"Teacher, I want to speak fluent English." This is a statement I've heard throughout my teaching experience. It's a good statement and students have the right to express this to their teacher. However, it can be a challenge to explain how students can speak fluently. Depending on the level of the class, developing fluency will take time and depends on the student and how the teacher conducts his/her lessons.
I am no expert on how to become fluent in any language, but with practice and patience, becoming a fluent speaker is possible. Here are some tips and ways I have used to help students in their journey to becoming fluent English speakers.
Practice speaking English every day
Before I begin a lesson, I would write “chit chat” (chit-chat means conversation) or "talk time" on the board with a question or topic statement. For example, on Mondays, I would write “How was your weekend?” on the board. Instead of standing in front of the class, I would sit down or we all sit in a circle and discuss our weekend. Sometimes, the conversation would expand from the weekend to a specific topic or event. Students liked our chit-chats because it allowed them to speak freely (formally and informally) about things that interested them. For lower level classes, I would guide the students by asking specific questions like, “What did you do last weekend?” If students were shy, I would start by asking, “did you do your homework this weekend?’ From the “Um…” comments or giggles, I knew their answer. The more students talk, the more fluent they will become. The best way to do this is by including topics students like to discuss. This will also reinforce their grammar usage, vocabulary, and sentence structure.
Taking your class on a field trip not only helps students practice English, but introduces them to new experiences. Visiting the library, museums, or cultural events allow students to learn about people, places, and discover new interests. In New York City, we have so many things to see and do that even taking the subway is an adventure! When my students and I would take the subway, questions about the history of our transportation system, or reading the train map became an instant discussion.
Restaurants are also a great way to practice English. Students get to try different foods, practice placing an order, as well as enjoy a delicious meal. For teachers, this is a nice way to incorporate the experience in lessons. I used to give homework assignments where students wrote about their field trip and why they liked or didn’t like the experience. As part of the assignment, students would read their homework in front of the class. This helped them practice presentation skills. Some students would present a menu or a subway map as part of their assignment.
Encouragement goes a long way. Students will feel frustrated. This is part of the learning process. If you have students that feel upset about not speaking fluent English, don’t despair. Encourage them to keep practicing and assure them that they WILL become fluent speakers. Don’t make guarantees. This is a mistake I think teachers make, because no one can put a time limit on fluency. Everyone learns at their own pace. Some students can speak fluent in a short amount of time, whereas for others it may take longer. However, if students feel encouraged to keep learning and practicing their English, they will become fluent in the language.
Another thing to keep in mind is, some students will be fluent in different areas of English. I’ve had students who were fluent in English writing and reading, but not in speaking and listening. There are many reasons and factors for this, such as, previous schooling, employment, or environment. This doesn’t mean those students won’t be fluent in speaking English, it may take some time and vice versa. As long as they feel encouraged through the process, fluency is achievable.