The Social Business of ESL
Submitted by Christine Wood on Wed, 12/21/2011 - 11:44
Fiona has combined her passion for technology and interaction with her background in linguistics and teaching English as a Second Language. Beginning in early 2012, she will be a regular voice on our KENDALLWOOD blog.
In between Christmas shopping, we sat down with Fiona to get her thoughts on education, language, publishing and how those fields are being shaped and influenced by technology and new media. So, won't you grab a cup of tea and spend some time learning about the Business of ESL.
Q: Who are you?
I’m a writer, mother, wife, educator, teacher-facilitator, learner, geek – each duking the others out for prominence and precious time.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
Because I can’t stop myself!
I can’t stop the ideas from coming and I want to be part of the ed-tech revolution. I love to create and share new, exciting, and USEFUL learning tools for my colleagues and my students.
I know I sound like Thomas the Tank Engine. But it’s true!
Q: Where does your love of the English language stem from?
From a lifelong love of reading -- much of my childhood was spent buried in books. When I stumbled into linguistics and began to explore the science of language, particularly socio, psycho, and applied linguistics, whew, those were heady days!
Q: Talk to us about “real English 4 real life”
Real English 4 real life is what it sounds like.
It’s a teaching program designed for ESL students to communicate in everyday language about everyday life. It’s more than just school and hobbies; it’s about intimate and personal things that need to be expressed.
The program is essentially two things: a speaking course called Functionall and an integrated resource designed specifically for women called Serious Girl Talk, which also includes a mentoring program and wiki-texts.
When I first started teaching, the Internet was still in its infancy (the horror!) and there wasn’t the exchange and openness of language that exists now.
Traditional ESL textbooks seemed to offer no middle ground.
They were either academic or “safe,” using standard language and predictable contexts.
I was at a point that if I taught one more unit on “checking into a hotel” I was going to implode -- and so were many of my students.
Some texts pushed the envelope but they were specialty books and had shock value, like “English as a Second F*cking Language.” These books made a big deal of certain types of language.
I wanted to create a resource that could help students incorporate slang, swear words, and idioms into their speech, just as native speakers do.
My students don’t need shielding from words like “shit” or “tampon.”
They only need some guidance as to context and appropriate register.
The most vital piece, though, is the context in which students practice their new language skills. When the environment feels authentic, it resonates with the students. That’s when there is magic—and real learning— in the classroom.
On top of a large international student population, Canada admits around 250,000 immigrants a year, a significant number of those learning English as a Second Language.
These are fathers, mothers, children, grandparents-- all people who may or may not need to know the vocabulary for checking into a hotel but most definitely need to communicate in public AND private thoughts and needs.
Serious Girl Talk emerged initially as a project to help women communicate some of their more intimate and specifically female experiences.
These language skills can have a significant impact on their integration into Canadian society in terms of their personal and family relationships, health, and professional pursuits.
Q: Can you tell us more about Serious Girl Talk?
Serious Girl Talk has morphed into a mentorship program of sorts, in that women (native English speakers) from all over Canada have contributed their personal and professional vocabularies on topics ranging from breast-feeding, to family mediation, to sewing and painting.
It’s like a wiki-textbook!
This is what makes the language real, living + evolving.
Some of these “word mentors” will also participate as guest speakers in programs using Serious Girl Talk and help expand the mentorship metaphor.
BTW, I’m not being genderist! I’m obviously not as qualified to write the male version but I welcome any male writers who would like to take on Serious Guy Talk!
Q: Why the emphasis on using social/digital technologies?
ESL + technology seems like a no-brainer, particularly in Canada where there are many accessibility issues.
Mobile and online learning are now imperative.
Social media is a great tool to incorporate in language learning for obvious reasons – it’s about sharing and communication!
Social Media also has a very positive impact on learners’ literacy skills. Most of my younger students are so comfortable with social media that they don’t even view sending me a DM or an email as writing homework. Students want to interact with technology.
Technology is not the wave of the future anymore. It is very much the present. A wired classroom is a classroom abuzz.
Technology is a fantastically malleable tool for educators + learners
ESL is no different that any other aspect of education and technology has so much to offer it.
Q: What impact do you think all of this has on the traditional classroom? Is it dead?
The traditional classroom is not dead, but someone should kill it. My American education tweeps seem poised for a full-scale ed-volution. Exciting stuff.
Q: Share with us your thoughts on how our online world has changed publishing. Where do you think we are headed?
This question makes my head spin and my palms sweat.
It brings out the tiny little Luddite in me. How can I love technology so much but be terrified it is going to take my books away? A kindle (I do not own one) is but cold comfort.
Obviously, the publishing world has undergone a painful transition and the advent of self-published everything makes me feel a little queasy.
There is something exciting about the inmates running the asylum.
There seems to have been a creative explosion and while some might argue that talent and taste are among the casualties, a new democracy of sorts has emerged. How the story will end is anyone’s guess but I suspect it will continue to evolve in ways to which we will continue to adapt.
As for the “book” itself, I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. There still seems to be plenty of desire for both digital and printed books.
I absolutely refuse to say that the printed book will die.
Not on my watch.
Q: Talk to us about your blogging/writing online? How do you maintain balance between personal and professional?
When I started blogging several years ago, I didn’t want anyone to read my stuff.
Actually, I heard a writer on the radio say something similar. She just wanted a “place” to collect her thoughts.
At first I was quite worried about those two worlds colliding and what impact that would have on my professional persona.
Our online selves are not so different from our real selves.
In my personal blog, I ask myself what is appropriate in terms of sharing and tone.
As an ESL teacher, I am also always conscious of cross-cultural sensitivities.
Because I’m not a pundit or columnist, I perhaps tone down the rhetoric a little. I think as long as one writes with integrity, one can be both applauded and forgiven. As Popeye said,
I am what I am.
Q: What are your digital tools of the trade?
So many tools, so little time! My favorite medium for professional networking by far is Twitter.
Twitter provides probably some of the best professional development I have ever had plus is a great way to make real connections.
Twitter is a treasure chest for innovation + education.
I’m going to confess that I don’t really dig Facebook.
For my personal stuff, it’s ok. But I’m not sure it’s the right home for what I want to do with my business. I do have a Facebook business page though.
I’m also embarrassed to say I don’t get LinkedIn, although I am on it.
I’d be happy to hear who really uses it and benefits from it.
I’m still working on my Google + ... so the jury is out.
My favorite stops for my various digital needs include:
- tagxedo (creating awesome word clouds for vocabulary review etc..)
- zamzar (file conversion of every sort)
- prezi (for learning and creating)
- dropbox (obvious)
- zooburst (my new fave – for digital storytelling)