Eltabber of the month: Dorothy Sommer

You teach young learners and business English, do these learners have much in common?

Every adult is a kid at heart and nothing is more motivating while learning a language than relaxing, enjoying what you are doing and having fun.

My BA is in Business and German and I worked for an international company in my native Florida and in Germany for several years before I started teaching, so it seemed only natural to teach business people. On the other hand, all my summer jobs as a student were lifeguarding and coaching a swim team, so that’s why I enjoy teaching Young Learners and Teens so much. Kids have such a fresh outlook on life and they have taught me to take some of the S (seriousness) out of business.

What kind of testing do you do?

I have been a ESOL oral examiner since 2007 and I am trained for Young Learners, Business and other exams.

How does testing adults differ from kids?

Adults bring more experience with them and have normally spent a lot of time preparing and studying for an exam. Children, however, especially very Young Learners acquire languages through songs, rhymes and games, by listening to stories, watching films and associating lexical items with things or pictures, not with written words. Therefore, they store their knowledge in a different way, much more like a bilingual person would and don’t necessarily learn English through their native language. That is why testing younger children is more about recognition, ability and understanding.

What are the main differences (if any) to teaching in Brandenburg compared to Berlin?

What’s the difference between the city mouse and the country mouse? Perhaps their point of view, perhaps their lifestyle.
Brandenburg is a beautiful state surrounding one of the most interesting cities in Germany. The population is much lower and spread out, there are many small towns and villages and you get to know people well in your area. You can hop on a bicycle and ride through the woods or around one of the many lakes and take a dip into the cool water whenever you feel like it. So, people are more relaxed out here in the sticks and are perhaps less cosmopolitan, but more down to earth. What we do have out here is the best of both worlds.

What is your absolute favorite activity/exercise/game you use in teaching?

One of my favourite games is Bingo because you can easily change the content and the rules to adapt to what you are currently teaching. It is competitive and this has led to an easy spinoff game that I have created called ABC Shout! As soon as the teacher holds up a letter of the alphabet, kids shout words they know that begin with that letter. Points are distributed on the board and given to the first student to come up with a word. Points are also given to others if it is a tie. The winner is the one with the most points at the end. This game is not suitable for large groups, nonetheless kids are thinking on their feet, hear over 100 lexical items within 6-8 minutes and say more than 20 by the time you have finished the alphabet. Be sure to mix the cards.

How can ELTABB focus more on Brandenburg?

An easy way would be to plan some of the events in Brandenburg. How about a Stammtisch out here at the lake? A one-hour ride on the train out of town and an hour back. That’s what Brandenburgers face vice versa when a Stammtisch is planned around the corner from your home in Schöneberg or Mitte.

What was your role while you were on the board and what is
your fondest memory?

I was Events Coordinator for three years from 2007 to 2009 and I found the work quite interesting and very rewarding. First of all, I had the opportunity to get to know many people in ELTABB and in the ELT profession worldwide and was able to invite a number of them to Berlin to give workshops. However, one of the most memorable events was the Teacher to Teacher Day which took place in 2009. There were eight workshops held by ELTABBers and publishers who shared their expertise, a book display, a swap shop and plenty of food and coffee to go around. Publishers and a school were generous in their support and helped bring people together!

How did you end up in Brandenburg?

That’s a good question because I have been asking myself that for a number of years now. At first, it was a little bit like moving to another country, mainly because the mentality of the people around here is so different from anywhere else I had lived in Germany. After living in such an international community near Geneva, it took awhile to adjust. However, Geneva was a stepping-stone to a more secure lifestyle, so we packed up the children and moved to our new home here.

You lived in Switzerland for some time, and were a keen member of ETAS. How would you say ETAS compares to ELTABB?

Actually, I never lived in Switzerland directly, but just across the border in the French countryside at the foot of the Jura Mountains. I taught Young Learners at the ILO in Geneva, Switzerland and crossing the border several times a day in that area is part of your daily routine.

ETAS is a national organization and therefore has a completely different structure than ELTABB. It has local branches in different cities throughout Switzerland and has the wherewithal to put on local events as well as big nationwide events. The feeling is that of a big community working together to help each other as teachers.

What motivated you to join the professional development group?

I finished my MA ELT in 2008 and I was interested in staying abreast with the latest developments in research. When Evan Frendo suggested starting a group, I came on board with a handful of other colleagues.

Who would like to nominate as Eltabber of the month and what question would you like to ask them?

I’d like to nominate Leo Waters.

Thanks a lot!

Edited by Mandy Welfare