How I embrace tech in my teaching – English lessons at a tech company

One of the many advantages of working for Setapp is the chance for all employees to improve their English with free English lessons with a British native speaker.

That English teacher is me, and back in September 2017, I was lucky enough to be welcomed into the family at the home of significant code. I have to admit, my initial decision to join was largely influenced by the location of Setapp HQ, set within the luxurious City Park complex. But I was quickly pleased to discover that the impressive architecture was equally matched by a positive and progressive vibe in the company. Things are happening here.

English lessons at Setapp are designed to:

  1. give everyone the opportunity to improve their English skills
  2. build confidence to use English regularly
  3. have a positive team building effect in a fun way

Mistakes Are Good, Problems Don’t Exist

Lessons are conducted twice a week in small groups averaging 4-5 people. A nice size for everyone to get the opportunity to speak during a 50-minute session. The teaching philosophy is founded on the belief that mistakes are like gifts that help us to improve. We can always learn from our mistakes, and so Carol Dweck’s concept of developing a growth mindset (as opposed to having a fixed mindset) is consistently encouraged for everyone to move forward.

The words we use can be a reflection of our mindset. For example, the use of the word “problem” can reveal a fixed mindset and serve as a barrier to get better. People who say, “I have a problem with grammar/speaking fluently/listening/vocab” invariably have a problem with those skills, a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. Using phrases like, “I need to improve my grammar” or “I’m learning more vocab” are more positive, much less restrictive and have the ability to set the learning process free.

Tech & VR For English

As a teacher, I also believe that it is equally important for me to learn from my students, respond to their needs and provide lessons in an agile way. At Setapp I’m surrounded by tech experts, so I can happily take advantage of this by learning more about using tech in my classes.

We have experimented with different types of technology to assist the English learning process, and VR has proved to be the most impressive in that regard. After teaching English in Poland for over 11 years, I’ve discovered that a person’s confidence to use English is just as important as a person’s knowledge of grammar, vocab or pronunciation. Fear of sounding silly or making mistakes can be the biggest obstacle to getting better, especially when you come face-to-face with a big bad native speaker. Fluency occurs when you’re not worried or thinking intensely about what you want to say.

This is where the likes of VR comes in, it’s immersive power can take you to another place and allow you to talk about your new environment without the pressure of being visibly judged by an English teacher or others. Just having a VR headset on allows a person to focus on what they see and to describe things in a more relaxed way. So you don’t really need to know much about how to use it, just allow your student to browse what’s there and allow them to go on a journey of discovery.

VR in the classroom
One of Peter’s student playing with Google Earth VR to strengthen communication and team-building skills in his classroom.

The Virtual Bomb!

After some cool advice from Michał Wróblewski, Setapp’s head of VR development, I decided to try out the game ‘Keep talking and nobody explodes!’ After some experimenting, I came to realise that this is perfect for communication and team building for groups of around 4 people. It targets skills such as describing things in detail under pressure (you have 5 minutes before you virtually explode!) and using specific vocab. Meanwhile, those not in the headset need to ask specific questions whilst reading a detailed user manual, before relaying instructions about how to defuse the bomb back to the player. It really does tick all the boxes and is a lot of fun.

I’ve also been introduced to the world of Kahoot, which is an online quiz maker with a difference. It is best used with a projected screen and requires players to use their smartphones in order to answer the questions. It’s good for revising past concepts and again this can be a lot of fun and can provide a healthy competitive spirit in the classroom.

English For Specific Purposes

We also focus on improving English for job-specific purposes, which can enhance professional development. Everyone is encouraged to give a presentation in English in order to show off their confidence and skills. Students can also learn better writing with all types of company texts.

I have also started to oversee the English used in company meetings like Sprint Reviews as part of the Scrum framework and would like to extend this service. Also, the offer is always on the table to help anyone who would like to pass an English proficiency test like FCE or CAE.

English In Reality

English at Setapp is alive and happening on a daily basis, so let’s hear the opinions from the some of the people who matter, the students:

Ada Dymek, a Recruitment & Employer Branding Specialist, whose dream it is to be able to speak about any subject imaginable in a natural way says “I like the atmosphere during our lessons in which we aren’t afraid to make mistakes and thanks to that I feel more confident talking about any topic I want to.”

Rafał Araszkiewicz, a .NET Developer who wants to gain more fluency points out, “my fluency is improving because I can talk freely in English under the safe and watchful eye of our teacher.” 

Marcin Domański, one of Setapp’s Web Developers adds, “Peter always points out easy fixes to improve our English, especially the most common mistakes made by Polish people”. 

As an English teacher, I’m really pleased when I hear someone improving in the classroom, but small talk on the corridor or in the chill room is like gold to me and proves that people are really capable of using English in actual reality in a natural way. As one famous advertising campaign once said, “just do it!”.

If you would like to know more about how we do things at Setapp or you would like to discuss or exchange ideas about using Edtech or using VR in the classroom, then feel free to drop me a line at peter.jones@setapp.pl or on Twitter.

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