December 09, 2014

Interviewing Affective Educators: Kylie Malinowska

This is a picture Kylie and I took together when
we were saying goodbye to our trainees in Konya. 
I had the privilege of meeting Kylie Malinowska last August when we both taught novice English teachers at the CTS course with SeltAcademy for two weeks in Konya, Turkey. 

During this time we talked a lot about teaching young learners and became good friends. Today I have the pleasure to interview Kylie here in this blog!

But first, who is Kylie? 

Kylie Malinowska is the Young Learner Advisor and Coordinator of the Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers for IHWO (International House World Organisation). She is based in Prague where she also teaches and trains for IH Prague and Akcent College. She was one of the course writers for both of IHWO's YL training courses (the IH CYLT and the IH VYL) and has a regular YL column in the IH Journal

Juan: Let's start with the classic question to warm up. How have you become an English teacher of young learners? What keeps you  connecting with them and their learning?  

Kylie: Prior to getting into teaching I worked in the Health Care Industry. I loved my job but I was quite sick of sick people to put it bluntly. While I was living in Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) in a house with flatmates from all around the world (All TESOL students at either Newcaslte College or IH Newcastle), I used to give (memorable ahem) English lessons over coffee on a Saturday morning. One day, after mentioning it numerous Saturdays in a row, they all decided that I absolutely had to do the CELTA at IH Newcastle and become and English teacher and went and got the application form for me. 

Those flatmates changed my life. For the better. It would never have crossed my mind to become an English Teacher and certainly not for YL given I considered myself a dementia care specialist and my first degree was a double degree in Health Science and Gerontology (study of the aged). But….I loved it. I still do! My flatmates knew me better than I knew myself. I’ve done my time teaching ESP and BE etc etc and have taught all ages and levels, but I always come back to YL. I just love the energy they give me.

A psychic once told me it was time to work with younger people as they would give my soul energy instead of sucking it out of me. At the time I thought it was all a bit of a joke, but I really do feel like they feed me. Don’t get me wrong, teaching kids is exhausting, but they really give me a lot too. That little shining light in their eyes when they realize they have learnt something new and they are proud of themselves…that…that little sparkle. That gets me every time.

Juan: I love that spark Kylie. Who sparked your love for music ? 

Kylie: I’ve loved music and singing for as long as I can remember. My dad played guitar to us as children and we had sing-a-longs around his knee. My father’s father (whom I never met) was reportedly a wonderful singer. My Father’s Brother is in a band, as is his daughter, my cousin and I have an Aunt in a choir. As a child I was obsessed with Patsy Biscoe and actually had dreams of growing up to be a children’s entertainer. The ultimate goal was to be on ‘Play School’

While I was at High School my grades allowed me to also study at College one afternoon a wee so I gained a certificate in Early Childhood Development and planned to study Drama after I graduated, but that year the Centre for Dramatic Arts in Adelaide (my hometown) wasn’t accepting any applications so I enrolled in a Fine and Visual Arts course instead and joined a Youth Theatre group. A year later though I was a year older and my sensible parents had infiltrated my crazy brain and I found myself studying healthcare and working towards a steady income.

Juan: Kylie, you have grown up to be an entertainer. Do you play any musical instrument? Were you part of a choir? 

Kylie forgot to mention she
likes the drums too!
I used to play piano, flute and the recorder. But I’m really not very good. Mostly because I don’t practice. I feel music in my bones though and absolutely love listening to my musician husband jamming with his musician mates and singing and dancing with my own kids (2 yr old twins).

I’ve never been part of a choir (except for at school). I prefer to do my singing in the shower if not in class. I auditioned for and got into an a capella group here in Prague a number of years ago, but when crunch came to crunch I was too shy to perform in public and they were a professional group so I didn’t really last more than 5 minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed the rehearsals though.

Juan: I think you were the one who asked me some time ago if I thought that language learning and music were similar. In which ways would you say that learning a language and playing an instrument have similarities? 

Kylie: Jeremy Harmer has talked a lot about this over the years. How we practice certain movements until they are natural so that when we play our fingers automatically know where to go. My husband is a Jazz man. He particularly loves free jazz. He says to play free jazz you need to be able to play the basics perfectly first and then you need to be able to really feel the music and play from your heart. Practicing and producing language is similar. We help our students practice the basics so their lips know where to go and give them lots of exposure to get a ‘feel’ for English. Only I encourage my students to go freestyle whenever they feel ready.

