I’ve started some new classes recently. There is the usual mix of personalities, enthusiasm for learning and English levels. One thing that is uniform, though, is the shyness of the students when called on to answer a question.
Why won’t they talk?
Why the reluctance to speak? You would think that they would relish the precious little time they have to speak English in an English-only environment. Most classes are for a mere 90 minutes a week. I want to help them, in that 90 minutes, to speak English, and I know they want to speak English too. So why don’t they?!
Four possible problems
Now I’ve unburdened my teaching-frustrations, let me think about it more clearly.
1. This is the first time they have met me (in my part of the country, foreigners aren’t all too common, so they are bound to be a little reserved at first
2. This is the first time they have met each other (despite being students at the same institution, they are generally new to each other)
3. They haven’t had much English speaking practice – probably not since their last holiday abroad
4. Their reluctance is mainly manifest when I ask them specific, or open-ended questions
Four possible solutions
To compound this situation, they show incredible promise, and a good ability to speak when they do open up. So, what’s the solution? I think I should do the following:
1. Break down their shyness around me by getting to know them (this takes time)
2. Give them plenty of opportunities to speak to each other so that they warm up in class
3. Continue giving them speaking activities with a clear target (don’t give up!)
4. Don’t ask too many opinion-based questions, and don’t expect too much at first
I know this is a big problem in many EFL classrooms in Japan, so I’d like to hear from you about how to overcome this tricky situation. How can I get students to open up? Do you have any tried and tested methods?