Using Only the Target Language in a Foreign Language Classroom

 

caroline hazelton teaching ESOLHow did a Southern, non-Hispanic begin her bilingual journey in an English-only rural town? 

Solo español,” replied my Spanish 2 teacher who spoke to us in almost no English right from the beginning.

How have I taught nearly every grade level of Spanish/ESL ever since for seven years?

Only in the language that I am teaching… with some exceptions. I’m here to challenge you both with experience and science for using the target language (the language you are teaching) as much as possible in your classroom. And believe me, you can use it a lot more than you think you can.

Why only the target language?

Learning to listen and speak a language occurs the same way babies learn to talk. They listen to in the language constantly, with images and context to teach them meaning. Then, after hours upon hours of exposure, the babies are ready to speak. As their brain develops, they are able to form more complex phrases, sentences, and ideas as they age. Our second languages are learned in the same way. Our brains absorb grammar through repetition. they absorb meaning through context created by situations and visuals. Finally, they absorb pronunciation through constant exposure and confidence via experience. Because we “acquire” language (that is, to soak it up through the ability to speak and listen, then in our ability to write and read in it), we cannot teach language in the same way that we teach other subjects. We must mimic a caregiver teaching a child to speak.

Enter the language classroom. In the case where the teacher and students both speak the students’ first language, many teachers do not speak in the target language. They do this to get through the lesson faster, to avoid frustrated students, or to build rapport with students. Other times, they simply do not know how to teach in the target language. As a result, you see students who have textbook knowledge of the target language but who are unable to communicate in it.

Remember Phonics?

abc PhonicsWithout appropriate communication in the target language, students haven’t developed an ear for how the language sounds; they haven’t learned enough vocabulary in natural context nor have they developed the confidence to speak the target language. Additionally, students don’t have the opportunity to form an identity in the new language they are trying to learn if they aren’t being exposed to it or being forced to use it — they rely only on their original, or L1, language/identity. Finally, if they don’t see how they are able to communicate in the target language they lose motivation. They feel as if they aren’t learning it. However, a student who is forced to speak the language feels that they are actually learning.

I speak from experience. It started in my high school Spanish 2 classroom where my teacher uttered not a word in English for two hours a day, five days a week. The instructor spoke in an incredibly simple way. He would not answer anyone in English, and only in Spanish. He spoke with gestures, dramatic emotions, and cognates. 

Speaking From Experience

By the end of the semester, I (Caroline) had not only studied Spanish, but could actually speak basic Spanish. I learned more in that semester of high school Spanish alone than I did in any other community college course I took. In those courses, the instructor used a mix of Spanish and English. They missed opportunities to give their students the true ability to communicate in our second language. After moving from my small town to attend a state university to study Spanish and second language acquisition (SLA), I saw more examples both as a Spanish and SLA student of why teachers should use ONLY the target language.

I speak as a teacher. When I speak in the target language at first, I see students of all ages initially very frustrated. I ALWAYS have students who are hesitant to learn the language and resist. However, I insist upon only using the language I am teaching. I have seen their progress. I have seen students score higher on proficiency tests than their level indicated that they would. Ultimately, I have seen my resistors eventually change their ways. 

Success in the Classroom

Every semester, I have ESL (English as a Second Language) students who request to join my class because I insist on using only English. As a university instructor, students have changed or added majors and minors in the language I taught. My students have returned to me bragging about how they asked their counselors to speak to them in their target language. Some of my ESL students took jobs in English. I have taught China’s brightest professionals that they STILL have more to learn because they could only communicate in English and realized that they couldn’t as they wished. Finally, I have had a student upon student thank me at the end of every semester. 

So, How Do You Teach? 

Be your normal teacher self… in the target language. Notably, you are not going to speak like you would speak to native speakers. Aim for a much slower, simpler pace with tons of visual clues to help convey your message.

You first have to speak in the simplest way possible. For example, “We’re all set, so could you please hand in your papers?” becomes “pass the papers.” In the beginning classes, use gestures, gestures, gestures. In intermediate classes, say, “Please pass the papers — we are finished! Thanks!” I suggest sticking to a handful of common requests or words that are most repeated in the target language or in a classroom setting. 

