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How can I get my beginner students to feel more confident?

How can I get my beginner students to feel more confident with listening to English and not just freeze when someone talks to them?

 

Diary submitted by Fruzsina B. Madrid

”Freezing” is a common problem with beginner students that many teachers are aware of. I think that it is really crucial to teach the students that it is okay to not understand everything all at once. There is such a pressure to speak English all over Europe that students often expect themselves to speak fluently and understand everything as soon as they had a few English lessons. In my opinion, these unrealistic expectations are often the cause of beginners freezing when someone starts talking to them in English. Students need to know that if they are talking to a native person, it is okay to ask them to speak slowly so that they can understand, and even then, it is okay if they do not understand everything. The sooner they strip themselves of their own unrealistic expectations, the sooner they will be able to progress in their language learning at their own pace.

 

However, this is by far not the only thing that can be done to ease the process of becoming a confident language learner.

Sufficient time using English in the classroom is vital. Eliminating the use of the mother tongue in the classroom in favor of English is a good way to do that; the teacher should talk English for the duration of the lesson and switch to the first language only when it is necessary for the explanation of something. However, the English spoken by the teacher should be slow; according to busyteacher.org, one of the most important things is to speak English slowly to beginners, because the only way that they will slowly gain confidence in using English is if they realize that they are actually able to understand what is being said. In terms of the material being used, ”less is more” is the key.

Beginners easily get overwhelmed by too much material, so the progress should be slow but steady. It pays off better in the long run than trying to cram in too much material into the lesson plan. It is also important to plan activities, exercises and games that revolve around practising speaking in English; speaking and listening go hand in hand, and the more confident a student is speaking in English, the less likely that they will ”freeze” when somebody starts talking to them. Some of my favourite games to practise speaking are taboo, twenty questions, and inventing real life situations, for example a restaurant setting where I am the waiter and the student has to order some drinks and dishes from me.
Another very important thing that I always advise my students is to surround themselves with as much English as possible. Reading short novels such as the abridged penguin books, listening to music in English, watching movies and TV shows in English with English subtitles, watching talkshows on youtube are all fun and useful ways of implicit learning.

In conclusion, eliminating the so-called ”freezing” is easier than some would think. All that needs to be done is making sure that the progress of the students is slow enough not to overwhelm them, but also good and steady. Enough time should be reserved for playing games that are for practising speaking, the teacher should talk more in English than in the first language during the lesson, and the student should learn English implicitly outside the lesson with the help of music, books and movies.

Reference:

  • Arnsten, Tara. “How to Teach English to Beginners.” Busyteacher.org, busyteacher.org/3773-how- to-teach-english-to-beginners.html. Accessed 26 Aug. 2017.

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