Saturday, July 7, 2007

The English Salon FAQ

By Tsc Tempest - Tuha Petroleum Foreign Language School, China

The following FAQ addresses some commonly asked [or considered] questions relating to the setup, operation and development of English Salons, English Corners, English -Club, Teahouse, Tea Garden, Lets Talk, etc.

Q: What is an English Salon?

A: An English Salon or Corner (or any other of a myriad combination of names) is an organized activity that allows Non-Native speakers (NNS) and practitioners of English to practice and refine the art of Speaking in English. That is, to provide opportunities for NNS to use and develop their oral English communication skills. From observation English Salons can be loosely categorized into the following

1. Commercial: Run and organized by companies also offering study overseas opportunities;

2. Community Based: Setup and organized by members of the NNS community who have a burning desire to provide English speaking opportunities not offered by commercial or educational providers;

3. Educational: These are setup by Educational institutions to provide speaking opportunities for students so as to improve their English. These vary from voluntary attendance through to compulsory attendance. Where there are foreign teachers (FT) in
the educational institution, attendance by the FT is often a contractual obligation.

4. Other: These types of English Salons either do not fit into the above groups or could be sub-groups, due to the specialized nature of the targeted participants, the duration of operation or the nature of delivery of the activities of the English Salon, e.g.
a. programs targeting oratory practice (master speakers, toastmasters etc.);
b. programs aimed at improving the fluency and speed of language translation (conference speaker language services, etc.);
c. programs for young learners at either primary or pre-school level.

Q: Who attends English Salon?

A: The variety of attendees often directly reflects the management structure of the English Salon and the personal interests of the key organizers. There are English Salons for Junior School students, senior school students vocational school students, university students, private language school participants, Study Abroad Preparation school participants, and general members of the community. Some English salons are exclusively for people belonging to the particular organization responsible for the English salon, others can be open affairs, or pay per use - that is if you can pay you can attend.

Q: What role(s) do Native English Speakers (NES) take on at an English Salon?

A: This depends on the nature of the English Salon and its targeted participation group. It also depends on additional factors which have resulted in an NES attending the English Salon. The following are some common situations that a NES may find themselves in:

1. Guest Lecturer: you are invited to provide a speech, lecture or lead a panel discussion for the English salon;

2. Honored Visitor: you are usually invited off the street to come and take a look. In this case you would be the centre of attention or a key point of interest with many NES wishing to practice their English on you (sic.) This can be fun, tiring, challenging and/or confronting;

3. Friend of the Salon: You were invited once, liked the people and atmosphere, so you decide to go back on a regular basis

4. Contracted Attendee:
a. Some English salons offer FT or NES monetary inducements to attend the English Salon so that the organizers can promote the fact that their salon has access to NES. You may also be required to provide regular programs or targeted teaching activities.
b. Many Education institutions require their FT to attend English Salon as well as provide full organization and program coordination for the salons. In this situation the demands for the English salon can exceed those for regular classes - take note:
this situation is not considered additional teaching by the educational institution but your contractual obligation to be involved in the school community, as such it can be a source of conflict.

5. Host: Sometimes you may find yourself in the position of being asked by the English Salon you have been regularly attending to provide regular hosting duties. In this case, you act as the face or front [person for the salon and struggle in the background to ensure that the coordination and organizational management of the Salon is handled by the NNS committee;

6. Operator: This is what you end up as when the NNS organizational body fails or abandons its duties, leaving it all to you. Or, you decide to go it on your own and run an English Salon as part of your organization's business activities and services offered to NNS.

Q: Could you sketch out some types of English salons, how do they function?

A: The following are some of the types of speaking opportunities that shape the types of English Salons and the way they function:

1. Free Talk: This kind of English salon is typical of salons where people of many different ages and from different walks of life attend so that they may meet other NNS. This interaction is typical of a cocktail or coffee bar setting and allow participants to mingle and move around to different conversations;

2. Topic Centers: these English Salons usually operate with set discussion topics for participants to examine and develop through round table discussions;

3. Oral Workshops: these salons usually act like additional English language classes with a focus on conversational dialogues, canned dialogue practice, and formalized/ritualized speech act repetition tasks;

4. English Clubs: these are participant driven organizations that work well with students who are given some guidance, mentoring and directions to take responsibility for their own oral language practice and development. From informal conversations with university level speakers, many who actively pursue improvement activities for their language learning also actively participated in school based English Clubs.

5. Seminar, Guest Speaker: these activities revolve around a NES being asked to deliver a lecture or classroom instruction activity. Where this works well is where the seminar or lecture series focuses on the delivery of set topics and allows for some questions towards the end. Where this falls down is where FT are thrown in to a classroom full of bored kids and told to make ¡°it¡± (what ever that is) work.

Q: Where can I find resources and activities for use in my English Salon?

A: Good question, (tell me when you know the answer.) Many of the resources that are available for Debates, discussions hypothetical panel discussions, icebreakers etc., work well in English Salons that are topic driven or Free talk based. Drawing current events in the media out as discussion points are also good ideas. These work well with participants that have a good grasp of English but are of differing levels of Oral production ability. For Junior Schools and lower such activities may be beyond the participants¡¯ ability or maturity level. Tasks that focus on game like activities and develop critical listening skills are possibly more appropriate. Field
trips with assignment activities as well as report presentations may be useful, watching part of a movie then following this up with some Q&A led discussion may also be useful.

Q: What additional problems exist with developing an English Salon for lower level NNS or young learners?

A: Some major issues that need to be managed and factored into such English Salons so that they don't become problems are:

1. attention span;

2. participant maturity;

3. participant interest; AND

4. degree of homework pressure from other classes - often the participants may see the English Salon as a chance to grab a bit of slack in an otherwise highly demanding task oriented environment.

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