I became an English Language consultant in 2018, 17 years after I taught my first English class. I did what many people did, I lived the dream, well my dream anyway, I just never stopped!
Back in 2001, after having finished university and not really knowing what to do what the rest of forever, I took a plane to Naples, with my best friend. He was there to keep me company for a week and then he was coming back home. That was the plan, and that was always the plan.
That was a moment… and even now when tough times arise, I think back to me standing there in Naples airport. Completely alone for the first time in my life. Waving off my best friend in the world, knowing my family were in Scotland wishing I was too. How did I do that? Well, I don’t really know. But I did and so started my relationship with the English language.
As a novice teacher I made all the usual mistakes, I spoke too fast, I didn’t know my own grammar well enough and I thought I was too young to teach. I had no experience to tell me anything different. Most of my courses were in businesses, so my students were generally in their forties or fifties, which was daunting to me in my twenties. I couldn’t speak Italian so I had to evoke the primary TEFL rule – only English in the classroom! And everywhere else as it turned out!
I slowly started to learn my second language, through everyday situations. I went to the supermarket and learned what a “busta” was, as a plastic bag was waggled in my direction. “Il resto” was not thrust into my hand as would happen in the UK but left on the counter for me to embarrassingly slowly pick up, coin by tiny coin. I learned through experience, I learned how to pay bills in Italy, to have a bank account, to start friendships, to have waiter service in a pub. Everything was different, but then again so were the words I was using to function in this Brave New World. I started to think in Italian and I started to um and ah in Italian, as we do in our first language. It wasn’t an uphill stroll, improving day by day. Every day in the sunshine was an extra verb learned – far from it. My colleagues and friends spoke Italian, many had been there for a while or they had studies the language at uni or something similar, I was starting from zero (well, I had ciao and pizza pretty well embedded!). There were days, many days, I just thought nope. I can’t do this. It’s beyond me. I just can’t.
Often, I would look at my English teacher colleagues and I would be kinda awestruck. We were all there, living a fairly normal life, we all had jobs, a house, paid our bills and we were all functioning in 2 languages. I too moved into that group. My language picked up momentum and I started to converse fluently, I wasn’t daunted by a new situation and oh how proud I was when my family and friends visited from Scotland! Even today I sometimes still dream in Italian. An Italian friend told me once (best compliment ever!) “you trip over the words the Italians don’t even know”. That guy was one of my good friends over there (not because he said that!!) he couldn’t speak even one word of English.
Teaching English as a Foreign Language changed my life. There are no doubts about it. I progressed through my career in Naples teaching in private and state schools, businesses, at the University of Naples, I taught everywhere. I loved it. Then, when I was offered the opportunity to manage a school in the centre of Naples, with my own wee team, I jumped at the chance. It created a new need in me. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I needed to have my own school and that was where I was going. The big boss management of my Naples school were all in Milan and popped down once every few months to check in, so I basically ran the school the way I wanted to and I loved it. I learned about customer service, about loyalty to and from staff. Having been a teacher for years I knew about the difficulties inside the classroom, but this new adventure taught me about the journey a student goes through to get into the classroom.
Scotland was calling. I delayed coming home as I didn’t know how I would cope and what I would do. Many of us do that, many of those guys that inspire awe.
But home I went, to face the biggest challenge yet. I was lucky enough to land a role that saw me managing an EFL summer school. I had to move an hour from home (that’s fine, still the same land mass after all), and there I started to learn about a whole other world, with TEFL at its heart.
Together with my staff, many of whom are still with me today, we grew our summer school until the host school couldn’t cope. Until the dining hall had to be staggered and the theatre had to be rota’d. Until I annoyed people with the summer school’s success! I managed a team of six + teachers, all the activity and residential staff and I loved it. I had 22 nationalities one year, not even the biggest year, I was really proud of it and I poured everything into it. My self and my soul and you know, it was never even like work.
My experience in and out of the classroom gave me the understanding of how each student came to our school and ultimately what they wanted out of the time they spent with us. I was the happy host of happy children, with a few mum’s tears in the background. I went to an industry conference and one agent told another agent that my language school was “the best there is”.
And what of my Italian? It’s part of who I am now and eight years after having left Italy full-time, I gave a presentation to a school. In Italian. I am not telling you I didn’t make mistakes, I am not telling you I wasn’t anxious beforehand, I did and I was. But I did it and they clapped and understood.
I learned Italian through Natural Acquisition. The natural use of the language, with a focus on communication and the rhythm of the language. Fundamentally it’s how babies learn their first language, listen, recognise, repeat, practise, repeat. Our summer school, through all of this experience and understanding is based on the same principle. That is how we remember, that is how it becomes ingrained.
At BLISS, we too are students, we are language learners, we have been away from our families in the quest for adventure and learning, we have had to make new friends, we sometimes felt like everything was new and incomprehensible. We have the empathy and understanding through this personal experience to create a safe, nurturing and supportive learning environment, because that’s what we do. That’s how we learn.
And what of me now? I left my bursting-at-the-seams school and well, I told you that I became a language consultant, I did. I did that for a moment and I still do, I am also a teacher trainer. I love to do that, setting off new teachers onto their own journey. That’s a privilege. I also got my qualifications to be the Academic Manager of our own school. I write the syllabus, I train the teachers and I observe the classes. Why wouldn’t I? It is part of my fabric now, it’s who I am, it is what I do. It is also how we gained British Council Accreditation.
And deep down, it is what makes me me, having my own school, just like back in Naples. But now, it is in Scotland. It is flourishing and it is growing. The flowerpot that is our school is bigger than before, so we have room to grow.
Every day I speak with people who have legitimate concerns about sending children abroad to learn, and every day we register another student or group on our system.
Teaching English as a Foreign Language changed my life away back in 2001 and continues to enrich me day by day. That’s the reason I have dedicated my career to language teaching and that is why I will continue. And you know what? Italian made me walk the walk, and ultimately talk the talk.
And it’s not even like work.
Suzanne Brown, BLISS Director
We are English language experts. We think about English and the teaching of English, we implement that in our school. The BLISSful blog is an insight into English language summer schools and why we are different.
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