Change Your Expectations

You’ll also have to change your expectations according to the natural stages of language development and to what level of communication each level can reasonably do in the language they are learning. You should try to have low/beginning students listen as much as possible. They should respond non-verbally until they have the confidence and the feel for the sounds of the language to speak. Even then, it will be very similar to a child learning how to speak — first with one-word phrases, then two, etc. From knowledge I’ve gathered from my graduate studies, the development of language is the same for everyone in terms of language stages and whether it’s a first or second language.

Once your students get past the low/beginning stage and into intermediate or high/beginning, they can start to communicate basic needs. The goal now is to increase their confidence in the language. Have students speak in small groups and with yourself as the teacher as much as possible. You should require that all communications with you and their classmates be in the target language with some exceptions so students can make the most of every opportunity. 

Because all teaching is about creating meaning, you need to try to provide as much context for language as possible… visuals, gestures, and culturally authentic material. Creating meaning is important because you want to be teaching at a level slightly higher than the students’ current level. This way they are challenged and can advance forward in an attainable way. 

first language puzzle

So, When Is the First Language Okay?

You never want students to lose their identity. Therefore, I have found that when students (particularly in ESL courses) are speaking about their native countries, idioms, or cultures, the use of their mother tongue is powerful. Plus, some words don’t quite translate the same.

You also have to recognize that speaking a second language requires more brainpower from students. If you want them to do some higher-order thinking that they don’t have the language skills for just yet, you might allow them to use their first language to think through the task, then use the second language once they have the activity mastered. 

Criticisms of Only Teaching in the Target Language

One criticism that gets mentioned of teaching only in the target language is that you don’t want students to miss out on important information — and I agree. For beginning students, you don’t want them to miss out on key information, so I think it’s okay to FIRST say the information in the target language. If, after multiple attempts to clarify their understanding they still don’t understand the concept, it is okay to use their first language. However, just explaining the concept in the first language immediately takes away the opportunity for growth.

I have also seen the usefulness of translation, despite what current language teaching methods (the communicative method) say. When I’m teaching grammar, second-language students often literally translate the grammatical rules of their first language into their second. It can be helpful to compare the differences. I also run into the issue when teaching vocabulary that while it’s better to reply with a synonym or image to stay in the target language, sometimes there is no image or similar word that students know, so a translation can be handy. 

Knowing these situations, my rule with my low/intermediate students is “Only English… except during grammar activities, cultural celebrations, group projects, or if you ask special permission.” 

A Conclusion About Using Only the Target Language in a Foreign Language Classroom

By purposely speaking only in the target language to students, we make language an acquired ability instead of a memorized subject. With careful exceptions, we can also respond to our students in a sensitive way. 

by Caroline Hazelton

TEFL in Thailand

by Leesa Truesdell

Eric Haeg Course Director of TEFL Campus
Eric Haeg, Course Director of TEFL Campus

Eric Haeg is the Course Director of TEFL Campus–a TEFL training course provider in Phuket and Chiang Mai. He moved to Thailand in 2004 because he knew he didn’t want to teach in Europe. He had already visited Europe and wanted to explore somewhere entirely new. Eric didn’t know if there was a need for teachers in Thailand back then. His reasons for taking the TEFL course back in 2004 were entirely whimsical. He searched for TEFL certification courses and signed up for one in Phuket because it looked like “Phuk-et”. Eric explained said, “I thought to myself, ‘Eh, f*ck it. Must be a sign. What’s the worst that can happen?’” He also says he has no shame in how that sounds because it was the best decision he’s ever made. 

Eric took the time to explain what Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Thailand means today. Here is what he had to say. 

What makes Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)  in Thailand different from TEFL in other countries?

There are a few reasons that taking a TEFL course in Thailand is different from other countries.

  1. Low Costs – TEFL courses are cheaper in Thailand because of the lower costs of operation when compared to courses in places like Japan, Australia, most of Europe, or the Americas.
  2. Welcoming Culture – Thailand’s nickname is the Land of Smiles. It only takes a few minutes here to see why. Thais are incredibly welcoming and eager to share their culture with foreigners.
  3. High Demand – It was recently reported that Thailand needs 10,000 foreign teachers. This means that those who come to train and earn their TEFL certification will find jobs after their course rather easily.

What is the application and arrival process for your school? 

study abroad ESL teacherThe process starts with a lengthy and detailed information file that we send out once an applicant has officially enrolled. We include information on how to get visas (if needed), our accommodation options, travel options, and more. We have a long Q&A section that includes information on getting local SIM cards, international driver’s licenses, vaccinations, what to pack, and more. 

