How do I teach English to students who don't speak a word?
November 1, 2013 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Can you please help explain to me some techniques and procedures for teaching English to students with whom you don't share a common language? Its private tutoring and the students in this instance are two 10 year olds and they need to be speaking as much as they can in the next couple of months... and I will have them twice a week for an hour. I have an Ipad, a white board, and a copy machine....
posted by anonymous to Education (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am teaching my 4-year old to read using the Starfall Learn To Read app for the iPad, and I keep thinking that I should give it to my 80-year old Russian mother because it would be such an excellent way to learn/improve her ESL.

(The web link I provided shows only part of the functionality available, and not the best part. The iPad app has the better parts.)

Another small tip: when I started speaking English at around 23, I found that the teachers (or any conversation partners) would speak louder or slower when I did not understand, but what they should have done instead was, separate the words.
posted by rada at 1:27 PM on November 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Another tip: my teachers tended to focus on teaching the language - grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary - which ended up boring and not all that helpful. My ESL accelerated greatly when I started taking college classes in English where English itself was not the primary focus.

You said the kids need to be speaking as much as they can in the next couple of months, which means they will be in some specific situations. Can you act out these situations? I think that would be the most helpful to them. (As an example, I wish my ESL teachers would have taken us places and helped us do stuff we needed to do anyway, like buy stuff at the grocery store, get books at the library, etc).
posted by rada at 1:43 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would get a couple of objects around the house or classroom and play a bunch of Where Are Your Keys?

Investigate Total Physical Response -- start out with very simple commands that you can model for students. Stand up, sit down, open the door, close the door. You can use TPR for numbers and colors ("Eat three yellow M&Ms. Color the trees in the picture green.") and you can name a bunch of objects in the home/classroom -- not just "Here's the couch," but "Jump on the couch."
posted by Jeanne at 1:52 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

They're young, so they might learn by doing and being active. We have a book for our kids that's just page after page of of [person/animal/noun] [verb], with a picture of the [noun] [verb]-ing. So maybe pick out that list of thirty or however many English verbs are critical to understanding our language--make, write, run, sit, stand, walk, talk, jump, dig, give, take, see, read, etc. etc.--and just have them do those things after you do them or as you do them, etc.

You can work in the imperative tense this way by doing something yourself and then telling one and then the other to do it, and since there's two of them, maybe get a stuffed animal or two to serve as the third person and third person plural?

Eventually you can add in articles and direct/indirect objects for the transitive verbs. You can teach past tense by performing the action, sitting down, and then saying what you did.

Whatever you're doing, write it on the whiteboard and make them write it so they can study it later on their own.

Good luck!
posted by resurrexit at 1:56 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Or what Jeanne said!
posted by resurrexit at 1:56 PM on November 1, 2013

One hour per session, twice a week, for 8 to 10 weeks, is a paltry 16 to 20 hours of instruction. Even if they were geniuses, and you were Anne Sullivan Macy (Helen Keller's very gifted teacher and lifelong friend), you'd being doing well to give them a few (say 10) simple situational phrases (how to introduce themselves, how to ask for food and drink, how to ask where they are, how to speak their address, how to tell others they are sick, etc.) in that time frame and lesson structure. Don't get too ambitious, and don't expect a lot from electronic applications for young people just jumping into a new language, essentially on their own. With such a restricted schedule, I wouldn't waste any time on learning written English, particularly if their native language is not one that uses a near English alphabet, and might have many common word roots. OTOH, if their native language is something like Spanish, German or French, and they seem to be visually adept, you may find that some written work is fruitful for them.

The more time and practice spent in the short time you have on practical tasks like pronunciation repetition and vocabulary, the better. Going several days between learning sessions in a new language really stunts development of that language. The children must practice daily, to have any hope of developing practical skills, and if I were you, I'd be pushing for more time, say a daily schedule, if not with you, than with other English speakers, too. At a minimum, listening to English language news programs, or podcasts, or children's programming, for several hours a day, should be encouraged; it won't provide the benefits of feedback and practice that speaking drills would, but it will help with vocabulary.
posted by paulsc at 2:06 PM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

To add to paulsc's quite good comment, expectations really need to be managed because I think it is very likely that they are unrealistic. "Speaking as much as they can in the next couple of months" is frankly not going to be very much over the 20 or so hours of instruction time that they are going to have for the next few months. I would generally say that after just 20 or so hours with a language is too soon to speak because (1) you have very low vocabulary, so you don't have much to say and (2) you won't understand what is said back to you very well.

That said, if I were you and had this task, I would get whatever Pimsleur ESL course is appropriate. Often, they can be had from the public library, which I would advise given their high cost. The course is completely aural/oral and concentrates on commonly used survival language and phrases. They should use them every day, even on days without class. Alternatively, if you cannot get them from the library, get them used from a website like this one. (I have not use it but it has been recommended to me by those who have)

I think listening to news programs and children programming can't hurt, but I think it would be of very little benefit, too.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bilingual books and labels is my favourite strategy (because I used it to learn several languages other than english).

Bring in "realia" (real objects with which to stimulate discussion, and terminology). Read simple books together, make a list of "hard" words, talk about what they might mean, then show them what they mean. Use word maps to connect concepts. "Read pair share", each student reads something, then the two pair up, and share with each other (while you observe), they are instructed to "negotiate" a meaning from the text, and then you share together, helping them see where they were doing well, or having a challenge. Use visuals (google images), paraphrasing, rewriting (and illustrating), comparing and contrasting, and as others suggested, physicalization (acting, jumping, running, use props, and don't be afraid to take on a role in the acting out of common situations).

