Co-founder of Language Snaps
Passionate about Sociolinguistics and Education, Monica Winkler is the co-founder of Language Snaps. Founded in 2018 in Miami, Florida, Language Snaps is a learning platform that connects intermediate and advanced students to qualified tutors, as well as offering free access to their materials and lessons. Here, while discovering more about Language Snaps, Monica shares some very compelling questions (on Standard language ideology, perceptions of native and non-native English speakers, and perceptions of accents) that keep her enthusiastic about languages, but she’s still searching for answers!
You have a background in Linguistics and are interested in Sociolinguistic and Education. What areas of these fields fascinate you the most?
Sociolinguistics is a fascinating field which encompasses everything from dialect variation to why we speak the way we do in a specific context. As you mentioned, I’m particularly interested in the intersection between Sociolinguistics and Education. Particularly, I’m currently interested in concepts like Standard language ideology, perceptions of native and non-native English speakers, and how perceptions of accents change in different contexts.
Questions which run around my mind include:
* Standard American English (SAE) is the language found in ESL textbooks.
How did you get involved in ELT/ESL?
My plan from the beginning was to be an English teacher. Initially, I studied Literature in university, but I quickly realized it wasn’t the right fit for me. Then I switched to Linguistics, which has given me an incredible foundation for teaching English. Linguistics is an incredibly broad field. Along the way you study English at both a very micro-level and study each morpheme and phoneme, and at a very macro-level, studying how languages differ. I find that this broad view has impacted me as a teacher in two major ways. One, it’s made me realize that language is very systematic, and most concepts have an explanation. Two, because I know that languages differ, it’s made me question why students make mistakes. Instead of just saying “wrong” and supplying the correct answer, I try to think whether the mistake is caused by the student’s first language. Knowing a student’s first language really helps but isn’t necessary. The other day, for example, I was teaching a student from China who said, “dog fur” and I told him that “dog hair” is more common (at least in my dialect). He was confused, so I asked him to say, “dog hair” and “bear fur” in Mandarin. He said the same word (the translation of “fur”) in both instances. Pointing this out helped him realize that this difference needs to be memorized.
You’re the co-founder of Language Snaps. Can you tell us about it and how it works?
Language Snaps is a learning platform which connects students to qualified tutors. Depending on their plan, students meet with their tutors for either 30 minutes or an hour every week for conversation practice. After the class, the tutor leaves feedback which highlights a specific target for the week. So, if the student seems to be confusing collocations of ‘do’ and ‘make’, then the tutor will send the student a resource explaining this concept and follow-up exercises which are then reviewed by the tutor. The following week will incorporate this target into the conversation lesson. In between conversations with the tutor, students have access to Snaps which are (free and public!) readings like articles, short stories, or debates. We’re working on recording all of the Snaps, so the students can have listening practice, too. Language Snaps is a great supplement for students who want to reach a point in which they are confident speaking English.
Most of your lessons seem to aim at intermediate and advanced students. What was this decision based on?
We landed on intermediate and advanced learners for a couple of reasons. First, I can personally relate to having studied a language for years and still not being able to speak it confidently. Similarly, I can relate to wanting to sound more natural, as I’m always questioning whether the forms I’m using are outdated or sound scripted when I speak German. Lastly, there are already so many amazing companies and resources specifically for beginner students. We wanted to create a company specifically for students to help them fine-tune their formal skills, like grammar, and more importantly feel confident when speaking English. I think conversation classes are a great avenue for this, as teachers can pinpoint which grammatical structures or forms the student needs some more help with.
I know you write the content for the lessons on Language Snaps. Where do you find your inspiration?
I think the trick to being able to consistently write new pieces is to consistently be learning about new things. I try to consume a variety of books, articles, podcasts, and documentaries. Once I have a topic that interests me, writing the piece comes quite easily to me. If I’m feeling particularly stuck, I’ll look back at topics I’ve written about in the past for Creative Writing or English courses.
What are your plans for the future of Language Snaps?
I think it’s a really exciting time to be a part of ELT! If you look at social media, you have so many accounts devoted to learning English. Each account is a small community of people from around the world who are connected by their goal to learn English. I hope to grow our community, meet more students, and eventually be able to connect students to one another. We have two exciting projects in the works. We’re about to start our reading group called “Towards Awareness” next week which will be a place for students and teachers to learn together about the different perspectives and people who speak English. We’re also launching a podcast called Bilingual Chats later this year. We’ve found that when we post Linguistics-related content on social media, students and teachers really engage with it. The podcast will go more in-depth on topics relating to Linguistics, Bilingualism, and ESL.
I know that you’re currently working on uploading audio which contains a variety of different accents. Why is this important to you?
As I hinted to in the first question, I’m not particularly fond of only promoting Standard American English and Standard British English/Received Pronunciation. There are several varieties within American and British English, and there are several other countries in which people learn English from a young age. It’s important to me that our content is written with language I would normally use and with accents that are used around the world. I think this will leave students feeling less like the only valid end-product is speaking like a “native” speaker and will better equip them for using English in the real-world.