From there, we then help people reserve their accommodation and schedule a meet-and-greet for the day they arrive. For those who are eligible, we organize our personal driver to meet them at the airport. 

We also have unique Facebook groups for each course, where people can introduce themselves before the course to their peers. We send out helpful posts about things to do in Phuket, reminders about the course, information on jobs, and much more. 

What’s the most important thing someone should know about TEFL in Thailand?

People need to know that teaching is challenging. While that’s not unique to Thailand, far too many TEFL course providers in Thailand take the “teach-by-the-beach” approach to their marketing. They make people think that teaching is an all-day ball of joy, that finding jobs on idyllic islands is the norm, and that teaching is easy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Teaching is challenging and that’s why new teachers need meaningful training that includes curriculum on building cultural awareness. Most good jobs are in urban areas — but at least in a place like Phuket, the beach is never far away on days off. If you’re not near the ocean, Thailand has endless natural beauty. Nonetheless, you’ll have to work a challenging, full-time job Monday through Friday if you are to enjoy it in your freetime. 

How is TEFL Campus in Phuket different than its Chiang Mai location?

TEFL Campus runs the same curriculum in Phuket as in Chiang Mai. Both programs include university-level validation, guaranteed job support and experienced trainers. The main difference is the observed teaching practice. In Chiang Mai, you’ll teach in local schools, with local students in primary and secondary schools. In Phuket, you’ll teach in a language center setting, where students fourteen and older come to learn English voluntarily.

thai students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

 

Outside of class, Phuket and Chiang Mai offer rather different experiences. Both are major destinations in Thailand, but for different reasons. Phuket has its beaches, Chiang Mai has its mountains. Phuket has its unique Old Town, and Chiang Mai has its ancient walled off section of the city. Finally, Phuket is always warm or downright hot, while Chiang Mai has its cool season from November to February. Between the two of them, both locations offer something for everyone. 

What is the greatest student success you have had for TEFL in Thailand?

Honestly, there are more than I can count. Each student succeeded for different reasons.

There’s Steven, an Australian who met with me back in 2012. He wanted to get his degree before teaching. He went back to university as a mature student, graduated uni, took our course in 2016, got a entry-level job in Bangkok, and now works in the corporate development department of Wall Street English.

Then there’s Bish, a Nepali gentleman who was a gifted teacher. He was going to have trouble finding a job due to Thais’ prejudice against south Asians. After helping Bish find a job at a local primary school, he now works as a coordinator there who’s won the hearts of his students and colleagues alike. 

But honestly, as I think through the names of our grads, I can easily think of a dozen or more success stories. They include people who went on to get more credentials to eventually work in high-paying international schools. There were also those who found jobs in highly competitive countries like Maldives, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. So many of our grads who wanted to quit our course because they didn’t believe in their own abilities ended up sticking to it and achieving their goals of teaching overseas

Why do you think someone should leave their home country and teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Thailand?

I actually don’t think everyone who wants to do it should do it. The only people who should do it are those who are open-minded, ready for a challenge, have a healthy sense of responsibility, and a genuine desire to teach. It’s one of the most important professions on Earth and students deserve dedicated, capable teachers. 

Outside of career goals, I think everyone should live abroad for a year or more. It’s the best way to challenge one’s assumptions about “reality,” build a better understanding of humanity, and benefit from experiences those who don’t travel could never imagine. 

As of late, the Thai government has been searching for more than thousands of teachers for TEFL. Eric wrote a piece on how to get the most reliable teachers earlier this year. The article discusses three ways schools can alleviate the teacher shortage before having to wait for the foreign government to lend assistance. He is on his annual leave in the USA and hopes to get back to Thailand as soon as it is coronavirus-cleared. For further information about TEFL in Thailand, please contact Eric directly. He can assist with questions and offer suggestions.

Teaching English in Thailand TEFL Campus
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

 

Teaching ESOL from Experience

by Caroline Hazelton

caroline hazelton teaching ESOLI wonder how you found this page? Perhaps you found it by Google, by social media sharing, or by mere coincidence. Good for you! Either way, I bet the only way you’ll keep reading after this is if you truly care about teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages. Even at that, because I said the word “experience” you are probably in need of such, AKA “teaching ESOL from experience.” 

