Cafetalk Featured Tutor Interview

Erin Dockal

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Erin Dockal Tutor Interview

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Q. Hi Erin Dockal! Let’s start out with a brief self-introduction.

A. Hi Cafetalk community! My name is Erin. I’m a 32 year old Californian wife and mother that teaches English to international students part time on Cafetalk. I have been teaching English for 10 years. Since joining Cafetalk 1.5 years ago, I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of really interesting people from around the world.

Q. Tell us a bit about where you’re from - according to your profile you are originally from the Washington State in the US. Can you tell us a bit about your hometown?

A. I am from a small rural town in Washington. The town’s main source of employment was from paper mills. We lived on a mountain, so it was often cold and rainy. There are many trees and the air and water are very clean there. My neighbors had horses and cows. I went to school with people just like me. I had the same classmates from kindergarten through high school. Because there was no diversity, I never had the chance to speak to any other type of people. That’s why I decided to study a foreign language and learn about other cultures in junior high school. I have been studying Japanese since I was 13.

Q. At the moment you live in San Francisco! It’s a famous city, but do you have a few personal secrets about it to share?

A. I live 45 minutes east of San Francisco by train. In my town there are many Japanese restaurants and shops. For example, we have a Daiso in my town. When I visit Japan town in San Francisco, I like to go to the karaoke bar and speak in Japanese with the locals. It’s easy to get lost in San Francisco because the streets are sometimes one way only and often zigzag.

During my time working for a Japanese food manufacturing company in San Francisco, it was difficult to learn how to cook all of the Japanese food.

Q. According to your profile, you taught English in Tokyo for five years. Can you tell us a little bit about your time in Japan?

A. I first lived in Shizuoka prefecture. It was there that I learned a lot of Japanese. No one spoke English there because it was the countryside. I learned about the tea ceremony in Shizuoka. I lived very close to the Itoen tea factory.

When I lived in Shinjuku, it was a very fast pace of living. Because Shinkuju is very central, I could go wherever I wanted to by train easily. I met many foreign people with exciting jobs in Tokyo. I loved the cat cafés and the capsule hotels very much. It’s very interesting! Overall, I found living in Japan very enjoyable. I really like the Japanese way of life.

Q. What are you usually up to when you’re not teaching on Cafetalk? What are your hobbies and interests?

A. In my spare time, I like to travel to new places. I really like to visit the beach. California has a lot of beautiful beaches where you can visit and relax. The weather is always nice in California. A group of friends will BBQ at the beach during the day and have a bonfire at night and enjoy socializing long in to the night.

I also like to cook interesting foods. We have many Asian supermarkets and cooking classes in my town. I am taking a cooking class on how to make Japanese food. After the class, I can go to the Asian supermarket and get the materials I need to make it at home for my family.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit more about your professional background? What got you into teaching, and what motivated you to keep pursuing this career?

A. My family hosted Japanese exchange students each summer when I was a child. I became interested in Japanese culture at this time. After I graduated from college, I worked as a liaison for the city hall and I taught English in Japan to children. I thought that I would only teach for a few years because my major in college was psychology. My dream at that time was to be a counselor. I was very shy at the beginning. I would become nervous and panic easily in front of a big crowd. But as I became older, I became more confident teaching. I ended up really enjoying teaching English. After many years, teaching became very natural for me.

Q. As for teaching the English language, can your share your secret for helping students improve their language skills?

A. There are students who have studied English for over 30 years. Those students won more than 900 points in the TOEIC test. As we start talking, they encounter words and phrases I have never heard in their lives during our English conversation. The memorization of English from textbooks is different from learning English by native speakers. In order to really improve the English, studying English needs to be combined with those who speak English as their mother tongue. That is a precious secret. Without it, one cannot move forward while studying.

Q. A lot of students are probably curious about the atmosphere in your lessons. What can a student imagine a lesson with you to be like? What’s your “lesson style”?

A. Most of the feedback I get is generally the same. Students feel it is easy to talk to me and tell me that I can respond to their level. Depending on the lesson, the style is more casual or professional. Students can adjust the style based on what they want to study. I am also studying Japanese and Mandarin, so I am familiar with the students' feelings during the lesson. As I can imagine their situation, the students can feel comfortable with me during our lessons.

Q. Since you offer a variety of lessons, is there any lesson you can recommend in particular? Or can you give a quick overview which lesson might be good for which type of student?

A. Although the shortened open conversation lesson is the most popular lesson, I want to recommend a different lesson. The Business English 101 lesson is very helpful for the international businessperson that needs to communicate with people from around the world in English. A lot of people that are temporarily working in the US on a visa will often find this lesson very helpful in learning how to work with American people. I used to be an operations manager for a medium size company, so I have three years of upper management experience. I can use this experience when guiding the flow of this lesson.

During the Business 101 lesson, students have found success in many areas. I do not limit the area of study to only one field. The student can choose to do whatever they want to in this lesson. The only requirement is that it must be related to using business English in the workplace. This can include: structuring business emails, making small talk with international colleagues, topical discussions on themes such as negotiating, sales, marketing, hiring and firing, or risk management, interview role playing, reading a business English article and discussing it, watching a short news clip of the news (such as CNN) and discussing it, and so on. Students enjoy the freedom they have during this lesson. They often choose to spend half of the lesson doing one area of study, then spend the other half working on another area of study. This way they can improve more than one area of their English in one lesson.

Q. Finally, would you like to leave a message for your current and future students?

A. I encourage you to try a lesson with me. I think you will enjoy my teaching style and learn a lot. Current students, I hope you are having a great time learning English with me. I hope to build a lasting relationship with each and every student I meet on Cafetalk. My goal is to keep you motivated to continue studying English with me by providing excellent English lessons for you.

Thank you very much!
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Erin Dockal


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