When I was living in Japan and in Africa, I occasionally met a non-native English speaker who spoke almost fluent English with clear pronunciation, natural intonation and mature vocabulary and had great listening skills. Naturally, I assumed that they must have spent time in an English-speaking country or had English-speaking friends or a tutor, but all of them told me that they had never left their country and had little contact with English speakers. However, I soon learned that all of them had one thing in common: each of them had developed their oral skills through one fairly simple technique.
Some students (and even some native-English speakers!) think that a good conversationalist is someone who just asks a lot of questions. Anyone who has tried to have a conversation with my former roommate (name unmentioned here) will know that that’s not true.
How to teach ESL conversation
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching a conversation class is that when you teach your ESL students conversation techniques, you get to hear them talk about their culture, their experiences, opinions and dreams.
A student-centered approach doesn’t mean the teacher just puts students in groups, gives them a topic and tells them to talk about it. It doesn’t even mean that the students are put in pairs (Student A/Student B), given two different “information gap” papers and told to complete the exercise by talking.
A student-centered approach to conversation-skill development is much more than that.
One reason that ESL students often take so much time reading a passage is because they think that they need to understand all the information. As a result, many of them tend to cover a text in translation of every word that they are not familiar with. We have often heard of international students staying up until 2 a.m. trying to complete reading assignments in their academic courses.
This can change if they know in advance the purpose of the reading assignment.