In this article, ISC would like to highlight some of your recent thoughts and experiences on the topic of learning the host-country language and the level of English of the locals living there.
Many seasoned international school teachers want to learn the host-country language and put their best effort into taking classes, etc.
However, that is easier said than done. It can be difficult, expensive and often time-consuming to achieve this goal.
Some international schools offer free host country language classes to their newly hired teachers, but this can be optional and sometimes of a low quality.
And because homelife and the workday for international school teachers are often only in English, teachers really need to make learning the host country’s language a priority.
We asked five seasoned international school teachers their thoughts on some or all of the following questions:
• How often do you speak (or need to speak) the local language while going around your city/country?
• Has the level of English of the locals increased over the past 10, 20 years in your city/country?
• Have you taken language classes, for how long and how did they go for you? Did your school provide free host country language classes?
• Have you ever had to pass a host country language test in order to get permanent residence/citizenship, for example? and how was that experience?
• What is the level of your school’s expat staff with regards to speaking/knowing the local language?
Thoughts from an international school teacher who lived in Lebanon.
When I lived in Beirut, Lebanon, I was very keen to study Arabic there, specifically the local dialect (the spoken Arabic of Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan). I had studied the language some prior to arriving and wanted to become more conversational. I worked in a school that had a lot of Lebanese teachers, so I would hear the language every day in school as well as out around the city which helped me to learn. Our school provided some lessons with an Arabic teacher from our school, but this wasn’t ideal because they put all of us together in one class, whether we were beginners or advanced. I ended up taking some classes at a local language school, which was really great. The challenging part was that I had to travel across the city in traffic to get to the language school and then the class was three hours long, 2x per week. Also, all of the people that I was studying with were full-time students of Arabic, so with a full-time job, it was hard for me to keep up with them! In Beirut, most people are trilingual to some extent (English, French, Arabic), so it is possible to get by without studying the language, but of course, it makes the experience of living there much richer if you do. I had a colleague that studied French while she was in Beirut and that also helped her to connect with locals.
Thoughts from an international school teacher on their entire career abroad so far.
I’ve committed to three languages in the past 20 years while living abroad. Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese. [I will be] adding Arabic to the mix when I move to the UAE in August and use my High School/Uni French in my kindergarten teaching (along with English).
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Portugal.
In the school, there is minimal need to speak the language (Portuguese). Since we are an English medium school, almost all staff are fluent or at least functional in English. At times, it is easier to communicate with some of the staff in Portuguese, but that is rare. Since Portugal´ s economy is very heavily based on tourism, English is a required course in public schools. Although many people complain that it is not well done or the standards are not high, my experience has been that a large percentage of younger people in major cities speak English well. I have not seen a huge shift in this over the past 10 years that I have been here.
I took private lessons once per week from a former colleague. Having spoken Spanish for more than ½ my life, there were times when that was helpful. For others, it created much more confusion than help. Some false cognates could be rather embarrassing. Did my school provide free host country language classes? No. there was ongoing discussion of it, but it never panned out.
For citizenship, I was required to prove that I was at an A2 (high beginner-low intermediate) level. Although the design of the test was different from any I´ ve experienced before, it was relatively easy. For the oral portion, it was very much dependent on the level of the other student you were randomly paired with. I was paired with a person who used Portuguese in business every day, and we had a lively and interesting discussion, so it went very well. My partner was paired with someone who lived entirely in a predominantly English-speaking area of the country and had very little experience or skill. As a result, my partner’s score was negatively affected.
Approximately 50% of our staff speak several different languages, and many have picked up a conversational level of Portuguese fairly quickly. Those who don´ t have admittedly not made an effort to do so. One final point I would make is that as immigrants to a country, we have a responsibility to show respect for that country, by at least attempting the language. In Portugal, people are appreciative of the efforts of foreigners to try to learn the language and are very patient with mistakes. An attempt to learn the host country’s language is a sign of respect toward that country, and its people.
Thoughts from an international school teacher on living in a number of countries.
This is an area of high concern for me, and I am rather disappointed in the level of support I have found in the schools I’ve been with. I was on active duty from the mid-70s for 15 years, and in that time, one of the first things I tried to do was learn the language where I was stationed. I was rather successful, as I still speak three of those languages well enough to get by. However, in each international school, I have taught, I have asked if there were host-nation language classes provided for the teachers. Only one, in Manila, had anything. While my current school is in a country where English is one of the national languages, in other countries that wasn’t the case. In one country where the local language was Arabic, the number of people downtown who spoke English was quite limited, making it difficult to do simple things like buying a phone load, groceries, paying for electricity, and even buying gas. While I tried learning the language by myself there, and in Korea, the differences in writing and the lack of cognates to link to my Romance languages left me floundering. This is one area where the schools can easily provide lessons at minimal expense, yet make the expat teachers’ lives much more simple AND help them understand and appreciate the host-nation culture.
