How To Talk The Same Language As Your Students

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Apr 28, 2017

by Judith Barrass.

When I attended my first ever teaching course, the lecturer told me: “Make sure you talk in your students’ language.”

Over the years, I always come back to this piece of advice. And the more I teach, the more I realise how true this is.

I teach young people, more mature people, beginners, advanced students and everything in between. More recently, I’ve started teaching students whose first language is not the same as mine. For each group, I need to change the language I use to teach to match the style of the class and to ensure the students can understand what I’m trying to communicate.

Here’s an example. You want to describe something with four legs. You need to back your description up with plenty of information. After all, something with four legs could be a table or a dog, so you need to clarify.

Here’s another example. Crackers can be biscuits for cheese, fun things at Christmas or a slight derangement of the mind, so we need to make sure the students understand what we are talking about.

My classes can be very physical. So, sometimes I want to portray the image of a four legged table you can balance a tea tray on. Sometimes, the table becomes a bridge with an arch or a cat in a bad mood.

A young person may relate better to one analogy, a more mature person another, and perhaps you also need to consider the culture of the person you are teaching.

Your students may also come up with a description of their own when you’re trying to describe a concept or object. Use it and remember it — then you have another one for your internal teaching dictionary of terms, and one you know truly works for this specific group of students — as they came up with it.

Pick a tempo

Speed of speech also needs to be considered. For example, you may need to slow down the speed at which you talk. Older people often prefer a slower pace but this may be true of younger people too. A slower pace may be advisable for someone coming straight from a stressful job or situation into your class. A soothing voice may be just what they need to calm the mind so it can absorb the information you are imparting.

However, there will be times when you need to speed up, especially if you need to get some energy into the class. Changing the pace and tone of your voice helps to keep the class interesting — and interested. A change in tone also helps to save your vocal chords (check out my previous blog on posture and voice). If you sound interested and passionate about a subject, this may rub off on the students.

Laughter is the best medicine

Humour always helps to keep the class interested and studies have shown that the use of humour helps people remember an event and information.

Try laughing at yourself if you make a mistake — it makes you appear more human and your students can laugh along too.

You’ll also be more approachable if you integrate humour into your lessons and the students will relax, and therefore be in a better frame of mind to learn.

There are plenty of ways to bring humour into your classroom, but again, remember to relate this to the age and culture of your students.

In their shoes

It’s useful to become a student again yourself. It reminds you that attending class, especially for the first time, can be stressful. Another teacher attended my class last week and confided in me that she is always nervous about going to other people’s classes.

So, if teachers get nervous, students can easily be. This stress can sometimes hamper the learning process and, until a student becomes comfortable with you and your style, then you may need to take extra time to express yourself, change your vocal pace or use a little humour to break the ice.

Put yourself in their place, become a student again, attend another class or course, and learn from the experience of putting yourself in their place. Plus, you’ll get the chance to learn some further teaching skills from another teacher.

Every day is a school day for us all.

Judith Barrass is a sports therapist with 30 years experience in the fitness industry, which includes health promotion and wellness.