I thought it would be interesting and useful to share my approach to tutoring English as an additional language. Potential learners—you can get an idea about what to expect from me. Other teachers—you can compare this with your own approach.
A little background
This approach has evolved through about ten years of language teaching and learning. It is not useful for every context, but I find it is very effective for the clients I usually work with—new immigrants to Canada who have already taken language classes, who already have some social life in English, and who are primarily interested in correcting errors in their speaking and taking their English to another level. I have also adapted it to use with English learners abroad, like the Kurdish brother and sister in the photo.
An approach that focuses on the learner’s speaking
1. Create the right space
I like to arrive calm, warm-hearted, and open to whatever the learner brings to the table. One of my favourite things about teaching, actually, is putting aside my own issues and thoughts to focus on another person. Ideally we meet at a quiet café. I sit at ninety degrees to the learner on their left, so that when I write notes (with my left hand) we can both easily see. I always bring blank paper, two pens in different colours, and some questions or something else to generate conversation.
2. Ask questions
In addition to spontaneous questions—“How are you?” “How was your weekend?” “What’s new?”—I ask questions that I write in advance. My goal is to prompt the learner to speak at their highest possible level, in a space where they are comfortable making mistakes and trying new expressions and grammar formulations. The learner should speak more than I do.
3. Listen and take notes
Because correcting someone in the moment can distract them from their message, I instead listen carefully and write down errors. These errors can be in pronunciation, grammar, or word choice. I try to write down the error as the learner said it. For example, “I back to Vancouver in September.”
4. Offer corrections
At a good break in the conversation, usually after 20-40 minutes, I pause to offer corrections. I turn the paper to the learner and together we go down the list. I try to elicit the correction from the learner. For example, I point to the sentence above, and see if the learner can correct it to, “I come back to Vancouver in September.” If they can’t, I help by saying, “It’s a verb problem,” or “I… back?” Usually the learner can figure out the correction.
Before the end of the meeting, we take 5-10 minutes to review all of the corrections we made that day. I hold the paper and the learner must rely on their memory. I say aloud the original sentence, “I back to Vancouver in September” and the learner tries to fix it. At the beginning of the next meeting, we review the corrections again.
There’s always more to it
This is the basic framework under my approach. Of course there is more going on. Sometimes we take time to reflect on the learner’s goals in English, or their habits and techniques for improving. We might brainstorm new goals or new techniques. Other times my job is to empathize with the learner when they are frustrated and upset. Other times I share my own language learning experiences, my own stories, and my own observations about English. Because my approach is so learner-focused, I sometimes get too comfortable listening. Once a client told me he was tired and it was my turn to talk!