by Alicia Weber, Greenheart Travel Language Exchange Homestay participant in Italy
A large part of why families participate in a language exchange is not only to learn about a different culture but as well to learn a different language! Now, I hope no one gets intimidated when they read “15 hours worth of lessons every week.” The first thing that I thought was “what in the world am I going to teach someone else about English?!”
After arriving I was warmly welcomed by Julia, my adviser who will be helping me along with this program during my stay in Italy. First, she had explained to me that I would get some time to settle down and meet the family before having to worry about any lessons which was wonderful! I spent a whole weekend getting to know the traditions and general schedule of the family. That next Monday, Julia had come back to sit down and go over the overall program. This was wonderful because it answered many questions that sometimes you do not think of until they happen. For example, what time the family eats their meals or what time does everyone generally wake up. This got out of the way many questions like when can I shower, when should I be home for dinners with the family, and what time do the girls go to and come home from school. After figuring out all of these details, we moved onto talking about the lessons.
At first, I could see how many people might be shocked thinking, how am I going to all the sudden become an English teacher!? So, I figured that I could give some helpful tips on what I did to teach the family English and as well still set aside enough time to see the city!
First, it was important to understand where each family member was in their level of English and what their goals are. The mother, for instance, was very good with her business knowledge and was looking to learn more about the understanding of movies and lyrics because that is where she found herself most caught up. The two daughters wanted to work on speaking and some writing as well. The father wanted to overall improve his skills but used to be enrolled in English courses so had good knowledge of the language. After you understand what level everyone is at, you can start to build your lessons and decide how much time is needed with every member.
Two things that come in handy here are a daily planner and the internet. It was important to sit down with every member of the family and see when they would be available for their lessons. I had each of the girls do two lessons a week and the mother and I had more lessons since she had a very available schedule. Since the father was always very busy, I designated one dinner a week would be strictly spoken in English. This way, everyone could practice their skills and I would be there to help them if they struggled over any words. With this schedule detailed in my planner, I then had the time to write down all the sites that I wanted to see and what I wanted to accomplish while here in Italy!
Although it may seem like a lot of lessons, I had every Monday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday free and only had afternoon lessons on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday which left me MORE than enough time to get everything done that I had hoped! Now after you schedule when you will teach, you need to plan out what you will teach. I only had to take one night to set aside this information for our lessons and it shouldn’t take you any longer than that! This is when the internet came into great use, taking the family’s interests and mending them into a lesson. One daughter wants to be a movie director, so I looked up and created crossword puzzles, sentence scrambles, and guessing games that all dealt with words that related to this area. As well, for both of the girls I made a little board game. The different boxes consisted of questions to answers, tasks to do, or sentences to write. Things like these are interactive ways that the girls can improve their English skills
Overall, keep it simple and fun! I do not have a degree in teaching or anything of the sort, but helping someone improve their skills can be as simple as watching a movie together! So don’t worry about the lessons, you can use your everyday knowledge and put that into a plan to help the family. I think that overall the best part of being here for the family is that I’m always around to help them. So even if we aren’t sitting down for a lesson, just being around has helped them pick up many more words and phrases during this time.
I think that this language exchange truly fits me well because not only am I helping a family and building my resume for the future, but I am also learning so much! I have picked up many Italian words, and now can even answer some questions when asked to me in Italian! It is crazy how much 2 weeks of living in another country can do! I think that this is a great opportunity for many people and not to mention the price is unbeatable! As well, with only being here 2 weeks I have had many offers to stay with other families if I decide to come back to Italy and have even been offered summer positions working at English camps! It’s incredible how much this program has given to me!
My pictures show that I still have been able to get so much done in my free time; traveling to Liguria, two different castles, an orchestra, and many museums in just this past week! It makes me feel great that I am able to help this family improve their English skills, it is the least that I can do for all that they have done for me! So remember, you don’t have to be a teacher to help someone improve on their language skills. Keep it simple and fun and there is no doubt that it will be a great learning experience and life experience for you too.