My mum is learning Russian because she wants to be able to be a little bit independent when she comes to visit me in Sevastopol. Her previous language learning experience is limited to French at school, so she’s quite like a lot of beginners we meet in EFL – a little bit of language a long time ago, and a lot of mental obstacles to overcome to build up the confidence to practise the language. Take a look at her post about why she is a slow learner of Russian: maybe it will echo some of the experiences of your learners too.
Tomorrow I start the next stage of my teaching life as I begin training as a CELTA tutor.
For those of you who don’t know, CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. It’s an entry-level qualification accredited by Cambridge, designed to provide the basics of the communicative approach. In theory, those with a CELTA know the basics of what they need to be let loose in a classroom, although there is controversy about that which I won’t go into here. It can be run part-time or full-time, with the latter being the most common. I did my course part-time from October 2007 to February 2008, which seems like a very long time ago now!
If it’s full-time, the whole course lasts four weeks, which is what we run at IH Sevastopol. This will be my first experience of the four-week course, so it will be interesting to see how the trainees (and I!) deal with it.The group will have nine trainees, and there are two tutors besides me. I’ll be a ‘Trainer in Training’ or ‘TinT’ (thankfully this abbreviation has changed!) I’m looking forward to meeting the trainees tomorrow and getting to know them over the next four weeks.
I’m excited about the prospect of helping a group of people develop into teachers, and learning about how a CELTA course works from the inside. As part of my training I have to keep a reflective journal, which I’ll be doing in notebook form, but I will, of course, blog about the process too!
This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.
Monday and Tuesday
We had an extra lesson on Monday this week because I’ll be very busy next week (more on that later!)
About two years ago I bought a cheap external keyboard to use with my laptop, and I brought it to Sevastopol with me, but have only used it two or three times. I decided that since I never use it, I would give it to M, and we could put braille letters on it as she suggested last week.
We spent most of both lessons doing this, as the first time M wrote the numbers they were backwards – she was writing from left to right on her slate and I didn’t notice until I cut up the paper. When you write braille you do it from right to left as you’re writing on the back of the paper, meaning that you can read it from left to right when you turn it over. This meant we had to do the letters twice. We also listened to chapter 8 of Alice in Wonderland.
As I left on Monday, M walked me through their garden to the gate, as always. As we went, she told me about a little song she sings for her sister, which ends with tickling. This reminded me of ‘Round and round the garden’, an English nursery rhyme. I taught her the words and the actions, and sent her a recording of it:
She repeated it to me various times through the week, and did it with her mum, dad and grandma in varying mixes of Russian and English while I was there. I think she likes it 🙂
When I arrived M’s mum showed me that they had worked together to put plastic braille letters onto the keyboard, as the original paper ones we’d tried were moving and were not very easy to read because the dots kept being flattened. It looks much clearer and easier to use now!
M and her mum tried to tell me about a story they’d been watching that day, but M didn’t know how to translate ‘калабок’, but we eventually worked out between us that it’s the Russian equivalent of the story of the Gingerbread Man. I’ve just watched a lovely 12-minute version of the story, with pretty simple Russian which I managed to understand most of 🙂 I tried to explain what gingerbread was, but without an internet connection to show M’s mum a picture or get a translation it was very difficult. M’s mum drew a picture of калабок for me, which was very useful for finding out about it after the lesson.
After her mum had left, M asked if we could finish listening to Alice in Wonderland, so that’s what we did. In the final two chapters, there was the trial scene, where the king is judging whether the Knave of Hearts was guilty of stealing tarts. M asked why there were twelve creatures in a box, and I thought I would have to explain the concept of ‘court’, ‘judge’ and ‘jury’. It turned out that M already knew all of those words, yet again amazing me with the breadth of her knowledge. The only thing she was unfamiliar with was ‘trial’. As I played the story, she said some of the lines in Russian and/or English as she remembered bits of the story and predicted what was about to happen.
To finish the lesson, M asked if we could do some typing. We connected the keyboard to my Mac, I opened TextEdit, switched on VoiceOver, M started typing, and the computer didn’t say anything! No idea why, but thankfully unplugging the keyboard and plugging it in again worked. As you can see, although I tried to encourage her to produce some words, M was mostly just playing with the sounds and exploring the keyboard:
x dfhfhfhasd as sssdffdjkldfjkldfkljdfkjl;dfkj;djkldjkl;dfs;jkdfs;jkfdjs;kfdjs;kfdjsk; fdalskdjfl;a M_______ jjssss sad b,,,,,,……………………… ……..d..d……….c assd jasfasfssssffffff fbvbbbbmmm sadafssadasdddfvvbbbnnnghhhh jffvvv ffrfvrfvc fcvrtgffff dceedxced djw djdjdjdjidij dijd ditch lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv jt65555 ;
iikkiki k ki
s sans an hjinskl sandyffjkl sa sandybm,.x zmx qwertyuiop[ qqwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm,.zzz
At this point, I noticed a couple of problems with putting braille on the keys. Braille is read using the index fingers on both hands simultaneously. If you’ve never seen this done, this video shows children who are using braille at an American primary school. It shows them reading at various points, for example at 1:20. This means that M uses her index fingers to find the keys. I can see that she may rely on this rather than attempting to remember where the keys are to ultimately use her muscle memory for touch-typing. It’s exactly the same as a sighted person ‘hunting and pecking‘. I’m not entirely sure how to combat this without someone standing over her and making her use the correct fingers for each key until she can remember them. I only have a couple more lessons with her though, so I can’t be that person. At the same time, having braille on the keyboard will give her more independence as she starts to use the computer. She’d done some typing between our lessons on Tuesday and Thursday, and listed all the words she’d typed: sad, busy, bee, M______ (her name)… It’s clearly something she enjoys being able to do.
It was also hard to get M’s attention at times as she was completely focussed on the voice from the computer, especially when it was reading the parts where she’d written the same letter repeatedly. At one point, I unplugged the keyboard and asked her to stop typing for a minute to listen to me so I could teach her how to use enter/return to get a new line.
M told me ‘Round and round the garden’ again, and then ‘I very like it’, so we revised the chant ‘I like it a lot’ from week five. She remembered it without any trouble, but it was a good opportunity to go back to some of the chants and see what she could remember. The related grammar is all in her passive memory, but she needs more exposure to natural English and explicit correction to get them into her active memory.
