With the boom of online ESL teaching, a lot of companies are looking for qualified ESL teachers. While some teachers are excellent in the traditional classroom, they may find it a little awkward at first teaching in an online setting. There are a few tricks of the trade that you can either learn beforehand or through experience. In the next few blogs, we’ll share some tips for online teaching from experience, to save you a little time. These ideas will help you stand out in a rather large crowd these days.
First, we’ll start with one important element in every online teacher’s toolbox: your speech. The following points will help you learn how to use your voice in more productive ways than simply sharing information alone.
1. Your Speech Can Make or Break a Lesson
A teacher’s voice can make or break an online ESL lesson. You may have prepared a great lesson, but if your voice is screechy, high pitched, panicky, unclear, heavily accented, hurried, or the like, your students will likely pick up on it. Consequently, they may end up feeling uncomfortable, pressured, or stressed as they go through the lesson. The result could be a low exit rating or a drop in student confidence—not good for you.
We must remember that ESL students are already somewhat anxious simply because they’re in a foreign language class. They may be dealing with anxiety that has them on edge from the moment they enter the online classroom. If your speech as a teacher compounds that, it could become a disastrous experience for both of you. Your learners’ ability to use the language may be hindered and they’ll become even more stressed!
2. Keep a Calm Voice
When you teach English online, try to be as relaxed as you can. So, you may need to throttle back on those afternoon coffees if they’re amping you up. If you’re not relaxed, it’ll come out in your speech for sure. Your voice should be an anchor of tranquility in a sea of uncertainty for your learners. As they navigate the language, they’re reassured when your voice is calm; knowing that everything’s okay, even when they may not use perfect wording or when giving them feedback.
3. Enunciate Your Words
We must also remember that the people we teach are not native speakers. I know that sounds rudimentary, but somehow, we can forget that when we’re speaking to them. So, we need to give them a little extra consideration when we speak. We can do that by enunciating our words. That simply means being sure to include intelligible speech sounds to give them a chance to comprehend what’s being spoken. Usually, that means an emphasis on the consonant sounds. Now, there’s no need to sou.nd.li.ke.the.term.in.ator, here, but we should be able to give them the sounds that help clarify words. For example, instead of saying “budder” for butter, we can say it as “butter” with the hard /t/ sound; or in/t/erne/t/ instead of /ihnr-neht/; at least initially, until they can get the feel for our speech.
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4. Allow Learners a Chance to Get Used to Your Speech
Many of our learners know the words, but when they come out of our mouths, they often take on a whole other dimension that can throw them off. Give them a little time to adjust to your speaking. Instead of your normal accent, try to say words and phrases in more neutral form. As they get adjusted to your speech, you can start injecting less neutral, more localized, normal speech for yourself. Actors do something similar: they can change their speech to match their character. Perhaps that’s why ESL teachers are sometimes known as “edutainers.”
5. Reduce Your Rate of Speech
Sometimes, we speak at the same speed, all the time. However, we must keep in mind that ESL learners cannot always follow a full-bore native or near-native rate of speaking. We can reduce our rate of speech and increase it as learners become more familiar with it. In other words, meter your speech to meet the level of the learner. This helps them gain more confidence receiving spoken English. And as they do, they’ll be more apt to participate in class. More participation leads to more student talk time, leading to more feedback. It’s win-win.
6. Project Confidence in Your Voice
There may be times when you don’t know the answer to a question. There may be times when the lesson doesn’t flow the way you planned. When these things happen, the natural tendency is a higher pitch in our voices and a hurried speaking rate. Learners are smart; they can tell when your voice raises that you’re nervous. What we need to learn, is that whatever happens we need to remain poised. We can do this by projecting speech that isn’t hurried or high in pitch—i.e. confidence—even when you make mistakes or don’t know an answer.
7. Don’t Eat the Mic
Unless you’re using a very old microphone, there shouldn’t be much need to keep your headset mic against your mouth. But there’s a tendency for teachers to do that. The result however, is (a) your voice volume comes across incredibly high, creating an uncomfortable learner, (b) your voice will come across as lacking clarity, or (c) your student will hear every breath you take. While that may be a good song from the 80s, it doesn’t sound very good to your students. I’ve heard some interesting sounds from teachers whose mics are too close to their mouths. A good rule of thumb is to start with a minimum of three fingers from your mouth (if using a headset) and adjust your distance accordingly, depending on the quality of your mic.
How Is Your Online Speech?
These tips will help you provide a more optimal experience for your online English students. They’ll help you not only sound better, but also come across as more professional. Because in today’s online ESL industry, your students will likely have met all kinds of teachers. Try to be the one that is calm, enunciated, speaks in a neutral accent (at least at first), has an intelligible rate of speaking, projects confidence, and doesn’t eat the mic. I’m pretty sure they’ll appreciate that.
Feel free to share your ideas or experiences with us here or add another tip if you’d like.