Dr François Grosjean interviews Eva Hoffman: Lost in Translation

grosjean_francois-200x300I am very honoured to have Dr François Grosjean on my blog today, interviewing Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation, originally for Psychology Today. A huge thank you to Dr Grosjean for sharing his interview!

About Dr Grosjean:

Professor Grosjean  received his degrees up to the Doctorat d’État from the University of Paris, France. He started his academic career at the University of Paris 8 and then left for the United States in 1974 where he taught and did research in psycholinguistics at Northeastern University, Boston. While at Northeastern he was also a Research Affiliate at the Speech Communication Laboratory at MIT. In 1987, he was appointed professor at Neuchâtel University, Switzerland, where he founded the Language and Speech Processing Laboratory. He has lectured occasionally at the Universities of Basel, Zurich and Oxford. In 1998, he cofounded Bilingualism: Language and Cognition (Cambridge University Press).
His domains of interest are the perception, comprehension and production of speech, bilingualism and biculturalism, sign language and the bilingualism of the deaf, the evaluation of speech comprehension in aphasic patients, as well as the modeling of language processing.

Here is the interview:

Back in 1989, Eva Hoffman published her first book, Lost in Translation, a memoir about immigration, language loss, second language acquisition, and discovering a new land and a different culture. Her autobiography was to have a worldwide success – the Nobel prize winner Czeslaw Milosz called it “graceful and profound” – and it helped launch a new genre, the language memoir. To celebrate this blog’s fifth anniversary, it was only fitting that we should ask Eva Hoffman if she would answer a few questions. She very kindly accepted to do so and we wish to thank her wholeheartedly.

More than a quarter of a century has gone by since you published Lost in Translation. How do you consider it now after all these years and the success it has had?

Occasionally, I’ve had to go back to it and reread parts of it – and I find that I have a double reaction: One is to wonder who wrote it; and the other is to think, “This is pretty good.” The success of the book was initially entirely amazing to me. When I was writing it, I didn’t know if it would be published, or whether anyone would understand, or care about, the experience I was trying to describe – the internal journey involved in emigration, and the process of translating yourself into another language and culture. But since then, of course, emigration and other cross-national movements have become one of the central phenomena of our time; and it seems that I identified something about that experience which many others understand — perhaps in part, because I was writing about it innocently, so to speak; that is, by trying to capture my own perceptions as directly as possible, without thinking about previous literary models, or worrying about the book’s reception. What can I say, I was lucky.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

 

 

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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.

 

 

A Journey in Education – An Interview with Annie Tsai

Annie Tsai
Annie Tsai

About a year ago, I connected online with a very talented young lady – a teacher in Taiwan who is well-known on social media for her sharing and passion for education. May I present: Annie Tsai!

Annie Tsai had worked for a few radio stations as a copywriter but later on changed her career as an EFL teacher. After being in the same position for 9 years at a public elementary school, she decided to make a change again and she’s currently a 3rd grade homeroom teacher. She’s based in Taiwan but always on the track of going somewhere overseas. Other than being involved in local teacher’s training program, she’s also passionate in backpacking and trying her best to bring the world to her class. She has won a scholarship from Cambridge Global Teacher’s Essay Competition and she was also the winner of 2011 Everybody Up Global Sing-along Competition sponsored by Oxford University Press.

Vicky: Annie, I am so happy you have accepted to be interviewed on my blog. We have never met in person, however, from our connection on social media I have seen all the great things you do in your teaching and that is a huge reason why I wanted you to share everything with us!

Annie:  Thank you! I have enjoyed seeing your side of the world via FB. I think this is one of the best parts of being connected via social media. A group of people, albeit never met in real life, share the same passion and profession, which is the living proof of why learning a foreign language makes us a better person in so many levels. We learn to share and communicate and our perspectives can be so much more versatile in this way. It helps to have a clear mind, especially for educators joggling between teaching and management.

