Teachers Talk Radio Interview: Empowering English Learners – Part Three

Lorraine and Harry chatting on a video call

A few months ago Lorraine appeared on Teachers Talk Radio with her friend Harry Waters of Renewable English to chat all about empowering English learners! You can listen to the conversation on the Intrepid English Podcast on all good podcast apps, or check out the video recording and transcripts right here on the blog. We’ve split it up into three parts. Here is part one, and here is part two. Enjoy!

Harry Waters  59:21

We are back. Hello. Welcome back, everybody. Thank you very much. We’re now into the final straight here. I just want to say this has been super lovely so far. Oh, Phil Longo has credited a photo today. He took from some slides in case students wondered about the source. It is very good practice for it. Absolutely. 100% I can now currently see myself on screen. I’m not sure where Lorraine’s gone. There we go. That’s better. Nobody’s gonna be complaining now. We didn’t want to see that bearded weirdo for all that long. Didn’t want to look at him anymore. Lorraine is also back. So we are into the final straight, the last half hour, The Final Countdown, as it were. And, yeah, so Lorraine thank you again for joining me here. I just have to say it’s been a lovely experience like it genuinely has. I knew it would be, obviously.

Lorraine Venables  1:00:21

Well, yeah. Well, remember the first time we chatted, we were just like, ‘blablablabla’ straight away and I was like, yeah, he’s in my tribe now.

Harry Waters  1:00:32

There you go. I like that. I like your tribe. When I’m over in ‘Edin-burg’ I’ll say hi. I think I got the pronunciation wrong. And hi to everybody who’s here in the studio. We’ve got Jane, Dorian and Nathan are here. Tom, yourself, and then we’ve also got many ‘MKKX’, a name obviously that has been given by podbean. Big thanks, as well to Michelle who has downloaded podbean today. Michelle Worgen, one of my marigolds in the ELT industry here in Spain. Somebody who has been around since the very beginning of my teacher training career. She was at my, I think my first ever talk, back in 2012 I think, an entire decade ago and a full head of hair ago. She’s tuned in today. So thank you very much for that, Michelle. Props to you. And I have retweeted an applause for you on Twitter as well. So back to Lorraine and well, not just Lorraine, more Intrepid English and your ideals, your mission statements. So we talked about empowerment before the break. What are your other ideals in your mission statement? I’ve got them written down here so I could say they but I thought I’d hand it over to you because, you know, your business, your idea. I don’t want to steal your glory.

Lorraine Venables  1:02:09

Ah, too late Harry, it’s gone.

Harry Waters  1:02:12

Sorry, it’s mine now. I’m going to celebrate by changing hat.

Lorraine Venables  1:02:19

It’s exactly the same as the previous hat.

Harry Waters  1:02:21

It’s slightly different. The colour’s slightly different.

Lorraine Venables  1:02:26

Okay, added value there, well done, that was worth the costume change. Those people who are listening on the audio only are like, what, I missed the hat change, what’s going on? You can watch it late. I think there’s gonna be a replay.

Harry Waters  1:02:39

Exactly. Watch back. 

Lorraine Venables  1:02:41

Yeah so, personally and professionally, I think that growth mindset is something that that I’ve worked on a lot myself and something that I always try and instil in my students if it doesn’t exist already. And when I say growth mindset for those who don’t know, the wonderful Carol Dweck, she is a psychologist I think in America who describes the benefit of children and other learners understanding that where they are is okay, and they can move forward. Okay, so the whole idea of ‘yet’, you know, maybe I don’t know that yet. But it’s, you know, on the way. Removing the negativity that comes with with learning something is so, so important. Often people beat themselves up because they’re not perfect yet. Well, newsflash, nobody’s perfect. And it’s an impossible standard to try and reach for so I always try to tell my students, you know, be kind to yourself where you are, and move forward, you know. We can move forward together. So we always try and take students forward step by step to where they need to be. So that’s growth mindset. We’ve talked about empowerment already. And the others are community, personalisation, and inclusivity. So when it comes to learning anything, you succeed a lot better, a lot easier if you’ve got a group of people around you who are hoping that you succeed, whether that’s the teachers, or other students, right. I mean, I was just thinking before we came on live here today, Harry. Today alone, I’ve used LinkedIn where I met you and a load of lovely people. Amazing, amazing people. And I was just really, I had a moment of appreciation for all the lovely folks that I’ve met on LinkedIn, which I never expected. Never expected to meet so many great people on there, right?

Harry Waters  1:04:44

You tagged me and really gave me a big smile. It was lovely.

