Caroline Hazelton is from Jacksonville, Florida. When she isn’t teaching ESOL, lecturing part-time at a university located in South Florida or teaching online classes, Caroline is a wife and mom to two beautiful daughters.
She is one of the best presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Caroline and I met at Florida State University’s College of Education where oftentimes we were asked to engage and interact in meaningful dialogue with our classmates. We studied education, so we pretty much had presentations every other week, and Caroline always had stellar presentations. I remember her specifically as being one of the best presenters in our class. She has a passion not only for Pedagogy and Foreign and Second-Language Curriculum, but for life. Caroline’s enthusiasm is contagious. She is a fourth-generation teacher and once up in front of a classroom, she draws you in with her love of language.
Meet Caroline, the language enthusiast:
What do you like most about teaching international students?
“When you teach international students, you see brilliant thinkers from other parts of the world who possess different talents, perspectives, and attitudes. They also arrive with their own academic strengths and passions from their desired degree programs. Every university student is already a thinker and a learner, or else they wouldn’t be there. And what’s more they can see things very differently from Americans which can be challenging but stimulating. For example, last year at another school, a Chinese student told me that World War II was tragic but helpful. As an American and as a granddaughter of veterans, I could not get my head around the concept of WWII being “helpful.” But from his perspective, China had benefited from the territory inherited from the war.
Teaching ESOL – teaching languages and cultures to people is my passion. There is something about watching a student embrace a language. I subscribe to the linguist Noam Chomsky’s theory of “universal grammar” which asserts that humans have an innate ability to learn languages. It is fascinating to watch someone partake in a process that is more often reserved for small children.
It is also amazing to watch a new identity form. Humans tend to isolate themselves into groups that look the same, act the same, and share the same culture. Yet when we learn a new language, we adopt its culture. We cannot simply stay in our own culture with people just like ourselves because we now have the ability to communicate with those who are different from us. I do not want to see people hiding away with clones of themselves. I want to see them mingling with others, celebrating their cultural and linguistic identities. As you learn more about another language, you can relate to another culture and begin to develop multiple “identities.” When we do, we can relate to more people. This makes the world a little smaller and more unified.”
What did you like most about teaching a foreign language to US students?
“Teaching Spanish to non-speakers with mostly American backgrounds meant that these students were discovering a world that had been hidden within their own. Now that they were able to begin understanding, they could now be a part of it. I saw this when I taught university students all the way down to my elementary school students. Spanish is everywhere in the United States. I would have students who could communicate with friends, family, co-workers, or clients and would come to class and tell me about it. Students would find that they could now listen to more music. This was because we would listen to and translate music in Spanish in class. Spanish is simply everywhere in the United States.
I see myself in my students. As I was learning, I didn’t abandon my first language when I learned another, but in fact, gained a new identity. Of course, my second-language identity is a whole different component than my first. But, teaching Spanish in the United States has helped my students find their own “second identities.” I can help them connect to another world within their own.”
What did you find was the most challenging part of teaching both groups of students?
“It’s important to realize that anytime you are speaking a second language, no matter how much you know of it, you will still struggle to express yourself. Your mind might blank on a word. You might have complex thoughts, but all of your cerebral energy is going to simply put the words out there. Some students are able to be bold and learn despite this insecurity, but this really upsets some. Teachers can ease this anxiety by creating a warm, welcoming classroom environment so students feel comfortable taking risks. I’m happy to say that on my university course evaluations this was something students mentioned. The relaxed environment I strived to create made them feel okay with failing.
In teaching ESOL, I find it’s very important to show students what you do as a teacher when you stumble on a word or have some other kind of miscommunication. Even in our first language, there are already enough miscommunications. These can range from different intended meanings, different references, body language, etc. which we have to resolve in daily life. Being open about our own mistakes encourages students. In other words, showing students that failure is okay is both a challenge and extremely important.”
What did both sets of students have in common? What was the difference?
“Both groups are trying to communicate in their second language and learn it better. The difference is that with international students, there is more at stake in learning English. In the United States, many students are studying Spanish as a foreign language for a required credit. Most students learning Spanish just need to pass a foreign-language requirement and continue with their studies. For international students in intensive English programs, they usually cannot pursue their degree studies, face visa issues, etc. if they do not pass their English courses. They are actually trying to live in a culture where the language and culture they are learning is dominant. This is actually helpful when teaching ESOL. My Spanish learners were not in that situation. In other words, language-learning issues remain the same, but the motivation levels and stake factors do not.”
Where are you currently working? What are the challenges that your international students encounter?
“Recently, I got hired as an adjunct lecturer on an intensive English program at a reputable university. I am also teaching ESOL – English as a foreign language – online with a well-known language and travel company. Since my experience here is limited, I will reflect on my experiences with international students as a whole.
International students struggle with differences in classroom etiquette. For example, in Chinese culture, students are expected to recite while American students are expected to critique. An American student abroad might come across as loud, opinionated, or arrogant in cultures similar to the Chinese. Likewise, certain cultures are more tolerant of issues such as plagiarism. In the US, plagiarism is grounds for expulsion from the university. It’s important to consider subtle misunderstandings due to language and culture when teaching ESOL. Each language carries certain “attitudes” with it derived from its surrounding culture. Chinese- and Korean-speaking students carry a need for “respectful language” that doesn’t necessarily exist in English. This is different when compared to Brazilian and Portuguese students, who might carry more of a “friendly” attitude. Students aren’t even aware of these minor differences until they begin their second language/culture-immersion experience.”
What challenges do you have working with international students?
“First, there are always misunderstandings due to differences in language, especially when teaching ESOL. To be honest, there are times I cannot understand what a student is trying to communicate due to accent or vocabulary. While I have to be kind, I do have to let the student know I cannot understand them. This is the only way they will be able to improve their language skills. Usually, it is just a grammatical or syntax issue, or possibly a pronunciation error that we can fix together. When handled correctly, you can help students save face for when they are communicating with someone not as “linguistically patient” as their teacher.
Secondly, and I hate to mention this, but any time you are teaching, especially teaching ESOL, you have to make sure to be on the lookout for how your gender plays a role. This is especially true of cultures where gender and sexuality vary from that of your own where you know “what to do/not to do.” I have had students who seemed to develop crushes on me at different schools. You are their teacher, you are their hero, and sometimes you are of a different culture. This can be attractive to some. As a result, I have to watch how I dress. I also have to know who/when/how I am interacting with my students, and when to let my bosses know if necessary. This is true of any school though, and not just of international students. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the world we live in.”
What advice would you give to someone who works with people from other cultures?
“Be patient and get out of your comfort zone!”
What is one example of something you have done differently or some way you have changed as a result of your experiences?
“As a result of my experiences, I try to process headlines from an international perspective. Having regularly communicated with other cultures, it has shown me that one country’s interpretation of events may not be how another country sees it. I try to read Al Jazeera English in addition to The Washington Post and The Atlantic. I will watch Despierta America on Univision in the mornings to see what’s on the mind of Hispanics before watching CBS in the evenings. Once I meet people from the countries I see on the news, I chat with them about what I see. It helps me determine if the reporting I see is my country’s perspective or if there’s some truth to it.”
Caroline is unique because she has taught pretty much every type of learner in each age group. Because she is a self-taught second-language learner, she brings a set of skills to the classroom other than the basics. Her ability to connect culture and fear caused by misunderstandings is what motivates her each and every day when teaching ESOL. We look forward to hearing more from her about her new teaching position in the upcoming months.