Speaking English in class

Speaking English in class
Doctor, help... My students won't speak English in class, no matter what...

Having the feeling that your learners use excessively L1 in class and they will not produce the desired L2 output? Don't worry - it can happen to every teacher- but you need to act a.s.a.p.

Here are some practical tips:

Would you rather talk about English or speak English?
This discussion, especially with beginner  and pre-intermediate classes, is usually done in L1 but helps them realize the reason they attend this class. The dilemma  is action ( speaking the language) or theory ( talking about the language). The vast majority will go for the first option.

2. "Is this an English class?"
Raise students' awareness by asking "Is this an English or a Greek/French/Chinese class?"  " What language do we speak in an English class?" even if the answer is "Chinese" - obviously in a humorous mood- they know the answer and they respond in L2 quite soon.

“Excuse me? I prefer coffee to tea...”
Reply in English to your students and pretend you don't understand them when they use L1. Especially when it comes to simple words and phrases. Humour can help whenever possible. My favourite responses are "No, thank you! I prefer coffee" when they ask me "
τι" ( "what" in Greek sounds like "tea") and  "I go by bus"  when they say "εντάξει" (“alright” in Greek sounds like "an taxi"). At first, they are startled, then they laugh and finally, they reply in English.

Set phrases to deal with everyday class reality.
"Equip" them with a set of phrases to deal with simple things they need in class e.g. "Excuse me! Can I go out, please?"

Explain when and why you use L1
Once you establish that L2 is the language used in class, students will reprimand you if you use L1. Explain before speaking in L1 that you are going to use it to save time explaining a grammar structure or any other reason you think is necessary.

Class rules  
A golden opportunity to set the rules is at the beginning of the academic year. Discuss in class and write the rules on a poster that everybody can see. "I speak English in class" is a sine qua non!!!

Take pride in speaking L2
Praise the class for speaking English. It builds their confidence and motivates them to keep up the effort.

A true story
Ages ago, as a new teacher, I was given an extremely weak intermediate class that the language school owner described as "hopeless". Their level was very low and they would not speak English at all. Even though my appearance is typically Greek, I somehow managed to persuade them that I am a native speaker and do not speak a word of Greek. For more than 5 months, it worked well and even the ones who would not speak English at all in September, they gradually managed to convey their intended message in L2 despite accuracy problems. Then, a couple of students heard me speak Greek on a public phone … Surprisingly - perhaps because it was part of the class ritual- they kept using English when they addressed me.

Speaking is, by nature, a skill that cannot be developed overnight. It takes consistent work and lots of humour to divert the tendency to use L1 in class but it is worth every bit of the energy spent.

Good luck with your plans to help your learners speak English!
Dimitris Primalis