QUESTION 01 | 04
When did your passion for teaching languages begin?
Helen — To start with, I was a very successful English learner back in high school. Even though English was our first language, we still had classes dedicated to mastering English writing and communicative skills, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, etc. My friends and classmates would always consult me regarding some tips or explanations if our teachers weren’t able to provide them. I was keen to help them out. Why not? I was really pleased they trusted me.
Soon, my mates would ask me: “Could you stay a bit longer after the class and explain us a thing or two? There are quite a few things we don’t get. We’d really appreciate it”.
I decided to give that idea a go since all of those guys were my mates and it felt great to do something nice for them. However, the real turning point was when they passed the exams I’ve been preparing them for with flying colours. What a pleasant surprise! I couldn’t believe how tangible and quick their progress was. Before I thought about some of them: “Oh, well, maybe they just don’t have a flair for languages”.
I have never thought like that since. As soon as they received fantastic results, I realised that everyone can learn a new language, no exceptions - they just need a tutor who knows which key to use to unlock this hidden and secure place in their brain called “language skills”. It became clear to me that the problem wasn’t them, but the lack of a necessary guidance, a proper tutor who could honestly say: “I’ve been in your shoes, I know how you feel and the difficulties you’re facing. And I sure can make the difference”.
I was very proud of my part in their success. So I thought to myself: ”Can’t believe how happy they are! And I taught them well without even knowing any professional teaching techniques. What if I actually learn couple of those? Go to the uni and become a highly qualified teacher? Dedicate myself to teaching and make it my vocation? Just imagine how many people I could help to achieve their goals and how happy would they all become”.
I decided it just there and then and never changed my mind since. I enrolled at Griffith University and in 5 years obtained my Master’s degree in English teaching. It wasn’t easy, but I always knew why I was doing it - my aim gave me the strength and willpower that I needed to make it happen. I’m immensely happy to realise that it was well worth it - I have been teaching for 8 years now and never doubted even for a second my decision to become a professional English teacher. I have to thank my students for that of course - they are fighters who keep studying and practicing until we reach the results everyone is hoping for. So thanks to all of you, guys :) You’ve chosen the right person to guide you along the way. The only thing left now is to keep calm and master your English skills step by step :)
QUESTION 02 | 04
In your opinion, what does it take to be a successful English speaker?
Helen — 1) A tutor, who has a university degree in English teaching and has dedicated his/her life to teaching, considers it as a vocation; someone who is able to guide the students on their learning path professionally and skillfully, understands what they are going through as s/he had experienced the same while learning another language.
2) Students must possess a resolute and unyielding desire to overcome all of the difficulties and keep working on their English skills until they achieve the results they are looking for. It’s crucial not to give up and believe in yourself and your abilities.
3) Patience - you’re not going to master a language overnight. Don’t pressure yourself, let your brain soak in the information you’re feeding it in a stable and stress-free manner. It’s better to learn less, but thoroughly understand the usages and pitfalls incorrect understanding of the expression brings, practice it as much as you can rather than just memorise 10 different expressions in one day and let your brain erase them all later. And there would be no escaping that, be well sure of that - our brain is not designed to learn a new language in a rash and stressful fashion. Just remember the nautical phrase used abundantly in “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series: “Steady as she goes” and you’ll be fine.
4) Try to live in a country where English is a native language - pick up a 2-3 month English course and off you go! You won’t believe the progress you’ve made. Be friendly, approachable and open-minded, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with your classmates or teachers - small talk is a key when it comes to loosening up and losing the fear of speaking in a different language. Soon you will realise that overcoming the language barrier has never been easier.
On top of that, if you have a chance, do your university studies there - whether it’s a Bachelor’s/Master’s degree or simply an exchange programme - give it a try, you won’t regret it. The longer you stay there and communicate with native speakers, the better. The same applies to business trips and other professional engagements: if an opportunity presents itself - grab it and never look back. No fear. No doubts. No regrets. See it as your motto.
P.S. Going on a 1-2 week vacation to an English - speaking country is a good idea as well, but don’t expect this trip to significantly enhance your English speaking skills. It might help you to pick up a word or two and make some friends, but don’t get your hopes up - this period of time is not enough to make a difference in your language skills clearly noticeable.
5) If you can’t visit / live in an English speaking country at the moment, that’s not a big deal, don’t let it prevent you from practicing English. You can always find native or English speakers where you are. Try googling things like “language exchange tandems” or “language exchange meetups” - I’m sure something interesting will pop up. Nowadays it’s been really common for like minders to get together and organise these sorts of events. Since the majority of them are informal, don’t be shy, give it a shot even if you don’t have anyone to go there with - you’ll definitely find someone to talk to and will end up making some awesome new friends.
