Newsletter – Should our students speak English in class?

Tips, Thoughts and Resources – 20 August 2019

Hey there, fellow English language coaches, teachers, tutors and ‘language parents’!

Today I want to bring up the question of ‘Should we encourage our students to speak English in class?’

You might think that’s a dumb question and immediately respond:  ‘Of course we want our students to use their English!’ 

But both anecdotal experiences and research show that there is a difference between allowing and forcing students to practice speaking in their target language.  In the paper below, Stephen Krashen discusses several findings that I think you will find interesting. In one case, a university class of future English teachers, Krashen quotes their teacher who shares just what these feared most. It was being called on in class, in front of others, to speak English. But privately, they enjoyed using their English both to write their teacher personal notes and to share news with her, one on one, at her desk.  

Krashen’s paper

In my own journey with Spanish, I LIKE to speak with people and stumble through conversations. I know I make a ton of errors and the person I speak with usually feeds me words I don’t know. But you know what? When they provide the correct word, it doesn’t stick with me. It’s useful ONLY for helping us better navigate a conversation.

The Columbian gal whom I tutor in English always corrects my Spanish-language text messages to her.  In the moment when she texts me back what I wrote with corrections, I understand my errors, but her corrections don’t stick either!

So, what DOES help me? Just listening to podcasts, watching videos and reading in Spanish. I find that my BRAIN directs both the timing and the content, when it is ready to receive. It has its own time-table. I can’t force it. So I don’t.

I am beginning to write more in Spanish. I post comments in Spanish on videos. I don’t worry about my errors. Pablo from Dreaming Languages responds to me in Spanish and never corrects me.  

Every morning I write in a journal several of the blessings that God has given me in the past 24 hours.  Once in a while I use Google translate to look up a word. But mostly I just write.

My mother-in-law who is 90 has studied Spanish for years.  But old school, the classroom method. When I send her interesting clippings, I usually write my note to her in Spanish.


I gotta share something new that I have just started doing that EXCITES me! Maybe you’ll think I’m crazy.

I volunteer with an ESL program at a local church. The new year kicked off 2 weeks ago. There are several Russian-speaking students who attend our classes.

Years ago when I was in college, I took 3 years of Russian. It’s been decades since then. And I never used my Russian after those college years. But each time I HEAR Russian spoken, I long to have it back. Plain and simple, I like languages.

So…..I posted a query in a CI (Comprehensible Input) Facebook group, asking if there was someone who teaches Russian through CI videos. To my great delight, THERE IS! There ARE! 

Since last week, I have started watching some of these videos at night, after supper when the dishes are done.

There is one gal who creates excellent videos for beginners (like me who has forgotten all but maybe 10 words in Russian!)  In the first one I watched she held up a Russian book by the American author Robert Louis Stevenson and proceeded to ask IN SUPER SLOW Russian: 

  • This is a book. Pause as she used her hand to indicate the book.
  • Is this a book? Or is this a newspaper (a cognate)? Then she took another long pause and gave a quizzical look with some very expressive eyes. I found I NEEDED this time.
  • She went on like this, with slow and varied questions using more cognates. 

I drank it in. I found the pace comfortable and not threatening. I relaxed. I felt like I was in good hands and could trust her, trust the process, trust my brain.

Isn’t that what we want for all of our students?

What about you?  What has YOUR personal experience, journey been in acquiring/learning other languages?

Oh, by the way, I’ve now started including a written transcript below each video on my website (not on the YT channel).  As I have time, I’ll go back and add transcripts to earlier videos.  I started creating them in April of this year. For the others, I have yet to invest the time.

Thanks for reading.  I wish you a very blessed and fulfilling new term helping many acquire English by enjoying the process. Happy story-telling! 

And please pass on my videos to teachers and learners alike.  My passion is primarily to help you, the English language teacher, have materials AND FEEL confident about how to teach, how to help your learners learn English effectively with joy.

Maria, your fellow language learner AND ESL coach


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