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  • This video is a joint project between Rachel's English, Jason R Levine, aka Fluency MC and

  • Vicki Hollett, the video producer. It originally aired on WizIQ. Enjoy! The Best in ELT with

  • Fluency MC. Listen, oh, listen. Rachel, it's so nice to be sitting down

  • with you to talk. I met you once in real "real life." That's right.

  • But like many people, I feel like I know you from seeing

  • your videos and following you. I have a lot

  • of respect for your work. Thank you. And I'm so happy

  • to have this chance to talk to you.

  • I guess the first thing I want to ask,

  • and I know a lot of people are interested in, is how did, how did you get into teaching

  • in the

  • first place? Was it English as a foreign language or a second language, was it something else

  • and then, how did that connect or evolve into teaching pronunciation?

  • Yeah, well, I think it was a bit of an unusual path. I did teach a little bit of

  • ESL but mostly Rachel's English grew out of something totally different, which was, I

  • went to school for opera singing. Right. I have a Masters of Music in Opera Performance.

  • And so through that I was getting really connected

  • to this part of my body. So it was pronunciation first, in a sense,

  • because you had this background in opera. Yeah, the ESL work that I did was useful

  • but I don't think it actually is related at all to the Rachel's English thing that I'm

  • doing, even though I did have that experience. So, mostly it grew out of myself singing in

  • other languages. And so I was studying the pronunciation specifically and the phonetics

  • of Italian, French, German, English for the stage; I had studied Spanish. So, there was

  • that, my relationship to learning the pronunciation of other languages. But maybe even more so,

  • it was just spending a decade really focused on

  • breath and you know tongue placement and these

  • kinds of things. And I think that gave me a really clear language to talk about pronunciation

  • for other people.

  • Did you have a language teacher helping you with that or, and a music teacher, or

  • were you learning the pronunciation of the languages through the music?

  • It was in a class that specifically "Diction for Singers". I see. So it was always

  • related

  • to the goal of singing for the stage. And it was focused on pronunciation and not so

  • much the languages, although I the did take a semester of Italian, a year of German, and

  • a semester of French.

  • So you almost had no choice; they focused you on pronunciation.

  • Yeah, they did, because, you know, if you only have one year and you need to get all

  • of these things under your belt, then that's what's the most important; because as a singer

  • you can memorize a translation and, you know, the feeling of what goes where, but in order

  • to sell it, you have to really sound like you know what you're saying.

  • And you were teaching English during that time or where you'd taught before?

  • I did teach English as a second language a little bit during that time at a place in

  • Boston where all of my students were Korean and it was mostly one-on-one or two-on-one,

  • thirty minute sessions, and I really loved it. I think the rhythm of the language is

  • so important, and the melody. And for me, having

  • the background in singing has been really helpful for that, partially because, you know,

  • singing

  • is rhythm and is melody, but then also I think I developed

  • an ear through that for when I hear someone

  • do something, I can imitate it quite well. And then I can find out what needs to be changed.

  • So, often with students, I'll imitate, think what needs to shift, and then be able to articulate

  • that to them. Ah, that's interesting. For their pronunciation.

  • And do they know you're doing that or is this your best kept secret

  • you're revealing right now?

  • They do they know because they'll be talking and I'll say "hold on," and then I'll do it

  • myself and I'll say, okay your tongue needs to make whatever adjustment.

  • I do that actually with grammar and vocabulary, if something's high frequency, and I'll kind

  • of tune in to the collective use of English somehow from listening but I don't have that

  • gift

  • with pronunciation; so that's great. For the W consonant, the tongue tip is down

  • here, and the back part of the tongue stretches

  • up, so the tongue stretches this way. Ww, ww,

  • wow. For the R consonant, the back part of the

  • tongue does stretch up, here towards the middle part

  • of the roof of the mouth. The front part of the

  • tongue pulls back. So, with the W, the tongue is

  • stretching. With the R, the tongue is sort of

  • pulling up into itself. I think I just have a real interest in

  • the human voice and how we produce sounds,

  • and vocal health, and this kind of thing. So that's where my interest lies, not so much

  • in even teaching a language, or, I mean, certainly not grammar! Sometimes teachers will correct

  • my grammar in videos because it's not always perfect.

  • It's all about your passion; follow your passion.

  • That's right. And so, like, pronunciation and the human voice, that's where it is for

  • me.

  • So what happened as far as getting your work up on YouTube? Did you first imagine

  • putting a video of yourself up there and reaching just your students or more students? No, actually,

  • I didn't have students when I first started the videos. I first started

  • the videos when I was living in Germany and I was studying at a language institute there,

  • so most of the people that in as in contact with were not American and also were not German:

  • they were from all over the world studying German. And so I had a friend there from Turkey.