6) If you decide to participate in these events, just see them as a way of chilling out in the end of a working week - don’t see your participation as something that you have to do, but rather what you want to do. In other words, allow an English speaking practice to become something that you do because it feels good, something you do because it’s fun, not something you do because you need it for work or studies. This kind of attitude will ensure that you see “learning English” as your friend at all times, even when it might be exhausting to keep working on your skills, and never as a foe. Moreover, it might help you to start thinking in English every now and then. Which brings me to my next point:
7) Think in English. Just try. You won’t have a hard time just trying, will you? Start slowly, once a day, don’t push it. Come up with something easy: “I need to put an alarm clock on” or “I’ve forgotten to brush my teeth”. Just think these simple sentences in your head. Don’t start with trying to analyse a movie or figuring out the purpose of our existence - no sense whatsoever, you’ll drop it after a few tries. Start slowly, steadily, imagine that you’re a baby learning how to walk. Keep this going for a couple of days, weeks or months - it’s entirely up to you. Then when you feel like it’s time to take it up a notch, move on to making little monologues in your head about silly mundane things, e.g.,: “Just look at this fantastic weather! Can’t wait to go on my lunch break and enjoy the sunshine. By the way, where is my lunch box? Have I forgotten it at home? No way, I remember putting it in my bag while that blond girl with a funny accent was on the news. Oh, here it is! How absent-minded of me”.
You see what I’m getting at? Soon, you won’t even notice how quickly you switch from one topic to another, how easy it is to let your thoughts flow and how unusual but satisfying it is to think in another language. Just start, start somewhere, you will get to your destination faster than you expect.
8) Choose your own way. No matter what everyone else says or recommends: listen to yourself and study with your own pace. Don’t compare yourself to others, it’s going to drive you crazy! Some people become more fluent or get the hang of a new grammar quicker than the others, and that’s totally fine. Mind that, but never allow yourself to think that you are less talented or less inclined to learning a language. That’s a complete and utter nonsense! You are as capable as everyone else. Never underestimate yourself - I keep saying that to my students almost every day. Allow yourself the luxury of mastering a language at your own pace. You’re going to get there - just give it as much time as you need.
9) Another key point: always keep your spirits high - that’s an absolute must, folks. If you’re frustrated or feel that you aren’t fully satisfied with your progress - address this issue immediately, talk to your teacher, discuss what is it that makes you feel upset or worried and your teacher should be able to coin for you a different approach. However, If your current teacher can’t help you with whatever issue you’re facing - find the one who can.
10) Accept that learning a new language is an individual process - there are no universal measures of how quickly one achieves the desired result. It all depends on you and your teacher. Therefore, believe in your success and choose your tutor wisely. If you haven’t found him/her yet, then keep looking until you find a teacher who best suits your needs. If you have - remind yourself from time to time how lucky you’ve been and show your teacher how much you appreciate him/her by studying hard and absorbing as much of what your tutor teaches you as possible.
11) Lastly, if you can’t remember a word from what you’ve just read and want a simple conclusion, just remember this: you deserve to have classes with the most talented, qualified and experienced teacher there is. Don’t settle for anything less.
QUESTION 03 | 04
Can you name a living, historical or fictional character that you think is the emblematic representative of the language's culture?
Helen — “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. Please turn to question #4 for explanations.
QUESTION 04 | 04
Is there a typical word, phrase, tradition or expression in the language that you particularly like?
Helen — There are literally hundreds! I’m a huge English language fan and big on phrasal verbs, collocations, set expressions, phrases and idioms. To prove that, I’m going to share with you my personal reflection, which I compiled for my students to help them learn as many helpful phrases as possible in the easiest and quickest way possible from just one source. Together with this introduction, it contains more than 100 (!) useful and handy expressions which I meticulously hand-picked. All of them are widely used and up to date. Moreover, they are exceptionally easy to remember thanks to the context I’ve put them in. And there is no need to jump all over the net and navigate through dozens of websites to find the expressions/idioms – they are already at your fingertips.
So, make sure you check them out and if you liked the reflection, feel free to get in touch :) I have heaps of fun and extraordinary activities related to it, which will significantly boost up your vocabulary and immensely improve your English speaking skills.
The reflection is about “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, it inspires me to be creative. Enjoy!
P.S. The phrasal verbs, collocations, set expressions, phrases and idioms are marked in bold italics.
“The best way to explain it is to do it”
The older I get, the more sense does Lewis Carroll’s tale “Alice in Wonderland” make.
When I was a kid, I saw it simply as a lamboyant inexplicable blur that I couldn’t put my finger on.
“What on Earth is it about?”, I used to wonder.
“I don’t get it, but I have to”, I thought to myself as soon as an unyielding desire to figure it out started seeping into my consciousness after another attempt to pinpoint its storyline failed.
