In the first of a new series of interviews with the TLG team, we spoke with Floridian expat Schiphrah Pierre about her background in the States and her new life in Italy, as well as her teaching philosophy, hopes for the future and how she came to speak five (yes, five!) languages.
Could you describe who you are, in one sentence? I am a curious person with a thirst for knowledge and love for helping others.
Where were you born and raised? I was born and raised in Florida, in the United States.
What did you study at university? I studied Fine Arts initially, then switched course of study and graduated in Architectural Technology. Later on, I obtained another degree in Principles and Methods of Language Education (for which she gained Magna Cum Laude honors).
What are your main interests and hobbies outside of work? I love to explore new hobbies under the realm of the arts and creativity. So, some of my hobbies include drawing, painting, singing, playing the flute, dabbling with the piano, cooking, dancing, interior design, and anything else that catches my eye.
What were you doing before you became a teacher/trainer? I worked for a period in the US for an auditing firm as a credit analyst. However, I previously taught art to young children as well. Teaching has always been a recurring theme in my professional life.
When did you decide you wanted to become a teacher/trainer? When I realized how rewarding it was to give to someone, through knowledge, something they didn’t previously have.
What formal training did you do, to help you in your chosen career? In addition to years of experience teaching, I also obtained my degree specifically in Language Education, as well as, my TEFL/TESOL certification to teach English as a Foreign Language.
Do you speak any foreign languages, yourself? Yes. I can actually speak a total of five languages, including English.
Five! How did you learn so many???: My mum’s Haitian, so I learnt Haitian Creole from her, and my dad’s of Cuban descent. Both my parents speak French, so that came naturally too. Alongside being a native English speaker, I also studied Spanish at school, then moved to Italy.
When and why did you move to Italy? I initially moved here in 2015, for religious reasons, and have been living here ever since.
And how long have you been working with TLG? I’ve been working with The Language Grid since 2017.
What do you like most about the student-centered teaching methodology the company has developed? In the past, I’ve worked with other language schools where their focus was teacher-centered and I found that the students felt a lower level of satisfaction at the conclusion of the course. Using the student-centered approach enables the student to feel more motivated, satisfied and, as a consequence, make better progress leading to greater tangible results.
What are the pros and cons of delivering sessions online? Honestly, I find that there are significantly more pros than cons from delivering sessions online. One of many pros is that students can complete their lesson from the comfort of their home or from the office. They can choose the time without having to worry about finding a conference room free or the traffic, thus reducing the number of cancellations. One con is that from home there can, at times, be unexpected distractions, but this can also occur during lessons completed in person as well.
You mainly work with senior managers and executives, also based in Italy. Are there any common errors that you find Italians make when speaking, or rather communicating in English? Yes, one common error is to translate from Italian to English and apply the same grammatical rules from Italian to English. I notice this makes understanding and applying certain grammar tenses, such as present perfect, or using phrasal verbs much more difficult.
As an expert, how do you advise your students to improve in these areas? Since each language is unique - and thus should be viewed as such - I recommend my students view English as a language unto itself, similar to how we would view an individual. Each person is different and, likewise, each language is also different. Furthermore, learning more about the culture that shapes a language makes it so much easier to understand the differences. For example, the ‘Local Lowdown’ section on the TLG Platform is an excellent resource for helping students gain a better understanding of the culture behind the language they’re learning.
Are there any common or major cultural differences you’ve noticed between natives of your home country and Italians? I would say there are many similarities, but of course some differences. For example, due to various aspects of Anglosaxon culture and history, in English-speaking countries, language tends to be more direct and to the point. The emphasis placed on being concise can pose a challenge for many Italian students, since in Italy the culture places more emphasis on expressing oneself in a more verbose and elaborate manner. However, I find that my students appreciate working on this skill, once the importance is understood, even if it can be challenging at times.
Another major difference is the much stronger food culture in Italy. Food is almost considered sacred here!
And what’s your favorite type of Italian food? It’s all so good! But if I had to say just one it would have to be pizza!
Looking ahead to the future, how do you think the education industry will change by the year 2030? I hope that by the year 2030 education can be more practical and less theoretical. The theoretical aspect of education has its place, but I think it cannot be the core. Hopefully more education systems around the world could adopt a student-centered approach and part with the traditional teacher-centered methods.
And where do you see yourself in ten years’ time? Ten years is a long time from now… However, I would like to see myself as an improved version of me, with more experience to share and pass along to others.
And finally, what three words do you think your students would use to describe you? Kind, professional, competent.
We couldn’t agree more with them, Schiphrah! Thanks for sharing!! You’re welcome.