English language assistant Stephanie Glenister talks about the challenges she encountered while teaching in Canada and France.
Find creative ways to travel in your new home
When I lived in France and during my first months in Canada, I spent a lot of money on travel. The public transport to Lyon airport was very expensive, and in Québec I often drove alone.
In France, I switched to an online ride-sharing service to find lifts. I was able to get from my door to Lyon airport for four euro. In Québec, I have a car and offer lifts to other people using an app and Facebook groups. I am reimbursed for my petrol money, and it is better for the environment.
The opportunity to socialise and speak French when sharing lifts is also advantageous for me. A trip to the airport in Lyon provided plenty of conversational material. When I offered my first lift in Canada, I coincidentally picked up someone who was about to go and work in Lyon. Other voyagers are always interested in what you have to say, and exchanging stories is what travelling is all about.
Accept that technology is not perfect, and improvise
The computer network in my French school often failed. Even if I was in a room with a computer and a projector, I was unable to log on and deliver the jazzy lesson that was waiting on my USB stick.
The first thing I did was to ask the students to help me log on. When this failed, I let them choose a topic and then play games or construct role plays based on their topic. Asking the students for help got them on my side, as they could see I was struggling with the technology in my new work environment. It also gave them the opportunity to practise language for solving problems. Their empathy meant that they were keen to engage in the subsequent tasks, particularly because I had let them choose the topic.
It is reassuring to have visual aids prepared, but a language assistant’s job is to make the students speak, and this should not require any technology.
Share concerns early to find quick solutions
Several of the teachers at my school in France cancelled my classes without telling me, which resulted in a lot of wasted time and the feeling that I was being overlooked.
To overcome this, I tried talking to the teachers. When the situation did not improve, I sent an email to the head of department detailing what was going on and how it was making me feel. The head of the department communicated with the teachers. They made an extra effort to establish a better system for communication, and gave me plenty of notice if any of my classes were cancelled.
Practise speaking and listening to understand unfamiliar accents
Despite having a solid grounding in French, I had difficulty understanding the Québecois accent and vocabulary when I first arrived.
I stop people and ask them to repeat themselves when I don't understand what they’re saying, and they are usually happy to help improve my vocabulary. Explaining why I don't understand usually leads to a conversation about why I’m here in Canada and which variety of French I learned, which gives me plenty of speaking practice. Each subtle difference between the French language in Canada and France increases my fascination of and appreciation for both languages.
Look for creative ways to work with new individuals and groups
This year in Québec, I am teaching a group of 11- and 12-year-old learners who have difficulty focusing on the activities I use with my other groups.
I spoke with my head teacher and we decided that a task with responsibility would be a good incentive, because the learners are the oldest in the school.
We prepared Christmas workshops in English that they delivered to younger children. Being in charge inspired the children, and they prepared a whole range of workshops – from board games to making slime – which they were able to explain in English to the younger learners.
Find out how to apply to be an English language assistant by 12 February 2018.
Read more on Stephanie's personal blog.