By: Emily Maybanks
Monday 13th to Friday 17th November 2017 is International Education Week 2017 #IEW2017. Every year, the British Council encourages the celebration of International Education Week as a means of promoting the benefits of international collaboration, languages and cultural exchange. During International Education Week 2017, the British Council is focusing on global communication and more specifically language learning, with the belief that these skills are more important now than ever. The theme of this year’s International Education Week is ‘Be International’ (#BeInternational).
I’ve already shared my experiences of being a language learner. Now, I am going to share my experiences of being a languages teacher. This summer, I spent some time teaching English as a foreign language in Italy as well as in the UK. In Italy, I was a Camp Tutor in a two-week summer camp in Sant’Elpidio a Mare, in the Marche region of Italy where I taught a class of fourteen Italian children aged from nine to eleven years old. In the UK, I worked as a Teacher and Activity Leader for three weeks for UK Language Courses at their summer school in my hometown of Reading. During the first week, I taught two classes of students aged between eleven and sixteen, and during the second fortnight, I taught two classes of students aged between thirteen and eighteen. These students came from everywhere – France, Italy, Spain, Latvia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China.
To further acknowledge International Education Week 2017, I’m going to discuss what I learnt and my observations through teaching English as a foreign language in two capacities this summer, as well as how teaching has helped me.
One of the first things I learnt, particularly through teaching English in the Italian summer camp, is that it is good for children to begin learning a second or third language from an early age, from an early stage in their education. In Italy, I was teaching the eldest group in the summer camp with an already well developed level of English. Interacting with the children meant that I could find out about how they started to learn English and what they like about it and even at a young age, they were responding with great answers. There was one boy who had been learning English simply by watching YouTube videos on his own – with no input from his parents. Even by living with an Italian host family for a fortnight, it was fascinating to see the ten year old daughter speak with her Mother (and me) in just about fluent English and then speak with her Father in Italian because she’s grown up with two languages.
Teaching the older groups with the highest level of English while I was teaching in Reading also reinforced this fact. Most of the young people in those classes had been learning English from a very early age, which made my job as their Teacher a lot more stimulating because I could give them very mature topics to discuss and they always responded with well-articulated ideas and thoughts in a sensitive and caring way.
Another observation I made through teaching English this summer, particularly working in the summer school in Reading was that it is more difficult (this is what I found anyway) to teach a group of teenagers from a variety of countries rather than one country. In the first week, I was teaching classes of students from France, Spain, Russia, Ukraine, so a wide variety. While their common language was English, the main challenge was getting them to interact with each other in English. It was difficult to separate their “country groups” so to speak so on really terrible days, I’d end up with a group of French children speaking French on one side of the room and the Spanish students speaking Spanish in another part of the room. It was actually much easier teaching the Italian children in the summer camp in Italy in this respect, although the Italian summer camp was a very different setting to the summer school in Reading. In Italy, it was simply a question of playing games in English with the children. In Reading, it was full-on teaching.
Finally, I learnt how to handle or bring together two extremely different cultures. In the final week of the three week contract working for UKLC, I was teaching a class of predominantly Italian teenagers and one Chinese girl. Across the whole summer school, there were a couple of large Chinese groups, a few big Italian groups as well as smaller groups from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Italian and the Chinese cultures could not be more different. The Chinese students were very shy, but motivated and wanted to do well. The Italians were very outgoing, dominant and they were motivated but they also wanted to have fun. I think in China, they learn a language with a thorough grammar focus, whereas in Italy, I believe it is more CLIL based learning (CLIL is an acronym which stands for Content Language Integrated Learning). Bringing together two very different cultures in the classroom was hard. I had this idea which I wasn’t sure would work but I felt that I needed to try it anyway. I planned a lesson on languages which worked well and at the end of the lesson, I asked my Chinese student to teach the Italians some Chinese. Not only was it the most animated and cheerful that I had seen my Chinese student, but the Italian students responded well and they adored learning some Chinese. For me, as a new teacher, it was an enormous confidence boost.
Teaching English this summer taught me so much about a variety of cultures and about the importance of cross cultural communication and interaction. I think summer schools are a brilliant way to bring children and teenagers from a range of countries together. With the extensive methods of communication through technology and social media, it was amazing to see these youngsters interact with each other and arrange to keep in contact following their stay in Reading.