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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!