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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


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