ESL Teacher Interviews: Rachel Smith

Kaplan are delighted to talk to Rachel Smith from the popular YouTube channel Rachel's English. Rachel's English teaches American English pronunciation to non-native speakers through video-based lessons and exercises.

Rachel lives in New York and recently visited Kaplan's language school in the Empire State Building. You can discover what she thought about her visit by clicking the link here.

What made you become an ESL teacher?

I had worked part time, off and on, teaching ESL during graduate school after having taught for a semester in the Dominican Republic as part of a study abroad program in undergrad. When I got really serious about teaching though, and started considering it as a full time job, I was really into exploring the human voice and how we use it. And, of course, how to teach how we use it. It came from that passion more than a passion for languages or even teaching.

How would you describe your teaching style?

Very detail-oriented. I teach mostly 1-on-1, and want my students to get as close to perfection as possible with their accent.  I also believe repetition is important. If someone has said a word 5 times incorrectly, and I coach her to the point where she gets it right, I certainly don’t want to leave it there. 

At that point she has practiced it more the wrong way than the right way! So once it’s right, it’s important to drill that at least 5-10 times with immediate feedback, tweaking anything that needs tweaking, asking the student if she identifies anything that needs tweaking.

What cultural insights can you get from teaching ESL?

Getting to know other cultures is one of the great benefits of teaching ESL. I absolutely love getting the inside scoop on an international situation that I've heard about in the news. I also find it interesting to learn about family roles and the food habits of other cultures.

Have you experienced cultural difficulties from teaching ESL?

Not really. This may be in part because most of my teaching has been 1-on-1. If I’m ever having a hard time understanding the habits of a student, I’m not sure if I should call it a cultural issue or a personality issue. :) In either case, I try to give the student the benefit of the doubt and figure out a new way to articulate my expectations.

Which other ESL teachers do you admire and why?

Jennifer Lebedev of JenniferESL. She produces very clear videos on various grammar topics that I often recommend to my students. I had the chance to meet her at the TESOL convention in 2012, and we have had some email correspondence. It’s great to be in touch with another YouTube ESL teacher.  Also, I greatly admire the book The American Accent Guide by Beverly A. Lujan. She has done a great job of talking about the rhythmic structure of English in book form.

What would you say to someone was considering being an ESL teacher?

Smart choice! I think we’ll continue to see growth in this field. This is work where you can really see the benefits and the positive impact on the lives of others. With improved English-speaking ability, I've seen student pass exams and get jobs that opened new doors for them.

What do you think is the future of ESL teaching?

I think we’ll see more and more people supplementing classroom lessons with online learning. There are lots of people like me out there making free content. As long as the quality is high, the sky is the limit for self-study and classroom use. 

Perhaps we’ll even see the role of the teacher shift a bit: from the one responsible for teaching all aspects of the content to the one who curates good content and materials made by other teachers, while overseeing the learning process.

Which superhero would you be and why?

Oh no! This is where I show my deficiency in superhero knowledge. In fact, I've had to Google search it. I think for a day or two, it would be cool to be Daredevil: as he is blind, his sense of hearing is greatly heightened. I think it would be enlightening to perceive the world in such a different way. Also, he lives in Manhattan like me. :)

Many thanks to Rachel for providing some insightful answers. Do you agree with her thoughts on the ESL industry? Do you know any other notable English teachers who are also popular on YouTube? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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