Teaching conversation without Grammar

Published: 17th September 2010
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There is much debate in the EFL/ESL world about learning Grammar while learning English conversation. One of the first people to come up with this idea was Maximilian D. Berlitz who created a teaching and memorization method in which the student kept repeating sentences, questions, and phrases over and over again in a sequence until the student was able to memorize and speak for themselves. This method is known as the classic Berlitz Method and continues to exist today in many Berlitz language schools throughout the world.



There are some people on the other side that believe that when you are learning how to speak English, the student needs to learn what the rules are because you will never speak properly. If a student doe not know a, an, and the as well as their proper usage, they will never sound intelligent. This idea is most emphasized in schools or universities in which the student needs to study grammar for formal exams, or when going through the business as well as academic world.



The reality is that it is just as impossible to remember and memorize vocabulary or grammar rules in conversation as it is to remember them when writing an essay or term paper. In reference to conversation, certain grammar rules are even broken when it comes to speaking in slang or informal conversations. Thus, if the student is constantly thinking about the proper thing to say while speaking, they will not only come off as clumsy but also appear to be very shy and awkward.



So what kind of advice can be given for the teacher who is teaching a student that constantly thinks about or wants to learn grammar rules while learning conversation?



1. Tell the student that itís ok to make a mistake; itís the normal part of the learning process. In fact, thatís how anyone learns in life, from the mistakes they make whether itís big or small. If your student makes a mistake, you can tell them what they said is wrong but in a manner that will encourage them and not discourage them to keep practicing and studying. In addition, it is also wise to teach the student what they did wrong and what is actually right so they know next time.

2. The student should start listening to very easy English grammar and vocabulary as much as possible and should be encouraged to try and repeat it as much as possible. They can even change emotions to get the nuance of that phrase they are learning to repeat. This is will help the student not only with practicing sentence and phrasal usage, but also pronunciation. They can even be encouraged to record themselves and listen back to see if they can pick up anything they said or mispronounced wrong as well. It can empower the student to work much harder.

3. Keep encouraging the student to relax and let their conversation happen naturally without worrying or analyzing. This could take a while depending on the level and learning ability of your student. You might find that your student is translating too much in their own language in order to speak English in class. If this is the case, encourage them to think always in English and NOT use their own language whenever possible. However, the benefits of this emphasis are worth it because it will lesson the stress between both of you.

4. Never forget to encourage the student when they have done well with conversation or a perfect sentence. This will help them gain confidence. In fact, with learning anything, confidence is key, and the more confident you are in your student, the better they will be able to learn from you and vice versa.



Throughout your interaction with your student, ask their feelings about learning English and encourage them to ask any questions they might have about English conversation in general. If they ask about grammar, donít discourage them. Discuss it briefly, especially if it is something they have a hard time understanding, and provide as many examples as possible. You can also give them supplemental or other reference material in case there are still problems and confusion. Sometimes you just may want to tell your student to keep focus on the process of speaking and to think about the situation in which they are speaking in rather than the context.



English conversation can be fun or difficult depending on the student that you are teaching. Both you and your student need to have a good attitude, and some patience in the process since both of you are going on a conversational journey together. In the end, you will have taught a student how to speak better, and the student will learn their proper speech from you.



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