We spent the rest of the lesson playing with the first conditional because it’s one of her ‘favourite’ mistakes. I explained the rule for its construction (very badly), using an example from Alice in Wonderland: “If I eat from this side, I’ll be bigger. If I eat from this side, I’ll be smaller.” I told her it’s different to Russian, where you use the future in both parts of the sentence. I thought it was best to provide lots of practice and memorise some correct sentences, rather than dwell on the rule for too long, so I taught her a song.
Singing Grammar [affiliate link] is a Cambridge University Press book by Mark Hancock which aims to teach children English grammar through songs. The first conditional song, ‘If you’re feeling lonely’, is meant for teenagers, but I thought it would be OK for M, and it turned out there were only three concepts I needed to explain: ‘desert’ (v), ‘by your side’ and ‘my door will be open wide’. I played the whole song, then we worked through it line by line and verse by verse with M repeating the lines and me correcting her and clarifying any language as necessary. Here’s a short clip of the process. No copyright infringement is intended with the clips of the song you hear. Hopefully you can just about her M singing along in the background.
As you can hear, M is a big fan of ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple. She’s mentioned it a few times in the lessons, and I’m going to try to prepare some activities with it for our final lesson together in a couple of weeks. This clip demonstrates a fairly typical exchange between us, and shows how excited she gets by some things 🙂
After the song, I used the ‘superstitions’ activity from page 74 of the original edition of 700 Classroom Activities[affiliate link to the second edition]. I explained the concept of superstitions by using the example of ‘If you break a mirror, you’ll have seven years bad luck’. We exchanged a few English and Russian superstitions using the prompts from the book. M told me that if you are sick and you hug a black cat, it takes your bad energy away from you and will die. If you hug a white cat, it will give you positive energy. (At least, that’s what I understood!) This superstition doesn’t appear on this fairly comprehensive list of cat-related superstitions though – has anyone else heard of it? It was interesting to hear about different superstitions in our two cultures, and a very good way to finish the week.
While trying to find an example of braille reading, I came across ‘How blind people write braille‘, part of an excellent series of YouTube videos by a man called Tommy Edison, who has been blind since birth. I particularly like ‘Best things about being blind‘ (especially around the 1:00 point), ‘Intangible concepts to a blind person‘ and ‘Questions for sighted people‘. He’s also known as the Blind Film Critic and I’ve just subscribed to both of his channels 🙂
This is a very simple two- or three-stage activity I’ve successfully used with small classes of young learners and teens to revise both grammar and vocabulary. They love drawing on the board!
Stage one: drawing
Divide the board into a space for each student/team.
Say a word (e.g. car, trousers) or a sentence featuring the grammar structure you want to practise (e.g. I went to the beach. I played with my brother.)
Ask the students to draw a relevant picture. They shouldn’t worry about their artistic skills, just draw anything that they feel represents the language.
Repeat, ensuring they don’t clean the board in between.
When they have about 10 pictures, stop! 🙂
Stage two: hitting
Before giving students the flyswatters, I normally give them two rules:
- If you hit anyone with it, we stop.
- They’re very cheap. If you hit the board too hard, it’ll break and we’ll have to stop. (This happened once!)
Give the students flyswatters.
Call out one of the words/sentences.
The students hit the relevant picture.
Start with them hitting their own pictures, then move them around – this can be quite challenging if other students have interpreted the language in a more abstract way!
You can also ask one of the students to be the teacher. With small groups, you replace them as the player.
Stage three: cleaning (optional)
Repeat stage two, but this time, instead of flyswatters, give the students board rubbers. They clean the relevant picture each time you say the language.
When there are only two pictures left, they have to tell you the words/sentences.
You can also use paper rolled into a tube instead of flyswatters. Stage two works well with flashcards too.
Adults would also enjoy this game.
With larger groups it could be done in teams or on paper.
Simple, minimal preparation, and lots of fun! Enjoy!
This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.
I promised M last week that I would bring English money to the lesson today. She was very excited when she took the purse out of my bag. I had three notes: £5, £10 and £20, and ten coins, including 2p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. We started with M feeling the different coins, talking about how they were different. I taught her to identify each of them, and she was surprised to learn that some English coins aren’t round. When she first touched them, she only felt the faces, not the sides, and it took her a while to understand what I meant when I asked her if the coins were circles. She had a lot of trouble counting how many sides there were on a 20p/50p piece, and it was easier for her to count corners. I challenged her to find coins that were the same: there were four 20p, two 2p and two £1 coins. I also asked her to calculate how much money she was holding at various points.
With the notes, M compared the sizes of the three: if you’ve never seen English money, each note is progressively bigger, so there’s a noticeable difference between the size of each. She then took out some Ukrainian money, and told me that English money is bigger.
For the last fifteen minutes of the lesson, M told me about food that she liked, including honey-flavoured chewing gum. She doesn’t use ‘You shouldn’t…’ for prohibitions, like not swallowing gum – she replaces it with ‘You don’t…’.
The director of my school had spoken to M’s (non-English-speaking) mum to tell her more about the Cambridge Flyers exam and to find out the answers to a few questions I had about M’s reading and writing, particularly about whether she could use a computer. The first few minutes of the lesson were a three-way conversation between M, her mum and I talking about what the exam normally involves and how it might be different for M – we’re still waiting to get the exact details of the format of the braille version of the exam. It turns out that M can’t really use a computer at the moment, and won’t have school lessons in this for another couple of years. I asked if it’s OK for me to do some typing work with her, and her mum said that was fine. When she was at school, she’d had a typewriter-based touch-typing exam where the students were blindfolded to make sure they were doing it properly, so she appreciates the value of touch typing!
Once her mum had left, M and I talked about being blind again. She has only ever been able to see light and dark, and has a friend who has always been completely blind, and has difficulty understanding what it means to see. She tries to explain it to him as your brain being a computer and your eyes being two screens, but she says he doesn’t understand that. Every time M tells me things like this, I appreciate how lucky I am not just to be able to see, but to understand the concept of seeing too. It’s impossible to understand how much being (almost) fully sighted has influenced my life, and it’s easy to see why videos like this, of a boy hearing his dad’s voice for the first time, can be so striking.
We spent the next thirty minutes or so playing with the keyboard on my computer. I taught M where the home keys (F/J on my QWERTY keyboard) are, and what the other keys in the home row are (ASDF with the left hand; JKL with the right hand – no semi-colons yet!). I did this by putting my hands into the right place and getting her to feel their position, then putting her hands in the same place, and showing her how she can find the home keys herself because of the small raised bit on them. She typed a few letters herself based on my dictations, and also by having her hands on top of mine while I typed simple words so she could feel how I move my fingers to press the right keys. We typed the words ‘sad’ and ‘lead’, as well as strings of letters. She was very excited by the whole process.
