Volunteering – Creating UWE Linguistics Society

Contributor: Tom

Which Society?  UWE Linguistics Society

Why did you start the society? I tell people who I want to impress that I set it up because I passionately wanted to spread the good word of linguistics and increase student participation in extra-curricular academic events.

In reality I read this language log post about Edinburgh’s own LangSoc and thought “oh that’d be so cool if we had a society like that at UWE” and got a bit depressed that UWE didn’t have a linguistics society. A few days later I remembered that I was a lazy student who had loads of time to set up a society. I asked some students if they thought a linguistics society should exist, got some friends together to form a committee, a month later we were a proper official society!

What was your position? I was elected as president. To start with this meant I was responsible for nearly every aspect of running a society, but it got a lot easier as the committee grew.

Good things: We had some fantastic lectures and we went on some really fun trips. And I got to work with some brilliant mates and made even more brilliant mates too.

Also, because I ran a linguistic society, I was contacted by David Arnold, a student of the University of Edinburgh, who invited the society to the first Undergraduate Linguistics Association of Britain conference … but that’s another very long story… (click the link to find out!)

Bad things: People kept expecting me to be some kind of linguistics whizz-kid – which was a pity because I’m actually quite stupid. They’d be all like “Tom, you run the linguistics society, do you remember all the rules on Sanskrit morphology” and I’d be all like “no!” then they’d be all like “what about a brief history of marxism in linguistics” and I’d be like “how would I know that?!” then they’d say “oh but you’re the president of the linguistics society, surely you’d know” and then I would have to run away and hide in shame.

Also running a society (*cough* especially a twice-award-winning society *cough*) takes a lot of time – so you need to ensure you stay organised and not let it take over your life!

Anything else: If you’re at university studying linguistics and there isn’t a linguistics/language society near you, set one up! Make sure you’ve got some good people who are just as enthusiastic as you are to work with, and you’re good to go.

And if there is a society near you, get involved in any way that you can – it’s a great way to meet people and have fun, all while pretending you’re only doing it to beef up your CV.

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Work Placement – English Monitor for Summer School, Alicante, Spain

Contributor: Tom

Where? Primary School in Alicante, Spain

What? “English Monitor for Summer School”

Why did you choose this place? In a lecture in my first year at university, my tutor advertised this job. Lurking at the back of my mind was the thought that, perhaps one day, I’ll want to become a teacher. It seemed a perfect opportunity to see if this was the best career path to follow – I was simply helping out.

How did you find the application process? Easy. I emailed the school along with my CV. They replied and accepted me and my friend on the same degree course as me. They said they accepted me because I seemed keen and they were looking for people who can’t speak Spanish (which I couldn’t). I assumed this was to ensure the kids were in a “total immersion” environment.

What do you do here? We (me, my friend from university plus two PGCE graduates) arrived in Alicante, and were briefed on the schools’ expectations of us over the next five weeks. We were expecting to be assisting teachers – but it turned out we were expected to be the teachers ourselves! We were given a timetable each and shown a cupboard of their teaching materials. We were then told to just get on with planning lessons every weekday for four weeks for six different groups, the oldest being around 14, the youngest being only a few months old… I was slightly concerned about the first day, but as I knew that the school knew that I had no teaching experience, surely they won’t be expecting too much from us?

In the first lesson I was in charge of a group of around twenty 3-year-olds. Luckily I was accompanied with their teacher, but she spoke no English and I spoke very little Spanish. After around ten minutes of awkward bumbling around, I found a box of brightly coloured toy animals. I made stupid animal noises and said the name of the animal. I soon learnt that 3-year-old children like making animal noises (kids are strange), so I taught animals (because all Spanish kids need to know the English word for “lion”), colours, a few numbers and probably some other bits.

Lesson 2, where I taught 10-year-olds, was much more difficult. Their proficiency in English ranged from “excellent” to “only-here-because-parents-can’t-be-bothered-to-look-after-their-kids”. From a novice’s perspective, lesson planning became a nightmare. My saving grace came when I was dragged away from the lesson for an “emergency meeting”.  Apparently we had been receiving “negative feedback” from both the kids and the principal. So I said

WELL OF COURSE WE WOULD, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT WHEN YOU EMPLOY PEOPLE ON THE BASIS THAT THEY’VE NEVER TAUGHT BEFORE? DAVID BLOODY CRYSTAL?! OBVIOUSLY NOT. **** YOU GUYS, I’M GETTING ON THE NEXT FLIGHT HOME.

Except I didn’t say that: while I was utterly livid and immediately regretted boarding the flight to Spain, I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to live in Alicante for as long and as cheaply as possible and, well, I wanted to do this right – I figured it’d be best to keep on. We all continued the rest of our first day, with varying levels of success, and stayed behind afterwards to plan lessons. I was utterly knackered. And that was only the first day.

By week two, things got much better. I got into the swing of planning lessons each day and allowing my creativity to run riot. I wrote songs, made a treasure hunt and basically ran around the school pretending to be a pirate/dinosaur/robot, all in the good name of “education”. Sure, there were some really stressful moments, but I started really enjoying the job when I could see that the kids were actually remembering the things you taught them.

The school lasted for four weeks. In the fifth week the English Teachers went up camping in the nearby mountains along with a whole new bunch of students, this time aged between 10-15 years. By that time my brain had nearly fried itself from both overheating and overworking, but as the students were new I could repeat a lot of the language games I’d either learnt or made up while at the school

The good things: I got to live in Alicante, got paid 100€ per week with free accommodation and lunch, and I had enough time to explore and enjoy myself.
I learnt a lot about time management and planning ahead. Even though I had some pretty terrible days at the school, I left my job happy and immensely proud at what I had achieved. I met some great people, including most of the (non-management) staff at the school, and have a new found respect for all teachers everywhere.

Also I never want to teach children. Never.

The bad things: I got sunburnt, I lost my voice, I spent more money than I actually earned, and to top it all off, in the last week I was assigned a completely different class where the teacher left with me, alone, in charge of thirty children. A fat kid then spat on me.

Anything else we should know: When applying for jobs and work experience, especially abroad, research the employers and the position as thoroughly as you can. Ask questions and try to establish exactly what you’ll be doing. I certainly felt at a disadvantage purely because I had no idea that the job would be that difficult.
In spite of that I’m actually glad I did take the job. I most certainly would have regretted leaving or even never going in the first place.
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I ramble a lot and I can be an incoherent writer. Coupled with the fact that the whole experience seems so long ago I feel like I might have missed some sort of vital information here. So if you have any questions at all I’d be more than happy to respond in the comments below.