Putting yourself in your students shoes | TEFL Jobs London

Putting yourself in your students shoes

by Donna Hutchinson
London based TEFL Teacher, @donnatamara

Recently I returned from a sun-soaked holiday in the Algarve with three of my best girl pals. It was just what I needed after a hectic summer of EFL. However, I don’t know about you but I can’t seem to turn off my English teacher head completely and when travelling abroad, I am always listening out and analysing English ability; not in a scrutinising way but just out of interest. I am always envious of my students who can speak many languages with ease. My friends and I discussed that we feel inferior merely speaking English.

Before we went, I looked up some key Portuguese phrases online. I took inspiration from one of my  heroes, Eddie Izzard, who, in one of his stand-up gigs talks about how he always tries to at least learn how to say ‘do you speak English?’ in the language of the country he’s visiting. However, he does mention that in some countries, asking said question is the equivalent of asking someone ‘can you count to three?’

So I took with me the key phrases that I could remember and shared them with my travel buddies.

–          Do you speak English?

–          Thank you

–          Please

–          I love you

–          What a shame!

The last two were not so useful but for some reason they’d stuck in my mind, with the help of a colleague fluent in Portuguese!

The first was useful not because I needed to ask (everyone spoke excellent English) but because someone asked me, thus highlighting the importance not just of production but also of comprehension.

Getting over the fear of speaking

The other thing was getting over the fear of trying to say these phrases, it is a deep-set irony I live with that everyday I ask my students to speak without worrying about errors too much or not worrying about what people think but as soon as the shoe is on the other foot, my mouth is zipped closed. My friends and I overcame this problem when we made up a game; 10 points if you use one of the phrases. Granted, most points were racked up by saying thank you to everyone we encountered. I also kind of cheated in that I would only say it after my friends had said it first. Ridiculous! It did provide incentive though for the more competitive amongst us. The only prize is pride! Still, a useful tool in the classroom.

My point is, I think it’s beneficial sometimes to put yourself in the shoes of a student and be faced with some of the fears they have to go through every morning. I especially enjoyed it with the bonus of the Algarve sun.

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