More than Just Going with the Flow: An ESL Story

Every so often I look at a particular teacher’s professional experience and see a lesson or two that can be learned. That’s mostly why I choose to do interviews here. I hope you share my interest in hearing about other paths teachers take and events that guided their decisions.

In my last post  I mentioned a project that has me collaborating with a colleague from the UK. The interesting thing is that Vicki Hollett now resides in the US, and this has allowed her to become very familiar with differences between British and American English, from pronunciation to pragmatics. It wasn’t her original intention to live in America long-term, but since events turned out as they did, she has embraced the opportunity and turned it to her advantage. So much of Vicki’s past and present work reflects her positive attitude, which strengthens her ability to identify how she can further her reach as a teacher of English.

Vicki Hollett: ESL teacher, author, videomaker
Vicki Hollett: ESL teacher, author, videomaker

Enjoy Vicki’s responses to my questions.

1.     When did you start teaching and how did you get involved in materials writing?

It was before the Internet was born, when there were very few materials around for business English students. I was teaching a class of businessmen in Tokyo with a book that talked about washing up and vacuuming the house. I had to start writing stuff that was more suited to their needs. It led to a book for Pearson and then lots more books for other publishers. 

2.     How did you end up in the US? Do you find it challenging in any way to be an ESL teacher in the US since you’re British?

I came to the US for 6 months in order to learn a little more about the other major English variety. And then I met an American guy who basically kidnapped me. 6 months has turned into 16 years. And no, being British in the US is interesting, but not a challenge. I generally work with people who need English for business and technical purposes. They need to communicate in international contexts, so I think having a British and US perspective has worked to my advantage.

3.     Why does videomaking appeal to you? How much of the technology side did you know before you got started on YouTube?

Video appeals to me because it’s so pedagogically sound. Meaning and context are intertwined and with video we can present language in context. That’s something we couldn’t do well with just audio.

I had learnt a bit about videomaking because I’d made three video courses for a publisher. (You can find a couple here.) I was teamed up with a guy called Bob Baker, who has since won a couple of BAFTAs and an Oscar. How lucky was I? Bob taught me a lot about script writing.

But technology-wise I didn’t know much and I had to turn to other sources. I used YouTube ‘how to’ videos to learn how to edit, and I got my ‘merican husband (who has worked in film, television, and video for many years) to help with shoots. 

    4. Yes, that was good fortune. (But you also have skill and talent!) What about other teachers interested in video production? What possible path could they take? Could you offer some advice?

Just do it. Get yourself and a camera, press the record button and the rest will follow. Videomaking is one of those things that’s best learnt by doing, and you can have a lot of fun along the way.

5.     You also offer live instruction. What are some challenges and joys of being an online teacher?

There’s lots to enjoy: personal contact – meeting new people – independence – being able to teach in my pajamas sometimes – the world gets smaller and more connected and I just love that.

6.     Do you have any predictions for our field? What do you see happening for learners and teachers in the future?

I think learners and teachers will employ video more and more. It’s getting easier to shoot and distribute all the time, and like I said, it’s so pedagogically sound.

[The thoughts and opinions expressed in the interview are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pearson.]

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