Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Category: Non classé (page 1 of 6)

Bye Bournemouth!

As I type right now, in a coffeehouse on Wimbourne Road, Bournemouth, UK, I can’t quite believe it myself. Yesterday was the most intense, emotional and strange day I have ever lived so far: yesterday was the end of Delta Module 2. We survived, guys! We did it!

To begin with, let’s be honest about one key point: our tutors were simply the best. I mean, did you ever have a Delta tutor who picks you up at home because you overslept and you’re late? We did. Did you ever have a Delta tutor who brings you watermelon and pastries every day because you need comfort food and vitamins? We did. Nothing would have been the same if they were just a tiny bit different. I don’t say that often, but they are amazing human beings.

That’s the strength of good teachers/trainers: they inspire you, they motivate you. They set the bar high, and all you wanna do is to become just half as good. I will never recommend ITTC enough to wannabe and experienced teachers.

In general, I know I am going to miss Bournemouth. I loved my life here, my Delta cohort, my tutors (obv.), the coffeehouse I had my breakfast every morning for six straight weeks (the one where I am right now, typing). I have lived in numerous places, and back in 2017 already, Bournemouth was an amazing experience. I cried when I went back home.This year, it almost felt like home, and even though I might not cry, it won’t be less painful.

I would love to say that I’ll be back. I can only wish. Brexit being what it is, and me having a family (a husband and two cats, that’s still a family nonetheless), it’s quite hard to say that I’ll move here for real. Maybe I’ll go back to teach a few weeks at BEET? That would be pretty nice enough(fingers crossed). I feel incredibly lucky already that I had such an experience, and that my Delta course went that smoothly. I know that, for some people, it’s purely Hell on Earth; for us, yeah, it was not a walk in the park, but nobody had a meltdown, everybody passed an internal LSA (or two, or three) WITHOUT resubmission (I passed 2, and I went to see my CELTA tutor afterwards just to say: “do you remember when I had to resubmit every damn CELTA assignment??”).

And yeah, I am going on holidays, now. 🙂 Happy holidays everyone!

Delta, week 2!

Wow, what a week that was! I am currently sitting in Coffee #1 on Winton, Bournemouth, preparing the lesson plan for my LSA2, which will be about multi-word verbs. But I thought that it would be nice to update you guys!

I had a nice surprise this week, which was not (entirely) Delta related: it appears that I passed my first year of my MA Applied Linguistics and TESOL. I honestly thought that I had failed (I did fail a paper though) but turns out, I am still good to go! I still have two modules to take, and a dissertation to write, but I needed that good news to keep going! I really thought I was done, I was pretty sad about it, but I can apparently use my braincells from time to time. And that’s quite nice.

Week 2 of Delta means LSA1: the background essay was due on Wednesday, the lesson was scheduled on Thursday… And I passed both of them! I can’t believe it myself, especially since I had to resubmit every damn CELTA assignment, but hell, it’s done! I feel so relieved, it’s hard to transcribe how I feel right now. Honestly, I quite liked the subject for LSA1, which was Reading for global understanding and I feel less confident about LSA2, but I am way more relaxed now than before.

I’ll keep you posted about LSA2 next week, I guess 🙂 Enjoy your weekend!

Delta Module 2: first thoughts!

If you have been following my Twitter feed lately, you might have realized that I started my DELTA (Module 2) this week at ITTC, in Bournemouth. I did my CELTA there in 2017, and had an amazing experience (I didn’t think this way every day while doing it, but two years later, I can confidently say that it went great) thanks to the amazing team of tutors. I have written a bunch of articles about it, if you feel like browsing this little blog 🙂

So, it only made sense to come back there for my DELTA. I started my MA last September, distance-learning, which is not exactly what I was expecting (see my previous article), and doing a DELTA was always in my plan anyway. I did not take the Module 1 yet, not because I didn’t prepare it, but because I didn’t feel ready in June to try it. I am working on it by myself (let’s be honest, adding the cost of a DELTA course – module one- online was also impossible for me this semester), but I was not confident enough to take it in June. Nonetheless, I applied to do Module 2 anyway, got in, and arrived in Bournemouth last Sunday.

