Flowers and languages

My Favourite Analogy

I love the gardening analogy, and I think it works really well with anything related to language learning.

Take the wild flower, for instance. It will grow almost on its own, independently. It will feed on natural resources and will grow to express a combination of what its environment has given and it has been able to develop. It won’t be easy. Some winters are hard to survive and natural habitats are often destructed due to human action, or climate change. But despite the threats, and provided there is no disaster ahead, a flower will bloom at the time of year it is supposed to, and will take part in the cycle of nature.

Now, a home-grown plant is a very different story. There are many kinds of indoor plants and flowers, and some can manage fine on their own, but only to some extent. Fresh flowers, for instance, are very delicate and the better you care, the longer you will enjoy them. It won’t grow to its full potential unless you are actively involved: look for the right place in the house, make sure you have the right tools. You’ll have to cut its stems from time to time, some plants will have to be trimmed and shaped.

Water it.

Observe it.

You might find this rather simplistic, but I obviously don’t intend to explain language learning with flowers. Instead, just point out the many aspects of it that remind me of all the care and time that learning a language involves. In fact it is another recurrent metaphor I use in my classroom whenever we talk about the myths of language learning and try to raise some awareness on how important it is to establish a routine when one’s language learning environment resembles the indoor flower’s: you are practising a minority language with very little exposure -theoretically. So, being an active learner and providing all the elements for successful skill development will be key.

I thought of creating a checklist to help students determine how close they were to having active language learning habits, which will have a very similar effect as watering and keeping close observation.

1. Do you find some time every day to do something in your target language? Read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a video or revise some vocabulary and try to make up new sentences with them. Check how these words are pronounced and say them aloud.

2. Have you already found something enjoyable to do in English? Think of something that could eventually become a hobby -if it isn’t already. You like football? Go ahead and find some ESL lessons online about football. Finding enjoyment with English will make it easier for you to become more motivated.

3. Do you watch media in its original language? This article Why Scandinavians speak exceptional English points out the possible reasons of success with the English language

4. Do you attend English speaking lessons or, at least try to find the chance to interact? 

5. Have you established a language learning routine?

6. Do you try to explore new ways of learning?

7. Do you change the resources and materials in order to adapt to the different levels of language learning?

The good news is that, unlike flowers, if you go on watering and observing your foreign language development,

it will not wither and die. Instead, it will stay with you forever.

tree

The street mural of the girl watering the tree is in Bialystok, Poland. The artist is Natalia Rak

Looking Back On 2014!

Many things have changed at personal level in the last twelve months. It’s one of those years when all the events in your life start combining and fitting like clockwork until they reach some harmony and settle down. And after a very exciting year I’ve reached a point when -I think- I can reflect a little bit on them all with some distance and perspective.

As regards work, many of the changes had to do with a deliberate and conscious quest for transformation and renewal. So, I did a couple of very interesting training courses here in Spain with EducaIntef and #eduplemooc, and even managed to complete my first MOOC: Learning to Teach Online #ltto by @Coursera.

I also joined several online chats and experiences with other global teachers. I participated in the @teachthought #reflecetiveteacher challenges and, although my blogging activity was not as productive as I had intended it to be (no excuse, but quite I was overwhelmed with classroom work and setting up the current course), I really enjoyed reading other bloggers’ posts and reflections on teaching, and though incomplete, it was a very rewarding experience. I became more confident blogging and writing about my career, plans and hopes.

That is probably one of the things I feel happier about. I couldn’t have imagined only one year ago that I would have published so many posts.  I had been a blogger for some time but I wasn’t sure of how to approach this one in particular that I started thanks to the #eduplemooc experience.

In class, I opened the windows and doors a little more to get some fresh air, but there is still a lot to do -in fact, the last couple of months I had to halt and rethink some of the strategies that I was very excited about this year.

But it’s OK. 2015 is just about to take off and surely many new opportunities and ideas will come!

A warm thanks to everyone who has dropped by, commented or shared this blog.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

Feliz Ano Novo! Feliz Año Nuevo!

2015

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Powerful Aspect of Being a Connected Educator

DAY 16 What are the most powerful aspects of being a connected educator?

There is one specific dimension to being a connected educator that I love, which is the way it resembles travelling. I have experienced similar benefits connecting in chats and sharing knowledge with my PLN to the ones I have had visiting other countries, the only difference being the part of my life that was influenced.

Travelling has always broadened my perspective about life. And much as I love my hometown and its local characteristics, I have often felt it necessary and revitalizing to travel now and then so as to energize and feel more capable of tackling my everday ups and downs.

