English Outside of the Classroom

Learning in the Real World

I made changes recently with my private English language student. And she totally agreed with me. Here’s what we did.

Her book-learning English is strong and she knows her grammar rules very well. Sometimes even better than me! We have progressed from the basic language book and are currently working from an intermediate level English book. We meet twice per week in person and she does excellent with me, but needed more practice in the outside real world. It was time to take our lessons out of the “classroom” and into actual situations. We decided to go to shops or restaurants for live English practice, with me there as backup.

Barnes & Noble Booksellers (our local big bookstore)

Our first “field trip” was to the local Barnes & Noble bookstore after our regular class. She wanted some extra vocabulary practice and purchased a book herself at the bookstore. I showed her where the language books were located and where to find the information desk if she needed to ask any questions. She learned she could go to the bookstore any time it was open, could look over the books for practice, and ask questions if necessary. This was the first step.

Our next trip outside the classroom was this past Thursday. I showed up ready for class and she asked to go to the garden center for some houseplants and gardening tools. She had selected a local shop, Chaves’ Gardens and Florist, and off we went to look at houseplants. Their plants were gorgeous, strong, and healthy looking. She chose a rubber tree plant but didn’t know the price. Here was her chance to interact with an English speaking native about prices.

Buying a rubber tree plant

I went to find the lady for assistance and explained to her that this was my language student and I wanted all questions to come from her. I was there for help if needed, but the discussion was between my student and the employee. Both of them did amazing! The employee asked what she was looking for, and when my student asked the cost and how to take care of the plant, I was smiling from ear to ear. She purchased the mid-sized rubber tree plant for about $45 but couldn’t find a pot that matched her home design. So off to Home Depot to check out their products.

Home Depot also didn’t have the desired decorative pot to place the rubber tree into, but she purchased her gardening tools there. Once back at her home, we pulled some weeds and discussed the difference between soil and dirt, and then weeds and plants. Weeds are just plants we don’t want, or ones we didn’t plant ourselves. We reviewed the correct vocabulary words for houseplant, soil, spade, shovel, hoe, rake, and weed.

It was an impromptu lesson and gave her the knowledge that she can go into shops and ask questions of the employees. Her English level is high enough for clear communication and these little outside trips proved to her that people understand her English and are willing to help. Now is the time for her to start spreading her wings and putting all of her book learning into practical use. I love it!

Remember, all learning does not need to take place in a classroom. Be creative and make your lessons practical for your students. If they actually use the skills you help them learn, they will retain that information much better.

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Grammar Perfection

A recurring problem that I experience with students I teach is a reluctance to speak if their grammar isn’t perfect. I have also heard this same complaint from some of my students online.

Working together and not worrying about grammar. Have fun!

This problem of grammar perfection is much worse with higher level students. They understand more of the English grammar and how it all works together in a sentence, and they are scared to death to make a grammar mistake.

Listen to me! Speak more and don’t worry about your possible mistakes! Everyone makes grammar mistakes while speaking, even me.

Conversational English

Speaking conversational English is the goal of so many students, and they also want to be fluent in the language. But you simply cannot let the fear of making a little mistake get in the way of your speaking. Conversational English is all about communicating. If you understand my questions and I can understand your responses, then we are communicating. In English!

Working together, and talking, to look at the clues and solve the mystery

We Learn From Our Mistakes

Many students don’t wish to speak out loud in class because they are afraid of making a mistake. They don’t want to pronounce a word wrong. But I ask this question…if you don’t try, how will you ever be sure of how to make it better? How do you correct an error if you don’t let someone know how you might say it? I often tell my students that they may know the answer and need a slight adjustment of pronunciation or meaning. But I won’t know how or what they’re thinking if it just stays inside of their head. I have to hear it or see it to possibly help them correct it.

Most of the time, conversation is just basic communicating between people sharing the same language. Your knowledge of grammar doesn’t make you any more qualified to tell me what you just ate for dinner. Will you make a mistake? Maybe. But I will still understand what you are saying to me. And if you feel comfortable with me as your teacher, or your friend, then ask if you made a mistake. Asking for corrections makes your conversation partner feel more at ease to share possible improvements. You must have those converations, as many as possible. Get talking!

Focus on learning how to engage in basic conversation, and then increase the difficulty of the language and the topics to challenge yourself. Once you are more at ease with speaking aloud in English, then slowly pay attention to the grammar to possibly make it smoother and more grammatically correct. Start with the basics and then progress from there, slowly and steadily with plenty of practice.

Remember, written and spoken English are often very different. We will discuss the specifics needed in written English, and academic English, in another blog post very soon.