Black belt in creating authentic language teaching

I’m walking fast across the quiet schoolyard, which is covered in ice crystals. The cold bites your skin even though the sun shines high above in a clear blue sky. The rural peace gives me time to enjoy the fresh air on the way to the entrance.

As I enter, a couple of classes are waiting to experience something very exciting. They are about to have tea with the Deputy Director of Communications for the Finnish Parliament. He is ready for a conversation, waiting for the Swedish pupils in the tiny village of Jonslund, to connect… Last week the students had a moment with Iceland, next week they’re off to Japan …

Through the windows which cover the inner walls of the school, I catch sight of a smiling and happy Emma Naas teacher and motivator when it comes to successfully integrating internationalization and digitization into teaching. Emma’s classes get to travel around the world through Skype, using her international network. Speaking English – for real, with real people. Students prepare questions in English that concern both big and small everyday topics of life, that often deal with issues of cultural expressions, people’s habits, interests and geographical conditions. The great thing with this is not only the fact that the English spoken is authentic, but also that the actual meeting is with people who live their lives in a completely different context than what we take for granted here at home.

– This opens up the world to the children. English is a world language and it allows us to understand and be understood in speech and writing all over the planet. Students have talked to people from many different parts of the world. In Global English we search for a receiver of the students’ productions, a receiver outside the classroom that provides them with feedback and interacts with them. This has created a motivating and inclusive environment for learning. It is what the pupils call ”English for real”. The world has endless possibilities and with the Global English project they’ve have now got friends all over the world. They learn about other cultures and get to practice communication skills in English, while social skills are developed at the same time.

In Emma’s case, networking is of great importance and she expresses an immense gratitude for the international network she is part of.

– It gives us the opportunity to develop as human beings and to be inspired to dare to do things in life that are not obvious in the environment we come from. Networking on an international basis means that you have to step outside your comfort zone, you are forced to communicate with people through a different language, which means taking risks. But once you have shown to yourself that you can do it, you have won a great battle, Emma smiles. I often say that a friend in each country means that there will be no war, Emma laughs and her insatiable enthusiasm is so contagious! It is so incredibly fun with Global English and what we have developed is that students really see the value in experiencing other cultures and making new friends. Fear of what is different is simply replaced by curiosity and a desire to know more. This has created an eagerness to understand more about the world. It has also become quite natural for them to communicate using English and to use digital tools independently to achieve a certain goal, for example. The wonderful thing is that the talks will continue beyond the classroom and teaching, experiences are exchanged and new habits are created. We have received some international visits at the school and the students have been very nice hosts and hostesses who take the opportunity to continue talks even after the visits. Naturally, this is very exciting, Emma concludes.

Today’s Skype session with Finland is rigged up and while we are waiting for the call, we discuss interests, passions and dreams for the future. The pupils are very talkative and creative and while I listen to some of our future football and hockey pros and musical talents, we are also talking about all these meetings they are experiencing. Someone hatches the idea of a Skype session with my children.

– It would be fun to hear what it is like to go to school in the city, and we can tell them what it is like here in the countryside… This suggestion is the immediate proof that Emma has really succeeded in implementing something that is useful in the children’s everyday lives. Now the proposals come from them! They want to discover more of the world, to learn about others and to make new contacts for themselves! So amazingly awesome!

In addition to Skype sessions, Emma’s pupils make films about what they eat for breakfast, for example, the then the films are e-mailed to their contact in Japan who eventually makes a film about Japanese breakfast habits. Based on this, there are a plethora of customs and traditions to discuss and explore further, says Emma.

11 o’clock has come and we are calling Rainer, who is patiently waiting for the students in Jonslund, and their questions. As the conference opens, it is a member of parliament that the children encounter. He tells us, formally, about his mission concerning questions related to his job. But rather quickly, something happens in the conversation with the children and the formal tone transforms into a more relationship-building one. Questions about favorite animals, interest in sports and family become the main topics of the conversation and Rainer answers the questions in return. What started out cautiously among the pupils turns into a genuine interest in Finland, food, culture and, of course, the weather conditions. The children are working their way through their respective sheets of questions they have prepared, more and more relaxed and secure language-wise, turning away from their manuscripts.

What fascinates me as an observer is Emma’s calmness, she works with only one computer and a projector, she allows students to steer the conversation relatively independently. She coaches and backs up if needed, but children themselves take care of most of the session. Emma is never in a hurry, she lets the conversation take time. And it is fascinating to see how these 10- and 11-year-olds are maturing in the meeting with Rainer, whose delightful and humorous personality quickly shines through the parliament suit. Towards the end of this one hour, he has had time to answer questions about why it is that he speaks both Swedish and Finnish in addition to English, what he likes best about Sweden, and if he is friends with the president.

The meeting that occurred between, in this case, a Finnish member of parliament, and the Swedish pupils in the small village of Jonslund certainly created memories for life, new dreams and ideas for further professional development. Allowing a conversation to take time and find its natural course lays the foundation for a good and meaningful meeting. A meeting that inspires the children to want more and to learn more, and to develop relationships with people that have other stories than their own. And who knows, maybe one day someone in this classroom might be having lunch with Rainer Hindsberg, Deputy Head of Information at the Finnish Parliament, as a result of this fascinating meeting…

– All of us who are part of of Emma’s network are happy to take the time to Skype with her pupils. It is Emma’s enthusiasm and joy that inspire all of us to do this and to keep growing our network, concludes Rainer. She truly is an amazing teacher; we all get that impression when meeting her pupils, their courage and focus on the task is fascinating. It is extremely exciting to be a part of this and it reminds us of the importance of communication where we cross borders; it certainly creates a more accepting and understanding society, concludes Rainer with warmth in his voice.