Teaching conversational English to Dana

This has been an interesting problem for me--how can I, as a tutor, help my client "Dana" become more comfortable in speaking English "without a script"? In other words, how can I structure our tutoring sessions so that Dana and I can just talk to each other?

It's not as easy as it sounds to have a normal, relaxed conversation in English with someone who's learning English. Dana studies English grammar for 5 hours a week with another tutor, and so has a good grasp of the fundamentals of English. But she wants to put her knowledge to practical use and talk with me in English.

The basic challenge is having something to talk about--something we are both interested in and that Dana has enough vocabulary about to have a good conversation. It would be hard, for example, to talk about geology, as neither of us has any deep interest in or specalized vocabulary about geology.

If we were in a group setting, it would be easier, as there wouldn't be so much pressure on Dana to carry her end of the coversation alone. But it's just the two of us, so we need to do it all.

The key to this problem was surprisingly simple. I knew that Dana liked crafts, so one week I brought along my knitting project for my knitting group meeting, which is right after our tutoring session. I was knitting when Dana came into the room, and her face lit up. She wanted to see what I was knitting, and we talked about different ways I could finish my project. I invited her to our knitting group and she said she'd try to find the time to come.

Voila! We had a conversation--a normal, relaxed talk about something we were both interested in and knew something about! This conversation gave Dana confidence, so that when she was with her English-speaking nephew last weekend, she had a relaxed, pleasant conversation with him. Her family complimented her on her ability to speak English, boosting here confidence even more. So at our most recent tutoring session, Dana talked to me about some decisions she is making and some ideas for her future.

The key, it turns out, to teaching conversational English is the same key to any conversation-finding common interests, and sharing ideas and information. This takes time, but the results are very satisfying.

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