Out of the window

A very simple activity, which works very well as a filler, as revision, or as the prompt for a whole lesson. All you need is a window with something going on outside.

The view from our classroom
The view from our classroom at IH Sevastopol

Ask the students to look out of the window and tell each other/you what they can see. With my elementary students I encouraged them to use a few structures they’d recently studied:

  • There is/are…
  • Present continuous
  • NOT: I can see… I can see… I can see… (which is what they started with!)

Feed in any vocabulary and structures that they might need, and make a note of them on the board. The students should focus on speaking as much as possible for now, rather than note-taking. Give them time and space to think of ideas – it took my students time to warm up, but then they came up with lots of ideas.

When they’ve run out of steam (after about ten minutes for my group of four elementary students), let the students make notes based on what you put on the board, as well as ask more questions about language.

I repeated the activity a week later, and the students managed to remember about half of the new vocabulary they’d used the first time, as well as adding adjectives and more description without any prompting from me at all. They had resorted to ‘I can see…’ again, but after a reminder from me started to use ‘There is/are…’ and present continuous again.

I’ve read many times about this kind of activity, but this is the first time I’d used it, and it definitely won’t be the last!

[I wrote this post nearly a year ago, but never pressed publish. Better late than never!]

Outside influences: the women in my family

This month the iTDi (International Teacher Development Association) blog was all about ‘Outside Influences‘, or the people outside education who have shaped our teaching. Many bloggers have added their own posts to this, include Vicky Loras and Anne Hendler. They have inspired me to write about the women in my family, all of whom have had a big influence on the person I’ve become.

My dad’s mum

When my dad was four and his brother was two, my granddad had a stroke which affected his language and movement, and meant he couldn’t work again. If I remember the story correctly, he was sitting opposite my grandma on the train on the way to a holiday in Cornwall when it happened. This was in 1964.

Thanks in large part to my grandma’s care, he lived until 1999 and I was lucky enough to know him. She made him persevere to communicate clearly with her because she wouldn’t respond until he’d made himself understood. She supported him, brought up two children, and worked to bring in money for the family (although I’m not sure exactly how these three things fitted together, and I can’t ask her about it any more).

When I knew granddad, he could look after himself and contribute to the house and garden, but he needed a stick to get around at home, and a wheelchair outside. Grandma and granddad looked after my brother and I for a couple of weeks each summer and took us on day trips to various places. I have lots of happy memories of those times, and that typical childhood haze of blue skies and long summer days 🙂

Grandma’s strength of will was amazing, and she never let anything get in her way. She never left the UK, but loved hearing about my travels. I used to take her to various places around the UK too. One of the reasons I got into the habit of taking so many photos was to share them with her.

Grandma at Hadrian's Wall
Grandma at Hadrian’s Wall

My mum’s mum

My granddad was in the Merchant Navy, meaning he was away for long stretches of time. Grandma stayed at home to look after the family. At one point, she had four children under the age of five and was effectively a single mum when grandy was away. Money was never easy: she made clothes for the family and learnt to be a great cook, with nothing ever wasted. Nobody ever did without.

My brother and I also stayed with them every summer, and my memories from their house are no less happy than with my dad’s parents. They used to live in a huge Victorian house with a magical garden that has unfortunately now been divided up into three properties. They helped us to explore England and Wales, and encouraged us to be inquisitive and ask questions about the world.

Now grandma helps us to keep our extended family together. If I can have a family as strong as the one my grandma has built, I will be a very happy person. Both of my grandmas taught me to appreciate what I have, to avoid waste and to realize how lucky I am.

My aunt

At the age of two, my aunt was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Inevitably this has had a huge effect on her life, and it has had other knock-on effects with her health too. I’ve watched her go through hip replacements and a cataract operation, and carry on regardless, with a positive attitude to life. Watching her has helped me with my own health problems, because I know that they don’t have to stop me from doing what I want to with my life. She was also part of the inspiration for making me and other members of my family start to exercise more when she began doing walking challenges. This was the beginning of my weight loss and general move towards being a healthier person. 

I’ve also been influenced by the way my aunt managed to stay in touch with so many of her friends in pre-internet days, through meeting them regularly and making a real effort. I think this is so important, and I’m lucky that I have it easier with facebook, email and Skype. Finally, she inspired me to learn to play cards, and I’ve enjoyed teaching her kids to play many card games in return.

My mum

Mum is another very strong, very independent woman. She built a career in librarianship, moving on to high levels of management within the UK council system. I’ve watched and learnt from her about many aspects of management and communication, and we’ve often discussed her work in ways that I hope will be useful to me as I move into management myself. When I was young, she used to help my dad with his pet shop too, working at the library during the week and the shop at weekends. Time management was key, and I’ve inherited this from her (I hope!)

My parents split up when I was 12, and although this was obviously not an easy process, watching mum get through it and continue to look after my brother and I has also shown me what it means to be strong. Mum has been so supportive of me and my brother throughout our lives. She has never told me what to do with my life, or complained about any of my choices. We’ve always been told that as long as we’re happy, she’s happy. I know other people who are badgered about when they will get married, or have children, or why they choose to live so far away, but I’ve never had that once. Mum has let me live my own life and make my own mistakes.

My aunt, my grandma, my mum and I
My aunt, my grandma, my mum and I

I’m incredibly lucky to have four role models like this, women who are strong, and yet know how to support each other and the people around them, and ask for support when they need it. Of course, this isn’t all I’ve learnt from them, but I’ve already cried a few times while writing this, and I need to draw a line somewhere 🙂

Thank you ladies!

The importance of feedback (TeachingEnglish blog associates)

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 March 2015, and anyone is welcome to join in. 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 March was inspired by my CELTA tutoring is about the importance of feedback and offers tips on how to provide effective feedback on various different kinds of activity.

If you choose to join in, why not share the link here so that others can read your posts?

Useful links for CELTA

Anyone following my blog will know that CELTA took over my life in August last year (2014), and will continue to dominate until the same time this year (2015). I’ve been building this list in my head for a while, and it’s finally time to get it onto the blog.

It’s arranged into categories, with subtitles and topics in bold to help you navigate. There’s a lot here, so just use the bits you need as you need them rather than trying to look at all of them – if not, you’ll end up being overwhelmed!

A quick way to find what you need it to press CTRL + F (CMD + F on a Mac) and type a key word connected to what you’re struggling with, like ‘TTT’, ‘instructions’ or ‘writing’  – this will take you straight to the relevant section.

Please let me know if any of the links are broken so I can update them, and feel free to add suggestions to the comments. I also plan to add to it as I write/find more posts.

Before the course

CELTA is a very intensive experience, and it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Take a look at these to give you an idea of what to expect.

Ahmad Zaytoun has created an infographic that gives you the basics of what CELTA involves. Gabriela Froes shares 5 things she wishes she’d known about CELTA before she started, including tips for those with previous teaching experience considering whether to take the course.

ELT Concourse has a fantastic list of questions to ask CELTA centres when you’re deciding where to do your course. They also have a candidate’s guide to the course and a pre-course preparation programme. Those are just a drop in the ocean of all of their detailed CELTA resources.

Cambridge English has a 30-minute webinar called The Ultimate Guide to CELTA which details different types of CELTA and tells you what to expect from the course. (Thanks to Viacheslav Kushnir for telling me about this)

IH London have some helpful tips for trainees. Nicky Salmon tells you How to survive a CELTA course, with tips from trainers and past trainees.

Seth Newsome wrote about his experience on the course, reflecting on the positives and negatives, with links to other posts he wrote about the process of doing the CELTA if you’d like a bit more depth. Tesal described the challenges of the course and what he got out of itRachel Daw wrote a week by week diary of her course, showing you what it’s like in depth: one MTW TF, two, three, four. Anne Hendler was interviewed each week by Matthew Noble, himself a CELTA tutor, on his blog: before the course, week one, week two, week three, after the course. Vincent Sdrigotti, an experienced teacher of French origin, wrote about the ups and downs of the whole 4-week course as well as the preparation he did before it started. Here’s one quick quote from that post:

Is the CELTA worth it? As a course and as an experience I would have to give a resounding YES!!!

Although the interviews on Adi Rajan’s blog are called ‘Life after CELTA‘, they give you a great idea of what different professionals at various stages of their careers got out of the CELTA course and why it was worth doing, even if they already had a PhD in one example! [Note: when I checked on 4/10/20, these posts aren’t available, but hopefully Adi will share them again in the future!] My favourite quote is from Vaidehi Kenia:

What running 5 miles daily for a month will do to your physique, the CELTA will do for your mind.

Since March 2020, fully online CELTAs have been possible. Two trainees from the first online CELTA I tutored on shared their experience and tips of their full-time four-week course: Yawen Jin and Nadia Ghauri. Trainees from a part-time fully online course run from Cork, Ireland share their experience and tips, and there are specific testimonials from Yuhi Fujioka, and from Philip Ryan, whose course was forced to move online half-way through when lockdown arrived.

If you’re still not sure whether to do the course or not, Chia Suan Chong, a CELTA trainer, describes 10 things she likes about the CELTA, all of which I agree with. If you’re a more experienced teacher, you might be interested in Jason Anderson’s research on how trainees who came to the course with experience feel like they benefitted from CELTA.

Adam Simpson recommends 10 books to read before you start your CELTA. While you’re unlikely to get through all of them (due to the expense if nothing else!) I’d definitely recommend getting copies of either 1 or 2, plus 3, and possibly also 6. Another book that you might find useful is the Ultimate Guide to CELTA by Amanda Momeni and Emma Jones which is available as an ebook (thanks for recommending this Helen Strong).

Martin Sketchley tells you how to prepare for the CELTA in 9 easy steps, with advice about choosing a centre, things to do before the course and advice about working with your peers.

It’s particularly important to build your language awareness as much as possible before the course. Jo Gakonga has webinars on grammar for language teachers (30 minutes) and the present perfect for language teachers (42 minutes) – free samples of the introductory grammar course on Jo’s site. Jeff Mohamed’s grammar development course is recommended by some centres (for a very light version of this, Rachel Daw talks about 10 things she learnt from it when preparing for her CELTA). If you’re not sure about parts of speech in English (e.g. verbs, nouns etc), Pass the CELTA have an introduction to them. ELT concourse has a pretty comprehensive set of guides to various aspects of English grammar.

Another area that people often find overwhelming is the amount of terminology thrown at them. ELT Concourse helps you out by introducing some of it. I’ve put together a Quizlet class with most of the terminology you might come across (though remember the same thing might have different names in different places!) If you’ve never used Quizlet, here’s an introduction to it.

