How to Get Your Shy ESL Students to Speak More

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Student output (speaking out loud) is a critical component of learning another language. Unfortunately, some students are simply unwilling to speak in class, and it feels like pulling teeth just to get students to repeat.

But I have 5 quick tips that will help you create an environment that encourages even the most hesitant and shy ESL students to speak more.

1. Minimize Incidental Language

If you notice that most of your students are not speaking during your lessons, you might be using too much incidental language. Incidental language includes all of the “filler” words, phrases, and sentences we use in daily conversation.

Let’s say that your student is learning the word “cat.” You don’t want to say, “I have a pet cat named Whiskers.” This will just confuse and overwhelm your student.

Instead, say the word in isolation while also showing an appropriate image (flashcard) to represent that one specific word. This will help your student learn to pronounce the word correctly from the beginning. Eventually, he will learn how to use the word in context.

Quick Tip:  Use specific language to help your students understand what to say.

2. Break Down Sentences

In Level 1, students are encouraged to repeat words, and occasionally phrases. When students get to Level 2, they will quickly be faced with repeating and reading sentences.

This can be very daunting to kids who are naturally shy or hesitant to speak.

To help eliminate some of the stress your student is feeling, break down the sentence into 1-2 word phrases. Once she has repeated the entire sentence, have her try to repeat the sentence in its entirety.

It’s very possible that your student didn’t really understand what she needed to say. Now that she has repeated chunks of the sentence, she has the confidence to repeat the whole sentence independently.

If you find your student still struggles to repeat the whole sentence, simply move on and try it again with the next sentence.

Quick Tip: Break down sentences into chunks to encourage your VIPKid students to speak more and help them build their confidence.

3. Encourage Your Students to Repeat You

Students are taught to repeat or “parrot” what you say during lower level lessons. Incorporating TPR, Total Physical Response, is an easy way to remind your students that you want them to repeat what you are saying.

When I want my student to repeat a word or phrase, I cup my hand over my ear and turn my head to the side with my ear near the camera.

This is the universal gesture for “repeat.” If you use this gesture ONLY when you want your student to repeat you, they will begin to feel more confident about when they need to speak.

Quick Tip: Don’t worry if you notice that your students are simply repeating…this is all part of the learning process.

4. Reward ANY and ALL Effort

Any time you see your hesitant speaker making an effort to repeat you, answer questions, or interact with the content, reward that effort. This can be in the form of a virtual star, high five, applause, etc.

Of course, the easiest way to reward your student is by playing Find-A-Star or Would You Rather. These games get your VIPKid students excited about interacting with you and that helps you encourage them to speak more in class.

The truth is many of your hesitant speakers are afraid of saying the WRONG thing.

They would rather say nothing NOTHING than say something incorrectly. Encouraging them as much as possible might be the boost they need to “put themselves out there.”

Quick Tip: Reward your students for ANY and all speaking.

5. Change Your Voice

One of my favorite ways to get my non-speakers to interact with me is by changing my voice. This is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and will create interest for your hesitant speakers.

Here are a few student favorites…

  • Move in really close to your camera with your hand next to your mouth and whisper the word.
  • Lean back in your chair and cup your hands around your mouth and pretend to yell the word.
  • Sing the word or simply use a “sing-songy” voice to say the word.
  • Use a really high voice and then growl the word or say it in a super-low voice.
  • Say the word really fast and then say it extremely slow.

Somehow, making these simple changes to your voice allows your students to forget they’re in class and just have fun.

Trust me when I tell you that even my most stoic students have cracked smiles when I do this!

Quick Tip: Change the volume and pitch of your voice to engage your learners.

Whether you’re teaching brand new students, young learners, or shy ESL students, getting them to talk is imperative. The truth is, they have to be able to speak in order to communicate with you.

Incorporating these tips into your lessons will help your shy ESL students speak more while fully engaging with you and the content.