Meet Darren – a popular Engoo tutor who's also an award-winning filmmaker! Today, Darren will tell us about his life and teaching experiences.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Well, I'm 42 “years young” and I'm a passionate happily married man. I'm originally from the UK but have been living in Poland now for about 10 years and it's where I met my beautiful wife Iza. I mainly teach English and work on various creative projects like films, and about two years ago, I started tutoring on Engoo.
Can you tell us a bit about where you’re from in the UK?
So I’m actually Welsh! However, because I’m from a town on the border with England, I grew up speaking English. I do know bits and pieces of Welsh. For example, “thank you” is “Diolch yn fawr.” But most Welsh-speakers are in the heart of the country.
And as I always tell my students, Wales is a multicultural country. For example, my best friend growing up was from Afghanistan and my first girlfriend was Japanese!
Fascinating! Our English tutors come from over 100 countries, so it's always a pleasure to learn about different parts of the world when we do these interviews. By the way, can we ask what inspired you to move to Poland?
In the 2000s, a lot of people from Poland were emigrating to the UK. Seeing the influx and having met so many wonderful Polish people on my travels, I started wondering what it would be like to live in their country, so I found work there as an English teacher.
Did you experience any culture shock when you first moved there?
Absolutely! In fact, I’ve had to change my personality to fit into this culture. You know how British people say things like “Oh no thank you,” “No after you,” or “If you don't mind” all the time? Well, when I first got here and was opening doors for people and no one was saying “thank you,” I was like “How are people so rude?”
At some point, I realized that's just a cultural difference! Polish people aren’t rude – they just communicate in a different way!
So tell us about your work making films! What’s your favorite part of the process?
I’ve been making films since university, where I majored in filmmaking. I’ve made documentaries, fiction films, all sorts of stuff.
My favorite part is the editing. With all the advances in digital effects, I can create worlds which were unheard of when I was at university. I feel like I’m painting like a magician – especially when I’m animating stuff, which I’ve been doing a lot
Since the pandemic hit, I haven’t been able to film people in real life, so I started to learn animation. I made my first animated film on – unsurprisingly – the pandemic, and it’s done really well. It’s picked up loads of awards at festivals and been shown all around the world!
Would you say your creative work helps your teaching and vice versa?
Well, teaching is creative! You have to figure out how to help people in creative ways, especially with language learning. And filmmaking is basically storytelling so when you meet people or you have lessons and they tell you stories, it gives you inspiration for new stories.
Can you tell us about your experience teaching English and how you joined Engoo? How has it been switching to online from offline teaching?
So I’ve been teaching English since 2007, and most of my career has been in Poland though I also spent a summer in Spain. I’ve taught all kinds of students from kids to doctors, actors to bankers – just about anyone who wanted to learn. I’ve also done a fair amount of test prep.
In the beginning, I mainly taught at language schools, but later on, I took on more work as a freelancer. Freelancing gave me more opportunities to teach students in a flexible way, as opposed to following a fixed methodology that a language school gives you.
I joined Engoo shortly after the pandemic shut down the office I rented as a freelance teacher. Tutoring online hasn’t been too much of an issue for me though, because I always thought teaching was going to go online. The pandemic just sped this up!
Is there anything you focus on during the lessons?
I give a lot of feedback on grammar. For example, a lot of students continuously make mistakes with the perfect tense, especially the past perfect. So I’ll point this out and then give them some sentences to put in the perfect tense.
Another aspect of grammar I often point out is the different conditional tenses, especially the third conditional, which goes like “If I hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have done that.” It’s like time travel!
And while I bring these up as “grammar issues,” they go far beyond that. It’s like rewiring the way you think, you know? And once a student can put their thoughts in the right tense, the rest falls in place.
But it’s really important to be encouraging when you point out these mistakes. I’m usually like, “You can do this!” and in my lesson notes, I’ll let them know what progress they’ve made.
In general, it’s motivating to let students know that they’re improving, like if they’re more fluent than before, if their rhythm has improved, or if they're using the right collocation.
It’s tricky to get natural-sounding English, so when students are improving in that regard, I make sure they know it. For example, I’ll say something like, “That phrase is better than what you were saying before!”
You mentioned you’ve taught kids before. Can you tell us a bit about that? And have you encountered any kids who don’t want to take English lessons?
So most of my younger students are 8-12 years old and then I also get my fair share of teenagers. I have to say, I’m quite happy to work with kids, probably because, I’m a big kid myself!
And I love it when students don’t want to be there. They make me an even better teacher because I have to try harder to get them to love the lesson. In the beginning, I’d see my students being pushed into the camera by their parents, and now they can’t wait to have lessons with me!
I think you just have to be flexible and let them dictate the lesson. If they go off-topic, you go off-topic with them and then bring them back to the lesson when the time is right.
Do you have any experience preparing students for standardized tests?
Yeah, I’m glad you asked. I’ve been teaching IELTS and TOEFL for over ten years. So I’ve probably had over 150 students pass their exams at this point.
The key to preparing students for tests is to be intense about fixing their problems, especially when it comes to grammar. I become like an antibody you know? I just attack it and attack it and attack it.
You wouldn’t want to be this intense when you’re having a conversation lesson with a student, but it’s necessary for test prep!
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We hope you enjoyed getting to know Darren as much as we did. It's interesting tutors like Darren who make lessons on Engoo so enjoyable!