- How has living in both the US and the UK influenced your English? How would you describe your own English?
My English definitely sounds American, though a few people have told me it sounds “cleaner.” This is probably from teaching English. I think that my exposure to both Englishes has made me a better teacher; I’m able to help prepare my students for different English contexts. I don’t mean just telling them that in England an elevator is called a lift, but helping them with different pronunciations or talking about cultural differences.
- Could you tell us more about the Competence Centre for Teaching English at Wildau? Are there similar Centres at other German universities? How has the Centre been received by professors and staff?
The Centre is definitely a rarity among German universities. In recent decades, European universities have realized that they can attract a much larger number of students by offering degree programs in English. They would hire English-speaking professors and lecturers and pat themselves on the back. What many of them didn’t realize, was that a lot of these instructors would benefit from some guidance regarding language, English-speaking teaching culture, writing materials, etc.
While language help for professors is definitely on the rise, administrative staff are still often overlooked. When these international students come flocking to European campuses, who’s going to help them register for their courses or find out how to get a certificate of enrollment? It’s the admin staff who are their first points of contact. The program at Wildau was open to all staff who wanted to improve their language skills, not just professors. I must say, my work with the administrative staff was probably the most rewarding, as I knew that they would be using what we learned in class immediately.
- What has the transition from teaching university students to university professors been like for you?
Actually, it was very easy. Like many English teachers, I started out teaching general English for pitiful pay at a private language school. Then I slowly moved into business English and realized that I much preferred this due to its clear focus and tailored content. Teaching university professors and staff is just like teaching business English; you’re essentially helping someone do their job in a different language. Teaching students was actually more of an adjustment because it’s so hard to predict what they’ll need in their future careers (especially when many of them are still unsure of what they want to do!).
- In what areas do the professors and staff you support need the most assistance?
For the staff it’s a lot of vocabulary and figuring out what certain documents or University-specific things are called in English; just basic things like “degree programme” (the University uses British English as a rule) or “dean’s office.” It’s hard to say what the professors need; it really varies from one to the next. Almost all of those I’ve worked with had really great English skills and there wasn’t much I could “do.” Perhaps they were just looking for a bit of reassurance that they’re on the right track and their students can understand them.
- Before your position at Wildau, you taught a lot of in-company Business English classes. What methods have you found successful for teaching BE to pre-work learners in the university?
To be honest, it’s not so much the methods but just the fact that in-company business English exists. I tell my students how much money companies spend on those courses and, conversely, how much money my students could save those companies by going in with a good level of English. I try to use it as a motivator…not sure if it actually works, though!
- How have your outside interests influenced your teaching (rugby, cooking, pop culture, etc)?
I often use them as conversation starters (or rather, the bruises from a rugby tournament over the weekend tend to start some interesting conversations!). I find that if you share a bit of your personal life—even in a university setting with sometimes-jaded learners—it makes people willing and open to share with you. And honestly, anything that gets my students talking is a win.
- What did you enjoy most about the voluntary work you did for ELTABB as events coordinator and on the events team?
I enjoyed being able to organize events that I found interesting. Obviously I tried not to go too niche or anything, but it was nice that my team and I basically decided who to invite, meaning we got to have some of our favorite speakers come to Berlin! We also often went out to lunch or dinner with those speakers; those are definitely some of the most memorable moments of being on the ELTABB board!
- Question from Shaun: What’s the present and future situation in universities in Berlin in regards to EAP and teaching classes in English? I know your university is pushing in this direction, but how would you say it is progressing?
It’s hard to say; I can only really speak from a university of applied sciences perspective. German students are coming to university with pretty good levels of English already. What they need is more specific English like business English or English for engineering. But as anyone who’s ever taught pre-service learners knows, these classes are challenging compared to in-company courses because it’s quite difficult to predict what they’ll eventually need. More and more universities are offering English-taught programs in an attempt to attract students from around the world.
- Who would you like to nominate as Eltabber of the month and what question would you like to ask them?
Jin Choi: If I remember correctly, you’d only been a member for a few weeks before being roped in to help out the board. How did you know you’d be sticking around for a while? What was it about ELTABB that inspired you to volunteer basically right away?
Edited by Stephanie Anderson