If you’d like to do a course before your course, you could invest a little money in the ELT Campus Complete CELTA Preparation Bundle, online training in key ideas, teaching methods and concepts, as well as a grammar refresher.

Brushing up on your technology skills could also help you out. You’re going to spend a lot of time in front of a computer, and every timesaver you can learn will make a difference. Regardless of how confident a Word user you are, it’s worth checking out my friend Liz Broomfield’s very clear posts about making the most of Word. She uses Word for Windows. If you have a Mac and can’t work it out, Google it first, then ask me and I’ll try to help – I have Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac.

If you’re planning to make flashcards, the quickest and easiest way is with Powerpoint rather than Word. Here’s are two beginner’s guides: a 17-minute video or a more in-depth pdf. One useful trick is printing handouts with 6 slides per page.

Keyboard shortcuts save a lot of time in the long run. These are 100 for Windows and some for Mac too. If you’ve got a long time before your CELTA, working on your touch typing will help you now and later. On a side note, set up a filing system on your computer and start naming files with lots of detail in the file name so you can find things easily in the future. “Document 1.docx” won’t help you, but “Personality adjectives and definitions NEF Pre-Int SB p6 and SB p145 U1B.docx” will. I always try to include the book, chapter and page numbers so I can use the search function to find things again quickly in the future.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, teachers increasingly need to know how to teach online, particularly using Zoom. I have a post with Ideas for teaching group lessons on Zoom which provides a starting point of activities (most are not Zoom-specific and would work on other platforms). If you’ve never used Zoom before, you may want to buy a (very affordable!) copy of Teaching with Zoom: A Guide for Complete Beginners by Keith Folse (Amazon/Smashwords affiliate links). ELT Campus have a set of webinars showing how to teach English online. Sara Katsonis describes her experience of being a CELTA trainee when the course had to move from face-to-face to fully online – she got a Pass A despite (or maybe because of?) the challenges.

Finally, for those of you thinking about trying to get a Pass A (the highest grade, which 3-5% of trainees get – I got a Pass B), here’s Pete Clements with what he did to get his Pass A, and a report from someone else who got one, along with the following very important advice which I completely agree with:

If you set up your goal as “I’m gonna gits me an A!” then, well, it’s a worthy goal and all, but you’ll probably give yourself an ulcer, and stress so much about whether you’re doing enough or doing well enough that your freaky-outy stress will cause you to lose focus and actually do worse. Don’t look for a magic bullet or secret formula – there is none, and trying to guess at the magical combination of factors that leads to an A will just cause you to get even more freaky-outy. Always remember that it’s not a competition, so if you see someone who seems to be doing better than you, hey, you’re in it for four weeks with that person and you are quite possibly friendly with them – you are not in a race. There is not just one gold medal. Their good work does not mean you’ll get edged out for the one top spot, because there is no “one” top spot.

By the way, when I did my CELTA, one of my fellow trainees got a Pass A with no prior teaching experience, so it is possible! However, in the courses I’ve tutored on so far, I’ve yet to see an A candidate. Update (May 2017): I’ve seen a couple of A candidates now, and they’ve been very hard-working, and followed all of these tips from Ricardo Barros, among many other things!

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Lesson planning

How to approach lesson planning: I wrote this post to help you manage your time when planning on CELTA and try to avoid the ‘But finding the materials and making them look pretty is so much more fun than filling in all those tedious forms’ trap. The Cambridge CELTA blog offers an alternative way to manage the planning process.

Nicky Salmon, a CELTA trainer, tells you how to write CELTA lesson plans to make the documents as useful as possible for you and your trainer, so that you’re ready to give your students the best possible lesson.

The ELT Concourse guide to lesson planning covers aims, procedure, staging and a useful checklist of things to consider when planning. They also show examples of present-practice-produce and test-teach-test lessons, along with a guide to helping you decide between these two possible ways of staging a lesson (there are many more!). Pete at ELT Planning lists lots of different ways of staging your lessons (though only the names) and explains why it’s been important to him in his post-CELTA career. Later he put together a post with a breakdown of how to stage different lessons, covering most (all?) of the main types of lessons you may teach on CELTA, both language and skills. He’s also got 12 tips for writing lesson plans, not all of which apply to CELTA-level courses, but which are still useful. John Hughes suggests a before/while/after you watch approach to video lessons, most of which works for reading or listening. Point 5 of a longer blogpost by Matthew Noble gives you a poster with suggestions for adapting materials and lesson planning.

Timing your elementary classes is a post I wrote in response to questions from my trainees about how to allocate timing when planning – it actually works for any level really, not just elementary. Jonny Ingham also has a guide to timing your lessons, as does CELTA Train.

Jo Gakonga has three webinars connected to lesson planning:

When writing aims, it can be useful to consider how SMART they are, as this will help you to know when and if you’ve achieved them – Andriy Ruzhynskiy shows you how to do this in a 10-minute webinar.

It’s important to provide a clear context for any lesson, whether it’s language or skills. Barbara Sakamoto explains why. ELT Concourse gives an example of context in action.

If you decide to create your own materials for your lesson, here are a few tips from the Oxford University Press blog.

The generally very useful CELTA Train blog has tips on considering anticipated problems and coming up with appropriate solutions, including examples for the most common areas.

For more depth, Mike Cattlin, an experienced CELTA and Delta trainer has written an e-book called The Art of Lesson Planning.

Finally, if you’re getting stressed before your lesson, the Cambridge CELTA blog has some great tips on overcoming observation anxiety.

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Classroom management and activity set-up

Standing at the front of a classroom can be a scary prospect. If teacher presence is a problem for you, the Times Educational Supplement can help you get the students’ attention. I’ve written a post with tips on getting and maintaining student attention. These tips from Fernando Guarany could also help improve your confidence as a teacher, as will Emma Johnston’s 15-minute webinar on confidence building for teachers.

Other people have the opposite problem and talk way too much. Jo Gakonga has a webinar on teacher talk and language grading (12 minutes). Elly Setterfield tells you how, when and how not to grade your language. Here are some ways to become aware of excessive TTT (teacher talking time) and what to do about it, including ways of making your lessons more student-centred – it’s an ELTchat summary from Sharon Noseley. Here are other tips on getting the TTT/STT (student talking time) balance right. Finally, this is what the students hear when you speak too much/unnecessarily in class.

Both of these will affect your ability to build rapport with students. Chris Ożóg offers more tips on how to increase your rapport in a 10-minute webinar. Cecilia Nobre offers useful tips on how to build rapport when you’re not John Keating from Dead Poet’s Society (though he does many of those things too!)

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to getting instructions right. You might want to follow them up with instruction checking questions (ICQs) if there’s a potential for confusion, or one of these alternatives from Ben Naismith. If you’re not sure when to ask ICQs or which ones to use, CELTA Train can help you. Edward Evans has a 10-minute webinar about giving efficient instructions, including how to check them, as does Jo Gakongagiving clear instructions (13 minutes). She also has one on setting up and running activities (12 minutes). Marc Helgesen has lots of tips for setting up activities effectively and Chia Suan Chong has 10 questions you can ask yourself to improve your activity set-up. I have a post about how to break an activity down into smaller stages. Here is a 3-minute video of instructions for making a mini book by Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa – it’s designed for young learners, but the way she does it would demonstrates clear instructions that would work with adults too with only minor modifications. Point 5 of a longer blogpost by Matthew Noble gives you some golden rules for instructions. ELT Notebook summarises the whole instruction-giving process in a set of simple tips.

It’s important to remember the students’ names as quickly as possible. Adam Simpson gives you 10 techniques you can use to do this, as well as suggesting a few different ways to arrange the furniture in the classroom. Celeste Lalonde has some creative ways of putting them into new pairs and groups (though don’t spend hours planning this!). ELT Concourse has a guide to classroom organisation, with lots of useful diagrams, and another on grouping. Pete at ELT Planning reflects on the relative merits of different ways of organising the classroom.

Laura Patsko offers some general tips for a clear and useful whiteboard in the final section of her Whiteboard Wizardry blogpost. Peter at ELT Planning has a comprehensive guide to using the whiteboard with some very clear illustrations, including for classroom management. Anthony Schmidt also has examples of whiteboard use – there’s  no commentary, but it’s interesting to reflect on which layouts are likely to be more or less useful to the students.

Rachael Roberts explains how and why to monitor and provide feedback, and here are my tips on the same topic. Pass the CELTA shows how to monitor each kind of activity (reading, speaking etc) and some common problems trainees have. Karen McIntyre describes the many purposes of monitoring in a 10-minute webinar. Amanda Gamble offers many alternatives to the teacher eliciting the answers in open class at the feedback stages of lessons. ELT Concourse encourages you to consider how you’d give feedback in 6 different situations. Joe O’Hagen has a 10-minute webinar offering suggestions for providing feedback, particularly on speaking and writing activities, and Jo Gakonga has a 12-minute webinar.

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Teaching receptive skills

Reading

ELT Concourse ask what is reading, then show you how to teach it.

Fergus Fadden has a webinar on teaching reading skills (7 minutes). You can also watch Fergus in action teaching reading to an elementary class (22 minutes). Jo Gakonga has a webinar on exploiting reading texts (35 minutes). She also has an YouTube video showing how to set up a jigsaw reading activity and avoid the pitfalls (8 minutes).

Listening

ELT Concourse ask what is listening, then show you how to teach it.

Fergus Fadden has a webinar on teaching listening skills (9 minutes).

Marek Kiczkowiak has 15 tips for planning a listening lesson. Number 13 is particularly important!

If you can’t find the CD, Martin Sketchley suggests a few solutions. This might help you with your anticipated problems in a listening lesson.

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Teaching productive skills

Speaking

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

ELT Concourse looks at the differences between slips and errors, and how to handle errors in the classroom. They also ask what is speaking, then show you how to teach it. Simon Thomas offers tips on correcting students while speaking, and Zarina Subhan tells you why sometimes students don’t say much and what you can do about it, helping you to increase STT. CELTA train have created an infographic to help you decide how to respond to errors during speaking activities.

I have a step-by-step guide to setting up an information gap, a speaking activity in which each student only has part of what they need to complete the task and they need to speak to others to complete the information.

This post has ideas from five different teachers on how to maximise student talk time, the most useful of which is probably Dorothy Zemach (the first) demonstrating how to model the kind of conversation you expect your students to produce. Doing this makes them more likely to produce quality talk, not just short answers.

