May 25, 2016

Interviewing Affective Educators: Beatrix Price

Have you ever thought about going to a country and staying there just to learn from one particular person?   I thought about doing so as soon as I met Beatrix Price at IATEFL last year. I was already planning how long I was going to stay in Budapest, when I learned that Bea and I would be working together for two weeks. I could not believe it, I was so happy! I immediately wrote Bea and she was happy as well!!!

The two weeks were great and we were able to learn a lot from each other and enjoy each other's company having lots of tea. But I would not let her go without interviewing her first for our blog. 
Here is our interview!

Juan: Let’s get started. When did you discover that you wanted to become a language teacher?

Bea and I met at IATEFL in 2015.

Bea: That is a good question. When I was a child I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher because my mother was a kindergarten teacher. Then later when I went to school I still wanted to be a teacher and my desire had never changed. I was 14 or 15 when I first met English as a language and then I decided to become an English teacher. But as I grew up in a communist country, where it was impossible to learn English, it took me quite a long time to learn it, so only when I was twenty seven I finally started learning English. Before that I was a Russian teacher and a Hungarian literature teacher.

Juan: It is very interesting that you have mentioned that your mother was a kindergarten teacher. How did she influence you? Were there days that you would go with her to school?   

Bea: Unfortunately at that time it wasn’t possible to do this in Hungary. But somehow I picked up the abilities or skills to work with children.  And there was also another very important experience that I lived when I was a child. We lived very near the Croatian border and my parents had friends from Croatia. In fact, these were their best friends, so we visited them and they visited us very often and there was this constant contact between us. Unfortunately they didn’t have any children , so I didn’t get to learn Croatian fluently, but I always heard this other language in the background. My father was sort of the interpreter in the family as he told us where we were going and what we were going to do.  One fascinating thing that I discovered just a couple of years ago is that my mother didn’t speak any Croatian and  her friend didn’t speak any Hungarian and even so they were friends for thirty or forty years.  It was a wonderful experience to have so many holidays together. Now looking back, I recognize this communicative competence that is so important in the lives of language teachers and language learners.  

Juan: Wow, what a beautiful memory! It’s truly amazing how your mom and her friend were able to communicate.

Juan: I saw your presentation this year at IATEFL in Manchester and I was fascinated by the way you promote language learning while you play with children.  How important is affect when learning a language and how do you incorporate in your teaching?

Bea: We all know about  emotional intelligence nowadays because it has been a buzz word for years but if you just look at natural cultures and how mothers, grandmothers take care of their children, then we can learn a lot. You have to feel the children and children have to be at ease with you when you are teaching them, if they are afraid of the atmosphere or the situation, then learning doesn’t take place, but if they love what surrounds them, then learning will happen in a much more effective way.

Juan: How did you become an English teacher of young learners? 

Bea: About fifteen years ago and before that I had never thought I would end up becoming a teacher of young learners.  Life brought me this experience as my children are bilingual  (English/Hungarian) and I had to teach them together with other children who were in the same classes. So I had to discover a method, something that my children who already spoke English would be happy in the class, just as well the other children who came to learn English. So then I started searching for games that are global and multicultural, so I collected a lot of different activities that are played all over the world and that are enjoyed in different cultures, regardless of language, and then I added the language element to it.

Everybody was happy in my class all the time and then I saw how much the other children learned, those who came to learn English. They had a massive vocabulary through the rhymes, songs, poems,  and everything that we enjoyed doing together. Everybody knew it wasn’t about language learning, it was about having a great time together. I think it is so important for children to enjoy what they are doing because many times we adults impose our own will on them and then they end up not having much choice.

Juan: Could you tell us a little bit about your ten-house model?

Bea: When I did my masters’s degree I wrote my thesis on movement accompanied by language learning, and the ten houses were the skeleton for my thesis.  I also included Vigotsky’s and Krashen’s theories in my thesis.  The houses really go through the natural development of the child, when we imagine that the baby is born and the child is in the cradle, the first thoughts that the baby has are his own hands and fingers, and the baby looks up and starts playing with his own fingers. A little bit later when the children are a little bit older, mothers take the children and gets them in their laps and start playing with their palms, their fingers with ticklish games and all that those that belong to the children’s body. In previous cultures  there were no plastic toys and Disney films and other things to entertain the children, so mothers and their children would build very beautiful rapport and that’s how children started to learn language through this emotional bond.

So the first things are the finger games, which are not only important because the mother plays with them or children play on their own, but they are also very good for fine motor skills. And this is what educators nowadays neglect totally, because children grow up in front of screens, they only touch buttons or they are just watching something. Their fine and gross motor skills are not developed nowadays and children get clumsy to the point they can’t even climb trees.

