David, tell us a little bit about yourself:
My name is David Harwell and I’m a coach here at B-Speak!. I’ve been an educator for 25 years. Some of that has been in the U.S. and 15 of those were out of the country. I’ve lived in 12 countries and done project work in a total of 26. I’ve done everything from professor to deanships to startups, and I was even a principle once for a year to start up a new school in Dubai. I’ve always been around education and I do quite a bit of corporate communication, too– professional communications. Between my MBA in Professional Communications and my actual corporate communication experience, I thought B-Speak! would be a great opportunity.
What drew you to teaching and to teaching English, specifically?
I started in Literature, Religion, and Philosophy as well as Professional Communications – I was advised from the freshman year on to make sure I was employable! Professional Communications went with my corporate work that I was doing to work my way through school. I had never intended to be a teacher while I was in high school, but when I got to college and saw the incredible difference in what teaching and learning was like I fell in love with it. By the end of my first semester as a freshman, I had dropped pre-med and was on a pure academic track to become a professor. I spent 13 years going through a bachelor’s, two masters’, and a full seven-year traditional doctorate. I just loved it, especially with English literature and writing, because I do biography, and you can approach that from virtually any subject. I’ve combined things like psychological, literary cultural, historical, philosophical angles all the way through my master’s dissertation. It’s really flexible because you’re always interpreting something about life and living, and that’s what I love about it.
You've worked in academia as a professor as well as with corporations as a language and training specialist. What attracted you to B-Speak! (we know why YOU stood out to US!)?
It’s a rare combination because it combines academia and corporate communication with MBA programs, which I had done as the dean of an international MBA program before. You don’t see a lot of organizations looking for teachers that want that kind of specific combination – it’s usually one or the other. But this is a really good marriage of the practical, the academic, and the business aspect, and that’s why I just adore it. I have always moved back and forth and sometimes within corporate environments and academic environments, but BSpeak! offers a unique opportunity that I was very happy to come across. It’s a nice fit for me, and I really enjoy it.
You've mentioned that your southern accent as an Alabama native sometimes makes it easier for your students to understand you because you tend to talk more slowly. How do you navigate accents when helping your students improve their English and build confidence?
I was a little hesitant about my accent because there’s so much push during interviews and things like that for the ‘neutral’ accent. But I learned a couple of things. One, the slower pace at which we teach and the slight lilt in our voice for emphasis often matches those who are used to tonal languages. They’re able to follow better because I’m not speaking so quickly like teachers from the east coast, specifically the northeast, tend to. I learned very quickly that my students followed me a lot more. I still faced issues over the years where you could tell people hesitated when they heard my accent for the first time during an interview or over the phone. They would say things along the lines of “Wait, you’re from where?” I had some reluctance about going abroad to teach English because certain accents are often associated with levels of sophistication, level of intelligence, and so on, but I’ve found that my accent often helps my students learn, and I enjoy that I’m able to break some of these stereotypes about accents, at least somewhat.
What would you say is your favorite or most rewarding thing about teaching?
It’s always seeing a student develop when they thought they could not. I love working with every level of capability, but I have always thoroughly enjoyed watching the development of students who thought that English just wasn’t their subject or they couldn’t do it. So much of learning has to take place on your own, and I can only do so much for them, but seeing them develop and gain confidence from that is the most enjoyable aspect of teaching for me. Maybe it’s because of my age or my emphasis on family, but I always ask myself this question: “How would I want a teacher or professor to interact with my sons?” That’s the perspective that I keep in mind when teaching. My goal is to be somebody that a parent would be glad their child had worked with.
What advice to you have for people who are looking to improve their English?
Immerse, immerse, immerse! Eventually you have to put down the book and use it. If you constantly surround yourself in your native language and don’t actually get into regularly using your target language, your development will be slower. The best thing that you can do is take every advantage you have to speak with a native speaker. If you don’t have any native speakers available to talk to, then the next best thing to do is speak with another English learner in English. It’s all about exposure and practicing your listening and speaking.
What do you most want to do now that Covid restrictions are being lifted?
I’ve got that nailed! I want to travel more across the U.S. I’ve traveled a decent amount across the U.S., but there’s a lot of territory that I haven’t covered. After being abroad, I realized that virtually every single geographical feature, landscape, nationality, food type, etc. is within our border, all without the 60-hour round-trip plane rides! I want to just get behind the wheel of my car and just experience everything up close and personal.