Sometimes, even we teachers get nervous before a language class. We worry about our pronunciation, or that we will not be able to explain something to our students, or that we will make a mistake that is so embarrassing we will have to quit and find a new school to start over again, or maybe we will just find a black hole to hide in, for ever!
For all these reasons and more we rely on the school course books and the audio files to provide our students with the English they need. We sometimes rely on our mother tongue to give explanations, so we can save time, make it easier for the students and not confuse them with an explanation in English. But is this what is best for our learners of English?
Honestly, I believe we should speak as much English as possible. This is as true for our beginner students as our advanced students. Now you might think I am crazy, however, the rationale behind this, is that our brains separate different languages after the age of 7, so, when we are constantly translating, we are moving from one part of our brain to another, whereas if we stick to one language all the information for that language is in the one place. Therefore, in theory, our brains have to do less work. Also, the more English we, as the teacher, speak, the more English our students are likely to speak, as we are their role model in the classroom. If we constantly rely on their L1 to explain things, then why should they use English to try and explain something to us?
One way to encourage a greater use of English in the classroom is to incorporate our and our students' passions into the discussions we have with our students. When we have to talk about social media, we can find out which platforms our students are using and get them to explain the joys of the current trends to us! If we are able to be more flexible with the curriculum, it could be fun to find out our students’ interests and get them to teach the class about the musical instrument they play, their favourite band, the video game they are currently addicted to! There is bound to be loads of useful vocabulary involved which they will be able to use and because we are taking an interest in their hobbies and interests, they are more likely to take an interest when we are giving them information about a topic we would like to discuss with them.
When we have to follow the course book, it can be very easy to just read out the task instructions from the book. This is fine, to a certain degree, but when we are not using the book, we can often fall back on our native language in order to make it quicker or simpler. When we plan our lessons, taking a few minutes to prepare the instructions in English can help tremendously. It gives us time to think about the language we want to use, what language our students will understand (depending on their level) without having to think on our feet and giving our confused students complicated instructions, which we then end up translating anyway. We can also think about simple language we can use to give our students feedback and encouragement. Having a few phrases in our pockets, means we can relax a little more in the classroom and feel confident using more English.
It could also be helpful for the students to make small talk in English – practising with us, their teacher, may be the only chance they get to use their English in their everyday lives. When we ask them about their weekend or their free time, this is a great opportunity for them to refresh their vocabulary and basic sentences to talk about past or future events. It can help build their confidence to use English to have a casual conversation and can even take away some of the stress they may feel having to speak in front of the class. When we give our students these opportunities to discuss topics other than what is in the course book, it shows them we are human and can help create good rapport. Doing it in English can only be of benefit to their language skills.
Finally, do not be afraid of getting it wrong. We all make mistakes because we are all human, in fact, these errors make us more relatable and can help reduce nerves among our students. If they see us making mistakes and correcting ourselves, it can allow them to do the same, without fear of judgement. This is an important element of creating a safe learning environment. We often spend so much time worrying about what others think of us, or what we believe others might think of us, that we do not act. Creating a safe space for students to make mistakes and learn from them will be a tool they can use outside of our classroom as well.