The Internet TESL Journal

Tips for Teaching Conversation in the Multilingual ESL Classroom

Cara Pulick
carap2004 [at]


Leaving aside completely the matter of potential cultural conflicts and misunderstandings, teaching conversation in the multilingual classroom presents challenges beyond those faced in the monolingual classroom. The difficulties inherent in a conversational ESL class--namely, speaking and listening in another language--are multiplied when the participants in those conversations are neither native speakers nor from the same linguistic background. Problems ranging from grammatical mistakes to vocabulary limitations to, perhaps most troublesome, pronunciation issues complicate the process of conversing in a foreign language.

From a classroom management standpoint, however, a bigger challenge is when such obstacles turn to frustration and students from differing linguistic backgrounds begin to tune each other out or, worse, exhibit irritation. Fortunately, when handled well, a multilingual classroom is a great place for students to try out their real-world conversation skills. If they can make themselves understood not only to ESL teachers and to others linguistically like themselves, but also to the world at large, then they are communicating.

The following are some suggestions for increasing cross-cultural student-to-student engagement and understanding in the ESL classroom.

Mix It Up

Keep the Student on Their Toes

Let the Students do the Work

Work on Everyone's Difficulties

Explain It to the Students

Have Fun

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XI, No. 4, April 2005