We tried to use the Mac Voiceover screen reader to get it to read what she’d written, but I discovered it doesn’t work with all of Microsoft Word, only the menus.
Finally, M wrote the order of all of the letter keys into her notebook in braille. She suggested that we put braille stickers onto the keys to help her remember the positions to start off with, which I think could be a good idea. I have an external keyboard which I don’t use very often, so I might prepare that for her.
M started the lesson by telling me a Halloween story, but I can’t remember why! It was all about a woman who liked to eat children! One of the new words which came up was ‘rug’, because she used to hide the children in a hole under the rug (I think!)
I tested M’s spellings of the months from last week, and she was much better. She got about two thirds of them right, and found remembering ‘-ember’ very easy. In fact, she tried to put it into lots of months!
j-a-n-u (me: -uary) j-a-n-u-a-r-y
f-e-b (me: it has a silent letter ‘r’ – f-e-b-r-u-a-r-y) f-e-b-r-u-a-r-y
m-a-c-h (me: m-a-r-c-h) m-a-r-c-h
How many letters? (4) j-u-n-e (took a lot to remember this!)
o-g (me: a-u-g-u) a-u-j-u-s-t (not j, g) a-u-g-u-s-t
o-c-t-e-m-b-e-r (me: no e-m) o-c-t-o-b-e-r
We then went on the computer again. I spent an hour on Thursday evening figuring out how to use VoiceOver, and discovered that I could write things in TextEdit (a basic text programme) and it would read them out, as well as saying what you type as you go along. I wrote a short letter for M which I got it to read out. She then wrote a lot of letters, mostly using the home row of keys, and a couple of words. I had to remind her quite a few times not to move her hands from the home keys, as she would often use different fingers or put her two hands together to write particular words. I emphasised that it’s important for your fingers to ‘remember’ the letters if you want to able to type quickly, so they always have to type the same letters. This is what we wrote:
Here is a letter from Sandy. If you type in here too, it will read what you write.
Do you want to learn how?
jffjjfjfjffj ffjfjfjjff jf jkjfk llkjfggjklhffghjkl; fj jk jhjgfdslk;z;hgjkllsddaaaalallala dsaasdsddds a fd fdss d sadsassssassa d ads ssad sad jsajasjas jaas a jas jjklfdss ssssdddffssfs fsdjklsdeaaaajaj kaff af d sssd a sad jkljhsah hs hashsa hsdda has sasaD fsa fdj sdfsaaaa d s saasd a sddsf dasmmsdfsam mmmkmmml k
k jmjmjmjmjmjmjmjm jlmjmjmjmjkklkljjllllllkjj jmjmjmjmjkjjmjmjm jmjmjmjmjmjmmmmmm m jkl m jklm jklmjklmjklmjklm jklj j jkklnjkln mn m, mhhjjhggmmmm mmmm,.,m,.mmmmm jkjhnbmvfj m mj mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm mm jkfd masha dfdfsdfsdsdfsfdsfdsfddf fd m______m j m________ j mfdsfghbbv cv dsfgertym,.lkjjklmjkljjnnnbbbvvvgggffffffdddddsssssaaa nbmnkjkl, ,, lljhll;
M____ likes studying with Sandy. [I wrote this to demonstrate touch typing, and to reinforce the fact that she shouldn’t move her hands from the home keys while typing. M dictated the sentence!] ‘ljjj kjkljk jkljkljkljkljkljkljljkjlkjlkkjljkl
As we walked down the stairs after her lesson, M was chanting ‘J-K-L’, which is her favourite group of keys I think!
M’s parents asked about VoiceOver and I told them they can use it on the iPhone too. We managed to switch it on, but couldn’t switch it off again afterwards. I hope they’ve managed to do it by now (it’s Sunday as I write this!)
I’m very proud to be one of the TeachingEnglish associates, a group of wonderful English teachers from around the world. Each month a series of topics is posted on the ‘blogs‘ section of the British Council TeachingEnglish site, which everyone is invited to write about, including you! Here are the topics for July 2014. If you haven’t tried blogging before, why not give it a go? To inspire you, the associates offer their takes on the topics.
My contribution for July is an introduction to micro-dictations, one of the activities I use to help students improve their listening skills. Adam Simpson has written a balanced argument for and against homework and Larry Ferlazzo suggests a range of sites students can use to practise their English over the summer.
If you do choose to join in, why not share the link here so that others can read your posts?
Mike Harrison has started a new blog focussing on Experimental Practice, where teachers try out new ideas in their classrooms in the spirit of research. As part of it, he plans to interview teachers who have carried out Experimental Practice as part of their Delta. Interviewee number one is yours truly, and you can find the full post by following the link below.
This is part of a series of interviews with fellow English language teaching professions to be published on this blog.
The interviewees are drawn from a variety of teaching contexts, in different countries and working with different kinds of learners. What they have in common is having experimented in some way with their teaching practice.
The reason why I asked these people to answer my questions (apart from being nosy!) is that I am a firm believer in the potential of experimental practice in helping you develop as a teacher, but I don’t know whether other people think the same. I’d like to get an anecdotal picture of my peers, to find out what they’ve done, why and what they’ve learnt from the experience.
I also believe that there is so much that we can learn from sharing our stories and these experiences. I invite you to read these brief…
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This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.
On Monday M’s mum phoned the school and asked if I could push M a bit more in the lessons. M wants to have longer texts to try and memorise, for example. I’d been trying to focus on writing, as this is the skill she has the most trouble with at the moment, but I think M didn’t feel that this was pushing her enough. She’s used to doing a lot of memorisation, and is very good at it, but I think it’s important to try and balance her skills. At the moment her speaking and listening are excellent. She told me that she can read in English, although she’s a bit slow sometimes – I don’t have any materials to test this, apart from what she’s written herself. Her main problem is spelling – she’s not confident when spelling words, partly (I think) because she hasn’t had enough exposure to spelling patterns, in the way that a sighted learner would see words again and again, and learn them partly by their shape. She also only seems vaguely aware of sound-spelling relationships, particularly with respect to vowels.
