Helping Internationals with their Conversational English

It is likely that some internationals you meet will be looking for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes.  The creation of a full-blown ESL program is not something we will discuss here. However, we can give you good ideas for a less-formal way to help internationals improve their English.

We suggest that you emphasize conversational English.   Teaching proper grammar and written English composition can be a very challenging endeavor, so why not leave it to the experts?  We suggest you focus your efforts on giving chances to internationals to practice speaking English-individually, in small groups or in a class that can include small group time.  It’s a good idea to pull together a few other people to join in your efforts.   Like most things, the more you teach conversational English, the easier it will become.

Perhaps you’re wondering if internationals really need more opportunities to practice speaking English.  Surprisingly, even though they are living in America, some may have little opportunity to speak English during the course of a day…

  • If an international is rooming with another international who speaks English even less effectively…
  • If an international is attending large classes where students simply take notes and have little interaction…

Therefore, you can help supply a need if you will simply interact with internationals in English.  And, of course, you can give them some coaching on accent or vocabulary that they will appreciate.  No doubt, your feedback will be more encouraging and gentle than what they might receive from the broader community.

If you decide to offer a conversational English class, here are some helpful resources and ideas:

  • In preparing for a class, visit the website English-to-go.com and use the professionally prepared lessons that make use of news articles from Reuters news service.  Many other helpful resources also appear in this website.  But note that this is not a Christian site, so you will want to screen content before you use it.
  • Tell a story – The leader begins to tell a story for several sentences (it could be a spy story, a love story, a mystery, an adventure, etc.).  Then each person, in turn, adds to the story for a few moments, using their imaginations. You can involve each person just once or you can go around the group twice.  A variation: Give each person two cards with one word on each card; these words must be used in their telling of the story.
  • “On a deserted island” – Tell your students they are floating on the Pacific Ocean and there, in the distance, is a desert island.  Give them a list of 30 objects, of which they may take only 10 onto the island with them. Give them 10-15 minutes in small groups to choose the objects they would take, and then have members explain their thinking to the entire group.
  • Use a book of Norman Rockwell paintings to launch some discussion about American values, customs, dress, lifestyle, etc.
  • Use Reader’s Digest – It’s easy to read and it also does a good job of capturing the essence of American culture.  See if your international friends can understand the “Quotable Quotes,” “All in a Day’s Work,” and “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”  This magazine will provide an almost unlimited amount of material for discussion.
  •  Try using a book which covers many topics (family, death, success, etc.) that can easily lead to spiritual discussions.  One example is Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom.
  •  The book, “Discussion Starters – Speaking Fluency Activities for Advanced ESL/EFL Students” by Keith Folse has a lot of good material.  This is a secular resource.
  •  Keep your eyes open for other resources and you’ll have more ideas than you can handle…

You may choose to meet one-on-one or in small groups – both work equally well.  For some internationals, especially mothers with young children, a session with you may be one of the few breaks they get from their daily routine.

Using conversational English to minister to the needs of internationals can be very effective, but it also takes some preparation.  Take the time to prepare material and be willing to adjust it – making it easier or more difficult – based on the ability of your students.   Remember that our goal is not to simply help internationals become more fluent in English but to introduce them to the Savior. Therefore, think about how you can provide opportunities for your students to learn more about Christianity, and pray regularly for those you are teaching.