From Syria to the UK: My First Year Insights as an International Student

This month we published International Students’ Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision by Anas Hajar. In this post the author talks about his own experiences as an international student in the UK.

My first study abroad experience dates back to 2009 when I joined a postgraduate programme in English language teaching at Warwick University in the UK. Like many international students who study abroad, I aspired to establish meaningful interactions with locals – interactions that go beyond commercial exchanges and small talk in student cafeterias. However, I ended up spending most of my free time with two Syrian fellows and some other international students from China, Greece and Italy.

The superficiality of my interactions with the British stemmed mainly from my little awareness of learning strategies that can help enhance sojourn outcomes. I had limited experience in technology to check the latest social and academic activities offered by Warwick University. In addition, academic study pressure was extremely high and my ultimate vision was to complete my academic requirements and expand my knowledge in my specialisation. I was afraid of failure and of letting family members down, since I was government-sponsored.

My perspective about the myth of the “native speaker” as the ideal teacher changed at the end of my Master’s degree programme. To my surprise, two tutors who inspired me in the programme were non-native speakers of English. They seemed to me quite aware of the needs of international students, probably because they themselves experienced first-hand the phenomenon of international students pursuing their academic studies abroad through the medium of English. The two tutors gave a clear vision about the taught modules and interesting materials. They also provided useful, detailed and timely feedback on my written work. My dissertation supervisor passed on effective strategies that helped me make my writing more critical and develop a new identity as a neophyte researcher.

In Middle Eastern countries, the youth rarely leave their family and live on their own before marriage. Studying abroad made me grow into a more independent person, since this was my first experience of living apart from my parents. I had to be responsible for my decisions. My personal independence was reinforced through endeavours to meet personal life needs, such as purchasing household goods, finding and cooking Middle Eastern food, opening a bank account and searching for prepaid SIM cards to make overseas calls.

I felt homesick especially during celebratory occasions in Syria. Nonetheless, I greatly appreciated and enjoyed the gatherings organised by the University of Warwick Chaplaincy during Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr, in which Middle Eastern food was served and people from different nationalities met and exchanged experiences.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Strategy Factor in Successful Language Learning by Carol Griffiths.

Finding Success in Online Teaching

This month we published Teaching Children Online by Carla Meskill and Natasha Anthony. In this post the authors introduce their new book.

Online education continues to see a rise in popularity among school-age students who otherwise cannot or do not wish to attend brick and mortar schools. Our new book, Teaching Children Online, is a guide for new and practicing online teachers whose goal is to make optimal use of the medium to teach such students. To do so, we provide numerous illustrations of effective, conversation-based online instructional practices along with commentary on the rationale and mechanics of these interactions. Our goal is to support online teachers in mastering the affordances of the online medium.

Current debate regarding “regular and substantive” contact in online learning centers on the amount and quality of teacher interaction with students in online courses. Publishers and for-profit schools would like to automate as much online instruction as they can for obvious reasons: quality educators cost money where programmed instruction – digital texts with automated assessments that simulate instruction – are a one-time expense. In an effort to preserve the critical role of instructional conversation – asynchronous and synchronous communication with teachers, peers and area experts – educators continue to agitate for “regular and substantive contact” with online instructors as a fundamental right and responsibility. Our hope is that Teaching Children Online will support educators in designing effective instructional conversations and thereby engage learners in the best instruction possible.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like the authors’ previous book Teaching Languages Online.

Living with Languages in a Multilingual World

This month we published The Multilingual Reality by Ajit K. Mohanty. In this post the author talks about the inspiration behind the book. 

Pinky’s dreams had evaporated. She dreamt of touching the sky in her school; as her parents put her there, the glitter in their eyes was reassuring for Pinky. The Saora girl was an unstoppable chatterbox; her home language, Saora, was polka dotted by some Odia, Hindi, English and other languages as she grew up and moved out into her neighbourhood, the weekly market place and the tribal festivals. But a few days in school and she gradually lost her chatter. Her parents were sad that Pinky did not want to go to school. “I don’t understand the teacher, I don’t understand the books”, she told her mother.

I met Pinky’s father during a visit to set up our MLE Plus project in the local primary school selected by the Government of Odisha as a new multilingual education (MLE) school in Saora. He ventilated his agony over Pinky’s unwillingness to go to school, but, he said, he understood. As a child, he also ran way from his school because then he did not know Odia, the school language. I told him that the school will teach in Saora in Grade 1 from the next year. Pinky had lost a year but was happy to be back. During one of my visits to her class, when Pinky was in Grade 2, I was amazed to observe her telling a Saora story for nearly 11 minutes while her friends listened with attention. She was definitely enjoying her school in her own language, something that millions of children from indigenous, tribal, minor and minoritized (ITM) languages in the world are deprived of.

