6 Tips for Teaching Conversational Expressions

I received a persistent request on YouTube for more lessons on conversation, so I decided to hold off on my plan to cover more modal verbs and offer a series of short videos in which I present and explain conversational expressions. Usually I offer such suggestions during my live lessons with private students because teachable moments are abundant in our exchanges. However, pre-planning for the same kind of content is possible. I’m banking on a successful learning outcome by following a set of guidelines.

1. Avoid grocery lists of expressions.
Conversational expressions can’t be learned if too many are presented at once. I’m aiming for three to five per video. This allows for fuller explanations and sufficient examples while still offering a bite-size lesson.

2. Remember that context is key.
Conversational expressions are essentially vocabulary items. The examples must illustrate an appropriate context. When could a learner expect to hear the given expression?

3. Give warnings about register and possible offense.
In one of my upcoming lessons, I plan to cover expressions that people say in anger. This isn’t about cursing (see my lesson on how not to curse), but rather venting or standing one’s ground. Expressions include over my dead body and waltz right in and do something. Students need to know if words are loaded with the potential to offend. My hope is to make students familiar with such expressions so that they’re better equipped to deal with angry speakers; I’m not necessarily encouraging the use of such expressions and I state this outright.

4. Present variations.
This is advisable especially with idiomatic expressions. However, it’s not always feasible to include all possible variations. Sometimes a couple are enough to demonstrate that the wording is flexible. A good example is you’re kidding/ you’ve got to be kidding. These are two items that I present for expressing surprise. If you choose to share my short list with your students, you could offer even more variations: you gotta be kidding, you have to kidding, are you kidding, no kidding, etc

5. Model and practice intonation.
Particularly with the emotion of surprise, I felt it was important to highlight the common intonation patterns. It’s not enough to say the right words at the right time; a speaker’s successful communication includes accurate intonation. Students should sound natural using conversational expressions we hand to them. To this end, listen-repeat practice is helpful.

6. Give the opportunity for questions and practice.
Finding more examples helps solidify students’ understanding. Phrases and expressions might be found on sites like YouGlish or through the YT channel Movie Clips. Movie and film scripts are plentiful on The Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDb). I also encourage students to think of situations and script a short exchange that makes use of a new expression. This lets them test the waters safely.

FUN TASK: If you find gem among the movie clips, you can play it and mute the line with the key expression. Give students a choice of two or three expressions and let them guess what is said. Then play the clip with sound. You can even do this with a variation of a key expression. For example, I recall the scene in Back to the Future where Marty McFly is stunned to find out his father (the teenaged version) writes science fiction stories. He exclaims, “Get out of town!” This is a variation of what I teach in my lesson on expressing surprise: Get out of here!

Photo credit: Man, Woman, Couple, Sitting by MabelAmber. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/people-man-woman-couple-sitting-3163556/.

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