Right now I’m on Year 7 in teaching languages. I’m always improving my teaching craft. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it a certain way. Yet as I handed in my lesson plans this past Tuesday, I realized that teacher jargon doesn’t explain what simple experience can. And yet so much of the way I teach and have been successful from Year 3 onward is because of… experience — that is, “teaching ESOL from experience.”

I originally started this article with a list of teacher advice, but quickly realized you can find that anywhere. Instead, I think it’s best to reflect on the four institutions where I’ve actively taught ESOL and what each ESOL school taught me… through experience. I’ll list each school as “School A, B, C and D” for the privacy of each school.

School A: Finding Your Place as a Professional in School

For Pete’s sake, if you are a new teacher DEMAND A CURRICULUM. You’ll need one to stay organized, maximize learning, and follow the natural flow of language acquisition progression. Furthermore, set boundaries on students. Don’t accept their Facebook requests, don’t let them use their native language in class (even if it is the other language you teach and love) except for emergencies, and if any student starts to cross professional boundaries you must immediately but respectfully set them straight for the sake of your classroom control. Also, especially if you are a young teacher, you must especially look professional at all times.

Professional in School

School B: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

Now that your demanded curriculum is in hand, ask the director/principal specific questions about the curriculum or the school they might be too busy to explain. Make sure to ask questions such as “When does the semester end?” or “How long is the book to be used for?” As much as you love your students, don’t be afraid to correct their English. However, know the goal of each activity and make your corrections specific (like adding a preposition).

Give general critiques (like encouraging students to add more information) so the students aren’t overwhelmed by their mistakes. Again, make sure you set professional boundaries. You love your job, but don’t work for free — make sure you are fairly compensated for your time. If you are not paid on time, immediately contact HR. And finally, always overestimate how long it will take you to arrive to class so you can breathe when you get there.

Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

School C: Use Your Own Experience When Teaching

Own your cultural identity and what it can bring to the classroom. I was the only white teacher in my ESOL department at School C. I owned it. At the beginning, I demanded my intermediate level students only speak in English. I made my students weird American things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I taught them how Americans butcher Hispanic names in English and hate kisses on the cheek.

Make sure to hand the mic over to your students every once in a while. Let them voice both their cultures and the saddening situations that brought them over to the United States. Let them use Spanish… but only in emergencies or during non-instructional time. And finally, as important as that curriculum is, do not underestimate the importance of authentic cultural material that is relevant to the topic. Bring in the country music, clips of The Office, and Super Bowl commercials.

Experience Teaching

School D: Give Yourself Structure and Take Time to Learn

As an unorganized person, having an organized curriculum pre-planned for me each class helped me see just how learning can be maximized with the right pacing and assessment. I tend to get off task, but staying on topic is crucial for the learner. However, the ability to learn and quickly memorize facts about each student builds a good rapport with students. Finding a balance between staying on task and learning about your students should be found. Finally, students need to hear ways to improve their English. Working with a Chinese crowd at this school, I found it helpful to study common mistakes Chinese English Language Learners make, identify them in the student, and quickly address them with go-to examples. 

Teaching ESOL from Experience

I don’t think there isn’t a day where I’m not learning from my experiences. Just tonight, an argument broke out between two students over a political issue (Venezuelan dictator Maduro seizing and selling homes abandoned by Venezuelans fleeing) and a personal issue (these two students did not get along). After resolving the argument and further discussing with another Venezuelan student about the emotional state of those fleeing, I would like to do some further reading about helping refugees process their emotions. Situations like these help shape my responses to future tense situations. After every day that I teach, I make sure to do a nightly reflection. This helps me know what I’d like to repeat for next semester but also steer away from. 

 

When Is Teaching Abroad the Right Choice?

by Eric Haeg

Teaching English in another country isn’t easy. Trying to do so with just a bit of savings and passion for travel is like trying to make spaghetti with nothing but some pasta and ketchup.

Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) for an extended period abroad not only takes basic teaching skills and English language awareness, it requires personality traits and skillsets for life outside the classroom, too.

Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

 

As far as the teaching skills are concerned, a good TEFL certification course will provide the basic training required to enter the classroom as a teacher for the first time. What it won’t provide is training for everyday life in a foreign culture. With that in mind, let’s look at some  skill sets and personality traits TEFL teachers need for a happy life abroad.

Communication skills – This is an obvious issue within the classroom, but communication issues don’t start and stop at the classroom door.

