An interview with eltforum.sk presenter: Nina Hanáková
An Interview by Martina Bednáriková
Learning a foreign language does not have to be just gap-filling exercises, desks and/or boring homework. How often do we remember that when students have fun, we teachers have fun as well? Or when we’re having fun, they are too. Nina Hanáková, one of the speakers at ELTForum.sk in June, likes having fun with her students. She learns together with them. As a language coach, she says this approach of facilitating fun and independence has worked wonders. Are you ready for her workshop “Motivating Adult Learners”?
SCET: What do you like most about working as a freelance teacher? What do you find most difficult about it and what is most rewarding?
Nina: I love being my own boss. It fits my personality so much better than being employed. As a freelancer I get to do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whoever I want. But it surely isn’t a bed a roses.
Doing whatever I want motivates me to be innovative, take risks, to experiment. I play and I have fun. For example, recently I stopped teaching from coursebooks. I would never be able to do this if I wasn’t self-employed. I learn and grow because I am free to do what I want.
Also, it’s my decision when to get up and when to go to bed, when to go for lunch with a friend and when to take 2 months off. Or 2 years off like I did to be home with my baby, while working part-time.
But most importantly I can choose who I work with. Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them. I want to work with those who cherish the same values as I do, who understand me, who inspire me, who help me grow. That goes for my colleagues, other independent professionals, and my clients.
I won’t lie to you – it’s hard at times. You have to be disciplined; you have to have good time-management skills. You have to play many different roles: expert in your field, entrepreneur, marketer, event organizer, accountant… Sometimes there’s less work, and the pay is not regular. But I wouldn’t change a thing. Freelancing is my life.
SCET: What does your ordinary work day look like?
Nina: I wake up between 6.30 and 7am, I make breakfast and drive my daughter to kindergarten. Then I come back home, do a bit of cleaning and around 9am I start working (my office/classroom is in my home). I usually don’t finish before midnight. In between, there is quite a lot of role-switching, from online coach to blogger, to social media marketer, short video maker, in-class teacher, course director, event organizer, and mom – I try to spend as much time with my daughter as I can.
Now more than ever, I seek some downtime and some social time for myself in my weekly schedule. It’s very important, otherwise I would go crazy. Balancing family and working life is no piece of cake for a woman.
SCET: You believe in teaching without course books. What are the advantages you see, for teachers and students respectively?
Nina: Let me quote Jason West, the author of English Out There, here: “We all learnt our first languages socially…from interaction, trial and error, negotiated meanings, from our parents. The reason we find it hard to do the same with our second language is because we are put into schools that teach us language academically.” I have a 3-year old; I learn a lot from her. Including language learning strategies and none of them include coursebooks.
Kids don’t like coursebooks; they like interaction, play, moving around. And why would an adult want to feel like a kid at school again? So skipping the coursebooks and mirroring whatever my clients do in their every-day lives, in their own language, seems like the best way to go.
And it is successful. Students report to me, over and over, that this approach makes them fall in love with learning English because they make friends, their speaking and intercultural skills skyrocket, they discover their passion for reading or sitcoms or writing… Things they didn’t even know existed in themselves. They are motivated and excited because they see results and they are having fun along the way.
So all in all, yes, this feels extremely rewarding to the teacher. The teacher becomes a natural part of the learning group and, in my experience, it’s much more fun this way. When it’s fun for the teacher, it’s fun for the students. And when we all have fun, we learn much faster, right?
SCET: How would you define yourself (as a teacher)?
Nina: My goal is to show others that learning another language (or learning anything) doesn’t have to involve gap-filling exercises, school desks and boring homework. And most of all, that they can learn it all by themselves!
I like to think of myself as a language “coach” and a “facilitator” of speaking opportunities. Although I guide the students through the learning process, I am not an omniscient teacher without whom they cannot even blow their noses. I guide my students towards independence. My most successful students automatically accept the responsibility for their progress. They understand language is a means to communicate with the rest of the world. They are open to other cultures and opinions. They are communicative and cheerful. They want to know how to talk about life, understand movies, read books. With these students, I like to be my natural self and “just one of them”, we are all learning together and from each other and I am having a blast. And they say it changes their lives; they view education and life differently. That’s very rewarding to hear.
SCET: When it comes to teaching English, what are the advantages of social media, e.g. Facebook and Skype? How do you use them?
Nina: I make learning videos and upload them on Youtube; I have been running a Facebook page called “EnglishBrno” for three years now and, as every true enthusiast in the field, I write a blog for students and teachers. It seems social media have turned into these amazing learning platforms. Don’t you think?
All my students need to know how to use Facebook. I particularly like FB groups as I can be in touch with the students virtually as well and we all motivate each other to learn asynchronously. They love sharing with each other in this safe, private space. And it helps them to practise their writing skills.
I use Skype for both getting to know the client first and for teaching. All my one-on-one consultations are led by me via Skype and I find them to be much more effective than meeting face to face. Both the student and I can focus much better, the student practises their listening skills because they can’t see my mouth moving (we only turn on the camera during our first getting-to-know-each-other call). And I love using internet resources so teaching via Skype comes naturally.
As a freelancer, I find social media useful when it comes to marketing your services. Many of my clients first heard about me online or checked me out online after a friend told them about me. On social media platforms, I like to show what I am about and what my teaching is about. I record the activities from my lessons, I take lots of pictures, I record the students before and after the course, I gather student testimonials and I post those on my FB profile or my blog. So the potential client has a better idea what they’re getting into.
SCET: Where do you get motivation and energy? What is guaranteed to keep you afloat when you feel like sinking?
Nina: My close friends and family, personal and spiritual growth books/videos, biking, dancing, live concerts, music in my car (especially Bob Marley and Alicia Keys), relaxing in the woods or a meadow somewhere, travelling and, last but not least, MY WONDERFUL STUDENTS!
Nina Hanáková has been teaching English to adults as a freelancer for the past 9 years, both offline in her hometown of Brno, Czech Republic, and online via EnglishBrno.cz (and all types of social media). She specializes in teaching without textbooks to female students. In her courses “English Without Books,” Nina encourage students to set personal language goals, interact socially with international speakers and use a lot of online resources. Nina is a big fan of video, recording some of her lessons and herself explaining grammar and vocabulary. She blogs and she is very active on Facebook. She prefers to learn alongside her students by doing and with love.