I spoke to the director of my school, and we decided to find out whether it would be possible for M to do a Cambridge Flyers exam, the highest of the three Young Learner Exams. According to the Cambridge website, it is possible to organise a braille version of all Cambridge exams except for Starters (the lowest YL exam), provided enough notice is given. We asked her mum if M would like to prepare for the exam and take it in summer 2015. She was very excited about this idea and agreed straight away. This has given us a new-found focus in the lessons, but has also added a lot of things for myself and my school (we’re the only Cambridge exam centre in Crimea) to prepare. Luckily the director and the Centre Exam Manager are both very supportive, and I’m sure we’ll be able to manage!
The Young Learner Exams are mostly picture-based, which means that the braille version will be quite different to the standard version. However, I don’t know yet exactly how different. On the special circumstances page, Cambridge describe options like having a written description of a picture instead of the picture itself. The candidate can also have a lot of extra time, although exactly how much needs to be agreed before the exam. M will need training in how to take the exam, but will also need to be very confident in her reading and writing abilities, which is another reason to set the exam date for summer 2015 – it will give her lots of time to prepare. I need to find out whether she can use a computer or not, because if she can, the spelling activity on Quizlet might be an accessible and fun way for her to practise spellings too.
M heard me take my pot of objects out of my bag, and asked to touch them again. She remembered most of the words. In the process, she joined two paperclips into a mini chain, then got very frustrated because she couldn’t take them apart again. She ended up bending one of them out of shape to separate them, then trying to make it usable again. This took up quite a few minutes of the lesson, but she wanted to solve this problem before moving on. I was talking to her throughout, trying to explain/show her (by touch) how to break apart the chain, so I don’t feel like this was a waste of time, but it’s this kind of process which I think might make M feel I’m not pushing her enough – I’m not sure if she sees it as part of the lesson, or if she only feels that explicit memorisation etc activities are part of the teaching. For the other part of the revision stage of the lesson M remembered the chants I’ve taught her.
We then talked about the exam. I wanted to make sure Flyers was the right level for her, so I did the only exam task that doesn’t rely on pictures (as far as I can tell). For the first part of the reading and writing paper for both Movers (the middle of the 3 exams) and Flyers the students have to match definitions to words. In Movers there are six definitions, with eight words accompanied by pictures. In Flyers, there are 10 definitions, 15 words, and no pictures. There is an example for each task. I used the sample papers from the Cambridge website (the Movers task is on page 37-38, and the Flyers one is on page 68).
- I read the definitions from the Movers task, including the example, and M got every word quickly and easily without needing the word list.
- I read the Flyers definitions, including the example. Without knowing the list of words, M got questions 1, 3, 6 and 9 right.
- I read the list of words twice, slowly, including all of the words that she’d already matched to definitions.
- I read the definitions again, and M could ask me to repeat the full list of words if she needed it. After this, she only had trouble with questions 2 and 10. She was also a bit confused about question 4, ‘cupboard’, because she knows ‘wardrobe’ but isn’t confident with the difference between that and a ‘cupboard’. I told her that wardrobes are for clothes, and that ‘Every wardrobe is a cupboard, but not every cupboard is a wardrobe.’
- The main problem with question 2 was that the original definition ‘This is white and we put it on food. Children often like it on chips.’ can apply equally to ‘sour cream’, which is very popular in Russia, and was M’s original answer. Once she realised it was ‘salt’, she joked that about thinking of sour cream before salt.
- The only real problem word in the whole exercise was ‘meals’, the answer to questions 10, which she said she had never heard before.
This activity proved that Flyers is the right level for her in terms of vocabulary knowledge. However, in the exam she would need to be able to read all of the definitions herself, as far as I understand, and write the answers, meaning that her spelling needs to be confident – the words will be there for her to copy, but already knowing how to spell them will make a big difference.
M had a purse full of Ukrainian coins on her desk. They are her ‘treasures’, and she likes swapping them with her friends. When she tried to clear them up, a couple dropped on the floor. I told her where they had fallen, using ‘right’ and ‘left’ among other phrases. She mixes up the two a lot, and came up with her own method of remembering them – she got a hairband and put it on her right arm as an aide-memoire. I need to test her again next week to find out if she really can remember it.
She then asked if I could teach her how to play heads or tails. Again, I appreciated how much I learn from being able to watch other people. Apart from the fact that catching is difficult when you can’t see, there are the little things I’ve learnt from watching others – to hold my hand away from my body, to cup my hand slightly when throwing the coin (we did that rather than flicking it), how much force I need to throw it enough to flip it, to put it on the back of my other hand when I catch it… Again, all of this took about 10-15 minutes, but it was full of explanation, so there was a lot of listening and speaking practice. I promised to bring English coins on Friday, which I did, but only as far as school where I promptly left them on my desk!
I gave a copy of the Flyers word list to M and asked her to count how many sheets there are. Multiplying that six by 120, the approximate number of words on each page, we got 720 words – I know the last page is mostly empty, but once you include the words from lower levels and the numbers, it’s probably about right. I told M that for the Flyers exam she would need to know all of the words, as well as being able to spell them. I think there are some that won’t be a problem, for example bit, exam and ring, but not many. We started off with the months, including the capital letter, which I dictated for M to write in her notebook.
M told me about a trip to a children’s park she’d been on that morning. She went on a ride with her 3-year-old sister, D, and the attendant told her to “Wave if D will cry.” She then told me about Treasure Island and a poisonous drink: “If he will drink it, he will die.” I’d already decided to practise first conditional structures with her, and these two sentences added to the list of examples. In Russian you use a future form in both clauses of a conditional sentence, and students normally transfer this to English.
I tested M on the spellings of the months. She read them first, spelling as she went. When I tried to test her on random months, she had trouble with all of them except May. She added a note underneath her list, saying ‘i’ – the letter she had trouble with in ‘April’, and ’ember’, the ending for three of the months. She also showed me how she rubs out mistakes when she writes braille.
She asked if we could listen to chapter 6 of Alice in Wonderland next, as we hadn’t done it all week.
That left us with only a few minutes to start work on the first conditional. I read her three examples with mistakes, the two above, plus ‘If I’ll eat this, I’ll be bigger’, and asked her to spot the mistake. She couldn’t, and I explained that ‘will’ is not with ‘if’. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise until we listened together that the jazz chant I’d found would actually compound the problem of repeating ‘will’ instead of solving it – I’d missed the key word despite having read it multiple times and listened to it twice! I’d climb the highest mountain, etc, if you will come with me. We ended up with no time to consolidate this point. I need to look at Young Learner coursebooks to find out how they introduce this grammar normally. I’ve got a few games/activities to practise it, but I’m not sure how to show the rule clearly.
