Teaching Basic English: A Second Chance

It’s been seven years since I last decided to create a series of online lessons for beginners, and I clearly remember the challenges I faced the first time. (See 2012 post.) Apart from the physical challenge of trying to find a place with a board to write on, I had to decide how to teach basic greetings and whether or not to introduce cursive writing. Is ‘Hello. How are you?’ enough? Does anyone write in cursive anymore? Every “easy” topic led to not so easy questions I mulled over.

I ended up posting 65 YouTube videos that covered some of the most elementary topics such as numbers, the alphabet, and subject pronouns. I had hoped to study more with my brave, but eager student (a friend from Russia), but her family moved and her new home was simply too far for us to continue our lessons. A question I faced from online learners  since then has been, “What should I study after Lesson 65?”

It’s taken all these years for me to decide it’s important to continue my work and it’s worth finding new students to teach on camera. I’m delighted to have a second go at this format and film my unscripted attempts to teach real students real lessons. New videos from our first filming session have been posted. (See new Basic English playlist.) I hope to produce at least a dozen or so more.

What I didn’t expect the first time was the added benefit of providing new teachers with a model. I’ve heard that some teacher trainees have watched my on-camera efforts and have used the videos to observe how I modify my speech, how I explain things with limited language, how I set the tone for the lesson, and how I do my best to bounce back from the unexpected. But probably the most valuable aspect of these authentic lessons is the inspiration factor. The brave women who have agreed to go on camera with me inspire other learners to overcome their fears and continue their studies. I’m so grateful for their willingness to expose themselves this way. Viewers no longer feel alone in their struggle to learn English.

The fact that each lesson will reach thousands of learners puts the onus on me to deliver quality content as effectively as I can. There’s pressure to get things right. We film topics in one take. Just like a private lesson or a group class, I don’t have a script in front of me. I have a general lesson plan, but I allow for digressions when I see a learning opportunity. In that sense, we’ve sometimes gone “off script” in our filming.

I’m especially happy to have a second chance to expand on skills taught in the original playlist of 65 lessons. I invited my new students, Flavia and Andreia, to go on camera because they’re at a slightly higher level than where my first student was. It’s the perfect place to pick up with Lesson 66! And so the first lesson of 2019 reflects my updated view on greetings. I know that my students’ interaction is presently limited to neighbors, other students, and the staff the the English school they attend. There’s little need for formal language, so we practiced friendly, informal exchanges they can immediately put to use. I considered advice given by Robyn Brinks Lockwood, a colleague who embraces descriptivism, and made sure I was presenting expressions I myself use and hear. Back at TESOL 2018, I benefited from hearing Robyn’s approach to creating dialog, and in my first basic English lesson of 2019 I guided my students to make natural-sounding choices within the limitations of their proficiency.

One interesting cultural aspect came up during introductions: handshakes. Are they always necessary? This was another seemingly easy topic that led to one or two questions without a clear-cut answer. Since I’m working with two students on camera rather than one this time, I had the opportunity to cover how we introduce one person to another. I decided to model both possibilities, with and without the handshake. As women in the U.S., we’ll often shake hands during introductions, but especially outside of the workplace and particularly when informally meeting a number of people at one time, handshakes might be omitted. “Hi. How’s it going?” along with a smile and a nod might suffice.

What challenges have you faced when teaching basic English? Feel free to comment.

Photo credit: Road, Sky, Mountains, Clouds, Black by Geralt. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/illustrations/road-sky-mountains-clouds-black-908176/.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. MrMike ELT says:

    Most challenges I face is my students’ expectations of what teaching English is when embarking with me as their teacher. This is overcome over time of course, but is still prominent in most adults learners.

    1. Yes, I think setting them at ease and familiarizing them with the format and your expectations are key factors. With the right foundation, in terms of mindset, you can start building.

  2. carlystarr says:

    This is really cool. I teach English in person but I also want some online work without going through some crappy agency that takes half the pay.

    1. There are several options to choose from in the online world. You might start with the population you’re in. See if families are interested in extra conversation practice for their children or for themselves. Many classroom teachers transition to online teaching with former students among their clientele. Word of mouth helps. Have some presence on social media with a clear idea about your niche. Good luck!

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