The Linguist

The Linguist 55,1

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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28 The Linguist Vol/55 No/1 2016 OPINION & COMMENT Muriel Huet is taking a one-year sabbatical from her role as MFL teacher at a London secondary school. TL MURIEL HUET Teacher on tour As a secondary school languages teacher, Specialist Leader in Education, and Head of French, my life was becoming an endless list of tasks: planning, reports, data analysis, meetings, assessing, marking… Although I love my job, I needed to refresh my brain and escape the daily administrative pressure we teachers are increasingly under. I wanted to go back to the source – teaching, just teaching – so I decided to go on a teaching journey of 14 countries around the world for one year. As Seneca said, "travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind." I started by contacting schools in Asia, Africa and South America to set up placements and visits, using all the contacts available to me: friends, family, social media, my school. Not only were schools and organisations interested in my services as a language teacher, but I was also asked to deliver some conferences on the use of short films and authentic material to promote language learning – an expertise I developed through work with the British Film Institute. Most places offered a small fee or free accommodation, which has been a great help, as I have no regular income this year. My itinerary planned, I set off for China in September to deliver conferences at the Beijing International Studies University (BISU). I then travelled to Shanghai, Sian and Suzhou, where I was able to discover more of the fascinating Chinese culture in this country of contradictions – a very different place to the image Europeans tend to have of China. In Burma/Myanmar, I visited rural schools where the teaching is still very traditional and consists mostly of repeating after the teacher or copying from the board. I was lucky to be there just before the recent historic elections, and through the many conversations I had with young people, I saw a real desire for change. They want easier access to education, fewer children working on the streets and, of course, more freedom. The journey to democracy, and therefore to better education, is just beginning. In Cambodia, I worked in an orphanage where one third of the children are HIV positive. My tasks ranged from teaching English to developing literacy skills, singing bedtime songs and playing games. It was a real life lesson: these children know that they have to work particularly hard to achieve anything in life, and despite the difficulties, they put lot of effort into learning English. I had the chance to visit the nearby high school, where teachers have to teach classes of 50 pupils or more, for an average salary of just US$150 a month. Teachers' salaries are a real issue in Asia, as staff on low incomes put less effort into lessons so that they can offer extra classes after school in order to raise their income. In addition, due to a lack of teacher training, people can become teachers as soon as they leave school, meaning that they do not have the necessary skills. In Vietnam, I taught English and delivered workshops about pedagogy to teachers at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology. The Vietnamese students I met were positive, highly competitive and hardworking. They understand the importance of learning foreign languages to secure a better future, and are full of ideas to develop their language skills. The teachers are eager to develop their expertise, hungry for new teaching methods and excited to learn from others. I was lucky to be there for World Teachers' Day – a very important event in Vietnam in which students give their teachers gifts to show their gratitude. Wearing my traditional Vietnamese dress, I received flowers from my new students, wishing me happiness in my life and success in my career, and they also sang in my honour. What a beautiful day! An idea to bring back to the UK. Thanks to teaching, I have been in contact with locals in every country I have visited and I always try to learn some words in the local language. There is a magical element to learning a new language, and people always welcome this effort with huge smiles and kindness. This has helped me to gain better access to each country and its culture, and understanding the context I am working in has enabled me to recognise what I can bring to each school. The cultural differences, the infrastructure, the equipment… many factors have to be taken into account, yet such challenges have helped me to develop my expertise as a teacher. This experience has highlighted a need for a more efficient and significant teaching network around the world. Are we using all the funding available, are we taking up opportunities, are we using the technology efficiently to make such things possible? We could learn so much more from each other. LIFE LESSONS Muriel at a school in Battambang, Cambodia One French teacher takes us with her on a year's sabbatical to teach, learn and lecture at schools and universities in 14 countries around the world

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