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Budapest.
When I was offered a job in Budapest, Hungary, I was excited at the prospect of learning a new language “from the beginning” and even took a few introductory lessons before moving. Once I got to Budapest, many people discouraged me from learning the language saying it was “too hard” and “not useful outside of Hungary – don’t waste your time.” After a bit of time in the country, I decided that I didn’t really love the language, and I thought my time might be better spent pursuing other languages that I had already invested in studying (that I was actually interested in). I didn’t realize at the time that I would stay in Hungary so long and looking back, I now know that it would have been useful to study the local language. English is spoken more and more around Budapest, but it is mostly the younger generation that is learning it in school now (as opposed to in the past when Russian or German was more widely studied). There can be some challenges in not speaking the local language when going to shops or non-touristy places in the city – and definitely outside of Budapest. Luckily the school helps us with everything related to housing, cars, contracts, etc., so that part is not a problem at all!
These statements were submitted anonymously by ISC members. Thanks! If you are also interested in sharing your thoughts and perspective, please contact us here.continue reading
“How about Italy?” she said.
I was lying on my friend’s couch. It was 2010. Los Angeles. I was 20, visiting from University in Boston.
That year I had stopped playing competitive tennis. I had a spinal injury. I was depressed.
“You love food,” she said.
2007. High school. End-of-the-year evaluations. My Spanish teacher sat me at a desk in the back of the room, away from the other students. She opened a manila folder with my final course grade, and then closed it.
“You have great tenacity,” she said.
“But you’ll never learn a foreign language.”
“It’s just a small application,” she said. “You’ll finish it by the afternoon!”
On the plane to Italy I sat next to a girl my age, knees shaking, scratching her wrist. She was crying.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“My father died on September 11th,” she said.
We held hands. And we took Italian together.
That summer we practiced Florence.
Fast forward to 2012. I studied more Italian at the Middlebury Language School. A couple teachers there helped me with my application to be a high school teacher abroad. I moved to Crema, Italy. The town is now known for the Oscar-winning movie “Call Me By Your Name.” Some days I’m jealous. If only the director had spotted me years ago! Seeking male 18-24 American, speaks French and Italian.
I speak French because I moved to Bordeaux.
Because why not?
My roommate was a grandmother. I still remember her first email to me:
“Malgré my advanced age it’ll be a pleasure to pick you up from the airport.” What does malgré mean?!
Despite. She was 74.
She stewed the best fig jam. Little dotlets of confitture and hot yellow butter, glistening against a crisp o’clock baguette.
My new grandmother got sick. She had to stay in the hospital for several weeks. She couldn’t swallow properly. I should’ve noticed. All the little yogurt spoons in the dishwasher.
I had to leave France when she was still in the hospital. She held my hand.
“Go, go, adventure!” she said.
I left for Los Angeles, a Master’s program. When I finished, I thought I was moving to Sweden, a fellowship I was applying for, a project between Portugal, Sweden and the United States.
I had to learn Portuguese and Swedish, enough so that I could pass the speaking portion of the B1 proficiency exams in both languages.
I touched every word I could find, working with online teachers, making sure I made that girl on the plane, and my French grandmother proud. Go, go, adventure!
If I listed to you the languages I now speak, it would sound arrogant. But to recount the sequence of events that make me feel like any language is possible, I turn to the territory of the heart.
It’s quite random, who opens us. It would be easy to say that my high school teacher’s ignorance was what fueled me to learn many languages. Perhaps a little fuel. It’s a more profound idea to say that the ultimate compassion of friends, teachers, and strangers transform us. It’s not one individual who lets us learn. It’s the fragile edges of connection, from a sofa to a girl on a plane to a malgré grandmother, all who expressed self-love and towards-love simultaneously. Not romantic love, but a spiritual love, surfaced through the language of kindness.
Kindness is not about the expectation of others. I was a New England kid who expected to stay in Boston my entire life. I was expected to never learn a language. Ignore the preconditions. Start listening to the language of kindness – “how about…?”, a child’s cry, the goodbye wave – as open acts to start a conversation. Language then becomes living – the courage to sit with others, which is a bodily language, a language of our senses, which I’d argue is the easiest way for us to learn a language, to be an expat.
