How My Support At Berlitz Shaped My Teaching Style

By Ryan Scharfer

Teaching at a for-profit language school in a Germany, I had the advantage of having a strong, supportive relationship with my immediate supervisor, Paul. Before their first day on the job, the teachers are trained to use the principles of the Berlitz Method – all instruction is done in the target language and there is an emphasis on speaking – and taught a standard sequence of steps to use in the teaching process – presentation, practice, and performance. After Day 1 on the job, Paul, who also had a similar teaching load, was nearly always there for us when we ran into problems in the classroom – from students not paying attention or not participating, to students in classes that were over their heads or too easy for them. It was from him I learned to use a timeline on the white board to teach past perfect, notoriously one of the most difficult grammar lessons to teach.

The supportive framework also included the rest of the teaching staff; we shared teaching tricks and strategies daily between cups of coffee in the Teacher’s Lounge. One of my colleagues and fellow teachers, Lori, shared with me the idea of drawing a series of pictures depicting a woman morphing into a baby to teach the English word “become”, and to distinguish it from “have”. (Germans often said that their wife became a baby in an attempt to express the idea that their wife [or a woman they knew] had a baby. [Bekommen in German means to receive.] ) The depiction was very effective; it represented such an odd and entertaining scenario of your wife becoming a baby overnight, it was difficult to forget.

Because Berlitz sells instruction using the Berlitz Method, it is important the method is always adhered to. In an effort to ensure this, Paul would sit in on my classes from time to time and observe my teaching methods – a kind of quality control. Afterwards, he would compliment me on what I did well and offer me points I could work on.

As long as I employed the main principles of the Berlitz method, I was given the latitude to do what I wanted to engage my students and make sure they learned as much English as possible. I used this opportunity to supplement the Berlitz materials, which were often dry, with other materials I found using Google, grammar exercises from other publications, Go Fish cards I found in the Teacher’s Lounge, and articles from Berlitz Magazine, a conglomerate of magazine articles from popular publications in the US. One of my favorite sources of material was The Onion, which has articles that are not only loaded with difficult vocabulary, but are also very entertaining. Where else would I be supported reading and discussing an Onion article on the job??

The creative latitude afforded me allowed me to develop my own style that was fun for both me and my class. What was most important was that the students learned the material they were going to be tested on. With this in mind, I often diverted from the standard 3P (presentation, practice, performance) technique in order to spice up my class, and employed more of a conversation and correction method, working the important vocabulary and grammar in.