I have been teaching German and English for ten years: at universities, secondary schools, and in adult education.
- Master of European Modernisms, University of Birmingham
- PhD in German Studies, University of Birmingham
- PGCE Modern Languages, University of Bedfordshire
- QTS and NQT qualified secondary teacher for modern languages
- Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK
The fictional interview: “Tell us something about yourself…”
“Have you always wanted to be a teacher?” “Not really.”
One might say that nothing other than a lucky accident – or sheer external pressure – brought me into teaching. Leading seminars with undergrads was just part and parcel of doing a PhD at Birmingham University. And so it came that I discovered a passion for education. Following my PhD, I continued to work as a Teaching Fellow, teaching German language, literature and culture.
“Which age group do you like teaching?” “Can I say all of them?”
After a few years, I took a deliberate step into formal teaching and trained as a language teacher for British secondary schools. At Hymers College in Yorkshire, I worked with young people from year 7 to A Levels, until my husband and I decided to up sticks and move to Germany. I have been in adult education ever since.
By now I have been working with learners between the ages of 10 and 60, all of whom bring their own ideas, goals, worries and experiences to class.
“Be they engineers, sales consultants, students, sixths formers or even kindergarten children – they all have individual goals.”
My job is to support them in achieving those goals and guide them on the way by offering suitable strategies.
“What does it mean for you to live life in two languages?” “It is tremendous fun. Call it cultural competence – it is still fun.”
I learned English as a foreign language, but after 14 years of living in the UK and working as a language teacher, I have pretty much ‘gone native’. Not only do I speak both languages, I also understand the processes, opportunities and traps that German native speakers encounter when learning English.
“You are saying there are traps for language learners?”
Traps – yes, of course. Every language learner knows about those, the fact that a German “handy” is a mobile, which is, admittedly, handy. Many speakers also get how confusing it is when Germans claim to be “irritable” when really they are just confused. And if that makes them irritable, why should we care? Oh dear, and please don’t ask Germans how they are unless you have a lot of time. That is not a cliché. Really.
“But there are also shortcuts along the way?”
Yes, opportunities – you could call them shortcuts. Language trainers often utilize a learner’s native language to point out such connections.
“Knowing about connections between different languages makes learning easier.”
Many Germans already “cancel” their “meetings”, and we can work out the meaning of words such as “Haus”, “Maus” and “Laus” if we look at them squinting slightly, like trying to get one of those 3D images to work. And yes, even evil grammar is not always quite so mean. Ok, an example: take the German verb “trinken”. Past tense “trank”, Past participle “getrunken”. Hang on, drink, drank… yes, there you go. Small pleasures.
“Right, then: are you an English teacher or German teacher?”
Both. Language teachers who speak several languages understand the building blocks of a language, its rules and how to teach them. Often it is also a case of making learning enjoyable and establishing good learning habits.”
“So you have to learn learning?”
As a teacher I was initially surprised when “the little ones” did not remember writing down their homework task for the next day. Why don’t they know this? It’s obvious, surely. Well, no, it isn’t. It’s your job to teach them that. They need to learn learning. And it is easy to forget how to learn if we don’t practice it.
“And adults don’t find learning easy?”
These days it’s commonplace to state that modern working life also requires us to commit to lifelong learning.
“Language skills are a part of the toolkit we are expected to have.”
However, languages aside, it is good practice to keep up learning habits. By learning new things regularly, we remain mentally agile, curious and handle new challenges with relative equanimity.
To keep my own learning boots on, I am currently training as a journalist. In addition to staying up to date with my subject, I also wanted to do something new. As with most things in life, there are still links with my teaching as I learn about communication, social media, marketing strategies, public relations in general and crisis communication within institutions. This allows me to stay closer to some of the topics my language clients are dealing with on a daily basis.
“Keeping on my toes as a learner makes me a more empathetic coach.”