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Are conversation lessons paying for friendship/therapy?
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What's your attitude to conversation lessons?
Personal issues are where my students have the most to say. Bring it on .
12%
 12%  [ 1 ]
I stear the conversation away from some personal topics It's not professional.
0%
 0%  [ 0 ]
I keep the conversation intellectual. I want intelligent conversation about topics of public interest.
0%
 0%  [ 0 ]
I go with the flow unless I start to feel uncomfortable.
87%
 87%  [ 7 ]
Total Votes : 8

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Master Shake



Joined: 03 Nov 2006
Posts: 859
Location: Warsaw, Poland

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 8:05 pm    Post subject: Are conversation lessons paying for friendship/therapy? Reply with quote

A friend of mine told me a story about how he spent a recent lesson with a wealthy, Polish, private student who had just split up with her husband of several years.

She spent the entire lesson in tears, talking without pause for 90 minutes about how much she missed her ex, how she could still see signs that he loved her, how their sex life had been so great and so on.

The end of the lesson. She dabs away the tears. They both stand up. My friend, feeling more than a little uncomfortable at this point, gives her a hug and tells her things will get better, giving some uplifting examples from his own past relationships.

She goes to get her ivory pocketbook...

Could this be your conversation lesson? Do you avoid / encourage conversation about personal topics? Is the situation above ethical and professional?
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Justin Trullinger



Joined: 28 Jan 2005
Posts: 3110
Location: Seoul, South Korea and Myanmar for a bit

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 8:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One of the reasons that I don't do conversation classes...maybe it ain't always that way, but it sure seems common.

In general English classes, I'm happy to include debate and discussion about potentially interesting topics, and I've got nothing against being a little controversial. But English class ain't therapy, and it ain't social time. Getting too personal doesn't help anybody's English, in my opinion.

Had I been your friend, I'd have cut the class short, saying "I'm sorry this is a bad time for you, but you're obviously too upset to have English class" and left.


Best,
Justin
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 2560
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 10:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Master Shake wrote:
A friend of mine told me a story about how he spent a recent lesson with a wealthy, Polish, private student who had just split up with her husband of several years. .....

That's the danger with private conversation "lessons" especially. If the student or better yet the teacher were honest, they would admit that if somebody can already speak enough English to hold their own in a halfway decent conversation, there isn't really a whole lot linguistically that they can be taught or learn - which obviously leads to the question of why exactly they are paying for the teacher's time.

In Japan I had to teach a few 1-to-1 classes within an eikaiwa, but there it wasn't so much friendship or therapy as indulgence - allowing people to "interest" you too in all manner of hobbies or passions, from dress-making to trainspotting through to (IIRC) investigating singularities at the observable edges of the sun, as a way of making (taking?) money for the employer and I guess ultimately me. Anyway, the point is that these were things that they obviously couldn't talk about enough in just Japanese to Japanese - learn two languages and you can become twice the potential bore! (But actually I am a very indulgent type, and some of it was quite pleasant and even interesting - that is, as a "professional listener" at least, I really did try to take as much of a genuine and not just "polite" interest as possible (and that genuineness would sometimes involve e.g. very mild irony or sarcasm, things that are all too often, and I would argue unfortunately, missing from teachers' speech!)).

Perhaps the best thing would be for "conversation schools" generally to get a lot more serious about the potential "methodology" of "teaching" conversation, and then only to those who really need still to learn "it", but of course that would involve too much work for everyone delivering "the" programme, and would be risking no more milking the cash cow (and who knows, its udders really might then burst!). (By the way, for those interested, over on the Teacher Discussion forums I and others have pondered how conversational skills might be developed better than they usually are (or rather, aren't!)).
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denise



Joined: 23 Apr 2003
Posts: 3419
Location: finally home-ish

PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 6:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That story is one of many reasons why I've never given private lessons.

d
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jpvanderwerf2001



Joined: 02 Oct 2003
Posts: 1073
Location: New York

PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 8:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can listen; it's not a problem. My opinion is that they are practicing English, and if they just want to chat about everyday trials and tribulations, so be it.
I've never had someone completely break down, though...
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 8641
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 9:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Have to say I'm with JP. It's their money: they can waste it anyway they want. They may even feel it was well spent. So long as we don't feel the need to solve their problem, there is no real problem.
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gaijinalways



Joined: 29 Nov 2005
Posts: 2279

PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 3:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

jpvanderwerf2001 posted
Quote:
I can listen; it's not a problem. My opinion is that they are practicing English, and if they just want to chat about everyday trials and tribulations, so be it.
I've never had someone completely break down, though...


Definately agree. I would take the opportunity to correct or help them state what they have problems saying, or note errors to cover for another lesson.

Sashadroogie posted
Quote:
Have to say I'm with JP. It's their money: they can waste it anyway they want. They may even feel it was well spent. So long as we don't feel the need to solve their problem, there is no real problem.
]

But it's not wasted time (or money), see my above comments.


fluffyhamster said
Quote:
That's the danger with private conversation "lessons" especially. If the student or better yet the teacher were honest, they would admit that if somebody can already speak enough English to hold their own in a halfway decent conversation, there isn't really a whole lot linguistically that they can be taught or learn - which obviously leads to the question of why exactly they are paying for the teacher's time.


