ConversationEnglishESLTeaching

Having a good conversation

This past week I watched a Ted video  by a radio show host who spoke about how to have a good conversation.  She referenced how our tech-absorbed environment works against us and children in particular, who are the most vulnerable, because so many of them spend time on their smartphones and other electronic devices; which prevents them from learning how to develop conversation face to face with people.

After watching the 10min talk and the 10 points she mentioned on how to improve our conversations with people, what I got out of it was this: BE PRESENT! Too often if not most of the time people just turn off when someone is speaking to them.  If smartphones have an impact that is definitely one of them.  I can recall countless times when people turn to their phones in the middle of our conversation.  It’s a sad situation but one that inevitably is brought into the language learning classroom as well.  I’ll tell you what I mean in a moment but let’s look at what happens in a language learning classroom, especially when it’s a conversation class or a timed speaking activity.

When students are taking part in discussions or speaking tasks we teachers tend to monitor just what they say but it is also equally important to pay close attention to their interaction with their partner while speaking.  Too often I’ve witnessed students looking at their notebook or in the completely opposite direction when their partner is speaking.  Unfortunately students don’t realize the long term consequences of that attitude and behavior so if I start seeing it too much, BOOM! I remind them of the importance of being present!  That means that whether we are in a classroom practicing a second language, with a friend having a chat in a café, or at a bar, we need to actively listen to what is being said so we can adequately interact with that person and respond accordingly.  In the ESL classroom this is an element that students and many teachers too often ignore because they believe that just speaking as much as possible is the best practice.  However, the speaking is actually only one element of the practice and exercise, students are taking part in.  Actively listening and appropriate reactions to what people say, are just as important because it allows for a more natural interaction between the speakers.  Whether it is native speakers talking, or students in a classroom, teachers should emphasize the importance of this to students when they are speaking to each other.  At the start of the course, after a few lessons and observing your students, it is important to spend a few minutes discussing this and you can turn it into an actual lesson by preparing a list of what people do/don’t do to show interest or paying attention, and this can be followed by some practice where they use these expressions.  Ultimately though, in my experience you need to keep hammering the point home whenever you see them slipping…

Remember that students are bringing that habit into the classroom because generally many if not the majority of people are bad at conversation.  Most people prefer to hear the sound of their own voice then listen to others.  We have to remember that sometimes it is necessary to have conversations with people we dislike, or disagree with on a personal level, who we may even find boring or rude.  The trick is to be present and listen to what they have to say because you might be surprised at what you might learn or discover from them even if you dislike them.  There can be profound moments of learning or discovery from listening to what people have to say.  On a personal note I believe that that is one of the reasons I have had success as a teacher of English, and why my students tend to like me and want to continue having lessons with me.  Having a conversation is an essential part of learning a second language and a vital skill for native speakers of any language, so there is plenty of incentive to use the opportunity in the classroom to remind students the essentials in having a good conversation.  Check out the TED video on the video and articles page here, and if you are talkative like me, shut your mouth and be present.  Your opinion is not the most important…. all, the, time!  Peace.

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