Writing

ELT Concourse ask what is writing, then show you how to teach it.

Catherine Morley has a step-by-step guide to planning a writing lesson.

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on giving feedback on writing. (34 minutes)

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Teaching language

General

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on analysing language and anticipating problems (21 minutes) and Fergus Fadden has a 7-minute one on language analysis. Pete at ELT Planning shows an in-depth example of analysis of a grammar item and a vocabulary one, plus general tips on how to analyse language. Alexandre Makarios explains why language analysis is important, gives an example of a poor one with tutor comments and offers tips to help you with yours.

Jo Gakonga also has a webinar introducing you to PPP, TTT and TBL – three different ways of presenting language, whether grammar, vocabulary or functions (35 minutes). It will tell you what the abbreviations mean! CELTA train describes ‘Presentation via a situation‘ a.k.a. situational presentations, and includes an example of one designed to introduce ‘used to’.

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes a guide to concept checking both grammar and vocabulary, as well as examples of clines. Marek Kiczkowiak offers seven ways of checking understanding without asking ‘Do you understand?’ and gives you 10 situations to test whether you can chose the most appropriate way to do this. ELT Concourse also looks at questioning in the classroom, and gives more ways to avoid questions like ‘OK?’ and ‘Is that clear?’ Concept Check Questions (CCQs) are the bane of many CELTees lives – here’s a fun introduction to what they are. Fergus Fadden has a webinar explaining how to create and use them (13 minutes).

Another common problem is how to elicit language from the students and Damian Williams has some answers. Pass the CELTA has a step-by-step guide to eliciting including lots of examples of what you can elicit and tips on what not to do. Jonny Ingham shows you to how to elicit vocabulary when pre-teaching in a reading/listening lesson.

Anthony Gaughan has an 8-minute audio podcast for CELTA trainees on what makes good controlled practice and how to make sure students really understand. CELTA train talks about how to make sure practice activities have a real communicative purpose, and includes a few examples that could help you.

Grammar

Jonny Ingham‘s Back to Basics series includes an introduction to timelines, including some beautiful examples which I’m very jealous of. Joanna Malefaki also has examples of timelines and CCQs. Marek Kiczkowiak offers tips for producing effective timelines. Gareth Rees shows some of the possible conventions of timelines (i.e. what the symbols mean). ELT Concourse has examples and asks you to guess what they show, then demonstrates how to build up a timeline with learners in the lesson. Anthony Gaughan demonstrates how to teach form without terminology.

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Vocabulary/Lexis

Do you feel “I need to teach vocab, but I don’t know where to begin!“? Adam Simpson can help you, particularly in sections 1 and 2 (3 and 4 are probably better left until after you’ve finished CELTA). Marek Kiczkowiak suggests ways to clarify the meaning of new vocabulary. ELT Concourse has a series of guides to teaching vocabulary.

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Functions

ELT Concourse have a step-by-step guide to understanding and teaching functions, complete with lots of examples. If you’re still not sure what a functions lesson looks like or is for, this 5-minute example from a real classroom based on students renting an apartment should give you a better idea, as will this full step-by-step lesson from Pete Clements. Languages International have a pdf document you can work through to find out what functions are and how to teach them (go to unit 4i). When you’re filling in your language analysis sheet, this non-exhaustive list of functions might help you identify what function the exponents (sentences/structures) you’re analysing have.

Pronunciation

Adrian Underhill explains how the phonemic chart (which he put together) works in this one-hour introduction on YouTube, full of great techniques for introducing the sounds to your students. He also has a very useful blog breaking down the sounds and showing you how to find them in your mouth, and how to teach them to your students. For a shorter introduction to the same chart, try Jo Gakonga‘s webinar: introducing the phonemic chart (37 minutes). Rachel Daw recommends books to help you familiarise yourself with the phonetic alphabet (best used before the course). ELT Concourse has a series of activities to help you feel more comfortable with transcribing pronunciation.

Use learner dictionaries to get the phonetics for individual words in American English and British English. Rachel’s English has individual videos for each sound in American English. For British English, try this from the BBC.

Pronunciation Bites has a collection of links to online transcription tools, along with reviews for each. It also tells you how to download IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) scripts onto your computer, and how to use them. Don’t forget to put the phonetics into Lucida Sans Unicode font to make sure they’ll print on any computer (I hope!)

ELTchat is a weekly hour-long Twitter conversation which happens every Wednesday. In February 2012 there was a discussion about the IPA, including reflection on its usefulness and suggestions for how to exploit it.

Nicky Salmon has put together a beginner’s guide to drilling. Julie Tice has tips on making drilling more fun and varied. Lee Shutler has some ideas too, and also talks about the benefits of drilling. ELT Concourse looks at the arguments for and against drilling, then provides examples of different types of drill. CELTA train does something similar, and throws in a video as a bonus at the end. Marc Helgesen’s tips about pronunciation, drilling and task repetition are in the second half of this post about classroom managementJo Gakonga has a webinar on teaching beginners, which includes tips on drilling (22 minutes).

Jo Gakonga has webinars on connected speech:

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Classroom techniques

Jo Gakonga has webinars on:

Cuisenaire rods are a useful tool for a whole range of activities. John Hughes has a video showing how they can be used, and Ceri Jones and I wrote a blogpost with lots more ideas.

Mini whiteboards are another great resource. Phil Bird has some ideas for how to exploit them.

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Observing and being observed

Rachel Daw summarised all of the things she learnt while observing her peers and receiving feedback on TP in the first two weeks of her CELTA course in CELTA Teaching Practice: some tips (an incredibly useful post!).

Martin Sketchley offers advice on preparing to be observed, much of which will serve you well in the real world too.

Nicky Salmon offers tips on how to reflect on your teaching during CELTA courses, including examples of language you can use. As she says, reflection is a skill which takes time to learn, but is one of the most important things you can do to develop professionally.

After the course, observing lessons is a great way to continue developing. Here’s a collection of online observations to help you.

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Teaching in different contexts

If you’re teaching young learners, try these links to start you off:

I have dedicated blogposts with links for business English teaching and doing the FCE (Cambridge First) exam (this one is for students, but should still be useful) – just one example of the many EFL exams out there. In any classroom you may have to test students, so this guide to testing from ELT Concourse will help you to think about the related issues. Teaching academic English is another possible avenue, and Adam Simpson has some tips to start you offJo Gakonga has a webinar on teaching beginners (22 minutes)

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Assignments

There are four assignments on the CELTA course. I’ve divided the links by assignment.

Jo Gakonga has a general library of freely-available reputable resources for all four assignments.

Focus on the learner

Jo Gakonga has a webinar introducing this assignment. (18 minutes) Remember that the rubric might be slightly different at your centre. Her tips are still useful though.

In the first part of the assignment you’re normally required to create a profile of the learner(s) you’re focussing on. These factors which affect learning from ELT Concourse may help you to do this.

You may also be asked to analyse the ‘learning style’ of the students. This article from ELT Concourse should provide some related food for thought.

Language-related tasks (language awareness)

See links in the Teaching language section of this post.

Skills-related tasks (authentic materials)

Jo Gakonga has a webinar introducing this assignment. (16 minutes) Remember that the rubric might be slightly different at your centre. Her tips are still useful though. She also has one on using authentic materials. (38 minutes) You can find other ways to exploit authentic materials in this summary of a one-hour Twitter chat (ELTchat) on the subject. Pete gives an example of his assignment on ELTplanning.

Lessons from the classroom

Jo Gakonga has a webinar introducing this assignment. (12 minutes) Remember that the rubric might be slightly different at your centre. Her tips are still useful though.

The links from the After the course section of this page will also help you here.

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Surviving the course

Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to help you survive the CELTA from Alexandra Koukoumialou and 5 secrets to success on your CELTA course from Tanya Hacker, and another 5 tips from somebody who completed the course at IH Bangkok (I can’t find their name unfortunately!)

The main problem most people have with the CELTA is the workload. It’s not unusual for some trainees to stay up for most of the night and forget to sleep, and there are always some people who don’t hand in lesson planning documents because they ran out of time. In a 10-minute webinar, Lisa Phillips offers some tips for time management for teachers in general, but many of them apply to the CELTA course too. Remember to ask for help if you need it – you’re not bothering people, and you might find they’re in a similar situation. As for your trainers, that support is what you’re paying for!

I know I included it in the lesson planning section, but these suggestions for approaching planning are designed to make your life easier, so I think they’re worth repeating.

Don’t forget to take some time for yourself during the course. You’ll benefit from it more than you will by just pushing on through, and no matter how important the CELTA is, your health and well-being should take priority. Get enough sleep, look after yourself and take regular breaks. If you need inspiration this might help:

50 ways to take a break

Here are a few of videos I send out to encourage my trainees to take a brief break – I won’t tell you what they are so it’s a lucky dip! One, Two, Three – each one is 3-4 minutes, clean, and should make you laugh!

And just in case you think you’re entering a serious profession involving a lot of work, take a look at EnglishDroid – he’ll burst your bubble quickly (this is a site to return to as you learn more about the world you’re entering!)

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After the course

You’ve survived! Well done! Now what?

Once you’ve finished your CELTA, you’ve got all this to look forward to. But first, you need a job. Here are a few places you can look (but there are many, many more!):

To help you Jonny Ingham tells you how to write a TEFL CV, as does Chris from What they don’t teach you on the CELTA (How to write a great ESL CV), and Karenne Sylvester explains how to avoid overseas EFL teaching job scams. Gordon Scruton gives you questions for a potential employer, plus all important social questions about life outside the school. Rachel Daw talks about her experiences getting work as a newly-qualified freelance teacher and shares examples of questions she’s been asked in job interviews, as well as comparing the relative merits of working for a language school and being a freelancer. Lorraine Kennedy gives you 10 tips for ELT teacher job interviewsAdam Simpson gives you general advice about what to say and do in job interviews. You can find out about different countries and potential up- and downsides of working there using the country guides at ESL Base, though do try to get in touch with teachers yourself too – it’s worth asking any school you apply for if you can speak to one of their teachers. Once you’ve got the job, Elly Setterfield has a very useful series of posts specifically designed for new teachers, answers questions such as’What should I pack?’, ‘What if I hate it?’, and with Teaching Kids and Teaching Teens 101s. She’s also written about how non-native teachers can improve their confidence.