You’ll be living within a population of people who don’t speak your native language well. This requires adapting verbal communication for lower-level speakers. You’ve got to be able to use basic words, keep sentences short and simple, and perhaps soften one’s accent. Outside verbal communication, one needs to utilize non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, gesticulation, and miming. And let’s not forget the most important communication skill: listening. You must be able to interpret one’s poor pronunciation, broken English, and language errors to identify what’s being said.

thai students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

Ingenuity – The less you have, the more you need to be resourceful abroad.

We usually only realize what we need once we don’t have it. Problem is, hardly any of the places popular for teaching English have a Costco in the neighborhood. You can forget about Amazon’s next-day shipping.

This is where simple re-purposing and some researched life hacks can do wonders. Lost your $200 Bose travel speaker? Cut a slit in a roll of toilet paper and stick your mobile in it. Can’t find a burr grinder for your organic, free-trade coffee beans? Source some local beans and buy a pestle and mortar. Starving for hummus? It doesn’t grow in plastic containers; YouTube is your friend and the recipe is pretty simple. In fact, there are over 300 hours of video being uploaded onto YouTube every hour. You can bet YouTube can probably help with most life hacks, home remedies, and DIY projects.

jack with students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

Independence Because sometimes the best conversations are the ones you have with yourself.

The vast majority of those who start living abroad start on their own. After a TEFL course, they go off to find jobs on their own. Many end up traveling on local holidays on their own, too. Sure, it’s easy to find and make new friends. However, what if you’re having a bad day, feeling homesick, or actually feeling ill? Sometimes the only person you can rely on for comfort is yourself.

The silver lining here is that the bonds made between friends who are also living abroad can grow quickly and deeply. Sometimes a shoulder is needed for crying on, or you need a hand with something. The friends you make abroad appear quickly and without hesitation.

Tolerance – Having to accept traditions, cultural norms, and everyday customs that are not what you grew up with is a fantastic way of testing just how truly tolerant one can be.

Most people who arrive in a new country often embrace new and different experiences. They laugh off minor inconveniences at first. However, once the honeymoon phase is over, living within another culture starts to get more challenging — even seemingly unacceptable at times. It’s easy to develop a judgmental and negative attitude towards locals and their customs, but that’s not going to help anyone.

The best way to avoid this is to think of it as if you’re a guest in someone’s house. In a way you are, so be polite, try to learn from your hosts’ different approaches, and see things as simply different, rather than applying unhelpful, negative values onto behavior you don’t like.

Curiosity – If necessity is the mother of invention, curiosity is the mother of exploration. 

You may think you’re curious, but are you? If you island hopped through Thailand, would you buy a package tour to Phi Phi Island, or would you seek out secluded beaches through independent travel? Perhaps if you taught in Turkey, you’d go into a hammam (a place people go to get washed and massaged by people of the same sex), or maybe you’d knock it before you tried it. If you lived in the Philippines, would you try balut (a partially developed bird embryo) or just stick to a fried egg?

Without a healthy sense of adventure and curiosity that drives it, life abroad can become as mundane as life in one’s hometown. Be curious and try new foods, be curious and open doors to see what’s on the other side, be curious and blaze your own trail. Be curious… and stay curious.

Sense of humor – If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

Everyone wants to avoid committing a cultural faux pas, but it’s only a matter of time before it happens. If you’re lucky, you’ll just get laughed at when it does happen. You’ll also continually find yourself in situations where you’re unsure of local customs, what to say, or what to do. You will make mistakes; you will most certainly look silly from time to time and being able to laugh at yourself might be the best way to ease the tension.

baby elephant abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

 

 

 

Teaching Abroad at a Bilingual School in Madrid, Spain

by Ellen Hietsch

Alex Warhall remains a ubiquitous presence during our second year teaching at a bilingual school in Madrid: my flatmates and I have discussed clearing our mini dining room so that he can sleep there, so he can constantly bring us joy with his ukulele freestyling and delicious dinners. It’s no surprise that such creativity has helped him shine as an auxiliar in his return to the primary school where he worked last year. Read all about his first teaching abroad interview here.

