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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The many ways of saying “Hello, how are you?” How to break the ice in the ESL classroom

"Hello, how are you?"
Courtesy of my ESL video series: Motivation for the ESL Teacher and ESL Student
via YouTube (youtube.com/dkirstene)

Hello, how are you? This is a greeting that is most commonly said to someone we know or meet for the first time. In English, we have the formal and informal ways of saying “Hello, how are you?”

For example, the formal way is “Hello, how are you?” versus the informal way “Hey, what’s up?” We use the informal way of saying “Hello, how are you?” when we are talking to people we know like friends. However, be careful using this with everyone. It is considered impolite to say, “Hey, what’s up?” to people you don’t know, or people in authority such as family or professionals.

As teachers when we first meet our students, sometimes getting them to talk to you is a challenge. The same happens for us native speakers. No one feels that comfortable being the first person to say hello in a group. We all feel some form of shyness when talking to someone, especially in another language. As teachers, it’s important to relate to our students. One way in doing that is by learning something in their language.

You can ask your students, “How do you say, ‘Hello how are you?’ in your language?” This is a great ice breaker, a way to get students talking. If it’s a low level class, you may want to practice saying, “Hello, how are you?” first. If you know how to say that in the students’ language (s), you can say it. This will show a connection between the two languages. Not only that, this may impress your students for being able to speak in their native language.

Here’s an example from an ESL class I taught some years ago. I taught in Chinatown, NY and majority of the students are from China.

Me: Hello class, how are you?
Class: [Silence]
Me: Hello, how are you? Lay ho mah?
Class: Lay ho mah? Lay ho mah? [Laughter]
Me: Hai (yes), I know some Cantonese. So class, how are you?
Class: Good
Me: Ho ho ah! (Good)
Class: Hai ah! (Yes) [Laughter]

The students were happy I was able to translate “Hello, how are you?” into Cantonese, “Lay ho mah?” Most of my students spoke Cantonese. A few students only spoke Mandarin. One student said, “What about Mandarin?” I said, “I don’t know Mandarin. All I know how to say is, ‘Ni hao’” (Hello). The student smiled, gave me a thumbs up and said, “Good job!”

This brief language exchange allowed the students to feel more comfortable with me. For the rest of the semester, I learned more Cantonese and some Mandarin. I loved it, because they were learning from me, and I was learning from them.

I encourage you to have a language exchange with your students. It’s not only fun, but a great way to learn from each other.


Check out the video about this topic on my ESL video series via YouTube here


Thursday, May 4, 2017

“Teacher, why are you so fat?” How to cope with uncomfortable questions

“Teacher, why are you so fat?” This is a question I get asked often. It’s a question I didn’t know how to answer when I first started teaching ESL. It’s a question that can still feel uncomfortable to answer, but after years of being asked about my weight I know it's unavoidable.

The word “Fat,” is a common word around the world. In many countries and cultures, calling someone fat is socially acceptable. However in American culture, not so much. We cannot avoid the word or make people stop calling people “fat,” just because we don’t like it. It is bound to happen whether we like it or not. As teachers, we have to find a way to let our students know what the word “fat” means, and HOW it affects people when called that.

This is a difficult subject to discuss for many of us who are considered “fat.” I am considered fat based on society standards. To some people or in some cultures, I would not be considered beautiful, because I am “fat.” It is unfortunate. I experience this in my own culture and country as well. So how does one cope with being called, “fat” and how can teachers respond to uncomfortable questions from students?

Turn it into a lesson
This can be a challenge. It all depends on your approach. One way to answer a student’s question that feels uncomfortable is by turning it into a lesson. I always like to answer a question with a question. For example:

Student: “Teacher, why are you so fat?”
Teacher: “Why do you say I am fat?”
Student: “Because you look fat.”
Teacher: “What is fat?”

