In this article we are going to go over how to teach a basic travel English class. Often these classes are referred to as “survival” English classes. Travel classes are for people who have little to no English ability but in the near future will be traveling abroad for vacation or perhaps business. These people are not concerned with learning conversational English. They want to be able to use English in places such as hotels, restaurants, at an airport, shopping malls and many other places.
Travel classes differ from other types of English classes in that the focus is on a particular situation that the student might encounter. For example, most likely the student will at some point need to order food at a fast food restaurant. One of our travel classes will be completely focused on any English that they may need to know in order to accomplish this goal. Common situations are:
- Fast food restaurant
- On an airplane
- In an airport
- Banks (exchanging money)
- Post office
- Shopping two (negotiating)
- Shopping three (clothing)
- Small talk
What situations and scenarios that you teach will depend on how much time you have before the student travels abroad and what the student will do at that location. If they are simply going on vacation the above scenarios are more than sufficient. But if they are going to a business conference, or if they’re going to give a speech, or if they are visiting their wife’s in-laws then you might need to create a different set of situations.
In general most English students of any level can join travel classes with little difficulty. You can have an upper beginner and an advanced student together in the same class.
As mentioned previously, the primary objective for this class is to prepare students for various situations that they may encounter on their vacation or trip abroad. In order to do this you should focus on a few different English skills.
Commonly used sentence patterns
Primary objective method
- Introduction of a class’s topic and setting
- Sample conversation
- Conversation explanation
- Controlled practice
- Simple role-playing activity
- Related role-playing activity
The warm up here in the travel class is very similar to other classes. We can use basic greetings and basic questions to create a simple conversation with the students. You can also use the warm-up as a review for previously learned lessons or simple conversations that they might have with strangers on their trip, basic “small talk”.
Introduction of a class’s topic and setting
Here we need to introduce what the student is going to learn and in what situation they can use it in. This is very important for travel classes as the students will actually be using this very soon. The simple introduction can help the students prepare and imagine themselves in the situation.
Generally most textbooks will already have a sample conversation that you can use. If you do not have a textbook then you should prepare a sample conversation before your class. Hopefully the conversation is as realistic as possible.
First you can demonstrate the conversation by reading one of the roles and choosing another student to read the other. During this time students can read along while you speak out the roles. After this you can group the students into pairs of two and have them read the individual roles. Once they finish the conversation then they change roles and read it again.
Here you should explain any key points or key sentences that are in the conversation. You should also try to explain the order or sequence of events that is likely to occur in the situation. So if we go back to the original example of ordering food at a fast restaurant, we could write the sequence of events like this
- Fast food worker greets us
- Order food and drink
- Answer fast food workers questions
- Fast food worker asks if order is finished
Of course in a real situation very often the sequence of events changes but writing this out for the students can really help them get started. It’s important for the teacher to remind the student that all situations might be different, the sequence of events might be different, and the language used might be different.
Next, it can be useful to have the conversation written on the board. The teacher can go over all of the key sentences and what part of the sentences the students can change. So perhaps there is one line in the sample conversation that goes like this:
“I would like a cheeseburger with large fries and a large Coke.”
Here on the board we can underline “cheeseburger with large fries and a large Coke” to indicate to the students that this is the part that they can change.
“I would like a cheeseburger with large fries and a large Coke.”
Then the teacher should try to have each student create their own simple sentence following the above sentence structure. The teacher can continue doing this with any other key points within the sample conversation.
Generally most textbooks will have some kind of simple practice where they must use what they just learned in the lesson to create sentences or short conversations. Usually it looks something like this:
Fast food worker-Welcome to Burger Hut, may I take your order?
Tourist-__________________ ham sandwich and a large iced tea.
Fast food worker-____________________ any French fries with that?
Fast food worker-What size ___________________________?
Fast food worker-Anything __________?
Tourist-That will be all.
The idea is just to have the students think again about what they just learned. After a short time you should go over the answers with the students and answer any questions that they have.
For travel classes role-playing is absolutely essential. They are going to be going abroad and they are absolutely going to need to be able to use what they are learning in your class. Without these role-playing activities it will be very difficult for them to do this. You need the role-playing activities to work out any mistakes or problems that they may have before they go on their trip. There are various role-playing activities that you can create depending on what you are teaching them for that class. But generally whatever activity you do choose in the beginning you want to follow the sample conversation structure as much as possible.
Progression of role-playing activities
After the students become accustomed to the simple structure you can then start to make it more difficult. For example, each fast food restaurant has a different set greeting. Some fast food restaurants might say something like this
“Welcome to Burger Hut, how may help you?
And a different restaurant might say this
“Good afternoon, would you like to try our new cheeseburger special?”
And very likely the teenager working there will say something like this
“Hi. What do you want?”
You need to prepare your students for all of these different situations. Every time you change something from the original sample conversation then you need to take a minute or two out and explain the change. This changing of the original sample conversation is absolutely essential. What is also important is not to overwhelm your students with too much information in the beginning. You’re going to have to gauge when your students start to feel comfortable with a conversation. Once they feel confident then you can go ahead and start making more changes. This is not a one lesson thing. You will have to do this over many different lessons. Very often you can do this in the beginning of class or at the end of class.
As we just mentioned above using role-playing activities as a review tool is essential for the travel English student. If possible we want to keep these review role-playing activities short. Generally 5 to 10 minutes is best. If you can, have the students complete the activity in five minutes. Then that gives you another five minutes to explain any changes that you might have made. These reviews are generally best done in the beginning of class perhaps skipping the warm-up or at the end of class.
Cautions and mornings
One of the most important things in regard to travel English classes is having a discussion with your students about where they’re going and what they plan on doing once they get there. The more information you have about their trip the more that you can help them and the better role-playing activities you can create to prepare them for the trip.
You also have to give them realistic expectations on how much your classes will improve their English. Unfortunately there are many students out there in the world who believe that they can master English within a two or three months’ time period. It’s important that when they enter your school you sit down with them and explain what they can expect after attending your class for one month or three months or six months.
Last but not least, you should always assess the student’s motivation level. In terms of traveling abroad you have a wide range of students. Some students simply want to be able to order food at a restaurant. And other students feel that their trip abroad could change your lives. If you know how motivated your students are then you also know how much homework and how much you can push them to study.
Teaching travel classes involves sample conversations, role-playing and a lot of review. As much as possible the teacher should try to slightly change the sample conversations when they review in order to introduce different variations to the student. As a teacher one of the most important aspects of teaching travel English classes is to understand what the student will do on their vacation and how much time you have before their vacation.