Isabela Villas Boas offers tips for a great beginning in a new teaching jobRichard Whiteside has 3 things to help new teachers. Lewis Waitt tells you about how to survive your first year as a teacher. Michael Walker has 5 tips for new teachers. Rebecca Cope describes what it’s really like, from the perspective of being six months into her own first year as a teacher. Elly Setterfield offers tips for planning on a daily basis, as it’ll be hard to keep up the amount of detail you had to produce during the course. Jennifer Gonzalez offers tips for starting a job mid-year. Although they’re aimed at mainstream teachers, many of the tips are relevant for those of you who have completed CELTA.

To continue the reflective cycle you started on CELTA, you could keep a reflective journal, as recommended by Dale Coulter. Another option is to write your own blog, which I’ve found really useful. However you choose to do it, Jason Renshaw explains why reflection should be a vital part of any teacher’s development (and offers another suggestion for how to keep a reflective journal). Oh, and if you want to send a few pennies my way, you could investigate ELT Playbook 1, an ebook of 30 reflective tasks designed for new teachers, written by me and only costing around 5GBP/5.50€ 🙂 If you complete all five tasks from a single section, you can earn yourself a badge to put on your CV or social media, showing potential employers and/or students that you are continuing your development after the course.

ELT Playbook 1 all badges preview small

Blogs are a useful tool post-CELTA, and this post by me will tell you how to make the most of them. One of the things I enjoy about blogs is periodic challenges which bloggers start and anyone can join in with. The #youngerteacherself posts kick-started by Joanna Malefaki are a great source of advice for beginner teachers, as experienced teachers look back and offer advice to their younger selves. A couple of years before this challenge Chris Wilson wrote 10 things he wished he’d known before he started CELTA. ELTchat also had a chat called I wish I had known that when I started teaching! If you’re thrown into a classroom with a horde of children or teens, you should find these posts by Elly Setterfield very useful: Teaching Kids 101 / Teaching Teens 101.

Adam Simpson has a series of blogposts aimed at helping you develop post-CELTA:

There are lots of other online resources for professional development. Jo Gakonga has a webinars on continuing professional development on the web (37 minutes) and using Twitter for professional development (25 minutes). I’ve put together various guides to help you get into online professional development, including Twitter, webinars and facebook for professional development and a webinar called 10 blogs in 10 minutes. All of the names linked to in this blogpost will take you to Twitter pages if you’d like a few people to follow to start you off, as well as me of course! 🙂

The best resource on Twitter is ELTchat, a weekly one-hour chat on topics chosen by participants. Summaries of chats going back to 2010 can be found in the Summaries index on the website and cover pretty much every topic you could possibly imagine related to ELT teaching – if it’s not there, you can suggest it for a future chat.

International House offer a range of paid courses to extend your knowledge in a variety of areas, including language awareness (IH LAC), business English teaching (IH BET), teaching young learners and teens (IHCYLT) and teaching online (IH COLT). They are offered online, face-to-face at some schools, and in the case of the IHCYLT, blended. You get a discount if you work for IH, and some schools will pay for your course completely if you work for them for a particular period of time. Adi Rajan has also put together a list of post-CELTA qualifications; although aimed at teachers in India, it’s relevant worldwide. ELT Campus also runs courses online, such as this one for teaching English to Young Learners.

You can join a teaching association to get support. Ask around and you might find one in the city or country you’re working in, like ELTABB in Berlin. You could also join IATEFL (UK-based) or TESOL (US-based), international organisations which also have lists on their sites of country-based affiliates, like BELTA in Belgium or TESOL France (both of these websites also have lots of other resources). Here are some of the benefits of joining a teaching association.

Cambridge English Teacher and the International Teacher Development Institute are online communities with forums, webinars and courses you can follow. CET is paid, but you can get benefits like cheaper subscriptions to journals with your membership. iTDi contains lots of free content, and a couple of more extended paid courses.

Conferences are a great source of ideas. Both IATEFL and TESOL hold multi-day conferences each year, and although the IATEFL conference is the highlight of my year (!), they can be quite expensive. IATEFL streams some sessions from the conference, and these are available to watch after the event (for example Harrogate 2014). One- or two-day local conferences can provide lots of inspiration. There are also online conferences and webinars provided for free. David Harbinson has a long list of sources for webinars to start you off.

There are various journals and magazines dedicated to ELT, full of articles from around the world with lots of great ideas and issues to think about. The IH Journal is available free online. Most teaching associations have their own newsletter or journal. Other magazines include English Teaching Professional and Modern English Teacher, both of which are subscription only – you can choose whether to get them online or as a hard copy.

If this list isn’t enough for you:

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For CELTA trainers

(Just so you don’t feel left out!)

I wrote a weekly diary of a CELTA course I tutored on in Chiang Mai, with reflections on the day-to-day experience of being a tutor: week one, week two, week three, week four. I’ve also talked about integrating technology into CELTA.

Jo Gakonga has a webinar on ‘flipping’ CELTA input sessions. (22 minutes) She also has a wide range of resources for trainers on the ELT-training website, including lots of ideas for feedback.

Matt Noble regularly posts reflections on being a trainer on his Newbie CELTA Trainer blog, as does Ricardo Barros on his. Anthony Gaughan talks about a completely different way of doing CELTA on his Teacher Training Unplugged blog. He has also written an incredibly useful step-by-step guide explaining the process of becoming a CELTA trainer: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

John Hughes offers various ways of approaching lesson feedback. Felicity Pyatt joins the TEFL Training Institute podcast for an episode to discuss what to do when a trainee fails, which also includes tips for trainees on how to deal with the fact that they have failed an element of a training course.

If you’d like to work on your own skills as a trainer, you might want to get yourself a copy of ELT Playbook Teacher Training, my book of 30 reflective tasks in 6 categories, as you can see below (Amazon/Smashwords affiliate links).

ELT Playbook Teacher Training cover and topic areas: what is training, planning training, observation: written feedback, observation: spoken feedback, workshops and input, other aspects

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic meant lots of things changed, including the sudden need for provision of fully online CELTAs. Brendan O Sé from University College Cork, Ireland, blogged about running their first fully online CELTA. James Egerton talks about how IH Rome Manzoni took their CELTA course online and offers tips for other centres doing the same. Angelos Bollas has a demo lesson with upper intermediate students on Zoom which you might want to use to show trainees how it works from a teacher’s perspective:

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Everything else

Ruth Lavina shares 10 things she learnt on her CELTA, covering a whole range of categories above. I particularly like number 7, because trainees often forget it!

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As I said at the start, please let me know if any of the links are broken so I can update them, and feel free to add suggestions to the comments. I hope these links are useful!

Teaching from an eye-height of 1m

For no reason that I can think of, I woke up this morning with a thought in my head.

What is it like teaching if you’re very short?

From 1m (3ft), the classroom must look like a very different place. Here are the things I can think of in the classrooms I’m teaching in at the moment:

  • You’ll only just be able to see over the table, so monitoring could be challenging, and seeing what students are doing by walking behind them will be impossible.
  • The whiteboards are set at least 80cm above the ground, so you’ll only be able to use a tiny part of it.
  • The visualiser is set on a high table, so again it will be hard to use, although it could be used instead of the board in some cases.
  • Students may react in unusual ways to having a teacher who contrasts with their mental image of ‘teacher’.
Visualiser: Image from GeneeWorld

This means a lot of the advice I give to teachers is either redundant or very difficult to follow. What would you do in these situations? Can you think of any others? Do you know of any stories of teachers in this situation?

(This was partly inspired by Tamas Lorincz‘s iTDi post about teaching from a different perspective which I read a long time ago – not sure where this thought came from today, but it reminded me of this excellent post which I’d recommend everyone read!)

Delta conversations: Anthony

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Anthony Ash

Anthony Ash has been working in ELT for 4 years now. He did his CELTA at IH Wroclaw in August 2011 and has been working for International House ever since. He has taught in Poznan and Torun in Poland as well as in Newcastle and Oxford in the UK. After completing his MA in English Language and Linguistics in Poland he went on to do the Delta at IH Newcastle. Anthony works each summer at Newcastle University as an EAP tutor and he is currently the ADoS at IH Buenos Aires.

Anthony can be contacted on anthony.ash.teaching@gmail.com He tweets at @ashowski and regularly blogs at http://eltblog.net.

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I did the “intensive Delta” i.e. I did all three modules in one go. This happened from September to December 2014 at IH Newcastle. The input and the teaching practice part of the course constituted an 8-week block, with an additional 4 weeks being dedicated to preparing for the exam and writing the extended assignment for Module 3.

However, I also did a Module 1 preparation course and the Certificate in Advanced Methodology with IH World online from September to June 2014. So, in a way I was already quite prepared for Module 1 before starting the intensive course and I had an idea of how Module 2 would look.

The intensive course started around 10am Monday to Friday. Mornings were dedicated to input sessions; afternoons to preparation and teaching practice; evenings and weekends to reading and writing assignments. We taught several times a week, regardless of whether it was an assessed teaching practice or not. This was good because it meant we got loads of practice and lots of feedback from tutors and fellow Deltees.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

Before going to IH Newcastle I was Senior Teacher at IH Torun in Poland. I had planned to do Module 2 over several months by travelling into Warsaw every other weekend. However, circumstances changed and I ended up back in the UK. I chose to do the Delta intensively purely because it meant I could focus 100% on that and have it over and done with in a shorter space of time – compared to a year-long distance course for example. Just about all of the positions I wanted to apply for required Delta anyway, so the quicker I got it, the sooner I could apply for those positions.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

People often cite “linguistic knowledge” as the big thing they got from doing the Delta; however, in my case I gained most of my knowledge of linguistics during my MA. What I think I walked away from the Delta with is a greater understanding of what makes good teaching and learning excellent – I now have a deeper understanding and greater appreciation of what happens to the learners while learning, so I can plan lessons around that. Furthermore, now I also know “why” I do what I do in lessons – there is sound pedagogy behind every stage and decision.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

The intensive Delta doesn’t leave much room for Module 3. In my case, I finished the first two modules during the 8-week block and then theoretically I had 4 weeks to write and finish the extended assignment. However, I had a conference to present at in Rome (TESOL Italy National Convention 2014) and I had to make a trip back to Poland as well. So, in the end I only had 2 weeks to read, research and write the assignment. Even if I had had the full four weeks, it seems to me this is still quite a short period of time, so I think I might have done Module 3 through an online distance programme instead.

