Learning another language can be a challenging endeavor, and some might say an intimidating experience when practicing face-to face with a native speaker. With this difficult truth in mind, I set out to start teaching English over five years ago in italki. During this time, I have met so many bright, curious, and interesting students who have taught me countless things about their lives, their culture, their jobs, and much more. I've got to know a few students so well that I would consider them to be close friends - people I like to stay in touch with. Also, I have received feedback that students find my classes enjoyable and that helped the meet or exceed their learning goals. I'd like to offer a few strategies and guidelines that I believe every teacher can use to push their students higher and higher as they continue to master a second language.
The first thing that should be required of all teachers is the ability to make their students feel relaxed and allow them to speak as much as possible during a language-learning session. This comes from asking good questions and finding ways to keep a conversation going. A good piece of advice is this: get to know students to figure out what they enjoy and what they are passionate about. A person's eyes light up and their voice gets higher when they are talking about something they really like- pay attention to this and be sure to ask many follow-up questions. Generally a yes-or-no question is not the best for a good conversation, but a "tell me more about that" response works much better. Another way I try to make students feel comfortable is by offering corrections in a way that doesn't stop the flow of the lesson. Usually, I take notes during the lesson and point out mistakes after a conversation topic has finished, or at least wait until the student is finished talking.
Another good strategy I've found especially helpful for online learning is to use a variety of media and materials in lessons. This includes all of the following: pictures, charts, images (helpful for vocabulary), videos, texts, websites, and audio clips. Using visual materials keeps students engaged for longer periods of time, and can be more interactive. For example, I sometimes use an infographic for conversation/vocabulary lessons. The students and I will read each little section of the picture, go over new words, and discuss the text. Another great idea to use for homework assignments is to send a short YouTube video to students and ask them to write a response to it. Finally, charts and diagrams are a very helpful way for some students to better grasp grammar concepts, such as verb tenses or collocations. There is no limit to your imagination- the more variety of materials, the better!
One challenge I faced during my teaching sessions would be some small cultural differences and attitudes, all of which are totally easy to overcome. When I first became a teacher nearly ten years ago, I realized that students from some countries may not be as talkative or open to asking questions to their teachers. Some students may keep a more straight face- I realized once I started traveling and teaching that Americans smile a lot more than other countries. Of course, it doesn't mean that Americans are happier, it just means they smile more by habit. One more example regarding conversation topics: some students might prefer serious topics (philosophy, politics), while others stick with lighter ones (culture, hobbies). This could be in part to culture or individual preferences. However, the most important thing to remember is that all of us have very distinct and special personalities! In my interactions with everyone, I try to assume nothing and keep an open mind.
I would like to share one story of a student I had from Shanghai, China. His English name was "Eric" and he was preparing for two university interviews, both for American colleges. In our first lesson, he explained to me that he was not confident in both English and interview skills. With this in mind, I suggested we try a "role play" style of interview, so I could ask a variety of questions and he practiced his answers. I gave him detailed feedback along the way, and made sure to write the notes in our chat log so he could review on his own. Also, I sent him some example videos online that I bookmarked in advance. These showed sample interviews in English, so he could get a feel for the flow and style of the university interview. After all of this, he said his interviews both went well and that he was accepted to one of the universities in the US. It's always very nice when a student takes the time to write you a follow-up message with good news- something all teachers can look forward to.
Finally, I'd like to conclude by sharing my personal favorite piece about teaching: A great teacher should pass the "friend test". As it was explained to me many years ago, this means that teachers should be approachable, friendly and authentic with their students. They should make their students think "I would actually enjoy grabbing some food or invite him/her out one day". With this mindset, they will be more comfortable to speak, more willing to ask difficult questions, and have an open mind during the learning process. If you can establish a friendly rapport with a student, it makes everything else easier. I hope these ideas and pieces of advice can help all teachers in the future lessons and interactions. Good luck and have fun!
From Tyler Hayden (www.italki.com/teacher/1735812)