Even though there is not one magic method to teach and learn a foreign language, there are some tips and tricks that you can use to help your students learn English, whether you are teaching them on a one-to-one basis, or in a family environment.
This article is particularly geared to teachers offering English immersions in France, but provides a rich amount of information and handy tips for anyone teaching English via private lessons or in a family environment.
Let's start with five steps that will help you teach your students during their entire homestay with your family:
1) Assess your students’ level of English
The first tip if you want to be a good and efficient English teacher is to assess the level of your students. The European system recognizes 4 main skills on the path to mastering a language: oral comprehension and expression as well as written comprehension and expression.
In order to assess their level, on the first day for instance, you can ask very simple questions with your students, ask them how their trip was, encourage them to talk about their family or where they are from, and try to start basic conversations. You can also have them read easy documents like the rules of the house, or a sheet to fill in about what they like to do, to eat, what they are fond of, what they dislike... You will then be able to assess their level based on how fluently or easily they interact with you.
If they understand but don't really know how to answer, then you know you should focus on conversational skills, pronunciation and vocabulary. If they don't understand what you say, focus on oral comprehension altogether. If they don't make structured sentence, then you know you will have to work on that. This evaluation of their level of English will allow you to individualise your teaching and to target and fit their needs as efficiently as possible.
2) Use visual aids, gestures and context in your teaching
Even when you are not teaching, the lesson continues. Life with your family is a lesson. This is a great opportunity to learn everyday vocabulary. A good way to retain the vocabulary, its pronunciation, spelling and meaning is to put sticky notes on them as the need arises. For instance, if you are asking your student to get a plate in a cupboard, put a sticky note on the cupboard saying “cupboard” and inside one that says “plates”. The student will then learn more efficiently because of how real the situation is. You can also mimic objects or actions to facilitate communication.
3) Speak slowly, repeat, articulate, enunciate
The clearer you are when you address your students, the easier it will be for them to follow along. Again, feel free to also spell or write down some of the words that might be difficult. You could for example give your students a pocket-size notebook on which either you or your students could write, spell or even draw in order to reduce the language barrier.
4) Adapt your vocabulary and use of synonyms
At first, use a simple repetitive vocabulary, and then, as your students get comfortable, start using a more diverse vocabulary and synonyms. Doing so will push them further and help them learn more. Stimulation and challenge are necessary, don't hesitate to take them out of their comfort zone from time to time. It will keep them involved and avoid boredom. You will allow your students to progress and expand their vocabulary.
5) Play something in the background
Background noise is also a good way to progressively train your students' ears. Turn on the radio, some music or the television, and let it in the background. The more they hear some authentic English, the easier it will be for them to listen and speak it. It has been proven that when regularly exposed to such an input, the brain subtly and progressively processes it and retains it. Also, putting subtitles, either in French or English (for the total English immersion experience, choose English) is a good way to help the students make sense of it all as they will be able to associate what they hear to a spelling or a translation allowing them to make sense of the background noise.
When you organise the formal aspects of the lessons, here are some steps that will help you organise and plan your lessons to maximize their efficiency:
6) Choose your topic accordingly
Focus your lessons on the activities that you will do in the afternoon. If you want your lesson to echo in the students' mind, you must make it real, show your students that they will actually use it. By organising your lessons according to the activities of the day, you will give them the tools to follow along during the activity, to make the English lesson useful. For instance, if you go horse-riding, focus on the equine vocabulary and a particular grammatical point, like how to give a piece of advice “You should ….” “Hold the reins”. As all of this will be re-used, the students will learn in a more engaging and fun way.
7) Keep your activities and exercises short
It is better to have several small exercises than one big one, it's more stimulating, more fun, and gives more opportunity for your students to understand. It has been proven that teenagers have a shorter attention span than adults too. By keeping your activities light and short, you will allow them to not lose interest or focus.
8) Structure your lesson plan
Children and teenage students need some structure when it comes to learning. It helps to create a stable and comfortable environment, which in turn aids learning. It is usually good to start the lesson with a ritual. Here we could imagine a short recap where you would ask the students to describe the activity of the previous day in three or four words. Basically, the point of a ritual at the beginning of the lesson is to put the students in a learning and speaking situation while providing them with the comfort of a structure.
Then, you can move on to the lesson of the day, perhaps starting with doing a short daily English exercise.
Depending on the level of your students, you have several options. If your students are beginners, you can start with short game-like activities where the point is to learn new vocabulary and then move on to an authentic document, a text, a song, an image, that will re-use that same vocabulary. If your students are a little more advanced, just start with the authentic document, from which they will extract the vocabulary. From that document, on top of the vocabulary, you can also focus on a grammatical point, such as past tense, prepositions, the place of adjectives, etc. Then, in order to make them practice this particular point, let them deduce the theory themselves by guiding them or give them the explanation as clearly as possible.
You can then go further, give them a couple of exercises so that they can go from theory to practice and actually use what they have just learnt. (Now remember, it is a good thing if the students re-use it in a real situation to show them the importance of what they have seen in the morning.) Finally, the last step of the English lesson could be a short rephrasing of the day's lesson to make sure that the students understood what was said, made sense of the lesson, integrated it and retained the information.
9) Be patient and understanding
Take the time to guide your students through the learning process. You have the opportunity to give them what they cannot always get in a classroom: the teacher's full attention and expertise. Having only a small group of students, you will be able to give them all the help and attention they need, making them feel cared for, listened to and taken into account. The possibility to personalise the English teaching, individualise your guidance, follow up the students and their needs, be there for them, accompany them (which is really hard in a classroom) is an incredible advantage that should tremendously help.
10) Use resources to help teach English
There are plenty of resources that you can find online. You can find worksheets, word games, lesson plans, grammar exercises.... You can even find textbooks issued for schools. Go on publishing houses' websites, create an account and enjoy free access to textbooks (with various kinds of documents), workbooks (with exercises and worksheets), teacher's books (with guidelines, audio and video documents, and instructions telling you how to work on them). The advantages of these resources are that you save time and energy, you are guaranteed that what you do is adapted to your students and that it follows the traditional official curriculum.
If you offer English immersion homestays via Daily English, then we will also provide lesson plans and other educational material to support you.
11) Final tip
The main difficulty for French students is pronunciation. Who hasn’t heard of the world famous stereotype of French people talking with a horrendous accent? The key to solve this issue is repetition. Repeat the mispronounced words and have them repeated by your students.
Everyone will feel silly and awkward at first, but it will cut the tension, make everyone smile, break the ice and allow for real progress. So don't be afraid to put a fun spin on it, it will be beneficial to everyone!