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

I think the intensity of it all meant it became my full-time job for 3 months. This meant the Delta was the only thing I was focused on for three months straight. I feel this helped to remove any distractions and let me concentrate on my professional development.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

The three modules are supposed to be quite independent of one another. However, it is to my experience that you might struggle to be successful in Module 2 without the theoretical knowledge from Module 1, and you might not be able to really design a course well for Module 3 if you lack both the theoretical and practical knowledge from Modules 1 and 2. So, I would strongly recommend doing the modules in order as they come: 1, 2 and 3. However, if you decide not to do this, I recommend in any case preparing for Module 1 before Module 2, as the second module is very demanding and takes up a lot of time on its own.

Terry Pratchett

Last night I cried about the death of a man I have never met, and now I never will. The closest I came to meeting Terry Pratchett is a signed copy of The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, given to me by a friend who managed to get to a signing when I had an exam I couldn’t get out of. It’s one of my most prized possessions.

If you don't turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else's story.

When I was 11 or 12 I read The Colour of Magic. It was OK, and I enjoyed it enough to start reading The Light Fantastic, but I gave up half-way through. A few months later my parents were reading Lords and Ladies, and I picked it up and have never looked back.

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.

― Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies

He’s taught me so much about language and the joy of words.

‘Well, I must say I’ve never thought about that word “conundrum”,’ she said slowly, ‘but it is certainly metallic and slithery.’

‘I like words,’ said Preston. ‘”Forgiveness”: doesn’t it sound like what it is? Doesn’t it sound like a silk handkerchief gently falling down? And what about “susurration”? Doesn’t it sound to you like whispered plots and dark mysteries?…Sorry, is something wrong?’

‘Yes, I think something may be wrong,’ said Tiffany, looking at Preston’s worried face. ‘Susurration’ was her favourite word; she had never met anyone else who even knew it.

– Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

He taught me how to use punctuation correctly.

“Multiple exclamation marks,” he went on, shaking his head, “are a sure sign of a diseased mind.”

– Terry Pratchett, Eric

A poster of the Discworld was the first one I ever owned, and for many years the amazing artwork inspired by his writing was on my calendars and diaries.

Discworld

When I was doing GCSE French, we had to come up with a profile of a famous person. Pratchett was my choice, and I was amazed when I managed to randomly pluck his birthday out of the air by combining the month of my birthday and the day I was writing the profile on and get it completely right.

Scientists have calculated that the chances of something so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one.
But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

― Terry Pratchett, Mort

On my first day of my new job as a college librarian at university, I was 90 minutes late for my 2-hour shift because I was reading Going Postal and forgot that I was supposed to go to work. Luckily I was supposed to be opening the library so nobody was waiting for me to take over from them, and the first ‘patron’ I ever saw in there was about four months later, so it ended up not mattering!

Words are important.  And when there is a critical mass of them, they change the nature of the universe.

– Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

Good Omens is one of the only books I’ve ever read multiple times, and if I had to choose one, I’d probably say it’s my favourite.

God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players*, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

Footnote to above: * ie., everybody.

– Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens

There are so many layers to all of his books, the humour, the metaphors, the ideas, the footnotes, but above all, the story. The story that grabs you and won’t let go, meaning you can’t wait to get back to reading, and resent anything that tears you away. I learnt early on that each new Pratchett book needed a dedicated time, and that I should have no other plans until I’d finished.

He cared a lot about reading, and you can see how widely read he was throughout his books, with so many throwaway references to everything under the sun, that it’s impossible to catch them all.

As the Discworld series progressed it got darker and deeper. Technology started to invade more and more, and the world moved closer to the one we live in, shining a light on how we live with the changes we’re experiencing all the time. The Science of the Discworld books are particular favourites of mine, weaving fiction and non-fiction together very cleverly. The fourth one is one of the only books of his I still have to read – so few left now, and so many lost because of his premature death.

Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you.

― Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

Other, very different, books have also appeared in the last decade since Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, such as The Long Earth series with Stephen Baxter. It is equally thought-provoking, and although there was less of the humour of Discworld, there are still flashes of it throughout.

The work Pratchett did to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s and dementia may well affect me and those I love in the future. As with many people, it runs in my family and his efforts may mean that treatments and cures are developed just that little bit faster.

He also worked with orang-utan charities, something close to my heart because of my time at the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo. The documentary he made in 2013 about the plight of orang-utans, called Facing Extinction, brought tears to my eyes repeatedly, in part because of the obvious struggle he was having to get through the experience.

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

If you’ve never read anything by Pratchett, I’m jealous. You’ve got worlds to discover which will open your eyes. Start now. Start with Death. Start with Death and What Comes NextIt’ll take you 10 minutes. It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you think. And it’ll introduce you to Pratchett’s greatest character, the one he has now gone to join.

It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It’s called Life.

– Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

To my #youngerteacherself

This is a response to a blog challenge set by Joanna Malefaki, asking what advice I’d give to my younger teacher self. Now that I’ve written it, it turns out most of my advice is about being outside the classroom, but I’m not sure what else I can say!

Depending on how you count it, I’ve been teaching for:

Like Joanna, I think I’d give different tips to each of those ‘me’s’.

On your gap year

I got incredibly homesick for the first three weeks of the six I was at the school in the middle of the jungle. When I left, I was crying my eyes out because I didn’t want to go.

Don’t wallow. Go out and talk to people.

Explore the place you’re in, however small it might be.

Our House

 

Find out about the culture.

Immerse yourself in the language.

Don’t be afraid to find out about the people you’re living amongst.

Fill your time.

On your year abroad

I didn’t learn from my experience of homesickness in Borneo, and repeated it all over again when I was in Paraguay, so the advice above would work for this me. There’s more though:

Just because a resource book looks old, doesn’t mean it’s not useful.

Just because a coursebook looks old, it probably means it’s out-of-date and irrelevant 😉

Plan more than 5 minutes before the lesson.

Make sure you know something about the grammar you’re teaching, and don’t just try to wing it.

Learn what those funny symbols on that strange chart on the wall mean – they’ll come in really useful!

Asuncion
Asuncion from the 13th floor

My first job

I spent my next three years working in Brno, which I loved, but…

No matter how much you think it might help, spending every weekend of the first six months of your time in Brno at school planning lessons is neither healthy nor an effective use of your time. Allocate a shorter time to plan, and you will magically be able to do it.

Spend time exploring – don’t wait until you’re about to leave to start, or you’ll never get to the planetarium (still haven’t been!)

Brno

Make more of an effort with the language right from the start. Get a teacher – you need one to make you do the work.

Back in the UK

Two years in Newcastle:

Use the fact you’re in the UK. Take the students on trips. Get them out of the classroom, especially in the summer.

At the park

Invite people into your classroom.

Observe other teachers. Observe yourself.

Remember that however much you might love the north-east of England, it’s a long way from family and friends, and just because you’re in the UK, doesn’t mean it’s any cheaper getting to see them than when you live in Europe!

Delta

Do Module 2 full-time. You’ll get so much more out of it that way.

Do the modules separately, not concurrently.

Make sure you dedicate the time and the effort to actually following through on the PDA (Professional Development Assignment) properly, rather than just hurriedly doing whatever you can to make sure you’ve ticked the boxes. You might find it actually solves some of the problems you have.

When people tell you your instructions are crap, do something proactive to sort it out. Don’t just nod and carry on in the same way. They are, and you’ll save yourself so much time and effort in the classroom by doing something about it.

It’s not worth making yourself ill over – have a proper break before you start.

Sevastopol

Start exploring straight away. You never know what’s going to happen that might stop you.

Don’t be afraid to ask people to do things with you in your free time – you’re not interrupting them, and you never know, they might say yes.

Sandy in Sevastopol

CELTA tutoring

Observe other tutors’ input sessions whenever you can find the time to do it.

Get copies of their feedback so you can become more effective, faster.

Collect as many different ways of conducting TP feedback as you can, experiment with them, and try to find ones which work in different situations.

Don’t overwhelm the trainees with paper – be picky, and get to the point.

Timing, timing, timing – be strict with yourself.

Most importantly of all…

Don’t think twice about diving headfirst into TEFL. It will take over your life in the best possible way, give you experiences you never even knew could exist, take you all over the world, and give you the most amazing life.

Don’t change anything.

Delta conversations: Angelos

This is part of a series of posts showing you all the different ways you can approach the Cambridge Delta. They are designed to help you find out more about the course and what it involves, as well as helping you to choose the right way to do it for you, your lifestyle and the time you have available. If you’ve done the Delta (or any other similar higher-level teaching course, including a Masters), and you’d like to join in, let me know by leaving me a comment or contacting me via Twitter @sandymillin.

Angelos Bollos

Angelos Bollas is a Cambridge CELTA and Delta qualified TEFLer based in Greece and the UK. He is currently working towards an MA in ELT at Leeds Beckett University. He is an Academic Manager at an international educational organisation and is interested in online education, CPD, as well as teacher training and development. In his free time, he blogs (www.angelosbollastefl.com), participates in #ELTchat weekly discussions on twitter, and connects with language educators around the world. He is @angelos_bollas on Twitter.

How did you do your Delta? How did you arrange the modules?

I did my Delta at CELT Athens – same place I had done my CELTA – with Marisa Constantinides and George Vassilakis. I could either follow an online/blended course or an 8-week intensive one. I opted for the second, not because I have anything against online courses (quite the contrary), but because I wanted to be completely devoted to it.

Why did you choose to do it that way?

As I said, the course was an integrated one, which means that I did all three modules at the same time. Undoubtedly, this was the hardest period of my life, but the most fruitful one. Doing all three modules together helped me stay focused and interested throughout. From one perspective, it is much easier: I was reading an article for Module 1 and realized that I can use it for my Module 3 essay, for example. What I am trying to say is that there is a lot of overlapping and I benefitted from the fact that I was studying for all modules at once.

What do you think you gained from doing the Delta?

First and foremost, I got the chance to reach my limits both emotionally and physically: spending three nights and days writing an assignment and, then, being told that I had to rewrite it all over again was something that I had always thought I couldn’t handle. Well, I did!

It also helped me hone my professional skills: organizing time, tasks, and people were closely linked to the course. Finally, it made me accept my role as agent of change, which may add to the responsibilities I have as teacher but, at the same time, it makes me want to constantly become better.

What were the downsides of the method you chose?

That’s an easy one: lack of sleep (as a result of lack of time, of course). A typical day was as follows: 8am – 9am Travel to CELT Athens, 9am – 4pm Input Sessions/Teaching Practices, 4pm – 5pm Travel back home, 5pm – 6pm One-hour sleep, 6pm – 8pm Work for Module 1, 8pm – 12am Work for Module 2, 12am – 3am Work for Module 3. Also, note that I am not the most organized person on earth so, following this schedule was a constant battle for me!

