Cafetalk Featured Tutor Interview

Nadin Mai

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Nadin Mai Tutor Interview

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Q. Hi Nadin Mai! To start, can you briefly introduce yourself?

A. Yes! Thanks for the opportunity. As you have already mentioned, my name is Nadin. I’m 31 years old, originally from Germany but have lived abroad for a good twelve years now. I work freelance as a teacher, film critic and distributor. I’m currently based in Brittany, in the west of France.

Q. Tell us a bit about where you’re from - according to your profile you are originally from Germany. Can you tell us a bit about your hometown?

A. My hometown is called Strausberg and sits to the east of Berlin, very close to the Polish border. It’s also called “the green city at the lake”, and it’s true that this is what stands out when you see arial pictures, for example. When I was little, I only had to go down a street and some stairs and I was at the lake. You could (and still can!) cross the lake by the only electrically-powered ferry in Europe. Strausberg may be small, but it does have its attractions! I spent a very good childhood there, it had everything I needed at the time.

Q. According to your profile, other than Germany, you have lived in Scotland and France. Can you tell us a bit about your life abroad?

A. Yes, I have lived for eight years in Scotland and have now been in France for four years. I left Germany after school because I wanted to study abroad. It was exciting. Of course, I was scared before I left. I had no idea what would await me. Leaving a relatively small city of 26,000 inhabitants to see the big world… But once I arrived in Scotland, a country I had never seen before, I felt home for some reason. The Scots were incredibly welcoming, helpful and it didn't take me long to settle. What I have enjoyed from the beginning is the life amongst foreigners. University gave me a chance that I would have never had in my hometown: getting to know people from all over the world. I met women and men from all sorts of countries, with all sorts of religious or social backgrounds - it was eye-opening, especially because I also got to know myself better. I learned who I was. It was, in fact, abroad where my identity shaped up.

If you move from country to country, you notice different mentalities and this has come to play a major role in Europe in recent years. Scotland and France are very different from one another and it took me a long time to get used to the French mentality. Living abroad gives you a completely different view on political issues, or on problems that societies currently face. It can be alienating at times because you see the world from a different point-of-view than those who have never left their own countries.

I would always recommend a period abroad to people. It teaches you so much; so much good stuff, but you also become aware of several negative elements that make other people’s daily lives: racism, discrimination, etc Living abroad allows you to grasp the complexity of our modern condition, I find, and I’m grateful for the opportunity of seeing this. It helped me grow and mature.

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

A. I’m currently working on my first book. I have just completed a chapter for another book. I’m a film critic and have my own website The Art(s) of Slow Cinema. I’m also distributing films online via my own Video-on-Demand platform tao films. I’m working with film directors to prepare their films for online distribution, I interview them, I discuss new projects. Sometimes, I travel to festivals or conferences to give a talk. At the moment, I’m involved in the programming of the Slow Film Festival, which takes place in the UK in October this year. I'm in the lucky position that I could turn my hobby into my work. Teaching is a sort of break from this “work”. Photography is, too. I had my first photography exhibition ten years ago. It’s time to set up a new one!

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. As you can gather from my profile, I don’t have a professional training in teaching. My professional background is situated in the area of film studies and languages. The latter included courses on French culture, which showed me just how much languages are indeed linked to a country’s culture. Film was my primary focus. I made an award-winning documentary with a group of fellow students in 2011, then went on to learn about archival research in the context of cinema history before I began to work on my PhD. I started teaching during my PhD studies, around autumn 2012. At the time, it was common practice that PhD students would also teach. It wasn’t easy at the beginning, but I liked helping young people to learn. It wasn’t so much the teaching itself, which interested me. It was the aspect of helping others to discover their capacities, their abilities and to make use of those. I have often had teachers in the past who did exactly that with me, and now I want to pass on to other people what I have learned.

Q. As for teaching the German/English language, do you employ or recommend any specific study method?

A. Patience. This is perhaps the only thing I would recommend without hesitation and which applies to every student, regardless of the level. Learning a foreign language isn’t easy. The speaking part is particularly difficult because one is often embarrassed about mistakes, mistakes we all make. One needs to be patient and gentle with oneself. ‘Das ist das A und O’, as we say in German. After that, it is important to surround yourself with the language. Even if you struggle to understand everything, put on the radio. There are radio programmes specially made for those who learn a language. Start reading the papers. As difficult as it is at the beginning, it helps to familiarise yourself with the language and get a feeling for it.

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 teaching style?

A. I think all my students would agree if I said that my lessons have an easy-going style. I don’t like a traditional top-down teaching style. I’m more interested in creating a comfortable atmosphere which allows my students to breathe and laugh a bit. The first thing I always tell my new students is that they shouldn’t see in me so much a teacher, but someone who would like to help them discover a new language.

I’m flexible when it comes to my students. I’m aware that it is they who know best what kind of learners they are. Although I do offer specific and set courses, the content usually differs from student to student. Some simply want to practice speaking, others want to learn how to read a news item and summarise it. With some, I prepare language tests, with others I discover the culture of Germany. I always speak to my students first about what they feel they need, what they would enjoy, what they would benefit from.

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

A. One class I would always recommend is my free 15-minutes course “Sprich mit mir über deine Lernziele” / “Speak to me about your learning goals”. This is exactly where we get to know one another and where we discuss how a course could be structured in such a way that the student has the best possible environment and conditions to learn in. Everything else is decided after that. Of course, I could recommend my German conversation classes. They have been very successful. People really like them. But regardless of the level, I would always book the free 15 minutes first to see what we can do together. It often happens that I create new, individual classes for students after that.

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

A. I’d like to thank my current students for teaching me about teaching. It’s been a pleasure so far, I have gotten to know many interesting people and I learned how I could make online teaching a success.

To all my future students: I’m looking forward to meeting you!

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Nadin Mai


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