Summary of the chat
Today I talk to Vanessa from – Speak English with Vanessa.
- We talk about how she got into English language teaching.
- Her top tips for language learners.
- I ask her how she would advise learners worried about perfection.
Hello and welcome to The Everyday Language Podcast for English Learners. Today, I’m going to talk to Vanessa who is a brilliant online English teach and YouTube video maker, or YouTuber, erm, but, I’ll let her introduce herself properly.
Vanessa: Sure, hi I’m Vanessa, and I teach English at the website Speak English with Vanessa.com And I make YouTube videos to share with people for free and courses that people can join to be my personal student and just generally passionate about English.
Mark: Okay, yeah, great, erm, so thanks for agreeing to talk to me Vanessa.
V: No problem.
M: Yeah, so to begin with I just wanted to ask you about your English teaching, like, how you got into it, and then like how you got to do what you’re doing now, so your English conversation, erm, stuff and your YouTube videos, etc.
V: Yeah, yeah, well I started to teach English in the US but it was to American students. So it’s quite different than forming sentence structures and stuff like that. We were focusing on literature and writing essays and that kind of stuff.
And I thought that that’s what I would want to do – is teach native English speakers about reading skills and how to express yourself, but then I caught the travel bug and wanted to travel and started to teach English.
I taught English in France to some little kids that I was living with. And then moved to Korea and did the same thing. And it really was just kind of contagious because it’s so much fun when you’re excited about something.
To share it with other people and you hope that they’re also excited about it.
So that’s a good thing about teaching adults. I think is most adults who are learning English just feel really passionate and excited.
So it’s kind of this cycle where I feel excited to teach and then the students feel excited to learn.
And I kind of feed off of that. So, yeah, that’s, that was in the classroom and then before I left Korea, I was teaching a group of adults who were actually well-welders.
V: And they were going to welding school.
And apparently there’s a really big welding, international welding community in Canada, so they were planning on going to Canada after they graduated but they needed some help with English.
V: And that just really made me excited to teach adults because I’d only had experience with my teenagers or kids. And they just felt so excited and had so many questions and it was a really big challenge to me to come up with good lessons for them that actually helped them.
And after I taught that group of welders, I thought, hmm maybe I should teach adults in the US and then I found online teaching and it kind of just went from there and started my website and it’s still going, thankfully, that’s a surprise but it’s great.
V: So, how long have you been doing your website, up to now?
M: Um, it’s been about three years, oh, maybe a little over three years, three and a half years, but I started when I was in Korea, and then I travelled in Europe for a little while and then in the US for a little while so it was just kind of making YouTube videos on and off.
There wasn’t really, a fixed plan until I moved here to the city where I live now in Asheville and then I kind of spent full time on the website. Researching what to do, how to create this online teaching thing, and still going!
M: ER, like, how was it to begin with? Working out how to make videos and an online course and stuff?
V: Well it was certainly a new world because I feel like when you’re a teacher in a classroom you focus your skills on how to manage the classroom, how to make it so that the kids don’t hit each other, and they learn, or how to have a good lesson for the adults.
So that they’re engaged and they’re not nervous. But when you’re online you have to figure out, how to edit videos and render them, and how to send emails to lots of people, and make downloads. There’s a lot more tech stuff. But thankfully people have been doing this for quite a few years now.
So there’s a lot of good resources. So I just spent probably the first six months I was still doing stuff, and teaching some lessons. But I spent a long time researching how to do this and watching webinars and videos and looking up people’s websites and just really trying to figure it out.
And I’m still trying to figure it out. There’s always questions every day about new stuff,
V: But you know I think it’s kind of interesting to me, it’s not too challenging but it’s challenging enough.
V: It’s pretty fun.
M: Yeah, your skill set kind of grows, I guess, at least mine has.
V: For sure.
M: Okay, so that’s website bits and then, uh, your top tips for English learners?
V: Oh, wow that’s a big question.
M: Yeah, yeah.