Amongst our bops between barrios and open mic night debuts over the past few months, Alex and I have rarely talked about work in depth – unless it was for him to beam with pride about a video project he’d developed and directed. Our conversations are chaotic curiosities, jumping from considering the profound to a stream of Documentary Now references in a matter of minutes. We recently found the chance to catch up on the depths of Year Two at his Getafe Primary School. This is the conversation that followed:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“My schedule is different every day. While I can generally forecast the basic outline for my week, it’s challenging to predict my daily schedule. Surely, I know which classes I will be going to, but what I will be doing in those classes varies. My most consistent tasks during the day are guiding speaking exercises, proctoring oral exams, correcting students’ writings, or playing the role of “examiner” in the mock PET exams. If I had to pinpoint a typical daily occurrence at my school, I would say that during morning break and lunchtime I learn a new Spanish phrase from my coworkers (I would share some of these phrases, but they tend to be inappropriate).

These consistencies aside, there are often more surprises in my day. Some days I arrive at school and find out that I’m going on an excursion. Other days, I’m asked to help students practice their dance routine for Carnival. For the whole month of November, I was directing, filming, and editing introduction videos that we later shared with a fellow school in Madrid. These surprises are what make my days so exciting and my school so fun.”

Bilingual School in Madrid Spain classroom group students

How many people do you work with (auxiliaries included)? How many classes do you teach?

“When I began the school year in October, there were only two auxiliaries—including myself (both American). Because our bilingual coordinator wanted to equally distribute the native English in each of the six grades, we didn’t have overlapping classes during this time. Then, after the New Year, our school gained two additional auxiliaries (both Australian). With these additions, my schedule was revised. Now, I have the pleasure of working with all three of the auxiliares at my school. My revised schedule also has me working with three different classroom teachers: the third, fifth, and sixth-grade teachers. When I’m working with these teachers, I rarely ever run the classroom. Instead, I conduct speaking activities with small groups that reinforce the teacher’s lesson plan or prepare the students for the upcoming Cambridge English exam.”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“Definitely! This is my second year teaching at my school. Last year, I worked with such kind and sociable people. Unfortunately, they didn’t have permanent positions and, as a result, didn’t end up at the same school. So when I thought about the upcoming school year and the new teachers joining us, I wondered if I would bond with them the same way that I did with those from last year. I soon discovered that the new teachers were also friendly and easy to work with. I’m really grateful for my coworkers and appreciative of the culture at our school, which fosters friendships among coworkers. Some of my best nights out in Madrid have been with my coworkers—from going out dancing to eating churros at St. Gines while waiting for the first Metro to arrive at 6:30 AM.”

Are you forming bonds with students? Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside the classroom?

“Yes, absolutely. I would say my school fosters the maintenance of these relationships inside and outside of the classroom. I spend a lot of my time working with small groups. During these sessions, I have the opportunity to learn more about my students’ interests. It probably goes without saying, but many of my students love Real Madrid fútbol, which is also my favorite soccer team. Often times, we will chat about the previous night’s match, reliving the highlight-worthy goals or complaining about the devastating blunders.

Abroad in Spain

A few of my students share my affinity for the Marvel Comic Book movies. Whenever we’ve seen the latest film, we’ll have informal discussions about it. One of my students enjoys reenacting his favorite scenes. The most impressive part of that is that he does it in English! I also love playing basketball. Whenever the weather is nice and I’m wearing the right gear, I’ll join the students during playground time for a game—it’s the only time I’m the tallest person on the court (and not by much). I’ll sometimes pause the game to teach basketball fundamentals—some students like this and others prefer that I don’t interrupt the game. Either way, we have fun.

Outside of the classroom, I have been invited to students’ gymnastics competitions and fútbol matches, some of which I have attended. I’m very grateful for these moments because I think it improves the teacher-student relationship inside the classroom. I get to see how they behave in a setting where maybe they’re more focused, doing something they’re passionate about. On top of this, they get to see me in a more casual setting and understand that I care about their lives outside of the classroom.”

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

“As I’ve mentioned before, my class schedule is different each day so I don’t actually have a favorite part of each day, but I do have a favorite part of the week! Every Wednesday and Thursday, I do a language exchange with Mario, the secretary at my school. He is very motivated to speak English fluently and his energy is contagious. The topics of discussion are plentiful and varied. I always walk away from these intercambios having laughed a bunch and learned something new. When my weekend ends that fateful Monday evening, I genuinely look forward to these intercambio sessions. Indeed, these twice-weekly intercambios have drastically improved my Spanish. Thus, they have also improved the quality of my time in school and in Madrid as a whole. I’ve gotten to know my coworker’s way better as a result and I’ve been able to meet more people in Madrid.”

