Having conversations with your students are a great way to build English skills, but they can also be rather intimidating. Avoiding some common mistakes will go a long way towards increasing confidence and making yourself understood. Here are four mistakes to watch out for in conversation:
- Avoiding pleasantries in beginner lessons. Most English conversations start with some kind of introductory phrase. “How are you?” is a common way to begin, even for very short conversations. It is polite to ask even if you don’t expect a detailed answer from your partner. It is perfectly OK to respond with “I’m fine,” and then continue on to reason for the conversation. However, if you know the person well and are comfortable with them, it is also acceptable to go into a little more detail about how you are actually doing but don’t expect a beginning learner or someone you don’t know to go into detail.
- Not enunciating words. English is a very choppy language. Many languages have each word flow naturally into each other. However, in English you should be very careful to make each syllable stand on its own. Speaking too quickly can push words together, making them difficult to understand. By taking your time with every part of the word, you can make it easier for your student to pick up everything you are saying.
- Confusing different English dialects. There are a lot of different types of English dialects: British, American, Canadian, and Australian, just to name a few. Different dialects will have different pronunciation and often different vocab. “Football” means one thing in the United Kingdom, and a very different thing in the United States. ESL teachers are global travelers and have been exposed to different dialects, spelling, and grammatical differences in the English language. You should be aware that even though you may be speaking English to your students and vice versa, you may need some extra communication to bridge the differences between dialects. Have patience!
- Unclear use of pronouns. Pronouns are very common in English, but it is vital that the listener understands what they refer to in each case. If you are talking about a lot of different people, it might be better to use each persons’ name instead of relying on one set of pronouns. In addition, make sure the gender of your pronouns matches the person you are talking about. Otherwise, your listener might think you’re discussing an entirely different person!
If you pay attention to these common mistakes, you will be able to navigate conversations as a teacher and learner a lot more easily and avoid confusion. Conversation is as much an art as it is a science, so there’s no substitute for actual practice.
Make sure you practice regularly, and you’ll do very well!