I found exactly what I was looking for: a great cohort, amazing tutors always ready to help us and answer our numerous questions, and motivated students to practice on! I don’t know if I have been brainwashed the first time I came to ITTC, but there is a particular feeling there, which can make you feel at home. It’s extremely comforting, especially when you are doing a course as demanding as DELTA.

Key word of the upcoming six weeks: organization. We have a million things to do during DELTA, between the assignments (language, skills, professional development) and the teaching practice. Hopefully, I’ll manage to focus on a precise point (or two) to work on every day, so I won’t get lost. If I look at the larger picture, I might be sick at some point, so I’ll try to avoid that!

What else to know about starting DELTA module 2: read! Reading is a huge component of DELTA and I am glad that I had read pretty much the entire collection of How to… (I just ordered the last one, How to teach listening by JJ Wilson), How languages are learned, A-Z of ELT, Learning teaching… Honestly, half of the list provided by my tutors was already on my MA list, so don’t think that I am a weirdo who spent her entire winter reading ELT books (half winter only, I read a lot of Bret Easton Ellis the other half)

To finish, a few words about my diagnostic lesson… I have the tremendous chance to have responding students (6 of them, multilingual) and a great tutor: I challenged my inner Kirk (my former writing teacher back at Yale, aka the best teacher I ever had but also the loudest person alive) during the lesson (I was stressed as well, that didn’t help the volume), which means that I am pretty sure some of my students heard bells after the class (like, literally, tinnitus). But on the other hand, all of them felt comfortable enough to talk and to ask questions, which is quite positive, especially after only one lesson.

The Language Challenge: 2 years later…

If it’s very first time you are coming here, or if you don’t remember what I am about to tell you about, here’s some elements you need to know before going further:

-Two years ago, I read an article about a security guard who learned 6 languages at once, using apps and TV.

-There is a myth saying: the more you are learning languages, the easier it will become!

-I was about to leave my day job to become a language teacher, so it seemed important to become also a language learner.

The beginning of the experience

I started on the 2nd of May 2017, and I chose to start with Duolingo and Babbel. The two languages I picked were Italian and German, because I had already some notions (my dad is Italian, and I had German classes for years, I was basically A1). The first trimester went pretty well, and I actually preferred German over Italian for a couple of months. I stopped using Babbel rapidly, but kept Duolingo so I bought books instead (Harraps, Lonely Planet, Assimil…). I was working one hour a day on it, every day. The plan, at that precise moment, was to start on another language, completely different from the others, later on. I chose Japanese mostly because a friend of mine gave me her books and because I had a Japanese acquaintance who teaches Japanese as a foreign language.

Real life strikes back!

In July 2017, I moved to the UK and started my CELTA. All of the sudden, I didn’t have one hour to devote to Italian nor German, and I dropped from using several techniques to only using Duolingo for one or two exercises a day. I sometimes even preferred to work on my German, but the exercises I was doing were not exactly interesting nor useful. After I got hired at BEET language center, I worked more regularly, and I felt a real improvement in both languages.

But I moved back to France, started to teach in companies, and slowly, I realized that my Italian was getting stronger than my German. I went back to Italy to see my parents and  I was able to speak with pretty much everybody (random stuff: “where is the parking lot?” “when does the show start?” “I am a teacher, what’s your job?”) and that cheered me up. I had a personal reason to learn Italian,  and my motivation did the trick: I was not afraid to speak, to make mistakes, all I wanted to do was to practice. Somehow, it didn’t work that well for German, and despite having German friends, I was never truly able to utter a complete sentence. I stopped gradually to learn German, realizing that I was too afraid of making mistakes, that I didn’t have time to devote to its learning, that I needed a teacher. At least, I know what went wrong. It’s been more than a year now that I stopped German, and I am pretty sure that I won’t try again, because I have realized, also, that the way I started to learn it, fifteen years ago, shaped my way of seeing the language, and I am afraid I can’t get over it.

What about Japanese, then? 

As I previously said, the original plan was to start Japanese in December 2017. Considering that I had a lot of work, and that I was struggling to learn German, I decided to postpone the experience until Spring 2018. It got postponed again, and well, I just decided to give up. Trying to learn an entire language all by myself was impossible back then, especially without help.

German is ditched, Japanese didn’t work out, so that’s it?