Vicky: How true! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – because it is so interesting to see their journeys entering education. How did you decide to join this field?

Annie: I had worked as a copywriter/planner at a couple of radio stations before changing lanes. In my last year at the media industry, I did some serious thinking of my future if I should continue to stay on the same path. That was the same year when the Taiwanese government decided to start the English education from elementary level. With my mom’s strong suggestion, I took the entrance exam they held and passed with flying colours. Thinking back now, it is a life-changing opportunity I hadn’t expected, considering my childhood memory with school wasn’t that rosy and shining. I have to admit that becoming a teacher is the most rewarding and best decision I’ve ever made in my life. It makes me learn more about my strength and weakness. It is the kind of profession that makes you examine your personality and rationale in fairly frequent bases. As a person who had spent the better half of her career life in the media industry, I think it is fair to say that I’ve seen the scenery from both sides. Teaching is a highly self-motivated trade and it is more than often being misunderstood or underestimated by the public. Teaching, however, also brings undescribed joy of reward for numerous people. The longer I stayed in this profession, the more I realized that teachers can play far more important roles in the mini-society they walk in every day. Changes that last for a lifetime may start from a classroom.

Vicky: Wow! What an interesting journey. And in your teaching career so far, you teach Young Learners. What do you enjoy the most about these ages, and what are the challenges?

Annie:  Ah, the possibilities there can be and the generosity they can offer is the most important present and privilege a teacher may receive! I love helping these little people to learn the world as I know and knowing that the world is so big that every one of us might see only a fraction of it. The only way to learn the world is to see it in your own eyes. Thus it is a joyful achievement if you get the key to communicate with people from other parts of the world.  Often times my young learners surprise me in cute yet awkward moments. Here’s an example, being neighbored with an Air Force base means we all get used to the helicopter noise. At the beginning of this semester, several days after we covered the word helicopter, my children shout the word a few times during the class whenever they heard the whirling noise. Now of course I was a bit annoyed with the interruptions, but at the same time, it was such a memorable moment to see how they were so proud of themselves and they’ve made such a positive and strong connection with the foreign language.

Annie's kids involved in projects
Annie’s kids involved in projects

The challenges are always there but they can be presents as well. Since Taiwan is an EFL country, it is almost impossible to have sufficient and positive English exposure once pupils leave English class. And the education policy in regards of foreign language often fails to meet the needs of real teaching scenes. During my prior 9-year stint as an EFL subject teacher, I see my students twice every week, with only a 40-minute block in each session. Without effective and extensive schemes to help these young children to review the content, the language material can hardly sank in their brains. To make things harder to manage, classes always come in diverse abilities and I usually have around 300 students to teach annually.

The English teaching industry has always been an issue in the spotlight in Taiwan.  It is true that most people found it difficult to master the language to the level of real communication. It is also true that most people still see English as a subject to learn rather than a tool to master. Thus it is common for people to simply give up and steer away from anything related to English once the pressure of tests and exams are out of the picture. So my hope in switching from an EFL subject teacher to a homeroom teacher is to expend the horizon of teaching a foreign language. I believe that by planting the seeds in the earlier stage can motivates them to make an effort of keeping the language. Eventually it may trigger their minds in exploring the world years later.

Finally, I’d like to share that the difficult teaching context may be inspirational sometimes.  You wouldn’t try so hard to adjust and adapt if all things are good. That’s also one of the things I love about teaching. It is a comparatively secured profession in making renovations.

Vicky: That’s a beautiful statement you just made. And thank you for sharing your experiences with your young learners, and giving us some insight into the EFL context in Taiwan as well! So interesting.

Would you ever consider teaching adults? Have you ever done it?

Annie: Oops, sorry, I have very limited experiences in teaching adults.

Vicky: That’s fine! Let’s move on to something different now. You share and interact a lot on social media, and that is how we actually got to know each other. Do you think social media help educators, and if yes, how?

