You may first have to convince the student that translation isn't necessary. If he knows no English he probably believes that the only way he is going to learn any is if you tell him what something means in his own language. If your student has done some English at school he may still be convinced of this if - as is often the case - everything he has done has been by way of translation. In any event the teachers approach, in a first lesson, should be the same: to get the student communicating almost without realising it; to set him a multitude of small, easy tasks which will occupy his mind to the exclusion of all else until he realises that he is not only just repeating words and phrases and trying to pronounce difficult sounds but actually beginning to communicate in English.

Economy of words is the essential. Giving the beginner instructions in words is, by definition, useless because he can't understand them. With the beginner and low-level student, gestures and facial expressions are essential tools to make him understand whatyou want.


Although he cannot understand instructions, the student is faced with a situation where he has to react to a teacher's words. The reaction expected of him is not always the same. There are three basic "modes" in which he can be got to respond:

QUESTION/ANSWER - the most "normal" insofar as it corresponds to everyday speech patterns.

REPEAT - Where he repeats what the teacher says.

ADAPT - Where he modifies the teachers phrase in some predetermined way to drill a specific language element.

A student who is answering questions in the first of these "modes" will tend to treat everything that is said to him as a question unless he recieves a signal from the teacher that he is entering a new "mode" e.g. "Repeat". Failure to signal adequately is likely to result in something like:

T - Is London a city?
S - Yes it is.
T - Is France a street or a country.
S - It's a street.
T - Yes, France is a country.
S - Yes, it is a country.

The teacher probably came in with the statement because he was wondering what to ask next and was simply time filling but his well meaning but misguided impulse has placed a new problem on his plate. His student reacted wrongly, taking a statement to be a question. He should not be allowed simply to continue, which would encourage him to assume that such a statement can legitimately be considered a question - the case in some languages, such as French. What needs to be done? Well, essentially the pupil is confusing "Is France a country?" and "France is a country." so these two sentences need to be contrasted.

The student must be made to react correctly to each of these, answering one and repeating the other.

T - Is France a country?
S - Yes it is.
T - France is a country! .... France ... (Teacher leans forward, makes a ‘come along’ gesture to encourage student to repeat "France" and continue the sentence.)
S - France ... is a country.

The teacher should repeat this contrast with another parallel example or two to emphasise the point.
The same thing can happen, of course, when the student is in "Repeat" mode and the teacher changes to a question:

T. London is in England. (gesture, prompt)
S. London is in England.
T. Rome is in Italy.
S. Rome is in Italy.
T. Is Rome in Italy?
S. Is Rome in Italy?

(The teacher wanted to hear "Yes it is.")

Signals which the teacher can use to avoid this problem include expression, gesture, tone of voice or any combination of these.


These have their place at all levels of teaching but more especially for the beginner where they are a major tool.

They will be used to get a pupil to change modes (from AQ to Repeat or vice-versa) and to introduce certain new responses e.g. short answers which bear little relationship to the form of the question and can not be anticipated by the student at all.

T - Is this a book or a table?
S - It's a book.
T - Is this a book or a table?
S - It's a table.
T - Is this a Table? ... Yes, it is (Holds up his hand to stop pupil speaking and make him listen.)
T -Yes, it is
T - Yes ... (Makes come along gesture.)
S - Yes ... it .. is
T - Good! ... Yes it is! (Makes another come on gesture or puts hand behind ear to get pupil to repeat with more confidence.)
S Yes, it is ... Yes it is.


BK03 Mark Yates 2000
reviewed May 2020