Friday 5: Shhhhh!

What’s something sneaky you’ve recently done?

I’m not really good at being sneaky. It’s hard to answer this one!

Who or what do you feel the need to tiptoe around?

Facebook and politics has become an interesting place since the election. And by “interesting place,” I mean, “barren wasteland bereft of hope or goodwill.”

What’s the dirty secret about the field in which you work?

When it comes to editing, the truth is that none of us know everything. There are loads of words that I have to look up every. single. time. I see them. Some of my more elegant solutions in a project have been crowdsourced from the copyediting hivemind. We all do it!

As for teaching, I’d say that a lot of times the teacher is just as nervous as the student. When it comes to language study with native speaker tutors, students assume that we’re sitting there judging you, or that it’s at least a low-stakes environment for us. False! Even with students I’ve had for years, I still get nervous anytime I’m debuting a new lesson or I have to tackle a tricky concept. You never know if the lesson plan or explanation you thought up in theory will work out in practicality.

What was the subject of your last whispered conversation?

I’m not much of a whisperer. When that happens, I’m usually just talking to myself. “Talking through a process,” I mean. Not “having a conversation.”

What’s recently snuck up on you?

It’s tax season, y’all! In two countries!

As always, questions taken from The Friday 5.

More News: Global LT

Fresh on the heels of my admittance in Stockholm University’s Academic Swedish course comes my hiring at Global-LT.  They provide businesses around the world with a number of language-related services, including language lessons, cultural sensitivity training, and translations. I am now one of their contracted English tutors in Stockholm! (Not translating, sadly—at least not yet.)

I’m excited for this opportunity to work with business professionals and meet new people!

Why I Still Study Foreign Languages

I’ve always been interested in foreign languages — my electives in high school were essentially all the music and foreign language classes I could fit in my schedule — so it’s not surprising that I would fall into teaching as a career.

I’ve made oblique references to studying Russian and Swedish elsewhere; I’ve also studied, in increasing order of fluency, Korean, German, and French. If you peek at my DuoLingo profile, you can see that I’ve also dipped my toes into Turkish. (It’s been a while with that one; I wouldn’t claim any kind of proficiency or knowledge.) While I’m just plain interested in languages, I think it’s important for language teachers to keep up their own language studies throughout their careers.

Image courtesy Hans Hillewaert.
Image courtesy Hans Hillewaert.

1. You can understand your students better.

If nothing else, when you have a better understanding of your students’ mother tongue, you can better understand where there might be L1 interference or confusion. My Korean students and friends, for example, often would use the verb “play” in a manner that, while not technically wrong, sounded odd, especially coming from someone older than 10. (“How was your weekend?” “It was good, I played with some friends.”) If I didn’t know any better, I would just be confused or annoyed by this persistent pattern in Korean English. But it’s an idiosyncrasy that’s a lot easier to understand because I know (a little bit) about Korean.

As it turns out, in Korean you can use the verb “to play” for everything from schoolyard games to company dinners (놀다) to just shooting the shit in the park, whereas in English we quickly outgrow it unless it’s in the context of a sport or a musical instrument. I hope that, if I taught my teenage Korean students nothing else, I got them to start using “hang out with” instead of “play with” when talking about their weekends.

2. You can remember what it’s like to be a student.

After a few years of pedagogical training and work, it can be really easy to fall prey to teacher hubris. Being a beginner again helps foster a sense of empathy with your students and their own struggles.

3. You can learn to be a better teacher.

This one is a little tricky if you’re not actually taking a class, but you can probably still be inspired by a good textbook or workbook. While there is plenty of EFL material written by plenty of highly qualified EFL experts, English isn’t the only language out there. The more you can branch out into other languages, the greater pool of inspiration you have to draw from. Maybe the worksheet you did for French is the perfect thing to adapt to your direct object lesson next week, and so on.

4. Your students can feel more comfortable with you.

Many argue for the immersive “target language only” philosophy; this is the approach I was taught when I did my CELTA. While I agree that the immersive (or faux-immersive) environment can be exactly the challenging situation that a lot of students need, and that it sometimes is the best practical situation (e.g. a class of international students who don’t all share the same mother tongue), I don’t think it’s always entirely appropriate. Some students are shy, or not quite confident in the target language–sometimes just knowing that they can ask a clarifying question or use a word in their mother tongue is the Dumbo’s feather that they need to take productive learning risks. The more languages you know at least a little bit about, the more students you can reach.

So I study languages for all of these reasons, but also just because it’s something I’m interested in. I’m not the most diligent student, I’ll admit, but I still make an effort. I’ll get into my own study habits and schedule in another post. But for now, I’ll leave things here.

Availability Announcement: Tutoring

As of August 29, I will be studying Academic Swedish at Stockholm University. This means that my tutoring calendar for the fall of 2016 is nearly full. Starting today, I will only be accepting, at my discretion, individual and very short-term (as in, 1 week or less) tutoring appointments. I will resume booking long-term and ongoing tutoring appointments sometime in December (date subject to change).

My editing calendar remains largely unaffected, so please feel free to contact me with editing inquiries.