What’s Your Story? – Learning a Language as an Adult by Katie Burgess

Katie Burgess
Katie Burgess

I had my share of language learning experience as a child. This is the time when you don’t question the grammar rules or their exceptions, when it’s perfectly okay to make mistakes, be corrected or a tad embarrassed in front of a whole class because you don’t really care.

Then you grow up… All of a sudden, you are conscious of making mistakes, you want to understand the logic behind every grammar rule and yes, and you will be mortified when making mistakes. Why? Because you are an adult, an educated person expressing yourself at a level of a young child and that is just disturbing: you have your ego protesting and screaming: hey, I am not stupid!

I have been learning Chinese and that is not an easy task. Set aside the tones – it’s  like learning to sing  – the wide variety of dialects, not to mention  the many words that sound alike, with different meanings, of course. So while you are trying to say I am a teacher you might be actually saying I am an old rat…

So naturally, most the time when I am mingling with the locals, trying to get the right breakfast on the street, I do feel like a small child – however, and not a smart one…

It all ended when Frank, a well-educated engineer started taking English classes, at a beginners level.

I sensed his frustration, because he really wanted to express himself but couldn’t. How could he? He had just started his journey of learning English at the age of 38.

And last week, after failing to get his message across, he just burst out: “I am stupid! I like 5-year-old!” And that’s when it hit me: I did understand his frustration because I have been feeling the same way.

(Image taken from  http://finance.yahoo.com)
(Image taken from http://finance.yahoo.com)

So I told him: “Yes, you are right: you do sound like a 5-year-old. But that’s okay! Because you are learning! It will get better, I promise. Then I told him: “I also am a 5-year-old… “– in Chinese…

He smiled and was grateful. I assured him: nobody thinks he is stupid, it’s only the beginning.

Frank also helped me, inadvertently. I no longer care if a local gives me that weird look,  or even laughs at my fragile attempt to express myself in Chinese. I just gently remind myself: “It’s okay. It will only get better!”

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ECP (English for Culinary Purposes)!

This is a bit what mine looks like - I pinch it around the edges and make little cuts n top and all the goodness form the apples comes out! (Image taken from http://www.bettycrockr.com)
This is a bit what mine looks like – I pinch it around the edges, make little cuts on top and all the goodness from the apples comes out! (Image taken from http://www.bettycrocker.com)

One thing I love about teaching is that we can change the way we teach whenever we feel the need to and we can always get new ideas, which we can then implement in our classes!

I love teaching specialised English, or ESP (English for Specific Purposes) – for instance, English for Accounting, English for Hair Salons, Aviation English, anything! I also learn along with the students.

On to our story now: for the past few months I have been teaching a wonderful lady I was very fortunate to meet about a month after I came to Switzerland 6 years ago – I started teaching her son (who is still my student and is a brilliant young man). She really supported me in the beginning and still does – and now I am very lucky to teach her! I love her enthusiasm for learning.

A couple of weeks ago, during our lesson, we were talking about the food from our countries and in general what we like to cook – when we reached the topic of Thanksgiving, she asked me what some typical dishes are for that day and I mentioned my apple pie. Now, my apple pie is a funny story, because my family loves it, but I am the only one who cannot eat – I am allergic to apples! However, I still make it and everyone enjoys it.

Anyway, a week later, my student came back and asked whether I could teach her how to make apple pie. As an exception, we would have the lesson at her house and we would cook together! She was so kind as to drive me to and from her house back to my school, and she bought all the ingredients as soon as I gave her the recipe.

So the week after we were at her lovely home, baking! We learned so much new vocabulary together and she practised her speaking skills in a different environment from the classroom. She really enjoyed it and so did I! She was very happy to tell me about the cuisine in her country, experiences she has had in other countries…all in English!

I really loved this experience, as it was something completely new for me and I am happy we did it! It actually gave me ideas for other lessons as well…let’s see how they go!

(If you want to try it out, here is the recipe!)

My Language Learning Part 1 – Lights, Camera, Action!

(Image taken from erbilfilmfestival.org)
(Image taken from erbilfilmfestival.org)

I have mentioned in previous blog posts that ever since I came to Switzerland, I have been learning German – I love languages, and I think that being able to communicate in the language of the country you live in is great, makes your life easier, and opens new doors for reading more and understanding films, taking part in discussions and so on. Plus, it is respectful to the country and people who have welcomed us.

