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 in 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.

Our YouTube debut will be soon!

25 Comments Add yours

  1. Sharon says:

    The problem with teaching false beginners is they might be already set in their ways, so it’s hard to change some of their mistakes. Whereas with a complete beginner you’re working with a carte blanche.

    1. So true, Sharon! Also, my friend has been in the country for a few years, so she’s been exposed to the culture. Although her language skills have limited her interaction with people, she’s experienced enough to form an understanding about the appropriacy of certain expressions. Those initial perceptions might be inaccurate at times. In any case, I’m enjoying our lessons, on and off camera. It’s refreshing to teach such basic topics after such a long time.

  2. Lily says:

    Hello Jennifer, I wonder what kind of app do you use to record the memo? I tried to record one on iphone but failed to send out because the file or the application is lite version.

    Thanks for your blog, and I find it very informative. I will stay tune.


    1. Hi Lily,
      I use Voice Memos. It comes already installed when you buy the phone. After you finish recording, you just hit the Share button and email is one of the options.
      Hope it works out for you. 🙂

  3. sara villaquiran says:

    hello my name is sara im from colombia your page is amazing in youtube a like it.

    i am to learn english so i want to look everyday yours videos take care

    1. Hello Sara! Thank you for writing. I hope you’ll also visit my forum and website.

      Best wishes to you!

  4. Dang Thi Ngọc Anh says:

    hello ,teacher . i’m Ngoc Anh..i’m from Vietnam .thanks for your teaching . take care .

    1. Thank you for writing. Please consider visiting my website and joining the forum.
      Warm wishes!

      1. Dang Thi Ngọc Anh says:

        thanks for ur comment ,dear teacher .u know,i am also a teacher at primary school.it is not easy for teaching children .i think your web can help me a lot .
        have nice weekend to u !

  5. halaya says:

    Hi Jennifer
    I want to communicate with you
    But how do I this
    I’m your girlfriend from Saudi Arabia
    Thank you 🙂

  6. halaya says:

    Hi Jennifer
    I want to communicate with you
    But how do I this
    I’m your girlfriend from Saudi Arabia

  7. Meeran malo says:

    Hello love I want to be. Comminuted with u I don’t know how u video so good I want always listening your vocabulary I’m ur student

    1. The community forum on my website will soon open again. You can visit there. Happy New Year!

  8. farid-algeria says:

    hello.how r you am farid from algeria .i want to loearn english with you
    you make great efforts

    1. Hello and thank you.
      Would you like to visit my website? There are more resources there.
      Best wishes to you!

  9. Antônio vieira says:

    Jennifer amei seus suas videos aulas,estou fazendo um curso de inglês aqui no Brasil,mais nada melhor do que aprender com a verdadeira língua americana. THANKKS MY TEACHER…..

    1. Hello Antônio.
      I’m glad you are learning with me. Thank you. Please visit my website for more resources.

  10. Mohsen says:

    I will learning more than a English

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