Carol Yalcinkaya-Ferris (USA/ Türkei) ist heute eine pensionierte Englischtrainerin, die viele Jahre an US-Colleges und an den verschiedensten Universitäten in Istanbul (Bosporus University, Koç University, Okan- and Piri Reis University) unterrichtet hat. Heute lebt und schreibt sie in Istanbul und San Diego.
Wie ich Sprachlehrerin wurde
Die Route, auf der ich Sprachlehrerin für Englisch wurde, war Route 40 – eine der ersten Nationalen Highways in den Vereinigten Staaten. Schauen Sie, das war jetzt nicht einer dieser verrückten Highways, die man gerade mal so entlang geht, sondern es war ursprünglich einer der Pfade der amerikanischen Indigenen. Später hat sich dann darauf George Washington auf seinem Weg westwärts Richtung Fort Necessity im Südwesten Pennsylvanias wiedergefunden. Und viel später – sagen wir 200 Jahre danach – bereiste ich ihn auf meinem Weg zum westlich gelegenen California State College, wie es damals genannt wurde. Sie mögen sich vielleicht wundern, was das alles mit Englischunterricht oder Englisch-als-Zweitsprache-Unterricht zu tun hat, aber für mich hat das alles große Bedeutung. …
Lesen Sie Carol Yalcinkaya-Ferris´ volle Geschichte weiter, um zu erfahren, wo genau das Schicksal des kleinen Mädchens aus dem Dorf zur späteren Lehrerin begann, in welche Weltgegenden sie ihre Berufung führte und welche Ratschläge sie den nachfolgenden Lehrerinnen-Generationen mitzugeben hat.
How I became a language teacher
The route which I took to become a general English teacher was Route 40—one of the first national highways in the US. You see, this is not some crazy highway which one moves along, but it was originally a footpath used by the American Indians. Later, George Washington found himself moving West along this path to Fort Necessity in SW Pennsylvania. And, much later, say, 200+ years, I found myself traveling West on it to California State College—as it was then known. You may wonder what that little anecdote has to do with teaching English or ESL, but, for me, it means everything.
You see, I lived in a village, really, of approximately 2000 inhabitants in this small town in SW Pennsylvania which lies just at the foot of the Blue Ridge Chain of the Appalachian Mountains. Being a child there was akin to living a somewhat isolated and protected life where I could go out day or night and no one cared. There was not even a public library (and still is not!). But, my grandmother had magazines and books. My other grandmother had novels. And, I remember my other grandmother too—she would spread the newspaper out on her bed, sit at the bottom of it, and read. My mother was too busy taking care of five children so she didn’t have much time or energy left to read until we children neared high school. It was then that she became a magnificent reader. She is eighty-nine and still reading.
Reading is one of the best routes a potential teacher can take beginning as early as she can walk and read. A person who loves books should feel magnetized and hypnotized and want to move towards any sort of reading material available. It might be a cereal box, a colorful label, a row of books on a shelf. That is what happened to me. Not having had many books when I was quite young, I really desired them. I had one little Golden book for children with illustrations of Santa and his elves on the cover. Those elves were the cutest little things that I had ever seen. And inside were Mr. and Mrs Santa. She was baking cookies. He was looking at a list of things to deliver to good little boys and girls. That is the only book that I remember until I was eight and then I received a beautiful green shiny book with a collection of fairy tales. That was the best gift that I must have received. I read the stories over and over and that is the best route a future English teacher can take. She falls in love with each new book and wants to read the stories over and over and then share them.
In those days, with no library, we certainly had no storyteller. But, my grandmothers served that purpose and so did my grandfathers! That is one of the most important services that grandparents can serve. My grandmother told me about how she threw a rock at the geese she would guide to the water. She hit one in the head, and, wham, she thought that she had committed an act of murder. Unwise but wise enough, she took that goose and stuck his head in the cool water. Voila, the goose came to. Can’t beat that story. My other grandmother told me that she once had painted her nails regularly when she would go out to play bridge. That was all that I needed to hear to want to play bridge. Later, I became a faculty wife and that was one of my first married activities. Most people have two grandmothers but I had three: we lived in the upstairs apartment of an elderly couple whose grandchildren lived in faraway lands. They adopted me and I stayed close to their hearts till they died when I was a young married woman. They were the people who had magazines and books. They had catalogues too—and that mean dreaming. My friend, Josephine, and I would point to each page and say: “I like this dress” and “I like that boy.” That is how my reading history evolved.
