One of the challenges I have been facing in terms of working with the ESL students is providing a comfortable speaking situation for them. Most students seem to be fine. They seem eager to learn through their mistakes and try to express themselves the best they can, even if it means using words or phrases that they aren’t sure is correct. However, I’ve noticed some students get extremely nervous when they talk to me.
I’m guessing it is because of the speaking environment that the teacher sets up for us. Specifically, the teacher puts me in another empty classroom and has her students come individually to practice their oral exam with me. I ask the students four questions and record the proficiency of their answer in terms of content, pronunciation, and word choice. Like I said, some students are fine and talk naturally with me. Other students come and seem nervous. I feel like it’s similar to how anyone feels when going into a hard exam. I see their lips quiver when they are trying to think of what to say. They stumble on words and end up paralyzed as to what to say. And worst of all, they give up. I really want to help provide an interaction where they don’t have to be nervous but I’m not sure how.
So far, the method I’ve tried to use is to use gestures that show that they are on the right track. For example, if they seem hesitant if their answer is right and seem lost for words, I try to gesture for them to keep going and continue their train of thought as well as nodding my head to give them encouragement. This has helped but the effect is limited. I get the sense that sometimes the student feels so overwhelmed that they just can’t think of what to say and they give up. I wonder, what can be done to bolster their speaking confidence?
One of the solutions that I will be testing out in the next class is talking to the few students that I remember showing speaking anxiety before class starts in an informal setting. I hope that this will take away the formality of a classroom and an exercise that is supposed to prepare them for an exam and put them in a situation that simply requires them to have a conversation with me. I hope it works.