Laura Baker Tutor Interview
- Q. Hi, Laura Baker! please introduce yourself!
A. Hi! Please call me Laura. I live in the United States with my husband and four-legged baby (she’s a dog). I’ve been teaching English as a foreign and second language for almost nine years now and I love it!
- Q. I want to know where you live. Could you please tell us about your current city?
A. I live in Montpelier, Vermont, which is located in the northeast of the United States. It is a fairly rural place with a population of about eight thousand people. The area is great for nature-lovers with a lot of hiking trails, lakes and ski resorts in the area. Right now it is starting to be what we call “leaf-peeping season.” This means that the colder fall weather is turning the leaves in the trees bright red, orange and yellow. It is a really beautiful time of year to come visit!
- Q. How do you spend your days off ? Is there anything you’ve gotten into lately ?
A. Of course, if I have a longer vacation, I like to travel and see the world! If it’s just my normal weekends, I usually spend the time outside with my dog and family hiking in the woods or heading out to a lake for the afternoon. If the weather is not so great, I might be indoors studying Chinese or French. I like to watch Taiwanese TV dramas to keep up my Chinese and read the news in French every week. I also love taking salsa or swing dance classes when I have the chance. On the less healthy side, I also recently started to enjoy baking pies, tarts and bread…and then eating them!
- Q. Have you studied a foreign language before? Do you think it’s hard to adapt to a different culture without learning its language?
A. I have been very fortunate to live abroad in four different countries: Germany, France, Taiwan and Brazil. I studied French in school as a child and all throughout university. I studied German, Mandarin and Portuguese abroad. I know firsthand how hard it can be to adapt without knowing the local language! My first experience living abroad was through a Rotary Club exchange to Germany when I was 17. Before I went, I got an audio book from the library that I listened to in my car from time to time. When I arrived in Germany, I could say about four sentences. One of which was: “Der Fisch springt aus dem Wasser.” (“The fish jumps out of the water.” This is not exactly a useful everyday expression!) Without the local language, I was entirely dependent on other people’s help. It was only as I began to speak German that I could be independent, start making more meaningful friendships and really understand the culture around me. I can still remember that first day that I managed to go out to the bakery and buy bread in German all by myself. It was such a small accomplishment, but it felt amazing! Looking back, I know that if I had tried a little harder to learn German before going there, my experience would have been much smoother right from the start. As a result, before studying abroad in France and moving to work in Taiwan, I made a very solid effort to prepare beforehand and to speak more French and Chinese. Of course, there was still culture shock, but knowing the language made a huge difference in how easily I could jump into each new culture.
- Q. Please tell us about the main feature of your lessons.
A. I provide detailed feedback after each lesson, because learning a language can be like a long road trip. Sometimes a road trip can feel like it is dragging on forever and like you may never actually arrive at your destination. It can be discouraging or, worse, boring. However, if you check the map every once and a while to see how far you have already come and how far you have left to go, suddenly, it is doable. You break the trip down into smaller sections, and you keep track of your progress. The long trip can even become enjoyable, because you now have the feeling of always moving towards your destination. Likewise, when you are learning a language, you also need a linguistic GPS to help you find and chart your improvements, and also to know what to expect next. My lesson feedback comes as a detailed written message after class for every Skype lesson (except for my 20-minute free talk lesson, which includes a small spoken summary at the end of the lesson). This review of the class material includes extra vocabulary and grammar practice that focuses on common errors made during the lessons. It also includes a look at what we will study in the following class.
- Q. What are you most careful of when you teach your students?
A. In my first lesson with each student, I like to get to know them in order to understand their background and also to create a good atmosphere where they can feel comfortable and confident in English. I am careful to help the student set clear learning priorities and end-goals for the class and also make reasonable short-term benchmarks to work on. After this, I can make sure that the class materials are helpful and interesting for my students, and that they can feel motivated by their progress.
- Q. Finally, would you like to leave a message for our students?
A. For all the students out there learning English (or any other languages), I would like to offer my encouragement. It takes a lot of time and commitment to learn another language, but it is really worth it! You can do it! Find a way to incorporate the language into your daily life. Watch a movie, listen to a podcast or just sing a song in English as you are cooking dinner. Try to do a little bit every day! There are many methods and tools out there to help you learn English. You need to find what works for you and enjoy yourself!