When I was eleven, I discovered a dusty set of bookshelves in the back of our old school room which also held a big furnace which could have melted gold. Our teacher, a very old man, encouraged us to bring potatoes to roast inside that furnace from eleven until twelve for our lunch. And, in that room, he played his shiny banjo and encouraged us to dance the Virginia reel. Magic—that is what we all need to get started on the right route. Somewhere along that route, books will materialize. Now, those old old dusty books were not attractive but one of those books which I happened to notice was Alice in Wonderland. One-by-one, I began to notice the names of books wherever I went. By the time, I arrived at junior high and had to travel by an orange school bus driven by Mr. Abel, I met up with the high school librarian, Miss Boger. She would say to me: “Carol, have you read this book? You should.” She would put it on a back shelf and there it awaited me.
One of the most important books which she had introduced to me is The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. Pearl Buck had the perfect parents. They had gone off to China and been good missionaries there in the early twentieth century. They came back to West Virginia in the US for Pearl to be born. And, in their wisdom, they took that little baby back to China and hired an “amah.” From that Chinese nurse, she learned Chinese and could speak it fluently all of her life. Pearl Buck took all of her daily experiences from the time that she could first remember and wrote The Good Earth. I mention this book because that is the first step which I took on the road of travel. I traveled to China at the age of fourteen via her books. After all, she had been the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in the early twenties. Her books changed my life from being a hometown girl to becoming a world traveler—not when I was a teen, but when I met my first Korean friend at the age of twenty-eight.
One day, when I was working at the desk of the public library in the university town where I lived, after university and after marriage, a petite oriental woman came through the door with a very sweet little dark-haired girl. I can still visualize that child who is now thirty-eight. They became a big and important part of my life, even until today. I had had to wait over twenty years to meet my first oriental friend. She was no mystery to me because I knew all about oriental life. I knew that these people enjoyed tea, that they were thrifty, that sons were important, that brocade material was valued, and on and on. This valuable friend was the one who introduced me to LiLi Chao, my very first bonafide Chinese friend whose mother and father came from Western China and escaped to Hong Kong where LiLi was born in 1950. It took until 1980 to find any news about her mother’s mother back in China. Until then, Chinese ex-patriates could not have any contact with those in Communist China. But, by 1980, letters could be mailed from the United States. LiLi too remains a very special friend all of the way from 1977. I met her friends (from Japan, Iran, Italy, Thailand) and then her brother, her mother, her sister, her other brother, and her sister’s friends, and her friends’ friends, and that list is continuing. And, so, this is the route I chose to follow.
I was open to foreigners and I wanted to help them because they had come to my little corner of the world and brought their worlds to me. LiLi had her mother send me a black satin jacket with a Mandarin collar, frog hooks, and pink chrysanthemums decorating the satin. Atsuko had her mother write a letter in Japanese to me. Yoshiko conducted a tea ceremony in an authentic kimono and obi. Maurizio invited me to visit his family’s home in Northern Italy in a small town named Latisana—just one hour East of Venice. My little world in SW Pennsylvania expanded and expanded until I flew off to each one of those new countries within the next twenty years.
It was no effort for me to introduce my Korean friend’s little daughter to American classics for children. The first book that jumped right into her small hands was Ping—the story of a small yellow duck on the Yangtze River. When LiLi’s children were born, I sent books their way. And, when Judy Lei’s son wanted to speak English as a four-year-old, I spoke English to him in Taichung, Taiwan. I still didn’t realize that I had begun a long journey by practicing to become a teacher of ESL back in 1976. But by 1983, during my first visit to Turkey, a clever young receptionist who spoke five languages necessary for his work suggested that I could have a great job teaching English in Istanbul. Hah! That was the greatest seed ever planted in my fertile head.
It took only a short while until that seed popped out into the sun and became a green reality with blossoms opening every spring. It was a perennial idea. I stayed in Turkey a month and practiced teaching a university student what I knew about English grammar. I explained, “There are only eight kinds of words in English: noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.” That was the only chance I needed and I caught on fire. I came alive just as that phantom Phoenix. I was resurrected.
