Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Yes, I can! I grew up in a town called Reading which is near London. When I finished school, I went to Paris to be an au pair. My best ever French teacher was the 3-year-old girl I looked after. After Paris I returned to England, to Sussex University, to study International Relations and French, which included an ERASMUS year studying in Aix-en-Provence.
After University, I began my life of being a nomad and moving around the world to work and travel. I completed my Cambridge CELTA teaching certificate and my first teaching job was in Kobe, Japan, in 1997. Since then I’ve lived and taught English in Australia, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Russia. I even worked as an English teacher on a cruise ship which sailed the whole way around the world.
I love the ocean and sailing. I’ve lived and crewed on a few yachts including crossing the Atlantic and a lot of the Pacific. When I’m on land, going for long hikes in nature is my favourite thing to do. At the moment, I’m living in the south of England, five minutes’ walk from the sea. I visit the sea every day and love watching the waves.
For a long time, I wanted to learn Spanish and in 2018 I went to Guatemala to study at a language school. I did a 3-month intensive course while living in a small, indigenous town on the side of a volcano, next to a lake. I now speak intermediate Spanish and I take online lessons every week.
Tell me about your experience of living and teaching English abroad.
Hmmm, where do I begin? Well, Japan was my first time outside of Europe. I was 23 years old and had a one-year contract teaching in a senior high school. Telephone calls were really expensive. Email was a new invention but I didn’t have a computer or an Internet connection. I wrote a lot of letters that year. My students really helped me by teaching me enough Japanese to go to the post office to send all the letters and parcels.
I ran an after school English club for the English major students and we had a lot of fun putting on plays. I will always remember 16-year-old schoolgirls playing Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.
In 1999, I left a cold, dark, rainy British winter and went to Australia with a 1-year working holiday visa and found a job almost immediately at a language school in Sydney. My first day of work was taking a group of Chinese kids on a study tour. We went on a cruise of Sydney Harbour together. The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling, we passed the opera house and the harbour bridge and I felt extremely happy to be an English teacher.
I may have mentioned that I like the sea. Next, I decided I wanted to work in France so drove from Reading to the Côte d’Azur and started looking for work in Nice. There, I ended up teaching lessons at 2 language schools and the university. I spent my days zooming around town on my bicycle going from one classroom to another.
I taught a class for a year at the university. Whilst I do speak French, I never spoke a word of it while I was teaching. The students were absolutely horrified when at the end of the last lesson on the last day of term, I replied to one of them in French. They had no idea that I could understand them for the whole year and were terrified that they had said awful things. I found it very funny. They were lovely and had never said anything bad in English or in French!
I could go on forever telling stories about my teaching experiences. I started teaching because I thought it would be a good job to travel with. I’m so lucky that it turned into a job that I absolutely love. I definitely understand how it feels to be a language learner and meeting students from all over the world makes me feel like I’m travelling, even when I am at home in England on my computer.
What’s the hardest thing about learning a language?
For me, the hardest thing is that everybody speaks my language! When I was an ERASMUS student in France, all the other students spoke English together and I didn’t get much chance to practise my French.
So, I suppose that means that the hardest thing to do is surround yourself with people and things using the language you want to learn. If you are lucky, you can visit the country where the language is spoken. Otherwise, you really need to concentrate on getting as much exposure as possible; making friends who speak the language, listening to radio, podcasts, etc in the language.
The next most difficult thing is getting over the fear of feeling silly when you make mistakes. As a teacher, I say that mistakes are good because they help us to learn. But when I make mistakes while speaking Spanish, I don’t feel good.
It takes a lot of courage to learn a new language and to go out and use it. Language learners rock!
What do you like most about teaching English?
I believe that a teacher’s main role is to enable their students. I love the feeling when I teach a student something new, help them to practise it, then watch their face light up as they realise they understand and can use it properly. Sometimes a lesson has a real buzz of learning energy and it feels great. There are lots of smiles.
Another highlight is learning about other countries and cultures. Having said that, teaching English to foreign students has taught me an enormous amount about my own culture. I will always remember a class in England where a student from Uzbekistan pointed out of the window at a big group of people in the street, a lot of whom were wearing black. She asked me if they were going to a wedding or a funeral. For me, the answer was completely obvious. It took me quite a long time to explain and I’m still not sure she quite understood!
What advice would you give to English language learners?
Don’t give up! You can do it!
If you want practice and you like reading, think of an easy book that you have read and enjoyed in your own language, then try reading it in English. You already know the story so you don’t need to worry about understanding every single word, and you will feel really proud of yourself when you finish. I’ve read all the Harry Potter books in French. I suppose I should try them in Spanish now.
Have you tried LLN, Language Learning with Netflix? Try it!
When I was studying in Guatemala, we started a study group for conversations. None of us were native speakers and it was a brilliant help to chat with someone who spoke more slowly, and to discuss our grammar and vocabulary questions together. So, try speaking in English to other learners.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our Intrepid English students?
Now you know all about me. I’m looking forward to meeting you, finding out about you, and exploring English together.
If you are still wondering if online English lessons are right for you, why not book a free trial lesson today and talk about your English goals with an experienced and friendly English teacher. It’s never too late to reach your English goals!
This blog was written by Intrepid English Teacher, Jo.
Find out more about Jo on her Intrepid English Teacher profile page.