Teaching and Learning
English Online

An interview with Kenneth Beare
About.com's English as a 2nd Language Guide

Kenneth BeareIf you take a look at About.com's English as a 2nd Language section you would probably be amazed by the variety, scope and depth of information.

The guide (person in charge) behind it is Kenneth Beare, and he has been doing it for long over a decade.

He has a vast experience as an educator, content creator and product developer. In addition, he is no stranger to the personal experience of acquiring a new language – he himself has studied German and Italian and has become fluent in both.

So I am very happy to have him answering some questions and sharing his experience and knowledge with us.
1. What has inspired you to become a teacher?

I'd say that most of my inspiration came from my own language learning experiences with German and Italian and the subsequent challenges I met when living in Germany and Italy. The experience of becoming a fluent speaker of another language was quite intriguing not only from a cultural point of view, but also from what it revealed about my own culture. I found teaching English a natural extension of my interest in the whole process.

2. What is the thing you love the most about creating content for About.com?

Meeting people from around the world who use the site. I've had lovely e-mail exchanges from people all over the world living in rather exotic places. One of the most rewarding experiences has been to create lesson plans and other resources which are used by teachers in their classrooms, especially when they have had difficulties finding appropriate materials, and esl.about.com has come to their aid.
3. A while back you've founded Lingofeeds.com, which is quite unique. Could you tell us more about it?

I wish I could dedicate more time to Lingofeeds.com, but it's still very much a side-project at the moment. The main idea behind Lingofeeds is that it strives to fill the gap of English for Specific Purposes resources on the net. There's plenty of great materials for general English, but a lack of really specific, contextual learning materials. I also think that is the general direction of the English language learning industry in general. Public schools are providing strong basic skills, and I think many learners are coming out of school speaking English reasonably well, but need to improve their English in very specific areas in order to improve their careers.
4. You have successfully acquired German and Italian. Can you share some tips? What were your successful actions?

I read quite a lot in both languages before moving to those countries. I also had friends who were learning the language and we'd do our best to use the languages to communicate on a daily basis, even though we were all English speakers. The most important lesson I learned along the way was that I'd always make mistakes, and that was OK. Once you accept that you'll make mistakes, you stop worrying about it and get on with the communication. Eventually, I lived in both Germany and Italy and, to be perfectly honest, that's what really permitted me to become fluent in both languages.

5. You are an expert in English for Special Purposes (ESP). How does that differ from studying general English?

I think the most important thing about studying / teaching English for Specific Purposes is that it is very contextual. For the teacher, that means letting the students teach you their business (in English, of course) as no teacher can be an expert in the wide variety of English for Specific Purposes settings they might be required to teach. For the student, it means taking advantage of all the in-house materials that are in English at their place of work, and / or really leveraging the Internet in this day and age. Cultural awareness raising is also an important part of the equation as many English for Specific Purposes learners need to use their English abroad, or with colleagues from a wide variety of cultures.

6. At which point (if ever) should a student start concentrating on a special branch of English?

I'm for the pragmatic approach. In other words, when a student needs a specific flavor of English. It's really about learning the strong collocations / vocabulary / situational and document types of a given profession. However, I do think it's a good idea to have at least an intermediate level of English before worrying about these things too much.

7. Any future projects or developments you are working on?

Yes, I'm consulting with GlobalEnglish on building out a great new English language learning social network called EnglishCafe which can be found at http://englishcafe.com. I've also begun working closely with i-to-i (Online TEFL course) which focuses on teacher training commonly known as TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).

8. And finally, if you were not helping teachers and students as a content creator and consultant for English language products, what would you be doing?

Ideally, I would be singing opera as that's why I first learned the languages and moved to Europe. I did spend a number of years singing professionally, and still sing around the Portland, Oregon area, but I'd love to be doing more!

Kenneth, thanks a lot for doing the interview. Your advice is priceless!

And I'll leave you with this short introduction video of Kenneth.

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