I had already become an English teacher back in 1966 but nothing had inspired me to want to teach grammar until 1983. I had had to sit on this precious egg for seventeen years. And, that is pretty bad. I was truly “a late bloomer” as we say in English. I became a teacher for two reasons: one, I loved to read; and, two, I admired my teachers who loved to teach. Reading kept the fires kindled; teachers kept the bellows cranking the hot air. But, with the reality of traveling to a distant foreign land, I met people who wanted to learn English—my native language. Everything had fallen into place by the spring of 1984. I understood my life’s vocation: teaching English as a Foreign Language. I started with my friends. I volunteered at my university to work with foreign students who had endless challenges; I accepted a job teaching at a community college one and a half hour’s drive from my home. Nothing, not even distance, was going to stop me. One of my first students at that school was a lovely, lovely young Indian woman who referred to me as “Madam.” I have not yet forgotten in twenty-five years. I had found respect at college level, not torture from substitute teaching for American teens. I had refused to teach for fourteen years because I could not accept self-torture. I hated noisy, unruly children who had no desire to learn. But, these foreign students kindly asked for help. Help with pronunciation, help with proofreading, help with their life situations.
These are the routes I traveled until I could find my way back to Istanbul in 1985. I had tried to go to Kuwait but didn’t have enough experience even though I had a master’s degree in English literature. I needed experience. Turkey gave me the chance and I have come back four times to complete my vocation as a teacher of English. I have had every possible experience here in Istanbul where I have taught in private high schools, government and private universities, language schools, businesses, and given private lessons. My students have become doctors in other countries, a member of the Turkish parliament, successful professionals in every profession. These students have been my life’s work. For years, I have spent twelve hours a day, day after day, and year after year, getting up at six and pulling myself home at eight, nine, and ten at night. Tired, yes; low paid, yes; ready to retire, yes; but . . . still going after twenty-five years of considerable work.
These are the routes that I traveled by chance. I had no idea that I would become “Alice in Wonderland.” My reading has taken me to over thirty countries; I have taught students from over seventy countries. I have learned to use my Latin, French, German, and Turkish. I can even understand a good many phrases from Italian and Arabic. I can recognize Chinese and Japanese. Have I affected my family? My first son studied Japanese at his university; my second son studied German in his country high school and married a teacher of French who speaks French to their daughters. My third son studied Turkish and always remembers “Seksen-bir”—sex and beer. He also studied French in Istanbul at the Istanbul International Community School where he complained that the teacher refused to speak English. As much as he fretted in primary school, he chose to study French at his university. And, finally, my daughter who just turned twenty-one, was nearly a native speaker of Turkish at two and she too chose French as her high school language. The effects of having such a mother really and truly did affect her very own children.
Professionally, I only studied to be a secondary English school teacher. Grammar was not a favorite subject. Writing was not either. Speaking—well, I was a chatterbox, that is true.
Listening? Yes, I started as a listener to my grandparents’ stories. Can we transfer this bit of information to the realities of today’s living? Yes, we just need to help young people who want to teach that their life experiences are, indeed, important. Ask them if they liked listening to stories. Ask them if they were attracted to foreign languages. Ask them who their first foreign friend was. In those answers, you will find how ESL teachers got their start. It will be similar to my story written above.
How does one become a “good” teacher of English in different countries? The first requirement is to be a caring person. I have cared about my foreign students each and every day for endless years. I look forward to seeing them each tomorrow to say something I forgot or just thought of today. Of course, one needs to have some basic ideas about the origin of English and an appreciation of the struggle that goes into the learning of the grammar. Grammar is even difficult for native speakers. I remember the nightmare of seeing strange words like gender, noun, adjective when I was eight years old. I haven’t yet forgotten another nightmare of having to first teach about “gerunds.” I know how torturous it is for hyperactive young fellows who are nineteen and twenty-one to sit and listen to how to form “wh- questions” in English day after day. A “good” teacher has to be sensitive to her learners no matter which age: twenty-one or thirty-one because there are still plenty of people in their thirties and forties who find that they now need English desperately. And, not only English! They need Russian, Chinese, Arabic, German. The world has shrunk but the need for more than one language has grown.
As ESL teachers, we need to help our students begin speaking their new language. It is certainly not enough to learn the vocabulary, the grammar, the phonetics. The students have to be made comfortable enough to speak and to reply in their new target language. We teachers can do that by offering warmness and compassion—day in, day out. Universities don’t exactly teach those skills but those may be the most important ingredients for the product that is being created.
If we teachers can open our own minds to foreigners and to their cultures, then all else will fall into place.