Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Tao of Steve (Kaufman)

by AJ

"To my mind, food and language are the most enjoyable and accessible features of a culture, and in my mind they are closely connected."

--Steve Kaufman

There's something to the above statement, more than meets the eye. Ive noticed, for example, that my students speak more, remember more, and are more engaged OUTSIDE of class.. in a social setting. The typical setting Im talking about is a coffee shop, a restaurant, or a bar.

For example, last week I took two students thrift store shopping. During the afternoon, we hit a couple cheap stores. Afterwards, we decided to go to a bar. We found a cozy pub, ordered some cocktails, and relaxed. Two of my (American) friends joined us, and one student called and invited one of her friends.

We had a great time, sitting and chatting. For HOURS. Eventually we left the bar, but no one wanted to go home. So we headed to a restaurant in the Mission and continued our conversations.

I couldnt help but notice how relaxed and effortless the students communication was. There was no forced speech. No attempt to "stay on topic". Of course the alcohol helped later in the evening (a topic for another post)... but the key distinction was setting.

Food, drink, and conversation naturally go together. Id be surprised to find any modern culture in which this is not the case. Its almost a universal... people love to chat over food & drinks.

Why dont we take advantage of this? Why not hold most classes in cafes, coffee shops, and bars. I know of a few cool gradutate professors who do exactly that-- if they can do it, so can we.

Another alternative is to turn the school into a cafe/pub. Serve drinks and snacks. Rework the decor-- real wood tables, chairs, and wall trim. Low lights (with, perhaps, a light focused on a board). Instrumental background music. Close, intimate seating. And plenty of time for unstructured conversation... with the teacher, perhaps, starting with a topic question.. but then letting things go where they may.... stopping occasionally to explain phrases & other language points AS NEEDED. Beginning classes, of course, would demand more structured time.. but the relaxed, chatty vibe could still hold.

For focus, certain days/times could be set aside for "book clubs", "film clubs", "music clubs", "current events clubs", etc... These clubs would be open to native speaker volunteers as well as students... and could employ a variety of authentic materials as conversation starters.

Lacking the ability to create such a place, I instead plan to utilize existing places. Id like to start by holding class in a coffee shop one day per week. Maybe every Monday. That day will be devoted to "Book Club" plus discussion. The idea is that we'd gather to read a class book together & discuss it, perhaps for the first hour or so. Ideally Id also like to add a book circle in which each student presented a different book theyd read. This worked great at Thammasat,.. but many of my current students are considerably less diligent than those I had at TU. Still,.. might give it a try.

San Francisco, CA