I disagree. There is no danger, except what you might do with the information.

As to not being able to teach them more linguistically, you must think speaking is a lot easier than I do. Being able to hold your own in conversation about a limited number of topics hardly means that you don't need to study (and hopefully learn) more about that language.
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Molson



Joined: 01 May 2009
Posts: 137
Location: China

PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 4:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I used to do a 1:1 lesson with a housewife. 80% of our conversation time was academic. She was a middle school English teacher and she wanted to improve her ability. 20% of our conversation was her ragging on her husband or her husbands family. I just let her rant. The customer is the boss, and if she wanted to waste $20 out of $100 on that, I don't mind listening.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 8641
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 9:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

gaijinalways wrote:



Sashadroogie posted
Quote:
Have to say I'm with JP. It's their money: they can waste it anyway they want. They may even feel it was well spent. So long as we don't feel the need to solve their problem, there is no real problem.
]

But it's not wasted time (or money), see my above comments.



Yes, I read your comments, but I still feel it is a waste. As the poll asked, are the students paying for therapy or maybe friendship? If they are, then it is a waste of money as far as I'm concerned. I'm not their friend, I'm in a professional role and accept money from them. I'm not a therapist, and cannot help them solve their problems. But if that is how they wish to use our allotted lesson time, then so be it.

As far as improving their language goes during a 'therapy' session, this too is not as clear-cut as it may first appear. Sometimes, by the nature of the content of the students' words, it is very inappropriate to do teacherly things like correct errors etc. The classic example is the dilemma of how and/or if you should correct a tearful student who says 'My Greatmother has been just deading'. I simply let them get whatever they want to say off their chest and do not really respond except with a few sympathetic noises. True, errors can be noted, and suitably disguised for later lesson work, but as far as the current lesson is concerned, it is still less than an effective use of classroom time.

Recently, I have had a one-to-one student who turned lessons into his personal soap-box. He is an elderly Russian gentleman who was a life-long member of the Communist Party, and is genuinely appalled by what he sees around him in Moscow today. Lessons frequently descend into him ranting and raging against capitalism, Americanism blah blah, but in very broken Beginner's English. He isn't interested in error correction, he doesn't respond well to my feeding-in of correct English words for his Russian analogues, and woe-betide-me if I dare to suggest that the Soviets 'don't' (as opposed to 'did') invent any technology today, because then I get the history of the world's greatest inventions a la the Great Soviet Encyclopedia - radio, TV, rockets, submarines were all Soviet creations.....

Usually, I just sit back, let it wash over me, and watch the clock while counting the rubles earned. He is not making any progress really, but he feels a lot better for having explained to at least one benighted foreigner the glories of yester-year. I think it was a waste, though. He certainly doesn't, and maybe others don't either. Fair enough.
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gaijinalways



Joined: 29 Nov 2005
Posts: 2279

PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 11:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sashadroogie posted
Quote:
True, errors can be noted, and suitably disguised for later lesson work, but as far as the current lesson is concerned, it is still less than an effective use of classroom time.


Bu they are still producing the target language, albeit maybe not on the subject you would prefer. Of course, you can also introduce them to the language for 'topic changing strategies'.

Sashadroogie posted
Quote:
...I'm not a therapist, and cannot help them solve their problems...


I would disagree, haven't your parents or a friend ever helped you with a problem? Were they trained therapists?

I know of course, you may not feel comfortable trying to offer advice to someone you're not 'close' to, but it is possible. If nothing else, you can act as a sounding board and suggest alternatives, or try to lead them toward thinking of some solutions or ideas for ones.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 8641
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 12:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My parents and my friends are just that - parents and friends. I don't pay them and our relationship is more balanced and two-way. If they choose to rant, then I can feel free to do the same thing as well. I can expect emotional support from them, as well as provide it.

My paying students are not at all in the same catagory. I see a clear distinction between them and people who are close to me. When a student, for example, asks me if they should change their job, or emigrate to Australia, my response is invariably 'Only you can decide that'. We can discuss it, to no end, but if they expect me to help them to find solutions, they are in for disappointment. Religious crises, romantic entanglements, career difficulties - whatever, are none of my business. It is simply beyond my scope as a language teacher to enter into their personal lives to that degree, any more than it is within my remit to comment on how the parents of my young learners bring up their kids. And usually, I simply don't know the correct answers, just like if I asked my travel-agent how to deal with my unfaithful wife or with my clinical depression, he wouldn't know the correct answer either. Not in his area of competency. I could expect just raised eyebrows, and a furtive look to the security guard.

