Teacher Output: Developing Clear and Confident Speaking

This Teaching Essentials Blog Series looks at some tools-of-the-trade for online ESL instruction. In it, we explore a few key concepts and dive into what makes them indispensable to our teachers.

In a one-to-one class setting, the greatest benefit to the student is an environment suited to their pace, their learning needs. But if that experience more closely resembles a monotone lecture on Shakespeare delivered rapidly by an auction master on Red Bull, then something’s wrong.

In our everyday interactions we have a natural tendency to speak quickly. On top of that, we have an equally strong tendency to abbreviate, like, a lot. Most of us treat our language like our carry-on luggage… cram in as much as possible, rush past the gate agent at speed, and get to our destination 5lbs over the limit. But for students, the destination is the journey. And for students learning English, well-paced and simple sentences are not only like music to their ears, but far more beneficial to their learning process.

To ensure our students can make the absolute most out of a one-to-one online learning environment, here are some simple ways to ensure your output as a teacher is on point:

Speaking slowly and clearly

There are no points for speed in this game. What may sound sloth-like to you is probably still challenging for a language-learning student to follow perfectly. That’s because listening to a foreign language is not merely keeping up with pronunciation. There are all sorts of competing processes rapidly heating up the frontal lobe, and managing them all at the same time is challenging. Students first need to identity and recall each individual word you say, they must also remember associated rules and sentence structures relative to the words or phrases they hear. Finally, and most importantly, they need to comprehend what the combination of these words is expecting from them as a response… in real-time. It’s like juggling with brain power. Slow, clear speech helps them manage the load.

Allow the student time to respond

No matter how much time they need to piece together what you’re saying, allowing your student time to respond is critical for them to internalize and progress in their language learning. The path of least resistance to the teacher is always to move on from a difficult sentence quickly. But the easiest path is seldom the correct one. By allowing your student time to respond, they are not only answering, but solidifying their understanding. Their response also serves as a perfect way for you to evaluate their level too.

Keep it simple

Embellishments belong on wedding invitations and 70’s disco jackets, not in the classroom. Remember that your student is trying to learn the very basics of a language, so complicated sentences with unnecessary words and slang will only make their life harder. Take these two sentences, which say basically the same thing, as an example:

“Wow, so, uh, you’re going to the market with your mom? That’s pretty sweet!”

Or

“Are you going to the market with your mom?”

Tiny additions to sentences are second nature to us, but if a student has never heard these phrases before, they will assume they are a vital part of the sentence, and struggle to make sense of the meaning. The same goes for slang and unnecessary abbreviations or filler sounds. (Likes, ums, and ahs!) Stick to basics and keep it simple, at least in the beginning.

As seasoned English speakers (and even as seasoned teachers), it can be easy to forget how quickly we default into a version of the English language that assumes a lifetime of familiarity. Make sure every class is an exercise in stepping into the shoes of the student too.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our blogs on TPR and Repetition.