Christy Ha: “I will teach a swimming fan English via Michael Phelps.”

13 July 2020
Happy and joyous. Those are the best words to describe Christy when she walks into ElaN’s office in Heusden-Zolder for her English course. She is our ray of sunshine. “I always try to pass my enthusiasm on to the participants, it can help to increases their motivation”, says Christy. She is one of our 130 trainers who give language courses to approximately 3000 trainees per year.

You studied linguistics at the University of Leuven. Why did you eventually become a language trainer?

“Languages have always fascinated me. I love them. And I enjoy seeing the look in a trainee’s eyes when he or she understands something. Those ‘aha-moments’ are priceless.”


Every trainee has a different profile. How do you prepare for this?

“Most of them work in companies: CEOs, managers, representatives, employees, etc… I start with doing some research: about the company they work for, about their profession, their interests. ElaN’s intake information about a trainee helps me with my preparation. It is also very interesting to know what somebody’s personal goals are. Do they just want to be able to speak English? Do they need to write reports in English or do they want to negotiate? Based on that I create the actual course, in consultation with ElaN and the trainee.”


And the courses are always practice-based?

“Indeed, because often the trainee is required to apply his or her new skills immediately in everyday work situations. For example, making phone calls, writing emails, negotiating,… Or suppose that someone needs to chair a meeting in English. In that case I will create a realistic situation and we will hold a meeting by means of role-playing.”


How do you keep the courses interesting?

“That is a perpetual challenge. The last thing I want is that my trainees feel bored. Grammar can be rather dull, but there are ways to make it more interesting. Recently I had someone who was a fan of swimmer Michael Phelps. So, for the next grammar course, I used an interview with Michael Phelps. And a little while ago one of my trainees turned out to be a philosophy aficionado. I mailed her websites about movies and I brought along books about this topic. This lead to a course devoted to The Alchemist, a novel by Paulo Coelho (laughs).” 


Any other tips?

“I send web articles or other course material via our online platform MyElaN. This includes the language app Duolingo, English short stories or a video from TED Talks, which is a website with over two thousand lectures by remarkable speakers. During the course we discuss the video in question. It all boils down to integrating topics that interest the trainees into your course.” 


Learning a foreign language is not just a matter of knowledge, you also have to overcome your fear of speaking.

“That is true. I always tell the trainees that they should not worry about making mistakes. Just speak. I know this is easier said than done, which is why I encourage them. If they are on a roll, I will tell them that. I also try to provide them with as much opportunities to talk as possible.”


After the course, it is important to keep in touch with the language. 

“ElaN always send every trainee three aftercare mails with all kinds of interesting and fun language tips and exercises. That is already a good start. I personally also encourage them to keep practising on our online platform ScribblPro. My rule of thumb is: practise your new language at least 15 to 20 minutes per day. “


What do you enjoy the most about your job? 

“Getting to know people. For example, someone who is very quiet can start to open up during the course. It fascinates me. Learning about their hobbies, for instance, or what makes them laugh. Humour, by the way, is also my barometer. If someone is able to joke in another language, then you know that he or she has mastered it.”