Lorraine Venables  1:04:50

I was like, yeah, guys, I’m feeling the love. And you know, but I’ve also used today I’ve used LinkedIn, I’ve used Strava I’ve always talked to my friends at an online, it’s a group that I joined. I don’t want to call it a networking group because it’s so much more than that. The tagline is… so it’s ‘MOVE Online’, and the tagline is ‘making better human beings’. And it’s just such a fulfilling, wholesome crowd of people. We meet for ninety minutes every week online, and chat about work, maybe, but also life, relationships, you get advice, you give advice, you just chat about stuff. And there’s a real focus on, you know, positive mental health, growth personally and professionally. And I just think, like, my life is so much richer, having those various support networks around, but also I give value to them in my way. And that is also fulfilling to me, you know. So just, community is something that’s, I think, beneficial for everybody. But it’s something that we really built into our school.

Harry Waters  1:06:02

Now Michelle is watching on YouTube. Hello, Michelle. Applause for watching on YouTube as well. Yeah, that was, the whole marigolds thing. It’s all about, you know, these communities. So you know, where you plant marigolds, they help things around them, basically. And, you know your marigolds are like, the people that help you grow. I have to say that, you know, one of the benefits of what’s come out of the pandemic, I have felt a much bigger connection with people online. Yeah, beforehand, I had my networks. I knew people online. There was this, that and the other. I think being almost forced into it… it’s grown massively, and that idea of community to have in a class, in your work, just in your life, if you don’t have it, then you can’t grow, right? It’s just impossible. And what you mentioned about personalisation is something that in the world of sustainability is super important, you know. If it’s not…people aren’t… a lot of people aren’t going to care if you’re just, you know, talking about the the polar bears, okay? It is a shame that the polar bears are dying. But guess what? Never seen a polar bear. Probably never will. I don’t really care. So personalising it and making it about them and about where they’re from and local, is likely to make people care more. People should care about the fact that, you know, climate emergency, planet’s comeing to an end, but often they don’t. But when you make about them and personalise it, it’s super important in terms of, you know, the environment. But in terms of learning it’s such a key. I even lifted my foot up then. You can’t see but I lifted my foot up. That’s how key it is.

Lorraine Venables  1:07:50

 He means it guys, he means iy.

Harry Waters  1:07:52

There were hands and foot gestures. It was crazy.

Lorraine Venables  1:07:56

Yeah, one hundred percent. I think… So a lot of students as well, they’ve been to language classes in the past where they are one of eight students, for example. And there’s a curriculum, which has been designed by someone who’s not even a teacher there. And you know, it’s just disconnected from where they are. It’s hard to be passionate about something when you don’t really care. Like, when I was at school, I hated languages. I mean, it was terrible. I actually was so bad at French that my lovely stepmum, who means the world to me, and was saying it from a place of love, she was like, Laurie, just forget it. You know, just focus on something that you can do, alright. And I was like, oh, okay, well, that’s tough love, but, you know, it worked. I mean, I’m not talking about English there. I was really passionate about English, then. I have been all the way through my life. Excuse me. But yeah, that learning, you know, French verbs and German connotations of… oh my God, it was just torture. So I didn’t really understand then. I thought, I’m never going to need German. And then, you know, fast forward years later, living in Germany going, okay, maybe I should have paid attention in my German class at school. But then, miraculously, I was learning German and it was easier, much easier. For me it was enjoyable, because I could apply it to my life immediately. And I just thought to myself, right, okay. Teaching English needs to have the same thing. You can’t give someone a textbook that 100,000 people have also, you know, looked at and studied from and expect them to be passionate about it. You need to apply that to their daily life, as well as all the other lessons that you’re teaching through English like sustainability and environmental activism and things. So yeah, personalisation is is super, super important. But it’s also the key to having fun in a lesson.

Harry Waters  1:10:06

One hundred percent. One hundred percent. When I was at school I was good at French. I got an A in French. I definitely didn’t cheat in the exam. Almost certainly didn’t. You know, I was good at French, apparently, because, you know, I’d go to France on holiday with my folks. And basically, you know, I could count to twenty, and I knew how to give people directions. So back when I was doing my GCSE, back a long time ago, 2000 I think, I didn’t really need a lot more than that. And some friends of mine who live around the corner, they had a French visitor come and stay with him for other day. I went round there, I was like, yes! Here we go, get to practise my French. And then I was just like, well, I could ask for a beef sandwich. I can ask for it. And I can tell him to turn left. And I can tell him there’s a monkey in the tree. But that’s about it. It is completely irrelevant. And none of it, you know, of what I’d learned was ever relevant, and so it didn’t really stick. It was never important. So as soon as I finished at sixteen years old, it was like, I’ve done that, passed the exam, I’m gone now. And that… it can’t be like that with languages. It can’t be like that. You need to have that connection with it. Look at that. We said ‘connection’ at the same time. Brilliant. And the last core theme of yours, the last part of your mission statement is about inclusivity, isn’t it? I want to hear about something exciting that you’re doing about inclusivity.