After my very first visit to Istanbul in late 2012, I totally fell in love with the people, the country and the language so I thought about starting to learn Turkish as well. I must admit, it is one of the most difficult languages I have undertaken, but I love the sound, the poetic meanings words and expressions can take, so I am going to continue and I really want to learn!

I would never have done it without the help of my good friend and teacher, Dinçer Demir, who very patiently teaches me on Skype once a week. I also try to listen to songs on YouTube, make out the words and sounds that the language has. Sometimes, it gets really hard and I think of the usual I-don’t-live-in-the-country-so-my-exposure-is-low excuse. I have decided to stop that, and get as much exposure as possible.

Last Sunday, I was listening to a beautiful Turkish song a good friend, Esra Aydın, had posted on Facebook, and now YouTube has a new (at least I have just discovered it) function called AutoPlay, which immediately starts a new song of the same genre you were listening to before. So, another song came up, a beautiful one, and I saw that is was part of the soundtrack of a film, called Evim Sensin (You Are My Home). I thought, hey great idea, why don’t I try to watch this film and see what I get from it language-wise? It is the typical girl-meets-boy storyline, so it cannot be so difficult to start with. Oh my, I had so many difficulties but I am happy I watched it for various reasons.

  • I realised that I understand much more than I thought – even though my speaking still needs a lot of work, but that is the last stage of a language that we can reach proficiency in, I believe and I always see it in my students as well.
  • The typical girl-meets-boy storyline proved to be even harder than I thought, because the story was so complicated and had ups and downs. Of course, the actors’ body language helps a lot, but very often I found myself wondering, what they had just said and the man was deep in thought, while the girl was still happy and smiling, or why the girl had gone to the hotel – was that her husband’s mother she was going to find there?
  • It really helped that the movie did not have subtitles, as I was under pressure, let’s say, to comprehend on my own. I guess if I do this often, I will improve. This first time, though, was very difficult – but I learned a lot of new words, connecting them to the looks on their faces, gestures or if they were pointing at something or holding it.
  • I learned a lot of new things about the culture, like a great singer called Sezen Aksu, who sings one of the songs in the soundtrack. She is a living legend in Turkey and it was great to get to know more about her and her work! Dinçer also does that in our lessons – he teaches me a lot about the culture as well, and I really appreciate that, as I believe culture is an integral part of language learning and I do the same with my own students, whether I am teaching them English, or Greek.

I will be blogging about German and Turkish language learning throughout the year, different methods I will be trying out, the successes (I hope) and the problems I will be facing along the way. Are you learning a language? Feel free to share your experiences and ideas with me and our community of educators and students!

Here is the beautiful song that led me to the film, which in turn led me to a new part of language learning! A great film by the way, produced, written, music composed for and sung by another new to me Turkish actor/singer, Özcan Deniz.

 

 

Work and Motivation – A Lesson Based on Dan Ariely’s TED Talk

Dan Ariely (Photo from YouTube)

Like many educators I interact with, I really love TED Talks. Some of them are really very good, some inspiring – and some can be used in class too! I love that we can not only watch (parts of the) videos with students, but each video has an interactive transcript (in many languages as well!).

I first found out about Dan Ariely three years ago, when a student of mine at a bank was raving about Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational. He told me what it was about – I read it and loved it. He inspired me especially when I found out he had been a burn patient and all the things he did to keep himself motivated in such a truly difficult situation.

Needless to say, I have watched almost all of his talks and read lots of his material. In today’s class, we watched the first 6-7 minutes of Ariely’s talk.

  • Before that though, we talked about what motivates us either to work or study or both (they work in full-time jobs and study full-time too – I share their agony as I am doing a MA too!). I made a wordweb on the blackboard and we write down all factors around the central idea of motivation and feeling good about what we do.

 

20170309_211719

  • We then watched the video fragment, talked about it and we especially liked the experiment with the Lego. It was a great idea! They gave people Lego pieces to build Bionicles for three dollars. They gradually reduced the amount, while secretly destroying the creations and giving them back the same pieces to build a ‘different’ Bionicle.
  • I then gave them part of the transcript, from which I had removed words that they had to fill in, and also removed words that had to be made into derivatives of other words (they will be examined on Reading Comprehension in October, but I believe it is equally important  for them to read and comprehend in their work and studies as well, and learn new vocabulary and enhance the words they already know. I like them to be able to expand their skills into their everyday lives as well and not only to concentrate on the exam). Here is the document with the gaps and the answer key.
  • We discussed any problems they had with the text and also did some speaking about motivation that came up on the spot.
  • As a final task in class, I gave them a topic to write a proposal on (it is at the end of the gap-fill document).