Resistance to foreign culture isn’t necessary when we’re close to the senses of others. Spoons in a dishwasher aren’t just spoons. It’s a physical memory I can recall. A relationship tied to a breakfast table. Jam is sweeter, adventure more of a quest than an itinerary. More words absorbed than “do you speak French?”
I speak what needs to be held, with hands, with my eyes, with my stomach. That’s real multilingualism. In fountains, gardens, kitchens, courts, alleyways, with the falling leaves, and flowers blooming. That’s real learning.
Go, go, adventure.
Joshua Kent Bookman is a writer and artist. Like the characters of his book, “close to elsewhere,” he calls several places home, and has worked in France as an agricultural laborer, as a high school teacher in Italy, and tennis instructor in the United States. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1990.
“close to elsewhere” was released this summer by the Swedish publisher LYS. This is Bookman’s first novel.continue reading
In this blog series we will talk about the ins and outs of an excellent new teacher orientation programme at an international school. A new teacher orientation programme can really play a very important part to the start at your new school, in your new host country. What are all the must-haves then? Check out our blog series here to read all about the ones that we have discussed so far. m
Must-have #12: A tour of your new campus
Before you even interview with an international school, a perspective teacher is definitely scouring the school’s website for pictures of the campus (among other things as well!). During the interview you even take some time to ask some questions about the campus and its facilities. The school might even have a neat video that some of their students made, showing off each part of the campus. After the interview you still want to know more and can’t wait to actually see the campus in person; as we all know too well, pictures can at times be deceiving.
So you finally arrive in your new city and country. Hopefully the director picked you up from the airport and personally dropped you off at your new apartment. You get settled-in as much as you can in the first few days and then it is time to go to your new school for the first time.
A few questions though, how do you even get to your new school? Maybe somebody in the business office comes to your apartment complex to drive you to your new school (how nice is that?!?). Maybe you are with a small group of other new teachers (who also live in the same apartment building) and you get directions on how to use public transport to get to the school campus. You might even be greeted by a staff member in person at some predetermined location in the city and then you and a group of other new teachers take a walk to the school.
Finally you are at your new school! After the initial shock on seeing the campus for the first time and getting introduced to tons of important people at the school, you take a deep breath and get ready to really see the campus.
It is typically one of the first things that you do as a new teachers, get a tour around the whole campus and grounds. Who is doing that? It could be the director himself/herself that leads the tour; nice to have the person who hired you to be the one to do that. It might also be your immediate boss who does the tour, or it might be a staff member who has been ‘elected’ to be the official welcomer of the new teachers (I put elected in quotes because sometimes this staff member is just volunteering their time and not always getting paid!).
With your jet-lagged eyes, it is finally time to take everything in of your new school. Is it well-manicured or old and falling apart? It is easy to quickly judge things as you going around to the different areas of the campus (maybe they are skipping over some parts to not scare you too much!). It is hard not to compare everything to your last school. If luck is on your side, most things at your new school will be way better than your previous one!
Then the tour is over and live goes on. Soon the new campus becomes very familiar to you and thus you feel super comfortable again and can get yourself into the swing of things as you start your teaching. Could it be that a nice school campus tour gets you starting off on the right foot for your first year there?
Luckily on International School Community we have a comment topic that specifically addresses the issue of the school campus. It is called: Describe the different aspects of the school building and the school grounds. Also, describe the surrounding area around the campus.
We have had a total of 606 separate comments in this topic about a number of international schools on our website. Here are just a few:
Zhuhai International School –
“The school campus is really interesting and different. It’s in a building, originally built as a hotel, on a nature reserve island, 15 minutes north of the outskirts of Zhuhai city. The pluses: It’s got fabulous outdoor/natural resources – huge outdoor playing areas, a track, an enormous banyan tree, plenty of space, and good-sized classrooms. The minuses: no gym or large meeting space indoors, 3, soon to be 4 floors with only stairs. But if you like a laid back, open environment, surrounded by nature, you’ll love this campus.”
Buena Vista Concordia International School –
“Beautiful, purpose-built school in the Buena Vista area of Bao’an. All buildings in the residential/commercial area utilize an American Southwest theme with brown and orange being the main color scheme. School has full indoor gymnasium, outdoor soccer pitch and track, space for art and music, as well as four large lab areas.”
American School of Guatemala (Colegio Americano)
“Large campus, park-like setting with beautiful tropical landscaping. K-12 so each section has a different are (Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle, High School). Located in a high-end area of Guatemala City (still lots of traffic) but on campus you would never know you’re in the middle of a city.”
So, does your international school give a tour of the campus straight away to all the new hires? Please share your experiences!continue reading
In this blog series we will talk about the ins and outs of an excellent new teacher orientation programme at an international school. A new teacher orientation programme can really play a very important part to the start at your new school, in your new host country. What are all the must-haves then? Check out our blog series here to read all about the ones that we have discussed so far.