What were the benefits of the method you chose?

Two months and I was done and dusted! This may not seem as an important benefit but I can assure you, it was a great motive. Other than that, there was no room for anything not related to Delta. As I mentioned before, this helped me a lot.

What tips would you give other people doing the Delta?

Since I have written on my blog some tips for people who are about to follow a Delta course, I shouldn’t repeat myself. People interested in reading my tips, can click here.

However, I would like to stress the importance of the following two:

a. When choosing a centre make sure that you have enough and varied support (other than trusting the tutors, that is). For example, at CELT Athens, we had physical access to a library that had as many titles as you can think of, full of rare and very well known books; we, also, had access to the Delta wiki – an online space where one can find anything related to ELT and linguistics; lastly, we were part of network of many alumni who were willing to help and support us.

b. It is of utmost importance that people on intensive courses are team players – if they don’t support each other, they make their lives much harder.

In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

There are times I wish I had done my training way before the time I did it (I had been teaching full time for 8 years when I did my Delta), but then…I wouldn’t know if things would have been better or not. So, to answer your question, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

How much time per week would you estimate you needed to spend working on the Delta in the format you chose?

As many as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t have a better answer to that one. I spent 9 hours/day for researching, reading, brainstorming, organizing, drafting, planning, etc. As I said, though, I don’t regret any of these.

Thai Day 5

I’ve almost collected the set of teachers at Baan Aksorn 🙂 with a third new one today. It was a completely different lesson, and much more like how I approached learning Russian. This was mostly because I knew I only had three hours left, and therefore wanted to collect as much knowledge and language as possible to help me with my own self-study later.

We started with a list of things I thought it would be useful for me to understand/say which hadn’t come up in previous lessons, such as:

  • What’s your name? My name is…
  • Where are you from? I’m from…
  • What do you do? I’m an English teacher. I’m a teacher trainer.
  • How old are you?
  • I don’t know.
  • I don’t understand.
  • I can’t remember.
  • And you?
  • Can I sit here?
  • How to respond when somebody says ‘thank you’

I also asked about how to talk about the past and future because I know it only needs a couple of words in Thai. I’m not sure how many conversations I’ll end up having where I have to describe actions, but at least this gives me the option to do so.

When I asked about morning/afternoon/evening, I discovered that Thai divides the day into a lot more parts than English. We also looked at days of the week and how to say ‘last/next week/month/year’.

We talked a bit about family and showed each other some pictures. At this and various other points in the lesson the conversation was a mix of English and Thai, with my teacher sharing bits of information about herself and her family in Thai that I could understand, glossing any new words she used. This was great as it felt very personal, and gave me a good reason to concentrate because I was learning more about the person sitting in front of me, rather than thinking in the abstract. I could also try to edit and repeat some of the phrases to talk about my life.

When we’d run out of my questions, there were 40 minutes left. I decided the best thing to do would be to flick through the speaking textbook I had, with my teacher giving me a lightning quick guide to any new language that came up on the page which wasn’t immediately obvious. Thankfully my teacher was happy to do this. Because I have the CD I can go back and listen to the pronunciation myself later, learn the vocabulary, and do some of the controlled practice exercises, so we focussed on grammar and structures. In this way we covered:

  • Where is…? Which one…? Where do you…?
  • What is he/she like?
  • Who? Whose? With who?
  • and, with, also, but
  • Possessives
  • Suggestions
  • How long have you been here?
  • Comparatives
  • Happy birthday! It’s my birthday.
  • What’s this? What’s that? How do you say _____ in Thai?
  • Why…? Because…
  • Tag questions of the ‘…, right?’ variety
  • Basic conditionals for facts and advice. (If this, then this./If this, you should…)

There was no practice, and I remember hardly any of it, but that was exactly what I needed from my teacher. I’ve got plenty of time to practice it myself later, and I wanted to make the most of the short amount of time I had with an expert.

My teacher today was a big contrast to the other two teachers, although I’m not sure how much of this was because of the way I wanted the lesson to go. Very early, she told me not to worry too much about tones. I think it’s important to get the right pronunciation from the beginning though, so I’m glad that my first teacher was strict about this, even though it was frustrating at times. All three of my teachers were happy to answer my questions, but this one actually said to me it’s good that I was asking so many questions, and she thinks Thai students should ask more questions too. She checked at one point whether she was speaking too much English because of the explanations, which I was really pleased about, and she tried to tell me things in Thai whenever she thought I could understand. This was great because I sometimes have to fight to get my teacher to avoid English, especially because I can be lazy about it if I’m not forced to speak the language I’m learning. If I’d had lessons for longer, I’d definitely have wanted to rely a lot less on English, but the information cramming I wanted from my last three hours wouldn’t have been possible just in Thai.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • When you talk about siblings, whether they’re older or younger is more important than whether they are male or female. In fact, the word for sibling translates literally as ‘older younger’ rather than ‘brother sister’.
  • The word for cat is แมว. Go to Google translate and listen to it 🙂
  • There is a different word for ‘year’ if you are aged 1-12: ‘khuap’, not ‘pii’
  • The Thai day is divided into 8 different sections, varying in length from 1-6 hours.
  • In passing: all of the things listed above!

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

It’s good to have a mix of teachers because each one will prioritise different things for you, although you have to be prepared to be adaptable too.

Having clearly laid out notes from the teacher is incredibly useful as a reference.

The world's neatest notes
The world’s neatest notes, and yes, they are handwritten, not typed!

Flexible teachers are key – being able to respond to your student’s needs and moods is important for their motivation.

Having the teacher share bits of their life with you puts you on an equal footing and relaxes the atmosphere a lot. If they do this in the language you’re learning and you understand, it’s another high! If not, it motivates you to try to understand. This also helps to build rapport.

For every structure, you need an example. Otherwise it’s going to be very difficult to know how to actually use the language once you’ve left the classroom.

The end, for now

I’ve really enjoyed my experience of studying intensively, and of trying to put bits of my Thai into practice in the afternoons. I think I’ve got everything I set out to get at the beginning of the week. While it’s nowhere near the immersion that my students had in Newcastle, it was still valuable to reflect on the difficulties of learning a new, completely different language, which has few connections with any language I speak already. At the same time, it’s interesting to see how some bits of language are fairly universal, and that no matter how distant they may seem, you can still find some common hooks to hang things on (for example Thai and French). It’s made me think a lot about the role of the teacher in the beginner classroom, and having three teachers in such a short space of time has taught me something about how personality can affect the lessons too (in a good way!) The plan now is to take away what I’ve learnt this week and the resources I’ve been given, and continue to develop my Thai over the next three months.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following my journey this week – I’ve certainly got a lot out of it. In case you missed any, here are all of the posts:

Apologies for the bombardment of posts! 😉 Normal service should be resumed next week as I return to Chiang Mai for the next CELTA.

(If you’d like to read about another teacher’s reflections on learning Thai, try these from Peter Clements.)

Thai Day 4

Things feel like they might be clicking, at least a little. Every time I woke up last night I had bits of Thai in my head, and there was some internal monologuing when I was having my breakfast this morning.

I asked to do numbers today as this is the set of vocabulary which I think is most useful on a daily basis. I was familiar with 1-10, but didn’t know the tones, I was getting very frustrated with myself because I was having trouble with falling and rising tones again. My teacher was also frustrated at times from the tone of her voice and the way she said ‘no’ to me. She would tell me which tone it should be, which I normally knew, but I just couldn’t work out where to start the sound or how to get it out of my mouth. I couldn’t ‘hear’ what I was meant to be producing confidently enough for it to come out. As before, copying them is normally fine, but plucking them out of thin air is really difficult. We spent over an hour on the numbers, including a little bit of controlled practice with me saying numbers based on digits in the book. This was a real challenge because of the different way Thai approaches large numbers (see below), plus remembering the word, plus remembering the tones. A lot of processing had to happen here!

We spent 70 minutes on numbers, then moved on to time. This was only 20 minutes, but felt like a whole lot longer! At this stage I discovered that I can produce the falling tone with very little problem when saying เที่ยง /thiang’/ (noon), probably because it has a diphthong (a vowel sound made up of a slide from one vowel sound to another) in the middle of it. Changing tones in a diphthong feels much simpler and more natural than doing it in a monophthong (single vowel sound). Using that as a reference point I was able to produce falling tones in other words much more consistently because I got the sound in my head and could play off it. Now I just need to find a word I can use as a reference for a rising tone. Using the numbers to tell the time also helped me to feel more confident with them, and it felt more useful doing this than producing random numbers large and small (that context thing again).

The last hour was with my second teacher again. We did adjectives, with a break in the middle for some diet-related phrases. I also asked for a sentence structure to go with the vehicles I’d learnt, so now I can say how I travel(led).

I’ve spent the afternoon in Ayutthaya, a town full of temples just north of Bangkok. During the day I’ve had a few opportunities to use my Thai, both actively and passively. I understood numbers I heard over the station tannoy and on an advertising truck that was blasting out over loudspeakers as I walked around Ayutthaya. On the train, I told the people opposite me where I was going and understood some of the vendors as they walked past. I ordered food at a restaurant using my new phrases and was understood, and I understood when the woman passed on my order to the cook, although it then turned out she spoke English anyway! I also said a couple of phrases in Thai to the people at the restaurant as they were trying to get me to book a room – I managed to tell them I’m studying Thai in Bangkok and I go back today. I did a boat trip, and heard the woman organising say the time it would leave to her friend. All of these bits of speaking and understanding were little highs, exactly why I keep studying languages 🙂

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya
Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • 1 is หนึ่ง /nung/, but every other time 1 appears in a number (11, 21, 31 etc) it’s อ็ด /et/
  • There are distinct words for 10,000 and 100,000, rather than being multiples of 1,000 as in many European languages. I think this is a feature of many Asian languages.
  • Thai time works in six hour blocks. The most confusing section for me is 7pm-11pm, where the hours are counted 1-5 again.
  • (I think) Conditionals just involve the use of ‘if’ plus a basic sentence structure, which can be as short as a single verb.

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

Numbers take a lot of thought, and we don’t practise them actively anywhere near enough in class.

I’ve thought this for a long time, since even at very high levels of proficiency in some of my languages, I still have to think hard to process numbers. For a beginner, it’s a real struggle.

Having reference words that you’re confident with the pronunciation of can make you feel much more sure about transferring that sound to other words.