Juan: I simply love these analogies related to language learning. Could you please tell us why you think young learners should learn languages through songs? 

Kylie really feels the multidimensionality of
songs is just perfect for learning languages. 
Kylie: Ha! Do you have space for 25,000 words or more? A better questions would be why not. I could list a multitude of reasons for using songs to teach English to YL and quote all sorts of supporting research and theories about memory and prosody and links between language and song and pre-literacy etc, but for me, I really feel the multidimensionality of songs is just perfect learning languages. Combined with the fact that (most) YL love songs. The only thing that really surprises me is why YL teachers don’t use songs more. Songs are so natural. All over the world mothers naturally sing lullabies to their children. 

And songs have been used since the dawn of time (as cliché as that sounds), amoung other things, to express complicated ideas, remember important events and pass down genealogies. I guarantee you every child starting English knows at least one English song. Even if it’s ‘ Happy Birthday’.

Juan: When do you use songs? How long do you have the same song? 

Kylie: It depends on the age group and the class. For a VYL class I might start the lesson with a Hello song. Sing a song revising something during circle time. Sing a song which includes the target vocab for the lesson (numerous times). Sing a song while playing a game e.g. sing a food song while they are running to find food flashcards to keep those who aren’t having a turn engaged. Sing a song while coloring. Sing a song while tidying up. Sing a good bye song. Some songs are used for a particular theme and only occasionally revisited, whilst others, ‘favourites’ get used all year long.

Juan: Staging can make a big difference when presenting and practicing a song, especially with young learners. What are the important steps in your opinion when staging a song with young learners?

Kylie: I suspect that one of the reasons teachers don’t utilise songs more in the YL classroom is that they aren’t quite sure how. Choosing the song and when to use the song is equally as important as the staging and set up. The song should be relevant with meaningful language which doesn’t stretch the YL too much. I like to use visuals and movement, so using flashcards and actions when setting up a song and to set it up slowly and intentionally. 

This song is such a classic!
For example if you wanted to teach ’5 little monkeys jumping on the bed’ I would introduce this song after the learners are already familiar with numbers 1-5, monkey, head, bed, doctor, mummy’ and if they weren’t I might use some flashcards and mime the story sequence first in a kind of listen and do type activity. Once I’m sure they understand the key vocab and they have some actions then we can see. Actions are important for VYL in particular as it not only helps them to meet the language, it also provides opportunities for involvement for all (which I feel is even more important than the language at this early stage).

Some teachers give up teaching a song because the learners ‘aren’t into it’ or ‘aren’t doing it properly’. I personally don’t mind if kids are singing ‘5 leeedle mmmmm jumping na na bed. Na na off na na na bed.’ As my goal is to get them to move their tongues around and experiment with the sounds of English rather than join the national choir.

Teachers also need to remember that if they stand at the front of the class with the CD blaring and lip syncing, they can’t expect the kids to be excited by the song. The teacher should know it well and be enthusiastic. They certainly shouldn’t worry about being out of tune (the kids won’t care) but they should now the words and loo happy about singing.

Juan: I find that many songs in coursebooks have been adapted so much to fit a curriculum that in the end they lose their grace. Would you agree with this view? When do you ever create songs with your students? 

Kylie: I don’t want to knock the coursebook writers, as they do a great job, but yeah. All too often kids just don’t dig the coursebook songs. Either it’s too obvious, too boring, or too dry or too easy or too difficult to remember the tune. For VYL I like to create my own songs to very familiar tunes e.g. to Frere Jacques. That way the cognitive demands are lower and they can concentrate on other things. For my 8-12 year olds I encourage them to be silly and play with the song. Make it ‘better’. 

E.g. One of my favourite songs is Boom Chicka Boom.  It’s got very simple meaningless lyrics which are sung over and over in different ‘styles’ e.g. happy style, crying style, zombie style, Gaga style, robot style. Sometimes I get my learners to make the songs in the coursebook  ‘better’ by creating their own ‘style’ for the song. 

One memorable lesson, I witnessed a 9 year-old turn the world’s most boring song into something spectacular when she performed it to the class ‘Michael Jackson style’ while the class joined in with the chorus ‘zombie style’. For me a song helps consolidate language and is a great opportunity to play around with the sounds and prosody and intonation and just have fun with it.

For teenagers, the cover versions of songs in coursebooks can be laughable. I rarely ask teens to sing in class unless it is at summer camp and they’ve chosen to sing. Instead I like to get them to do a discourse analysis and discuss the language in the song or even rhyming patterns etc. Songs don’t have to be about singing. They are great for language work, listening activities, routines. I could go on….