Despite large-scale international movement of people, languages are no longer considered a medley for an interesting colourful world – one full of cultural hues, diversity, linguistic rights and pride. Schools and states (and sometimes communities and parents) ensure that many native languages are not passed on to the next generation. In 1907, Roosevelt cautioned the immigrants into the US and said “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language”. Now the world seems to have limited room for languages except the few dominant ones.

The world seems to be losing its colour to the devouring supermarket culture with limited brands dominating – limited languages, limited cultures, limited varieties. The multitude of languages used by our ancestors are lost or are on the verge of extinction. It is a tough battle between “language hegemony and discrimination” and the promises of “the cultural and educational richness of living with languages”.

I grew up in a beautiful multilingual world where I had the freedom to move naturally and spontaneously between people and languages, unconcerned by any boundaries and infringements. I did not have to bother about my own inadequacies in the languages I encountered, nor did I have to count the languages I knew or did not know. I was taught in my mother tongue and was gradually introduced to other languages that I embraced. Levels of my competence in languages around me did not have to be judged.

I grew up with an understanding that, like our fingerprints and DNA, we are supposed to be unique and diverse – that one size fits all is an aberration and is limiting to our linguistic and cultural diversity. If that be the case, why should millions like Pinky be deprived of being educated through their Mother Tongue?

This book is an account of my journey as a researcher and a coparticipant in the multilingual world from the perspectives of the people and communities at the margins – people being forced into a less diverse and more insipid world. Through my book, I have sought to share the complexity, the agony and the beauty of living with languages in a multilingual world. My book handles concerns and issues that have confronted me and the questions prompted by my encounters with the ITM communities and their education. The issues necessarily go beyond the question of languages and transcend the borders of India, because they are tied to questions of power, the processes of domination and subordination in all societies. The specific themes in the book echo concerns from the ITM perspectives – both local and global. The themes reflect some interrelated aspects of what it means to live with languages in a multilingual society.

Multilingualism is not about languages; it is about life and living, about lifestyles, about world views. This is what I realised growing up with many languages around me. These languages made my lifestyle possible. They were not just part of my expressive and receptive experience as I moved across my social world, they combined to make this world for me. I certainly did and still do have a mother tongue but my total experience was never fragmented by my mother tongue and other tongues.

You can contact Ajit Mohanty with any questions and comments at the following email address: ajitmohanty@gmail.com.

For  more information about this book please see our website.

International Literacy Day 2018

8th September is International Literacy Day, a day which is celebrated annually worldwide as an occasion to promote literacy for both children and adults and highlight its importance to individuals, communities and societies. To mark it, we reflect on our own memories of learning to read…

Laura

Growing up, bedtime stories were a highlight of every evening. My sister and I had very different tastes in books and so had a complicated rota for whose turn it was to choose the story and in whose bed the story would be read! I don’t really remember when we started reading ourselves rather than being read to but I do have clear memories of having the chicken pox when I was 7 and working my way through every single Famous Five book!

Flo

Before I could actually read, I memorised Peter Rabbit and would recite the whole thing, turning the pages in a pretty convincing imitation of reading! The first books I properly read on my own were the Josie Smith books by Magdalen Nabb. I loved these so much that my mum wrote a letter to the author and actually received a handwritten reply! Magdalen was particularly taken with my name as she was living in Florence at the time – “The City of Flowers”, which she lamented was increasingly more populated by cars than flowers…

Elinor

I don’t remember the first book that I read completely on my own but I do remember the first books that I read together with my parents. We had several books from the Puddle Lane series which had a simple sentence on one page for me to read and then a more detailed paragraph on the opposite page for my mum or dad to read. They were great as I felt like I was reading on my own but still getting a full story. I also enjoyed reading books by Shirley Hughes, particularly the Alfie stories and the book Dogger. Another favourite was Burglar Bill, which I can still quote lines from now and which I look forward to reading with my son when he’s a bit older. I loved reading books (or being read to) from a young age and always looked forward to bedtime stories.