Here is Dan in action: 

Feel free to leave a comment, how you would use or have used TED talks, or any other ideas you come up with and wish to share!

Presentations in English – The Students Take the Floor!

I would like to introduce you to a group of 9 talented young ladies : )

Some Saturdays a month I teach them at our local college, the KBZ. They attend a seven-hour course in English (and other subjects, such as Finance, Correspondence in German, Computing and others), in order to be qualified PAs (Personal Assistants) in companies, to CEOs, chairpeople and directors. I truly admire them because apart from three days a week of courses, homework and studying, they also work, do a lot of activities, have families, personal lives, hobbies and even so, they are always full of energy! Our course starts at 07:35 am and finishes at 13:45 pm.

This course will go on for two years, and they will sit an exam. Their English exam includes a lot of parts, such as reading comprehension, translation (German into English and vice versa) and they will also be asked to make a presentation. Today, we prepared our first presentation! I chose a very broad, general, simple topic, as their first. I wanted to give them almost no directions apart from the topic, which was: Who is the ideal employee? They gave me so many ideas for other classes as well. I love when the students take ownership of the learning process! This is all theirs, and I would love to share their work with you all (having obtained permission first).

The only other thing apart from the topic that I did was provide them with materials, so they could present any way they liked.

materials kbz

I split them in pairs and a small group (unfortunately two were absent today and hope they feel better soon!) and gave them about 25-30 minutes to prepare for an 8-minute presentation. As they were preparing, I went around with a notepad writing down all the amazing language they were using, making small corrections and helping out if needed. I cannot even begin to describe their enthusiasm as they came up with ideas, what materials to use and who would say what. So in the end, we had three amazing and varied presentations. Let’s have a look in the order that they were presented:

The Flowchart

These ladies took blank sheets of A4 paper and made a flow chart, which they attached to the wall with magnets. I loved how they followed their own way of presentation – via the use of questions. They tried to find the ideal employee by asking us questions, and made it clear that the answers would come from us – which I thought was a great way of approaching such a broad subject.

Here is their flowchart:

marliessandra

The Board Display

This group of three ladies chose the chalkboard to write down bullet points, which they then analysed (each one took a bullet point in order, explained why they had chosen it and also gave us examples!). I loved this way of presenting as well.

Here is their presentation:

mayachriskim

The Poster Presentation

These two ladies used the poster paper. They brainstormed any words or phrases they could think of when taking the ideal employee into consideration, and wrote them in different colours, which made the points stand out. It was colourful and a great visual aid for their presentation! Then they stuck the poster to the wall with magnets and explained each point, which they also illustrated with examples.

andrearenata

I can’t wait to explore many more topics with them and other types of presentations as well. I am so grateful because they are so motivated and willing to learn, that is absolutely contagious for me too! I will be sharing more on the blog.

A little message for them – and for all my students:

recite-16729-1517016132-irzooj

Goal 5: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone #30GoalsEdu

Part of my German homework : )
Part of my German homework : )

As an educator and as many also uphold, learning is key to our careers and development in the field. I have been learning various things during my teaching career so far: new skills, tools to use, methods and so on, but until I moved to Switzerland four years ago, I had never tried to learn another language. I never had to, because English and Greek was enough for me before. This was a completely wrong perception I had, as learning languages are not only about the place you live, or just asking for something in another language. I have come to understand it is much more than that.

When I first came here, I started learning German but then I had to stop, with the excuse (it was true back then) that I was getting more and more work and I had no time. Then, Zug is a very international city, so even when I start to speak German with people, they immediately pick up on my English accent and most of them immediately switch to English. Even when I insist they switch back to German, they keep speaking in English – that is how polite they are!

Last year, in the college that I teach twice a week, we had to attend two obligatory courses on pedagogy and methodology…in German. The night before the first course I hardly slept. Why am I doing this? I thought. I will never manage to do it. I will disappoint my director (special thanks to Philipp Hediger, who has believed in me and supported me since day one – we are very lucky to have him, as he has supported our professional development to a great extent) and myself. I can’t speak or write in German and never will.