  • And he was interested in American English because Hollywood is such a great exporter

  • of American English, and wanted to sound more American. So we just played around a little

  • bit with a few of the sounds, and I was telling him, you know, what his tongue should be doing

  • and this kind of thing. And he was like, wow, you're really good at that. And I thought:

  • hmm,

  • idea! Actually, in undergrad, I studied computer science and in order to keep that skill set

  • going, I had been wanting to make a website;

  • I just didn't really have a topic yet. But I knew that was something that I wanted to

  • create and so when he told me he thought I was good at that, I thought, maybe that's

  • my idea. And so I made a few videos, put them on YouTube, connected them to a website, and

  • just went from there.

  • And how, what was the reaction at first? Nothing! There was no reaction for a long

  • time. Why?

  • Well, I wasn't doing them with a business mind; I wasn't promoting at all; I was just

  • exploring, basically. And that was ok probably, at that point,

  • or did it make you worried and nervous: nobody

  • likes my approach?

  • No it didn't make me worried and nervous, no, not at all, because I wasn't doing it

  • for an audience. I was mostly doing it as a way to explore a website-production kind

  • of thing. It's great that you had this interest in

  • both pronunciation and computers.

  • Yeah, no, definitely.

  • You weren't an expert right? It just got you more into thinking about

  • ... In pronunciation? No, not pronunciation, I mean that I'm

  • just wondering, especially for people out there thinking about doing any kind of online

  • anything, but especially teaching, or students who want to study online, who might be a little

  • afraid of technology thinking that they can't do it. It sounds like you kind of dove in.

  • One step at a time.

  • Oh totally. I mean, when I realized what I needed to learn, I learned it. I did not

  • start Rachel's English at all with an idea of what it would be, like, in no way, and

  • I'm still not sure what it will be.

  • And that's important to the point now, because it's gotten, it's so well done now.

  • I think that someone who hasn't followed you for as long as I have or as long as many other

  • people here may have, would just think that wow that she just, boom, but it didn't happen

  • that way. Definitely not. No, no. It grew.

  • It started out in a dorm room in Germany. When was that, by the way?

  • That was 2008. This October will be my 5th year anniversary of posting my first video.

  • Congratulations in advance. Thank you. That's great. I want to ask you more about the rhythm

  • of English, because I focus a lot on that

  • too. What techniques have you found most useful? Because there are a lot out there. Yeah, well,

  • I'm still developing that actually. But I've had a lot of fun recently working

  • with students where I actually take the actual words out of the picture, and we just work

  • on rhythm. So, for example, let's just take that phrase da-da-DA-da: for example. And

  • when you take the text out, you're just focusing on the rhythm. Then the main thing I have

  • to do with my students is to make their short even shorter, duh duh duh duh, trying to make

  • them comfortable with that kind of length; and then once they start having, like, the

  • rhythmic language down, and they're comfortable with that contrast and with making things

  • that short, then when they put the word back in it's just unreal how much better it sounds.

  • And then they're so aware of the difference s if you don't hear it yourself, feel it

  • yourself, then you're not going to catch it when people say it.

  • Yeah. It's such a matter of boiling things down to the most simple units for teaching.

  • So, like the L consonant,and just drilling that,

  • or in this case the rhythm, just drilling

  • that, out of the context of the word or phrase. And then you know you can teach people that

  • this rhythmic pattern can apply to all of these different words. And so, yeah, then

  • as they really drill one word and one pattern, they're actually making themselves comfortable

  • with the pattern that can be applied to tons of different words and sentences.

  • And you said you're still developing this, so imagine where she's going to go with...

  • Yeah, I'm excited about it! ...teaching the stress and what I call "shrinking

  • and linking".

  • I just wanted to go back to ask you, when you first started out and you were making

  • those videos, did you think about the fact that so many students don't have enough time

  • in the class? I mean, you were teaching a group of Korean students.

  • Yeah, that was about a year before I started the Rachel's English thing. Was part of it,

  • were you also inspired or motivated to try to deliver something to

  • individual students who wouldn't necessarily have that kind of attention to pronunciation?

  • Well, yeah, in a way. When I was teaching at the institute in Boston, all of my students

  • told me no one else cared about the pronunciation the way I did, and they really cared. So they

  • really wanted a teacher who really cared.

