Claire has been teaching English at IHE Delft since 2000. At the start of each academic year all the new students are tested for their English grammar skills and she gives support courses to those that need it. She also teaches Academic Writing to all students.
Interview with Claire Taylor
You have been at IHE Delft for 20 years. How have things changed here in that time?
In the beginning back in 2000 there were far more men than women at IHE. Most of the teaching staff and students were men, women were definitely in the minority. In some of the classes I taught there were only one or two women, this was very common. Now it seems much more equal.
The average age has gone down too, now a lot of students come straight from another learning institute, which is probably easier for them to adapt.
We also used to have a lot of Chinese students – large groups of 30 or 40, now there are far fewer. When I went to China in 2010 on holiday I was treated like a VIP by them and taken around in Beijing, Shanghai and Xian, a real perk of the job. I am still in touch with some of them.
Can you describe what you do at IHE Delft?
At the start of the academic year I test all the new students for their English skills and place any who need English support in groups that start straight away to help them to improve their English grammar. Other students are offered writing courses later in the year.
I also teach writing and presentation skills in some of the modules.
In addition I teach writing to PhD scholars.
On top of that I edit technical books and journal articles written by staff members. There are quite a lot of text books with my name as language editor.
What aspects of English do most students find difficult?
That depends on where they are from. Some students have problems with pronunciation but have good grammar, and others can speak well but their grammar isn’t so good. Almost every student has problems with writing, even those who are native English speakers. However, although most students struggle a bit at the beginning when they first arrive, they usually improve very quickly and by Christmas aren’t even aware any more of whether they are speaking their first language or English. That doesn’t mean that their English is perfect, by a long way, but it means that they are finding it much easier.
You get to know some of the students well while they’re here. What is your main impression of how they experience being in the Netherlands and studying at IHE Delft?
Yes, I usually get to know them pretty well. It is definitely a culture shock for almost everyone when they first arrive in Delft – for instance, in what other country does almost everyone cycle – and out of choice? A lot of students can’t cycle when they first arrive.
The climate is a problem for some students too, it is often much colder than they are used to and they don’t know how to cope with it at first. In the evening classes I sometimes have to encourage them to take their hats and coats off so that they will have extra warmth when they go home. Long dark winter days can be a problem at first too.
However I think it’s true to say that they usually adapt quickly and make friends with their fellow students, and build strong social support groups. They support each other in many ways, by cooking together, helping each other with course work, giving moral support.
There is no doubt that IHE is a demanding place to study at, and being away from family and friends is not as easy in practice as in theory, but I think that most students are happy to have studied at IHE. We obviously remain in their thoughts long after they have gone home, I often get sent photos of new babies and told how the family is doing, and about new jobs. I think they have fond memories.
What is your favourite aspect of your job?
The students. I love working with students from around the world, helping them to learn. But I also enjoy being part of the IHE family, even though I’m on the periphery. I have some great colleagues who help me to do my job.
You have travelled extensively, what’s your favourite country and why?
That’s a very difficult question to answer but probably Spain for holidays – it is such a diverse country. The people are friendly and welcoming, and the food and wine are great. For living, I would say the Netherlands. We came here in 1997 for just two years and we are still here, out of choice. The Dutch way of living and quality of life suits us down to the ground.
What else do you enjoy doing when not at work?
Travelling is a favourite hobby, I like to go on long road trips. Most years I take off for two to three months around Europe. When I’m in Delft you will often find me on a cafe terrace in the town centre having a coffee. I run and cycle, to keep fit and apart from that, I love to cook. My latest favorite food writer is Ottolenghi.