Every end is a new beginning

It seems like it was just yesterday when I started teaching in Seinäjoen kansalaisopisto in September, but my courses finished already two weeks ago. It’s always sad to finish a course and having to say goodbye to the students, specially when they have been so lovely as the ones I had there. But life goes on, and it’s time to face new challenges. Next week I will move to Tampere, a city where I have already lived for one year and that I really love, and I will look for a job there.

However, my time in Seinäjoki has been very important for me, since I had the opportunity to start working in Finland and to gain some teaching experience here. My Finnish language skills improved significantly during these months, and I met a lot of nice people.

The library of Seinäjoki

The library of Seinäjoki

I taught four courses, and also substituted other teachers in some lessons, so I could teach English and Spanish from level A1 to advanced courses, which was a very valuable experience. My courses were a beginners’ course of Spanish, an advanced conversation course of English, an advanced conversation course of Spanish, and a language immersion course of English for children of ages 4-6. In the beginners’ course of Spanish I had to use Finnish as the language of instruction, since the students didn’t know any Spanish yet, and that was a big challenge for me, but after a few lessons I started to be more and more fluent when explaining grammar or telling them anecdotes, and I was very positively surprised about how quickly I started to speak Finnish more naturally in the class. And I somehow think that the fact that my students saw that I was speaking Finnish, even if with many mistakes, and we were still communicating effectively was motivating for them, since they could feel that they didn’t need to be afraid of making mistakes when speaking Spanish, because I was making mistakes all the time in Finnish and it was ok. I think that this was the main reason why they weren’t very shy or afraid when it came to speak or write short texts.

The conversation groups were very nice, because all the students had an advanced level of the language, and we used to talk about many different topics and the atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly. There was time of course for some grammatical explanations when needed and many new words came up in the conversations, but something the students told me after the course was that they really liked the fact that it didn’t feel like “going to class” with taking notes and so on, that they felt as if they were meeting some friends in a café just to talk about everything. It’s wonderful to receive positive feedback from the students, and this year I have been very lucky to receive so much of it.

With some of the English conversation group students.

With some of the English conversation group students.

The language immersion group for children was definitely a challenge, since it was the first time I was teaching children of such a young age. I will tell some more about this kind of immersion courses in a separate entry, but I can say that the experience was also very positive and that the last day some of the children hugged me and said that they didn’t want the course to end. The most difficult thing for me with that course was to communicate with the kids, since the way children speak Finnish is a bit different from the way adults speak, and what I had learned. So the first few days I didn’t understand much of what they were telling me and this was an obstacle, of course. But, as they say here, harjoitus tekee mestarin (practice makes perfect) and one day I realized that I was starting to understand them and I could enjoy the funny things children say out of the blue, such as:

– No, I can’t color that drawing.

– Why not?

– Because right now I need to take care of this teddy bear.

In the groups where I taught just some few lessons as substitute teacher I also had a great time, and some students were very happy when they saw me enter in the classroom. With them I could also see that my full-of-mistakes Finnish was not a problem, but something that encouraged the students to speak English or Spanish without the fear of doing it wrong. I used to start every lesson with a new group apologizing for my Finnish, and in several cases they said “no, don’t worry, you speak Finnish much better than we speak Spanish/English!”. As I said, they were all lovely.

Three of my Spanish students.

Three of my Spanish students.

What I have learned teaching these months here has been very valuable, and I can’t wait to keep growing professionally in Tampere. People always say that when you do a job that you love, it doesn’t feel like a job at all, and teaching languages is definitely something that I love and I hope that I will be able to keep enjoying it for many more years to come!

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Vapaan sivistystyön koulutuspäivä 28.3.2014 – SUKOL ry

Last Friday I attended a Training Day for language teachers organized by SUKOL ry, the “Federation of Foreign Language Teachers in Finland”, or “Suomen kieltenopettajien liitto”, in Finnish. The event was held in Tampere, and there were more than 100 attendees coming from institutions from all over Finland.

The place of the event was the Tampereen työväenopisto, Sampola, and the premises were very suitable for an event of this kind. The building is rather new, and it was very spacious and even if it was on a Friday and there were probably many courses taking place at the same time, there were no problems concerning the organization.

