Raising the volume – it matters in personal conversations!

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Student conferences, especially with shy students worried about their grade or academic performance, can often be a bit awkward for both the professor and student. ESL (English as a Second Language) students, sometimes insecure about their pronunciation or vocabulary, can feel particularly anxious. ESL and other English teachers have to find ways to reduce student anxiety, provide a safe place for English students to speak, provide feedback on student work, and uphold academic standards.

In general, I find student conferences very productive and satisfying because you get a chance to really work with a college student on their writings and assignments. I often feel that I learn as much as I teach in these 20-30 minute student conferences.

Sometimes, however, I have awkward conferences. If the student has plagiarized, then this can’t be avoided. Those moments, which I dread, can not be avoided. So it goes.

Yet sometimes, as occurred last semester, an ESL (English as a Second Language) student is so shy, so timid, and so unsure that they speak so softly that I can’t even hear. Sometimes I lean forward and ask them to please speak a bit louder. If a student continues in the same low volume, I might apologize for my poor hearing and again request they speak up. What does one do on the third request?

“Please speak a bit louder so I can hear you.”

Was this too direct? I wanted to say, “If I can’t hear you, you will be misunderstood. I want to understand you. Speak up!!”

Patience, this time, paid off. The student raised her voice to an audible level, and replied, “okay.”

“Good to hear you,” I replied. We proceeded to have a productive end of semester conference.

English and ESL teachers at all levels, from elementary school and high school to adult school and university, need to emphasize the importance of student speech being comprehensible. That includes speaking loud enough that conversation partners, classmates, and instructors can hear.

Bottomline: students must speak up in conversations, conferences, and class discussions. Volume matters.

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