teaching and practicing english

One of most valuable components you have as a volunteer is being an English speaker. Though the level of English knowledge varies family to family, learning and practicing English with volunteers will always be beneficial to a family. It can be intimidating to dive into a relationship with a family who has limited English, but remember English practice can be fun! 

  • Be creative! Trips to the grocery store can become a tour of food vocabulary.

  • English language flashcards can become a game.

  • Watching TV can become a listening exercise.

  • Not all family members can attend school or ESL classes, so your visits are a way to practice English with them. 

 

ESL Practice: Once newcomers are enrolled in classes, volunteers can assist them in several ways. Volunteers can help familiarize refugees with transportation to and from ESL classes and assist refugees with ESL homework from class. 

 

Friendship: By building a friendship with a newcomer, English practice will naturally occur. Whenever you spend time together, be supportive and intentional in your communication and you’ll be surprised at how quickly they will grasp your meaning.

 

Conversation Partner: Spending one-on-one time in conversation with refugees is extremely beneficial for their language skills. This may be one of the few times in their life that they will have the undivided attention of an American who is invested in helping them learn and improve their English. Focused interaction with a native speaker is THE BEST way for a new speaker of English to learn our language. Here are some general tips:

  • You should always be encouraging and patient, but do not be afraid to correct the student. We of course will not correct every mistake, but look out for mistakes that are stigmatizing, cause real confusion in communication, or are persistent (repeated over and over). Additionally, if you are working on a specific concept, you should correct errors on that concept. Students learn a lot from our feedback and will gain confidence when they know they're communicating correctly.

 

  • Break concepts down into the simplest phrases possible, but try to maintain grammatical correctness. Ask yourself if you would really speak that way in your everyday life. If you wouldn't say, "I no like pizza," don't use it with your learner. On the other hand, use simple words and phrases with beginning learners. They should learn how to say, "It's one-fifteen" when you ask what time it is. At a real beginnger level, they don't need to know, "It's a quarter past one."

 

  • Encourage learners to focus on communication success above all else. Many learners are overly preoccupied with proper pronunciation and want to pronounce words the exact American way. This goal is often unrealistice and puts unnecessary stress on the student. ESL students should strive to be easy to understand - not to sound like an American.  Encourage clear pronunciation when your student's pronunciation interferes with meaning. For example, if you cannot distinguish between "seventy" and "seventeen" (a very common struggle), work on pronouncing numbers. Or, if they are difficult to understand because they consistently do not pronounce a consonant pair correctly (pronouncing the "th" in "Thursday" like an "s"), focus on that. Remember, the goal is to be clear, not American or perfect.  

 

  • Be mindful of your student's learning style and strenths. Many of us are visual and rely heavily on notes. This is a good practice to encourage your learner to develop. Based on the student's level, have them copy new vocabulary or fixed phrases word for word, show them how to sound it out, have them repeat it back to you, have them use it in other sentences, etc. However, if your learner is pre-literate (does not read or write in his or her first language) or newly literate in English, writing things down is an additional learning burden. It is great practice, but oral practice alone is also okay. Be mindful to introduce one new concept at a time. For example, teaching the phrase "Please open the door" starts with “door,” and then “open the door,” before adding the polite “please.” Just mastering the word "door" requires a learner to be able to understand it when spoken, pronounce it clearly, write the letters correctly, and then read them. Learners are working harder than we realize! 

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  • The best learners are self-learners. Encourage students to keep a notebook and write down new words as they find them. Help them find books and movies in their interests – if a woman loves to cook, bring some ingredients and help her read through and make a simple recipe. No matter the subject, the more correct, natural English the student is putting in their brains, the more they will produce. Help them find ways to enjoy learning English, and they will be motivated to learn all of the time, not just in school or with you.

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  • Finally, don’t be surprised if you learn as much as your student. Tutoring can be a great experience for both of you. ​​​​​​​

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