (in addition to active conversation).

I do not know if this is of any help, but these are my thoughts.
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Old 19th January 2010, 03:55 AM   #3
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I've never given any classes myself, but my husband was teaching private Spanish lessons to adults a little while ago. With an intermediate level student he would think of topics for a conversation (printing out news articles or just general questions), or after they got to know each other just talk about... everything! So he made sure he had ideas of what to talk about so that they could have a two-way conversation cause it's important to practice speaking and comprehension. Then what he did was just go over certain grammar/pronunciation issues as they came up, focussing on recurring issues.

I think he had a knack for it, as I would need a more structured approach to teaching I reckon! But it seemed to work really well as the student kept him on and was really pleased with his progress. Besides this, from my personal language learning experience I think the most important thing is to get them speaking, as that's what can be hard to practice when you're not immersed and you just need to DO it to gain confidence.

hope that helps somehow?! good luck!
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Old 19th January 2010, 10:21 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grimace View Post
.... but all he wanted was basically a sounding board to speak to. Grimace
I have seen this so many times - and it means there's a problem with his listening, but he wants to hide it. A conversation class should be about 60% you, 40% student. If the student does not let you get a word in then he or she is covering up an inability to listen. Tell him or her to shut up.
The level might be good, but that doesn't mean they understand everything. So go armed with figures of speech, phrasal verbs (which scare the living daylights out of them), slang expressions, conditional examples, and examples of all the different ways to use "have". (Starting a sentence with "Had I not had ...." and finishing with "..I would not have been able to ..." usually gets even the most fluent speaker in knots!)
Remember,if you are not speaking, you are not teaching.
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Old 19th January 2010, 12:19 PM   #5
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(which scare the living daylights out of them)
You are evil
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Old 19th January 2010, 12:27 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by la_canadiense View Post
I've never given any classes myself, but my husband was teaching private Spanish lessons to adults a little while ago. With an intermediate level student he would think of topics for a conversation (printing out news articles or just general questions), or after they got to know each other just talk about... everything! So he made sure he had ideas of what to talk about so that they could have a two-way conversation cause it's important to practice speaking and comprehension. Then what he did was just go over certain grammar/pronunciation issues as they came up, focussing on recurring issues.

I think he had a knack for it, as I would need a more structured approach to teaching I reckon! But it seemed to work really well as the student kept him on and was really pleased with his progress. Besides this, from my personal language learning experience I think the most important thing is to get them speaking, as that's what can be hard to practice when you're not immersed and you just need to DO it to gain confidence.

hope that helps somehow?! good luck!
I think this is what I would have liked from a conversation class. I used to attend advanced lessons in an academy ages ago here in Madrid. We were just a few students and all of us had similar level and preferred to focus on conversation. The teacher suggested topics and moderated the debate, we really got into it and forgot the shame in order to get our point across one way or another (you know us Spaniards when we know we are right ). So our teacher picked controversial topics, tried to make sure all of us spoke and listened to everyone else, and also stopped us to explain expressions and correct our mistakes, as La Canadiense says.

She also made us practice how to talk on the phone, simply by turning her back on us when speaking. It was unsettling at first but then we got used to it and our understanding improved a lot. I have to say this really helped me when I had my first job interview later that year -in English and on the phone!

Good luck, Grimace, I'm sure you'll be fine.
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Old 19th January 2010, 12:34 PM   #7
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I just remember another exercise that particular teacher used to make us do. She would ask us to describe a simple task we did daily, in a very detailed way. As if she had never heard about it before. For example, if asked "how do you make a cup of tea?", you had to describe every little step from going into the kitchen and opening the cupboard door, to grabbing the mug, filling the kettle with water from the tap (which you had to open first by turning the tap knob), plugging the kettle in the socket, etc. This is great for prepositions and phrasal verbs. It was excruciating for us but very useful. Actually, I just realised even now I struggle with such detailed descriptions. Bugger.
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Old 19th January 2010, 01:25 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Londoner_at_heart View Post
I just remember another exercise that particular teacher used to make us do. She would ask us to describe a simple task we did daily, in a very detailed way. As if she had never heard about it before. For example, if asked "how do you make a cup of tea?", you had to describe every little step from going into the kitchen and opening the cupboard door, to grabbing the mug, filling the kettle with water from the tap (which you had to open first by turning the tap knob), plugging the kettle in the socket, etc. This is great for prepositions and phrasal verbs. It was excruciating for us but very useful. Actually, I just realised even now I struggle with such detailed descriptions. Bugger.

I've never done this on here before, correct someone's English, but as your signature allows me to, then here goes:

I wouldn't say "grab" the mug, unless you were either in a hurry or physically taking it from someone. "Take" or "get" is better here, I think.

You never "open" a tap, you "turn it on"...and the expression "tap knob" is not one I'm aware of...just "tap" will suffice.

Anyway, as for the teaching bit...I've taught hundreds of one-to-one conversation classes and I'd say the most difficult thing to get through is when you've run out of subjects to talk about. I'd even suggest that there's a natural lifespan to these kind of classes...not that this means that you can't carry on meeting each other, but that the teaching becomes less intense and you move over to a friend-based relationship as opposed to a teacher-student one. Perhaps this is even better for learning English, come to think of it: less stress, more natural?
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Old 19th January 2010, 01:38 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by MCP View Post
I wouldn't say "grab" the mug, unless you were either in a hurry or physically taking it from someone. "Take" or "get" is better here, I think.

You never "open" a tap, you "turn it on"...and the expression "tap knob" is not one I'm aware of...just "tap" will suffice.
Thanks! See what I mean? It's a damn difficult exercise
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Old 21st January 2010, 04:40 AM   #10
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Thanks! See what I mean? It's a damn difficult exercise
Ehh, I would say grab the mug, no matter what, so maybe it's a matter of opinion.
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Old 21st January 2010, 07:16 AM   #11
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Now I look at it more, you might be right!
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Old 21st January 2010, 10:01 AM   #12
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I wouldn't say "grab" the mug, unless you were either in a hurry or physically taking it from someone. "Take" or "get" is better here, I think.
Ahh! This brings a smile to my face

I was doing an oral surgical exam in Britain when I had to explain a procedure called a fine needle aspiration in a breast. I started: "You grab the breast..." I had two examiners, one gave a broad smile, whilst the other one said "No, you do not grab the breast, you fix it with your fingers..."

Last edited by Pippa; 21st January 2010 at 10:05 AM.
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Old 21st January 2010, 10:36 AM   #13
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Ahh! This brings a smile to my face

I was doing an oral surgical exam in Britain when I had to explain a procedure called a fine needle aspiration in a breast. I started: "You grab the breast..." I had two examiners, one gave a broad smile, whilst the other one said "No, you do not grab the breast, you fix it with your fingers..."
hehe, funny

I remember the funny looks between my colleagues in my first job in London (in an HR department). Until someone finally came and told me how to pronounce "temping" correctly, so that it would still seem like we were working in HR rather than in a rather more saucy line of business
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