Advanced language learners often demonstrate relative ease in everyday conversation, so our interaction with them can blind us to more basic skills they have yet to master. Here are five such skills and suggestions for helping advanced students to acquire them:
- The alphabet. Ask your advanced students to recite the alphabet and you may be surprised how many find it difficult to do so, especially those whose native languages have completely different writing systems. In a previous posting, I encouraged practice with letter names. (Filed under “Pronunciation”. Spell-it-Out Survey.) Equally important is knowing the sequence of the letters in the alphabet. Students will encounter items in alphabetical order in numerous resources, so to save time and avoid frustration they should know the alphabet from A to Z. You might consider posting the alphabet on a classroom wall and change its position from time to time so that students take notice of it. Have students do an online search for the English alphabet song. Encourage them to learn it.
- Numbers. Of course your advanced students can count from 0 to one million. But what about reading numbers with decimals and fractions? Try using statistics to spark conversation. Each student can have a turn reading from a collection of interesting statistics and the class may comment freely on each one.
- Proper greetings and closings in letters/ e-mail. It may be surprising to learn how many advanced students of English begin each e-mail message with Hello! and avoid any form of closing, opting simply to type their name at the end. Review the traditional way to start a letter and discuss variations used in e-mail. List and discuss various closings, from formal to informal. Have students write two short messages to practice writing appropriate greetings and closings: one message should be sent to another classmate (have them “Cc” you) and a second should be sent to you.
- Titles and forms of address. Be sure your advanced students can use titles appropriately in writing in speaking. Do they know what the abbreviations are for Doctor, Professor, and the like? Do they know when to say Miss and when to say Ma’am? My podcast on addressing strangers can supplement your instruction.
- Phone etiquette. Sometimes the lack of knowledge of common expressions takes me by surprise when I hear foreign friends and acquaintances speak because these people are otherwise so very fluent in English. Take for example, the phone response: “This is she.” Or “This is he.” Instead, I hear foreigners identify themselves to callers, saying: “That’s me.” Try creating some role play to practice phone etiquette such as how to identify oneself or how to state that another person is not able to take a call. My podcast on this topic can supplement your instruction.