Something weird happened though, and makes me think again about the way I was seeing languages. Last summer, I attended Yale’s TESOL session, and some of my friends were Spanish speaker. I realized that I could understand a few words, sometimes even a sentence. I started to watch Jane the Virgin, which is a TV show set in Florida, where the protagonists speak in English and in Spanish. The strangest moment occurred when I started to dream in Spanish. A friend of mine tried to convince me to learn Spanish for real, but I was too busy to think about it seriously.

On the other hand, at Yale, I was glad to be able to talk in Italian every day, even if it was only for 5 minutes, with my Italian friends. I started to read Italian books there (for kids, let’s be honest) as well.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t speak French at all there. I used it only one minute to snap at a despising, mean and arrogant Belgian teenager who had spent the entire hour insulting people in French, thinking that nobody, but his buddies, could understand him. Raté. 

So, Spanish?

After Yale, I stayed a month in the US, continued to work on my Italian with Duolingo, but didn’t think about Spanish at all, despite the fact that I could understand what Spanish speakers were saying most of the time.

In January, my husband surprised me for my 30th birthday with a trip to Punta Cana. Most tourists there were Italians, which caused a very funny scene where an Italian organizer tried to recruit me for her yoga class, because we were sitting on the Italian side of the beach… And because I spoke only Italian to her, she thought that I was just being lazy, until my husband spoke to me in French! (so after, I was still lazy BUT proud of myself)

Anyway, back to Spanish. Everybody (hotel employees etc…) there spoke Spanish, and it became frustrating to be able to understand 80% of what they were saying but to answer in Italian. Back at home, I decided to start to work on my Spanish.

What now? 

I still religiously learn Italian: I am around B1+ now. I can follow an episode of Baby on Netflix in Italian with Italian subtitles! I can still be tricky because of the speed, but I feel more confident than before, even though there is still a lot to do. I don’t learn Italian because I want to write an essay, nothing as fancy. I just want to be able to talk with people on various subjects, to be understandable, to read a simple book (Elena Ferrante is out of my league for now), to follow an episode of a show without having to concentrate. I am quite proud of the results, to be perfectly honest!

Spanish is interesting, also because I love the prosody of it. It is still tricky for me because I never talk in Spanish. I do my exercises on Duolingo, I watch Spanish TV shows (with English subtitles, I am afraid). I didn’t set a precise goal for myself, I just learn it because I like it, and I am fine with it.

There is another language that I am interested in. I don’t really have the time right now to focus on it, but I’ll enjoy hearing it, and I am trying to practice with my sister in law whenever it’s possible: it’s Russian. Is it because she is Russian? Is that because I like the prosody of it, as I like the Spanish one? Is it because she told me that my pronunciation was on point?

If you managed to arrive here, thank you for reading this rather long post! I hope that you didn’t fall asleep while doing so, and that I didn’t sound so naive or cliché. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions, or to comment the article!

Is ELT sick?

This week, I started to teach in a French business school. Being French (and Italian) myself, and fully aware of the whole Native Speaker vs Non native speaker debate, I decided to speak only English to them. I didn’t mentioned my citizenship to them, but my qualifications. As I probably mentioned before here, I don’t have a French accent, but mostly an American one.  I had 45 students that day, only one asked me, at the very end of the day, what was my first language.

I asked the entire class if they cared about my first language, or about my skills, or qualifications. Then, I told them that my first language was undeniably French. What was the point of lying anyway?

Can you imagine being a student in a classroom and randomly ask your teacher what is his/her first language? That shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. But because schools and the whole ELT industry advertised for years that Native Speakers were “better”, it is now totally acceptable. I take it as a personal attack, and I reacted that way with my too curious student.

Truth is, she was shocked by my reaction. She had no idea how rude her question was, and how downsizing it was. For her, it was totally normal. I am trying to imagine a world where you are asking your P.E teacher or your science teacher what his/her nationality is without being rude, and unfortunately, I can’t. Why is ELT different, then?

Praising native speakers is not helping the development of the language itself: it raises a bar our students cannot achieve. I always believed teachers were here to set an example (sorry if I am being old fashioned right now) and having a non native speaker as a teacher can set it.

How can you motivate teachers if the citizenship matters more than the qualifications?

How can you teach effectively if you don’t know what tomorrow is going to be?

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