Anna

I have always loved books, but one of my main motivations when learning to read was so I could decipher the very glamorous – and not very feminist – women’s magazines that were stuffed down the legs of my mum’s leather boots in the wardrobe in my parent’s bedroom, all red lipstick and impossibly large hair. In fact I always wanted to read things I probably shouldn’t: I can remember being fascinated by Shirley Conran’s Super Woman for quite some time; most of the text meant very little to me, but here was a book entirely about grown-up, real knowledge, to be read when no-one was looking.

Tommi

Reading has always been a very important part of family life for me, and the house I grew up in and my grandparents’ house were always full of books with shelves occupying most available wall space. We would have books regularly sent over from Finland for birthday and Christmas presents, and Mum, Dad, Naini, Mummi and Vaari, along with anyone else that could be cajoled, would read to us at bedtime. Our summer holidays driving across Europe to Finland always started a week or so before departure with a visit to George’s bookshop in Bristol, so we could select the books to keep us occupied in the back seat. I’ve written about Muumipeikko ja Pyrstötähti (Comet in Moominland) being one of the first books I remember reading on my own for a post on World Book Day so I won’t say any more about that here. The first book that I remember getting in “trouble” for reading was JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It was the classic story of a young child not realising that his parents could see the hunched shape and the torchlight visible through the blanket that seems so funny in hindsight. Dad later admitted that he would always let me “get away with it” for half an hour or so before telling me it was really time for lights out… I cannot imagine a life without the pleasure of reading, and a love of books must surely be one of the greatest gifts you can give any child.

Find out more about International Literacy Day on UNESCO’s website.

What Teachers Need to Know About Language

This month we published What Teachers Need to Know About Language edited by Carolyn Temple Adger, Catherine E. Snow and Donna Christian. In this post Catherine explains how teachers can better support children learning language if they know more about language themselves.

Michael Halliday (1993) distinguished three dimensions of the language user’s challenge: learning language, learning through language, and learning about languageLearning language is, of course, what almost every child manages to do – typically with considerable help from parents and adult caretakers. Children then go on to learning through language, again with lots of help from adults, including teachers, reading aloud to them, answering their questions, and explaining the world.

A basic premise of What Teachers Need to Know About Language is that teachers can support children learning language and learning through language better if they know more about language – how languages work, how languages differ, why a language sounds different in different places, how spelling develops, and what aspects of a language pose the greatest challenges to young readers and writers.

Learning about language offers endless puzzles and amusements. For example, languages differ in how sounds can group together. With regard to English, consider the simple case of consonant clusters. Which sequences of consonants are allowed in English pronunciation? We can say words beginning with a [k] sound like clock and crock, but not cmock or csock or cnock. We English speakers don’t say the sounds of K and N together at the beginning of a word, but English has lots of words spelled with those two letters at the beginning: knock, knob, knee, know, knife, knight, knave, knapsack, knit, and knead, among others, where the [k] sound is not pronounced. German and Dutch speakers know there would be no difficulty in pronouncing the K and N in all these words, since their languages have words spelled with the K-N cluster and they pronounce both sounds. But English speakers just don’t do it.

Why should we care? Because knowing that K-N-initial words are Germanic in origin, and that both letters are pronounced together in other Germanic languages but not in English, explains something about English spelling. Teachers should know enough not to tell their students “English spelling is illogical. Just memorize it.” Instead, with a little knowledge ABOUT language, they are in a position not only to understand spelling patterns (and their students’ errors) but also to explain the origins of the correct spellings.

Similarly, with a little knowledge about how native speakers of Spanish hear English sounds, seemingly bizarre spellings like ‘warer’ for water and ‘ironker’ for I don’t care resolve themselves into students’ masterful attempts to use what they know about spelling in Spanish to represent words and phrases in English. The T in English water and the D in I don’t are pronounced exactly like the R in Spanish pero. 

Supporting language learning and learning through language is a major goal for any teacher. A little bit of learning about language can help teachers work more effectively with their students in achieving that goal.

Catherine E. Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Contact: catherine_snow@gse.harvard.edu

Reference

Halliday, M. (1993). Towards a language-based theory of learning. In Linguistics and Education 5:93-116. Retrieved July 1, 2018 at http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/JuneJuly05/HallidayLangBased.pdf

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like The Bilingual Advantage edited by Rebecca M. Callahan and Patricia C. Gándara.

What can we Learn from Listening to the Voices of Refugee-background Students?

We recently published Educating Refugee-background Students edited by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry. In this post Shawna and Raichle tell us what we can learn from the voices included in this collection.