Being a connected educator has had a similar effect in my teaching practice.

All that is familiar and local is precious, no doubt of that- and I must say that I get plenty inspiration in my community without the need to explore what is done elsewhere. But when I have the chance to connect and share ideas with people from all over the world I gained ideas and inspiration. Connecting has widened my perspective on certain issues and made  me reflect on my everyday practice. Only good things can happen when you lift your eyes to see beyond what you have right in front of you.

Thanks to people who have shared their experiences online, I have been able to anticipate problems when implementing some activities. I have learned alternatives to some traditional tasks I perform in class …that have actually worked! I think I have become more resourceful and I feel more confident about embracing new challenges, and experimenting.

I feel extremely lucky to have so much input from teachers around the globe.

 

 

 

Moving, Keep on Moving…

Day 3. What are you most proud of to date in your teaching career?

This is a difficult prompt for me to answer. I think this time I really won’t be able to point out one single event, as being the one I take pride in more than others.

I often hear teachers say that their pride dwells in knowing they are making an important contribution in somebody’s life. … But quite frankly, I am not sure my teaching career has had such a serious impact on anyone’s life beyond learning a little more of a language. Because really, the main activators are the learners themselves. So, if I had to be proud of anything at all, it would be of all the students who have trusted in me and worked hard to improve every day, making my work worthwhile.

I think it is all the experiences I have had and some projects I been involved in that I am really proud of. They have made me learn a little bit more about myself. Some were very challenging, especially at the beginning.

At a smaller scale, I’m proud of all those classroom experiences that I try to promote, and which have led me where I am now. I mean, there is very little of the teacher I was when I started, and I owe it all to the fact that I’m always moving,trying to change for the better and learning from infamous Mr. Failure, who must turn up for his regular appointment…phew! 😉

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The Nicest Gift

Day 4 November Blogging Challenge The Nicest Gift You Received

IMG_20141104_130525As teachers, it’s true we might occasionally get a gift and I have always felt extremely grateful for that. It is very touching when a group of students have stopped to think about something that will make you happy, just out of the blue.

The simple fact of them taking their time to do some baking or craft is so moving that it is hard not to get too emotional when it happens. I keep everything in my “very precious things” box, and they’re all very dear to me.

But on this post I wanted to talk about something curious that has happened to me regarding gifts and presents.

For some reason I have often received sweet boxes (in Spanish, “bomboneras” ). I don’t get that many presents, so four is certainly above average! The one in the picture is a beautiful glassblown jar that two students gave to me after my first year teaching. I find it very amusing because I don’t think they are the commonest gift in the world, at least not in Spain, but for some funny coincidence I have four at home, all of them from students from different schools, age groups and interests.

Why sweet boxes? (I’m the kind of person who gets very fishy about coincidences…) It is not an object we talk about in class  (I can’t remember it ever being part of a lesson) and it isn’t necessarily connected to English speaking countries.

Whatever the connection, I am very thankful for the sweet boxes, which have a special place in my house. Just as grateful as I m for every single gift, pie, wink and smile. And sweet boxes can only but remind of Sarah Louise Delany’s quote: “It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all”

 

 

 

Best Aspects of Being a Teacher

DAY 1: What are the best aspects of being a teacher?

I’ve just landed again on Teachthought’s November Blogging challenge, and, although I am already a couple of days behind, I am eager to go on reflecting with other teachers around the globe about things to do with our beautiful and challenging profession: teaching.

Today’s prompt is easy. To me, one of the greatest aspects of being a teacher is the relationships that are established throughout the year with students and fellow teachers. I love how they start, evolve and settle in our memories forever.

I teach in a very unique kind of school. I teach English to adults who are, in theory, highly motivated to learn the language. People from different backgrounds and personalities flock to our classes with the same goal: improve their communicative skills in English. I remember when I started I was, more often than not, the youngest person in the classroom. So, I have learnt almost as much from them than they have from me.

In class we talk about ourselves and share things that are important to us. Some people are obviously more open than others, many couldn’t care less about it. But, in the end, we all end up creating a bond after all the time we spend just speaking.

I feel very lucky to be teaching in this kind of context because I have taught some extraordinary students throughout the years; people who I admire for many different reasons: their outlook towards life, their sense of humour. 0r the effort they make to come to class.

I also take pride in having made some friendships, too.

On top of all of this, I simply love teaching English and enjoy seeing every little progress.

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