If you teach conversational English and you do this, then you’re doing it wrong.

If you teach conversational English and you spend more than 5 minutes on grammar (in a one hour class), then you’re doing it wrong. Think about it… What is your unique selling proposition ?

This is especially relevant if you are a native speaker of English. When a learner comes to you to improve their English, they are coming to you because you have something to offer that is VERY difficult to find elsewhere. What do you offer that is so difficult to find? For me, that’s live feedback, accountability, and opportunities to actually practice speaking. Ultimately, it’s all about saving them time. If a learner wanted to improve their grammar, they could just open up one of those countless apps with grammar activities and get to work. Sure, they can take the time to find a social circle that speaks English and practice speaking more but those people have no obligation to correct the learner’s mistakes. On top of that, the learner will pick up on the accents of those people (which may not be the accent that they are looking for). Everyone is looking to save time so you need to offer them a solution that will save them time. Ultimately, your advantage lies in your ability to help them speak better. 

Many of my clients are very busy. IT specialists have a tendency to sit in their man-cave (or woman-cave) and type away at their (obnoxiously loud) mechanical keyboard until the crack of dawn. They are in their comfort zone… and you can join them in their comfort zone. Their environment is familiar and that means one less obstacle that they have to deal with when they want to learn. 

When my learners ask me about grammar what I tell them is to THROW IT OUT THE WINDOW. Seriously! If you spend any time listening to conversational podcasts where two people are having a discussion, you’ll quickly notice that the rules of grammar are quickly disregarded. Many students get wayyyy too caught up in thinking about the right grammar when they are speaking and the reality is even native speakers don’t use proper grammar when speaking. I’ve found that quick interjections get the job done. When a learner makes a mistake, I either write down their mistake and let them finish their thought before coming back to it or quickly interject with the correct form. It’s important to note that I set the right precedent by warning my students that I may interject in such a way and instructing my students to repeat after me when I do this. 

It can be tempting to focus on grammar. This is especially true if you’re trying to fill up your whole schedule with classes (if you’re doing this then you’re doing it wrong). I know that fixing grammar can take a LOT of time so when you work by the hour it makes sense to work in this way. Again, you’re trying to save them TIME (our most valuable resource). Focus on the aspect where you have the greatest comparative advantage and you’ll quickly realize that all you have to do is tell your students this easy phrase, “I don’t do grammar. I only focus on the speaking aspect”. You need to truly believe this because if you desperately need to make money you might be willing to simply adapt your teaching style to what they need. Instead of doing that, simply throw out that phrase and you’re automatically filtering your potential clients. You really don’t want to work with students who want grammar because then you’re competing with a much larger market. 

Focusing on speaking places you in an advantageous position because you’re performing in a niche where the market is less saturated. Less people are qualified enough to provide these services compared to those grammar teachers. Less competition means you can charge higher rates. FUN FACT: many of my students have a better grasp on English grammar than I do! Wut? 

Yes, and I tell them that. Growing up in the US, we didn’t study grammar as intensely as a foreigner may have because we are naturally exposed to that environment. Fortunately, I confidently know how to hold a conversation and keep it going. Although many students don’t want to admit it, they truly seek more confidence. Many of my clients got some sort of feedback from their peers in some form of “you don’t speak confidently enough”. Ever heard of “fake it till you make it”? Whether you believe it or not, it works. I exude confidence so much that my students want to absorb it like a sponge. I like to believe that I eloquently roll sophisticated phrases off my tongue and impress them with my colorful wording. 

Ok, let’s assume the learner is absolutely confident in themselves, what next? Back to my niche… IT specialists don’t tend to spend much time having insightful discussions about diverse topics with people who are knowledgeable enough to actually respond in kind and keep the conversation rolling. When these learners encounter a situation where they have to talk about themselves… they have no substance.

This makes me think back to when I would go on Tinder dates and the girl sitting across from me had absolutely 0 substance. No hobbies, nothing interesting to talk about, just a boring empty shell. Imagine you are interviewing someone for a job and they were just that… a boring empty shell. At the end of the day, you’ll probably want to work with someone interesting, not just someone that can get the job done. Nowadays, it’s easy to find people with the technical skills to get the job done. 

I love that I was involved in a fraternity when I was in college because I learned precisely this… Our fraternity was very selective and we would choose new members based on… if they had substance (essentially). I remember interviewing a potential new member and I asked them the standard questions only to shake their hand and immediately forget who was in the room with me for the last 30 minutes. Without any notable substance to their personality, the candidate didn’t remain in my memory for very long and they did not move along in the process. 

Relatability is super important and if you only have a very narrow perspective on what the world has to offer, you’re gonna have a hard time connecting with many people. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be able to be knowledgeable enough to confidently give your opinion on a diverse selection of topics. As a teacher of English, you’re also teaching your learners how to relate to more people. Inevitably, your student will come across a situation where they will have to relate with the person sitting across and if they struggle in doing so they will also likely struggle in landing the job/contract that they are trying to secure. 

As a conversational English teacher, I’ve found that it is super important to be fairly knowledgeable on a range of subjects and topics. You’re supposed to be demonstrating and helping your learners learn how to have insightful and engaging conversations. As such, you’ve got to actually practice talking about interesting topics. 

If you’re a conversational English teacher and want to practice talking about new and interesting topics, follow LessonSpeak for the best topics. I take the time to develop and test curriculum that is relevant to today’s world and I deliver it to you in a beautiful and engaging way. Download some freebies today and try it in your next class! 

Johnny Ilca
Founder & Content Lead