V: Um, I guess the first, the first thing whenever someone says, I get lots of emails about, “How can I become fluent in English?”
M: Umm, umm.
V: And really the first thing is that you have to decide for yourself what your goal is.
Because if your goal is to never make a mistake, and to sound exactly like Vanessa, or sound exactly like Mark, then, you’re gonna feel disappointed,
because you’re gonna still sound like you, but you want to improve your skills and want to improve your grammar and vocabulary of course.
But you need to decide what your ultimate goal is because you’ll never be happy with your progress, or never be satisfied with your progress, if you don’t have a goal.
And maybe, for me I’ve studied French a lot and that’s kind of where my experience for teaching English comes, with my experience learning French.
M: Yeah, yep.
V: And I feel like for myself in French my goal is always I want to express myself and have the other person not be confused. It’s a really basic goal but if the other person feels comfortable talking to me, and talking to me about a bunch of different topics.
Then I feel like that’s pretty successful. That they can understand you.
So I feel like for English learners having a goal, first of all that is realistic, and then you’ll feel more comfortable,
but then you also have to practice that so if your goal is to talk with a native speaker and have them not feel confused. Like my goal in French. You have to actually talk with a native speaker.
So you actually have to practice that, and do it and that starts, that could be online, that could be a meetup group in your city, there’s a lot of different ways especially with the internet. It’s…
V: …so, relatively easy to find someone who’s willing to talk for a couple minutes. So, having a goal is the first step.
M: Yeah, that’s like one of the most important ones isn’t it?
Er, yeah, you kind of touched on it, on your first tip, like, if you want to be more fluent. So a lot of people are worried about the mistakes in, where I am now in Japan. So they tend not to speak, for instance,
“So I just want to be perfect, I need to be perfect, and I don’t want to make mistakes because I’ll look stupid”.
What would you say to those kinds of students?
V: Sure I think that that’s a lot of people, and I think everyone feels nervous speaking in some situation, so maybe for the people who you have met in Japan, maybe they feel uncomfortable speaking when it’s in English.
Maybe some people feel uncomfortable in front of a large crowd of people in their native language, and the best way I found to overcome that fear is just to start really small.
So if it’s just reading out loud in English by yourself in a room. You’re hearing your voice using English, and no one’s listening. You’re not recording yourself, there’s no secret camera, no one’s watching you.
You’re just kind of getting used to hearing your voice, and your muscles are kind of getting used to those sounds.
And then maybe the next step would be finding someone who’s… who you feel really comfortable with, and trying to say a couple sentences with them.
Or find someone who you feel really safe with…and trying to maybe read out loud with them. Or have a quick little conversation. And then going to try to talk with strangers.
I feel like sometimes, say like people who have to use English for their jobs, their exposure to English is speaking with strangers in a professional situation.
And that’s a lot of pressure even in your native language. Trying to be polite, figure out what to say, solve their problems.
So starting a lot smaller than that, is usually a good stepping stone. Like by yourself then with someone you trust, then in that more stressful situation with a stranger or at your job because if you just jump to that, it’s probably gonna be a little stressful.
Trying to feel comfortable with yourself first. That’s, I think that’s a good place to start, and of course, yes everyone makes mistakes but it’s not easy to say, “don’t worry about making mistakes”.
It doesn’t always make you feel better about making mistakes if somebody says that. Like yeah that’s true, but you need to feel better yourself first before someone tells you.
M: That, that’s really practical tips just start on your own and then build up to, you know, gradually build up, till you feel comfortable.
V: Yeah, I remember my sister and I did this with French when we were in high school. I think it was before I’d ever heard anyone speak French but it was, was so silly, because we got this little guide, French guide from the library.
And it was just a book, so there was no help with how to pronounce things, and I think French is kind of famous for it not looking like it sounds.
V: So we just tried to read together this little guide about how to learn French and it was just counting and colors and stuff but we tried to read it together, and it was fun and silly, and no pressure. There was no French person there judging my speaking skills.
