Claudia Pesce, busyteacher.org
Are your ESL learners confident in their English-speaking skills? How can you tell? Confident learners participate more, speak more, don’t necessarily make fewer mistakes, but feel confident, they can communicate effectively in English – they can say what they want to say.
Confidence is not exactly linked to accuracy; it’s all about attitude, which helps students get their point across, no matter how many times they stumble or make mistakes.
Why is Student Confidence so Important?
It’s important for students to feel confident because if they don’t, they simply don’t learn as fast or gain the fluency they need. Students who lack confidence often complain or say things like, “I can’t do it”; “I don’t know how to say that”; “I’m going to be in an English-speaking country, and I can’t speak”. If you feel your students’ confidence needs a good boost, here are some ways to turbo charge it.
Try These 7 Sure-fire Ways to Boost Student Confidence.
Don’t correct them as much in free-speaking activities
It’s important to correct students’ mistakes, but what happens if you correct every other word a student says? When students make too many mistakes, and you make it abundantly clear that that’s what they’re doing, their confidence starts to suffer. Make the necessary corrections when you’re doing targeted practice, but don’t interrupt or correct as much during performance activities when it’s better for students to just let go of their inhibitions and try to speak.
The other problem with corrections is that sometimes all we do is tell them what they did wrong and forget to tell them what they did great. After a role play activity, praise your students for what they did very well, first: “Good job! You remembered to use all of the vocabulary and expressions we learned today!” And then refer to what they need to work on: “But you were talking about what you did last weekend, and you forgot some of the verbs in past. Why don’t you review those for next class?”
Even though you are telling them what they did wrong, they get a more positive message by hearing what they did right first.
Teach in context
We should always try to teach in context because it gives students a background to lean on – it’s much harder to learn isolated words or grammar without the right context to remember them by. But how does it help boost student confidence? If you use a context students are already familiar with – say shopping – you will allow them to work with a situation they are able to handle. You’ll just be using a different language to talk about it.
Give them chances to succeed
In an ESL class, students are at a disadvantage – they don’t understand; they can’t speak like you do. Which is why it’s important to sometimes take the focus away from their weaknesses (their poor language skills) and place it on their strengths. I do this all the time with Business English students. Say we need to talk about marketing. I tell them, “I’m an English teacher. I know nothing about marketing, so you’ll have to explain it to me”. This is an incredible confidence boost. They know something you don’t, and chances are they’ll do a great job explaining it to you.
Teenagers or young learners can talk about places you’ve never been or things you’ve never done. Those who have special talents or skills can teach their classmates.
Visuals like flashcards, posters or graphic organizers also provide something students can lean on so that they’re not left hanging in mid air. If a student needs to tell a story to the class, they’ll feel a lot more confident if they have pictures they can follow along. If a student needs to present a business topic, they’ll feel more confident if they have a graphic to lean on.
Make all learning goal-oriented
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of goal-oriented learning. If you set clear goals with your class, at the start of the school year and even at the start of each class, they’ll have a better sense of what they’ve accomplished. Say you start the class by telling students that today they will learn how to check in and check out of a hotel. Finish the class by saying, “Congratulations! Now you’re ready to check into any hotel!” They’ll be amazed at how much they’ve learned.
Instill habits and use repetition from Day 1
Getting your students to feel confident they can speak English right from the start is not as difficult as you may think. Teach them essential phrases they will have to use again and again (May I go the bathroom?; Could you please repeat that/speak more slowly?; Have a nice weekend!). If they constantly repeat these phrases they will soon enough become like second nature – they won’t have to hesitate at all. Create habits by having them ask or say similar things every day/week (How was your weekend? – Fine, and yours?) and keep adding to the mix to give them a wider range of expressions.
Confident students are happy students
Confident students feel they can accomplish what they set out to do in their ESL class and beyond, when they have to use their language skills in the real world. What more could you want for them?