We are so excited about the opportunity to publish this new collection of educational research with Multilingual Matters! We’ve worked with refugee-background students in a variety of contexts: Raichle and Mary Jane have both engaged in research with adult education classrooms, and Shawna and Raichle currently collaborate with local school districts in Chittenden County, Vermont, which is a refugee resettlement community. Our book includes the work of researchers working with adolescent and adult students in seven countries, including those which have traditionally been among the top countries of resettlement – the United States, Australia, and Canada – as well as those with steadily increasing refugee populations: Germany, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

One of our goals for this book was to put student voices at the center – to help us see schools and communities from the perspective of students with refugee backgrounds. This not only helps us understand students’ educational experiences, it also helps to counter the deficit-based narratives that are prevalent about refugee-background students – narratives that position these learners as lacking in social, cultural, and linguistic capital. There has been a rise in anti-establishment and nationalist sentiment in the US and Europe resulting from anxieties about migration. Refugee migration itself is often framed as a ‘crisis’, thus removing the human element from the discussion. When choosing chapters for this collection, we looked for those that highlight the agency, resilience, and ‘funds of knowledge’ of refugee students.

What do student voices in this collection tell us? First is that many refugee-background students are doing exciting things with literacy, both inside and outside of the classroom. Bryan Ripley Crandall’s chapter, for example, includes excerpts of academic and creative writing from several young men of Somali-background. Some of this writing, such as a film script and an essay about a family heirloom, came out of students’ English classes, however, much of it was shared on social media. Technology plays an important role in literacy for students in Delila Omerbašić’s study as well, which shows how students use digital tools to display cultural and linguistic knowledge. By exploring what she refers to as the girls’ ‘digital landscapes of knowing’, Omerbašić reminds us that students have many skills and resources that we might leverage as assets in the classroom. A similar

A student’s request for feedback on her drawing

message comes across in Amanda Hiorth and Paul Molyneux’s chapter, which includes excerpts of student-generated drawings, which offer unique insight into the emotional and social experiences of Karen students, as they transition from a newcomer program into a secondary school.

We also learn that students can assert themselves in powerful ways, to promote social and educational change. Erin Papa utilizes a photovoice approach in her

A Cambodian student’s attempt to write her name in Khmer

collaborative research with Guatemalan and Cambodian youth. In this approach, the youth used photography and writing to share about their lives and to suggest ways in which the school district and community might be improved.  Amy Pucino’s chapter shows how Muslim Iraqi students respond to discriminatory remarks from their peers, using humor, logic, and body language as communicative strategies. These chapters remind us that if given the opportunity, students can use language and literacy to be change agents.

We have been so inspired by the creative approaches of students – and researchers working with them – in this collection. This work has energized us as teachers and scholars, and we can’t wait to hear from readers: How do you create space for student voices in your work?

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Talking About Global Migration by Theresa Catalano.

 

Language Textbooks: Windows to the World?

We recently published Representations of the World in Language Textbooks by Karen Risager. In this post Karen explains what inspired her to write the book and tells us what we can expect from reading it.

It is often said that language teaching opens windows to the world. Learning a new language is even sometimes said to further our development as world citizens. But when we look closely at textbooks (and other materials) used in language learning, what images of the world emerge?

I have always been interested in explicit and implicit cultural representations in textbooks, and one of the earliest examples I remember from my own experience is a chapter in a textbook for French produced in the 1970s (used in Denmark where I lived and still live): The book dealt with the (very dull!) daily life of a middle-class family in Paris consisting of a father, a mother and their children, a son and a (younger) daughter. In the chapter in question, there was a drawing of a small square near the family’s house. There were no people, but a dog and a cat were standing on the gound. The accompanying text ran approximately like this (in French): ‘The dog and the cat do not fight, for in France dogs and cats are good friends’. The microcosmos of the square thus suggested a country characterised by harmonious relations between groups that might very well be in conflict in other countries.

In Representations of the World in Language Textbooks I analyse cultural representations in six contemporary language textbooks (used in Denmark), one for each of the languages English, German, French, Spanish, Danish and Esperanto. I have chosen to take the idea of the ‘world’ literally, that is, while I examine representations of the respective target language countries, I also examine representations of the world at large, the planet: Which regions of the planet do the textbooks refer to, directly or indirectly? Do they take up global issues, such as climate change, or inequality? Do they touch on transnational processes, such as migrations, or the worldwide use of IT?

