Keron Weekes is committed to making learning a foreign language fun for students across the Caribbean.
Through its Quintessential Language Learning (QLL) school, Weekes is focused on helping students learn English, Spanish, and French through an immersive experience.
“The bottom line, as the name suggests, is to deliver an experience of excellence with interaction and immersion,” Weekes told Loop News.
“The overall goal is communicative competence, so after completing our program, students could be in an environment with native speakers and communicate independently. I make it a point to ensure that students interact with native speakers natives,” he added.
Before COVID-19, Weekes took his students from Trinidad to Margarita in neighboring Venezuela for this immersive experience.
“I have been a teacher since 2016 at St Mary’s College and as soon as I started teaching I was thrown into the deep end, I had forms one, two, six and five and at the end of that term, I was also helping out a lot with an immersion trip to Margarita,” he recalls.
“Coming out of the Margarita trip in 2016, and my experience working at the airport before that, the real way to learn is through immersion. I launched Quintessential in 2017 to give students the opportunity to learn the language proactively. From that trip, people started asking for extra lessons for their kids, so with the parents demanding lessons, we went from trips to lessons.
What started as lessons only for students at St Mary’s College quickly expanded to include students from other schools as word spread.
Weekes, who still teaches full-time at St Mary’s, has also taken free online courses on CSEC and CAPE during the pandemic and it has seen students from Guyana, Barbados and Jamaica go online, widening the regional scope of his school. He is now focused on expanding his services across the region through virtual learning.
Weekes said just before the pandemic that he was laying the groundwork for taking classes online, so he was ready to make the transition when physical classes weren’t possible.
“It’s harder to do it virtually, the zoom fatigue is real. One of the things that makes it tiring is that it’s more mental work, much more multitasking active that needs to take place. I had to cut the PowerPoint to engage with the students, see if their eyes focus below the screen, and find ways to break up the monotony in between,” he said of of switching to online courses.
Weekes’ school has six teaching staff, including a CSEC and CAPE Spanish teacher in Barbados and a Cuban teacher who teaches Spanish and English.
“Everyone is qualified and trained,” Weekes said.
In addition to languages, QLL also teaches general communication, helping those who studied Spanish at CSEC and CAPE develop their conversational Spanish, and has partnered with Toastmasters to teach a youth leadership program.
Weekes’ passion for teaching shows in the way he interacts with his students.
A former student of St Mary’s College himself, he studied Spanish up to sixth grade and credits a teacher, Anthony Crespo, with initiating his love and passion for the language.
“I think if a teacher has a passion for something, it comes across in the way it’s taught. I think you might be the most competent person in the field, but if you don’t have a personality or you don’t have a relationship with your students, you can’t reach them. I encourage teachers to allow children to see their personalities. I draw the line with disrespect but as long as we can stick to the script of what we need to teach, find a way to have a relationship with the students.
Using himself as an example, Weekes said he uses his sense of humor and although students think his jokes are stale, that doesn’t stop him from cracking them.
“You have to be able to get on their level, get rid of the ego, build relationships and allow the personalities to shine,” he stressed.
After high school, Weekes planned to study communications and media at the University of the West Indies’ Mona Campus in Jamaica, but his father died around this time and he decided to stay in Trinidad. UWI, St Augustine did not offer his preferred option as a degree, so he chose Spanish and Communication Studies instead. He also recently completed a graduate degree in education.
While at UWI, Weekes decided to look for a job so he wouldn’t be told upon graduation that he didn’t have the required work experience.
At 18, he landed a job at the airport as a bilingual passenger agent with Swissair.
This experience showed him how important it was to master another language.
“When I was working at the airport, I noticed how much traffic Trinidad and Tobago had with Copa Airways and I saw Mexicans, engineers working with T&TEC or even Cubans working with the ministry on the airport. highway come to Trinidad. Whether it’s a customer service job or an educator who can speak Spanish, it becomes necessary. I used to say that in 20 years people will realize they need it, but you realize it’s already become that way because of the nearby crisis in Venezuela,” said Weekes, who teaches children of Venezuelan migrants at his church.
“I would liken it to the digital age we live in. It’s almost like someone asking why learning to use a computer is necessary. You don’t have to be a video editor or social media manager, but technology is so pervasive that you’re bombarded with it. A second language for this part of the world, knowledge and fluency in a second language has become second nature, so to succeed in the future, personally or professionally, it is necessary.
The new academic year for Quintessential Language Learning is open to students ages 8-18 across the Caribbean. Classes for the new academic year begin on September 6.
For more information, find QLL on social media, call tel: (868) 707-1774 or email: [email protected]