Must-have #11: Beginning-level host country language classes.
At times there is nothing worse than the feeling of not know how to communicate with the people in your community. Many of us decide to move to countries where we do not know the host country language. It is impossible for people to know every language spoken in this world, especially really local languages that are not even possible to learn in universities in your home country. Additionally, most international school teachers don’t choose countries to live in only where they can speak the language (though some definitely do, which makes sense).
We all know that English is now being spoken in many countries now. Maybe even all of them have some percentage of the local community that can speak English (especially the younger generations). Even if there are many people that speak English in your new host country, it is clear though that knowing the local language is very important. If you know at least some of the host country language then you will be able to be clearer with the local people you have to interact with and have less miscommunication that might lead to tense culture shock moments for you. It is also important to start learning the local language because of how language is directly tied to knowing more about their culture. And that is what this international school teaching experience is all about, learning more about and appreciating the different cultures of this world.
So, the answer is easy. Just go and take some classes. Prospective international school teachers might be surprised though that many of us just don’t do it. And there are many reasons why we skip the opportunity or chance to attend those classes. One reason might be that you just simply don’t know where to go. If your school is there to help you find these classes (or even pay for the classes for you…as some international schools include taking classes in their benefits package), then that can really help you find your way to sign-up sooner than later. Another reason you don’t attend language classes is because you just figure that you don’t have the extra time to take them. It is a big time commitment to dedicate one or two evenings of your week to go and take language classes. A third reason might be that you are just not interested or ready to take on a 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th…) language in your life at that point in time. A fourth reason is that you might think that you can easily just get away with speaking English your whole time living there. And if you are planning on only staying two years, you might justify to yourself that you won’t really even be in that country long enough to really need to know the language. There are probably even more reasons why we don’t take these language classes!
If you are interested in ‘taking the plunge’ and find that it is a good match for you go and take some language classes, how nice if your new international school is there to guide you to where to take them (during your new teacher orientation programme). Your school and the people that work there might have some trusted references on schools/classes you can attend…and for the most reasonable prices. In some countries though, the host country actually offers free language classes to new immigrants to their country, and your new school should be able to help you in how to sign-up for those since they probably have many new teachers each year wanting to do just that.
Even though we all have good intentions to learn the host country language when we first move to a new country, it is a fact that not every international school teacher follows through with this. Many international schools have teachers that have been there 5-10 years or even longer and they just know the very basic of vocabulary. Being that the majority of their day is going to be in English, many teachers just get into a routine of not communicating in the local language and end of not effectively learning it. With all the possibilities of downloading or streaming tv programmes and movies in English on the internet, some teachers’ time after a whole workday in English becomes a WHOLE day of speaking, listening, reading and writing in English.
There are many success stories though. Just as many teachers there are who don’t effectively learn the host country language, there are many that do. They find (make) time to take the classes, they look for local friends to talk to in that language, they pick up the local newspaper to try and read that every day, they sit next to the host country language teachers during lunch time to get in a few more minutes of local-language speaking practice, etc. It is ultimately up for each international school teacher to choose their own path in how they will learn or not learn the language, and having your school there to support and guide you in the right direction can be very helpful!
So, does your international school help new teachers to get beginning-level host country language classes? Please share your experiences!continue reading
A new survey has arrived!
Topic: How easy it is for you get reimbursed for things at your school?
There is nothing good about not getting reimbursed for things that are a part of your contract/benefits. It is also not fun when you purchase things for the school and the process of getting reimbursed for those things is either nearly impossible or you must wait for 3-5 months to get your money back (or even longer at some international schools!).
When international school teachers are worried about the money that is owed to them by the school, things can get even more stressful when living abroad in a foreign country. Many international school teachers would very much appreciate a quick and easy system in place to get the money that is owed to them by the school. However, that is not always the case…as we all know all too well.
The issue with a quick reimbursement might be related to what country your school is in (or what city), whether your school is a for-profit one or non-profit, or it might be related to the competency and effectiveness of the business department.
It is also important to remember that there might also be a language and/or cultural barrier that delays your reimbursement. Some countries have specific ways of getting “official” receipts, and knowing about these specific ways can speed up the reimbursement process for you. If you don’t follow the guidelines of the school and country for getting the right receipt, you will soon find out those guidelines after you try and hand in your first receipts!
So, how easy it is for you get reimbursed for things at your international school?? Go to the homepage of International School Community and submit your vote today! You can check out the latest voting results here.
From the staff at International School Community.continue reading