The other activities in the ten-house model are those that children enjoy in social interaction such as  bean bag games, circle games,  skipping games, and string games. We can find these in every culture,and they are enjoyed by the children because they share. Social interaction is another very important element, because I think a lot of children lack social competence in our world because they are just interacting with cell phones. Playing together has another educational value in my system.

Finger games, bean bag games, string games, and circle games incorporate singing, which is very important. That's because singing is in a different sphere. And then when I take children through these activities that are always a  little bit more difficult for the children and they want to learn that skill that is very important for them as well. These manual skills are always a little bit higher than their actual competence, just as Krashen says that comprehensible input should just a slightly higher than the child’s language competence. In my model I put the skills competence, so they want to learn the language together as well.

These activities are always accompanied by authentic English nursery rhymes, songs, and verses,  so children can build a very big vocabulary doing these activities and then after a  while, they start being introduced to real poetry. So after a couple of years of teaching children through these rhymes, I introduce very simple authentic poems to and after this stage we learn in the realm of literature and that’s the finest stage in my learning curve, that’s the last house,  when I can already introduce authentic novels to these children obviously through graded readers or simplified versions or I myself make them accessible to them.

I think that children deserve to be introduced to Narnia in English when they are small as well as Robinson Crusoe, which is my other favourite book. These are all layers that are built one on top of the other.  I think that when we introduce literature, they will become readers, that’s another stage and then authentic learning takes place. And they are able to learn in English and look after their own language development.

Juan: Which advice do you give to teachers of young learners?

Bea and Anastasya sharing their storytelling board. 
Bea: Learn lots of songs and  look at mother goose nursery rhymes and choose the ones you will teach according to your taste. It’s most important that you teach according to what you like, just believe in something and teach through that. And children will love it because they can see you are enjoying it and you will love it too. I think we can never stop learning and learning children’s rhymes is not a childish thing. We can learn from each other and even nowadays meet other colleagues around the world and then share our treasure with them. We should not hide what we know, we should make it accessible to everybody.

When teaching children it is very important not to simplify the language, as when you look at natural language acquisition, when a child learns in her own environment, everybody speaks in full sentences with lots of language, and I think that in second language acquisition we should do the same, providing a lot of authentic language to children.  I try to do it in a rhythmic way  because rhythm carries language, specially in songs, chants, verses, and nursery rhymes that have this natural rhythm that lives in the child’s system or body. As a result children are introduced to a lot a language and they will deduct meaning from this rich language for themselves and that’s how language is built up. Not specifically taught to them saying that this is this and that is that, but allowing the child to recognize the words in the songs, in the verses, and in the poems.

Juan: You have given me this amazing rainbow string. Where did this idea come from and which other tricks do you have in your teaching?

Bea teaching Kasya the witch's story in Paris

Bea: First of all, I felt that as an adult I wasn’t able to learn any of the tricks, but fortunately I had a very good friend who knew many of these tricks. And he happened to drop in my English lessons and he didn’t speak any English and he enchanted the learners in a second. I was a little bit jealous and I wanted to learn those tricks too.

As I wanted to enchant the children as well, so I looked for my son's book on string games and I learned one trick which was a huge success.  It took me a long while to learn other tricks and the most interesting thing is that when I introduce it to children they just pick it up in seconds.

I only know three or four stories altogether and I see that storytelling with strings is amazing not only for children but for adults too. These are well known in many cultures such as in Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, in central Europe, Western Europe, well everywhere. So I encourage everybody to learn a couple of string games.

Juan: Being a very affective teacher educator, what do you consider important for teachers of young learners to experience in their preparation courses?

Bea: Well, it comes naturally to me it’s and it is also a very conscious process. I try to build very good rapport with my colleagues, I prefer to call them my colleagues instead of participants.  I like to draw their attention to the importance of being an educator as we we have a very big responsibility for the future generations. I see that teaching young learners has become a very big business around the world and we have the responsibility not to let children be harmed by all this business. As appropriate learning is very important, we have to see who our learners are, language teaching ought to be almost like a therapy for children with lots of singing and lots of good things. 

Juan: Do you have a favourite quote to finish our interview? 

Bea: We only remember 10% of what we hear, we remember 40% of what we see, and we remember 90% of what we are involved with.

Juan: Anything else you would like to say? 

Bea: I love you Juan and Buddy too!

Juan: Me too!  

Wow, what an amazing interview with Bea!

Would you like me to interview any teacher in special?
Let me know and then I will get in touch with this person and give it a try!

Sending you all a big hug,


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1 comment:

  1. What a lovely interview. Thanks, Juan! Kisses to Buddy. XX


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