- On 15 July 2020
Maria Sosnovskaya is from the Ukraine and received a Via Lingua scholarship to study for her TEFL Certificate in Florence in 2016.
When I came to Florence to take a TEFL-course in 2016, I had been teaching English for about 10 years already. Nevertheless, I had no illusions or self-confidence, nor was I expecting it to be super easy. I must admit it, I was terrified. I was to take part in the course designed for native speakers who want to teach English. I doubted if I belonged there.
I remember that feeling when we were introducing ourselves on our first day, and I realized that I was the only non-native speaker in the classroom. The participants were from English-speaking countries, mostly from the USA, as well as our tutors, and I would have died for their pronunciation. There was a guy sitting next to me who looked like Cumberbatch and sounded similarly awesome. He came from the family of a diplomat, I don’t remember why it was brought up, I just remember myself almost fainting and being absolutely petrified. I was not going to survive that.
Looking back at that time and recollecting it, I smile a lot. My peers were incredibly supportive, and being around them became a great language booster for me. We walked around Florence, had lunch together, helped each other with assignments. That was a great discovery, frankly speaking, as I never saw it coming, I did not think that I could be useful for them. But I was, I knew a lot of theory, I spent so many hours talking about it and explaining it to my “classmates”. They say that it is the best way to understand something. It is so true. I cherish those memories of being an English Grammar tutor.
But our real tutors were amazing. After each class when I kept asking if I had made a mistake or sounded clumsy or obscure they patiently calmed me down. There was one thing they told that I will never forget: “Do not worry, your language is fine. Being a non-native speaker is not your disadvantage, it is your superpower, you have achieved a great result, you know the route, you can show it, you can lead your students.” When I feel down in the humps, I recollect these words.
When I came back to Ukraine, it was not perfect all at once. One vice principal who was observing my lessons told me that there was too much fun in my class while studying is supposed to be hard work. I took it as a compliment. Still consider it such. We had fun for a month in Florence, and I had collected so many practical ideas and tricks. That is, actually, a thing about this course, it is practical. Tutors practice what they preach, you know.
These practical tips I had collected there had become the bricks I used to pave my path. In 2018 they started a reform of the educational system in Ukraine and there was a call for future trainers. I was in, of course. I had about 14 groups, or something like that, met more than 300 teachers who were inspired by my story also wanted to know about “wonderful techniques and methods”. Sharing is caring, and I shared generously. I delivered talk and workshops, was a speaker at different EFL conferences.
In 2020 I became a Fulbrighter and spent 6 weeks in California, meeting teachers from other 21 countries and getting acquainted with the US educational system. It was an incredible experience! I even took the floor and made a speech at the international forum entitled Teaching English Abroad. After the speech, there was a question-answer session and I was asked a question, rather tricky one: “Are non-native speakers English teachers as good as native ones?” “Well, I said, I am not going to tell you we are worse. We definitely follow you and copy a lot. But we have a superpower, we have achieved a great result, we know the route, we can show it, we can lead our students.” There was an ovation.
This story is not about competition between native speakers and non-native ones, this is the story about a superpower that I got in Florence, in Via Lingua, because I was once believed in.