Applying skillsets gained as a family business entrepreneur and English language trainer, tutor for her children, and a childhood filled with travel, BridgeEnglish Teacher Kalaivani Pallavanraja has justly earned a reputation as a training favorite among her corporate language clients. Based in India, she has taught with Bridge for more than two years, and she has combined her family business duties with language training of employees for more than a decade. Named after the Hindu Goddess of Education, she loves teaching and getting to know her students. Let’s get to know Kalaivani.
How long have you been teaching languages and what inspired you to become a language teacher?
Bridge is the first company I have taught with professionally, but I am an entrepreneur, taking care of the family business with my husband and brother, and I’ve been training employees in English, handling customer queries, answering emails, and all of the tasks on the business side for 10-15 years. I also help my kids and my brother-in-law’s son, teaching English and math, my two favorite subjects.
We moved a lot when I was a child due to my father’s business. One fine day, they agreed. Learning languages is something I loved throughout my childhood. I speak Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu as well as English. I learned in the context of using business and professional languages for everything.
During the pandemic, our business shut down completely, and it took months to come back. I wanted to teach professionally and had some certifications, but wanted more training. I needed to take courses at home. I found CELTA and it suited my lifestyle. Then I came across Bridge’s job board and applied. I registered and attended webinars and kept applying, and on one fine day, they agreed.
Can you share a memorable experience or success story from your language teaching career?
There are many! One that stands out is my first student with Bridge. He was really happy with the class and he was gaining confidence. One day his boss commented, “Your language is improving.” He was on cloud nine! He said he was participating in meetings and was able to respond and share his opinions. He asked to stay with me for his next level. He ended up with me for a total of three levels. He was one of the best students I ever had. He was so dedicated and motivated. He finally was given a job in Canada, a completely English-speaking country. He did the interview and passed, and he said, “Vani, I made it!” He still keeps in touch.
What is your teaching philosophy or approach to helping students learn a new language?
Language is a skill, as we all know. We cannot teach how to swim without jumping in the swimming pool. Language can’t be taught; instruction needs to be student-centered. I use the PPP (presentation, production, practice) model, giving them the language, helping them practice, and then giving them the concept. I really like group classes. In one-to-one classes, it’s more teacher-centered. In groups, I give them breakout room topics and I can see they’re more comfortable. They learn from one another. Task-based learning and a situational approach help them learn their skills within their context too. I also think it’s important to keep error correction student-centered. When you’re allowed to identify or recognize your mistakes, you learn better. Classes should be something they enjoy, giving them a safe place to make mistakes and learn.
What do you think sets Bridge apart from other language schools, and why did you choose to teach here?
I mentioned I found the Bridge job board earlier, and I liked everything from day one. I have been teaching for a few years now and what I like most about BridgeEnglish is the choice of materials, course design, user-friendly platform, effective onboarding, CPD programs offered, back-end support, and the academic team. The whole workflow is so simple yet powerful and well structured. All this fosters a conducive environment not only for the learners but also for the teachers. They are very much a teacher-friendly organization.
I also now work as a mentor teacher, observing classes and giving feedback. I’m also on the recruitment team and observe videos from applicants.
How do you incorporate your culture and background into your language lessons?
I have traveled a lot, and I love meeting new people, learning about their culture, and sharing my own. I’ve learned my students are all aware of the Indian culture. They ask about religion, festivals, and other cultural practices. They’re very curious about it. I ask about their cultures – food, festivals, and traditions. They love talking about food! That’s always a popular topic. And they love when I tell them I was named after the Hindu goddess of education, so I was born to teach. They think it’s so funny! Talking about our cultures helps them get in their comfort zone and helps us build familiarity.
What are some of your favorite teaching tools or techniques you use to engage students in the learning process?
I’ve used Padlet for writing tasks, Google Jamboard with sticky notes on the screen, and the Zoom whiteboard where I ask them to do things like underline the verb or write the verb form. These tools help them feel engaged. I use Pearson’s drawing tool and timer. They’re very well-designed. Bridge also provides access to a well-structured eBook and an interactive workbook based on every student’s CEFR level. The progress of the student is automatically stored on the platform based on the activities and assignments.
How do you adapt your teaching style to meet the needs of different students?
This is a challenge. Every student is unique. I adapt and modify based on students and their different learning styles and interests. Say I have a student who works in the mining industry so they are interested in mining, tools, and engineering. I merge the topics of the lesson with their interests. I adapt from the lesson, ask questions about things in their real life, and use lesson items in their context. Context is my mantra. If a student works in finance and loves talking about numbers and calculations, we adapt the lesson around that.
What types of professional development options does Bridge provide and what have you completed?
Bridge provides free CPD courses, teacher webinars, classroom observations, a Facebook group, and mentoring and recruiting opportunities as part of their professional development for teachers. I have completed four bridge certifications and one micro-credential. I completed the 40-Hour Specialized Certificate in Teaching Business English, 60-Hour Specialized Certificate in Foundations in Teaching English Online, 60-Hour Specialized Certificate in Advanced Methods in Teaching English Online, 40-Hour Specialized Certificate in Teaching English Grammar (Grammar Advisor), and 20-Hour Micro-credential in Teaching IELTS Exam Prep. Learning is a process. There’s a saying in my native language, Tamil. The translated version in English is: What we have learned is a handful of things. What we have yet to learn is the size of the world. Bridge TEFL programs are fantastic and part of what inspired me to apply.