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An interesting opportunity has presented itself. A friend has asked me to teach her English. As a busy mother of three, she hasn’t had the opportunity to take formal classes since her arrival in this country. Now that her children are a bit older, she can manage a few hours of weekly study. Her desire is strong, and that’s good because her present knowledge of the language is very limited. If you’re going to undertake a big task, intrinsic motivation is key. Don’t you agree?
Now I must reassure myself that I can help my friend reach her language goals. Can I rise to the challenge of helping someone climb that first set of stairs and possibly go beyond? It’s been quite some time since I’ve worked one-on-one with someone at this level. I’d label my friend as a false beginner. My private students over the past three years have ranged from low intermediate to advanced. As I gather my thoughts and my materials, I welcome your input. Where do we begin when we teach beginners?
One tool at my disposal is the student’s native language. My friend is from Moscow, so up until now we’ve communicated in Russian. However, since moving from EFL to ESL back in 2001, I’ve gained confidence in teaching students whose first languages I don’t know. Of course, it’s useful to have a common language in order to handle questions and concerns voiced by beginners, but I know from experience that it’s possible to teach only in English starting from Lesson 1. (Actually, in the first school I taught at, I was asked by the director not to use my Russian, but it was handy to understand the whispered comments of my students!)
One of the first things I’ll have to establish is a working relationship with my friend. When I wear the hat of a teacher, I won’t allow too much use of Russian. I do intend to allow some Russian during our lessons when a simple translation will clarify a point. However, I’ll have to help my friend develop a new mindset that embraces English immersion. I suppose one benchmark of success will be my own feeling that I’ve lost a Russian conversation partner!
I plan to create some videos based on our lessons, so you’ll get to observe my efforts. I’m ready to start this month. Her goals have been established, our materials have been identified, and we’re now working on a schedule to accommodate our busy lives as parents. Wish us luck!
Related post: The Language Dilemma