Interview with ELTABBer of the month: Mike Budden

Job: English trainer
Website: LinkedIn

What is your role within Eltabb?

Since the start of 2017, I’ve been getting more and more involved with the organisation of events. This means meeting other workshop participants, speakers and promoting a supportive and collective environment within the ELT community. Since joining, I had been increasingly present and active as a question-asker at the ELTABB workshops so it was a logical step for me to join the events team.

How have you benefitted from being a member of ELTABB (be it in general or specifically as a member of the events team)?

Through ELTABB I’ve gained regular inspiration, enjoyment from networking and attending the workshops and I’ve found and passed on work through the ELTABB online member’s area. If you get around and socialise at events and people know who you are, it opens up doors to help find work, share materials or have a network of people you can ask for teaching tips when you need it.

Is there anything you’ve noticed from learning to play a musical instrument or learn a piece of music, that is applicable to language learning?

With focused, conscious and repetitious practice or learning we make the right connections in our brain. Some claim it takes around 10 000 hours to learn an instrument and indeed that and learning a language also can seem like monumental tasks, but with a goals approach improvement becomes achievable. But be careful; you can get really good at the wrong things. Contrary to the saying, practice makes permanent, not perfect! This is why our students need to be using their limited time at home and in the classroom effectively and not training bad habits.

A further challenge is developing (or losing) an accent. This easy for everyone, but being a musician helps you #1 hear the target sounds and #2 perhaps gives you the patience to regularly practice a task (such as perfecting an accent) without having to see daily progress but just knowing your hard work will pay off in the long run. I used to drive in Sydney muttering “dreihundertdreiunddreizig” to practice the German ‘r’ sound.

Could you give us some ideas or activities for incorporating music into your lessons? Do you teach through/with music in all levels, ages and contexts (general vs business)?

With A1 students, I always have them sing the alphabet with me. Even if only 30-40% of the students find that memorable then it’s worth it, because memorable = memory. I also like clapping the rhythm of a sentence to show that sentence stress has a predictable rhythm. In a sentence like My dad is going to London on the weekend for work. the claps should be more or less at regular intervals.

Apart from that, I haven’t found music to be something I can pedagogically stand by yet. Once I used Amy Winehouse’s Valerie in a lesson to appeal to a group of young adults, whereby we did a running dictation and then listened to it line by line so the students could check their answers. This was memorable and enjoyed by all, however, due to lyrical excerpts such as ‘you was dodgin’ all the time’ it dawned on me that English lyricists have a deep understanding of song register which differs to that of spoken English. Musicians will often happily sing something like ‘I ain’t got no time’ but they would rarely actually say that.

I’ve heard particularly younger students using language like ‘I got’ for I have/I’ve got, ‘You gotta do it’ or ‘I gonna go’ which makes me wary of a trap for learners who like copying songs. The idea of turning this topic into a lesson has been simmering in the back of mind for a while now.

I understand you’ve been transitioning to more independent contractor work, directly contacting clients and companies. How has that been and what have you learned so far? Any dos or don’ts that you can share already?

The transition only began a short while ago, but I’ve so far learned that a professional, user-friendly website is imperative (mine’s almost finished!). It’s also very handy to have a team of other teachers you can kindly ask for advice or templates for things like contracts or a needs analysis. Nobody will be able to build a website or a contract from scratch who has never done it before. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, we all need it in the beginning! This is where the ELTABB community has been great.

Independent soliciting is a different world to working through private language schools or the Volkshochschule. New teachers get frustrated by low pay at private schools, particularly when they find out what clients are actually paying, but then you realise how much work goes into securing a client and it makes a little more sense. I recommend starting private teaching as soon as possible to work out what your stance is on pay rates, time frames, late policy, needs analysis, trial lessons (if needed) etc.

You have recently embarked on the FTBE course run by Evan and Mandy. How is it going and what do you hope to get out of it?

I love it! Of course doing a formal course for 1000€-2000€ could be effective, but the opportunity to meet up in small groups and discuss content really helps us actively digest it and makes us 100% accountable for the learning. And that at a fraction of the cost of a formal course. Teachers should have an understanding of how they think learning works and through discussion with my partner, I’m seeing my own opinions and perspectives of teaching methodology emerge.

I’m hoping to learn as much as possible from the other teachers doing the course and look forward to having Evan and Mandy’s brains there to pick when we do the module presentations. The more contact we have with other teachers the more we can learn from it.

Being from Australia, how do you find living in Berlin and the culture of Germany different from what you are used to?

In Australia, it seemed to me to that the balance between the importance of experience and qualifications is more tilted in favour of experience, so someone with no university degree could potentially still become CEO if they work their way up the ranks, whereas they wouldn’t get considered in Germany. Also, in Sydney’s competitive corporate environment, developing relationships on a personal level is crucial for success. That appears to be less the case here.

Additionally, I find it odd that in German classrooms people often have a seat that they come back to each lesson. If I don’t ask them to sit elsewhere, they will sit in the same seat close to 100% of the time.

What’s your favourite thing to do in the classroom?

I love playing Simon Says with my students to get them to stand up and move around a bit, particularly in longer sessions to break up activities and get them chuckling a bit. You can get the students to mime doing sport or anything else around the house like brushing teeth, vacuuming or having dinner. Of course, a student can be Simon too.

Another thing I’ve started doing recently and have had huge success with is to get students to write their own questions about a text. Questions are easier to teach when they’re isolated to a specific type (e.g. simple past or present) but when students more freely make their own questions they’re more connected to them. One option would be to get students to write the questions together in small groups then have students from opposing groups to ask and answer each other’s questions.

You attend quite a few events and conferences and always seem to be enjoying them. What is it you enjoy about attending such events? Is there a favourite one so far?

I do love going to the events. I am very interested in the epiphanies of other teachers and listening to more experienced speakers. We all need outside input to develop as teachers, which we could get from 1-way sources such as books, blogs, YouTube etc but nothing beats being at a workshop with the opportunity to ask questions to process it in your own way.

I just loved Hugh Dellar’s recent workshop on teaching lexically as it was clear that his personality and personal experience have largely shaped his teaching ideology, even if it is at times contrary to popular concepts like PPP and ELF. It was highly stimulating, challenged popular ideas and highlighted traps which younger teachers such as myself fall into. For those who missed his workshop I highly recommend his recorded webinar on YouTube called Hugh Dellar Teaching Grammar Lexically

Who would you like to nominate as ELTABBer of the month for July?

I would like to nominate Robert Kirstein, because I attended a stimulating workshop of his a few years ago and would like to see what pearls of wisdom he has to share with us younger teachers, particularly as an established and experienced trainer in Berlin.