This is the final part of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category.
Phase 7: Journey’s End
And now we come to the grand finale. Sort of. Gaba was actually one of the very first places I applied to upon returning to Japan, literally within a week of landing. Gaba is a nation-wide conversation school that specialises in tutoring (usually) adults one-to-one English with customised lessons, making them uniquely suited to the style of teaching I was looking for…. with a few provisos that I will explain later.
Gaba hires instructors from many walks of life to create a diverse selection of teachers for their clients. You don’t need even to be a native English speaker, just a fluent speaker, but with at least a Bachelor’s degree and like all EFL positions, a history of teaching will play in your favour. With no former teaching experience and no teaching qualification, I emphasised my educational background, my varied interests and my travel experience in my resume. This tactic worked and I was accepted for an interview.
The interview was the most formal I have had so far; strictly dark suit, smart shoes and tie. The applicants were given a company talk and asked to take a short English/teaching quiz* just to prove we could at least think like teachers, even if we had no experience. We were given separate interviews, in which I blagged confidence harder than I have ever done before. My interviewer told me my resume was impressive and that, were I to be hired, I would likely be popular with clients with science-based jobs, wanting to learn English to aid their research/understanding of scientific literature.
*Research helps. I found at least two blogs describing the Gaba interviews in detail. One common question was “Is _____ a gerund?” Though proficient in English, I am not as knowledgable in its terminology. A gerund is a word that is both a noun and a verb, e.g. painting, building. In my interview, the word in question was ‘boring’. I answered no, with the reasoning that I knew ‘boring’ as a verb and an adjective. It turns out that a hole made by boring can also be called a ‘boring’, hence it can be a noun and therefore is a gerund. I would personally call this a bore-hole; I do not know if this was counted against me or not. [Note from Sandy: I didn’t know this either. I feel there may be a flaw in this logic.]
Two days later I was called back for a second interview and trial lesson with a staff member acting as a client, just to see how I performed. I did the best I could and I think I performed admirably. But two days later, I received an email I had been dreading…. I had not been accepted for the April recruitments. They did ask my permission to keep my details in case they wished to contact me in the future. Something I was genuinely not expecting them to do. But after two months of job hunting and working at conversation cafes, I received an unexpected phone call at the end of May, asking me if I was still interested and willing to start training next week for April recruitment. I gleefully accepted.
Before I had even applied to Gaba, I had done extensive background research on the company and doing so revealed many mixed opinions, the bulk of which centre around their scheduling system. Gaba instructors are not employees, but contractors and hence are not entitled to many standards that most workers are, including compensation for training days and travel costs. They also do not provide set working hours, meaning one’s attendance may be required without guarantee of salary. But it is also this system that gives Gaba its greatest perk: flexibility.
Allow me to explain further. Instructors choose their own working hours, divided into 40 minute lessons throughout the day, from 7:00-22:00 on weekdays and 8:45-21:15 on weekends. You can choose to teach anything from one lesson per week to fifty (or more if you have the energy!). Taking holidays are easy; if you want a day, week or even a month off, you simply don’t book any slots for those days. However, these time slots have to be booked by students (or allocated to students by the counsellors) for it to count as a lesson. If you make yourself available for ten slots on a particular day, but only seven get booked, you are only paid for seven lessons.
Depending on your lifestyle, this can be somewhat disorderly. Imagine you have designated slots for three lessons, a break and then another two lessons. Now imagine only the first three are booked. This is not too much of a problem – you can easily ask the staff to cancel the last two and go home early. But imagine that only the first and last lessons are booked. This will mean about two and a half hours of doing (almost) nothing and not getting paid. Likewise, last minute bookings are not uncommon, and you may have prepared for three lessons, only to discover you have a fourth minutes before it starts.
Occasionally, you get No Shows, meaning the lesson is booked, but the student does not turn up. In such cases, the Instructor is still paid but must remain his/her booth in case the student does appear, even if it’s only for the last five minutes. If the student cancels before 6 pm the previous day, the lesson slot becomes unbooked again. If the student cancels after 6 pm the previous day, the lesson slot becomes rebookable, meaning the instructor will be present and get paid, but will either have to teach a late booking or do related activities such as marking homework.
The likelihood of being booked is, on average, is 60% for a new instructor. Gaba encourage you to book early mornings, evenings and weekends where possible as these are peak hours. Should you become promoted (‘belted up’ in their terminology), you will also earn more money per lesson during these hours. Your likelihood of being booked also increases with time spent in the company and for veterans, it is about 90-100%.
Monday: I was being certified, so no lessons
Tuesday: Allocated five lessons, none were booked. Not surprising given it was only online for 24 hours. Spent the first three slots planning for tomorrow’s lessons, cancelled the last two and went home.
Wednesday: First proper day and all five slots were booked, including two of the desirable client-requested blue bookings!
Thursday: Four allocated slots, only the first and last were booked. Had a very long lunch break.
Friday: Day off!
Saturday: Five allocated slots, four were booked. The 16:00 slot was booked less than an hour before the lesson started, so speedy preparation was required.
Sunday: Five slots, first three were booked. Luckily, I was able to cancel the unbooked slots and meet up with a friend.
I was fully aware of (and okay with) all of this information before I even had my interview. Regardless of what you may think of Gaba’s system, I believe they very open about the pros and pitfalls of it. The booking system is explained in detail during the company talk, on their website and even on Wikipedia. I have a feeling that many of the complaints of Gaba that I had read about were from instructors who had not researched the company – as late as the contract signing, there was an individual in our group who appeared to be unaware of the payment system. To counter, I have spoken to many staff members who are more than happy with working for Gaba, even after many years.
The training was a breakdown of the company and their teaching method. Gaba uses communicative language teaching as their ideology and emphasises learning functions of a language (e.g. describing people, scheduling, complaining) over the more traditional methods like learning grammar and sentence structure. They produce many text books to cover many functions, and some are specialised to business clients, some to travellers, some to those needing it for every day activities. Gaba also prides itself on customisation; altering the text and teaching additional words and phrases relevant to the client’s needs – something harder to do outside of one-to-one teaching.
A typical lesson consists of 5 minutes chatting, 10 minutes reading the target language (a sample conversation) and answering any of the client’s questions about words and phrases they may be unfamiliar with, 10-15 minutes of practising additional words and phrases, and inventing examples that may be useful to the client, 5-10 minutes of role play and 5 minutes of feedback. However, clients may request anything that helps them with their skills, whether it be reading a newspaper, scientific journal, practising a presentation or even just having a conversation. As I am a new instructor, many just want to spend the lesson chatting and get to know me. Even in such cases, we are still expected to take notes and suggest improvements for the client’s English.