Sampola
I arrived by train with some colleagues from Seinäjoen kansalaisopisto around 9 am and there were already some people in the hall. We registered and got a folder with the program for the day, some papers to write notes, a feedback form to give in at the end of the day, a certificate of assistance, and the list of all the participants. I personally considered that having the list of names was a good thing, since we were able to see quickly whether there was going to be some people that we knew. I did recognize the names of two other teachers that I had met online, so I could look for them to say hello.

In the hall, beside the registration desk, there were also some products we could take, like some nice stickers with the slogan “Kieliä? Yes, please!” (Languages? Yes, please!) in many different languages; things that we could buy, like ribbons for the luggage and handbags with the same slogan, etc. There were also many textbooks from different publishers on display, and Otava was presenting some new books of several languages.

There were also some other products on display, and we had the opportunity of participating in the raffle of an Ipad Mini and some books. No, unfortunately I did not win any of the prizes.

kieliä?

Before the sessions started we were offered some coffee for breakfast, and it was a good way of starting to meet everybody. My colleagues and I soon noticed that almost all the attendees were women. We went through the list of names and we saw that there were only 7 men there, and around 100 women. I guess this is quite common in events for language teachers all over the world. Then, a bell started to ring and it was time to go to the auditorium for the beginning of the training day, or “koulutuspäivä”. First we had some welcoming words from the president of SUKOL, Kari Jukarainen; followed by a very funny presentation of the city of Tampere by Marjatta Saari. She not only showed us pictures of the city and explained some things about its story, but also taught us something about the dialect of the city. For this purpose she was wearing a T-shirt and a hat where it was written the word “moro”, which is a very typical way of saying “hello” in Tampere. She was also wearing a tracksuit, and said that it was very typical to wear tracksuits there. Her presentation was very funny and a good way of making people “wake up” and focus on the panels. Since the language used was Finnish, it was a challenge for me to follow the presentations, but I was positively surprised because I found myself understanding quite well most of what was being said.

The first panel was by Tuula Lehtonen, from the Language Center of the University of Helsinki, and was called “Mitä meidän tulisi tietää opiskelijoista, mutta emme uskalla kysyä?(What should we know about the students but don’t dare to ask?). It dealt with some interesting questions, such as “How do we define good language skills?”. She presented the results of some study where they asked this to both Finnish Law students and international students studying in Helsinki, and it was interesting to see that both groups gave similar answers. Aspects such as the ability to interact with other people, even when dealing with complex issues; being able to adapt the communication style to the different situations we may encounter; understanding what people say and being able to write correctly and express ourselves were amongst the more popular answers. The ease of use, the ease of learning the language, and self-confidence when speaking the foreign language were also mentioned. Regarding the ease of learning, some of the students of the study said that it was a gift, something that some people is born with. Personally, I think that this is true to some extent, some people do find it easier than others to learn foreign languages, whereas for other people this is something rather difficult. However, everybody is capable of learning a foreign language, regardless of how long it will take, and everybody needs to dedicate plenty of time, effort, perseverance, and a lot of motivation to the learning process. My favourite aspect of the ones mentioned in the study was “the ability to get things done using the other language”. This is something that happens especially when we are living in the country where the language we learn is spoken, since we need to use it when going to the supermarket, to the doctor, to the bank to open an account, when dealing with official paperwork with the authorities… And it is always a very important boost to our self-confidence when we discover that we are actually able to get things done using only the other language. That feeling right after the first time that you do something important in that language is probably one of the best feelings for language learners, and something we will probably always remember.

Mrs Lehtonen also left an open question in her panel, about how would education be in the future. Would there be robots instead of teachers? Would we teach in groups, instead of being just one teacher in each classroom? Would the new technologies replace live teaching by video-conferences? Only time will tell.

audience
The next panel was a very short presentation by Seppo Niemelä called “Onko vapaalla sivistystyöllä tulevaisuutta?(Will non-formal adult education exist in the future?). And it presented this question and left it unanswered, even if we all hope that the answer is “yes”.

