Why Teaching the Basics Isn’t So Simple
Yesterday I had my second lesson with my new student. As you’ll recall, she’s a false beginner and has been in the U.S. for a few years. She’s also a friend, so we’ve come up with an arrangement that will involve a combination of off- and on-camera instruction. Yes, you’ll soon get to see my efforts to teach English at the basic level.
On the one hand, some things are easy. We already have a relationship of openness and trust. I feel it’s key to make a personal connection with a student because she or he must have minimal anxiety in order to learn well. My friend has accepted my role as her teacher, and I have the freedom to correct and direct her, which is not usually part of our friend-to-friend relationship.
What surprisingly proved to be a challenge was getting through some of the basics. So far we’ve covered greetings, introductions, the alphabet, and some useful expressions. Although we completed what I had planned to, I thought our pace would be faster at times. As a false beginner, my friend wasn’t unfamiliar with much of the content, but more questions than I expected came up, so it was a good review for her and a chance to correct misunderstandings.
I’m going to share just a few of the points I had to clarify either because my friend asked me to or because her production prompted me to.
- Which greetings are appropriate for which people? I had to get the idea across that hello is widely used, but hi is more limited to informal greetings. Also, how are you? is really part of the greeting, and the response is invariably a positive one. In America (on the surface at least), everyone is happy. Everyone is fine, good, all right, or perhaps not bad.
- How does intonation and reduction change a greeting? The follow-up how are you? stresses the pronoun. It often sounds different from the initial How are you? in an exchange of greetings. And you? could sound polite if said carefully, but when reduced to ‘n you? it becomes a casual reply to a friend’s request about our well-being.
- Should students learn to print and/ or write cursive? I had my friend practice both upper and lower case letters, and I asked her to print. I promised we’d cover cursive writing later. I also took care to make her printed letters follow American standards. She had learned in other language studies to make the lower-case “r” with an s-like squiggle rather than the u-like hook, and her lower-case “q” looked more like an upside-down check mark rather than a backward “p” with a tail.
One final thing I’ll share is one of the homework tasks I’ve assigned to my student. After each lesson, I’m sending Voice Memos from my iPhone to her email account. I record the key expressions that we practiced during our lesson. She’s to listen and repeat each day. This is in addition to using online resources I selected for her. Click to hear my Voice Memo_Lesson 1 greetings and useful expressions.
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