Sometimes asking students questions helps them to interpret and think about what they are saying. It’s also a good way to transition their question into a lesson. I like to use a bubble map to brainstorm ideas about a topic we are discussing. In this case, I would write the word “Fat” in the center bubble, and ask students what they think fat is to them. There are no right or wrong answers in this activity. This is just to get some ideas.

Then, you can tie it into a lesson about describing people, discuss adjectives, draw or show pictures of people who look different; there are many ways to turn the question, “Why are you so fat?” into a lesson. You can do a conversation practice where students describe each other.

Tip 1: When you are discussing the word, “fat,” make sure you let students know the cultural differences in using this word. For example, in American culture it is considered insulting or impolite to call someone “fat.” This is a good cultural awareness discussion, because students need to be aware that not all people take kindly to that word.

Tip 2: Make sure you give examples of the different adjectives or ways we describe people who are considered “fat.”

Some adjectives are, but not limited to:
Plus size
Heavy set
Curvy
Big boned (not commonly used)
Full-figured (more commonly used for women)
Chubby

If you are NOT comfortable talking about the word, “fat,” you don’t have to turn it into a lesson. If you feel uncomfortable being asked about your weight (it could be any weight class: fat, skinny, etc.), you can simply tell your student you don’t feel comfortable answering their question.

Tip 3:DO NOT PERSONALIZE
Try not to take uncomfortable questions personal. Sometimes students are just curious and are not trying to be rude. However, if you sense that a student is being rude or impolite in their line of questioning, let them know. Never get into any arguments with your students. Always maintain your professionalism.

Remember, you are in charge of your classroom. Use good judgment when answering uncomfortable questions. Always be honest and if you don’t feel comfortable, let your students know that. They will respect you for it.


For more tips and advice, check out my latest video from my ESL video series here.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

How to be an effective ESL student

ESL students, it’s not easy learning a new language, culture, and in some cases living in a new country. First thing you want to do is to take a deep breath, and remind yourself why you are learning English. Remembering your purpose in learning English will help you cope through the process.

Keep an open mind
Try not to have too many expectations. Instead, keep an open mind. Being “open-minded,” allows someone to not expect anything and to go with the flow. You will not know how your teacher will be or your classmates. You won’t know if you will like your class. You don’t know if you will understand all the lessons. In the beginning, all you know is you are a new student in an English language class. If you keep an open mind, you will be more open to the learning process.

Be prepared and ask questions
Always be prepared before class. Bring a notebook and pen or pencil to class. If you have a textbook, bring that to class as well. You will be taking notes in class whether you are writing down what the teacher is saying, or what he/she writes on the board. Taking notes helps you to remember what you are learning. It’s also a good way to help you study for an exam. Always ask questions. Asking questions is a great way to reinforce what you’re learning, and it helps you to improve your communication skills.

Study
For most students, studying is something that’s unfavorable. In other words, they don’t like to do it. Even when I was in school, I didn’t like to study. However, studying is very important. The only way to really remember several English skills, such as, grammar, you have to study. Your notes will help you in studying. If you don’t like studying alone, creating a study group can be effective. You and some of your classmates can meet at a library or a local cafĂ© to study together. Studying over coffee can be a fun experience.

Students tend to be shy when their teacher practices a conversation with them
Being relatable
In general, I believe people like to feel they can relate to others. This applies to both teachers and students. You will be communicating with your teacher and other students. Even if you are a shy person, you will be talking to people. The best way to handle the shyness is to be relatable. This is true for even the most outgoing person (like me). Being relatable means to be able to understand other people’s opinions, feelings, and attitudes. It also means to be okay to admit, and understand your and other people’s mistakes. You will not always be right and mistakes will happen. It’s apart of learning. If you can be okay with making a mistake, you can relate to someone who does the same. As students, this helps make everyone feel comfortable.

Take your time
Every student learns differently and at a different pace. You want to take your time with yourself. You don’t want to be too hard on yourself for not understanding everything at once. Remind yourself that you are LEARNING and are not expected to KNOW EVERYTHING in a day. Pace yourself and continue to try your best.