  • Well, can you imagine someone who is trying to learn a language who's not concerned about

  • pronunciation? But it's true, what you're saying. I hear this complaint from a lot from

  • students that teachers aren't focusing on it. So definitely that was in the back of

  • my mind and the videos were made completely for

  • self-study. I know that teachers do use them in the classroom but

  • my original idea was just to have a great resource to learn on their own because for

  • me,

  • since I left college, everything that I've had

  • to know, I taught myself.

  • The library, or online resources, or whatever. I mean languages, computer stuff.

  • That's interesting. I love that kind of learning. Well, I can

  • see how that has benefitted you and your work.Yeah, definitely. Basically, I wanted

  • to make something for English like I wished I was finding for French,

  • and German, and Italian. So yeah, I thought it was

  • really fun and I wanted to sort of provide this

  • service for students.

  • I think it's really interesting that you made them for self-study.

  • You didn't really think about a teacher bringing them into the classroom

  • . But now, I notice a lot of teachers using it in the flipped classroom model.

  • The other day, literally the other day, at a college where I was doing a workshop, teachers

  • were talking about the problem we just talked about, about pronunciation and how students

  • want more and what should

  • they do because they don't feel trained enough. I think that's a big reason why it's not...

  • I think so, too. I've had teachers say the same thing: I don't know how to teach

  • that.

  • So it's interesting because I'm a teacher trainer, and I used to think OK, well then

  • my job is to try to train up teachers to be able to do that

  • and now I'm wondering if that is the best way because the other day these teachers were

  • gathered

  • at a college in New Jersey. And they were talking about this and then one teacher

  • said, "You know there's this great teacher

  • online, that teaches pronunciation. Students can

  • just watch her, she's ..." and I knew she was going to say your name,

  • and she said, Rachel's English! True story.

  • That's awesome! I smiled to myself. "I'm going to have a

  • conversation with her!" What she said was, "What I do with my students

  • is just, you know, ask them to watch those videos, and then do some stuff in class but

  • then they watch on their

  • own or, and/or I learn from Rachel as a teacher how to do this in ways that I haven't been

  • able to do from books or even from taking classes."

  • It feels great to know that I'm providing something that can be helpful to teachers,

  • too. Because you know teachers, obviously, it's one person, and they're reaching many,

  • many, many so if I can help the teacher, then there's just that many more people that are

  • benefiting from it. But yeah, I think that the idea of the flipped classroom is so great

  • because, you know, not only do the teachers not need to learn every single thing to teach

  • directly, they can sort of be a curator of other resources, and oversee the process of

  • learning for their students. It's a very specific skill set to teach pronunciation, different

  • maybe than the skills set to teach a language, and grammar,

  • and classroom management.

  • You would know, and she would know that, better than anyone.

  • That's right, so, you know, not every teacher needs to be a great musician and a you know

  • super great at teaching pronunciation if they know other resources that they can recommend.

  • Aren't we at a time in history, with education, where, you know, teachers can be facilitators,

  • guides, curators, mentors, you know, if you want to learn to be a great pronunciation

  • teacher, fantastic; but if you don't or if you don't have the time, what's the point

  • of being a mediocre one, when you can go see Rachel.

  • Exactly, that's exactly right. I mean, a good teacher is maybe one that knows, well,

  • this person teaches this so well, there's nothing more that I feel like I could add

  • to it, let me point my students in that direction, let them work with the material, and then

  • I can be here for questions and guidance, and that kind of thing. I think it's so important.

  • And I think, ultimately, it's just going to make education a lot better. Yeah, I think

  • so, too. So you had that experience teaching in a classroom. Someone

  • the other day said, talking about 'ground teachers', or teachers on the ground. I love

  • that. Instead of, like, 'first life' or 'real life'. Are you a ground teacher also?

  • I'm not right now, actually. You're not on the ground. Not on the ground.

  • Yes, only in the cloud. But I do have plans to start developing,

  • some in-person maybe workshop kind of things, then

  • maybe move more into longer-term classroom

  • situation. I'm really not sure. I mean, I just, for every video I make I have ideas

  • for a hundred. I feel like I have a lot on my plate with what I'm doing virtually. And

  • so, I do really want to move into that, because I think that in-person aspect is so interesting.

  • Well, they can go hand-in-hand. Can't they? They can.

  • To throw out another term, the blended learning doesn't just have to

  • happen with the teacher flipping the classroom,

  • it can also be, people are watching your videos, but then here you are in person to do something

  • that you couldn't do and then it's back to virtual...

  • Definitely. Definitely. So I see myself moving in that direction at some point, but it's

  • not in the short-term plan.

  • You just got back from a trip. I did.

  • I was spying on you a little bit on the trip. I don't usually spy.