Lorraine Venables  1:11:52

Okay. Well, personally or professionally? There’s loads of things going on. Okay, so one of the big projects that we’ve got coming up at the moment is, we’re producing an app, it’s a language learning app. And as well as being developed with green IT, I know you’d like that one, it’s also being designed in the most inclusive way. So we always try and be as inclusive as possible in our classes. So we have a range of different materials to suit each learning style. If, for example, we have a student who really likes to have listening materials, we’ve got a lot of podcasts. We’ve also got audio courses as well. But for people who don’t like listening to things or can’t hear, we also have transcripts and blog posts and a lot of written material online as well. And we’re working towards being more inclusive, but we’ve just registered as a supporter of the sunflower initiative. Now this came about by someone, a lovely person, again, that I met on LinkedIn. His name’s Spencer, and he is deaf. And he approached me and said, Lorraine, I want you to write my book. So I was like, well, I’ve never written a book before, Spencer. But I’d love to help you in any way I can. So we were chatting a lot about inclusivity. It was really, really valuable time for me when we were talking about this, because I just thought, there’s a lot I need to learn, which is an uncomfortable feeling but it precedes a period of growth, right? So I’ve learned a lot since meeting him, and he told me about the sunflower initiative, which is… Yeah, I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s an initiative where people with hidden disabilities can signal that they have a hidden disability. They may need some help. It might be something like, you know, I’m deaf, can you please let me see your your face as we’re talking so I can lip read? Or maybe it’s, you know, I’m autistic, can you be patient with me? Or I’ve got a learning disability, that kind of thing. But it’s not just about the physical badges that people can wear as well. It’s a movement to try and make things more inclusive. So registering as a business, even though we’re online, we don’t have bricks and mortar premises that people can visit, we’re still an inclusive space, we’re a safe space for them to come. They can tell us if they’ve got any specific learning needs, and we’ll adapt accordingly. So that’s one area that we’re trying to be inclusive with. We’re also teaching, including that in our lessons as well. So when we teach ‘business English’, you and I both have a bit of a thing about ‘business’, this vague entity. But when we’re teaching business English, we teach not only phrases and things that will help students, but we teach them how to include one another. We teach them how to advocate for themselves, and how to include other people as well who might be excluded. We also have a course on our website for diversity and inclusion, which teaches people not only, sort of, what it is, but why it’s important and how to apply it. So yeah, in a way, we are trying to help students to be better versions of themselves, you know, in English, of course. English is the tool that we use to do that. But I think now is the time that people are looking for more. They want to, as you said, it’s the silver lining of the pandemic. People want to be able to come to work as their whole selves, they need to be able to express themselves and care about the topics that they care about. So we really want to include that in the whole process. So, inclusivity, all the way through there.

Harry Waters  1:16:00

I love that. Come to work as their whole selves. I think that encapsulates inclusivity really nicely. It’s a thing that’s very difficult to encapsulate because it is, so like, wide reaching. I remember, a few shows, like back in November, Tyson Seaborn came on who wrote, who literally wrote the book on how to write inclusive materials. And, you know, I’ve been trying to grow with it as well, because there are a lot of things that I didn’t know, you know. At first for me, you know, when I thought inclusivity, it was ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation and these different… that was it. Then I was just thinking, oh, no, hang on, there’s actually so much more. Inclusivity is literally everybody who isn’t included, you know, and it was, you know, a bit of a stark realisation for me to kind of realise that and think, I’ve got so much to learn. That’s one of the wonderful things about, you know, there are so many webinars that you can go to. So many articles you can read. And just knowing that you don’t know is something that I found really helpful as a teacher in general, you know. You don’t know everything. It was hard to deal with at first, being a teacher, not knowing everything. Also being a Waters. You’ve never met my family, but if you ever meet my mum and dad, you’ll understand. My mum, you know, she’s not always right. But she’s never wrong. Which is something I was brought up with. So for me, it was really difficult to kind of, adjust and realise, do you know what? I’m not right. I’m not necessarily wrong, but I don’t know. I’ve got no idea. I don’t need to have an answer for that because I don’t know.

