Do it Twice

Introduction Teachers sometimes tear their hair out trying to encourage reluctant learners to speak in English. From the learners’ perspective making conversation in a foreign language might seem too challenging and make them feel self-conscious. All too often learners end up not really doing the task set, perhaps only mumbling a few words of English when the teacher wanders near their desks. Finding a technique to reduce learners’ wariness or avoidance could be worth its weight in gold! The idea described below is no guarantee of success. However, the simple idea of permitting learners to use their own language the first time they do a task reduces the challenge level when they are later asked to use English. This can make a difference in encouraging learners to take the risk of speaking in English. Suitable for: Teachers at all levels of experience Aim: To encourage reluctant learners to use English in pair work speaking activities Time: Variable, depending on the activity The idea: To make a speaking activity less threatening for learners by doing it twice, the first time in their own language. In class: 1. When you have a short pair work speaking activity (e.g. a discussion about whether it’s better to use a bike or a car in your town) first, ask them to do the task once in their own language. This will help them to do a lot of thinking about ideas and arguments without worrying about language problems. 2. Once they have finished, tell them to change partners (for example, to speak with the learner on their other side). 3. Learners now do the same task again, this time in English. Alternative idea Rather than the second task being identical to the first, you could introduce a very small variation to help it still feel fresh. So, with our example above, the second task might be ‘Now discuss whether it is better to walk or bike in our town’. Commentary Sometimes there are simply too many challenges at once for a learner. When speaking, they not only have to think of ideas but also have to find out how to say these things in English. That can be overwhelming for a class that isn’t very confident. Doing a task twice in this way can take some of that pressure away. With the first time, the task acts as a kind of a rehearsal so that when they do the task again in English, they have already prepared the ideas they want to say and have expressed them in their own language.

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