Helping others to Talk and Read

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After returning from a Quechua literacy program in Peru with Wycliffe Canada/ SIL International in 2002 I have been working as a tutor and as an ESL and Business English classroom instructor in the Calgary area. I’ve also trained volunteers in our Cooperative ESL Ministries and have discovered three key strategies which help anyone working one-on-one or in small groups. Overwhelming research demonstrates the need to prioritize a workplace knowledge of listening and verbal communication for our immigrant populations. These strategies, if followed consistently, will make a difference in learning!

  • Know your vowels in specific. There are 14 vowels sounds which quickly confuse the immigrant/Permanent Resident wishing to work and interact within the Canadian community. Isolating these sounds so that they can hear the difference goes a long way to being able to speak them. I find that using Scholastic Photo Tiles: Short & Long Vowels can help introduce the vowels in with meaningful pictures. After the vocabulary lesson of matching (about 20 minutes) the next step is to introduce the vowels, then lay out the tile pix with the names under each vowel sound (total time 60-90 minutes). Reviewing these vowel sounds and reminding students of the importance of such ‘verbal grammar’ will move them to successful production. So how to practice this outside of class? Have them log-in to (register for) englishaccentcoach.com . I’ve found no better home practice for listening to English sounds than this game, which also can track progress in the increasing-more-difficult lessons.
  • Listening to real speech. The stream of speech in Canada terrorizes even the non-Standard English speaker from Ghana or India, for example. CBC Radio has an excellent way to re-use their local news programs into 3/ 2 minute stories including a downloadable lesson plan including answers. They have re-mastered the stories in a slower English so don’t worry. At first, using this as your whole lesson (60-90 minutes) is well worthwhile. Then the students themselves can do this at home, returning the lesson to you for review.
  • Read-Alouds­.­ Getting good, authentic literature (difficult, but not too difficult) then have the students read a short paragraph at a time, helping them as they go. Most students learn in a short time to both pronounce and read sentences with good expression AS WELL AS tracking the meaning of what they read. Sending them home to continue reading adds to the expectation of using English outside of your lessons.