Today’s blog is a guest entry by Joan Taber, a highly experienced educator, and someone with a lot of worthwhile things to say. Have a look at her entertaining and informative blog here. Joan also maintains a fascinating series of academic papers on ESL, language, and translation that is well worth reading. Today, she’s talking to us about teaching English to students who have no ability in the language whatsoever. How do you start? How can you help them to improve? Take it away, Joan Taber.
Teaching the basics
People often ask me how I go about teaching English to students who have no English-language background. For me, the best place to begin is on a trusty page of commonality-that is, the world map. Here, north and south are in the same position in any language, the equator always runs through Ecuador, the poles are “frrreeeeeezing” (at least for now), “the ocean is blue,” but Greenland isn’t always green.
With the help of the map, “Where do you come from?” is transformed into a real place. Students are invited to “come to the map,” point to their country of birth, announce whether it’s north or south of the equator, east or west of the Prime Meridian. I show them where I’m from, where my mother was from, where one finds the most beautiful people (Italy, of course), where the climate is “sooooo hot,” where ordinal and cardinal directions lead to every part of the globe.
Using the map
So, during the first forty-minute lesson, students can distinguish directions, indicate “near” and “far,” acquire the lexicons of map study-continent, country, city, river, ocean, color-and travel-airplane, airport, train, taxi. They get a feel for syntax: “On this map, Europe is red and Africa is green.” They learn idiomatic expressions related to climate-it’s hot, it’s cold- and feelings: “I sad I go from El Salvador.” “Yes, you were sad when you left El Salvador.”
Part 2 of Joan’s guest blog is coming next Monday.