My professional background is both in languages (sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language education) and in cultural studies (international development studies, intercultural studies, studies of migration). Therefore, it is important for me to emphasise that the analysis of cultural representations in textbooks is greatly furthered if one is aware of which theories of culture and society one draws on. In the book I distinguish between five theoretical approaches:

  • National studies
  • Citizenship education studies
  • Cultural studies
  • Postcolonial studies
  • Transnational studies

Each of these approaches gives rise to a number of analytical questions concerning the cultural and social universe of the textbooks.

Among the numerous results of the analyses of the six textbooks is that the enormous continent of Africa, encompassing a large number of countries, ethnicities, issues and inequalities etc., is almost invisible – with some exceptions. So one may say that the textbooks examined, with all their qualities, are certainly not windows to Africa.

 

Karen Risager, Professor Emerita, Intercultural Studies, Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University, Denmark, risager@ruc.dk

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Teaching Intercultural Competence Across the Age Range edited by Manuela Wagner, Dorie Conlon Perugini and Michael Byram.

 

The Importance of Language Teacher Psychology

This month we published Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. In this post, the book’s editors introduce us to the collection.

Language learners are the end recipients who should benefit from everything we do, so it is perhaps unsurprising that they have been the focus of much of our work as language educators. However, as we explored the teacher-learner relationship, we have become aware that teacher psychology can also have considerable influence on the teachers’ ability to teach as effectively and creatively as possible, as well as on their learners’ psychology. But what do we really know about teachers’ motivations, their emotions, wellbeing, and thinking?

As we looked more closely at what has been published to date, we did find some fascinating, relatively well-explored lines of inquiry, but we also discovered that there was not nearly the same depth, breadth or complexity of research that exists for learners and their psychologies. We felt that this gap was disconcerting, especially in the light of the challenges within the teaching profession, and we were keen to explore how the constructs that were being used in language learner psychology might also apply to teachers. It was encouraging that our concerns and motivations for this volume were shared by other scholars in the field, whose enthusiastic response to our invitation has helped to make this such a rich and diverse collection.

The structure of this book reflects these concerns and attempts to address them. The first few chapters offer new insights into aspects of language teacher psychology that have already received some attention in research, such as motivation and identity. The next set of contributions broadens the agenda by looking into aspects that have only more recently begun to be examined. The third part of the book explores a relatively new line of inquiry considering how insights from positive psychology can be applied to language teaching. The final chapter illustrates how language teacher psychology can be studied as an integrated whole and not just as a collection of fragmented constructs.

As editors, we feel privileged to have worked with such great scholars who contributed their time and insights to the collection. We hope that readers derive as much enjoyment as we did by engaging with the chapters that make up the book. We also hope that it generates more research, more discussion, and more awareness of the importance of language teacher psychology. Indeed, the new book series Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching, would welcome contributions that extend this discussion. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the book, you might want to take a look at the table of contents which are found at the bottom of this page.

Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas

If you found this interesting, you may be interested in Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. You can also find more information on Language Teacher Psychology on our website.

Linking Language Learning and Intercultural Learning

We recently published Developing Intercultural Perspectives on Language Use by Troy McConachy. In this post Troy explains his motivation for writing the book and  introduces its main themes.

These days, there is a lot of talk about the need to develop intercultural capabilities within the foreign language classroom. Unfortunately, language teacher training programs rarely focus on culture, and the whole idea can be daunting to many. My main motivation for writing this book was to create a fresh theoretical perspective on the link between language learning and intercultural learning that was transparent not only to applied linguists but also to language teachers. I have aimed to combine theoretical argumentation with fine-grained analysis of classroom interactions to convince teachers that intercultural learning is something achievable within the foreign language classroom.

In the book, I put forward the viewpoint that language classrooms are not simply places where learners ‘acquire’ the ability to map together linguistic forms and meanings, but are places where learners become socialized into particular perspectives on what language is, how it functions in human life, and how it relates to culture. Importantly, classrooms are places where learners develop their ability to engage with language in analytic and reflective ways. I use the notion of ‘intercultural perspective on language use’ to represent a form of intercultural learning by which learners develop sensitivity to the role of cultural norms, assumptions, and values in how meanings are created in spoken interaction.

Although such a form of learning might sound difficult to achieve, I show how teachers can exploit commonplace resources to encourage students to reflect on how communication happens and how they personally engage with communicative resources of the L1 and L2. Language learning materials don’t need to be perfect in order to be meaningful for intercultural learning. Neither do teachers need to be cultural specialists in order to help promote intercultural learning. But they do need the ability to construct questions that help learners analytically and reflectively engage with representations of language and culture and to question what they take for granted, such as what it means to be polite, friendly, empathetic etc. in communication. In this book, I carefully analyse such questioning strategies.

