Getting beginners to speak English

Getting beginners to speak English

by | May 3, 2016 | Blog

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When faced with a class of beginners, the task can feel a bit overwhelming. Where do you start when your class knows very little English?

Well, while the temptation may be to start by teaching concrete things such as numbers 1-100, the alphabet, colours etc, these are not tremendously useful in terms of everyday communication.

My suggestion is to start by giving your class the English they need in order to communicate meaningfully as this is both useful and motivating.

Imagine being a learner of English for a moment; consider how useful it would be to be to be able to:

Express opinions:   I like I don’t like

Label items:   It’s a This is a

Ask for permission:   Can I open the window?

Greet people:   Nice to meet you How are you…

Give personal information:   I live in I’ve got 3 children, My name is

or to have enough English language for the shops, the doctor or for giving personal information.

Now let’s look at some ways that we can help beginners learn more effectively.

Practising useful language 1 – building simple dialogues

Building a simple dialogue is a great idea for introducing useful language. Don’t break down/analyse language too much; teach useful ‘functional’ phrases as a whole. For example, around the theme of class rules, with eyebrows raised, open a window in class, and say:

‘Can I open a window?’ with rising intonation.

Get students to repeat. For the reply, shake your head and mime shivering. Then say:

 ‘Sorry, no you can’t.’

Students repeat. Do the same for smoking. Get the students to repeat each line of the exchange a few times. After,  just point to the window and elicit the correct question and response. Mime smoking and do the same.
Give your class more options like: eat in class, speak English and see if they can ask for permission to do these things in class and answer in pairs.
How to practice useful language 2 – picture stories

Anything  visual is helpful for teaching beginners and  so where possible show and don’t just tell. Bring in real items, use flash cards, mime and use picture stories.

Picture stories in particular are great for low level learners. Don’t worry if you are not a great artist! Simple stick figures are fine.  As an example, consider drawing your day in a series of 6 Ð 9 cartoon strips using based on the following: I get up, I eat breakfast, go to work, eat dinner, go to bed, for example. (See picture on the right.) This is great for practising the present simple for daily routines. You can point to picture 1, saying I get up for them to repeat. Do the same for picture 2 and so on. Then, point to pictures at random to test retention. Have students test their partners in the same way and then have them tell their partners about their routine.

A final thought

Being able to tell even a simple story fluently really gives beginner students a tremendous sense of achievement and is also incredibly motivating. I can also tell you that seeing beginners go from minimal English to story telling is also incredibly rewarding for the teacher.


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