The Intrepid English team is growing! This week, I sat down with our newest teacher, Elena, to ask her about her life, studies and love of languages. You can read our chat below or listen to us on the Intrepid English podcast.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m a 30-year-old English and Italian teacher. I was born in Rome, but I have studied English since I was a young child. In fact, I had a Scottish nanny, and since both she and I had ginger hair, people on the street always thought she was my mum! I currently live in Edinburgh, where I studied Developmental Linguistics, a subject based on the psychology of learning languages.
I am very interested in how people learn languages and how to overcome communication problems. I also studied Intercultural and Linguistic Mediation, which focuses on cultural differences and possible sources of intercultural conflict. After studying, I worked for two years at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. There, I was part of the Forestry Department, where my team managed the communication of projects that improved reforestation and nature preservation around the world.
Nature, communication and travel are passions of mine. I have travelled a lot, and I’ve even worked as a language teacher on a cruise ship travelling around the world! I like to do pretty much anything spontaneous and adventurous. During my travels, I keep a sketchbook in which I record my impressions of places. I used to work as a comic book artist and graphic designer, so I love to draw.
Tell me about your experience of living and teaching English abroad.
Apart from teaching on the cruise ship — which stopped in 33 different countries, and where I had classes of up to 35 students — I have worked for several schools in both Edinburgh and Rome. In a way, being Italian, I am living and teaching abroad here in Edinburgh!
I now feel that the Scottish and Italian culture have about the same weight inside me, so I feel pretty bi-cultural, apart from bilingual. This means I constantly switch from one set of cultural behaviours to the other, and my friends always tell me that I change my mannerisms a lot when I use one language or the other. This helps me understand that the shift that students have to do when they acquire a language has to do a lot with the culture, as well as the language.
I’m not sure if this counts as ‘abroad’, but I also taught for almost a year online, and I had students from all over the world. This was great, because I could hear lots of stories from lots of different cultures and I was also exposed to a variety of learning styles and personalities, and that felt a bit like being abroad.
What’s the hardest thing about learning a language?
I personally think that learning a foreign language is very brave. This is true for many reasons, but I think mainly because in order to learn, you have to go through a stage in which you have to ‘get rid of’ your first language and find yourself in a bit of a blank-minded state where you feel you have to learn everything from scratch, and that can feel really uncomfortable.
At the beginning, the tendency is to rely completely on your first language and to try to ‘translate’, but I personally find that if a student does that a lot, it normally takes them a bit longer to learn.
I personally find that the best students do a combination of questioning a lot ‘why’ something works the way it works (this way they manage to recognise patterns and rules), and being ready to accept ‘this is just the way it is’ as an answer. It might sound strange, but a lot of things don’t really ‘make sense’ in every language, and it can be hard to accept that when you’re learning the rules.
What do you like most about teaching English?
For reasons that are still mysterious to me, when I learnt English myself I found that living in an English-speaking country made me feel way more comfortable with myself. I ended up ascribing it to the different culture. In Scotland, I found a creative, innovative and free-spirited environment that I didn’t experience in Italy, which is a bit more conservative. I love the idea that by teaching English (and other languages!) I may help other people find ‘their culture’ outside their culture (I’m not sure if that makes sense?).
I also love using my creative side to prepare materials that are clear and fun enough to encourage the student to practise but are also challenging enough to make them learn something new. Finding that ‘sweet spot’ is one of my favourite things in teaching.
What advice would you give to English language learners?
I have two pieces of advice, one of which may sound quite fun and the other one quite boring.
The first one is: language is power – use it! Very often I find students who get a bit shy when they have to come up with something in a speaking practice and as a result, they stick almost too much to what they already know or what they think the teacher expects from them. When students start having fun with the language – getting out of their comfort zone to make a joke, for example, or express an opinion, that’s an excellent learning moment. Ultimately, the language needs to serve you, so make it serve you from the start!
The second (and boring) piece of advice complements the other: do the exercises to the point that a language point becomes automatic to you. It has to become second nature. It’s easy to feel that you’ve learnt something immediately after a class, but it’s also very easy to forget it if that’s not used!
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our Intrepid English students?
Be intrepid, see you soon, and good luck! 😉
You can connect with Elena by visiting her Intrepid English Teacher profile. She’d love to hear from you!
Book a free trial lesson today and talk about your learning goals with an experienced native English teacher. Say goodbye to boring English lessons! If you’re not sure what you want to learn, let your teacher choose from the range of English courses that have been designed to help our students to achieve their goals.
This blog was written by Intrepid English Teacher and Founder, Lorraine.
Find out more about Lorraine on her Intrepid English Teacher profile page.
If you have any questions, or you would like to request a topic for a future blog, you can contact us using the chat box, or email us at Intrepid English.
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