Through this book, I hope to empower both teachers and learners to draw on their own knowledge and experiences as resources for deepening intercultural learning.

Troy McConachy, Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, T.McConachy@warwick.ac.uk

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like From Principles to Practice in Education for Intercultural Citizenship edited by Michael Byram, Irina Golubeva, Han Hui and Manuela Wagner.

Making an Impact: Language Teachers that Left an Impression

Next month we will be publishing Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. The book begins with an invitation to the reader to reflect on their own memories of language learning: “If you think back to your language learning at school, you might remember specific tasks or projects you did, but, even more likely, you will remember your teachers.” This sparked a conversation in our office about language teachers we’ve encountered over the years, which we thought would make for an interesting blog post. Here are some of Laura, Flo and Tommi’s reflections on the language teachers that have stuck with them. 

Laura

My first ever French teacher was obsessed with songs. Every single unit of vocabulary was accompanied by a song and action routine that we all had to learn and perform to the class. I imagine that for the quieter students that must have been a terrifying experience but for the rest of us it was great fun. The songs were incredibly catchy and have stuck with me and my school friends…so much so that we can still recite them off by heart, even 20 years later!

When I was in 6th Form I had French first thing on a Monday morning – not the best time of the week for teenagers! Our teacher came up with the idea that we’d take it in turns to bake a cake over the weekend and bring it in to share with the class that lesson. It was a brilliant idea – not only were we more enthusiastic about coming to class but it also brought us closer together as a group as we were more relaxed while chatting over cake. Some even tried their hand at baking French specialities!

My school German teacher made sure that lessons went well beyond the syllabus. She took the time to get to know us as individuals and often recommended German films and books that she thought we’d like. She made me realise that there’s so much more to studying a language than the topics in the textbook and that languages stretch far beyond the classroom walls. It was also a very good way to get us to engage with German outside lesson time too!

When I was on my year abroad in France I lived with some Spanish students. Over the course of the year they made sure that I learnt basic Spanish, not through formal instruction, but by making sure that they used Spanish as we did things together, such as cooking. Over time I picked up all sorts of vocabulary which has stuck with me since, including the phrase “¿Dónde están mis llaves?” (“Where are my keys?”) which was used on a near daily basis by one forgetful housemate!

Flo

During my year abroad I studied Russian at a French university. The course was taught by two teachers – the first was terrifying: incredibly strict with zero tolerance for mistakes. She called me “the foreigner” for the first few weeks, until I got so fed up I wrote my name in huge letters at the top of my essay in the hope she would get the hint. This was juxtaposed completely by the other teacher, who was kind, patient and very understanding of my predicament as a British student in a French classroom learning Russian! He made many allowances for my odd-sounding Russian to French translations and always made sure I understood definitions, often asking me to provide the class with the English translation, which helped me feel less useless! I really appreciated his acknowledgement and thoughtfulness, which meant I never felt lost or excluded from his lessons.

I have French lessons once a week and it’s probably my best language learning experience so far. My teacher has a great sense of humour, is patient, reassuring, and full of praise but never lets mistakes go unchecked. He’s obviously passionate about French culture and during our conversations he often plays us clips from French films, shows us books and photographs or plays songs. The atmosphere in his classroom is very egalitarian – there’s no tangible student/teacher divide and he is quick to be self-deprecating about his own English, which levels the playing field and reminds us that actually we’re all learners.

Tommi

My A-Level German teacher at school recognised that I hated grammar tables and all of that formal language learning. He would quite often set the class an exercise to do with “der, die, das, die” or whatever. Noticing that I could never really get going at all, he would then come over and chat to me (in German) quite casually for 5-10 minutes, then he would finish with “right, you are now 10 minutes behind the rest of the class, you’d better get some work done”. I suspect I learned more German in those chats than I ever did from grammar tables…

My Italian teacher at Cultura Italiana in Bologna sat with me one day for a private lesson. During the lesson, she would talk, and I would sit leaning back with my arms folded across my chest. Eventually she grew exasperated and said “Tommi, do you care about any of this?” to which I replied “of course I do! I am listening very carefully!” “Argh, no, if you want to learn Italian you mustn’t listen, you need to lean forward, interrupt me and talk over me, that way I will know you want to be part of the conversation! We often go out, everyone talks at the same time, if you are not always saying something I will just assume you are bored and want to be somewhere else!”

For more information about the book that inspired this post, please see our website.