I was enjoying a cup of coffee the other day, talking to a friend about teaching English to non-English speakers. He was speculating as to how I could presume to teach someone without knowing their language? Surely some knowledge of the students’ own language makes it easier? How can you do it without being able to give them the words in their own language? Hang on a minute!
They are already at native-speaker level in that tongue, and they’re with you to learn English! My response was to catch my friend’s eye and say “stand up”, at the same time standing up myself. He stood up. I followed with “sit down”, doing just that myself. He sat down too. I did it again straight away and he followed my actions. He’d just learned four new words!
Think about it – “Hello, my name is Andrew”. Four new words (I think Andrew is widely understood as a name, isn’t it?). Approach the student (maybe everyone in the class with name badges on) – offer a hand, eye contact, big smile (generally approachable and open body language). “Hello!” The basic greeting – you can try different ones as class confidence grows over the weeks.
“My name is…” Point to yourself when you say this, then, raised eyebrows and gesticulations to the student with two more new words and a question (“What is your name?”) will elicit “Hello, my name is ….” The rest of lesson one can be done in pictures, sketches and stick-men: by the end of session one your class will know a lot more about you without you saying very much at all: a map and some doodling will show where you live, where you were born, how big your family is and so on. Get miming, speaking in body language, doodling – try it, it works.