It was just together and kind of starting really, really small. So by the time I actually talked with someone who was a stranger in French I’d already heard my mouth say some kind of crazy sounds, and it felt a little more comfortable.
M: Mmm, I get that feeling sometimes, “wow, I’m speaking Japanese, I’m saying this”, it’s like, yeah for a moment you’re conscious about it, and then…
V: Yeah you gotta feel a little more comfortable with it before you do it with other people, and that’s, that’s understandable. A lot of people feel shy about speaking and it’s perfectly normal so don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you.
M: That’s really normal, isn’t it? So.
V: Yeah, and I think it’s also it tends to be a cultural thing as well, because some cultures might put more pressure on being really respectful or being a perfectionist, compared to other cultures. And like I’ve noticed that with some of my Japanese students, that they really want to be respectful so they care a lot about using correct language, and being polite,
and I think the Japanese language also probably has a lot of layers of politeness, that English doesn’t really have.
So it’s kind of hard to conceptualize that you can say the same thing to your grandmother, as you said to your friend, or they… it’s hard to kind of realize those things. So it’s just a cultural thing as well but certainly nothing that can’t be overcome.
M: Yeah, yeah, it’s kind of…I think for people from those er, cultures, where it’s a bit more…respect is really important, English can be like more free, can just be… but it’s letting yourself go, which is, I think the hard thing.
V: Yeah, hmm, yeah I agree, I feel like I felt like that sometimes with some of my Skype students, that I felt like they were sharing things with me that maybe they wouldn’t share in Japanese because it’s, it is free. You can, you don’t have to have that layered, layers of language politeness in your speech.
But of course there’s still polite and rude English but it’s certainly not, not anything like some other languages.
M: Oh yes, so talking about polite and rude English…it might be a a good way to go into British English and American English, um,
M: I’m not sure, like, I was gonna ask you, what’s your image of? When you hear someone speaking British English, or British, you hear the British accent, what are you kind of thinking?
V: Well, when I was younger before I really met anyone who was British or who had a British accent or English or Scottish or any of those really. I, I always just had the stereotype this person is either really smart or maybe a little bit snobby.
Because that’s just the stereotype in, in TV, and media really that that’s the only reason I would have gotten that stereotype. But now that I’ve met a lot of people from the UK, I feel like when I think about the British accent, I’m much more confused now.
Because I thought that I could, because I studied abroad in the UK for four months and a lot of my American friends said “Oh, now can you, can you imitate a British accent?” And after spending time there I thought, “no way, I cannot imitate a British accent.”
Because every person speaks so differently, there’s just so many differences in regions, and like I have a British friend here and he speaks differently than you do, and another British friend that lives in London, and she speaks differently.
It’s just so many differences, that I think the more, you know, about it the more you realize, “whoa, I could speak like someone from North London, I could speak like someone from you know East England, West, You know there’s just so many differences. So, so, now I don’t have those stereotypes anymore that I used to have when I was younger.
But I think I feel much more curious about the subtle differences and sometimes not subtle differences between accents, and that’s more interesting to me now.
M: Yeah, yeah, there’s, there is a lot of differences in…especially for me like the Northern and North [of] England, like quite a lot of cities are close together, like, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, people sound really, really different.
V: Oh, yes for sure, I was told, one of my friends asked me that, “Can you imitate a British accent?”
I would say, “I could imitate one person, yeah I can imitate the way that they speak, maybe.”
But also there’s just so much vocabulary that’s different and it’s not like I can’t understand British English but I think just the turns of phrase are often unique between the two places.
Like I heard someone say the other day “have a talk”, like, “Oh, I’m gonna have a talk with someone.”
And I feel like I would never say that I would just say, “I’m gonna talk with them.”
Okay so I feel like just little, little expressions like that it’s understandable, but it’s definitely different.
So you can’t just imitate a British accent, you have to include those expressions in your way of speaking, if you really want to pass as someone from the UK, in my opinion.
