Last Tuesday morning I walk outside of my apartment to see . . . more rain. I'm not normally a superstitious person but sometimes you can't ignore the gods when they're sending you consistent signals like two weeks of gorgeous blue skies, and then two days in a row of gloomy gray skies and rain--alright, I'm listening . . .
I think what I'm hearing is that I need to pull out my special bag of teaching tricks for my current English camp students. They're insanely smart, and from what I've been able to figure out all of them have low-advanced to high-advanced English abilities, and a few of them have native speaker fluency . . . and yet when I ask a question all I get is a zombie wall of silence . . .
At the beginning of day two's classes, after greeting the guys (to which I got the zombie response I was dreading) I began by talking about my speaking speed, and how I wanted to check with them if it's okay for me to talk at my normal speed--which I NEVER do, or rarely do in Korea. My personal EFL/ESL pedagogy is that speaking naturally is nuts most of the time. If half or more of your class can't follow your natural speaking speed, and natural level of vocabulary and how you communicate what you're trying to tell them then I believe you need to use a variety of speaking methods to help students understand you.
Some of the things I do are . . .
1. Speak more slowly, and with very careful pronunciation.
2. I repeat a lot of the things I say, and vary the speed too.
3. I use the white board a LOT to reinforce what I'm saying if it's difficult.
4. I break long sentences into chunks, and put pauses in between the chunks. I use gestures and acting/miming in tandem with key words and expressions.
5. When I'm not giving instructions, demonstrating something, explaining something, and other teacher talk along those lines I will try to speak more 'normally' but I generally follow this pattern: first time, I say the sentence somewhat normally, second time, I slow it down break it into chunks and use very careful pronunciation, and the third time (if necessary) I repeat the sentence with some degree of natural rhythm and intonation but still not at my natural speaking speed. (NOTE: The pattern described here varies depending on the type of class, language learner levels, and the learning situation. There is no one way of speaking fits all teaching situations formula.)
There are other things I do but those are some of the most common methods I use to help the students understand me. But in the case of the guys I'm teaching right now they really don't need it. Maybe for some particular topics and situations they lack exposure to, but I'm also encouraging them to ask questions if they don't understand something.
Normally it's hard to get Korean students to take an ACTIVE learning role and to get them to independently choose to ask a question (with no teacher prompting) because they worry so much about loss of face if other students think the question is 'stupid' or 'too smart' or whatever the case may be but I think these guys can do it.
Anyways . . . the guys told me they wanted me to speak at my natural speed, and so I began the day's lessons.
In the first hour I gave them a power point lecture on how to write a paragraph in English. I tried to teach them in a very communicative manner. I asked a lot of questions, and kept pushing really hard to get them to take a more active style of learning--and I pretty much ran into the wall of zombie silence again, argh!
I knew that some of the guys had studied how to write paragraphs before whether it was in a hogwan (private academy) or when they'd lived and studied English overseas in an English country. Yet they were acting like POWs in a prisoner of war camp, and I was Colonel Klink trying to get them to tell me where the secret escape tunnel was . . .And it was only Day 2 of a two week long camp . . . oh god.
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Click on the link below to see pictures and read more at Kimchi Icecream: The Second Serving . . . . I've moved over to wordpress.com and will be blogging there from now on.
Winter English Camp in South Korea #2, Day 2: The Zombies Return . . . and not even the power of kimchi ice-cream can wake the undead! (See pictures of kimchi ice-cream here!)