Overcome your fears – you are so much more than you think!

This post is not going to be about English grammar or vocabulary. Not at all. Language teachers like myself will agree that sometimes we teach more than that: we are humans above of all and we have to listen, encourage, lift up and motivate our students.

What I want to do today is to share with you one of my favourite students’ success stories. It’s also a story about empathy, determination and courage. This is Haruka and I, back in 2014 and in 2015 in Oxford – such great memories! I’d like to thank Haruka for accepting that I share our story with you and I also post our pictures 🙂

In the picture below we were at the summer camp run by the International House in Oxford in 2014, one of the most professional and best learning environments for teenagers I’ve ever worked for!

Haruka and I in 2014 at IH Oxford

I was part of the full-time teaching and supervising program when I was asked to run a conversation and fluency course of a few weeks with a mixed group of mainly Japanese, some Russian, and German teenagers. I was super-thrilled to do that, I thought I was skilled at teaching teenagers as I had done it already for a few years then. You know, teenagers are strange and contrary creatures of their own, but I was sure I could handle them. Little did I know that I still had a lot to learn. 🙂

Let me tell you straightaway that my first lesson was a fiasco, the usual “get-to-know-you” activities with super-shy Japanese that didn’t make eye contact or ask any questions and uber-confident and assertive Germans just didn’t work!

The cherry on the top: Haruka, one of the shy Japanese girls started crying quietly at the end of the lesson… and I didn’t have a clue why. Panic! Thankfully it was the end of the lesson, so I had to find out what happened. An older and more mature Japanese student helped me understand that the problem was the set-up of the working group: in the group of three students Haruka had felt left out and ignored by the other two – it was the first lesson, the students didn’t know each other and for some of them it was the first time they interacted with students of other nationalities.

While I did my best to comfort and reassure Haruka, I realised what my next lesson should be about: non-verbal communication, body language, eye contact, useful expressions for beginning a conversation in English etc.

The next lesson worked wonders and the ice between the students of different nationalities started to break. I could finally see smiles appearing on their faces and although it wasn’t perfect, something of a more natural conversation came together. Yeepee! I was so relieved! Shy Haruka was still not talking much but she seemed relaxed and enjoying the lesson.

In our last lesson of a three weeks’ fluency course, something unexpected and amazing happened: Haruka stood up and spoke in front of everyone, clearly and courageously – it was the first time she did that in my lessons – I felt so proud and moved! 🙂 This was one of the most special moments in my teaching career when I saw such a dramatic transformation in a student.


The year after we met again in Oxford and here she was: a totally different Haruka, outgoing, talkative, making loads of friends and enjoying the trips and the parties… just wow!

We kept in contact after the Oxford summers and very soon after she shared her ambition to go and study in England: Haruka is in love with England! I encouraged and helped her the best I could from afar, and now she is studying at Leeds University. Even though the first few years weren’t easy for her, she’s having a great time there!

When it comes to the English language I know from my personal experience of being both a teacher and a student that there are no miracles, learning English takes a lot of work, motivation, and persistence. Haruka is definitely one of the most determined and enthusiastic students I’ve ever had. And I like to think I contributed a tiny little bit in her well-being and personal story 🙂

Did you like my story? If you have a success story about the English language: please share it with me and my readers! 

Please contact me for any reason; I love receiving messages and answering questions! Follow my blog: you’ll be notified immediately after I publish a new post! 😉

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