I'm going to lead an English conversation practice group in Tijuana

Hey all,

After my recent phone meltdown, the search for business has become very slim, so I have followed recommendations from friends here in TJ to help small groups of people with conversational English for 2 or 3 hours a day.
Kind of a life raft for those who have taken language classes, but really had nothing to progress with afterward, as it was for me with Spanish.
I have questions…

First, has anyone done any sort of loose instructional thing? Do you have any advice?
I want to encourage my groups to get out into the world for practical application, like the general things we do everyday (shopping, cooking, movies/television etc.), unlike being cooped up in a classroom. Has anybody tried this before?

Second, does anyone know an (ugh) decent Facebook page in TJ where I can post an announcement? I have posted to Craigslist, but my understanding is that people here generally use Facebook the way they would use Craigslist. However, I can’t even count how many different pages are based out of Tijuana, and definitely can’t guess where to start.

I appreciate any constructive input.

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Create (or find online) some practice dialogues for the given setting. Probably two person dialogues would be best, a third person in these things often either adds unneeded complexity or the third person doesn’t get to contribute much.

After everyone works with the pre-scripted dialogue have them create their own conversation. This can be free-form or you can provide them with some sort of Cloze (fill in the blank) template. (Hello, can you help me find the _________.")

Also, two (or three) hours might be a long time on one subject. Even with committed adults you have to fight off boredom, so I would recommend adding some variety. Places for free chat, language games (Scrabble, Boggle, Hangman, etc. all gameplay/discussion done in English), English language telly or music. Or simply have more than one subject per session.

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That’s a great idea with the games that center on language.
I also want to organize English-speaking outings, whether it’s just to do a little grocery shopping or dining out, so that we have context for subject matter (buying/selling, likes/dislikes, current events, etc.).

Primarily, I’m focusing on those who have taken classes, but never had the opportunity to practice out in the real world. I hear this from people all the time here. We live right next to the border, but some can’t cross, some can’t afford San Diego prices, or some have other reasons they aren’t able to interact/practice with native speakers.

I’m also trying to maintain an affordable rate, so that prices won’t keep people away.

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I wrote quickly and didn’t spell everything out. My first two paragraphs were meant to be potential prep for an English-speaking outing.

How will you do an English-speaking outing with those who can’t cross the border?

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The plan is to do it here. The main idea I had was a round-robin talk in the beginning, leading to splitting up into pairs. General conversation, with constructive input from me. This isn’t going to be a full blown English class, just conversation practice, and I’m pricing it accordingly – about 50 pesos an hour. What you might spend for a couple of street tacos.

Just to be clear, people here say it’s not for lack of learning English, but that there’s not really any real practice outside the classroom. So that’s what I’m helping with.

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And already my neighbor wants to link on Facebook and recommend me to her friend for a meet tomorrow. I don’t even have my Facebook page ready.

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That’s a real difficulty with language learning. I took German, Russian, and 3-4 years of Spanish, but only in the classroom, so none of it stuck.

Maybe a reading, writing, and speaking combined component could be helpful? Have them read something, write about it, and do a presentation speaking about it with Q&A to engage the rest of the class, all in English? That’s asking a lot, and some people won’t like it, but I wish my language teachers had done things like that.

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If anything, I would probably just use a whiteboard for them to write out sentences. I think presentations might be overdoing it? I don’t want to scare anyone off if that makes them anxious.
I remember one of our teachers used to have us read aloud from a chosen book and discuss as we progressed, to double-check comprehension. Perhaps that would be less scary?

And yeah…two semesters of Spanish here, and I didn’t have opportunities to do squat with it afterward. I’m having to relearn all over again.

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Quite likely. I’d be terrified even today to do a presentation in front of my coworkers about stuff that I know very well even in my native language. That’s why I wish teachers had made us do it - it’d be scary in class, but in retrospect, it’s much scarier when your livelihood depends on it. Maybe an extra credit/volunteer thing, depending on your audience/students. But of course, the ones who would volunteer are probably the ones that need it the least. So, maybe not my best idea.

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There’s also the extra time it will take to prepare a presentation. That sounds a little too much like homework and might prove a turnoff to some who would otherwise be interested in the classes.

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I taught an English conversation class for a couple of years in Japan while I was a student and my biggest takeaway is that the classes should be tailored to the individual students as much as possible.

When you first meet your students, spend the whole first class chatting with them, trying to gauge their level and, most importantly, finding out what interests them and why they want to learn. If at all possible, group together students with similar interests and ability and keep the classes as small as you can. In an hour’s class, you should be trying to give each student an equal amount of contact with you (it’s really easy to let more fluent students dominate but that can be hugely frustrating for people without as much ability) and if you have more than five students together, they’re going to get ten minutes or less face to face conversation.

Plan your lessons beforehand so that the students feel like they have learnt something and didn’t just waste an hour chatting about nothing. After a while, I had a bunch of lessons I had trialled and adjusted with different students that I could break out and use when no one had anything they wanted to talk about or that they wanted me to explain.

My favourite of those was prepositions, although Spanish prepositions are probably much more similar to English than Japanese ones and this might not work for native Spanish speakers:

First five to ten minutes were chatting, getting them to tell you about their day/week, to try and get them to feel relaxed about speaking in English. Remember to ask “why?” and “how?” in order to make them form more complex sentences than just “I went shopping. It was fun.”

Next, spend ten minutes or so quizzing them on various prepositions (if your Spanish is good, explain to them the differences in usage between the equivalent prepositions in English and Spanish). Write them down, or if your students want practice, get them to write the words down for you.

Once you have enough prepositions in a list, draw a picture. I am terrible at drawing, which helps break the ice a bit when you ask “so, where is the cat in this picture?” and they say “ohhh, I thought that was a car!” Get them to explain the relationship between objects in progressively more complex sentences.

Spend ten minutes or so drawing pictures for them, then get them to draw pictures for each other. If you keep the conversation flowing all the time, this can be remarkably fun and it’s a good way to jump between comprehension and application of language.

Spend whatever time you have left once the drawing runs out of steam answering questions about things that have confused them so far and asking them quickfire questions about things in the room. Make them ask each other about other objects, so they can practice question composition. Ask them about their plans for the next week as a warm down to the lesson.

Like I say, most of the students I taught had little to no English and I don’t imagine that many Spanish speakers would need you to explain “on, in, under” in that much depth but the reason I wrote all that out is to show how you can take something simple, drill it, get your students to practice it, then get your students talking to each other, and turn the whole thing into a series of activities that flow into each other, to keep the pace of the lesson up and make sure there are no awkward pauses.

It’s pretty terrifying to speak to a bunch of people you don’t know in your native language, let alone in your second. Keeping things structured helps to make the whole process less scary and helps your students to feel like they didn’t just waste an hour talking about TV.

As a side note, I absolutely hated free conversation with other students when I was studying Japanese; it’s impossible to tell whether or not the other person is making mistakes and it feels like a waste of everyone’s time. They’re paying you money to talk with you and learn how a native speaker uses English, not to pick up bad habits off each other. Same goes for presentations; it turns into a rote memorisation exercise and there’s too much to pick apart in even a two or three minute monologue to make it useful for a language learner.

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THIS.

We’re talking about Tijuana, where most Mexico natives have to work twice as hard and twice as many hours to even come near what people who have access to jobs in San Diego can earn.
Additional homework would be a severe turn off.

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This is some great advice!

This is exactly my opinion about it. My main goal is to help those who already took the rote learning classes, but never had a real chance to practice with native speakers.
I have an agreement with my best friend that we correct each other during normal conversation…my Spanish, his English. We’re very familiar, so we know each other’s weak points.

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