I have taught English in quite a few different contexts: group classes, one-on-one classes, online classes, classes in the U.S., classes outside the U.S., etc. I have also been a language learner myself, and I have taken group classes and one-on-one classes. I think each context provides something new, and I can take something new from it to help me be a better teacher in any situation. This past week, I experienced a new context…mom watching her daughter take a language class! As usual, there was plenty to learn and take away from the experience.
My daughter had her first Mandarin class with Lingo Bus, which is the VIPKID version of Mandarin classes for English speaking children. It was a great experience, and my daughter loved it. I would highly recommend giving the free trial class a try. We had Teacher Steve, and he was excellent.
There were two things that really stood out to me while I was watching the class. First, the importance of a constant smile. My daughter was nervous at first. She didn’t crack a smile for at least the first 15 minutes of the class. However, the teacher maintained a constant positive expression, which eventually allowed my daughter to relax and get comfortable. She was very nervous about making a mistake, and the positive reinforcement really helped her gain the confidence to try.
Obviously, we all know that smiling is important! VIPKID teaching materials all remind teachers that smiling is essential. However, watching it from a mom’s perspective really drove it home. I will be recommitted to a BIG SMILE throughout the whole lesson, especially with the little ones.
Second…incidental language. Again, VIPKID training workshops and videos all remind us that incidental language is a big no-no. However, it can be really hard to cut it out. What is incidental language, and why is it so bad? Incidental language is basically all the extra words that we use to transition, introduce, or describe things…all the words that the student does not yet know and are not target words for the class. Incidental language is made of filler words, and we generally use a lot of them by habit. For example, “I want you to circle the letter A.” Or, “Let’s see….” “First, I want you to…” A brand new student does not know those words, so you just sound like the teacher from Charlie Brown. For the first example, all you need to say is “circle A,” while either circling it on the slide or perhaps on your whiteboard. You could repeat it by making a circle in the air with your mouse. Your actions should be conveying the message here because the words are not helpful. The other examples should just be cut out completely.
I thought that I was doing a pretty good job of not using incidental language, but after watching Teacher Steve teach the Lingo Bus class…I can see that I have some room for improvement. He used almost ZERO incidental language. Practically none! In the past, I have always taken language classes with a teacher who speaks English or as a student with some knowledge of that language. Watching the Mandarin class as someone with NO prior knowledge of the language, I realized just how much incidental language completely confuses the beginner student and throws off the lesson. Teacher Steve did a great job getting my daughter to complete all the activities through TPR and facial expression. After watching this class, I’m going to use the following as a guideline for incidental language and brand new VIPKID students: Would it be helpful if my daughter heard this instruction in Mandarin…or would it just be confusing and intimidating?
If there are any VIPKID teachers out there with young kids, I highly recommend doing a Lingo Bus trial and watching carefully. From this new perspective, you will absolutely learn something that will make you a better teacher. And, there is a good chance your son or daughter will have a great time and want to sign up for more classes!