Frustration is cyclical. Just because you’ve got it right once, doesn’t mean you’ll get it right the next time you say it. Repetition, repetition, repetition, as long as it’s improving your confidence. If it’s not, drop it, move on, and come back to it, or both the teacher and student will get depressed and frustrated. Something later in the lesson might just be the necessary trigger to solve the problem.

Sometimes my teacher was doing other things in the lesson, like filling in the register or making notes about non-lesson-related things. I know she was listening to me because she could correct me, but it was a bit demotivating, as I felt like I was boring her. I also know I’ve been guilty of doing exactly the same thing as a teacher in the past. I’m not sure how to keep the teacher engaged in the lesson more, since they/I have probably done this hundreds of times before and will again. It’s hardly the most cognitively engaging part of being a teacher to listen to somebody maul very basic bits of your language repeatedly, even though you know that sometimes, just sometimes, they’re capable of producing it correctly.

When I was producing sentences which I was 100% sure I would need to use in real life, I was much more motivated and engaged.

Being able to use some of the language today has made me feel like all the effort this week is worth it.

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 3

I was tired today, and it made a huge difference. It took me a while to get into the lesson, and I asked if we could do some writing at some point as I thought it would be more useful for me to consolidate what I know that try to cram in anything new, since I don’t really feel like I know a lot of what we’ve done so far, unless I already had a vague idea of it before starting the lessons. Because of my tiredness, I also noticed the slight impatience in the teacher’s voice at times, making me quieter when I was unsure, and more likely to use a high (questioning) tone than I probably would have been if I’d been more awake – I was very unsure of my pronunciation and was trying to check everything.

My teacher decided reading practice would be more useful for me, so we looked at one group of consonants, called ‘middle class consonants’. First I read them as their letter names – every consonant in Thai comes with an associated word, since some of them have the same pronunciation but different characters. For example, the /s/ sound can be accompanied by the word ‘pavilion’, ‘hermit/saint’ or ‘tiger’ depending on which character is used:

Three 's' sounds
Three ‘s’ sounds

Three of the consonants were then combined with the vowels, which was good revision from Tuesday, especially as it turned out I’d forgotten most of the vowel characters. Finally, they were combined with random vowels, meaning I had to remember tones at that stage too – a middle consonant plus a short vowel uses a low tone, whereas a middle consonant plus a long vowel uses a mid tone. That whole process took an hour.

In the next hour we moved on to the ‘high consonants’, repeating a similar process but with both middle and high consonants appearing in the final reading practice, adding further to the tonal complexity: high consonant + short vowel = low tone; high consonant + long vowel = rising tone. I got particularly frustrated with myself at various points during this process as I found it hard to get the rising tone right. I could repeat it again and again with no problem, but as soon as I had to produce another tone before it, I lost it completely. I also found it unnatural to have two consecutive rising tones, and tended to use a rising tone followed by a falling one. I need to remember to split it up more, and over-emphasise the initial fall to make the rise more dramatic.

I also found it difficult pluck the sounds out of the air when trying to remember vowels and how to combine them with consonants, added to the challenge of trying to remember which character represents which vowel. I kept having to return to the vowels page in my book to remind myself how to produce them. One thing that did help was thinking about the vowels in relation to each other. For example, อ is a more open version of โ. It was also helpful trying to link things back to the phonology of English, particularly when producing some of the ‘words’ during the reading practice. For example: แกะ sounds like ‘get’ without the /t/ sound at the end.

I’d had enough of reading at this point, and the lack of context for the words, many of which probably don’t have any meaning, was getting me down a bit. It was useful for familiarisation with the script though, and I definitely feel more confident with some of the characters than I did before.

I changed teacher at this point as my Tuesday/first half teacher had another class to teach, so I was back to my teacher from yesterday after a break. I asked to revise some of the vocabulary we’d studied, going back over the nouns from yesterday, then experimenting with making more sentences with the words from Monday. That took 30 minutes, and for the last 15 minutes I finally felt up to looking at something new.

One more vocabulary page added 11 more words, mostly extending my transport vocabulary, and then a brief grammar page introduced personal pronouns and possessive adjectives. With about 7 minutes left, there wasn’t time to add the adjectives from the next page, and I thought activation was more important. I tried to make some sentences using the pronouns and possessives, but was feeling uninspired, so asked my teacher to make questions I could answer. Because you use full sentences to answer a question in Thai, this was a good exercise in sentence manipulation, without me having to come up with the ideas myself.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • There are different types of consonant: middle class, high class and low class.
  • The types of consonant and whether it is combined with a long or short vowel determines the tone of the vowel.
  • The words for ‘today’, ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’, so I can already discuss the past, present and future, rather than being restricted to the present.
  • The words for ‘tiger’ and ‘top’ (as in clothes) are the same but with different tones, as are the words for ‘sit’ and ‘film’.
  • There are only five/six pronouns in Thai. I knew that ‘I’ is different for males and females (there is a longer and shorter one for females, hence 5/6), but I didn’t realise that the third person pronoun is the same for ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ and ‘they’.
  • The pronouns don’t change when used as possessive adjectives (unlike English with, e.g. ‘she’ and ‘her’).

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

Reading aloud is good for familiarisation with sound-spelling relationships. It’s also a lot of work, and I think it’s of very limited use in classes with more than 2-3 students.

Giving students thinking time when they’re reading aloud is very important, particularly in a different script – they need time to process decipher the characters, process the word, formulate the sounds in their head and mouth, then try to produce it.

Separating out ideas and language during productive stages is vital. It’s hard to marshall ideas while simultaneously trying to work out how to express them. This is the stage when I feel I translate the most – I work out what I want to/can say in English within the bounds of my language ability, then translate it to Thai slowly and laboriously.

It’s far easier to recognise new language than it is to produce it yourself. Answering questions is much easier (and more motivating?) than producing sentences.

When I decided to make a question rather than a sentence, but the teacher answered ‘good’ instead of answering my question, it depressed me a little.

The exercise of producing lots of self-selected sentences is motivating, as I can choose what words I want to add to my vocabulary and control the speed at which I do this.

You need to know your teacher’s name so that it’s easier to ask for help.

Playing with the language makes you feel more relaxed – I enjoyed the last 45 minutes of the lesson more than the first two hours, even though both were useful.

As I said yesterday, I’d still like more opportunities to play, not just with the words but with the way the materials are exploited. Reading things again and again is useful, but is a bit depressing after a while. Some variety in the way it’s taken off the page would be interesting. Maybe the teacher could point at random words for me to repeat, or have flashcards, or write things on the board for me to experiment with. Three hours of looking either at the paper or at my eyelids (I close my eyes a lot when I’m trying to remember things) gets quite same-y.

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 2

It’s a national holiday today so I had a different teacher, and she and I were the only people in the school. I didn’t feel too bad as she had another student before me, but I was very grateful for her for giving up some of her free time.

The lesson started with me briefly going over my needs again. I wasn’t able to practise the tones last night as the CD was mislabelled and I ended up with the wrong audio. Early in the lesson, the teacher drew a helpful picture showing how to produce each of the tones.

Thai tones
Thai tones

The teacher started by greeting me in Thai and asking how I was, but although I completely understood I had no idea what to say in return. She taught me the basic conversation, so I just (!) need to learn it and I’ll have no excuses for not replying in Thai now!

We then revised the words from day 1, with me trying to put them into sentences wherever possible. I added more vocabulary to be able to increase my range of sentences at this stage. Every sentence was painfully dragged kicking and screaming from my brain, with much consultation of my notes, questioning glances at the teacher, and overuse of the rising tone again. The teacher also covered the Thai words and tried to get me to remember them – I got about 75%, but that’s an unfair representation of how many I can remember from yesterday since I was already familiar with about half of them. Putting them into sentences helped a lot.

Yesterday the lesson finished before we had time to do the last set of words, all of which demonstrate the rising tone. The first of these, ขอ, will be very useful as it means ‘May I have…?/Give me….’ This gave me the first chance to make a sentence to help with my diet: ‘Give me steamed rice with boiled chicken.’

I was then taught how to make basic yes/no questions, with me dragging more of them from my head to ask the teacher. When I’d run out of vocabulary, I answered her questions and learnt the very useful phrase ‘Say that again.’

We moved onto a basic dialogue, mirroring the one we’d done at the beginning of the lesson, just covering ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ I was also shown the three levels of ‘wai‘ (pronounced ‘why’), the traditional Thai greeting.

Today's classroom
Today’s classroom

The last part of the lesson was two pages of vocabulary grouped into loose lexical sets and accompanied by pictures. There were 39 words between the two pages, and although I’d been exposed to some of them before, it’s a lot for a single lesson. Again, I was encouraged to put them into sentences and to ask questions using the words. The only writing practice I had was writing any sentences I asked for out in phonetics, the most ambitious of which is another diet one: ‘Give me a little pineapple juice with plain water’. I pretty much never looked at the Thai words and relied almost completely on the phonetics. I’m wondering whether I should have chosen the Thai only book yesterday, but it’s too late now.

At this stage, I kept going back and repeating the words myself, and also repeated my two diet phrases ad nauseum – I think I might have remembered both of them now, but I’m planning on reading and re-reading them multiple times this afternoon, and perhaps even trying them out at a restaurant if my mealtimes work out.

We had long gaps in the lesson when I spoke in English for 5-10 minutes at a time, for my needs analysis, describing what I’m doing in Thailand, talking about my diet, and about why I’m on it. The teacher also gave me some tips for getting around the city this afternoon, and told me more about the national holiday, Makha Bucha day.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • Yes/no questions are formed by adding a question particle to the end of a normal sentence.
  • ‘Can’ goes at the end of the sentence, away from the verb it modifies (which is in normal 2nd position in a subject-verb-object sentence). ‘Can’ is negated, rather than the other verb.
  • Adverbs like ‘a little’ and ‘a lot’ are put at the end of the sentence, after ‘can’ if it’s there.
  • How to write ร (r)
  • Many words are compounds of others. For example ‘face mask’ literally translates as ‘cloth close mouth’ – 4 words for the price of one!
  • Bangkok’s name is different in Thai (well, I knew this, but I didn’t know what it was!): Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ)
  • The polite particle added to the end of sentences has a falling tone after statements, and a rising tone after questions.
  • I need to be very careful to pronounce ‘steamed rice’ correctly, otherwise I’ll get spicy Chiang Mai noodles!

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

It’s incredibly tiring, and regular breaks are important.