Lorraine Venables  1:17:57

I think that that’s the most important thing. An important skill that a teacher can have is to say, oh, I don’t know the answer to that. But I’m going to go and find out. Or, ooh, that’s really interesting. I haven’t really thought about that before, let me find that out for you, you know. Because we expect students to make mistakes. It’s absolutely a part of learning. If you can’t make a mistake in a classroom, then you’re not speaking English, you’re not speaking the language that you’re learning. So it’s really important that we model that as teachers and say, you know, I’m not perfect, I’ve made a mistake, or I don’t know that thing. But I’m going to find out for you. We’re going to solve that problem together. You know, if you’re teaching online, and you’ve got the right type of student, you can Google it, and you can find out right there and then. Ooh there’s a really interesting resource there, you know. But going back to what you were saying, Harry, about learning about inclusivity. So one of my dear friends, and luckily one of the people who’s been on our podcast as well, Alyssa Ordu, she’s a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant in London, and she and I had a lovely, lovely conversation. We’ve had many, many lovely, lovely conversations about this topic. But the way she put it, and it makes perfect sense to me, is that, there are policies in place, there are quotas out there to help companies and institutions be more diverse. But if the inclusivity isn’t there, to include people, then it’s just a tick box, really, you know, so it’s having people at all levels of the hierarchy, all levels of the decision making process, with different worldviews, with different perspectives, whether that be from the point of view of someone with a disability, or the point of view of someone, a person of colour, or person who, you know, has a particular religious belief. You know, it can’t all be… decisions can’t be made by one small subsection of the population. So if people are interested in learning more, there’s a really great blog post on the Intrepid English website where they can listen to our conversation, read it as well. There’s a transcript there. But there are loads and loads of resources at the bottom of that blog post, where people can, sort of, go on a bit of a journey, a little internet rabbit hole, but a wholesome one, to learn more about this really, really important topic.

Harry Waters  1:20:26

And how can people find the Intrepid English website?

Lorraine Venables  1:20:30

Intrepidenglish.co.uk. That was smooth, Harry. Professional.

Harry Waters  1:20:37

Ariful has asked the question, he said, “What would you say about watching movies in learning English?” Now, I had a bit of a rant. I, surprisingly… I don’t like to give parental advice to people. As a parent, I discovered how to do things and nothing annoyed me more than someone saying, “Oh, you should do that with your daughter, you should do that.” But the other day, as I mentioned the French family that came to visit, the mum is English, and the dad is French. And they spoke to their daughter, who’s two and a half now in French, and all of their TV was in French and all of the books they read were in French. And I just said, “I’m really sorry. I don’t want to be someone to tell you how to raise your daughter. But it’s so much easier if you teach her English now. If you get her into watching TV in English now, so even if you’re not speaking English, but if all she’s ever watching on TV is in English, all she ever knows is TV in English, it will make such an enormous difference to her understanding, to her speaking.” So for me watching movies, watching TV series in English is an absolute one hundred percent yes.

Lorraine Venables  1:21:58

Yeah, that’s interesting. And a lot of people attribute the Dutch capacity for English from a very young age is because their TV is in English, often with English subtitles, or at least they have English subtitles with Dutch, you know, TV content. 

Harry Waters  1:22:14

Portuguese as well.

Lorraine Venables  1:22:14

Really? I don’t know why certain nationalities have such a good propensity for English. But I do think that that is part of it. You know, it’s generally, sort of, just instilling a curiosity from an early age. So to answer Ariful’s question about movies in English? My answer is that if you are a movie lover, do that in English. If you’re learning English, you know, great, watch a movie in English. But be aware that often the quality of the language is not really… it’s not going to be too advanced. I mean it depends on the movie, obviously. But for example, if you’re watching action movies and things like that, the range of vocabulary that you’re going to learn is minimal. But that’s not the only goal there, right? If you’re passive learning, right, so you’re watching a movie in English, and you’re not really actively writing things down, you’re not actively paying attention to the vocabulary, there are benefits to that. It’s training your brain to understand the tonality of English and the melody and intonation. There are lots of benefits and advantages to watching movies in English, even if you’re not actively learning. But I would say don’t just do that. If you’re learning English, don’t just rely on movies. Try and turn it, if you don’t have time for anything else, try and turn that into an active learning process. For example, when you come across a new word or phrase in that movie, then pause it, write it down, write the sentence down that the word appeared in, maybe even make a note about pronunciation, and that way, you’re turning that into a more active learning process. You can learn quite a lot that way. And if it’s interesting, if you’re enjoying the movie, your brain will maintain that knowledge for a little bit longer than if you were to just sort of go, oh, I don’t know that word, and then just move on. So that would be my advice about using movies to learn English. But there are, if you want to watch the content that you’re learning English from, there are lots of resources out there where the quality of the vocabulary, the, you know, advanced sentence structures and pronunciation oftentimes if that’s what you’re working on. TED Talks, one of them. Controversial. Some people love them. Some people hate them. Some people love the older ones before it got all salesy, but you know, TED Talks. It’s such a huge deep archive of topics ranging from education to music to technology, all of these areas.

