Image courtesy of Akorenliyiz
This post is by an old teacher of mine named Thomas Christie. When we worked together in Turkey he used to do a really cool activity with tourists and I asked him to write it up for the blog. Tom has worked in Korea, Turkey, Spain, and the UK and is a strong advocate of dogme principles in ELT. Here is Tom’s post:
Do you teach English in a city where there is an abundance of tourists? Have you ever considered having your learners compile a survey and taking advantage of this? Well, you should for the excellent practice it offers your learners. I am going to explain the many reasons why it’s fantastic and a few reasons that I found which caused challenges.
When I taught English in Istanbul, some of my most memorable classes were when we hit the streets to talk to tourists. Istanbul is a great city to do this. In Istanbul, most general English classes are 3 hours long so even when I worked at a school which was 30 minutes from the tourist beat; it was still possible to have enough time to meet plenty of English speaking visitors. This 30 minute journey also proved to be productive as the learners practiced their questions and wrote new follow up ones as well as enjoying the valuable thinking time. In a different branch for the same school, all we had to do was walk out onto the busiest street in Istanbul. This had the advantage of being able to literally point at the school and say where we came from. If there are tourists in your city within a reasonable distance, go for it. Just hit the tourist beat. Most of the preparation can be done as homework to save time.
So, why is speaking to tourists so spectacular for your students? Well, the bottom line is that it offers real communication, the kind of which is enforced when the students leave the classroom. The tourists were genuinely interested in what the learners had to say. They appreciated the advice and suggestions offered by local people with experience of the area and places that weren’t always frequented by outsiders. This also motivated my students to converse as they were proud to talk about their city and show hospitality. Both sides were usually really happy to benefit from the exchange. What a great way to find out about the area, from locals who aren’t in it for commercial reasons!
Your students will encounter many different accents. Many people often overlook the fact that English learners often spend most of their time talking in their L2 to other people who have learned English. There is often a focus in the TEFL world of sounding like a native speaker. However, the wide range of accents encountered provides great listening practice, particularly as I ask my students to take notes on answers to report back later. The conversations are so intriguing that your students and the tourists will be intent on trying to understand, offering intensive listening practice.
Another plus is the chance to really get to grips with some functional language such as politely getting someone’s attention, greeting people, thanking people and apologising for any inconvenience caused. I once took a class out without practicing this well enough and it caused problems as tourists are sometimes like a fish out of water and feel that they are being harassed. So, having learned from this experience, I would practice the language extensively through role play in the classroom. Things like “Excuse me, I wonder if I could take a moment of your time to ask a few questions” as well as “Excuse me, we are studying English at such and such school. Would it be possible to ask for a few minutes of your time?” and “Would you mind answering some questions for a survey?” are essential for making the encounter a success. Don’t worry if this sounds too advanced for a lower level class, there is enough context to make it understandable after some practice in the classroom. It’s also worth noting that some tourists (very few) will want to ignore the questions and continue in their headed direction. However, this provides more language learning opportunities with a quick “I’m sorry to bother you” and “Thank you for your time.”
One thing that I have noticed when taking learners out onto the streets is that the quieter shy students tend to take a leading role in initiating and maintaining a conversation. Confidence levels are increased with such an exchange between your students and people on holiday. I once came back from completing a survey with an elementary class. As we were in the lift returning back up to the classroom, there was a real buzz of excitement in the air. The class rapport had changed for the better and most students were really confident taking hold of their language learning. They realised that shyness is just an obstacle and that their language skills had improved to the extent that they could offer advice to fluent speakers of English.
I haven’t explicitly noticed in any of my classes but there is always the chance that someone in the class might have their confidence level diminished. Be wary of this when monitoring the exchange between your students and tourists and jump in when you feel that meaning has become confused. However, for any student who doesn’t feel like participating, there is always the opportunity to listen and take notes.
To top it all off, what are the two main advantages of this cultural exchange? Firstly, the students utilize the language learnt in class through a tangible format. When making a list of questions, the students and teacher can incorporate so many grammar structures. Some obvious questions could be, “How long have you been in Rome?” or “If you came to Seville again, would you stay for longer?” You could even make the questions more advanced “Would your opinion of Kyoto have been the same, if you hadn’t come to visit?” or simpler with “Is this your first time in Italy?”
An example set of questions that one pair of pre-intermediate students provided.
1) Where are you from?
2) Why are you visiting Istanbul?
3) Have you been to Istanbul before?
4) How long are you planning to stay?
5) What are you doing today?
6) What has been your most memorable moment so far?
7) What do you think about Turkish food?
8) If you came to Turkey again, would you think about visiting a different city?
9) Have you been to the Palace?
10) What do you recommend visiting in your home town?
As you may have realised, most of this language will arise in the classroom at some point for this level.
You may have also noticed that some questions provide excellent opportunities for more conversation through offering advice/suggestions/recommendations such as “If I were you, I’d recommend taking the train to the park” or “The palace is (really) worth visiting.” I had my students make a list of recommendations beforehand that they could refer to.
The second big advantage is taking the cultural exchange back to the classroom for reporting, discussion and to work on any language that came up during the exchange. All students will have noted (a great skill) what the tourists had said. In the classroom, pairs or groups of 3 can report their findings, make presentations and compare them with others. This offers a chance to use statistical language and reported speech as well as setting up a really insightful discussion about tourism in the area.
So, unlike your learners who have the added problem of making themselves understood, don’t be shy! Get outside and practice all the language from the classroom in a truly communicative setting.
But how can we find the tourists???? You might ask.
Don’t worry! They are actually the easiest people to point out. Just look for maps, cameras, guidebooks and confused facial expressions.
DO’S AND DON’TS!!!
*** DO’S ***
- Thoroughly practice language in the classroom before leaving.
- Have students approach tourists in pairs or groups of 3’s (anything more could be a bit intimidating).
- Have learners explain to the tourists properly what they are doing and where they are studying. Some sort of documentation from the school would really help or just a leaflet.
- Give students clipboards. This will help the feeling of professionalism.
- Give students leaflets to offer the tourists to reinforce what they are saying.
- Give students maps to show the tourists where they might be talking about.
- Help your students identify tourists.
- Obviously, check all questions before you leave.
- Think about some follow-up activities – maybe an article or video about tourism in the city.
*** DON’TS ***
- Have learners congregate in large groups.
- Stay far away from your students. You have to be there in case there’s a communication problem.
- Leave your students unprepared when they hit the streets.
- Don’t forget the importance of encouraging your learners to note answers and comments.
- Ignore the language that comes up during the exchange! Most of it will be extremely rewarding and memorable for your learners!!!