At 12 we had a break for lunch and to continue taking a look to the new textbooks on display. The food was very similar to the food that I have eaten in Finnish universities – varied, with vegetarian and gluten-free options, and a lot of rice and potatoes. And of course, different types of tasty bread and butter.

After lunch we had some workshops in different languages so we could choose the ones we were more interested in. In the first group there were two workshops in Finnish, one in Swedish, and one in English. In the second group there were three in Finnish and one in Spanish. Being a teacher of English and Spanish I obviously attended those two. The English workshop was called “It’s not just what you say, it’s also whom you say it to – Navigating new words in the English language“, and was presented by Robert Hollingsworth, from the Language Center of the University of Tampere. We discussed about what makes a new word new, and what is the definition of “new word”. It was an entertaining presentation where we could all participate and contribute. We went through 10 “new words” in the English language and even learnt some, since there were some words that most of us did not know. As we all expected, the word “selfie” was the first one, and we learnt that even if it started to become very popular just recently, its first use was in Australia in 2002. So maybe it’s not as new as we thought. The speaker was very funny and we all laughed quite much, but we also had time for some serious linguistic issues, such as the factors required for a new word to be born: the existence of a new signified, a new concept, a prominent usage on the internet or real life, and the stamp of an authority (appearing in a dictionary). Most of the participants agreed that the presence in a dictionary was not as important as a regular and extended usage among the speakers. One of the most interesting things that we learnt in this lecture was that the word “unfriend”, so used nowadays as a verb thanks to Facebook, was already used in the Middle Ages as a noun, meaning “someone who is not a friend” or even “an enemy”, as in “he is not my friend anymore, he is my unfriend”. We were not presented with any evidence of this, but it was an interesting fact.

Between the two workshops we had another coffee break with delicious “pulla“. And then it was time for the Spanish workshop led by Luis Alberto Pérez Noyola, called “El español coloquial del ayer y hoy(The colloquial Spanish of yesterday and today). He gave us some papers with detailed explanations about the neutral Spanish, the body language, the social and geographical varieties of the language, etc. But since he was from Mexico, he showed us a bit of some very colloquial slang spoken there, using a song. Since this was a very specific way of speaking, all the words were new for us, except for my Mexican colleague, of course. This ended up taking most of the time, and some people seemed to be a bit confused for having learnt so many new words that they would probably never use. But it was something interesting to see. We also had the opportunity of trying some traditional chocolate from Mexico.

And after the second workshop we had the last panel of the day. It was called “Työnilo – pää(n)asia(Happiness at work, main issues/an issue of the mind), by Marja-Liisa Manka, from the University of Tampere. She told us about the importance of having a positive mindset at work (and in general), how to be a good superior, and how to avoid stress and other health problems that are caused by it. One of the conclusions was that nature is a very powerful ally to calm down and relax. The speaker did have a very positive attitude and somehow passed it on the attendees, who laughed a lot with her jokes, so the whole panel was full of positivity.

työnilo
And after this last presentation, we had dinner and the publisher Otava presented their new textbooks of each language, so we were seated divided in different tables for different languages. This was a good way of meeting other colleagues who teach the same language(s) and also of getting to know the books and their authors. We could also take the books home, since we liked them quite much. The Spanish textbook that was presented to us was called “Buenas Migas 1” and is designed to last 1 year and a half in our courses. I did find it very complete and easy to use, so I can’t wait to use it in my lessons someday. The English textbook was called “Destinations 1” and it also looks very up-to-date and comprehensive. The food we were offered was delicious and very varied. It made us use several times a “new word” we were taught in the English workshop: food baby.

Buenas Migas_Destinations
Around 7 pm people started to leave, specially the ones who live in different parts of Finland and had to take a train back home, like we did. It was a very good experience and the organization of the event was faultless. All the presentations were interesting and entertaining and it was a very good opportunity to make new contacts from our professional field. Since the experience was so good, I will certainly attend more Training Days organized by SUKOL, specially in they are in Tampere, because I will move there next month.

That being said, I would like to thank SUKOL for organizing such an interesting event!