The importance of rapport in the classroom

Training & Learning


The ideal balance between learning languages and having fun is a topic which I have discussed many times with my colleagues, both informally and during trainer meetings.

Of course, the two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive!

However, there’s the feeling that if you really try to teach your students correct grammar or difficult vocabulary, suddenly the element of fun evaporates from the langauge course and everything becomes “serious” – in fact it’s just like being back at school!

This situation is in stark contrast to those “fun” language lessons conducted by those really entertaining trainers who have a great sense of humor and manage to create excellent rapport with everybody they come into contact with!

It is absolutely essential to create a good rapport... if you are going to achieve the best language learning results.

Sometimes I have detected a note of jealousy from some trainers regarding these “great entertainers,” and some have wondered if their students really learn anything in those kinds of lessons.

After all, they’re just chatting and having fun, aren’t they? Those trainers get excellent feedback just because they’re good-looking, witty and charismatic, don’t they?

They can’t really teach, can they?

These are all interesting questions, and during my 20 years teaching adults and children, I have really wondered what the right balance is between teaching and being entertaining.

The main conclusion I have drawn is that it is absolutely essential to create a good rapport with your groups or individual students if you are going to achieve the best language learning results.

I think this is especially important in Finland. Finnish students are very often shy and reserved. They are nervous about making mistakes in English, or any other language because they think it will make them look stupid.

Making mistakes normally doesn’t matter as long as you get your message through.

There has traditionally been too much emphasis on correct grammar and not making mistakes in English or any other language learning at schools here and abroad, although the situation nowadays is much improved.

Against this background, it is crucial to create a relaxed learning environment so that our students feel comfortable when speaking a foreign language. I believe my colleagues and I also emphasize right from the beginning that making mistakes normally doesn’t matter as long as you get your message through.

Therefore, when you really connect with your students, good learning outcomes will inevitably follow.

That’s why I always employ an ice-breaker pair interview activity in my first session where, as a group, we find out not only about our classmates’ jobs but also their hobbies and interests.

Then, when we have established a good rapport with a few minutes’ small talk at the beginning of each lesson, we have the ideal learning environment to facilitate the acquisition of the concrete, useful skills that our students need.

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