Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day. The Spanish language class participated in a campaign to highlight the work of many women scientists. We interviewed doctor Isabel Diaz Carretero, a Spanish Chemistry professor who spent six years in the University of Addis Ababa researching how to eliminate fluoride from water using zeolites. Now I would like to introduce you to another bright professional woman from Ethiopia, as I did in my blog in previous years, my Amharic teacher and colleague, Tigist Getachew.
Who is Tigist Getachew?
A teacher. A professional one, who enjoys her daily activities: in doing, explaining, teaching, showing… everything about her language, her culture.
My professional life started fourteen years back. Wow! I have professionally grown a lot and got amazing opportunities to learn from students and colleagues.
I am your student and also your colleague in the German School, a language teacher. We have discussed many things about methodology in teaching languages. Can you tell me something about the way you understand teaching Amharic?
Teaching is a profession that requires a skill plus commitment that will be implemented on the subject and students we teach. Teaching Amharic is more than a job for me. I see a way of life that connects me with my students, which will help me know them better.
Do you find any difficulties teaching Amharic in Ethiopia, both to foreigners and to native speakers?
It’s not an easy task because Amharic is a language spoken only in Ethiopia. So, we have difficulties on both sides.
As a mother tongue language, students might be discouraged thinking that they don’t need Amharic in higher education. They only study Amharic in Primary and Secondary schools. They sometimes think they should learn more English to be well prepared for University.
As a second language, at the beginning they might think “this is too difficult”, “I’m not going to use it outside Ethiopia”, “the letters are too many” and things like that.
Well, my job is to convince and to help those people who have such attitudes and trying to help them to see there is a bright side of learning the language and the process of passing through those difficult times.
Sometimes there is a lack of professionalism in our field…
Yes, at the beginning people might think just because Amharic, German or Spanish is my mother tongue, it means that I can teach it. This is the kind of attitude people who never have taught a language might have, but teaching a language needs a skill, a professional way of learning a methodology, how you are going to address to different students. So I think being speakers of a certain language doesn’t make us teachers. It needs dedication, patience, you have to be gifted…
So, which are those skills we should have to teach languages? Those talents or gifts that you mentioned…
First, you have to like what you are doing. You have to enjoy being a teacher, to have a big respect and a great motivation. We have to read, to integrate technology, to be open minded, to receive feedback from peers and learners… We have, let’s say, an intense thing inside us, an eagerness to learn more, to update ourselves and become better teachers, a high feeling of respect for our profession; otherwise, you are just delivering a subject, it will not work…
And as students, what do we need to achieve a foreign language?
The same, you need a motivation, a goal, a plan, to reflect why you are doing it. In the process of doing that, you have to keep a positive attitude to pass the challenges you will face in the learning process.
Many people ask me why I am learning Amharic since it’s something “I don’t need”. What will you tell them?
Because it’s one way of exploring Ethiopian culture, knowing how the people express themselves in the language, another way of having new experiences. If you are living in the country this is how you immerse yourself. Study more about others, so you should do that!
What are the challenges that Amharic as a second language learners usually face?
The first will be pronunciation, there are many sounds that are not present in other languages. It might be for a couple of months, then gets better. Learning verbs takes time to memorize conjugations. According to my students, getting used to the pace of the native speakers outside the classroom, in the “real life”, is the big challenge.
How can the field of language/learning Amharic in Ethiopia improve?
There is a lot of research to do in the field of didactics of Amharic, both as a first or second language and as a foreign language as well.
What do you enjoy the most teaching Amharic?
I enjoy every minute of it. It’s creative. I’m helping a generation of Ethiopians to know about their language and their culture, about who they are and to be proud of it, to show their country values and how they can express better in the language they speak.
With foreigners, I see myself as an ambassador of my culture and my country. I always enjoy meeting students from different places and cultural backgrounds. I enjoy the opportunities of exchanging and learning about others’ values, because for me it’s a two-way process, which you learn while you teach.