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

Alex Warhall Abroad“Every teacher has their own style and methods. I work with teachers that have remarkable classroom control and are able to give an attention-grabbing lecture whereby the students—hanging on every word—simply listen, laugh, and take notes. Other teachers who work with me are integrating technology into their lessons. They show educational videos or use interactive games on the smartboard. I also work with teachers who read directly from the textbook, which sometimes works and sometimes bores the students. I think the best teachers are able to read the energy of their students. They teach their lesson in a way that matches said energy. For example, the students typically have a lot of residual energy left from playground time and typically need some time to decompress. One teacher that I work with will read them a short story so that they can just relax and listen.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

“At my school, I’m not responsible for planning lessons. Occasionally, a teacher will ask me to give a presentation, prepare a song on my ukulele, or tell a story for the class. In this case, I will take the time I feel is needed to prepare something of quality. If I haven’t been asked to prepare something, then I won’t. Not out of laziness, but because my teachers are always well-prepared. Most days, just before class starts, the teacher will tell me what they would like me to do with the students during the day and then provide me with the materials to accomplish their objective.”

Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the community of Getafe?

“I do work at a bilingual school. To me, it means speaking English. Always. Occasionally, the students ask me to say “Hola” or “Que tal” or some other Spanish words and phrases. Nonetheless, my job is to continue speaking English with them no matter what—even if they have a low English level. The reason I do so is that if they think that I know any Spanish at all, then they may stop relying on their English skills to communicate with me. To the community of Getafe, “bilingual” means teaching every class in English, except for math and language. It also means speaking English with the students in the hallways, on the playground, and even when disciplining.”

What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

city valencia spain“I’m not entirely sure what standards my classroom teachers are using because it’s rarely a topic of discussion between us. However, the work we do with the 5th and 6th graders is aimed at preparing them for the Cambridge Preliminary English Exam (PET). We have been giving them mock exams at the school. I’ve been responsible for evaluating their performances in the four categories of the exam: reading, listening, writing, and speaking. The marks I give them are based on the standards set forth by the Cambridge University English Assessment.”

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

“Whether or not my bilingual school in Madrid has a written document spelling out the shared goals and expectations, I’m not certain, but I do have a strong sense that there are three general goals: build their confidence in English, prepare them for secondary school, and show them how to be well-rounded adults. We build their confidence in English by constantly immersing them in the language. To enhance their language learning, we prepare them for secondary school by giving them frequent exams and homework every night. We also teach them useful study habits that will help them manage their time and be self-reliant. Finally, we show them how to be well-rounded adults by emphasizing manners and kindness inside and outside of the classroom.”

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain and/or Europe both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

“In the classroom, I’ve learned that I struggle with classroom control and discipline. This year, I’ve had a particularly challenging time getting through to the fifth graders. On the whole, they are eager and enthusiastic students. As with any class though, there are a select few who have disinterested attitudes. Getting them to participate, or even listen quietly for that matter, can be an overwhelming task.

As a generally kind-hearted and relaxed person, I find it difficult to dole out punishments, and when I do, it’s hardly convincing. Granted, I’m not expected to discipline at my school. However, I want to be able to help my classroom teachers manage their class when they need it. There are a few talented disciplinarians at my school. I’ve been observing their interactions with the students in hopes of improving in this aspect. Although, I think my reputation among the students as a “funny” assistant will ultimately prevent me from earning their obedience when it comes to discipline.

Outside of the classroom, I’ve learned to let go of my insecurities when it comes to speaking Spanish. I think in the past I’ve missed out on having a lot of great conversations and meeting a lot of cool people because I feared my Spanish wasn’t good enough. I was too fastidious when it came to speaking correctly that I just avoided speaking Spanish altogether. Now, I seek out situations where I can speak Spanish, knowing that what I’m saying is probably imperfect, but understood nevertheless. Consequently, my command of the language has improved and my vocabulary increased. I guess I learned to accept, even appreciate, the failings because those moments are what foster learning.”

