A teacher facilitating a conversation class must create a conducive atmosphere whose students feel free to express themselves. When the teachers knows the name the students, it makes them closer to each other and the students feel free to express themselves and along with it encouraging comments add extra benefit. The teacher should give a hearty laugh when situation demands. A smile generates warmth and response. The teacher should ensure that each student gets maximum opportunity to talk. Students should not be allowed to take notes during conversation class. They feel shy and stammer and ultimately want to surrender but the teacher must retain the interest and encourage them saying they have started speaking and it is getting good gradually. Students will try to shift from English to Bengali as it is very natural. The teacher should again divert their conversation in English When some are seen to become inattentive, the teacher may ask them some questions so that they become alert and can be back to the conversation. The teacher himself/herself can also ask one or two questions to other students and ask the inattentive ones to repeat the same questions.
Enthusiasm is infectious. The teacher should express enthusiasm to more actively engage the students in conversation. He should show much patience in the conversation class and put himself/herself in the place of the students remembering the struggle to express his/her ideas when he/she was first learning English. He/she should tell the students that they should be a critical listener without interrupting the students’ conversation because good listeners can be good speakers. Pronunciation or grammatical mistakes can be corrected by uttering the words/sentences the students have used without directly interrupting them.
The teacher is to remember when designing course that the students are the main target. He needs to find out what their needs are. Why do they want to learn English? What are some situations where they will use it? Have them bring topics that they wish to discuss. In this manner, you will be able to integrate the topics that they will need. Choose task based lessons so that students have a change to do meaningful tasks based on real life situations and on the target language. The main thing in conversation classes is to actually use a topic for your questions that the students are interested in talking about topics they would want to talk about in their native language will give them greater satisfaction and encourage them to develop their language skills to the point whether they can express themselves fluently.
The teacher in the conversation class must consider that some students remain timid in expressing their viewpoints because, (i) students don’t have an opinion on the subject, (ii) students have an opinion, but are worried about what the other students might say or think, (iii) students have an opinion but don’t feel they can say exactly what they mean, (iv) students begin giving their opinion but want to state it in the same eloquent manner that they are capable of in their native language, (v) other more actively participating students, feel confident in their opinions and express them eloquently making the less confident students more timid. Having been assigned roles, opinions and point of view that they do not necessarily share, student are freed from having to express their own opinions. Therefore, they can focus on expressing themselves well in English. In this way students tend to concentrate more on production skills and less on factual content.
Short role play can make a conversation class more activated and interesting. Once students become comfortable with target structures and representing differing points of view, classes can move onto more elaborate exercises such as debates and group decision making activities. This approach bears fruit especially when debating opposing points of view. By representing opposing points of view student imaginations are activated by trying to focus on all the various points. One area that is easily overlooked by teachers of English conversation is the need to help student be aware of the learning process as it relates to language acquisition. First-time teachers need to keep this in mind as they face the arduous task of teaching language fluency in the short time allotted them. It is sometimes mistakenly assumed that after years of schooling, each student has already acquired the proper learning skills. Student may seem apathetic dejected belligerent and even unable to learn but these attitudes are the result of being confused and trusted. The root of the problem is not necessarily with methods or students’ attitudes but with the fact that too much is taken for granted, many times students simply don’t know what they are supposed to do and when they do, they don’t know how to go about doing it.
Many times the motivation exits and the teacher have good command of the various teachniques, but the students simply do not know how to go about learning the language. This is due to the fact that learning a language is often outside their experiences, first because learning one’s native language was simply a natural part of growing up and second because normally the study of English takes place only with the goal of passing entrance examination and hence the paper test phenomenon of concentrating on grammar.
To begin with students of English conversation must understand the fundamental difference between learning about the language and learning to use it for verbal communication. The common analogy of learning to drive a car or play a musical instrument is useful in demonstrating this point. We can learn all about the parts of a car or instrument, how they are made and what their functions are as they relate to the whole, but it does not necessarily follow that with this knowledge we will be able to get behind the steering wheel of a care or pick up an instrument for the first time and drive or play well. They only way to become a good driver is to practice driving. The only way to be able to play an instrument well is to practice playing it. Likewise, the only way to become a good English speaker is to practice speaking English.
Another important point to make is that English is not just a set of rule. It is not black and white, right or wrong as mathematics is with its equation and symbol which must calculate up every time. The initial goal then is not accuracy of use but is to communicate. Accuracy of use will aid ability to communicate but it should not be allowed to hinder the communication process. It is important to be realistic. Students are not going to be able to say all that is on their minds or even accurately express themselves from the start. A basic rule is not to dwell on simple mistakes in grammar or usage. Stemming directly from the previous point is the need to stress that learning a language is imaginative, creative and even artistic.
Each speaker is continually adding their idiosyncrasies as they use the language to express their unique ideas and views or simply to say things; the language is continually in a state of flux. English conversation class cannot be passive. The students need to be aggressive, putting in as much effort as they expect to get out of it. This means that students need to actively participate in the classroom by asking questions and joining in discussions and other communicative tasks or exercises. Since part of learning a language means taking that language and internalizes it, making it your own, it is important that the learners choose topics that are relevant to them. The students will find learning more enjoyable and, as a result, easier if they focus on the things that relate to their personal experiences and interests. Rote memorization is often ineffective as students cannot relate to the phrases and dialogues that have been spoon-fed them from a textbook.
Students should be cautioned against worrying over every unknown word or phrase or to get caught up in an overzealous attempt to pin down every expression with a dictionary meaning. Many things are restated when speaking and with certain amity of guessing, the gist of the conversation can be understood despite the unknown. Guessing is an important skill that needs to be developed and used often. It is useful and essential parts of comprehending what is being said, particularly in the early stages of conversational development. Guessing should be encouraged with the purpose of moving the students away from relying too heavily on their dictionaries and translating every meaning into their native tongues. Many times, translation has the effect of changing the meaning as much as an inaccurate guess. Various guessing games and pre-listening can be used to develop this concept. The more the student is exposed to the target language, the faster and easier it will be to assimilate the language. Like in all learning, the more time spent, the better the progress made. With language learning especially, it is important that the time spent be done on a daily or near-daily, basis as short sessions daily are much more effective than cramming all at once.
Many people think that they can be or should be fluent speaker in a short time but they must know that language learning on the road to fluency is a long process that cannot be hurried. Keeping a positive attitude and a steady schedule is more important than any immediate results. Students should learn from their mistakes by identifying the weaknesses and correcting them. Although progress often cannot be ‘seen‘ or tested, students need to be assured that constant effort provides the necessary foundation which makes it possible to move on to the next stage and then only in hindsight is progress notices. There is no quick way to learn a language by skipping stages.
Students need to understand the idea that to be a good speaker, it is also necessary to be a good listener. Students should practice active listening by really turning in to what is being said and reading facial features and gestures, rising and falling intonations, speed and inflections, etc. all of which clued the listener in on the idea which is being communicated. The use of newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, movies, radio, TV etc. are easy ways to bring the real world into the classroom to increase interest. They also provide a change to expose the students to the cultural aspects of the language which further help the language take on ‘character’ and make it more real. It is important to persevere and tackle the difficulties without losing one’s sense of enjoyment in the process. When enjoyment remains away or absent from the learning process, real learning hardly takes place.
Writer: Program Manager, BRAC Education Program and Vice-President: Bangladesh English Language Teachers Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.