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When we think of any kind of academic learning the social side isn’t always the first thing we think of and if we do, it isn’t in a positive way (well to our parents who are paying for the education that is!). To many people socializing is all part of the University thing, as that may be the first time you get your freedom from your parents, get your first girlfriend or boyfriend etc. This is supposed to be a time when you will be considering your responsibilities in a more mature way and ultimately making important decisions by taking on more in your life to expand the bigger picture.
But let’s take a step back here for a moment. When we learn an language, a lot of the whole ‘academic side’ has to be thrown out the window for a while. Why? Because this kind of course is nothing to do with facts and figures and memorizing for a test, it’s all about engagement and practice whether through speaking, reading or writing or listening.
That’s why ESL must have a very big ‘social side’ component to it. Being social as an ESL student is an integral part of becoming an English speaker.
How many shy and introverted ESL speakers do you know? Not many. Because though they may be able to read and write well, what’s the point if they can’t communicate in all ways. We could say the same for the speaker who is a non-writer or reader. Though they are social, they need the whole package to really grow.
The key variant in those students who succeed in ESL is always the ones who decide to socialize more with people so as to practice whatever they learn in a free way.
All ESL teachers need to make sure their courses deliver these ‘social’ things:
- Daily partner speaking activities
- Group projects with mixed nationalities if possible
- Regular non-academic social gatherings for groups e.g. out for dinner, catching a drink etc
- Regular non-academic social gatherings that don’t immediately form groups, e.g. book clubs, movie nights, etc (these are important because they give students a chance to take part in an individual activity with a view to sharing their ideas socially afterwards)
- General free conversation before and after class with teachers and staff
Some teachers have a saying that ‘students learn English despite the efforts of the teacher to stop them’! Strange statement I know, but a lot of this comes down to, no matter how bad the teacher may be, if they can provide some social context for students to practice in, they will get it.