The trainees practised trial sessions with one another, and we discovered the importance of planning a lesson in only a few minutes, keeping track of time during the lesson, altering your language to suit the client’s level and coming up with ideas on the fly. After three days of training we were…. almost… ready to start teaching. Experience will be the practice from here on.
At the time of writing, I’ve had about 25 lessons and already I’ve seen great variety in the client base in terms of background, hobbies, jobs and needs. I am still treading unfamiliar ground right now but I hope I will become more confident and enjoy it. And I hope Gaba’s scheduling system stays a blessing rather than a curse – I’ve come a long way and I don’t want it to all be for naught.
But either way, it’s a start.
That’s the last of Graham’s posts about how he made it to Japan and found work. If it’s something that will be interesting to others, I’d like to ask him to write more about his experiences as an unqualified teacher in Japan. I hope you’ll agree that it’s been a fascinating insight into how he made the leap from dream to reality, and that it inspires you to follow your dreams too!
This week we’re running a series of 90-minute teacher training seminars at IH Sevastopol. The first is about online professional development.
This is a topic I’ve covered many times before, but since I change the slides a little each time, I’ve uploaded the latest version below. To hear the most similar recorded version, go to my October 2013 Online CPD post. July 2014’s version is slightly different from slide 12 onwards.
The only other difference, not included in the slides, is that the Teaching English British Council facebook page now has over 2.5 million likes! What a great community to be part of!
I look forward to connecting to you online!
If you’ve never heard of ELTchat, you’re missing out!
It started out as a Twitter chat on Wednesdays, with two one-hour sessions every week. There’s now only one chat a week, alternating between lunchtime and evening British time, but apart from reducing the number of chats, the ELTchat community has only got bigger and bigger, incorporating:
- the original hashtag, which is active throughout the week, and is full of resources for English Language teachers;
- the website, your one-stop shop for everything ELTchat, including:
- the (amazing!) summaries index: after every chat, some lovely person offers to write a summary of what was discussed, and it’s then linked from this page. After nearly four years of weekly chats, there are a huge amount of summaries available.
- the facebook group, especially useful if you find Twitter difficult (it’s worth persevering, I promise!);
- and, last but not least, the podcasts…
The podcasts are put together by James Taylor, and bring together various topics from the ELTchats that have taken place between one podcast and the next. They also include interviews with the chat moderators and other ELTchat participants so you can get to know them a bit better.
You can find a list of all of the podcasts on the ELTchat site or download them through iTunes, among other places. There are currently 23 episodes available, covering a whole range of topics, including error correction, mindfulness, and teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students, among other things.
In the June 2014 podcast, you can find my interview with Hada Litim, one of the newest moderators. I’ve also contributed to a few other episodes.
I can honestly say that ELTchat changed my life – it introduced me to dozens (hundreds?) of passionate teachers from around the world, gave me ideas to take into the classroom, made me think, kick-started my blogging and contributed to my professional development in more ways than I can count. Take a look, and see what a difference it can make to your teaching too!
[Note: if you use a screen-reader and are having trouble with the Audioboo plug-ins, there are links in line with the text. Please let me know if this doesn’t work for you.]
Our lessons are starting to be a bit more routine now, as I’ve found activities that work well with M and that she enjoys. I need to make sure that routine doesn’t become dull, but I’m also pleased to now have a set of reliable activities I can draw from.
We started the lesson with a spelling test, based on the furniture labels we made during our last lesson on Friday. M could read all of the words and tell me the contractions, although she couldn’t remember any of the spellings by herself.
One of M’s favourite mistakes is ‘I very like it’, so thanks to Jane Harding da Rosa, I taught her a chant to correct this, which we did with I, he, she, in the past simple and with will.
M remembered all of the other chants and poems we’ve studied, and we then spent about 20 minutes on chapter 4 of Alice in Wonderland. The title of the chapter is ‘The Rabbit sends Alice on an errand’. M’s examples of errands led on to her telling me all the different things you can buy in a newsagent’s in the UK, like newspapers, magazines, sweets and little toys. I added basic food like milk and bread, which made her laugh – she didn’t believe me at first!
To finish the lesson, M asked me questions about me and my friends. There were a few mistakes which I’m recording here for future reference:
- I’m ready listen.
- on Russian
- Where do you born?
- Where your family live?
- Do you miss about London?
As I walked into M’s house on Thursday, her sister was watching How to train your dragon, so we ended up chatting about it for a few minutes. M asked me a few words in Russian which I didn’t know. I tried to make notes of some of the words to look up, but this is difficult if M doesn’t know the Russian spelling. The only one I managed to find later was ревнует, which means ‘jealous’.
I had two new chants for this class, dealing with two of her mistakes from Tuesday. The first was for ‘I’m ready listen‘. We transformed it to use ‘she’s’ and ‘they’re’ as well as the original ‘I’m’.
The second was for ‘on Russian‘. We transformed this to use the past simple, as well as ‘she’, ‘he’ and ‘they’.
We were going to listen to chapter 5 of Alice in Wonderland, so in preparation I taught M the word ‘pipe’ (the caterpillar is smoking a pipe when Alice first meets him). I used my pen and bottle lid to make the shape of a pipe for her to feel, and compared it to cigarettes, which she already knew.
Then something great happened: M came up with her own impromptu poem! 🙂
I don’t want to smoke.
I don’t want to drink.
I want to be beautiful.
This is my dream.
She said it was her first poem in English, and asked if we could write it down. This took us half an hour, starting with M learning how to write her full name (including punctuation, along the lines of S. J. Millin) at her request, then how to write a title – she decided on ‘My Dream’. We wrote the whole poem in the long form with no contractions, but including symbols for punctuation, thereby practising how to code capital letters, full stops and apostrophes, as well as understanding the word ‘space’. I spelt the words for M, and tried to encourage her to predict the spellings herself: “What do you think is next?” She seemed a bit reluctant to do this – I’ll try to get her to do more spelling without reading at the same time, as it’s something I think she’s not very confident with. As with most learners, she also mixes up e/i/y.
Mistakes from this lesson were:
- She must to give him a fan.
- You will bigger/smaller.
- If I will drink this, I will bigger.