For more tips and advice, check out my latest video from my ESL video series here.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How to be an effective ESL teacher

This post will focus on ESL teachers and students, but some of the advice I give can be applied to all teachers and students.

ESL teachers, we have a tough job. At times, we are taken for granted or not taken seriously. Sometimes from our counterparts or from people who don’t work in our profession. Everyone has an opinion. I feel your frustration. One thing I've learned over time is to maintain your true self. When you are true to yourself, you can be true to your craft. In my opinion, that’s what makes you an effective teacher.

Be Confident
Being confident in yourself is important in anything you do in life. It also helps to be an effective teacher. Having good posture, a clear speaking voice, and giving eye contact are sure ways to show confidence. It also helps draw the attention of your students. Being energetic is also a plus. Sometimes this is debatable, because it depends on the willingness and personality of the individual. I am not suggesting you have to be “bubbly,” but you want to show interest in your teaching to gain students’ interest.

Being confident doesn’t mean being conceited. There is a difference between feeling confident in yourself and thinking your better than people. Being conceited is a turn off and shouldn’t be expressed in the ESL (or any) classroom or working environment.

Being relatable
I love drinking coffee while teaching :) This picture was taken in 2007.
In general, I believe people like to feel they can relate to others. As a teacher, when students feel they can relate to their teacher, it helps them to feel more comfortable. Being relatable is expressing yourself in a way that students can agree, such as, admitting to making mistakes, showing more of your personality, or showing empathy. This also applies to way of dress.
Dressing in professional attire or business casual attire is a sure way gain respect from students. You don’t want to dress too fashionable or expensive. Be considerate of the economic demographic of the population of students you are teaching. Depending on the culture of the class, dressing like a fashion model can make students feel bad if they are not able to dress the same.

Take your time
As teachers, we are on strict schedules and have to get through the lesson in a timely manner. However, you don’t want to rush or go too slow in teaching your lessons. You want to make sure students are learning from you. What’s the point in getting through five lessons in a week if only ten percent of the class actually learned, understood, or grasped the material? Pace yourself and ask for student feedback. This will help you to find the balance.

Be honest
If you don’t know how to explain or answer a student’s question, state that. Oftentimes, teachers don’t like to admit they don’t know something. I’ve had this happen to me a lot. I found it easier to say, “I’m not sure, but will get back to you with answer,” than pretend I know the answer. Students respect honesty from their teachers. Like our students, we don’t know everything. It’s okay to admit that to your students. Be mindful not to act like you know everything in the beginning of your class semester. If you do and later you admit you don’t know something, students won’t take kindly to your admission. I know from personal experience.

These are just some ways to be an effective teacher. Every teacher and teaching style is different. If you take your time, be honest, and be humble, you will have a successful experience teaching your students.

For more tips and advice, check out my latest video from my ESL video series here.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

“No, I don’t want to say…” How can ESL students encourage each other to talk in class?

Teacher: “Do you know the answer, student A?”
Student A: “Um…I don’t know.”
Teacher: “Who can help student A?”

Students: *silence*

Has this happened to you? Sometimes, teachers will ask for other students to help their classmate in answering a question. Most times, no one will respond to the teacher. Then this may happen…

Student B to Student A: “It’s okay. Try.”
Student A: “No, I don’t want to say.”
Student B: “You can do it.”
Student A: “Well…okay.”

When students are asked questions from the teacher, they can feel intimidated, embarrassed, or shy. One way to help students feel more comfortable is when their classmates encourage them to speak in class.

In my classes, I used to tell students, “Try your best,” or “Take your time, you can do it.” I would encourage students to say this to their classmates when someone felt uncomfortable to speak.

From my ESL video series: How to encourage your students

Body language is another great way for students to encourage each other. Saying “good job,” or showing it by giving a thumbs up, can be motivating.

Here’s an example

Student A: “I don’t know.”
Student B: “It’s okay, try your best.”
Student A: “Okay, I think the answer is…”
Teacher: “That is correct!”
Student B: [giving a thumbs up] “Yay, good job!”
Student A: “Thank you.”

