I have been recently interviewed by Anna Ziklová, a teacher trainee from the Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Education, Masaryk University (Brno, Czech Republic). Her task was to interview an English teacher about her teaching life and views of teaching. I feel very honoured she picked me and I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did!
Anna: How did your teaching career begin? Was teaching always your dream?
Nina: It wasn´t really. Maybe a long time ago, when I was 5 or 6, because that´s what both of my parents did. Most little girls want to be teachers. But as I grew older I realized that school isn´t much fun, there are way too many rules and what´s more, it didn´t seem it made my parents happy. So when I was graduating from the Faculty of Arts (English philology) and my professors asked me whether I was planning to teach the language, I replied proudly “No, thanks.”. 3 months later I was in my first class. A friend of mine, who was expecting a baby, asked me to step in for her in several of her company courses and I said to myself: “Why not? Maybe I´ll meet someone interesting who will offer me a better job!” I thought teaching English would be temporary, I saw it as a way to network with people. However it´s been 11 years now and I never looked back. I fell in love with EFL the very first month and I quickly discovered my passion for freelancing.
Anna: When and how did you come up with the idea of NinaEnglish – teaching without books?
Nina: For several years I taught English traditionally, from international coursebooks, although I often added my own, more fun activities which would make the students speak. But the longer I taught this way, the more intensely I felt that the students were moving forward too slowly or not at all. Then I went on maternity leave and could create some distance from my work and things became clear: I don´t want to teach from books anymore. In today´s world, where almost everyone has internet access, they are simply not needed. I started blogging about my ideas to teach without books in 2010 and people were very interested in the experiential way of learning the language. So I opened my first course of English Without Books in January 2011.
Could you briefly describe what studying in your courses looks like?
Nina: I run experiential courses for small groups of 5-6 women. There is a lot of language coaching involved where we talk about motivation, language goals and online and offline resources. I believe that, if we want to, it´s very easy to surround ourselves with natural English in our everyday lives. The key is to enjoy the process and do things we normally do in our own language. As I focus on women, we have shopping lessons, cooking lessons, we talk about about movies and work with sitcoms we like, we discuss our personal lives, go on trips, meet with expats in cafés… I involve a lot of different teachers, not necessarily English teachers, and the students love it. It´s much more about life and personal growth than just learning the language itself. When it comes to my inspirations, I am a big fan of the Dogme ELT method, founded by Scott Thornbury. It is a materials-light, conversation-driven approach where language and grammar emerge from the learning process. And I like to use English Out There materials, which focus on conversation with real people, and EnglishCentral.com, a website which helps students with English fluency while working with videos.
Anna: Regarding students, your courses and basically the whole program is focused on teaching women. Why women only?
Nina: I am a woman myself and I feel I understand their frustrations better. My courses are focused on building self-confidence and that can only be done in a completely relaxed atmosphere where you don´t have to pay too much attention to what you look like or sound like and where you feel others can relate to your fears. There´s nothing feministic about it, it´s simply my target clientele because this way I can get the most out of my working time. I believe we all should, we only live once 😉
Anna: Regarding teachers, are there any “rapid” changes in the teaching procedures?
Nina: I am afraid not. From what I see here in the Czech Republic and discuss with colleagues from abroad, most of the world is still stuck in the textbook approach and standardized tests. It´s easy money for schools/teachers. I´ve been there, I know what I am talking about. However there are some “seeds” that I can see being planted, so I have hope things will change for the better, one day.
Anna: What courses do you teach?
Nina: I teach small group courses from pre-intermediate to advanced levels, I teach a special Transformation course for women, I coach individuals via Skype and I run one-day seminars on learning English without coursebooks. On all these courses I cooperate with many different English teachers and professionals, both locals and foreigners. I am very proud of my team!
Anna: Can you imagine this concept of teaching without books implemented in the Czech Educational system – Teaching English?
Nina: Yes, I can! But first we need to start with giving a much higher priority to the educational system and educating teachers to be well-balanced, independent individuals. We´ll never attract good-quality people into our schools if we keep paying the teachers this little. And regarding language teaching – honestly, has any language teacher ever learned the language from a textbook? It’s just not possible. Unfortunately they forgot about it . They forgot the most important thing is to be in contact with the natural language, instead of the workbook.
Anna: What is your opinion on teaching English at schools and universities?
Nina: First word that comes to my mind is: BORING. Grammar rules are important but practising them in textbooks only will never teach you to use the language, or it will take insanely long time. Most English learners are not interested in becoming English teachers so why so much theory, why cramming lists of words you´ll never need in your life? As one colleague of mine, Jason West, author of English Out There materials, says, “We all learnt our first languages socially…from interaction, trial and error, negotiated meanings, from our parents. The reason we find it hard to do the same with our second language is because we are put into schools that teach us language academically.” And what´s more, we become afraid of making mistakes so unless we feel we´ll speak perfectly, we are terrified to open our mouths.
Anna: What are your plans for the future?
Nina: Help as many women as possible to stop underestimating themselves by giving them opportunities to discover that they are capable of so much more. By having fun, socializing, doing things they like doing in their own language. I´d like to travel with them around Europe and let them speak with people in the streets. And show them even more than now that if they work on themselves, they will have results. There´s no way around it.
Anna: Thank you, Nina, for you interview, and I wish you all the best with your plans for the future!
Here is a list of videos from my courses: