A spoken language

Much to the annoyance of my students I keep telling them that English is also a spoken language. Of course, the deny this, and continue to mumble away in Chinese, whilst writing flawless grammar.

Any tricks for getting junior and senior high students interested in speaking English?

Insisting on a “No Chinese during English class” rule is one way. Write students’ names on the board if they continue to speak Chinese. You can make exceptions for translating difficult words or concepts. Just no mindless chit-chat - unless it’s mindless chit-chat in English, of course.

I agree. Zero-tolerance is a good way to get the kids speaking in English if done right. Chinese has a place in a classroom, but when you are trying to promote the oral language allowing Chinese can undermine all your efforts.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do zero-tolerance. The KMT’s method of promoting Mandarin as the national standard is the wrong way. It was effective, but emotionally brutal. Make sure you make it clear that your demand for complete English in the class is for educational purposes and that you are in no way against Chinese as a language itself. I’ve heard some horror students of classroom mutiny where zero-tolerance was trying to be instituted.

Make it a competition. Get a blank game board, laminate it and stick it to your whiteboard. Using two generic magnetic pieces, put them on the start and tell them that you are going to have a contest. If they speak Chinese, you get to move your piece ahead one space. If they can spend 10 minutes or do an activity without speaking Chinese, they move ahead one space. Up the requirements as they are able to meet the challenges. Have a simple goal at the end like no homework or a little snack or being able to bring in their favorite music if they are able to get to the finish before you do and make a big deal about their accomplishment when they do get there.

If you get there first, don’t make a big deal of it, just shrug and say “Maybe next time” and reset the markers after that session is over for the next one.

Be Santa Claus and look 'em in the eye when they inapproriately speak Chinese and explain to them that they can’t do that.

You can use Chinese to explain things and get them to use it when necessary. Just don’t let them use it freely to talk to each other or whatever.

And be Santa Claus. Give them stickers which add up to prizes (candy or whatever) that you buy and buy them pizza and chicken when they finish a book. Play games and award stickers to the winners and fewer stickers to the losers.

Pretty soon you can get to the point where you can give them guilt trips when they speak Chinese.

You better not pout
You better not cry
You better not shout
I’m telling you why

The first thing is to let them know that flawless grammar is not the most important thing. If the kid says something and you understand what s/he means, it’s all you need - it takes quite some time to learn to use decent grammar in spoken language. When you learn to speak in a foreign language, your mouth just works quicker than your mind. So encourage them to speak and correct them only when they really make no sense whatsoever.

When I learned English in highschool, it was all about grammar. I never dared speak English, even though my grammar was better than what it is now. It took me almost 2 years to get over the shyness and open my mouth. Now I need to find out how to shut it.

Blablablabla… (sorry)