Real Conversations

Try if you like, but normal conversations cannot go on between a teacher and student in front of the whole class. This is what that “conversation” looks like from the perspective of the student: “Oh, you ask all the questions and I just answer them as minimally as possible.”

These kinds of conversations, while perhaps good for checking if student can reproduce grammar, tend to teach bad conversational habits. For example, relying on others to produce answers, speaking in unclear tones, not making eye contact, or just generally responding dismally.

More importantly, they teach students that they don’t have to invest themselves in the conversation and that they have no responsibility to maintain the conversation or to be a polite speaker.

These lessons have to be taught with special emphasis that we don’t have time for in the regular class. And they need to be practiced with real conversations between students.

Teach the grammar and the structure of the language in the typical class. Conversations need to be taught in a communication setting.


  1. I think this is one example of where an ALT can really be useful in ways that a normal JTE cannot. There really is no time in a normal class for real conversations, nor is it the appropriate atmosphere to have them. This is where the ALT can step in, I think. In the hallway in between classes, during lunch, or in other classes the ALT joins, the more exposure students have to their native speaker, the more open to conversation they become. We all can see the difference between our silent 1st years and our open 3rd years.

    I’ve been hearing a lot of people question lately whether or not ALTs are actually useful, but I think this is one place where they can really make a difference.

    • Great comment! I like what you said about how the regular class isn’t “the appropriate atmosphere”. This hits the nail right on the head toward what I was driving at. In the communication classes we’ve set up at my school, the atmosphere and setting are all geared towards communication, and it is completely different. What’s more, the communication class is a good chance for the JTE to learn and improve too, since she can also hone her conversation skills for students. It’s win-win-win. What are classes like for you at your school(s)? Have you started work on any communication classes?

      You said that you’ve been hearing people question the role of ALTs. Do you remember where you read or heard about that? I agree that trying to fit the ALT into the grammar-translation English class is a pretty far stretch (not that an ALT can’t be proactive and thrive in that setting), but communication classes are the future. I think we are not only going to see a revived English program, but a teaching environment where both the ALT and the JTE are vitally important to the success of the class.

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