Class Management in Mono-Lingual Classes

By Neil Root
Neil Root is a writer and London based English Language teacher with 10 years experience.

Class Management in Mono-Lingual Classes

Teaching a mono-lingual class is always challenging as you are the odd one out in the classroom (unless you can speak their language well), and most importantly it’s natural for students to revert to their own language as a default position. This is fine in brief spurts to elucidate points, but if it is allowed to go unchecked, it can lead to you losing the thread of your class and make it very hard to deliver your material. Remember that the students are there to learn English, and they should be immersed in the target learning language!

Different nationalities present different problems

Different nationalities obviously present different problems in mono-lingual classes. A room of Japanese students will usually be grammar-centred and the room will be almost silent, so much elicitation and prompting is required. Italian, Spanish and South and Central American students can be very voluble, and if they start talking their own language too much, you can easily lose them. Lay down your rules in the first class: only English to be spoken in class unless you specifically ask a student to explain something to a classmate in their language. Even then it can be difficult. The hardest mono-lingual class I have ever taught was a group of Sicilian teenagers doing the Trinity exam. One wouldn’t take his sunglasses off in class (it was mid-October and the sky was white outside). Another boy slept every day until break. When I nudged him awake on the second day and reminded him he was there to learn English, his response in broken English was difficult to answer: ‘My father is a fisherman, I will be fisherman. Sicilian fish no speak the English.’ I let him sleep after that.

Split the class into groups- as you get to know the students you will know the ones who like to revert to their own language. Make sure they never get paired off together or work in the same group. This will minimise their tendency to speak their own language. Pitch your talking points half in English-speaking culture (American culture is obviously often more known to them than British) but also prepare material that takes in their culture and customs. Although you should have researched the topic, play the fool in class and ask them questions about it- most students love to introduce you to their culture. Use humour to feign surprise, and then explain the British way of doing the same thing. When teaching in Spain, one student remarked that he couldn’t understand why British people had carpets in their bathrooms – I replied that it was because our feet get cold in our poor climate. He laughed, but when I thought about it he had a point!

Debates are great

Debates with an international perspective are great for getting them talking in English, as long as their level is pre-intermediate or above. It sounds provocative, but sometimes choosing a controversial subject in their culture can open them up, but of course you must also be culturally and religiously sensitive. In a class of elementary Taiwanese, I got the students to introduce themselves on the first day. They all did it formally apart from man, who added that he was ‘Made in Taiwan.’ Nobody laughed, including him, and I had to fight to hold my laughter back. By the second class, the rest of the class had overcome their natural shyness and were all talking in English which was impressive for their level.

Lay down your no native language rule, tailor your class to appeal to their culture, prompt or rein in depending on the nationality, and use humour to break the ice.

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