My English Students Making Phone Calls

December 4, 2007

Over the past year or so since I’ve been teaching ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), I’ve noticed the difficulty that my students have when ever I try to call them.  Talking on the phone isn’t easy.  You’re not talking to someone face to face, and you lack the body language cue that you can use to decode some statement that you haven’t quite understood.  Most of the time they don’t even record a message on their answering machine.  I usually get an obnoxious robotic voice stuttering, “Ple…ase…………..lea…ve…..a…..message.”  So, I decided they needed some practice.   

First, I taught them some answering machine greetings and then we started practicing some basic phone scripts, how to make a 911 call and how to find out how much something costs.  Ultimately, to my students dismay, I had the great idea to have them make actual phone calls to actual Americans that they don’t know.  I’ve never seen people so nervous.   Half of them were pacing, while the other half couldn’t stop their hands from shaking.  One of my students even started to tell me that she couldn’t make the phone call because she didn’t want to lie to the sales person when we were just calling to see how much something costs.  The irony is that she actually was wearing a bracelet–no kidding–that said, “I lie for a living”.   The things students try to get a way with.  You might as well have told me your dog ate your homework.  Another student actually told me that even though he had lived in America for over a year he had never made a phone call before in America. 

The only snafu occurred when a sales person impatiently hung up before one of my students could get past good evening.  Let’s just say I shared some choice words with her manager.  Unfortunately, with immigration becoming such a hot topic I’ve witnessed this occurring more and more these days–nobody has any patience! 

But for the most part, I think my students really appreciated it.  I took notes and made constructive feedback.  And when I tell my students that they’ll be making a real phone call the following lesson, I actually have a full class.  I’m just happy that they feel like they get something out of it.  Otherwise, they must keep coming back for some other reason. 

If it’s not that, I guess I’ll just have to figure something else out.  

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