Annie:  I found social media very helpful in regards to connecting and sharing. It’s also a great platform for information and subjective perspectives.  It is especially beneficial for EFL teachers as they often play the role as the ambassadors of each respective culture. Such characteristic broaden the room for thinking and the definition of better practice of teaching. Even in a country as petite as Taiwan, the resources and intel from different corners of the island can be quite diverse. I’ve learned so much information from my peer via FB and it works like therapy groups sometimes! Social networking helps closing the gap between teachers and at the same time it weaves in new threads of thinking to the existing concept.

Annie's kids planning to send materials to Aphro's kids!
Annie’s kids planning to send materials to Aphro’s kids!

To make things more exciting, platforms like Twitter, FB and Pinterest, involves teachers in different time zones and together we get to converse in the comfort of our own sofa. Additionally, professional and independent EFL FB pages such as iTDi also bring in the self-helped professional development courses that I can easily enrolled and learn in my own pace. The interactions performed in these virtual spaces, are more often than not effective and to the point. Perspectives and knowledge are no longer limited in geography. That’s the most fascinating part of all these virtual networking, just like the way I’m doing an interview with you now!

Vicky: Isn’t it great? I am thrilled about this! And in addition, you are part of a fantastic international programme – your kids are pen pals with another class in Greece, that of Aphrodite Giouris, who is in Larissa. How did this project start? What do you do?

Annie:  I came across Aphro via Facebook; I think we have mutual friends and after several chats back and forth, we decided to partner our classes and do a series of exchanges. For my students, Greece is just as ‘familiar’ and ‘exotic’ as those Greek gods and goddess they read in the books. The project enables my children to apply the language with a purpose. They no longer see Greece just another far-away country on the map. It has become very real and intriguing to understand that there are kids thousands of miles away learning the same language just like us.  Aphro and I also tried our best to match our kids from both sides and make sure each of them eventually receive something specifically for him or her. The experiences are phenomena as most of them have never received any hand-written letter before, let along anything from a foreign country!

I have personally learned and enjoy the process all the way as this project gives me a hands-on opportunity to design an integrated course just right for my class. It’s a great practice to test a teachers’ understanding of teaching material and how to best perform them in the making of the project.

Vicky: I look forward to seeing more and how it evolves! It truly caught my interest since day one and think it is a great opportunity for the kids to broaden their knowledge, both in culture and the language. Now to the future: what is one of your dreams about your teaching in the next few years?

Annie: As a rookie homeroom teacher, it means that I’ll have to be more familiar with other main subjects such as Mandarin and math. I’d like to take advantage of my new teaching context to build a more integrated curriculum. With more time and fewer pupils, I’m thinking about more shared reading experiences and eventually have at least a class drama annually. I’m also hoping for opportunities such as international competitions/networks to bring my children to the wider communities of the world.

As a senior EFL teacher, I’m hoping to organize or being involved in professional development for teachers. I’ve had a few experiences and hoping to continue the P1060572journey of sharing. I’m also looking forward to opportunities to brush up my language proficiency and hoping to be able to participate in International EFL conferences. Guess my wish list for Santa is a bit too long ; ) Still, being a teacher gives you the means to make your dream come true.

Vicky: It’s been such a pleasure hearing about everything you do! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Annie – I hope we meet in person some day!

Annie: As a passionate backpacker, I might actually hop on a plane and fly to the picturesque Switzerland some day!  Thank you so much for the heartwarming invitation. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Vicky: I will be so happy to show you around! Happy Holidays and all the best to you too : )

Dedication is Her Name – An Interview with Aphrodite Giouris

Smiling and always thinking about her students, here is Aphrodite Giouris!
Smiling and always thinking about her students, here is Aphrodite Giouris!

I am very happy to present Aphrodite Giouris, an English language teacher in Greece who does amazing things with her students! Aphrodite is a firework – she is one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated teachers I have ever met and feel privileged to feature her here. She blogs at ELT Inspired. Over to Aphrodite!

