I know what I know but I don't know how I know it.
June 16, 2010 3:55 AM   Subscribe

I've been asked to give private English tuition to a twenty-something Brazilian acquaintance who currently has nothing more than a most basic grasp of the language. Essentially, we would be starting at zero. I'm a native English speaker but, although I have had brief stints teaching English as a second language to groups, I have no idea where to begin when it comes to teaching privately.

I thought it would be worthwhile preparing blocks of, say, four lessons at a time so as to be able to pursue my regular job without any conflicts. However, when I sat down today to prepare a plan, I realised how difficult it is going to be to put myself in the shoes of someone with no knowledge of the language. There are ESL resources everywhere online which will doubtless prove very useful but this doesn't help me to know in which order to approach topics and resolve issues of timing.

My main problem is assuming that she knows more than she does and that some things are logically obvious, when they might not be at all to a non-native speaker. I want to make this as painless an ordeal for her and me as possible - and preferably one that turns out to be fun, too.

Assuming I am going to teach her for two hours per day, twice a week and that she knows nothing more than the bare essentials - "hello", "how are you?" "good bye", etc. - how would you prepare our lessons? I currently live in Beijing and have no access right now to work books, so I would be preparing my own lessons using information gleaned from the Internet.

Responses from both teachers and students welcome.
posted by Zé Pequeno to Education (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I should also mention that I speak native-level Portuguese and she expects me to speak to her in both English and Portuguese.
posted by Zé Pequeno at 4:07 AM on June 16, 2010

1. Go to an ESL bookshop - get an entry level adult textbook, such as Headway Beginner... and the exercise book.

2. Sit down with the guy, start slogging through it :)

3. Do the exercises orally, and for homework / consolidation he can selectively re-do some of them in written form.

4. Whenever possible / feasible, close the book and try to do whatever the book was just presenting from memory - especially dialogues / short phrases / etc.

The BOOK is mission critical... it really does provide you a logical curriculum, and you needn't plan aside from "what's on the next page"?

I am an experienced ESL teacher and teacher trainer, and I would not commit to private lessons 1 on 1 without a book... it is too intense, there is too much variability in what the student can do in one lesson, and it just isn't worth your time to re-invent the wheel in terms of planning a beginner / starter level course!

Good luck.

PS. Get HIM to pay for the books.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:40 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

(HER, sorry)
posted by Meatbomb at 4:40 AM on June 16, 2010

DIY Language Learning explains how an untrained "native guide" can teach someone their language from scratch. (I haven't tried it myself, but it looks perfect for your situation.)
posted by mbrubeck at 7:05 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Meatbomb. I used to teach Italian to Germans 1 on 1 (or one on 2) while living in Chiantishire. Get a good textbook (I used a Langenscheid, but that was for German>Italian; you'll need to find the right one for Portuguese>English) and swot up each lesson in advance, so there are no surprises or embarrassed blocks during the session. Concentrate on that lesson for each session, and leave a short, easy "homework" task to kick off the next lesson. (BTW: It's amazing how much you learn about your own language that way, too!) If things start going very well, you might even consider taking two lessons from the book for each session, depending on how long the chapters/sessions are. The essential element is the preparation: read through each lesson thoroughly well before going into the teaching environment, so that you have all the answers ready and can anticipate some of the queries.

she expects me to speak to her in both English and Portuguese

Purists say you should always insist on every word being in the target language (here: English), but practice suggests this is not 100% possible. Try hard to do everything in English, but when there's no way forward, a couple of words in Portuguese followed immediately by repeating the English won't totally poison the pool.
posted by aqsakal at 7:32 AM on June 16, 2010

Echoing Meatbomb, and as an English teacher abroad myself: the book is key.

Many books run in a series - Oxford University Press' New English File, for example, has levels from Beginner right up to Advanced - AND, crucially, come with lesson plans, activities to adapt and photocopy if need be, workbooks for your student to complete homework in with exercises matching the language taught that day, audio tracks (useful for dialogues and pronunciation!), extra activities for self-study on CD-ROMs or online, sometimes even phrasebooks or mini-dictionaries in the back. It's really worth her investing in the textbooks if she can - it's a place for her to review, it saves you photocopies, and it allows her to keep her learning organized.

Some broader tips:

- Get your student talking, but keep your expectations realistic. Check out the descriptors for what people at the Common European Framework for Languages level A1 (people who've completed about 75 hours of study as beginners) can do:

Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Higher levels are explained here.

- Internet resources are often amazing looking - but require a lot of effort to photocopy, print, or cut up. If you've got time, great - but if not, consider what you and your student can produce on your own in order to do something like revise vocabulary. Can she make the game board and the worksheets? Can she develop questions for you both to answer and address in a discussion? As a beginner - no. But later? Absolutely.

- Stick to the same classroom language at first. "Couldyouopenyourbooktopage12please?" is far, far more discouraging than the very achievable, understandable "go to page 12, please."

- Give her the tools to know how she's doing. These could be mini-quizzes and tests - often provided by the book! - or in-class assessments where she completes, for example, a 5-question reading comprehension true-false quiz and you record her results under a "reading" column as a percentage, giving her similar but different assessments in reading every few weeks (and also in speaking, listening, and writing). The latter system is called "continuous assessment" and is great for one-to-one students where you don't want to give a giant exam at the end of their lesson term.

- Praise her progress. Focusing on what she can do will make her a more confident student, keep her attendance high, keep her homework flowing, and generally keep the lessons flowing.

Good luck!
posted by mdonley at 12:21 PM on June 16, 2010

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