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.

 

 

Interviews with Three New Bloggers for My Three Years of Blogging – Number Three: Carol Goodey

Carol Goodey
Carol Goodey

My third guest for this special celebration is Carol Goodey, an educator from Scotland who was one of the first people I connected to on Twitter. I admire her work immensely and there were times when I wished she would start blogging – and she did! You can read her great blog at http://cgoodey.wordpress.com/

Vicky: Carol, welcome to my blog with this interview for the celebration of three new bloggers and the third birthday of my blog! I am so happy as you have been one of the first people I ever connected to online three years ago, and we have been in close connection ever since.

Carol: Thank you for asking me to be part of this celebration, Vicky. It’s a real honour to be featured on your blog. Congratulations on your blog’s third birthday!

Vicky: For those of our readers who meet you for the first time, can you introduce yourself and tell us about your work in education as well?

Carol: I live in Scotland and work with the local authority in community learning and development as an adult literacies and ESOL worker. I get to work with a range of people who want to improve their literacies, numeracy and English language for use in the different contexts of their lives. I work with people who have moved to the area from around the world and people who have lived here for much longer, including people with learning disabilities. I really enjoy the variety.

Vicky: How did you decide to become involved in education?

Carol:  I first started as a volunteer literacies tutor and, working with ESOL learners, decided I wanted to find out more about language learning. I had already done studies in the English language and was happy to have an excuse to do more! While I was pursuing further studies, a paid literacies post became available. I applied and got it. I worked there for a few years before moving on to work with university students but quickly realized that I missed the community learning and development approach and was fortunate to be able to get my job back.

Vicky: You have chosen social media to connect with many teachers around the world. How did you start out? What are the benefits and challenges, if any?

Carol:  I was following an English Language Teaching discussion group. Some of the contributors mentioned Twitter and so, out of curiosity, I investigated. It took me three tries to finally get the hang of it. I’m glad I did because, through it, I’ve got to know some really interesting practitioners and learned a huge amount. More recently, I’ve been using Facebook to connect with other educators but I’m still getting used to that.

Vicky: There are several educators who are not connected to others on social media. What would you like to tell them?

Carol: Give it a go! It can be overwhelming at times, particularly when you first start but if you build up the people you follow slowly, get to know them, add the people they are chatting to, and don’t try to read everything, it can be a very worthwhile and enjoyable experience.

Vicky: Can you share one of the best moments in your teaching so far?

Carol: I’m really excited about a project I’ve been working on with a Community Learning and Development colleague which aims to bring people from different parts of the community together to learn about, with and from each other. We wanted to promote social inclusion and increase awareness of different people’s abilities, backgrounds and beliefs. We started with big engagement events – a ceilidh, food night, singing workshop and beetle drive – and are hoping to continue with similar events alongside more regular and sustainable activities such as sporting groups, international coffee mornings, etc. It’s been really enjoyable and we’ve had a lot of really positive feedback.  While not teaching exactly, there have been lots of valuable learning opportunities. ESOL learners have had the opportunities to use English and get to know more local people. Other community members have learned more about people from other countries and have developed their own skills in communicating with speakers of other languages, making integration and inclusion that wee bit easier.

Vicky: You have recently started a blog. How did you decide to set up your own?

Carol:  It’s taken me a while to set up my own, but I’ve been enjoying and learning from others for so long I felt I should make a contribution too. I had put it off because, with so many great blogs out there, I didn’t see what I would have to add. I was also a bit nervous about the time commitment, or spam, or other unforeseen hassles. But now that I’ve started, I’ve found that I really enjoy the process of writing. I find it absorbing and relaxing. It’s good to have a space whenever I feel I have something to share.

Vicky: Can you close with a wish to all educators, with the holidays getting closer?

Carol: If you do have holidays over the next few weeks, I hope you get the chance to have some space for yourself and take time to enjoy the small pleasures in life – whatever they might be for you.

Vicky: A huge thank you, Carol! I hope to meet you in person sometime next year!

Carol: It’s been a real pleasure, Vicky. Thank you for having me and I look forward to meeting you soon!