In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

July 3, 2011
by annavarna

David Crystal and our collective experience

I just got a Kindle. I was resisting the temptation for some time now, but as the saying has it, the best way to eliminate temptation is to succumb to it, so there you have it: My Kindle is here and I’m trying to get the hang of it.

Last night I was reading David Crystal’s book “Just a phrase I’m going through”. I’ve read other books of his and I love his sense of humour and his ability to explain plus his academic expertise. Especially this one is like a biography of us all because he describes how he became a linguist and I’m sure his experiences will echo with a lot of us.

I haven’t read all of it yet, just the first 40 or 50 pages but already I have made notes on things that have reminded me of discussions we are having here:

  1. There was an incident he was describing about how he learnt the plural of the word “plant” in Welsh which means child apparently. He mentions how for some time he was under the impression that it was just another meaning of the English word plant actually and that it seemed natural to him because children grow like plants do. Well, that immediately reminded me of David Warr and his language garden and how we teachers are sometimes like gardeners.
  2. Further on Crystal is talking about how his early exposure to two languages (Welsh and English) might have given him a linguistic sensitivity that made him the eminent linguist we all know today. That reminded me a discussion we were having earlier yesterday with Mark Andrews who wrote about his early experiences from other cultures and how this shaped his motivation to learn a second language. Mark was lucky enough to have travelled to other countries when he was a young boy. I am convinced myself that travelling motivates learners a lot. Unfortunately it isn’t something easily done especially where my students are located. They live in a landlocked area  and they most come from low income agricultural families, among whom travelling to another country is a remote dream at the best of cases. But even for my family, although we love travelling, we haven’t been able to take our daughter to a trip abroad. That’s why I think that projects that include student mobility like Comenius partnerships, or even eTwinning collaborations that bring students in touch with students from other cultures are essential elements of our teaching.
  3. The third point in the book that revived a conversation held in blogosphere was the paragraph he claims a linguist is like an actor. I will copy this paragraph because I think it’s interesting and it relates to my previous post about our language personalities:

“It must be helpful to have some acting in the blood if you’re going to end up a linguist. When you learn a foreign language you adopt a new persona. You don’t just talk differently, you hold yourself differently, you look different, you talk about different things and in different ways. “I think you always feel braver in another language” said Anita Brookner, in a newspaper article a few years ago. This must be why there are so many quotations around by famous people explain that they use different languages for different purposes such as former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s comment: “When I have tense relations with my wife, we speak in Arabic, When we talk business then we speak English. And when our relation is better, then we talk French.” ….Emerging into a new language is just like entering into a new character. You learn its foibles, its strengths, its weaknesses. And when you try to speak it, you have to enter into the activity totally, otherwise you will not be convincing….”

In Tyson Seburnt’s blog we were discussing something similar about role-playing and the importance of names. I agree with him that we teachers shouldn’t try to impose anglicized names to our students just for our convenience. But I also suggested that maybe our students (especially the young ones) want to take up a different name because it gives them a new identity to play with, and it (probably) makes language learning easier.

So, that was it. Just in chapter 4 of the book and already so  many connections with so many teachers in so many places. Enjoy you Sunday wherever you are and I’m going to my veranda to keep on reading.


December 11, 2010
by annavarna

Would you like some help?

Do you sometimes feel tired dealing with all of your students in your classes? Do you ever find yourself wishing there was someone else there with you? Do you ever wish you had four hands and four eyes and two heads?

Well I’ve got the solution my fellow teachers all over Europe: it’s called Comenius Assistantships for student teachers and you can give it a try too!

I first heard about this program by my colleague Gerry Mavrokefalos who had already hosted a few teacher assistants in his class, from various countries. It works like this: EU funds a young teacher to come to your country and work along with you in your school for a school year or a term. The assistant teachers are usually young people who have acquired all the necessary qualifications but haven’t had a lot of teaching experience.

For them it is a great opportunity to work with a more experienced teacher, to see how different educational systems work, to learn in practice.

For the teachers that host them, it is a good chance to work with assistantship, something extremely valuable in some situations, imagine how easier it would be to have an assistant when you have a class of 25 uproarious teenagers in secondary school or a smaller class of rackety children of different levels on top of that. Sometimes even having a second adult there to share the difficulties seems a great idea.

As for the students I think they are the ones who benefit most from the situation: There is real intrinsic motivation to communicate with this person who really doesn’t speak our native language and doesn’t pretend not to, like us NNESTS do.

This year there are two assistant teachers in the area of Karditsa, Dina from Estonia and Katja from Finland. A couple of weeks ago we arranged a visit to our school and Dina came to see how primary English teaching works. Our experience was amazing. In just a few minutes children who were reluctant to exchange even the basic hellos with me, wanted to ask her a million questions. And the influence continued the following days when they prepared questions for next time.

This week we are planning another visit along with Katja in order to share Christmas crafts and stories! I am really looking forward to it. I must say that I was also reluctant to the idea of hosting a teacher not as far as the educational part is involved but because I imagined it would take a lot of extra time to help the assistant adapt in Greek reality. But I have seen it work and I have realized that for the people that come here, part of the adventure is to live in a foreign country. These young people don’t need a nanny, they need a mentor, someone to welcome them into their classes. And this I can do. From what I hear though these situations end up in long lasting friendships which is another perk of the whole setup!

So if you want to find more information about the program you can click here. If you are an educator who has hosted a trainee teacher don’t hesitate to share your experience and if you are a trainee teacher please share your thoughts too!

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