M: In terms of communication style do you think Brits and er, peop-and Americans are any different in directness? And all this kind of stuff?
V: I guess I could only speak for the, the people who I know, the individuals who I know, and I obviously know a lot more Americans. So I feel like I know a broader spectrum of people in the US, so it’s kind of hard to say.
I feel like in general, Europe has a reputation or at least a stereotype of being more reserved, and maybe not quite so abrasive and then Americans have this kind of reputation for being loud or just jolly.
M: Yeah, yeah.
V: So I feel like often a lot of Americans don’t want to step on people’s toes figuratively, like they’d rather be polite, but then behind your back maybe they’ll say something or say the truth of what they’re thinking.
But it’s hard to just directly say, something that’s…something that you don’t agree with, there’s always people who do that. But I think in general we try to have this kind of optimistic, positive, happy kind of demeanour. The stereotype.
M: Yeah, I feel like Americans, well people, I’ve met have been more, more positive, like, kind of more happy, kind of thing. Like Brits moan a bit too much and like, “oh, don’t talk to me.”
V: Do you think that has anything to do with the, the weather? Because that’s what we always think about when we think about the UK.
Sometimes if it’s raining, here I think, “This is like England.”
M: Yeah, maybe it can get you down a bit the lack of sunshine. And, mmm.
V: I know I feel like that after a couple days when it’s cloudy here I just feel like I’m ready for Sun again, and some places don’t have much Sun for weeks. So, I’m a little impatient when it comes to cloudy days.
M: Yeah, like, I quite like football and one of… a British footballer went to New York to play there, and he says, “Yeah, it’s amazing, like people in New York’s like they say ‘hello’ to you, kind of people greet you, and they’re really positive, and I’m like this typical British guy with my head down, and I don’t want to say ‘hi’”
V: That’s funny cuz New York, kind of has, a stereotype for not being so polite, so I wonder if he went to the south if he would just be blown away completely, “Everyone is so friendly!”
M: Yeah, so you have a chat with people when you walk [down the street]?
like you can say hello to people who you don’t know and stuff?
V: Oh yeah, I mean of course it depends. If usually, when I pass someone on the street you at least make eye contact and kind of give a little smile maybe. But if someone, yeah a lot of people say, “oh hey, how’s it going?”
You don’t have to say that to everybody, but if somebody has a dog or some kind I when I’m carrying my baby people always talk to me and want to talk about him or if somebody has a dog they talk about their dog and it’s not too unusual. To strike up a conversation with strangers and it’s not everyone of course but it’s not unusual.
M: Yeah, that sounds nice, I think, I might have a try. my god not have a try because in Japan it’s kind of the opposite, it’s much more reserved.
V: Sure, sure probably you stick to your close friends. And I, I heard that once, that, in, I think it was actually a Japanese students who was living in the US, and he said that Japanese people, it’s hard to get to know them, but when you get to know them you are a close friend.
M: Yeah, yeah.
V: But in the US, it’s easy to kind of, get to know someone, but we have a lot of casual friends, and not many close friends. So you might think like him he is from Japan, he thought, “Oh I went to someone’s house for dinner, I must be a close friend”, but really that’s just a casual acquaintance, and that’s really common.
That, oh, we’ll have you to dinner at our house, and then I won’t see you again, I won’t see you for another month.
M: Yeah, yeah.
V: It’s hard to be a really, really close friend, and usually that’s just family anyway, so there’s different cultures, different ideas.
M: Yeah, definitely, it’s er, it’s easy to get to know people, but probably not very, very, very well.
V: Yeah that’s a good way to put it.
M: Well, so, okay, so we’ve gone over quite a lot of time, but erm, so probably it’s good to let you go get back to work.
V: Oh no problem thanks for chatting and your great questions.
M: Haha, thanks a lot Vanessa, and see you again.
V: Yeah, see you again, the next time, haha.
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