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Interview with our Berlin-based English teacher, Shaun Trezise.

A Brit’s take on German bureaucracy, learning tips for students and the benefits of (online) language learning. Read on.

Lost in Translation: When did you move to Germany? And why?

Shaun Trezise: I moved to Bochum, NRW in 2013 and Berlin in 2014. I moved for love of a person and stayed for love of a city. It was a very quick decision to move to Germany, but not one I have ever regretted.

Lost in Translation: How was your transition?

Shaun Trezise: Pretty smooth, I had a German girlfriend which helped a lot – I already had somewhere to live and she was a huge help in dealing with the bureaucracy. Moving from the UK to Germany then was quite straightforward as I only had to register with the Ausländerbehörde and the Bezirksamt. No visa was required.

Lost in Translation: What were the biggest administrative challenges you had when you arrived in Germany?

Shaun Trezise: Well, in the beginning, it went quite smoothly, the problems came a bit later when I started work as a self-employed teacher. Dealing with the Finanzamt was extremely difficult until I found a Steuerberater, which unfortunately took about 3 years of searching. The Rentenversicherung was also problematic – as a teacher, even freelance it’s compulsory to contribute, which I didn’t know until they sent me a backdated bill for 3 years of contributions.

Lost in Translation: What do you wish you knew before moving here?

Shaun Trezise: How much information is apparently common knowledge and that you don’t get informed about. You really have to find out so much on your own and it can be quite complicated especially if you don’t speak the language perfectly. Not to mention that the German bureaucratic language is especially difficult. Sometimes I would ask my German friends what a particular letter from a government agency meant and they didn’t really know either. 

Lost in Translation: When did you start teaching English?

Shaun Trezise: As soon as I arrived in Bochum, in 2013. I didn’t speak any German at this point and I didn’t have a lot of competition as in the Ruhr area there aren’t so many British people. What really worked in my advantage is that I was coming from a business background, not an academic one, so I could really help those learners who wanted to know what it was like to work in England.

Lost in Translation: What do you like most about teaching English?

Shaun Trezise: Making people feel better about themselves and their English skills. In Germany, I didn’t really work with absolute beginners so it is usually a case of reactivating the knowledge that is already there, maybe fine-tuning a bit around the edges and just increasing confidence so that people know it is ok to make mistakes, the only thing that matters is being understood.

Lost in Translation: Can you tell students a little bit about your approach and why it works?

Shaun Trezise: I have a very reactive methodology. I don’t go into a lesson with a fixed plan of what is going to happen. With my experience, I always have games and activities to help if there’s a particular language issue we need to work on. I encourage the learner to take responsibility for their own learning and to think of me as a tool to help them. I am more of a listener than a lecturer. I can see from the last 7 years that people who learn with me, get more fluent and more confident speaking English.

Lost in Translation: Why do you think it’s still important for people to learn English?

Shaun Trezise: In Germany, there’s a strong trend towards English being the language at work. I don’t think that will change. For free time, English is such a widely spoken language that it makes travelling more accessible. Learning languages is proven to be beneficial for your brain, particularly as you get older. For some, it is a “need to have” skill but for nearly everyone else it is a “nice to have”. I can’t think of any downsides to learning.

Lost in Translation: Everyone is upskilling or reskilling at the moment. How do you think learning English, or any new language, can help people in their careers?

Shaun Trezise: If you are working in Germany today, you are going to be interacting with English. The amount of exposure will vary from person to person and from company to company, but it is there. I have worked with multinational German companies and those in the Mittelstand, as well as Startups. Clients and customers are international now, and it’s very likely some of your colleagues are too. Anything which removes barriers to communication has got to be a plus.

Lost in Translation: Online courses are the thing now. How do you think that has affected students and teachers? What are some pros and cons of teaching online?

Shaun Trezise: I teach at a university and we had about 7 days notice that the course was going to be 100% online. It took a fair amount of work to get ready for the start of the semester. I loved it and my students were also pleasantly surprised. They didn’t enjoy some of their other lectures so much because listening to someone talk for two hours on Zoom is no one’s idea of fun but because the English lessons were interactive and communicative they managed to stay mostly awake for the English lectures.

I am a big fan of online lessons because when you work together over a screen, you can research and correct information so much easier. I usually create a document that we can work on together for each class. The mistakes and the new vocab gets noted down for later revision, without me jumping in to say “that’s wrong”. It’s a big boost to fluency.

The downsides are mainly technical. How fast is your internet? Is your hardware working? You also need to adapt the way you communicate with each other, but I think at this stage most people can wait their turn to speak without interrupting each other too much

Lost in Translation: How did you adapt to teaching online?

Shaun Trezise: Well, it was a gradual process that started a few years ago when one of my students became pregnant and couldn’t travel around so easily. So when 2020 hit, I had some experience of what it was like. I am very comfortable with the technology so it was a very smooth adaptation. My mum lives in another country so explaining things to her over video calls was an excellent warm-up. 

Lost in Translation: What tips can you give students to help them memorise vocabulary or make progress with languages?

Shaun Trezise: You have to repeat yourself, and use the words in context. I use Quizlet a lot, to create flashcards for my individual students or classes, which have definitions and examples. You can then test yourself daily, or play some of the vocab games and it builds up. When you do it every day, you notice the difference. I also encourage my students to warm up for their English classes, and that made a huge impact. Repeating and reflecting on the last lesson before starting with the teacher is something I encourage all my students to do.

In the end, I want to help you learn but how successful you are, comes down to you. When we work together, we can achieve a huge amount.

Shaun Trezise is the founder of Learn English in Berlin.

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