I did attend both courses, and I should say, that neither was a walk in the park – we had homework, which my classmates could do in half an hour – I needed seven or eight hours for the same amount. The course lasted eight hours each time, the other was for three hours at a time – for me, it was not only learning about methodology and pedagogy, I was literally being immersed into the language. I learned a great deal in those three months! I could not believe it. I pressured myself, pushed myself to the limits, had great classmates who would explain to me (in German) when I didn’t understand something and great teachers (another huge thank you to Max Woodtli, my instructor).

This year I have decided, along with my sister, to start proper German lessons. Even though we speak quite well now and understand more than we think sometimes, we have started everything from the beginning and we are immensely enjoying it! Our teacher is supporting us every step of the way and is so passionate, we truly expect every lesson to come and learn from her. I have decided to step out of my comfort zone in English and tackle German. And you know what? I am also going to restart my Turkish lessons! I feel like my eyes are open and I can see my new home in a different light – I can talk to people, I can write and I can pick up German books in the bookstore and read! Above all, I feel that I can understand my students – how they feel, how they approach learning languages, the challenges they face in English and how they can overcome them.

Through the Eyes of the Student Tutors: Yeditepe University Writing Center by Deniz Aryay & Şehnaz Ceren Cessur

Deniz and Ceren giving a presentation on Academic Writing
Deniz and Ceren giving a presentation on Academic Writing

I am very honoured to have this blog post by two amazing young ladies, Deniz Aryay & Şehnaz Ceren Cessur, who are student tutors in the ELT Department of Yeditepe University. I was introduced to them by their outstanding professor, Ece Sevgi – and was delighted to meet them in person at the ISTEK ELT Conference in Istanbul, last April. Here, Deniz and Ceren write about the Writing Center they have in their university, an amazing programme! Over to Deniz and Ceren, who will surely become great educators.

Yeditepe University in Istanbul is one of the most prestigious universities that tries its best to help its students prepare for their professional lives. It is an English-medium university.  This has its own downsides and difficulties since some of the students enter the university with no or little knowledge of English. Even if they spend a few semesters in preparatory classes trying to master English as a foreign language, they may not become proficient enough to cope with the language level in their classes.

This is the reason why some universities here in Turkey have followed the lead of their counterparts in other countries and established Writing Centers in the aim of fostering the students’ language ability in one of the productive skills, writing. Writing Center at Yeditepe University is a unit which helps students by editing their written work, giving feedback, and guiding them to correct their language mistakes. The use of error code, multiple drafts, and progress tracking system aims to develop learner autonomy and raise awareness about the points to consider in the students’ written work.

Yeditepe University Writing Center does not only help students but also supports academicians at the university. It offers a free edit service to support and encourage academic publications in any field. It is the only unit at the university that organizes Creative Writing Contests. We now have a brand new website (http://writingcenter.yeditepe.edu.tr/) where you can find information about the Writing Center, and a wiki space (http://yuwritingcenter.wikispaces.com/) where we post written tutorials about academic writing. To us, having a Writing Center is more than a luxury; it is an essential unit at a university teaching in English in a non-English speaking community.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall
Mirror Mirror on the Wall (From left to right: Secil Uygungil, Eda Demirci, Merve Karaca and Ezgi Ozel)

While opening a Writing Center is not an original idea, Yeditepe University Writing Center has done something for the first time by allowing its students to become members of this family during the course of their studies. The Student-Tutor Program is a pioneer programme in this field, and has significant benefits for the chosen students. These selected student tutors, who are students of English Language Teaching, and Translation and Interpreting Studies Departments work voluntarily at the Writing Center Office to help prep and undergraduate students with their written assignments. They are chosen meticulously with a suggestion from their Academic Writing instructor, and then receive training on how to give written feedback before they start offering this service at the Writing Center.

Under the supervision of experienced tutors working for the Writing Center, student tutors also prepare and present academic writing workshops for the university students and faculty. You can meet many of our student tutors at ELT conferences held in Istanbul. Four of our student tutors, for example, were concurrent keynote speakers at ISTEK ELT 2013 Conference with their talk Mirror Mirror on the Wall…, and shared the stage with Ken Wilson, Herbert Puchta, Teresa Doğuelli, and Jamie Keddie.