What I Learned From This Interview Teaching Abroad at a Bilingual School in Madrid, Spain

Having had a difficult relationship with my school in my auxiliar days, I was jealous when Alex told me about his intercambios and freedom to utilize his creative talents in the classroom. Teaching in a bilingual school in Madrid definitely has so many positives! He has a talent for connecting with everyone he meets that shines at his school too. Combined with his easy adaptiveness to the ever-bouncing expectations of the auxiliar, Alex and his school mutually thrive from the other’s presence. It wouldn’t surprise me if his students were are as thrilled to spend time with him as my friends and I are.

Thanks for sharing, Alex! We at Dreams Abroad are looking forward to your final update at the end of the school year.

 

Wasan Tawfeeq Talks Teaching Arabic at FSU

Last time I saw Wasan was while she was teaching her students Arabic at around 11:00 am on a Thursday morning. The class was attentive, engaged, and speaking Arabic! Since then, Spring semester has ended, the Summer semester is almost over, and Wasan successfully defended her dissertation. Wasan’s dissertation study was, “The Role of Directed Motivational Currents in Second Language Learning by Arab Heritage Learners and Arab ESL Learners.” She will graduate with her Ph.D. this summer and continue to work as Dr. Wasan Tawfeeq at Florida State University in the Department of Modern Languages, teaching Arabic.

What is a typical day at your school like?

students getting taught arabic“I teach two classes from Monday to Thursday. Each class period is about 50 minutes. I teach the first class, which is ARA 1121. It’s a level two Arabic class. The second class is ARA 2220, which is a level three Arabic class, so it’s a bit more advanced.”

How many people do you work with and how many classes do you teach?

“I work with two people mostly. I see the chair of the department and another Arabic professor. We’re all considered faculty. Also, I work with three other employees who help me with administrative stuff like printing and finalizing documents. I teach my two classes alone, however.”

How are you forming relationships with coworkers?

“I enjoy forming social as well as working relationships with my coworkers. We meet during off-campus and on-campus activities. There are a variety of activities that we do during the semester that let us engage with one another and talk about our social lives. Fortunately, we do not just talk about work!”

What about forming bonds with students?

“It is very important for teachers to build positive bonds with their students. The purpose of teaching is not just about how to convey materials, but also the challenge of creating an appropriate atmosphere. My job as a teacher is to help build an environment that helps to strengthen the relationships among the students themselves, as well as between him or herself and the other students.”

How does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships with the students inside and outside of the classroom?

teach abroad teach FSU Florida State Arabic collage classroom FSU logo“As a foreign language teacher, I believe one of the program’s responsibilities is to foster and maintain the relationships between the students and the teachers. Furthermore, it should also foster a relationship among the students themselves. Fortunately, that is what our program does. We schedule a lot of activities. My program fosters activities that are not just related to cultural learning, but also other activities that help students track their Arabic achievement.”

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

“My favorite part of the day as a teacher is when I see my students understanding the subject. Nothing quite beats seeing them comprehending new material. I love to see my students’ smiles on their faces. It just warms my heart. It tells me that I am doing my job right as a teacher.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

Wasan Tawfeeq graduating

“I prepare my lessons on a bi-weekly schedule. Each day I prepare my lesson with a lot of details, since I am teaching a foreign language. I believe it should have games, activities, and videos. I try to make sure that each lesson includes all of the four language skills: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.”

What does teaching mean to you?

“I love teaching, especially teaching Arabic. It is very important to me that I help people learn other languages. Arabic is one of the most important languages in the United States. It is one of the top five most popular spoken language in the US.”

What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of your students?

“In our program we use tests, oral projects, presentations, quizzes, and final exams. By using a culmination of different grades, we can see where each student shines or is having a more difficult time.”

Teaching Arabic

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help your students succeed?

“Yes. In my program we have a weekly meeting. During our weekly meeting we discuss what our plans are for our students, so as to help them achieve their goals.”

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad series interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to the USA? Both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

“I have gained a lot of experience through teaching and life. There is no limit to gaining knowledge because you can learn something new every day. This is especially so in the classroom. Teaching is about exchanging what you know with your students. However, teaching is not a one-way experience. My students are not the only ones who learn, because I am also learning right beside them. Together, we grow every day.”

Both Dreams Abroad and I would like to take a moment to say congratulations on a job well done to Wasan! Best of luck to you on your journey ahead – we are proud to have you as a We Teach member. Congratulations and thank you for the time you spent sharing your story with us. While teaching in itself is a challenge, teaching a foreign language has its added difficulties. Wasan has brought fun back into the classroom while continuing to encourage her students.

by Leesa Truesdell