This month, we interviewed Emmeline Luc-Umansky, who’s developed an English-speaking programme for mothers.
Emmeline is from the Seychelles. She got her CELTA in 2017, a DELTA M2 two years later and a certification in Neurolanguage Coaching. She started teaching Conversation and Business English courses privately, in companies, at the Volkshochschule and universities in Osnabrück. A move to Berlin for family reasons, the pandemic and the birth of her baby (in that order) saw her re-evaluating her teaching. Changing diapers, feeding and entertaining her baby consumed all of her time. After one of those exasperating days (and nights) she realised how hard it must be to learn English as a mother. This realisation made her develop a 1-to-1 speaking programme for mums to practise whilst spending time with their babies whether it be visiting a museum or walking in the park. The programme aims to reduce the lag time between learning and implementation and to create opportunities for implementation in new environments. Supporting the central practice are weekly lessons (less than 10 minutes), feedback and check-ins. Emmeline is now focusing on teaching English to mothers and is thankful to her baby for giving new meaning to her work and life.
- When did you join ELTABB and how have you benefited from being a member?
I joined in 2020. The Saturday online workshops helped me to meet other teachers, to hear about their approaches and to reflect upon my own teaching. It is great to experience the warmth and openness of the ELTABB members at a Stammtisch or events such as Expolingua.
- I see Seychelles has three official languages! How has this influenced your approach to languages? (Speaking as someone who grew up in a very monolingual England…)?
In Seychelles people personalise the spoken languages more. That’s why I appreciate the exception to the grammar rules and I embrace the personalisation of language more. I personally understand the complexity of the mother tongue-first language debate so I don’t make assumptions when I deal with my students no matter how superficially homogenous a class appears to be.
- What impact has doing the DELTA had on your career overall?
DELTA helped me to create my own course Field Trip Moms. It gave me sound knowledge of theory and practice to build and evaluate my own work. Being a teacher is a huge responsibility and doing it with integrity and not winging it is important to me.
- It’s very impressive that you’ve developed a speaking programme specifically for young mums learning English. Could you tell us a bit more about it? Ten-minute lessons seem like so short to get much done in! What kind of things do your speaking lessons involve and how do you evaluate your learners’ progress?
My programme Field Trip Mums is all about applying what you’ve learnt instantly rather than waiting for the perfect occasion. The programme promise is a quantitative one: to enable mums to practise daily. The speaking element is mums going out of their houses with their babies and chatting to them in English. They record their interactions and we collaboratively reflect, correct and redirect for the next field trip. The 10 minute lessons are language input. They are quick as I prioritise implementation.
I built this course after thinking deeply about Diane Larsen Freeman’s take on Alfred North Whitehead’s “inert knowledge problem”. This is where students learn what they are taught in the classroom, but they cannot use it for their own purposes. I’ve heard related complaints about not being able to utter words at the ‘time of speaking’ or students not knowing when to use specific grammar points in real life although they had knowledge of meaning and form. I will attempt to address this by prioritising mums’ engagement with their children in varied everyday contexts. Progress is evaluated through teacher and student-led formative assessment strategies. This looks like a co-created rubric or quick formative check-ins in the form of observations and question and answers.
- What a fantastic idea, teaching English to mums while they’re looking after their babies! Do you find most sign up because they want to learn a language and this is convenient, or because they want their baby to hear the English language from a very young age?
My programme is entirely new. You’re the first ones to know about it! At its core, it’s for the mum whose first language is not English but whose baby will primarily speak English. She wants to play an active interest in her child’s education and wants them to connect at a deeper level. I’m looking forward to building my brand and starting a conversation with the mums I wish to work with. I’ll keep you posted on my journey!
- What’s your favourite thing to do in the classroom?
It’s important for me to allow the student to understand how I’m thinking. Why I chose to do an activity a particular way or why I chose a material over another.
- What are a few of the ways you bring creativity into your work?
- Invite students to explore ‘alternative’ teaching methods with you. An example is when I adapted Silent Way – more of the minimal speaking cues and less of the cuisenaire rods – for a C1 VHS speaking class. I lit candles and played Mozart on repeat. It was a great experience in promoting learner autonomy for me.
- Designing lessons where students have to use their imagination. I remember trying out a lexis lesson on describing smells to varying speaking groups I taught at the time. I brought in perfume samples with the intention of creating our signature perfume as the final product. I learnt that describing smells was rather abstract and we didn’t reach consensus on many notes. It taught me that creativity comes with failure, refining the process and trying again.
- What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your professional life?
Reconciling the fact that not every client has to be your client. Your approach is not for everyone and that’s ok.
- What was it like coming to Germany from the Seychelles? Is there anything you miss/anything you like better over here?
Moving to Germany meant studying to become a teacher and starting a new career which took most of my effort and concentration. I miss my family in Seychelles but it’s a wonderful and humbling experience to take a risk and succeed at an entirely new career path.
- What’s your favourite thing to do on a beautiful day in Berlin?
Sitting at a cafe, enjoying a cappuccino with dessert and watching people. I adore watching all the fashions!
Edited by Eleanor Johnston