Encouragement is important for anyone who is learning something or trying to understand something new. It’s something both ESL teachers and students should do in class. This allows the shy student to feel a part of the class, build their confidence, and motivate him/her to try their best.


Please check out my video on how ESL teachers can encourage students here.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

“Teacher, I don’t understand.” How to communicate with your ESL teacher

A lesson I did on polite ways to communicate with
your ESL teacher

“Teacher, I have a question.”

As an ESL student, it can feel uncomfortable to talk to your teacher. There are many reasons you may feel this way.

You may be shy
The teacher may be strict or unapproachable
You don’t want to feel embarrassed
You don’t know how to ask a question

This is common. The good news is, you CAN overcome these feelings and communicate with your teacher.

Step 1: Always say, “Excuse me” before asking a question. Saying excuse me is polite (respectful) and will get the teacher’s attention.
In some instances, you can raise your hand to ask the teacher a question.
NEVER yell or say, “Hey!” or “Hey you!” to your teacher. This is impolite (not respectful).

Step 2: Wait for the teacher to acknowledge you. When the teacher looks at you, says, “Yes,” or points to you, this is your chance to ask a question.
Sometimes, the teacher may say, “Does anyone have any questions?” If so, raise your hand and ask your question.

Polite ways to ask a question
Excuse me, I have a question
Excuse me teacher, may I ask a question?
Excuse me ______ (teacher’s name), _____________? (Your question)

“Teacher, I don’t understand.”

You will feel this way as an ESL student. You will NOT understand everything you are learning. However, many students do not like to say, “I don’t understand” in fear of feeling or looking “stupid.” In some cultures, telling a teacher you don’t understand is not good. Because of this, many students sit quietly never telling the teacher what they don’t understand.

Here are some ways to help you say, “I don’t understand,” without feeling uncomfortable:
Excuse me teacher, can you say that again?
Excuse me teacher, can you repeat that please?
Teacher, I am not sure what you mean. Can you explain again please?
I’m not sure, can you go over that again?

These are nice ways to let the teacher know you don’t understand or need him/her to repeat something again.

***REMEMBER*** It is OKAY to say, "I don't understand." 

NEVER say, “I am stupid teacher” or “I have a stupid question.” This is a mistake many students make. I always tell my students, “You are NOT stupid. Please don’t say that about yourself.”

As teachers, it’s important to REMIND our students that they are LEARNING and are NOT expected to know everything. If so, they wouldn’t need to take English classes J

My advice
I encourage you to talk to your teacher. Always be polite and your teacher will help you. Sometimes if the teacher doesn’t help you, your classmates will.

Never feel embarrassed, always ask questions. Your question may be the same question your classmate has, but is too shy to ask. This is all part of the learning process. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Job Interview for the ESL Teacher

Always be confident when
going on a job interview :)
So you want to teach English as a Second Language? You want to be an ESL teacher. You find a job ad for an ESL teacher position at a local agency. You meet the qualifications and submit your resume. You are contacted for a job interview.

Are you ready?

Job interviews can be uncomfortable for most people. You have to express your interest in the job position, state your work experience, skills, and educational background, and make a good impression for the employer. For ESL interviews, the same requirement applies with one exception, you have to show your teaching skills before being considered for a teaching position.

Are you nervous yet? Don’t be J

There are some dos and don’ts in how to approach a job interview (in general), but particularly for an ESL job interview.

First things first: Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Always prepare the night before your interview. Iron your interview clothes (business suit or dress), make at least 2 copies of your resume, pack your bag (ladies, you know this is especially true for us!), and get rest. Another way to prepare for your interview is to review the location of the interview, and write it down along with the employer’s name and contact information. If you are running late or get lost, you want to be able to contact the employer and let him/her know the situation.

