How to Teach Conversational English to Adults

Teaching conversational English to non-native speakers can be a challenging task, even for experienced teachers. Learning another language is like learning a new instrument or sport. There are ways to encourage your students through choosing activities to explore and build the skills they already have or need to improve. The task is not easy, but with creativity and perseverance, the experience of teaching conversational English can be enriching.

Break the students up into pairs or small groups to make the learning environment less intimidating. When students are encouraged to speak to each other, this maximises student talking time and minimises teacher talking time. Role playing enables students to learn vocabulary words and common conversational sentence structures.

Pass out conversation cue cards that supply students with target structures and different points of view. In the beginning, students may be timid and reluctant to choose and express their own opinions on a topic. By providing a structured target issue and point of view, this approach is helpful for students to not be occupied by the emotional aspect of the exercise, but on correctness and structure of a given scenario. Once students become more fluid with these tasks, tell them to explore their imaginations and create their own scenarios.

Provide students with a list every week of words they are likely to use or encounter in a particular scenario, whether it be a wedding, a party or the workplace. Read the words once, then have the students as a class repeat them after you. This exercise will help sync the visual word to how it sounds. Provide small exercises using these vocabulary words.

Implement reading and writing exercises by instructing your students to read a sample paragraph from a level-appropriate text or short newspaper article. They will be able to see how syntax and grammar look on the page. Reading exercises also give students an opportunity to discuss with their classmates what they have read. Writing exercises reinforce ways in which students have learnt to speak. By writing from a prompt, you give your students a brief free write of their day. Gradually students will become comfortable thinking and writing in conversational English.

Instruct your students to listen to English conversations in radio and television programs. Broadcast programs may be challenging for the students to initially parse due to the rapid speech, but once students become more comfortable with their speaking and reading skills, let your students listen to how English is used every day outside of the classroom.


Avoid controversial topics such as religion, race, and politics. Some topics may be culturally sensitive, such as gender or family.

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About the Author

Stacey Tran has been writing since 2008. Her professional experience includes grant writing, interview transcription, submission review and writer correspondence for "The Grove Review," "Pathos Literary Magazine" and sitsaw press & publishing. She is currently working towards her Bachelor of Arts in English literature and applied linguistics at Portland State University.