Tips on teaching two Italian false beginners?

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Tips on teaching two Italian false beginners?

Unread postby LeilaItaly » 20 Mar 2011, 18:28

I am in Italy and have just given my first private English lesson to two thirty-something, degree-level-educated Italian friends. Both are false beginners and want to continue lessons, one a week. I do have a CELTA but have never used it and it was 5 years ago, also the course was focused more on teaching classes rather than very small groups. I feel a bit overwhelmed and am not sure how to give the students the best possible learning experience. Any tips would be much appreciated.

Their English lessons at school were heavy on the grammar and very, very light on the speaking and listening, so I'd like to get them speaking and listening to me speak as much as possible, even if their English isn't perfect at first. I am trying to speak only English in the lessons, but I'm not sure if that's unrealistic. They don't understand instructions very well.

I think they panic when faced with the book (English Unlimited, Starter) because it makes it feel like school, where neither of them had a good experience of learning English. I'm worried that some exercises are too easy for them, but also that they rush through things because they want to show they 'can do it' and they keep on making the same mistakes. Like one wanted to ask "When did you come back to Italy?" except he kept saying, 'come back *in Italy' and although I corrected him and he would nod and be able to say the sentence fragment correctly, a second later he would say the full sentence and make the same mistake again. How do you get them to slow down and really think about what they're saying, without making them feel like they're back in school? Do you think it is possible to use more games and things and less of the book, in the early lessons, and still actually teach them something? I think 'input' is the thing I find most difficult - I can get them practicing, and communicating, but I don't know how to introduce a grammar point in an interesting way.

Sorry, this is all a bit rambling. Just looking for tips and suggestions, really. I don't quite know where to start!


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Re: Tips on teaching two Italian false beginners?

Unread postby Lucy » 23 Mar 2011, 21:09

Hello Leila,

This sounds like a fairly typical situation for adult learners. They probably learnt grammar rules and vocabulary at school without learning how to use them in conversation. Your approach is absolutely right: you need to get them practising and communicating using the language they know.

I think that one of the easiest ways to get people speaking and using the language is to give them tasks that are slightly below the level they are at. They will gain more confidence and then be able to tackle tasks at their level and slightly above. Get hold of any book that focuses on communicative activities. I think that games are useful for this; there are many commercial games designed for adults that would be suitable. You can look at photocopiable games in any good book store or online. These games are designed to practise language in a motivating way. You also need to find ways to recycle the language; to get them using it more often and in more varied ways; again, your suggestion for games will help with this. You can also recycle the language by bringing it back as a pronunciation activity.

You also asked about these recurrent errors. It’s normal for students to continue making basic mistakes even when they know the language. The key here is how you handle error correction. You can look at this post where I have answered questions about error correction.


As for your students not understanding instructions, you can present and practise useful phrases (e.g. turn to page 10; listen and take notes; what did you put for number 4? I don't agree. I think it's ... Could you pass me the ...) as you would any other language point. It's important to give them lots of practice and to get the pronunciation correct. You can follow this up in later lessons and keep the language posted in your classroom as a reminder. Then make sure that this language is used in the classroom whenever possible, e.g. when checking homework.

I hope this will help you; please get back to us again, if you would like more ideas.


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