I teach in all kinds of locations: offices, homes, parks, libraries, even shopping malls. However, mostly my lessons take place in cafes.
This may seem strange. Colleagues ask why I don’t teach at home, and students wonder if it’s too distracting.
Nevertheless, I enjoy teaching in cafes. Let me explain why…
1.Cafes are realistic
There is always going to be a certain amount of background noise in cafes. Some of my students are concerned that this is too distracting and that people around them will “hear how bad their English is.”
For this reason, I argue: if you can talk in a cafe, you can talk anywhere.
Life is full of noise, so it’s a good idea to train in situations where noise happens. This way it becomes normal for you.
Then if you’re in a situation where there are lots of chaos around you (like an open-plan office or a networking event or even a busy market place), it will be a fantastic experience because you will already have strong concentration skills because of your English lessons in a cafe.
What’s more, you are surrounded by a realistic environment. English learning doesn’t happen in the classroom, English learning happens in day-to-day life. This can be simulated through a day-to-day setting, like a cafe.
Finally, the fear of being overheard is an important fear to overcome. In fact, after some time, you’ll realise that people aren’t listening to our conversation at all. They’re more interested in what they are doing. So really there’s nothing to be afraid of at all. When you know there’s nothing to be afraid of, you can rule your world
2. Cafes are stimulating
Rather than being distracting, it has been scientifically proven that the background noise in cafes can act as a stimulus.
This is something that I find interesting. Personally, I am someone who has always preferred to study in complete science, so I understand when my students ask for the same.
At the same time, since coming to Berlin, I increasingly enjoy working and teaching in cafes. So what’s that about??
From my research for this post, it seems this comes from two main factors:
- You are surrounded by people in deep conversation and this encourages you to do the same.
- Cafes help you to think and work creatively.
How do cafes help with creativity?
Research says that background noise makes our brain work harder which means we are more likely to find more creative solutions.
Why is creativity important for language learning?
Simple. Because learning a language is creative! You have to think outside of your normal way of thinking, you have to find another route, you might have to make words up, or use your body to express yourself. Of course, language is also mechanics and logic, but in order to make a language really work you have to be creative with it!
One last point about creativity:
I recently went to talk run by The Family, one of the speakers pointed out that “the same visual input everyday kills creativity.”
What does that mean?
It means that if you see the same things and the same places every day, you aren’t going to get any new ideas.
So the ideal thing to do in this situation is to leave the office and meet your English teacher for coffee and conversation. The new sights and sounds will refresh your mind, and you will leave relaxed and happy (and with some English practice behind you too).
3. Cafes are a neutral space
Cafes are not your home. Cafes are not my home. Cafes are not your office. Cafes are not my office. It’s a “blank space” which we can fill with whatever you like.
It’s a space to relax a little and enjoy a tasty drink. You could almost be talking to a friend or an old colleague. This is the atmosphere I aim for in my lessons because the more relaxed you are, the better you learn.
What’s more, there is no risk of being interrupted by family or colleagues. So although cafes can be noisy, they are also a space where you and I can focus what you need without someone needing something from you.
A final note about cafes
As a teacher, I want people to feel comfortable and challenged at the same time. Cafes tick both of these boxes.
The challenge comes from what I have described in this post (and the content of the lesson, of course!).
The comfort comes from a teacher’s research and experience.
I know my cafes. I choose them well. The staff know me, what I drink and what I do. They leave us to get on with the lesson. I choose each cafe according to the needs and convenience of each of my students.
Personally, I find Berlin cafes particularly geared towards meetings. The people are respectful and the music volume is low. The coffee is good, the tea selection is wide and the cakes are delicious!
So next time a teacher suggests meeting in a cafe, give it a chance. There’s a reason why good lessons take place in good cafes, and that good lesson is available to you as soon as you step inside.