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Well, I’ve hit a rough patch in my efforts to teach my friend, Natasha. She needs an immediate injection of confidence and determination to continue her English studies.
One of my earlier strategies to help Natasha develop oral communication skills was to set up conversation practice with another non-native speaker, who is more advanced, doesn’t speak Russian, and understands the challenges of learning the language as an adult. The conversation partner I selected has set Natasha at ease, encouraged attempts to express ideas, and sympathized with the difficulties of balancing studies with family obligations. These conversation sessions have helped, but because they are limited (as are our lessons), progress remains steady but very slow. This is understandably frustrating for a person who must function within the target culture on a daily basis.
This week I’ve been able to schedule more lesson time than usual, so Natasha and I are reviewing and expanding. I believe that a well-planned review can serve several purposes. First, it helps me identify what has been learned well and what requires further study and practice. Second, it strengthens the existing knowledge and skills of the student. Third, it can demonstrate a level of proficiency which the student can take pride in. “I know how to say that in English” or “I can do that exercise” are thoughts that should please the learner because past efforts have indeed led to progress.
As I look to the coming weeks, I think about how to apply larger ideas on a smaller scale. We’ve seen, for example, the inspiring performances of the students at Kaplan Omotesando Center. Could I guide my beginner to deliver a performance of her own? Her first audience can be the ones she’s most comfortable with, her friends and family. Natasha is a creative mother, and I’ve seen her turn picture puzzle pieces into magnets and then make up funny tales with her children. I want to encourage her to make up a tale in English that she can tell her children. I will help her arrive at a final product and rehearse it. Then I will ask her to tell the tale to her children.
It is my hope that if Natasha becomes comfortable reading simple stories in English, it can become an ongoing practice that she can do in her home and possibly at her children’s schools. Preschools and kindergartens welcome parent readers, and with adequate preparation Natasha could manage this. I’ve already encouraged her to submit her application as a school volunteer, and I hope the coming school year will put her in new situations that will welcome her efforts to contribute in English. It’s one of my beliefs that helping others and giving pleasure to others through language increases a learner’s confidence. Let’s hope in Natasha’s case I prove to be right!
Do you have any thoughts on working with older learners? I’d like to hear about them.