How I applied my knowledge of teaching hairdressing to teaching a second language
‘People will discover their preferred way of learning and use their brain capacity more fully. Leaning becomes more enjoyable, easier, more effective and faster for people who have discovered ‘accelerated learning’.
Open Learning Today magazine
I knew at nine years of age that I wanted to be a hairdresser and make people feel and look good. I journeyed the stages of learning to do just that. I loved it and because of that, I was brilliant at it. I loved learning the trade and working with people. Shortly after qualifying, I was aware that I had a passion for helping and teaching others. At 20 I was managing a floor of a busy salon and a team of 12 stylists, whilst training classes of after school kids in our training and recruitment club. Then I was training school-leavers in National Vocational Qualification 2 Hairdressing, whilst continuing to study myself, at college, then at university.
I quickly learned that I was teaching young people who had opted for a very visual, sociable and creative career; the style of methodology that applies in a class room was not going to hold their engagement. The students wanted to be ‘hands on’, and the majority did not have a large attention span, even though they had motivation. Simultaneously, I attended various courses on how to train hairdressing apprentices specifically and I incorporated kinaesthetic, communicative and visual teaching methods to my lesson plans to keep their interest and tame their high energy levels. I structured the lessons to include variety of distractions, such as music during the practical classes, icebreakers, small tasks or games after breaks, to focus concentration and break the monotony of longer study periods. They loved it and it never seemed like ‘working’ for them. We did lots of communicative role play and adapted to different characters to have fun but also to demonstrate action and consequence; highlighting right and wrong behaviour and practicing for the real life scenario in every context. In every aspect of the training process I presented, we all practiced and they produced; in both theory and practical aspects of the course. Soon, they were presented with the models and clients, and they were putting their own reflective learning models into action every day, helping many of them become very successful hairstylists.
I recently reached, what I felt, was the end of the road for my career in hairdressing after sixteen years. I was working in my own company with the people I had trained and I loved it. For me it was complete. However, I felt the time was right for me to take on new challenges and I recently sold my hairdressing salon business in the North of England to my business partner, fellow hairdresser and dear friend of many years, after coming to live in Barcelona. I changed my role from a company director and educator in hairdressing to TEFL qualified teacher of English as a second language and feel I have gained a lot of knowledge in teaching to help inspire and coach others.
I believe all teaching methodologies can be beneficial; I also think however that a combination of them is always required to a degree, depending on the student and the material being taught. However, what I have learned through teaching using these adaptations, is that the learning process should be fun because regardless on the motivation for learning, who doesn’t want to have fun and develop or a new skill at the same time? If the same variety and adaptation in teaching methods and resources can be applied in learning a second language, we can create a similar stimulating, yet relaxed environment; engaging our students with relevant, visual and interesting resources. In this way the student enjoys learning the new language and more likely to retain what they have learned, and most importantly, they will want to continue the process and have more confidence and motivation in the application of the language.
I also believe there’s nothing quite like experiencing the learning process to enable you to teach something. In my next blog, I will write about my first six months here in Barcelona and how I apply my experiences of learning a second language. My first hand depiction of working and immersing myself in a Spanish hairdressing salon where no one spoke English, after only two months of Spanish lessons....
‘Fears are educated into us, and can if we wish, be educated out’
Karl Augustus Menninger
Only a year ago I had changed my life completely and was learning a new language in a new country. My motivation for learning was both intrinsic and extrinsic. I had a desire to communicate with people around me and to understand what I was seeing and hearing. Initially there were occasions when I had felt ostracised within a group because of the language barrier and I found this frustrating. I wanted to join in.
I knew I had to do it. I studied for five hours every morning in a language school for an eight week period, as well as most afternoons and evenings at home. It was intense. I wasn’t used to making errors and the thought of doing so limited my ability to attempt for a short while. The fear of failing made my mind blank and I couldn’t find the words, let alone make them exit in the correct order. I used to get so anxious about speaking that I would just clam up, which made me appear introvert and out of character!
After a month, I began to know the basics and how to string a sentence together as well as functional vocabulary. I practised speaking in the class with my colleagues, who were now friends and my confidence had grown with my vocabulary. I swallowed my pride and broke my silence soon after, the relief was overwhelming. It was as if I had given myself permission to mess up, which seemed illogical but I had to try in order to succeed and the mistakes came hand in hand.
After two months, I decided to look for work in hairdressing. I felt the comfort of a job I was already good at would neutralise the fear of doing it in another language. I was so wrong... I found a job easily, the interview was completely in Spanish but I was fine. To my amazement I was able to get through the process, mainly due to my accomplishments in the industry in England. I began working at a city centre hairdressing salon in Barcelona. That experience alone was wonderful. I met so many interesting clients from all over the world and there was actually a necessity for an English speaker in the salon. However, my colleagues did not speak any English and they had no desire to learn on my account. For the first month or two, it was tough. I used pictures with the clients so that was relatively easy, but in a busy salon when tension is high, speaking another language with your team does not come without its share of mistakes. For a fair amount of time, I felt like I was in a modern Fawlty Towers starring as an English version of Manuel. My manager was an unsympathetic equivalent of Basil Fawlty at times and often confused my language miscomprehension for a hearing impediment.
Nevertheless we conversed in Spanish and my speaking ability was becoming better each week. I continued to go to classes once a week and I was practicing conversations every minute of every day. I can safely say it’s the best job for practising the art of small talk and conversation in any language. I have my manager to thank for unintentionally but directly teaching me forms of the imperative the majority of the day and my clients for covering every topic humanly possible.
I found that by immersing myself in an environment that required that I talk to nearly every person in Spanish was fundamental to my learning. I surrounded myself with the language. I wanted to learn because it made my life easier! I became familiar with phrases and vocabulary that they wouldn’t teach me in class and that was specific to the industry. I made mistakes in nearly every sentence but I learned from them. Some of my greatest errors were my best teachers. I will never directly translate feeling hot from English again and my pronunciation drastically improved after I implied I had broke wind instead of telling my colleagues I had a dog!
I was living so far out my comfort zone but growing so quickly in so many ways. This was the biggest challenge since hairdressing school and there were moments when I felt I had regressed back to that person in my adolescence, shy and self conscious. After six months passed I acquired more language. I was no longer attending classes as I was able to function like any other member of the team in the salon. I was having fluent conversations and answering the phone on reception, which had originally been my worst nightmare.
I wasn’t learning Spanish through fabricated concepts in a text book; I was living these experiences and placing my language in context. Yes, I did study grammar in a classroom but I communicated outside of it and that is where my learning occurred. The largest problem I faced, like many adults, was the embarrassing process of making mistakes. We are not in the habit of making them and we tend to classify making them as failures. On reflection, the process has enabled me to embrace mistakes instead of fearing them and I am more likely to accept other challenges in the future with more confidence.
I also found purpose in every teaching form and I will always use a range of them for my students. I studied grammar translation, alone in silence, using dictionaries and memorising linking patterns of verb changes; I was taught using the direct approach by my teachers in class practising reading, writing, discussion and comprehension activities. Later, I was plunged into total physical response learning, following direction from my manager and colleagues with specific language and phrases for every action we carried out. Finally I was learning through constructive and communicative methods; social interaction, listening to others, imitating and applying new words and phrases.
I believe the range of teaching methods applied to my learning experience, together with motivation and necessity, enabled me to achieve the level I had hoped to obtain. Together with some wonderful memories, friends and some experiences I will never forget!