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Interview with Vicki Craig-Ariyo Director of Studies, Glasgow School of English

Published on Thursday, March 23, 2017

How long have you been teaching English? “I started teaching more than 15 years ago. Initially, the attraction was the opportunity for overseas travel. My first English language teaching job was at a conversation school in Japan. After I spent a bit of time there, I realised how much I enjoyed the job so I took my CELTA and became qualified to teach. I then taught in the Czech Republic, followed by some years in Beijing, China”

What is the most satisfying thing about your work?

"Talking to the students and finding out how much they're enjoying their courses, and having them telling me that they can see their own language level improve is probably the most satisfying thing."

 

What's the biggest difference in being a Director of Studies as opposed to a teacher?

"The two roles are very different.

As a teacher, my focus was largely on the students in my current classes, and helping them to improve.  Now, my focus has to be making sure that all the students in the school are satisfied with what they're learning. It's important now to see the bigger picture, and not just think about my own classroom.  There is more admin involved in my current role, and I assist with communication between the president of the school, the directors, the admin staff and the teachers.

However, in many ways the main pleasure of the job is the same as when I was a teacher: seeing happy students with improving language skills."   

What are the biggest challenges in a) teaching English generally, and b) for schools of English in Scotland?

"When it comes to delivering language lessons, it's the fact that our learners come from a wide variety of learning backgrounds, where they are used to different ways of learning. Our style of learning can be a bit difficult for some students to adjust to immediately, especially if they are used to being lectured at. Here, we involve our students in decision making. We regularly ask students for their input into lesson ideas, and we don't just lecture to them.   Students have many different reasons for improving their English. These can include; for university access, for work purposes or just for leisure, and we try to ensure that everyone benefits from being at Glasgow School of English.

"As far as teaching in Scotland is concerned, I think one of the biggest issues is quite a number of people don't' really know a lot about the country before they come here, and are, understandably, confused about the differences  between Scotland, England, Great Britain, and the UK.  I've had the experience when, overseas, a few people have been unaware of the fact that we speak English here. In other languages there isn't always a separate word for Scotland, but rather "England" or "Britain" are used.

Contrary to what some might think, understanding the Scottish accent is not a problem for our students. In fact, I can't remember the last time a student told me that they couldn't understand what their teacher was saying. Every country has different regional accents - and it's no different in the UK."  

What advantages do your students feel they get from coming to Scotland to learn English as opposed to going to elsewhere in the UK?

"One of the most commonly reported advantages from our students is that the Scots are very friendly, and if a student has been elsewhere in the UK, especially London, they find it much cheaper to live here than further south.

Do you get a lot of total beginners?

"We do have beginner-level students, but they tend to come to us with some basic knowledge of structure and vocabulary. We rarely meet students with absolutely no knowledge of English."

What are the key developments in the industry at the moment?

"The ELT industry tends to go through phases. For a while it was all about communication, and there were arguments made that grammar can be picked up as you go along, whereas now there is a general consensus that there is a definite need for grammar instruction. At Glasgow School of English, we have always believed that our lessons should have a focus on all skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and systems (grammar and lexis), to provide students with as thorough a learning opportunity as possible.

The future will see more moves towards blended learning, combining online learning and classroom learning.  Here at GSE, we've recently introduced an e-learning platform and we're likely to continue to develop this.  The education industry as a whole is making strides in adaptive learning, tailoring learning to individual student's strengths and weaknesses, and while this works well for subjects like science and maths, it hasn't been as successful for languages. At the moment, the wealth of resources that would be required for computer-based adaptive learning is a bit overwhelming for ELT publishers."

 



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