Elena is one of the few teachers who didn’t have any doubts about learning and teaching online before she started working with Online Class. It’s a person who is always eager to try something new and move around instead of being stuck in one place or one way of doing things. Which is a great quality both for self-improvement and for professional life. In terms of teaching, wanting to try new improved methods has meant trying to teach online! Find out more in the interview below.
OC (Online Class): Elena, how long have you been teaching English?
E (Elena): For over 10 years, and a bit more than a year online. I love teaching online, I have to say! The most obvious advantage is you spend your time efficiently. I have 2 small kids and working from home is actually the only option for me. Most of my adult students have similar situations, work, family… but they need to fit English classes into their schedule. Learning online is a perfect option.
OC: Some people are worried it might be a little “impersonal”. You know, talking to a person on a screen and everything.
E: In reality our relationships with students and our conversations in class can be even more personal exactly because we meet online. It’s easier to open up when you are in a small group of people and you are actually at home, not in unfamiliar surroundings, especially so for introverted people. I myself am not a total introvert but I’ve noticed I’m more comfortable meeting new people and getting to know them on this platform than I would be in an actual classroom. And there’s another reason to be a little self-conscious: for adult people it is often hard to go back to a school setting. At work you may be in full control and feel like a professional, and here in class you are a student who was supposed to do their homework and who doesn’t know or keeps forgetting some things now. In this case being at home, in familiar surroundings can help you relax and stop being afraid of making mistakes.
OC: In your classes, do you put emphasis on speaking?
E: Yes, most of the time. That’s what adult people actually need I think. They need English to have discussions at work, to get by on foreign trips, to get to know their friends and relatives abroad. Of course, if someone’s learning goal is something more academic like sitting an exam, we do more exercises. But an exam is not a goal in itself. You need it to keep studying or go abroad, and you will need to speak the language, not just read and write. Speech practice is essential. And it’s always fair to say this about foreign languages: if you don’t use it, you lose it.
OC: With English, how do you make sure you don’t lose it?
E: If I don’t have too many classes and trips abroad (like right now when I have to be at home with my 2 little kids), I make sure to read or watch something in English. Right now I watch “Desperate Housewives”. I find it more useful to watch TV series as opposed to films. With series, you are hooked for many episodes and you don’t even notice the time pass. And you learn a lot of English along the way, you encounter some expressions for a few times and you remember them.
OC: And have you been to English-speaking countries?
E: Yes, I’ve been to England and Scotland a few times, with a group of children. Daily communication with native speakers is of course extremely helpful when you are learning a language. And when you live in that country, you are bound to expand your vocabulary in terms day-to-day stuff like names for some objects around the house or dishes you try. These are not words to be learned from a book or from a list, and when you actually use them, it’s easy.
OC: So your advice to language students is go abroad.
E: That’s the best-case scenario, yes :) I myself love traveling, but while the kids are growing up I have no such chance and I miss it so much. I haven’t been abroad for about 5 years! But then again, there is the Internet and learning anything, including languages, is way easier now. Online Class offers classes with native speakers too, so you don’t have to go abroad to find them and talk to them. And there is much authentic material for self-study as well, audio and video files, both educational and just entertaining. From your very first day of learning a language, you can listen to authentic stuff and imitate native speakers.
OC: It was different even 10-15 years ago, wasn’t it?
E: When I was in the 5th form, we had listening comprehension texts read out to us by the teacher. Then we had tapes and tape players but of course it’s not the same as the endless amount of music and videos you can stream online now. You can listen to native speaker content wherever you are, and that’s great. My first visit abroad was such a shock exactly because before that, I didn’t have too many chances of hearing a native speaker talk.
OC: And it’s much easier to bring multimedia content to online classes.
E: Of course it is. It’s a long story when you have to bring something to an actual classroom. You need to download files or print things out, have a computer or a laptop ready. After the class students want to copy it to a USB drive or have it sent to their emails. Now let’s compare that to what happens on our platform: you just work with files on a whiteboard, and all links to them are stored there in your profile, grouped by lessons. It’s convenient, it lets you concentrate on learning rather than on trying to organize your files.
OC: You sound very passionate about teaching online!
E: It has too many advantages :) I can tell you about another one: staying in touch with students. When you work with 2-3 people in a group, you can communicate pretty closely, check their homework, answer questions via emails or in messengers. Regular language schools can’t afford to sell classes in small groups at the same price. It means an average group has 7 and more students, and the teacher can’t dedicate a lot of time to each of them.
OC: Do you keep in touch with former students?
E: Yes, and of course I love hearing that speaking English has been useful for them. For example, one of my groups now has taken a summer break to go abroad, to visit relatives who speak English. And they love understanding what people say in English, and being able to answer! I know the feeling too. It’s great to be able to talk directly to people from a different country, in a different language. It gives you incentive to learn it further, to try and achieve real proficiency.
OC: Do you speak any other languages?
E: I learned German at the university but after that I didn’t have the chance to practice it so I don’t speak it fluently now. I think I could refresh my memory pretty quickly and I plan to do that, and I also dream of learning Italian or Spanish.
OC: You obviously love other languages and other cultures! What can you recommend to those who are not really interested?
E: I didn’t have many students like that. When people buy classes, they usually have a reason to do that, they are motivated. Sure, sometimes parents buy classes for their kids who don’t really want to learn. In such cases I try to get them interested, bring a game or a cartoon in English. It’s part of the learning process! And when one of my students says he was playing Star Wars in English and understood this or that phrase, I see it sparkled his interest and he will keep learning.
OC: Do you play games with adults too?
E: Yes! I know what you mean, you don’t really have to entertain them as much as you do it with kids. But still they need a situation to start talking, sometimes they need to be asked something totally unexpected, funny or unusual to start opening up and sharing opinions. It’s even more interesting to play with adults because they have more experience with life than kids. They draw upon it to come up with interesting examples or answers to questions that fuel further conversation.
OC: Has your teaching style changed over the years?
E: Yes, of course it has. I keep learning something new from colleagues and just on my own. We often attend seminars of other teachers and always walk away with an idea or two. And we all have our own experience with students. Sometimes just in the middle of a class I suddenly think of a game or some other activity they could benefit from, and we can start doing that straight away. I really enjoy teaching English and it’s a creative process.
And you are bound to really enjoy learning English with Elena (everyone does). Sign up on our website (it’s totally free) to learn more about the English classes that we have available. And keep on reading about other teachers to get inspired! They can generally be described as enthusiasts and motivated professionals who can help you both learn the English language and enjoy the process of learning it!