Vicky: Aphrodite, thanks so much for accepting to give me this interview! We have met once in person, but also connecting with you on social media has been great for a variety of reasons we will go into in this interview.

Aphrodite: The pleasure is all mine, Vicky! I still remember the time we met in person during the last TESOL Greece Convention in Athens! At the end of your presentation on blogging, I told you that if I ever manage to have my own blog, I will tell everyone, that it was because of YOU! You have been my inspiration to start blogging, Vicky and I love following you on social media. Your positive energy, passion, kindness, professional  commitment, sweetness, friendliness and above all, inspiring aura, are what make you a very special person!

Vicky: Thank you ever so much for all your kind words, which give me a lot of strength! I am so happy you have started to blog, because you have so many things to teach us and share. Let’s go a bit back in time now. How did you become a teacher, Aphrodite?

Aphrodite: I was only 12 years old when I wrote in my diary: “Dear Diary, when I grow up, I want to be either an English teacher or a journalist”! I was lucky enough to have experienced both, so far … I spent most of my time,  when still  in university, writing for newspapers and magazines in Athens and worked for about two years for  a local TV channel, as a reporter. I have also been teaching English, since I was a university student!
I remember that, I used to walk outside  school buildings when I was a teenager and think to myself: “This is where I want to be working, in a few years’ time”! I knew from an early age what I really wanted to do…

I became a teacher because I believe teachers can make an impact.

Aphrodite's students in action!
Aphrodite’s students in action!

I think about my impact on the world often, honestly, sometimes too often. Teaching kids and dealing with them feels good, as in no other job. I  feel great about the fact that I might be playing  a significant role to inspire them build their future and that feeling enriches me with a sense of responsibility.
I have always wanted to impact lives and improve the quality of education; considering the fallout in my country’s educational system. My Greek teacher in high school Mr Vasilis Siouzoulis, has being a great inspiration. I love the way students regard him despite decades of passing through his tutelage. He was passionate about what he did. He motivated me with his unique teaching style. I love children and gearing their developmental stages positively. I believe it is earnestly imperative to groom conscientious, focused, purposeful students who will combine efforts with already laid brass tracks to build a great world. I want to be known to teach my students beyond their books.
Why I became an English teacher in particular? Well,  I just love communicating with people all over the globe! And foreign languages, especially English which is an international language, is the most powerful tool to do that! The English language has helped me to be the person I am today. I have gained my education because of that ability to comprehend, use & manipulate the English language. I have repeatedly informed my students about English being a weapon for them to use in order to obtain knowledge, progress in life, achieve their dreams and be the best that they can be.  I learned english  because I wanted to succeed in my life, too. It is as simple as that! I love to know more about the world around me, the planets, the stars, the universe, the mysteries … the language with which I can know more about so many things & wonders is mainly the English language.
I personally believe that  English  is very important nowadays… This  is not merely being said, because I am an English teacher but the reality is simply that it is an extremely useful medium to achieve your goals, gain knowledge, progress in life, share and obtain information without much misunderstanding, for business, for commercial reasons, for updates in technology, for science & medical reasons and I can go on & on … And this is what I wish to teach my students, too. I usually tell them that “English is an open window to the World” for them …
We are not in this profession for money! Our students’  love and appreciation are  all we need to feel happy! I sometimes wonder why I get paid for something I love doing so much and which is so rewarding ! I could have been a teacher, even without a salary! It’s merely because I love what I do!  I really do!

The kids' work!
Aphrodite’s kids holding up the beautiful work they received from Annie Tsai’s kids!

Vicky: I couldn’t have said it better – your passion and dedication shine right through. Now about the lovely people in your classes – can you tell us a few things about your wonderful students? What levels and ages do you teach?

Aphrodite: I currently teach primary school students aged 9-12 but I used to teach all levels and ages in the past. I worked in the secondary sector a few years ago and in local Technological Institutes and  private schools and institutions. My school is a small school in the suburbs of a Greek town in central Greece. There are about 180 students in my school and 25 students in each of my classes this year! Difficult to teach in such large classes but I try to do my very best, regardless of the negative circumstances! The majority of them come from Greek middle class families. We also  have many students whose parents have come to Greece from other countries to find a job.
The Greek financial crisis has affected us all at school, in  several ways… Teachers, as well as the majority of our students’ parents, have suffered dramatic wage cuts, but we are not fighting for money or privileges, as many people think. We are fighting to save education. Most of our schools lack all the basics and all our students have been affected directly or indirectly by the crisis. When I step into the classroom every morning, I leave all my problems outside! I start the day with a smile! My students deserve my best smile!
I teach them life skills during the first week. I teach them goal setting. I want them to be optimistic, hardworking, dreamers, fighters….they are the future of this country! What we put in, we take out! I personally  put emphasis on team work! When students form a group, social skills kick into action. Kids must learn to work together and cooperate. This is an opportunity to make friends and talk with others — networking can start in the classroom. This is a chance for the kids to expand their vocabulary, work on patience and learn how to take turns. Conflict resolution may also become part of the learning equation. Each student can benefit on a personal level from teamwork. She can feel like a valued part of the group as she contributes to the project and shares her ideas, which can build confidence and self-esteem. The student will be exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking, which can expand her personal view on the subject. Teamwork activities can be the time for each student to shine and show others her skills and talents.

Visible thinking - the kids' work on the lassroom wall!
Visible thinking – the kids’ work on the classroom wall!

Days can get long and dull when you have a group of kids that are disconnected and staring at the walls. Group work is a welcomed change in the normal routine and gets the kids out of their seats. Schoolwork becomes more enjoyable and rewarding,then….I have recently written about the importance of teamwork in my class in my Blog!
My students are adorable  but,  my classroom is not…paradise on Earth! I hope, when all this is over some day, to have made the difference in, at least, ONE of my students’ life!
I am thankful for my students! I have aways been…

Vicky: One of the things I truly admire about you, is that – against all odds, in a time where education gets very little financial help in Greece these days, as you mentioned – you have managed to build an amazing environment in your classroom for the kids, full of colours, projects and visible thinking, to borrow the term from Project Zero. What gives you the inspiration for all these ideas?

Aphrodite: My students are my  number ONE inspiration! I want them to feel happy and  learn in a friendly environment. My classroom is full of colours and all the walls are covered with students’ project work, arts and crafts!  Their imagination and creativity, makes it as beautiful as it looks…
My PLN is my second source of inspiration!  In order to be able to put my ideas into action though, financial help is really important … I have been struggling to raise money to run my projects and work in class, either by asking – begging  the parents’ associations for support  as well as the several publishing houses out there (which, at least, have donated some  books to our English library) or by organising  school bazaars, just to be able to keep a small amount of the money earned, for our English class needs. It has been HARD work all these years, have to admit that!
Many years have passed since  the beginning of my teaching career … but, nothing much has changed! I mean, I  keep working on  several projects with my classes, we continue exchanging our projects with more than 6  schools all over the globe every school year, I still do my best to have  at least one -handmade – magazine made  each school year , but still….. I work in schools with no computers or other facilities, I work extra hours .…earning nothing but my students’ love,  have had no chance to take part in a Comenius partnership yet (due to several reasons which have NOTHING  to do with my willing  to do so).
There’s nothing more rewarding for a teacher than to see how happy , engaged and enthusiastic her  students become when they work on something that makes sense and connects the class with the world! It’s priceless! Believe me! It’s worth any effort!It brings the class together, it helps the teacher connect with the students more and the students connect with their peers all over the globe by means of an international code of communication: English!
My  most favourite quote, comes from Albert Einstein:

If the longing for the goal is powerfully alive within us, then we shall not lack the strength to find the means for reaching the goals!

Vicky: You have started an amazing pen pal project with other countries. One I have seen in detail is with Annie Tsai’s class in Taiwan (Annie is one of the next educators to be interviewed on the blog!). How did it start and what kinds of exchanges have you had so far? Can you give us some insight into your students’ thoughts and feelings? I am sure they are thrilled!

Aphrodite: Annie Tsai has been a blessing for my students! She is an amazing educator in Taiwan and I am so thankful we have been collaborating for some years now! Well, I have been working on projects since the beginning of my career as an English teacher. When I had to  to travel all around Greece to work. Even when I had to change the school I worked in, every single year or I had to work in 3 different schools in the same day!I had to walk  long distances carrying my heavy bag and  some years later, had to drive to a different village school  during the…. break.
Our first partners, were colleagues I had met in  my seminars abroad or, my own ….pen pals ! My first pen pal, when I was 11, Julie Barbie, who still lives and works in North Carolina, USA, was one of my first partners! We both became primary school teachers and it was so touching to have our kids experience the same thing.
When I started working on pen pals projects, nobody thought I was doing anything exceptional, but my students! Most headmasters used to refer to my extra working hours on those projects as ‘useless, worthless and a waste of time’. I used to beg for money to buy stamps and had to carry those parcels to the local post office on foot! When I asked one of the headteachers in a Karditsa area village school, to support  financially our -handmade- class magazine  (which was photocopied and distributed to students)  he just refused. He even said: “What’s the use of this? You don’t get any extra money for all these extra hours you spend putting this  magazine together…that’s silly!”
I have practically collaborated with schools in almost all continents. Yet, one is missing: Australia, which is my next target. Project work, goes like this: we send our partners a project on a topic we have both decided upon. They reply by sending us the same topic project. How fascinating for our students to share and compare!
Arts and craft, play an important role in all our projects! Unfortunately, there is not an Arts teacher in my school. I am the only one who can help my kids with the artistic part of the projects.
Due to the fact that, we have no computers at school, I always print lots of pictures and display them on our notice boards, for all the students to be able to see…
Some projects come in the form of a magazine a poster or a booklet. All projects are put up on each class projects corner,  for everybody to see ,untill a new project  takes their place and they are sent to our partners abroad! Snail mail projects are more fascinating for students than emailed ones because it’s real stuff! You can touch them, hold them, smell them, take them home, display them on the classroom walls, share them with your friends, attach little presents to them! Kids are so very proud to present our country to our foreign friends! The projects are always presented in class before they are sent abroad. It’s team work therefore, the teams decide how they wish to present their project….it can be a poster presentation, a class board game, a teams game, a quiz, a skit and so many more! I ask them to use their imagination , when it comes to presenting their projects in front of the audience! Albert Einstein once said:

Imagination is more important than knowledge because, it has no limits.

Drama plays a very important role in project presentation..Project presentations become more interesting, when drama is involved! Kids really have lots of fun – but the most important thing is that, these projects don’t remain in our classroom. They travel away to other classrooms! It’s just amazing for my students, to see their project work in another classroom, so far away from home!  ….Sharing and comparing, is what makes this projects exchange with schools abroad, a unique experience for my students!

Vicky: All this is fantastic Aphrodite! I hope one day I can visit you classroom and see you all in action. Speaking of sharing and learning, you also engage in social media. How do they help educators?

Aphrodite: In Greece and everywhere, teaching has always been an isolated profession. Teachers were limited to sharing the experiences of their colleagues in their building or district. If they were in the group of a fortunate few, they might have gotten to experience a professional conferenceechnology historically allowed learning to expand from face to face contact to distances beyond the limits of both time and space, and the Internet has moved that to a whole new level.
In my school, there is ONLY ONE computer in the headteacher’s office. I usually work on  my home computer, and have yet  managed to connect my classroom with more than 70 other classrooms  all over the world  during the last 15 years or so , mainly with the help of social media and my PLN. I wish I had a laptop in my classroom …I could have managed  to acheive so many more with it! Still, I am going to start an Etwinning partnership soon ,using MY own laptop and a projector! Nothing can stop me! Answering your question, I would say that I know for sure that online platforms enable users to:

  • create, share, adapt and reuse content engage in digital dialogue and collaboration
  • create links, groups and communities
  • have peer-to-peer contact
  • have social interactions with other users
  • create and maintain their own user profiles and IDs

I am grateful for social media and my PLN, in particular! If it wasn’t for them, I would never have had the chance to connect and share with you, my awesome partners all over the world and have been able to learn so much and become a better educator myself!….

Vicky: Aphrodite, you have recently started an amazing blog with a lot of sharing of great ideas. Can you tell us more about it?

Aphrodite: I have to repeat, that it was because of  YOU, dear Vicky  that I started thinking about creating  my own Blog! YOU were my inspiration, when I watched your presentation on blogging , during the TESOL Greece convention in 2013 in Athens! I can’t thank you enough for that! Blogging has already opened  new perspectives in my teaching career… In today’s social media world, many of us share the details of our lives with friends on Facebook or by text message. As a teacher, I have a powerful opportunity to model blogging as thinking,  using a teacher reflection blog or a teacher area within my  blog. Share my teaching philosophy with  colleagues, model blog writing style, and show my  openness to comments and feedback by participating as a blogger “in front of” my PLN and the world!  I can show that me , too, enjoy learning every day. I do my best to post regularly so everybody can see that I  value blogging (maybe every week or two?). My blog is only  about 2 months old…It is about various aspects of my life as a teacher. I talk about teaching ideas and tips, about my life as a teacher of ELT,and sometimes about things outside the classroom.

The kids in action!
The kids in action!

My intentions are to share:

  • my  feelings about school life
  • what excites me about that I see in my class
  • what I learned from summer travels or seminars and conventions I regularly attend
  • cool websites or other blogs I find
  • cool ideas and good teaching practices in my class

My Motto is: SHARING IS CARING
I was surprised to find out a week ago, that although my Blog is a newcomer to the blogsphere , has already  been nominated for the “ABC award”! I have to thank “Sincerely Kate” ( http://sincerelykaterz.wordpress.com) for this honor!

Vicky: That is absolutely fantastc news! And now, we have reached the end of the interview. What would you like to tell everyone reading your interview right now, as a closing comment?

Aphrodite: Being a teacher means being there, giving everything I can, making sure I am as knowledgeable as I can be about my content and about my students’ lives; it means sacrifice for the sake of helping kids in need and it means caring about students unconditionally. I am not a teacher for me–I am a teacher for my students. When teaching becomes about me, I assure you, I will know it is time to stop teaching.  Being a teacher is exciting, enjoyable, and REWARDING!!!! I get no greater thrill than seeing my students achieve. I am constantly in awe of my students and their abilities.
Being a teacher is NEVER about counting down the last days of the year, but rather, to rue them, because I will lose yet another class to the high schools.
I am JUST  an ordinary teacher, Vicky! I just happen to love my job.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my work in a small Greek classroom with the world!

Vicky: Thank you so much, Aphrodite and I am so happy we will meet again face to face in March!

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.

Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business and General English – BELTA Day, 2013

(Photo by Krishnan Coenen)
(Photo by Krishnan Coenen)

On June 1st, the 1st BELTA Day took place. BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association, was formed in January 2013 by James Taylor, Mieke Kenis and Guido van Landeghem and since then many people have joined the board: Jurgen Basstanie, Ellen de Preter, Krishnan Coenen and myself as Editorial Officer of the blog. I was therefore honoured and moved to present at the 1st BELTA Day, which was an amazing experience. I saw fantastic sessions, learned a great deal and met amazing educators, from Belgium but also worldwide!

Here is the slideshow of my presentation:

And here are some notes:

BELTA Day 2013 Presentation – Useful Notes