NOTE: It is UNPROFESSIONAL to arrive to an interview late. If that happens due to unforeseen circumstances and you informed the employer, there is a chance he/she may still see you that day. Without prior notice, it looks irresponsible on your part.

Why do I need to make extra copies of my resume?
Employers are busy people and often times may not make a copy of your resume. In some interviews, you may be interviewed by more than one person so being prepared is a plus!

The Interview
You arrived to your interview. You may feel nervous. You may even feel excited. Either way, you want to walk in with a confident demeanor.

Dos
·         Arrive to the interview at least 15 minutes before your scheduled interview
·         Turn off ALL electronic devices (cell phones, Mp3 players, etc.) BEFORE entering the place of your interview
·         Check your appearance before entering the interview (Example: look in a mirror and check your makeup (Ladies), hair, or tie (Men) to make sure nothing is out of place
·         Take a deep breath
·         Always greet the first person you see at the interview. This can be the security staff, the person at the front desk, or the employer himself
·         Extend your hand to shake the employer’s hand (In some cultures, the gesture may vary. Always show respect no matter what)
·         Address the employer by “sir” or “ma’am” or by their last name (Mr. So and So/ Mrs. So and So) unless otherwise specified
·         Smile
·         Give eye contact, sit comfortably, and speak clearly
·         Be respectful

Don’ts
·         Do NOT arrive to the interview late
·         Do NOT turn off your cell phone or electronic devices in the presence of the employer
·         Do NOT ignore the security staff or person at the front desk
·         NEVER say “Hey, what’s up, or Yeah, I’m here to see…” ALWAYS greet with a “Good morning/good afternoon, Hello”
·         Dress in casual attire (t-shirt, jeans, party dress)
·         Chew gum
·         Don’t address the employer appropriately
·         Fidget, look around, talk too fast or interrupt the employer while he/she is talking
·         Be rude

TIP: Always remain respectful to the employer. Some employers are not professional and may not show you the same courtesy. Never become disrespectful to an employer.

TIP 2: It is wrong for inappropriate questions to be asked on any job interview such as your age, marital status, and family, religious or political views. If an employer ask you such questions, politely ask them not to do that. If he/she continues and you feel uncomfortable, stop the interview and leave.
Remember: A job interview is about the JOB and not the personal background or lifestyle of the individual.

How is an ESL job interview different from a general job interview?
Both types of interviews are similar, but for ESL interviews the focus is on previous teaching experience, teaching style, ways of implementing a lesson, time management, classroom management, student assessment and testing, and the interest of the job position.

New ESL teachers: If you are a new ESL teacher and don’t have a lot of teaching experience, you can express your interest in teaching, any volunteer or internship experience that showcases your leadership skills, tutoring, or work experiences that highlight your ability to help others.


The Demo Lesson
Employers will ask potential ESL teachers to do a demo lesson. Rarely, they will not ask for a demo lesson, it depends on the agency. Some agencies will want to see evidence of your teaching qualifications in the form of certifications, degrees, or licensing.


A demo lesson is a short lesson presented to an employer that shows how you implement a lesson, how you engage students/gain their interest, how you explain a certain concept, and your overall teaching style. It’s also an opportunity to show your personality and/or creativity.

·      Employers will either give you specific instruction on what kind of lesson they want you to do, OR give you the option to create one on your own
·         Employer will let you know the English level the lesson should focus on
·         There’s a specific amount of time the lesson must be done (example: 10, 15, or 20 minutes)
·         The lesson will be presented in front of the employer (the person interviewing you along with other staff members) or an actual class
·         The demo lesson is usually scheduled, but sometimes it can be impromptu.

TIP: Always ask questions if you are not sure how to do the demo lesson. Questions can include the type of materials that can be used (textbook, props, handouts), will a whiteboard and markers be available for use, and the age group of the students. This is important in how you prepare for your lesson.

Interview skills takes practice, but with these tips and believing in yourself you CAN pass the interview and become an ESL teacher. Good luck! J

Check out my video of me "acting out" an ESL interview on my YouTube channel