In China - encouraging students to speak

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In China - encouraging students to speak

Unread postby RobJames » 06 Nov 2009, 03:27

Hi Lucy,

Thank you for help with my last question. I am so glad you are there!!!

My story - In Central China. I teach Oral English and Phonetics to English Majors, to Chemistry Majors and to Maths Majors. They are about 18/19 years old. Large classes 50-60. A private college where they pay double that of university.

So the English Majors are fine - confident and want to speak. The Chemistry students I teach are also fine and I do their class on Thursdays, 14.30 - 16.10 - they speak in class. After this I teach Maths, on Thursdays 16.20-18.00, but they do not want to speak.


I have just started to teach this Maths class and the students are really reluctant to speak. I did another maths class up to now (for 8 weeks), then they finished their 8 weeks, now I have a different maths class, so I have seen them on 2 occasions now, once last week, once this week. Last week I asked them to do simple things - just introduce themselves, talk about their hobbies & family, they seemed fine with this. This week I did a presentation about English lifestyle with pictures and questions and tried to get them to take part too, but nothing, I felt all alone!!!!

I think they enjoy the class. So why is there such a problem? I asked them, one student said they re afraid to speak, shy and don't think they are very good. But I dont have this problem with the other classes. Maybe because I am British they are even more afraid to speak? I have tried many things, I speak to them in the break, I make individuals stand up and speak, encouraging them, but they say "I can't say it....I don't know.....Sorry I can't see the blackboard". I even asked a student just to read words from the screen, she said "I can't".

How can I get them to talk? I am afraid if they dont speak out in English they will end up just speaking Chinese and not listening to me. Help me please! Thank you Lucy.

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Re: In China - encouraging students to speak

Unread postby Lucy » 10 Nov 2009, 10:47

Hi Rob,

I'm glad I was able to help with your last question.

It sounds to me as if the students are not reluctant to speak. It sounds more like they don’t know what to say; either because they don’t know the topic or the language they need to express themselves. You might be asking how I can say that. Well, the answer is quite simply that in the first lesson they were fine when asked to speak about themselves and their hobbies but they had very little to say about English lifestyle. I say this because it’s a fairly common omission with teachers. You must make sure that students have something to say and the language they need to express what they want to say. I suggest you choose topics that you are sure students are familiar with. Then think about the language that will be needed to express those ideas and at the very least revise that language point prior to the speaking activity. If during the revision phase it becomes evident that they don’t know the language point, you should spend more time on the language before moving onto the speaking. Teaching necessary language also involves presenting and practising classroom meta-language (e.g. turn to page 7, would you agree with me? what do you think? …………)

At the beginning of this course, you could choose speaking activities that are at a lower level than your students’ real ability. For example, if they are intermediate level, take activities aimed at pre-intermediate or elementary. This will make it easier for them to achieve the task and will give them increased confidence. In any case, you need to take very small steps with students who don’t speak easily.

As for specific comments: you are absolutely right to encourage and praise them. I would avoid asking individuals to stand up and speak because it’s not authentic communication and it’s terrifying for a shy or reluctant student! You’re right to be worrying about them speaking Chinese instead of listening to you. Forewarned is forearmed: take steps now to make sure they listen and use English. Wait until the class is silent before speaking, don’t speak when they are speaking. Ask them politely to be quiet when you speak and remind them to always use the language you have taught them.

I hope this helps. The above are just general comments.If you want specific ideas for the class, please write in again.


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