A variety of activity types is important to increase motivation – I feel like there could be a wider range of things done with the vocabulary in these lessons. For example, there could be flashcards so that we can play games instead of just reading them from the paper and trying to make questions and sentences.

In a 121 class, it would be nice to move around a bit – sitting down for such a long time put my leg to sleep!

Making your own questions and sentences is motivating because you can choose how to use the words and test the limits of what they are used for. It’s also very very very hard work!

Colours and diagrams can help make things clear.

It’s much easier to write things out in your own version of pronunciation, equating it to sounds/words you already know, than it is to try and use the official phonetics. Times that by about 100 and that’s how much easier it is to write it out in your own pronunciation than to attempt to use the still quite alien script.

‘Say that again’ should be taught immediately in a new class – it’s so incredibly useful.

As with yesterday, (about 50% self-directed) repetition and the use of English made a real difference to the lesson.

The teacher needs to be patient when listening to the same sentence repeated for the 20th…30th…50th time, and continue to pay attention because mistakes can still creep in. In fact, as you get tired they’re more, rather than less, likely to happen.

It’s important to move away from the written form and try to memorise things as quickly as possible, just using the written form to check/provide support, rather than constantly reading it.

I wonder whether more drilling would increase my confidence – most of the drilling I’ve had in the lessons has been self-directed. I’ve asked the teacher to repeat it. I wonder if they’d push that if I was more passive as a learner?

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 1

I got to Baan Aksorn school a few minutes late this morning, having not had time to find the school last night because I had to change hostels at the last minute. I was hot, sweaty, and not in the best mood because of the stress of the previous evening, even though it was only just after 8am. Thankfully that feeling disappeared very quickly.

My classroom
My classroom

I was welcomed immediately, and my teacher put me completely at my ease. She was welcoming and very patient with me. After I’d filled in the registration form, we chatted about what I wanted from the classes and decided which materials to use. The school has developed various workbooks. For beginners you can study reading or speaking. The speaking book can be with Thai characters, a kind of phonemic script or both. I chose the book with both, and we spent most of the first hour going through the consonant and vowel sounds, tidying up my pronunciation and clarifying some of the sounds I had trouble with.

ป and ต are still very challenging for me, and we got into something of a cycle of me attempting to repeat the sound with a 50/50 chance of getting it right. My teacher tried to tell me how to make the sounds, but it wasn’t always clear. Neither of those sounds appear in English as separate sounds, but they’re kind of like sounds which follow ‘s’ in the words ‘spot’ and ‘stop’. I’ve tried isolating them but can’t work out exactly how to do that, so if anyone has any thoughts on how to do that, they’d be much appreciated.

After a break (when I got to practise my Spanish and Czech on a Venezuelan who had worked in Brno!) we started to work on tones using lists of ‘words’, some of which don’t carry meaning, to demonstrate the five tones of Thai. Because I’m unsure of my pronunciation I have a tendency to use a questioning tone for many of the words, which is fine if it’s a rising tone, but not if it’s anything else! I could produce some of the sounds/words without a model, but I found it considerably easier when I could mimic my teacher. I tried to watch her mouth to see the changes, but this doesn’t help with tones or tongue position. She was good at using gestures and exaggeration to make it easier for me, but there’s definitely a lot of work for me to do in this area.

The final section of my lesson was based on real words grouped by tone. As we worked through them my teacher helped me to make simple sentences and gave me some grammatical information about patterns that accompany some of the words. This was great as it meant I could attempt to personalise the language a bit, and contextualise some of the words I’d already learnt on memrise.

The view from the classroom window
The view from the classroom window

The lesson was conducted in a mix of Thai and English, with all of the praise and some of the incidental language in Thai (like asking if I was cold when I put a scarf on), but all of the explanations in English. I can’t remember/imagine what it’s like to have a beginner lesson entirely in the foreign language – being able to check things in English really helped, and my teacher could compare sounds and lexical patterns for me, providing very useful scaffolding.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • It has a subject-verb-object word order.
  • There are two prepositions for ‘towards’ depending on if you are in the place the thing is going towards (maa) or not (pai) – hope that’s the right way round!
  • Every vowel exists in long and short form.
  • Adjectives follow nouns.

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner

Pronunciation is incredibly important.

Going through sounds at the beginning is an interesting way to start learning, and this is the second time I’ve done it (Russian was the first). I wonder whether it would work in English, or if it’s only good for languages with a strong sound-spelling relationship? We only have a limited range of phonemes, but perhaps you’d need to know the L1 of your student to do this, or they’d have to be willing to take the plunge with phonetics. You can use them as building blocks for words later, and pronunciation will be central right from the start. I definitely felt more confident with Russian pronunciation right from the start because of this.

Being able to mimic a natural model is hugely important – it’s hard to hold a sound in your head, and even harder to pluck it from thin air when you’ve had other sounds to think about in between.

Repetition, repetition, repetition…

…but it gets pretty frustrating if you can’t work out why what you’re saying is wrong.

Context helps so much – you need meaning to hook things on to in your memory.

It’s important to learn the patterns that go with words. For example, เป็น is one equivalent for ‘be’ in Thai, but it can only be used with nationality, character (e.g. kind), status (i.e. social position – mother, employee, student) and jobs. This could help to reduce mistranslations and/or over-generalisations.

Having a teacher who speaks your language is an incredible safety blanket. I have no idea how people in our English classes do it. Yet one more reason to value non-native teachers, since so few of us natives are competent in other languages!

When you’re writing a new script, it feels like drawing. It’s hard to keep the letter in your head, and even to think of it as a letter (I just nearly wrote ‘symbol’). Copying them takes time and thought, and often scribbling out and rewriting. When I was first learning Thai characters, I had to describe most of them as pictures to differentiate them. For example ด (d) is ‘up elephant’, ค (kh) is ‘down elephant’ and ต (t) is ‘tooth’.

It’s useful to record a few sentences that you can repeat at home.

In a 121 class, having a teacher who can write upside-down is very useful 🙂

I need to do some homework, including listening to the CD that was part of the materials the school gave me. See you tomorrow!

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 0

Ever since I first found out that it was possible to study a language intensively, I’ve wanted to try it out.

48 hours ago I put two and two together and realised that my week off between CELTAs 1 and 2 in Chiang Mai is the perfect opportunity to finally do it. A few hasty emails letter, a quick-off-the-draw reply from a language school, flights booked at the last minute (less than 24 hours ago) and a hostel with a kitchen located, and I now find myself sitting at Chiang Mai airport waiting for a flight to Bangkok.

The plan is 3 hours a day of private Thai lessons every morning from tomorrow (Tuesday) until Saturday, making a total of 15 hours.

Because of my limited time frame, language learning experience, and the fact that I can be very picky about what I want from my classes, private lessons are the only way to go. I’m just hoping I get a responsive teacher, and one who’s willing to adapt to what I’m looking for.

The story so far…

Before I came to Thailand, I had a quick look at memrise, discovered that the alphabet was huge, and decided that since I’d only be here for a few months there wasn’t much point studying the language.

I changed my mind within a couple of days of arriving, and have since been studying using memrise. I’ve found three courses which have differing levels of usefulness:

Basic Thai

The first level is particularly useful, but I got very frustrated to start with because I kept having to type the words and got really stuck. It’s much easier doing this on an iPad than a computer.
I ended up giving quite a lot of the letters funny names to help me remember them. For example: สวัสดี (hello/goodbye) was ‘worm under a tree, flower in the wind, worm under a tree, up elephant with a feathered hat’ until I could remember it! There are some words which I’m much more able to write than say because that is where the onus of memorisation lies in order to continue with the level. However, I definitely know the words I know because I’ve had to repeat them so many times.
Another frustrating thing with this set is the complete lack of context – I now know a set of decontextualised words, but no full phrases.
I’ve nearly finished the set. Memrise says I’ve learned 53/79 words and have 41 in my long-term memory, although the last few to learn are random school words like ‘electric light’ and ‘blackboard’. A couple of days ago I didn’t see the point of these, but now they might actually be quite helpful!

Mrs Yanisa’s Thai for Foreigners

This is based on a set of books written to teach Thai to native speaking children in the 70s. The main character is called Mannii/Manee. It’s given me the basics of the alphabet, and quite a lot of reading practice. Unfortunately, there’s no audio to accompany the written form, which is a particular issue for me because of the tonal nature of Thai.

It’s been good for putting some of the verbs from ‘Basic Thai’ into slightly longer sentences, given me a basic idea of syntax, and I definitely feel more comfortable with the alphabet because of it. There’s a little more context, but the sentences are very random:

มานี พา โต ดู ปู
maa-nii paa dtoo duu bpuu (Maanii bring Dtoh look for crab.)

Fundamental Thai

This is the last of the three courses I found. It has much more useful vocabulary sets, like numbers and colours. For some reason numbers is level 6 – I never understand why this is left so late when it’s generally the first thing people need when they go to a new country. Unfortunately it suffers from the same issue as Basic Thai, in that you have to type the words to progress. Again, I’ve found it quite frustrating, and have been annoyed with myself when I miss one tiny part of the character.

With both Basic and Fundamental Thai some of the audio is missing, but what’s there is generally useful. Sometimes people have tagged the words with a Romanized transcription of the pronunciation too, although that can be more of a hindrance than a help at times.

The daily targets you can set on memrise have been quite useful, although I’ve only kept that up with Basic Thai and the Polish course I’m also doing, Polish being considerably easier!

Progress on memrise
Progress on memrise

Sitting at the airport I can now pick out some of the flight numbers from announcements, the first time I’ve really had the chance to try out the Thai I’ve learnt beyond the occasional hello or thank you. Yesterday I saw a sign outside a computer shop and recognised the word ‘and’: และ Such things make me happy 🙂 It also shows that despite the problems with the sets above, they’re definitely teaching me something.

What I’d like to learn

Having a teacher will hopefully help me to get to grips with the following:

  • the rest of the alphabet;
  • how vowels work (they can be before/after/above/below consonants, and I’m still pretty confused by this!);
  • the basics of the tone system, mostly within my own pronunciation (I know it’s not there at all yet);
  • being able to have a basic conversation in certain situations, like getting to know someone, coping with shop transactions, finding out about touristy things for excursions and stays;
  • dealing with my diet.

I know that it’s going to be very tiring to study to intensively, but at the same time I’m really looking forward to the experience. I’ve even bought a nice new notebook to fill with all of my Thai notes. 🙂

And as you’ve probably guessed, I’m hoping to blog about the experience too, so watch this space…

Update

Here are all of the posts: