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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.