Also, I'd say that when some of my more 'needy' students go off on one of their existentialist distribes, they are no more using target language than a farmer 'targets' with his scattergun. Boom boom! Half a dozen phrases and grammatical contructions all fired off at the same time - one of them must be right! They don't respond to 'topic-changing' strategies, as they don't respond to error-correction. Turn-taking is also not an area they want to develop, because it is all about 'me me me'. And as I and others have said before, fair enough. Let them, so long as they pay, I don't care.

Maybe I have a fundementally different conception of what being a language teacher entails from what you have. But again, fair enough.
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gaijinalways



Joined: 29 Nov 2005
Posts: 2279

PostPosted: Fri Oct 23, 2009 9:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
My parents and my friends are just that - parents and friends. I don't pay them and our relationship is more balanced and two-way. If they choose to rant, then I can feel free to do the same thing as well. I can expect emotional support from them, as well as provide it.


I agree, that is a distinction. Some people may not be in a position to offer you emotional support, but that doesn't mean you can't be generous in return.

Quote:
My paying students are not at all in the same catagory. I see a clear distinction between them and people who are close to me. When a student, for example, asks me if they should change their job, or emigrate to Australia, my response is invariably 'Only you can decide that'. We can discuss it, to no end, but if they expect me to help them to find solutions, they are in for disappointment.


I still find students are human, and in that sense they have a relationship with me.

I think what you're missing is that they don't really expect you to 'solve' their problems for them, but rather help them explore options. I don't find that all that difficult to do. Beyond that, you can offer opinions, like you would in any discussion. in these situations, I don't have a lot of vested interest in my student's choice of action unless my students are contemplating something life threatening or involving me (or both Shocked ).
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 8641
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Fri Oct 23, 2009 10:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

While I can agree broadly with a lot of what you are saying, I still think that there is a basic need for students (and teachers) to understand that there is such a thing a 'professional distance'. Our relationship is strictly professional, and needs to be so to be a successful one. My role is to provide language support, not provide emotional support, not to be a sounding-board, not to be someone to help them explore new ideas etc. Let them go to their confessor for that.

Some of my students actually do think I have some magic answer for their life-questions. They suffer under the illusion that I can get their kids into Harvard because I know how to go about it, apparently. They think I can answer all questions about the pros and cons of emigrating to Australia, and can be a tad miffed when I come up empty-handed. It is closely related to the phenomenon of the Business English student who also expects you to be able to answer his/her detailed questions on British tax law. For some reasons, they do expect solutions to these questions and genuinely are surprised when I say I don't know and that I don't really need to know in order to do my job, i.e. teach language.

Sorry, if I seem to be going on a bit about this. My emotions sometimes run away with me, like now, for this theme reminds me of certain other of my colleagues who insist, possibly after reading Plato, that our roles as teachers extend to developing students' personalities, helping them to think critically, educating them about the world through the strength of our cultural understanding yada yada ya - in short to be better people. There in lies the difference. I categorically deny that I have any business attempting to do any of this. I am not qualified, and I doubt many other EFLers are either.

Oh, I don't know anymore. Maybe I just need a shoulder to cry on... can you be my friend? Can we PM and you can help me to address all the questions that have marred my life. Can we? I mean, we have a relationship now, don't we? Just don't expect anything in return for your generosity Wink
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otuzbirci



Joined: 20 Oct 2009
Posts: 28

PostPosted: Fri Oct 23, 2009 11:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

love the way they expect you to instantly know where to study english in uk or how to get a visa to uk or who is the best singer
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gaijinalways



Joined: 29 Nov 2005
Posts: 2279

PostPosted: Fri Oct 23, 2009 12:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
While I can agree broadly with a lot of what you are saying, I still think that there is a basic need for students (and teachers) to understand that there is such a thing a 'professional distance'.


Do you allow your students in the same room with you Laughing ?

Quote:
Sorry, if I seem to be going on a bit about this. My emotions sometimes run away with me, like now, for this theme reminds me of certain other of my colleagues who insist, possibly after reading Plato, that our roles as teachers extend to developing students' personalities, helping them to think critically, educating them about the world through the strength of our cultural understanding yada yada ya - in short to be better people. There in lies the difference. I categorically deny that I have any business attempting to do any of this. I am not qualified, and I doubt many other EFLers are either.


Some instructors are required to teach critical thinking at some of the universities in Japan. How qualified or how successful we are at teaching it remains to be seen Confused . Some people are also teaching about intercultural awareness as well. You might be interested to know that the defintion and expected duties of a teacher does vary quite a bit from society to society.

Quote:
Oh, I don't know anymore. Maybe I just need a shoulder to cry on... can you be my friend? Can we PM and you can help me to address all the questions that have marred my life. Can we? I mean, we have a relationship now, don't we? Just don't expect anything in return for your generosity


Yes you can pm me, besides time and patience I would not be giving up too much in a virtual relationship. But don't expect too much in the way of help in a timely fashion, as I have 'real' student concerns to deal with first. Their concerns are a priority since its part of my job, helping students to learn. That does sometimes include dealing with non-linguistic matters at times.

It's all in the way one perceives it Cool .
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