I’d like to practise first conditionals in a future lesson, but haven’t done any grammar with M yet, so I’m not really sure how to go about it. Does anyone have any suggestions?
In our third lesson, M had shown me two metal figures she has. Today they were joined by two more: a crusader knight and Saint Viteslav, a Russian soldier (as far as I remember!). This lead us on to a brief discussion about crusaders, Christians and Christianity, with M referring back to her cross which she showed me last Friday. She also revised the ‘soldier words’ we’d looked at previously: helmet, shield, sword, and greaves. (I know ‘greaves’ isn’t the most useful word, but it’s easy for her to feel them on the soldier, and she asked for it!)
Taking her notebook, M read her poem from Thursday, along with the words we’d studied previously, without any prompting from me.
M told me she likes mystery stories, and proceeded to tell me The Mystery of Blackdown Wood, which I’d never heard of. In the first couple of sentences she mixed past simple and present simple a lot until:
“In the past or the present?”
“Can I tell it in the present?”
“Tom don’t want to go into the wood.”
“Tom doesn’t… Or it’s all the same in the past: Tom didn’t want to go into the wood.”
“Oi! Tom didn’t want…”
After that she told the whole story in the past simple without needing any more prompting from me. The only past form which gave her trouble was “They hided” instead of “They hid”. At one point she couldn’t remember a word, and spontaneously came out with our chant from Tuesday: “I know it in Russian, in Russian, in Russian. I know it in English, but I just forgot!” 🙂
For the next part of the lesson, I gave M a choice of activities. She chose to learn the names of the things in pot of little objects which I’d brought along, consisting of:
- two paperclips;
- two treasury tags;
- two Cuisenaire rods of each value from one to six;
- a small white stone;
- a plastic thing (it’s for keeping an exercise ball inflated, but I figure the word ‘thing’ or ‘thingy’ is a good term for her to learn);
- two elastic bands.
It’s a very random collection of objects, basically consisting of everything I could find which was small enough to fit into a little pot and wouldn’t be dangerous (no pointy bits!). I plan to use them to help me clarify grammar with her later, although I haven’t worked out exactly how yet. Most of the objects are in pairs, as one idea I had was for me to model sentences using one set, and M to copy and modify them using the other set.
To teach M the names of the objects, she took them out and I asked her if she recognised any of them. The only word she already knew was ‘stone’, and in fact, she’s been carrying her own moonstone around for the last couple of lessons. When she picked up the treasury tags and the paper clips, she couldn’t use either of them, so I also showed her how to do that. She put the Cuisenaire rods in size order, and I told her they were used for maths, which she loves. I’ve recorded the words and sent them to her so she can listen to them again between now and our next lesson.
We listened to chapter 5 of Alice in Wonderland to finish off the lesson. I showed her how to use the volume and sound controls on my Mac so she could stop it whenever she wanted to. In the end she preferred to just sit down and listen through without stopping. On a side note, I’d like to Kirsty Major for her very useful comments about screen readers, touch typing and computer use on my previous post. This inspired me to start trying to show M around my computer and give her more control over the technology.
At the end of the lesson, as has become our habit, M put my computer in its case, then the case into my rucksack. Every lesson she gets faster at this process. She likes carrying my rucksack down the stairs, and won’t let me take it even though it weighs a ton! When one or the other of us dropped one of the things from the pot during the lesson, M always tried to find it, and this also gave me the chance to practise ‘right’ and ‘left’ with her, as she confuses them a lot. I think it’s important to get M doing as much as possible in the lesson, and avoid doing things for her. Patience is very important, as obviously in many cases it would be faster for me to just pick something up and give it to her. In the long run, this won’t help M though. As with any lesson with young learners, I’m not just teaching English. Motor skills and coordination are just as, if not more, important for M as they are for all children to learn.
This is part four of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category.
Phase 6: Let’s get down to business
Visa, house, bank and phone in hand – I was ready to find work!
Service: Osaka Employment Service Center for Foreigners
This was the first place I knew about from the UK. But my second big gripe with Japan is that this place is staggeringly useless. Despite advertising “English speaking staff available”, there was a single man whose English was intermediate at best and everyone else didn’t speak a word of it. Really? I’m not demanding that everyone in Japan speak fluent English, but there are a few places I would expect it, a presumably government-funded employment centre for foreigners advertising the linguistic prowess of its staff being one of them. I had to register; there were helpful guides written in Chinese and Portuguese, but none in English. Really? I mean, realllly???
Once I finally commanded the attention of the only staff member who could speak any English at all, things got even less impressive. I wanted to search for an English teaching position in a school, something I know there is high demand for in Osaka. He was able to find and print out ONE job advert (written entirely in Japanese). Realllllllyyyyy?????? I called the number multiple times on different days and got no reply. I never went to the Employment Center again.
Websites: Freelance tuition
In a country where learning English is in high demand and doing so costs a premium, many students find hiring a personal tutor more cost- and time-efficient, and many teachers find it likewise. There are many websites that allow students to find teachers: my-sensei.com, hello-sensei.com, 121sensei.com and findstudents.net to name a few. In Tokyo, craiglist.jp is also a popular choice, though the Osaka version is somewhat bare.
All of these websites follow a similar format. Fill in your personal details, contact information, previous teaching experience, interests, teaching style and specialities, areas near to you (in particular, accessible train lines and nearby stations) and your fee. Tutoring fees range enormously: from ￥100-15,000 (or more) per hour, with ￥2,000 being the average starting price.
Filling in each form slowly chips away at your patience, as does the need to refresh your profile weekly to ensure its visibility, but these websites are (usually) free to use and getting your face on as many websites as possible will give you a better pool of students. Unfortunately, like everything, this is a competitive market and students are obviously going to hire more experienced teachers, and word-of-mouth is far more important here. I only got a few contacts over multiple months – my lack of teaching experience and lack of commitment in refreshing my profile likely stymied my chances.
Website: Kansai Flea Market
Kansai is a region in the middle of Japan containing, among others, the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. To the amusement of many Westerners, this region is also known as Kinki.
This was not the first website I found for job-hunting in Japan, but it is the one that gave me the most interviews. Many of the adverts were sketchy in detail, and I must say, even somewhat dodgy-sounding…
…however a decent number of ads interested me. My first jobs in Japan were conversation cafes.
