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Thread: Advice for an English tutor for non-native speakers

  1. #1
    Registered User SilentMute's Avatar
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    Advice for an English tutor for non-native speakers

    In my attempts to nurture job skills, I'm looking into many opportunities. Recently, I have volunteered as an English tutor for non-native speakers. I'm mostly grading homework, but also I am making practice tests up for problem areas. I have already noticed certain difficulties my students have--punctuation, capitalization, when to use the word "a", and gerunds. I also notice there are certain letters they have difficulty in pronouncing.

    I would appreciate any advice from people who have learned to speak English as a second language, or anyone who has taught them. I'm open to advice from other people too if there is something useful you think you can tell me. I am interested in what was particularly difficult in learning English as far as grammar rules of the language, and what letters were hard to pronounce for you. What was helpful in learning English? Also, if you can think of any common idioms in the language that perplexed you, that could be useful. Was there anything that made you feel that your teachers didn't understand that made it difficult for you to learn? (for instance, our facial muscles may not be able to pronounce words a certain way...for instance, I can't trill Spanish double r's...so I have to resort pronouncing the words with an "rdr"...which isn't perfect but makes me understood). Any cultural problems you've encountered is worth mentioning as well.

    I will be tutoring students from all over the world, but for the moment the majority of them seem to be from India. If there are any particulars about this country you think will help me, I'd appreciate it.

    Mainly, I welcome all advice that will help me do my job. If I do it well, not only will I help other people, but the company will start paying me...and at the risk of sounding like a capitalist American , I'd like that.
    I don't care if the glass is half full or half empty, I'm just glad to have a glass.

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    To trill the double r's of my mother tongue was always a problem I could never solve, though in order to be sincere, I never attacked this inability as a real problem. Being a man from a province, I can say the trilled r has never been a common sound in our accents, so most native Spanish speakers from my country are unable to utter such a sound. On the other hand, people in the capital city apparently have less trouble to trill the r's because it is a common sound in their accent, so I figure they get used to such pronunciation since they learn to talk. I have been told by a Finnish friend that you can train your speech for such a sound (in Finnish all r's are trilled), by means of a few visits to a phonologist or audiologist, but people here are hardly ever trained to trill the r's, nor do they care to learn. In Finland, people are concerned with the cute pronunciation of their language, while people here mostly talk because they have to, but not because they pant for doing it beautifully We mostly utter the sounds as we can pull them out of our mouths To sum up, it's apparently possible to acquire the trilling ability, through the proper training method and practice.

    Regarding English, I had a few courses at school, of a very poor quality, and even poorer teachers, so when I wanted to learn English properly I had to talk my parents into sending me to a language academy. I recall an occasion at school when the teacher had given me a few sentences I suspected as being dubious, so I showed these sentences to my teacher at the language academy, and I remember her telling me "You don't use your clothes, you wear them". Then she said "There are teachers who shouldn't be teachers, but it seems they are". This same teacher at school had the habit of wrong pronunciation. He once gave the wrong pronunciation for the word "obey", claiming that it sounds like "lobby" without the l, and he sounded pretty sure of his assumption. I recall I was telling my schoolmates "obey is not pronounced like he says. He is wrong", to which my schoolmates were looking at me as though they were wondering "How come a student knows more than a teacher?" Well, with all due humility, I wasn't any given student. I was a qualified English student by the time, and again with all humility, my grades at the language institute were quite at the top, so I had a go with my opinions. Of course, because I was a teenager, very few would trust my assessments, but I knew I was right... my knowledge was protecting me

    As a word of advice, just to give a mild grammar example, I would suggest that you teach your students when it is correct "to use" and when it is correct "to wear". It's beautiful when you make yourself clear with other people, and grammar is the key. Teach good grammar and you'll be loved for it And pronunciation is fundamental. I've seen that once people have assimilated a wrong pronunciation, it's very hard to reshape their minds about it.