Juan: I have noticed that some children and teens do not like to sing and to expose themselves in front of their peers. How do you involve these learners? 

Hey guys, we have just found one more puppeteacher!
Kylie: I think you’ll love my answer to this, Juan. I use puppets! And if I have no puppets we draw them on our finger tips. I also encourage them to imitate English speakers they know e.g. the teacher, a celebrity or maybe their mum. It can be just as embarrassing to ‘sound’ English as it is to make mistakes. Distancing with the aid of a puppet can be really helpful.

Juan: I have watched classes in which children sang and danced, but had no clue about what they were saying. What are some other traps that teachers of young language learners should be careful with? 

Kylie: It depends on the age and the aims of the activity. Sometimes I will spend time working on enunciating sounds and words and other times I just want the kids to have fun or play around with the intonation. Sometimes you just want to build their confidence via a ‘performance’. However, I am a realist, so I would choose a song that parents will be able to understand if it’s for an end of year performance in front of parents who are paying their fees. 

I think a trap a teacher can fall into is to do a song just for the sake of it. Sometimes teachers think of a song as an added extra for something ‘fun’ without really considering the potential learning outcomes. I try to keep learning or developmental goals in my mind when doing songs as well as fun so I don’t lose sight of the ‘learning’. I don’t mean to say I expect perfect production, I just mean I have a clear aim. Even if that aim is simple or non-linguistic in nature.

Kylie with her students at the end of a Summer Camp. 
Juan: You work hard with your students and you notice they have mastered a specific song. What happens then? 

Kylie: Any number of things. My VYL seem to master the colours songs from OUP’s Cookie and Friends quite quickly so I use this song for routines e.g. if we are lining up to go outside and waiting for a child who is taking a long time we might sing this song to avoid losing the line. I also use this song as a timer when they are colouring in a colour dictation. When the song stops. Pens down! 

Often the kids will let me know what song they want to know and when. I love singing the Cookie and Friends ‘Weather Song’ when putting on coats etc getting ready to go out or home, but sometimes the kids want to sing another English song and I’m fine with that. They normally choose the ones they master and it’s confidence building for them to sing it over and over and I like to encourage that.

Juan: What are your plans for the future? Thinking of recording something? 

Kylie: Well I’m quite busy now with my MA research, but I am actually working on a little book project, but that’s a bit hush for now. You’ll have to wait until it comes out. I’d love to create some youtube videos to add to the vast amount already out there but don’t own a video camera or sound equipment. One day. Maybe.

When I first met my husband I used to call him my Wiggle, because he looked like one of the Wiggles, and we have a little fantasy idea about creating a kids band (with his musician mates) and touring preschools. It would certainly be lots of fun!

Juan: Please leave us with a final musical message. 

Kylie: Other teachers might be reading this and think “she must have the voice of Mariah Carey to be doing so much singing”. Ha! I most certainly don’t. I’m just a regular girl who likes to have fun with English and Learning. For anyone wanting to introduce more songs and singing into their classroom, the most important thing is to be enthusiastic and have fun with it. Then you can consider other things like getting the language right, having an aim, staging etc. Use actions and simple, repetitive and meaningful language. Don’t give up. Have fun!

Thanks for interviewing me, Juan. Love and cuddles to Buddy.

Juan: My great pleasure, Kylie! Buddy says he misses you too! 

I invite everybody to know more about Kylie's work by paying her blog a visit. 

What is your take away after this interview? 
What ideas resonate with what you do with your students? 

Send you all a big hug from Tokyo!

Did you like it? Share it!
Thank you!


  1. It's such an honor to be featured on such a wonderful blog. Thank you so much Juan and Buddy :D

    1. Dear Kylie,
      It is a privilege to have you here sharing the beauty of your work with young learners.
      Hugs from Buddy and me!!!

  2. Dear Juan,
    You know I'm one of your fans and always read your posts! This time this interview has been fantastic because I not only learnt about music in the classroom but also because I met a great teacher!! I'm sure I'll follow some of her advice next year as we are finishing our school year here in Argentina. Thanking smiles, Maria :)

    1. Hi Maria!
      You are my number one fan. It's always a pleasure to read your comments.
      I love when I am able to connect people and their ideas. Kylie is a teacher just like you and me, full of enthusiasm, hope, and love. Great we are all connected now through music!

      Hugs and hugs from Japan,



Thank you for your comment!