For practical, thrown into the middle of it strategies, I really like the way this book (50 strategies for teaching english language learners) is laid out (the methodology, the steps to implement, and some explanation of the reasons why/where/what levels it works well with.
Their "step-by-step" section on bilingual books and labels looks like this:
Identify the languages represented in the classroom
Pronounce and label common objects
Provide bilingual books
Provide translations
Explore key vocabulary in several languages

Recognizing students home languages can act as a bridge between parents and students (at home). Home language use in class validates students home languages/cultures, and can also act as a bridge to greater english mastery. Bilingual books and labels can benefit language learners of all ages and stages of language acquisition, and you can scaffold them, from simple "point to the label for shoe", "place the label for shoe on the shoe", "which label is shoe", up to really complex texts. Slowly moving from fully bilingual labels to just English, and then having students connect the two (google translate is fairly useful for this simple level; yes it breaks down with actual sentences, but for the simple objects, and initial stages it is quite workable).

This page has some great resources for bilingual texts (including subject specific texts)
Give lots of descriptive feedback with students that age; when you want to address something "wrong", if possible, use two stars and a wish (two positives, and then the issue you want them to work on).
Seeing that it seems you need to focus on verbal skills, perhaps try modelled social interactions (you demonstrate the 'proper' speaking in english for a particular role [say a store clerk], and they take turns "pretending" to come into the store for something), then they take on the more complex role. As they get more comfortable, try improv. Also worth trying "Scripting", working together to write a script for "common" situations (or for more 'fantastical' ones), for students of their age, maybe starting with meeting new friends, or a new teacher... The best advice though is to let them feel like a master, have them teach you a word for some things, a reciprocal exchange can open students to learning acceptance.
As said above, it sounds like you are teaching for social interaction, not for "grammar rules", focus on the natural language, and on real social situations, rather than the phonics, or the grammar, and the students will probably advance more quickly, they have the rest of time to work on grammar.
posted by infinite intimation at 4:41 PM on November 1, 2013

Nthing that you would need way more time. Are they spending time with english-speaking kids at playgrounds, sports activities or religious stuff or family stuff - whatever the family can do to increase the time they spend with English-speaking children will help a lot outside of your lessons.

If their first language uses the roman alphabet (abc) and they can read/write in it, you can do worksheets and bilingual books (comics are great), that's good. Tell the parents to get them library cards and take them weekly too.

But if they are not literate in their first language or it's a different alphabet like say Thai, focus entirely on audiobooks, apps and conversation. Get them flashcards and make learning the alphabet a fun game to do on the side for now.

Are the parents willing or able to do homework with them? I wouldn't rely on 10 year olds to remember every day to listen to english tapes or practice conversation, not without a parent supervising.

Does the ipad stay with them? Do they have computer or ipad access outside of tutoring? You can preload them with relevant preschool/ESL apps and rip a bunch of ESL-videos from youtube (DreamEnglishKids is pretty awesome) and just disable the internet access so they can safely play with the ipad for homework. Also during class, you can let one kid work on the ipad while you work with the other.

Figure out what they're totally fascinated with. At that age it could be My Little Pony, cars, One Direction - whatever they adore and then use that as the conversation subject and reading materials and motivational rewards.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:14 PM on November 1, 2013

i think you should focus on making it fun, in addition to the other great comments so far. buy some candy, like peanut butter cups, or single-wrapped hard candy. you can play simple vocabulary or grammar games.

i'm not sure why you had to be anonymous. it would be helpful if you could tell us if they can read "english" letters. for example, german and spanish are in "english" letters, korean and chinese are not. if it's the latter, it's going to be a lot harder.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:14 PM on November 1, 2013

I used Side by Side when I taught ESOL. They're a bit pricy, but the teacher's guide was invaluable to me (I had no experience teaching English). Maybe the library has the series.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:36 PM on November 1, 2013

I'm enrolled in an MA TESOL programme. My class just had to teach each other another language without using English. We used lots of pictures and gestures. Colors were used to call other colors and pictures of forks and knives were used to indicate eating. It was amazing what we learned, although some languages were easier than others.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:41 AM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

To build a bit on rada's suggestion, I think that role-playing works really well in this type of situation, especially since there are two of them. You can start out with very easy situations and introduce more complex ones as they get better. When I taught ESL to children, they especially loved when I took on the role of the clueless adult in the situation and they had to help/teach me. And the sillier the better. For example, they might have to find certain items in a grocery store by asking you, the store employee, where they are. But you're hard of hearing, so you misunderstand their requests in increasingly silly ways. They will fall all over themselves to make you understand, and entirely forget that they can't actually speak English, which is exactly what you want.

I usually gave my students a short list of vocabulary or useful phrases beforehand, and sometimes declared a "winner" the person who used the most items from the handout.

The website is a good resource for articles about how to teach.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:45 PM on November 2, 2013

Part of the difficulty with a new language is simply getting the mouth to make the sounds. So I would suggest repetition. Ask them to mimic the speech around them, whether they understand it or not: cartoon characters, overheard conversations, phrases from movies. It's something they can do on and off all day long, without supervision.
Also, i've been told that you don't really 'own ' a word until you've used it twenty times, in speaking, reading, writing and listening. It's all positive reinforcement
From my limited experience, I'd guess one of the hardest parts of your job will be getting each child to learn independently of the other.
Good luck.
posted by acwatic at 6:18 PM on November 2, 2013

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