Working as ESL teacher with people from around the world is an endlessly interesting and rewarding thing to do. One of the main things I enjoy is the fact it is a mutually beneficial learning relationship – I teach them about the English language and the cultural aspects of the society I live in. In turn, my students teach me about their culture and language.
It is this cultural and learning exchange that inspired me to write this post. To share my personal experiences of teaching ESL which I have been doing since 2019, when I worked as a Community Educator in the slums of Nairobi, for the community organisation, the Soweto Youth Initiative. Since then my journey of ESL teaching has expanded and I now teach Japanese students online of all ages which I enjoy.
During a recent lesson in which a student and I were discussing the topic of body language, I referred to gesticulation. Within the society I live in (a Western one) gesticulation, gesturing when speaking, often denotes animation and self expression on the part of the speaker. Interestingly, my Japanese student told me that hand gestures aren’t very common in Japan and so she would perceive those types of gestures differently.
These slight differences across culture are the things I find really fascinating. I was glad to learn this information from her and to have understood this nuance.
I learned another example of a cultural difference when I was discussing risk with a student. My student explained that him being a straight talker was risky. He told me that this way of speaking, directly, is not customary within Japanese culture. To me, it sounded simply like he was honest and forthright. As he hadn’t heard of the word forthright before and so he learned some new vocabulary.
His anecdote and reflection showed me how different cultures view directness, and showed how the definition of risk really depends on who is making the definition, their background, their location, and experiences.
In the UK, I’d say directness is commonplace, often moving into a space of bluntness in some instances…
When I am teaching, I teach about lots of different areas within the English language and culture; from speech presentation, conversational skills, to essay writing and practical life skills. Yes, I’m in the role of teacher but I’m endlessly learning too.
I love this – to teach and learn! It’s something I relish!
Another part of teaching language that I enjoy is the way students respond to certain topics. Students seem to love to learn colloquialisms and informal speech that we use on a regular basis.
In a session the other day I used the phrase ‘ready to take on the world‘ and was really pleased to see a student respond with excitement. She had never heard this phrase before and loved it!
I really love the English language, with all of it’s exceptions and idiosyncrasies. With this in mind, it’s really beautiful to share it with people who are keen to learn and are excited by the way it sounds and can be used.
Open-mindedness on both sides
Something that I have found really lovely during my time as an ESL teacher is the way in which both parties involved can benefit. If both sides are open minded, culturally sensitive, respectful and happy to interact in a friendly way, ESL teaching can be a really beautiful process of learning for all involved.
When teaching, I make sure I am not closed minded in terms of things being ‘right or wrong’, especially in relation to cultural elements. Every culture is different and so being closed minded about the way I’ve shaped a lesson would be short sighted of me and curtail opportunities for learning.
Lessons are open to change and flow depending on student responses, because, it is important to me as I continue as a teacher to learn more about my students and become a better teacher. Similarly, if students remain open to the teacher and the information they share, they can become a better learner.
Environments influence learning
Teaching online has been a very different experience to teaching English in Nairobi. I learned here how much environment impacts the learning process and acquisition of knowledge.
English is one of Kenya’s languages, however literacy and fluency are low in poorer areas, specifically the slums in which I taught in. Class sizes were large and there were few resources, however the children were bright and keen to get involved. It was important to utilise activities that captured imaginations and involved teamwork to ensure lots of learners could remain engaged across a variety of age ranges.
It was a learning opportunity for me and really showed me how much you can learn when you are thrown in the deep end – you really learn about yourself and others!
Something I particularly enjoyed in Kenya was teaching yoga to the children at SYI. They loved it and i could see how much of a calming influence it was having on them. It was also lovely to see them focusing and using their balance, coordination and concentration throughout the session.
When I qualified as a Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Pilates Teacher in January 2020 I learned a great deal about symbiotic relationships. Specifically, I learned about symbiosis within nature and how we can learn from that symbiosis in our human interactions.
This inspiration can inform the way in which we enter into relationships, both personal and professional, to ensure they are mutually beneficial and allow both entities grow and thrive simultaneously, without stunting the others growth in any way.
Learning and teaching are things that are close to my heart and I’m always doing my best to develop in all I do. I bring the commitment to continually evolve to my lessons with my ESL students, to the writing projects I work on and to the yoga sessions I teach to little yogis and adults.
I also bring this mindset to my own learning sessions, to the mentorship sessions I have and to all other learning experiences I undergo, both personal and professional.
As a yogi, all I do tends to be informed by my yogic studies. Svadahaya is the niyama of self study, and it is something I apply to myself in my capacity as a teacher and a learner.
I see life as a continuous learning opportunity. The ups and the downs. Especially the downs.
As I am a continuous learner myself, I find it encouraging to see the students I teach with this same desire to learn and grow themselves. I relate to their desire to develop, and it’s great to play a part in their own self study and advancement.
Practice is progress. Perseverance takes courage and patience.
With hard work, commitment and discipline (known as tapas – another of the yogic practices) I know it is possible to learn and achieve a lot!
So here’s to teaching and learning – in all forms! Namaste.