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Superheld des Monats: Mary-Elizabeth aka Culture Vulture Von


How could you be anything other than a culture vulture when you have lived in Hawaii, Mexico, Washington DC, Miami and now... Kassel, Germany? We talk language transfer, teaching and the trouble with trousers with Mary-Elizabeth.

Culture vulture

Mary-Elizabeth has had a passionate, life-long affair with new cultures, teaching foreign languages and learning about the people from the different places she has lived in. As her father was in the US Military, her family moved around every two years. Hence her nickname. She has been a Spanish and English language trainer as well as Global Speaking Assessor at NATIVES since 2012. Love brought her to Kassel. But let us rewind the tape a little.

Language transfer: a fluid motion

For this Puerto-Rican American, she has several takes on the NATIVES business motto, "language transfer": "One is that it is learning a language". "More than that", she adds, "It is understanding the culture and environment that comes with learning the language." "When I hear "transfer" I think of a fluid motion. Whereas when I hear "language learning", I think of the difficulties of learning a language, of stressful exams and tests".

Sometimes though, the transfer is not so fluid, even between native English speakers. For example, Mary-Elizabeth cites the differences in British and American slang as a—sometimes—cultural barrier. "Once I used the word pi**ed to say that I was angry about something. One of my British colleagues understood this to mean that I had got drunk, which was obviously not the case while teaching! " Likewise when she was tutoring a 7 year old, her student had a British English textbook. " I must have had a confused look on my face. The word for pants was shown with a diagram of a pair of underwear. In the US, 'pants' means 'trousers'.

Teaching languages is more than "teaching", it is a passion for culture

Her love for teaching led her to another love: her husband. She was teaching Spanish in Miami, Florida before falling head over heels for a German she met. Together they relocated to Kassel, had their civil wedding there and will be having their church wedding in the US this Summer.

She brings a deep cultural awareness into each of her classes. "I feel that culture is often neglected when teaching a language, which is a pity. One of the most important things to me when teaching is not "teaching" just grammar and vocabulary but experiencing a way of life."

This article was written by guest author Petra Zlatevska.

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