My advice to you is to go for it. It´s a little extra money for you and, in the case of “trailing spouses”, good for your self-esteem.
But how do you go about it?
Below, you´ll find out how I do it, involving little more than common courtesy, common sense and common knowledge. You can give a good conversation class without being a cunning linguist, a bearded grammatologist or having TEFL, CELTA and DELTA qualifications that cost thousands of pounds.
So what do you need? Apart from obvious things, like a home and furniture, such as a desk and chairs, you need a computer with Internet connection and a printer.
Then you do this:
- Remember that you are exotic. A bird from English paradise. You magically speak that elusive foreign language, so be confident and enjoy having almost mythical status.
- As with all endeavours, plan and prepare ahead. For the first class (or prior interview) write out a short questionnaire to put to your student on her life, interests and attitudes towards English.
- Offer your student coffee or something to drink. This lets you bustle and allows her to settle in, thus lowering what´s called “the affective filter.” This just means that the happier she is, the better her English will be (and explains why people speak foreign languages very well when drunk at the pub).
- Relax. An hour´s a long time, so there´s no need to hurry. Move slowly, sit slowly, speak slowly. If you know some Spanish, don´t be afraid to use it. Work your way up gradually to the perfect conversation class.
- Don´t start cold. Allow for general chitchat to begin with. Then, based on the passions, hobbies or interests that came to the fore in the questionnaire, give your student a small text copied and edited from a newspaper to read aloud. This not only allows you to monitor pronounciation but gets the ideas flowing.
- Focus on communication. When your student speaks, don´t overcorrect. Observe her mistakes and plan simple ways of helping her to say things properly. One immediate technique is to repeat what she´s just said, but correctly, in a friendly “so you mean ….?” manner. When she answers in the affirmative she´ll already incorporate your correction.
- Use visual aids from the Internet. Create a file of images or slideshow to stimulate ideas and conversation. Bookmark a YouTube clip and ask the student what she thinks of it. Use fun stuff, and laugh at it.
- Remember to participate fully in the conversation yourself to allow the student to practise the passive skill of listening and learn from you.
- Don´t attempt to base a whole hour around one topic. Have two ready, changing the subject completely to avoid topic fatigue.
- Once every seven or eight classes, crack out a bottle of wine and just sit around and chew the fat. People in conversation classes entrust you with a great deal of personal information, so not only do you need to be their teacher, but their friend.
So how do you know if your classes are working?
The student keeps coming back. Her confidence improves. She begins to self-correct and suggest topics for discussion.
And most importantly, both of you have the time of your lives.