Would you like to learn a few tips from one of our ESL teachers in New York about learning English and adjusting to life in the big city? Jane has been helping international professionals and students improve their English for five years. During that time, she has motivated many students to reach their goals and to feel comfortable learning English. Jane's students love her classes! She knows how to make students feel comfortable with conversation-based activities. In today's interview, I asked Jane to share some of her creative teaching methods. Keep reading to learn more!
Q: How would you describe your teaching style in three words?
A: I guess if I had to sum up my teaching style in only three words, I’d say that I am creative, supportive, and flexible.
Q: What do you like to do when you are not teaching?
A: I love the natural environment and I work for the Prospect Park Audubon Society leading tours of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which is home to many species of plants, birds and other wildlife. I enjoy both listening to and playing music. I have played guitar for most of my life and although I no longer do so professionally, I still like to play and sing. I also love spending time with my family and friends, walking and exploring the city.
Q: What is one common challenge for English learners and how can they overcome that challenge?
A: Most new learners are fearful of making mistakes, and often this causes them to avoid initiating conversation outside of their home environment. Expanding vocabulary, exposing the student to a variety of media such as newspapers, and music, and acclimating them to the sounds of American speech, can build confidence over time. Starting in a safe approving environment where making mistakes is not considered a cause of shame or inadequacy is key. Eventually, even the shyest student will feel more comfortable and will be willing to venture outside of his/her “comfort zone”. I remind my students to not focus on what they don’t know; in other words, don’t let one or two unknown words or phrases stop you from trying to understand. Often the context, either written or spoken, will offer clues to help decode new words.
Q: What is the most important thing that English students can do to improve?
A: I’ve seen a lot of students reach a certain level of proficiency in class, but once the class is over they go home, and surround themselves with others who only speak their native language. Often, these same students will wonder why they have hit a “block” and don’t know why they aren’t progressing. The simple answer is that an hour or so a few days a week is not enough. In order to really improve, it’s important to surround oneself with the English language. It can be tiring to immerse oneself in a new language for many hours each day, but in order to really improve, it is necessary. I encourage students to watch a short American TV show or an English language movie each day, to choose something of interest. Using closed captioning or subtitles in English while the words are spoken is an excellent way to improve comprehension.
Q: Can you give one tip for newcomers about life in New York City?
A: It always takes time to adjust to a new home, so be patient! Because New York City is such a melting pot, there are people of every culture and ethnicity who live here. No one needs to feel like an outsider because so many residents weren’t born here or are only the first or second generation to live here. I think that’s why it really is a very tolerant, welcoming place.
There are some newcomers who worry that such a large, busy urban area can be cold and impersonal, but it is quite possible to carve out your own niche here by following your interests. The work place is usually a good place to make social contacts; so are schools, cultural, and community organizations. Websites like Meetup.com offer activities for like-minded people.The advantage to being in such a big city is that one can find almost anything here. Don’t be afraid to go out and actively seek what you like- you are very likely to find it!