    I'm pretty sure you'll do fine. You sound much more qualified than this purported teacher I had at school I wish you a very nice salary as a teacher and the best of lucks As soon as I recall another language experience, I'll drop by to post it. Also, if you have any troubles with Spanish, feel free to let me know if you need help

  3. #3
    dafydd dafydd manton's Avatar
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    Ypu'll probably find that Indians have a problem with pronouncing the letter v. it will likely sound like a w. The same adoption system, but using a faint "B" sound in between might help. Either that or pronouncing the v, but with a closed mouth beforehand. There will probably be an overuse of gerunds, too. Just be patient, and you'll be fine. if in doubt, commend. If you have to criticise, sandwich ot between two commendations. And relax, - whatever you do, relax., because they will be more up tight than you are!
    Dafydd Manton, A Legend In His Own Lunchtime!! www.dafydd-manton.co.uk

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  4. #4
    aspiring Arthurianist Wilde woman's Avatar
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    I've had some experience teaching non-native students English, though I don't specialize in ESL. Most of my students were either native Spanish, Korean, or Chinese speakers.

    It really helps to have a little bit of knowledge about the grammar of their native languages. As anyone who's recently learned a new language will tell you, we usually try to force the vocabulary of the new language into the grammar of our native one. A really simple example is in Spanish (or most of the Romance languages), when one uses pronouns the sentence structure is subject, direct object, verb (ex: yo te amo), whereas English is always SVO. (I believe the same is true for Korean.) If you know about it, then you can address it in class; just give a few simple examples on the board and have them practice.

    For students whose native languages are Romance languages, you can help them pick up English vocabulary by showing them the cognates in their native languages.

    My Chinese students, on the other hand, don't seem to have as much trouble with syntax, but really struggle with articles (a, the), because Chinese doesn't have them. Again, if you're aware of these differences in grammar, you can address them.

    I don't know anything about the grammar of Hindi or Tamil (or any of the various other languages of India), so I can't really help you there. But you could probably pick up some basic syntactic things on wikipedia.

    I have already noticed certain difficulties my students have--punctuation, capitalization, when to use the word "a", and gerunds.
    I noticed very similar problems with my students. Most of them wanted to focus on writing and less on speaking. So I tended to have them do more reading and writing than speaking. Spelling and punctuation were always recurring problems. To improve pronunciation, it really helps to read aloud to them and have them read aloud to each other as well.

    I think the hardest thing for students to learn is simply all the English idioms. Most of my students wrote fairly comprehensibly, but they rarely got their idioms correct. There's no quick and easy fix for that; they just have to keep speaking the language and being exposed to its idioms.
    Ecce quam bonum et jocundum, habitares libros in unum!
    ~Robert Greene, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay

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    Registered User SilentMute's Avatar
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    Thanks to everyone who has replied so far, and I still encourage anybody else to post any useful advice.

    I know English is probably one of the most challenging languages to learn, since even natives often screw up. This native, for example, still gets "effect" and "affect" confused. Language is very important, and sadly it is one subject that often has deplorable teachers. It is unfortunate. Ninety percent of our communication may be based on non-verbal cues, but our ability to communicate and be understood determines how we are treated. How you speak can get you a job or get you disqualified, make people like you or distrust you, get you help or leave you stranded, etc. Immigrants often are already at a disadvantage because they are often unfamiliar with the culture as well, so it is really important to be able to speak the language. They can prevent a lot of resentment and exploitation if they can. I know I have gotten irritated in the past because they would do something that was inconsiderate, and I thought they did it on purpose--but if they were able to communicate, I soon learned that it was a misunderstanding due to cultural differences.

    While I don't know the grammar of all the languages, I've noticed that there are common difficulties among all my students. One thing I am beginning to wonder, though, is if they are learning phonetically. When I'm learning my Spanish, I'm learning grammar and spelling along with pronunciation. Considering the grammar and spelling mistakes I'm encountering, I'm beginning to wonder if they are learning the same way. I'm just grading the homework, and I can make extra practice tests--but I have no idea how they are learning English. Another thing I'm also wondering is if many of them are literate in their own language. Today, one of my students submitted a paper that was a just a jumble of letters. It looked like he was practicing his typing. I didn't know what to think.

    My mom was complaining about the adjectives we first teach people. I have to admit, she has a point. When I started Spanish, they were my first adjectives as well. It is unfortunate that the first thing we teach people is to say, "The woman is fat! She is not thin! This meal is not expensive! It is cheap! The man is old! He is not young! You are not pretty! You are very ugly!"
    I don't care if the glass is half full or half empty, I'm just glad to have a glass.

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    Registered User sithkittie's Avatar
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    This is an moderately old thread, but I figured I'd add a bit.

    I don't know how well this would work with adult learners, or if they would even be willing to participate, but in my EFL classes at Jr. High I teach a lot of phonics. I found that without it the higher levels just get muddled, so I start all my kids on it their first year. Japanese speakers have a hard time with Ls and Rs - they can't hear or pronounce them properly. The Japanese R is slightly palleted, and I think that's part of the difficulty for them. This inevitably carries over into their spelling and confuses their vocabulary - the difference between right, light, and write for example. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Februaly or other similar mistakes. Bs and Vs as well. My kids are about half willing to go along with making funny noises with me, but even in the classes that are reluctant to participate I've seen vast improvements compared to classes without any phonics. With some of the adults I've tutored I do phonics less structured, focusing only on the letters I see them having trouble with. Those I've worked with have been pretty nutty and have no problem following along with making monster sounds in public with me to practice their Rs, so I think that definitely helps. In two of my friends I've helped (adults), one can hear the difference now, and one can pronounce the sounds correctly, and almost as soon as they figured out the difference (through lots and lots of monster sounds and mouth exercises) it was like watching a lightbulb turn on over their heads and things just started falling into place in their vocabulary. So you might try that approach if they're not shy.

    One other thing I do with my students is give them spelling tests every week. We drill the words together, break down longer ones phonetically on the board and aloud, spell the worlds aloud together, they write the words on a worksheet and study them, and then I usually pick about 5 out of 10 or so to quiz them on. Of course, for the ones who aren't putting forth any effort it's almost a complete waste of time, but for those who are engaging themselves even a little it's helped a lot.

    I work mostly with beginning students, and I don't teach grammar as it were (we do "conversation" which I find completely ridiculous but my company thinks it's the be all and end all of learning English ), and as you can see, my casual grammar isn't the best. If they're really high level though, especially for writing papers and such, I would recommend The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference or something similar. When I worked with all adults I would photocopy pages (shhh...) sometimes to give them access to the rules of English as laid out in English. At least in Japanese based textbooks, the English rules they give are really not always English (and it drives me nuts when non-native English teachers here teach the incorrect rules and tell me I'm wrong even when I bring in native English sources to back me up. ). That's partly to say your students may have learned English incorrectly. The book I mentioned I use all the time when I have specific punctuation or grammar questions in my own papers. If nothing else, something like it might be handy for you to have so you can clearly explain the rule when you see the mistakes instead of just pointing out and fixing the mistake each time.

    The best way I've ever managed to explain "a" vs "the" was at a restaurant using soda glasses and napkins as examples. When my friend tries to use them, he's really slow at saying anything as he has to think about it still, but he almost always gets it right now. Even with adults, something tactile, picking up a napkin, refilling the glass of coke, really helps people remember better than dry rules do.

    It's been a few months since you asked. How's the tutoring coming along?
    Last edited by sithkittie; 01-13-2011 at 11:23 AM.

  7. #7
    Registered User SilentMute's Avatar
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    Thanks!

    I have noticed that there are common difficulties with the English sounds. My students have problems with the th sound. The majority of my students are Arabic or Spanish.

    I know for myself how difficult it is to get your tongue around a language. Double r's in Spanish are still a challenge for me, and my tongue feels like it is being deprived in French because it doesn't get to pronounce all the letters you see in a word.

    I'm not spending as much time with the tutoring, but I still do it. It is very gratifying with my serious students. I have one Spanish girl who is very intense--and she often puts a quotation from some philosopher at the end of her homework. I also have a Russian man who is a homeopathic doctor. He is a very kind, funny person. I love reading his submissions! He would be a good writer--he has a way of making the common place interesting and seeing the beauty in other people.

    It really makes you think about your language. There are many rules in English that aren't written in any grammar book or explained in a dictionary. Certain words, for instance, can have a stigma attached to them. Often dictionaries are good about mentioning this, but not always.

    I really enjoy teaching. My only complaint is that not everyone is on the site to learn English, and some people think that it is a place to pick up women. I don't appreciate the attention I get, and particularly since American women have this reputation for being easy. You can always find examples of a stereotype, of course, but it doesn't apply to everyone--and my students don't always understand that.
    I don't care if the glass is half full or half empty, I'm just glad to have a glass.

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    Perhaps you could ask questions at the following website: http://www.eslcafe.com/

    India and many other countries are discussed under "International Job Forums" though inquiries are usually from job seekers

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