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I received this particular question last week, and in the past I have spoken with many teachers and educators who talk to me about similar problems. When is it appropriate to speak to our pupils in their common tongue?
When I was in Nepal I was forced to find a way to communicate with the kids using just a few words and demonstration since I spoke no Nepalese whatsoever. Download ‘Teach your child English: 101’ here.
I recommend that you use a minimum of their mother language and stick to English exclusively if you can.
The secret to success with that is to demonstrate rather than explain things. Show the children how a game is played rather than explaining it to them. It is worth playing the games first before you try using them with pupils. They are simile to understand so this will be very easy to do and will only take a few minutes to get used to it.
In addition start by teaching useful commands and instructions such as: pass, touch, go to, start, stop, freeze, come to the board, sit down, stand up, write, listen, draw and spell.
Teach those commands with a listening game like Jump the Line (it’s in 176 English Language Games for Children) and follow up with Simon Says. Use the more complicated variants of Simon Says as pupils become more familiar with the words. Add in more words and enrich the game with varied commands to keep their attention.
Try it out and you will be surprised. Many teachers have multi-national classes where there is no common native language so it is a simple way to get everyone to interact with each other too. It is absolutely possible to teach English exclusively in English, even with total beginners.
If you have the luxury of speaking the students mother language, you can use it occasionally to save time explaining rules of a game. Assure parents that the whole class is in English unless it’s a quick instruction to save time or if you have to tell a student off for misbehaving. For discipline you might want to switch to the native language to say something like: “Would you like me to tell your father you are misbehaving or do you prefer to behave nicely?”
It’s easier than you think! So plunge in and go for it.
I hope to hear from you soon!