Harry Waters  1:23:01

Kids Against Plastic, as well. 

Lorraine Venables  1:25:08

Kids Against Plastic!

Harry Waters  1:25:10

I was pointing at the hat on Kids Against Plastic. They’ve got a couple of talks. There’s everything on TED Talks. Everything. Whatever you want to learn about, you can learn about it.

Lorraine Venables  1:25:19

You can learn about it, and there’s an interactive transcript, most of the time there is. But I would say one thing, if I can go into some more about this, it’s something that I often recommend to students. At a beginner level, you need to translate from your mother tongue quite often, right? That’s part of the process, I get that. But once you’re at a pre-intermediate level and above, you want to try and avoid the translating phase of the process, okay. There are several reasons why. One – if you are thinking in English and speaking in English, writing in English, you know, without having that one translation, you know, translating from your mother tongue, you’re going to be quicker at it, you’ll be thinking quicker. The process will be smoother. You won’t have to sit and think about what you’re going to say as much, you know. It might be a little bit to begin with. It might take a little while to get used to it, but eventually it will be beneficial. But also, if you’re looking up a new word, a new English word in your language, you then miss out on such a wealth of information than if you look it up in an English dictionary, you know. You’ve got example sentences, you’ll learn the preposition that comes after the word, for example. You’ll learn if it’s a transitive or intransitive verb. And, you know, unfortunately or fortunately, English has a lot of words with many definitions. If you’re translating, you’re just getting one definition, right, you’re just getting one. So look it up in an English dictionary. Try to remove your native language from the process, if you can, and it will generally make things a lot smoother.

Harry Waters  1:27:04

I think for me with learning Spanish, especially. I’m currently learning Portuguese. I’m on day two hundred and two of Duolingo. But that’s more of just a fun game thing. But I think for me when learning Spanish, the the massive moment was watching a movie. You know, a lot of people talking about dreaming in Spanish or whatever. I don’t remember what I dream in, but watching a movie and just completely understanding the whole thing. The movie was rubbish, but I understood the whole thing. I was like, “yes, I did it!”. I think the other biggest moment was, I was standing in the shower, and I was thinking about a conversation I was going to have, as you do. You know, my inner monologue was going, and I paused for a moment, I thought, I’m thinking about conversation I’m going to have with somebody in English. But I’m thinking about it in Spanish. I was just like, that’s weird. But that’s so cool. I’m gonna keep doing this. I just kept thinking about that conversation I was gonna have like, in my head. So for me, that was a huge moment. I was delighted with that. Well, we’ve only got two minutes left. I don’t know how we’ve only got two minutes left. Where’s the time gone? What did you do, Lorraine? You’ve stolen all the time.

Lorraine Venables  1:28:20

Have fun! That’s what I did. I had fun, Harry.

Harry Waters  1:28:22

It flew! I couldn’t do it on the on the radio, telly and everything. Not just be there doing that. I’ll tell you one thing that has been really weird about this is because other people can see us obviously, not being able to do any weird scratching anywhere, you know, sort of, scratching my head for anyone on the radio.

Lorraine Venables  1:28:43

I have. Oops! I can’t help it.

Harry Waters  1:28:49

I haven’t been fiddling with my hair. I haven’t got any of that, have I? Forgot that. But it has been incredible. It’s been so lovely to see you, to speak to you. My light is fading now. 

Lorraine Venables  1:29:03

Quite poetic!

Harry Waters  1:29:06

It is. I should tell Thomas about that. 

Lorraine Venables  1:29:10

Yes, you should. 

Harry Waters  1:29:12

It’s been absolutely glorious to have you on. It’s been fantastic. I can’t wait to continue to see how Intrepid English grows and helps and personalises and just continues being awesome. Thank you so much.

Lorraine Venables  1:29:30

Harry, thank you for having me on.

Harry Waters  1:29:32

Always a pleasure. Always a pleasure. Now I’m just trying to get the track to say goodbye to everybody. It’s been wonderful. Thank you, everybody and I’ll see you next time.

Ending 1:29:46

You’ve been listening to teachers talk radio, tune in live and listen back at TTradio.org. We look forward to hearing from you next time on Teachers Talk Radio.

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