At conversation cafes, clients pay a minimal fee (by Japanese standards) to chat to natural English speakers for 1-5 hours, while enjoying a soft drink or two. Most clients are already somewhat proficient at English, at least able to speak in basic sentences, while many are quite literate. Some use conversation cafes as a means of language exposure, some use it to make sure their skills don’t go rusty, some just like chatting to foreigners! Topics can be about anything and everything, whatever the client and host find as common ground or as a topic of interest. You are not expected to necessarily teach them, but you can write words, show pictures, draw diagrams as you see fit. No fancy work clothes, just casual clothes are fine. And it is probably one of the easiest jobs in the world – all you do is talk and listen!
The pay is understandably low; ￥1000 (£6) per hour, paid in cash, and you are unlikely to work more than 10 hours per week, if that. Also, given that you are not employed, or even contracted, there are no additional benefits like insurance or pension. There is possible room for development; some cafes do teaching classes as well, presumably made available to those with more suitable backgrounds, or who have managed to work a substantial number of shifts, but generally it’s a dead-end job.
Leafcup is a nation-wide group of conversation cafes. Criteria for staff is absolutely minimal; if you can speak English and are not an illegal immigrant, you can work there. It is basically a walk-in job; I had no interview beyond a chat with the cafe manager in the middle of one of their international parties.
The hours, however, are terrible. You have no scheduled work times; the cafe will periodically email you (maybe once or twice a week) to ask if you are available to work a shift on a particular day at a particular time, and you need to reply quickly before it is offered to someone else. Occasionally they will send out mass emails for shifts or notifications of cancelled shifts and it is a first-reply-first-served basis. I lived very close-by and I could seize these impromptu shifts easily, but even so, I probably worked an average of less than one shift per week.
I would still recommend anyone looking for work (ANY work) in Japan with nothing already lined up to become a Leafcup instructor as soon as they land. No hours are expected of you beyond what you accept (and it’s super easy to cancel a shift), so it will not interfere with your job hunting and if nothing else, it is a very easy way to network (especially at the international parties held every other Saturday) and depending on your ultimate work schedule, an extra ￥2000 for a laid-back evening’s work may not be a bad thing.
In the middle of Osaka’s shopping district is a little conversation cafe with a small but loyal group of customers. Unlike Leafcup, PE is not a chain and it does not appear to have any hierarchy beyond the owner, a cheerful young woman named Maho. The interview was the best of any I had ever had. She asked me to do a trial two-hour chat to see how I did, and was impressed with my clear voice and the range of topics covered. I shrugged off my nerves after a few minutes and enjoyed the whole thing. She asked me to start as soon as I could. Best of all, I got paid for the interview!
And thus began my first major commitment in Osaka. As PE has a smaller pool of staff, there was an immediate need for me to work longer hours. Indeed, during May 2014, there were only three staff members, including myself, and I was the only foreigner. In practice, this still only meant 3-5 hours, 3-4 days a week (and still only ￥1000 per hour), but it was a start.
PE’s atmosphere is much friendlier than Leafcup’s; the small, cosy room, the sofas, tree-trunk design tables and 1980s pop music playing in the background contrast to Leafcup’s hard chairs and largely empty space. PE also allows chat hosts to help themselves to snacks and free drinks, something that Leafcup chat hosts are generally forbidden from doing; this small difference is a great comfort when talking continuously for 5 hours on a hot, humid, Japanese summer day.
The clientele are pretty much what I was hoping for; working professionals at any age between 23-83. And all have their reasons for wanting to learn; some want to better understand English TV shows and movies, some need it to further their careers, some (actually, many) enjoy travelling and can do so with greater ease with some English under their belts. Some just like to do it as a hobby; I’ve met many retirees who are keeping themselves occupied despite their age, showing you’re never too old to try something new.
The only possible downside is that it is only open weekend afternoons and weekday evenings, reducing the number of potential shifts one can work. Also, Maho insists that you do not work for any other conversation cafe in addition to PE. As such I did my best to keep my occasional shift at Leafcup quiet, a feat sometimes jeopardised when a shared client would appear and loudly proclaim “Hey! I saw you at Leafcup yesterday!”
As much as I enjoy(ed) working at PE, the wages were simply not enough to cover my living costs, and I still had too much free time. I needed to find some additional income.
Cafe: Plus Color
Near Utsubo Park, Osaka, is another conversation cafe that is incredibly hard to find and I barely got to my interview in time. They operate in the afternoons as well as the evenings, meaning I could potentially work a shift at PC before doing my usual shift at PE. The interview at PC was somewhat more formal than either of the other two conversation cafes and the atmosphere somewhat more stark. Possibly because of my insistence that I could only work afternoon shifts, I was unsuccessful in my application.
Eikawa: Marvin’s School
A small studio between Osaka and Kobe, and one of the most aggravating interviews I ever had. I replied to their offer of an interview… which apparently they did not receive and I arrived at the school unexpected. Fortunately, they didn’t turn me away. Unfortunately, they asked me to teach a class. Wait, they had virtually no idea who I was and they weren’t even anticipating my arrival and they asked me to teach a class with almost no preparation. Reaaaaaalllllllyyyy??????????? This wasn’t a conversation cafe, this was a school! In the end, I did a half-baked lesson based on the differences between US and UK English, which gave the two clients plenty of information but I’m not sure how useful it was. Marvin’s School offered me a shift but their interview method of “throw you in the deep end with no arm-bands” didn’t instil great faith in me. I didn’t bother to follow up.
GaijinPot is a forum and personalised ads site for work and accommodation, and probably the best known of its kind. There aren’t as many ads as KFM, but the jobs advertised are somewhat more professional. If you are a happy job-hunter, you can create a resume online and and allow companies to contact you, and likewise search through ads and apply to job positions directly. Filtering the search options to “Entry Level”, “Kansai Region Only” and “Japanese Beginner Level” dramatically reduced the number of potential jobs for me. Among the ones that interested me were video game translator and tester (though the pay was very poor) and a couple of teaching positions.
NOVA is an eikawa mired in bad reputation and indeed went bankrupt a few years ago. They reformed, though smaller than before, and given that a common joke among EFL teachers in Japan is that NOVA stands for No Vacation, I was hesitant to apply for them. One of my friends, a former NOVA employee, confirms their shifty reputation; he claims to have been screwed over by his contract (the exact details of which have slipped my mind) and spoke of their policy of giving a ¥200 bonus for every lesson taught, which is nullified if you are late for ONE lesson, potentially costing a teacher a big chunk of their rightfully earned salary. Some former students have likewise complained about their teaching methods. Thankfully, as desperate as I was for a job, I never applied for NOVA.
The final phase in Graham’s adventures coming soon…