My persistence was full-on – I read it from cover to cover much more than once. Now I think that I reread it for far too many times, a thousand times over, to be fair. In my defence, I actually thought that was going to help me somehow. But it was all in vain, I got nothing out of it. It seemed that I just couldn’t get it into my head no matter how hard I tried.
I remember that one day I decided to share the struggle I was going through with my mum. She burst into laughter and told me: “Don’t try to wrap your head around it just yet, sugarplum. Trust me, you’re going to get a kick out of it when you’re older”.
As you might have guessed, I did not appreciate that reassurance at all. All I replied was: “Gee, thanks, ma, that’s extremely helpful”.
Little did I know that she was indeed right. But my childhood naivety and stubbornness wouldn’t let me become conscious of that. Therefore, despite my mum’s wise suggestion, I wasn’t going to give up on it yet.
I thought that the best solution would be to look at it from a different angle. And that angle for me was a 1951 American animated musical fantasy- adventure film produced by Walt Disney Productions “Alice in Wonderland”. I asked my dad to buy me a videotape, so I could watch it and finally make some sense out of it. I kept telling myself that there had always been a lot of hype around it and it must have been for a reason. So, I was determined to get to the bottom of it and some visual aids never harm. Besides, it’s a no-brainer that I eventually chose a cartoon over a book.
What kid wouldn’t?
But even then, no matter how many times I watched the doorknob at the bottom of the rabbit hole say: “Follow the directions and you will be directly directed into the right direction”, I still had no clue about what was going. Only when I realised that I will understand all ins and out of the tale only when the hell freezes over, I finally decided to listen to my mum’s piece of advice and leave it alone. “ It's all a fuss about nothing anyway”, I concluded.
And so I was done, case closed.
I decided to switch to the more traditional tales like “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Little Mermaid” which truly were like a breath of fresh air to me. They seemed logical, unambiguous and sensical to my little girl’s mind. In a nutshell, a totally different ball game: no absurd events, no intricacies woven into the fabric of the plot, no encrypted messages, no puzzles, no peculiar or anthropomorphic creatures – nope, nada. That literary nonsense was over and done with. It was such a relief to finally be on the same wavelength with the main characters, such a joy.
How could I have known that this idyllic union wasn't going to last for all eternity?
Now when I am a grown-up, we had to split up with those tales due to some irreconcilable differences. That might put a smile on your face, but that’s the best explanation I can come up with.
Out of the blue, it all just turned upside down: “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Little Mermaid” started making no sense whatsoever and “Alice” appeared to make all the sense in the world.
I couldn’t help but wonder: “ Have I changed into a completely different person?” Apparently, I have.
Suddenly I discovered how Alice must have felt when she asked herself:
“Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different”.
What an accurate description.
I’ll probably never know exactly when the scales tipped in “Alice’s” favour. But I do suspect that as soon as I truly turned into a mature grown-up person, I became aware of the fact that there was much more to it than met the eye.
That is the truth that Lewis Carroll had always known.
You can’t trick the trickster, can you?
He was certain that come hell or high water we were going to see its true colours shine through. After all, he wrote a story for adults and disguised it in the most bizarreway for a reason. Only a silver-tongued devil like he could have gotten away with it so easily.
What an eye-opener!
Even though the story had always been within our reach, “Alice” didn’t reach out to us until we were ready for it. That’s why only years and years later, after having discarded the story for good, we admit that we might have been way too hasty. And then it comes upon us:
Good Lord! Lewis Carroll is a genius! A bona fide genius.
Have you ever stopped to wonder how deep-rooted and wise, yet surprisingly clear and comprehensible these famous quotes are?
“I don’t see how he can ever finish, if he doesn’t begin” or
“If everybody minded their own business the world would go round a deal faster than it does”.
Simple, aren’t they?
And simplicity is genius. As Albert Einstein said:
“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”
And that’s exactly what Lewis Carroll did.
As soon as we ascertain that, without further ado, we get down to discerning the fine wisdom and intricate brilliance in other seemingly preposterous phrases like:
“I'm afraid I can't explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?” or
“It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then” .
And these aren’t the only “jewels” that made us fall in love with tale unconditionally and irrevocably. Thanks to their cunning humour and insightful perception of human nature, many other phrases gained their rightful place in the golden treasury of children’s literature. A few notable examples:
“I’m not crazy. My reality is just different than yours”.
“Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense”.
“She generally gave herself very good advice, though she very seldom followed it”. Do you recognise yourself in these quotes?
I certainly do.
And that’s more than enough for me to be with Alice on the same page.
To sum it all up, I would like to address Lewis Carroll with these words:
Your insane “Alice in Wonderland” is our last shred of sanity in this tangled and
twisted reality with no Cheshire Cat to tell us “which way we ought to go from here”.
You might have felt “entirely bonkers” yourself when you wrote it.
“I'll tell you a secret, – all the best people are”.
Your grown-up kid,
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.”
Aliceand The Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll