Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Can you Hear me Now?

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

“Throat Shoat”?

Recently, I decided to give Bikram yoga a try. A colleague credited the hot version of yoga for her youthful glow and svelte shape, and, one Groupon later, I found myself in a sweltering room twisting my body into pretzel-like shapes. I’m not a beginner to yoga, but doing it in a 104 degree room (that’s 40 degrees for the rest of the world) made me nervous. Plus, a great many of the positions the rest of the class seemed so adept at twisting themselves into were new to me. I was really out of my element.

As we were holding the poses, the teacher was walking around the room and checking our form. She was calling out instructions, but because of the fan and the fact that her back was occasionally to me as she adjusted people’s bodies, I had a really hard time hearing her. As well, she used terms that were new to me. For instance, she kept saying what I thought was “throat shoat.” As I swayed in the heat, my muscles shaking with fatigue, I was wondering what in the heck I should be doing with my throat. Very frequently, I had to look to the people around me to figure out exactly how I should be moving.

This experience really reinforced a pretty basic fact about teaching for me: students need to be able to hear teachers clearly to be able to figure out what they are saying. I realize this is hardly an “ah ha” moment. I mean, it’s pretty obvious, right? And yet, I would probably cringe to learn exactly how many times I chatted away to my ESL students while facing away from them and writing on the board. I’m pretty loud, but so was the yoga instructor and the combination of the new vocabulary and room acoustics meant I had trouble hearing and understanding her.

Minimize Distractions

I might have heard the yoga instructor better if the fans hadn’t been blowing, though I might have passed out without them, too. We can’t always control our environment, but when we can, we should make it as quiet as possible to facilitate hearing. According to Dlugan (2013), closing windows and doors to eliminate outside noise can be a good idea. I used to teach in a room across from a bathroom. I got so used to the noisy hand dryer that I hardly heard it, but my students sometimes couldn’t hear me at all when it was blowing, and that was a problem.

Also, Dlugan suggests limiting student chatter. After all, it’s not just annoying and rude to you, it may be causing other students to miss important points from the lesson. When we teach adults, it’s not always comfortable to have to ask someone to stop talking, but we really owe it to the others to keep the classroom quiet.

Inhale … Exhale

Our students need to hear us to be able to listen to us. Part of this means we have to speak loudly enough for every single student in the class to hear us, even those hiding at the back. Apparently, breathing is at the heart of speaking loudly. To find out if you have been breathing “incorrectly” all your life without knowing it, go here for a self-assessment and helpful tips.

Face your Audience

Toastmasters lists in its 10 Biggest Public Speaking Mistakes, “reading a speech word for word.” Not only is that deadly boring, but when a speaker’s head is down, the audience can’t always hear them clearly. Obviously, my yoga instructor wasn’t reading from a script, but when she turned her back on the class from time to time, I wasn’t able to hear her instructions. As teachers, we write on the board, move around the class and crouch over our desks. Remembering to stop moving and face the class when we speak will go a long way to helping our students hear us.

Repeat (and Rephrase)

The University Of Pittsburgh also suggests repeating key concepts when speaking publicly. I would add that for language students, repeating isn’t enough, we also need to rephrase. In the yoga class, the teacher repeated “throat shoat” often in 90 minutes, but I still couldn’t understand. Even if I had correctly heard her, I still would have been confused because I wasn’t familiar with that particular phrasing.

So what exactly did my yoga instructor mean by “throat shoat”? I had to ask my coworker the next day. It turns out that she was actually saying “throat choked,” which meant she wanted us to curl our chins to our chests. Live and learn!

10 Biggest Public Speaking Mistakes. (n.d). Retrieved from http://www.toastmasters.org/MainMenuCategories/FreeResources/NeedHelpGivingaSpeech/TipsTechniques/10BiggestPublicSpeakingMistakes.aspx.
Dlugan, A. (2013). Volume and the public speaker: Be heard and be effective, Six Minutes: Speaking and Presentation Skills. Retrieved from http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/volume-public-speaker/.
Schwartz, M. (n.d.). Making yourself Heard. Retrieved from http://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/lt/resources/handouts/makingyourselfheard.pdf.
Public Speaking: The Basics. (n.d.), Retrieved from http://www.speaking.pitt.edu/student/public-speaking/basics.html.

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