Mark Pilling, of Qatar, agreed to have his comments,
from a recent TESL-L discussion on teaching English to
engineers, published for the readers of the ESL MiniConference Online.
See also "Creating a Comfortable, No-Nonsense Environment for ESP".
How do I help adult engineers who want to improve their speaking
skills overcome their inhibitions?
One method I use is to simply ask them to talk about something they know
well (e.g. some aspect of their engineering work). This could be to a
partner, a small group or to the whole set - I judge which would be
appropriate. Crucially, I place an expectation on the listeners, e.g. that
they will have to describe in speech or writing to others what they were
told or fill in a table with the information they obtain. It's often
useful to allow them to plan beforehand. Similarly, I ask them to bring
along a schematic and then to talk about it with the others, with active
listening integral - perhaps the others have an unworded copy of the
schematic to annotate. I imagine that this approach helps self
confidence, is relevant and inspires cooperative interaction. Certainly, I
encourage them to speak to each other rather than specifically to the
teacher. Given enough time and focus spent on these sessions and repeated
opportunities, I find the developments highly rewarding.
Regarding the ingrained habits, incorrect patterns and stock phrases: if
the object is to improve (communicative) speaking skills, I don't worry
about them. If their colleagues don't understand them, they will together
develop the important skills of checking, confirming, rephrasing,
self-correction, explaining, etc. If their colleagues (and the teacher!)
understand them, then there's no problem!
By Mark Pilling
2002 ESL MiniConference Online