Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher

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.

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.

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?

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!

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…

CELTA Week Four

Day One

Today was a difficult day.

I had a Stage Three tutorial with a trainee who’s consistently struggling with analysing language, with planning how to deal with it in class, and therefore with getting it across to the students clearly.

I watched a lesson by another trainee who I haven’t seen since week one. I’m really not sure whether the lesson was a pass or a fail, again because of the way language was dealt with. If it’s a fail, it’ll be very hard, maybe even impossible, for this trainee to pass the course. I know that Fail is always a possible grade to give on CELTA, but that doesn’t make it any less hard, especially because I know how much effort this person has put into the course.

On top of that, I’m still not completely well, which means I’m feeling quite weak and occasionally have to run out of TP very quickly.

On the plus side, my input session on guided discovery worked really well. Trainees had to come up with their own guided discovery tasks based on an article called Ten Ways to Make Someone SmileThe session was also designed to help them think about how to prepare for TP8, where they can’t use material from the book.

Day Two

When you imagine a teacher, what do you see?

For most people, it’s someone standing at a (white/black?)board, pointing at something written there and talking to (at?) their students. Even if they’re not at the board, they’re generally standing at the front of the room.

Teacher position

Image courtesy of Adam Simpson (who I’m sure isn’t a victim of what I’m about to describe!), taken from ELTpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

I call this ‘teacher position’.

When you’re in ‘teacher position’ for the first time funny things start to happen. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. You talk more, because you feel like you should be explaining things and/or you need to fill the silence.
  2. You talk louder, often louder than is necessary, to make sure all of the students can hear you. Alternatively, you get so quiet that nobody can hear you.
  3. You write all over the board, generally in a pretty haphazard manner, because that’s how students learn, right?
  4. You never sit down, because you can’t be a teacher if you’re sitting down, even if there are less than 5 students in the room.
  5. You become the centre of attention, which either goes to your head or petrifies you.

In the first week of a CELTA course, my aim is to help the trainees feel comfortable in the role of teacher, then to move past this image, and start to realise all of the other things that being a teacher involves.

Over the four-week course, I hope to see the following changes related to each of the points above:

  1. You realise when it’s appropriate to talk and when not. You learn to grade your language so that students can understand you. You lose your fear of silence.
  2. You learn the correct volume to speak at so that students can hear you, but you’re not shouting at them.
  3. The board becomes a tool which is used wisely and well, with only the information that needs to be there, beautifully laid out so that the students can follow it and get some use out of said information.
  4. You vary your position depending on the stage of the lesson, the size of the group, and your role at a given time. You feel comfortable as you move around, and don’t feel you need to maintain ‘teacher position’ throughout.
  5. You realise that it’s all about the students, and that attention should be focussed on them. If you were petrified, you repeat the mantra “I am the teacher. This is my classroom. I have a right to be here and I’m in control of the lesson.” until you believe it.

This week we returned to the TP groups we had during week one, and it’s been great to see how much some of the trainees have improved since I left them. They’ve managed to address most of the areas above. The hardest one to deal with is the first half of 5, but two experiments with guided discovery lessons, one yesterday and one today, show that the trainees are at least attempting to do this. There were mixed levels of success with there, but that’s what experimenting is all about.

They’re the first steps along a long road, but hopefully the techniques we’ve taught them during the course will help them to cope with the rest of the lesson successfully enough that they can concentrate on the students, because they don’t have to think about everything else as it starts to become second nature. We can but hope.

Day Three

TP was eventful, with last-minute changes due to circumstances beyond most people’s control. That’s all I’ll say about it, because I know trainees from the course may read this.

We’re starting to wrap up the course now, with half of the trainees having their final TP tonight, and the other half tomorrow.

I’ve marked most of my assignments, with a handful of outstanding resubmissions still to do.

I’ve only got one input session left, on literacy, a topic I’ve never covered before. I just had a 10-minute break from writing this for a quick look at the materials I have for it. Even though it’s 22:20 now, I can’t stop thinking about what I want to do in the session. Too many ideas, not enough time!

Also still to do: finishing off feedback for my TP group for TP8; update the provisional grades sheet with information about TPs since the assessor’s visit; write reports; relax.

Day Four

When we got to school today it was quiet. Too quiet.

Instead of the normal 20+ trainees, there were only four or five.

“Sandy, did you get my message?”

“When did you send it?”

“About ten minutes ago.”

“No, I was on the way here.”

“I’ve added you to our facebook group too. Everyone’s got food poisoning. They’ve been up all night. I’m only here to hand in my assignment and then I’m going back to the hotel. What should we do?”

Erm.

Today has been an exercise in organisation and reorganisation, emails and phone calls flying back and forth, constant checking back with the trainers and trainees about whether input was still on, who is well enough to teach, and what those who were still ill needed to do to finish the course.

In all the massed experience of the many CELTA trainers at the centre, this has never happened before.

And, of course, it was the penultimate day, so there’s only one more night they can teach.

In the end, we cancelled input for today and shifted it to tomorrow. Seven of the ten trainees due to teach tonight managed to, so we’ve only had to reschedule three TPs, and luckily some of the students are available so they’ll have somebody to teach!

We’d arranged a party for the trainees and students this evening, but at least half of the trainees weren’t up to it. That was a huge shame, as the students had got them some lovely presents.

There was one useful side effect of this horrible situation for me: I’ve been having problems sleeping for the last few nights due to my colitis, so I was able to come home for a couple of hours and nap for a bit.

Hoping everyone is feeling fit and well tomorrow, so we can round off the course on a positive note!

Day Five

The course finished well :) Everyone was pretty much back to normal by Friday morning, with a bit of tiredness, but the sickness seemed to have passed.

I was very pleased with my first attempt at a literacy session, thanks to using Wingdings as the language for a mini ‘literacy test’, an idea I stole from a conference talk at IATEFL Glasgow I think. It works nicely for putting everyone in the room on the same footing, and avoids you having to work out who speaks which languages in the group.

Once that was done, it was time for report writing and provisional grades, updating the report sent to the assessor showing the progress of the candidates since their visit, and confirming which grades should be awarded, pending the assessor’s approval.

To finish the evening I had my final two TPs, which were a great note to end the course on. The candidates in question have shown huge progress over the course, with their final lessons being useful to the students and fun too.

Because we were the last people at the school, we got a taxi together for the 20 minute ride into Chiang Mai. About half of the candidates from the two courses were at the final party, because quite a few felt like they were behind due to the problems of Thursday. It was a fun evening, and as always, my favourite part of the CELTA course :) With the pressure off, it’s a chance to really get to know the candidates, find out more about their history and their future plans, and finish off the course on a high.

The end, for now

I’m very happy that I’ve finally been able to blog about my experience of being a tutor, mostly because this is the first CELTA I’ve done where I’ve managed to avoid working at home! My work-life balance has been much better, and I’m hoping to maintain this on future courses. As of today, I’m also finally starting to feel better, which will make a huge difference.

I feel like I’ve finally got the hang of managing my time during the four weeks of the course, and I’ve built up a stock of input sessions which mean I don’t have to spend so much time preparing them.

I’ve enjoyed my first course in Chiang Mai, working with a group of experienced and interesting tutors. I’m looking forward to doing three more in the same place and learning a lot more from them!

CELTA Week Three

Day One

What happens when a CELTA tutor is away?

There’s not much leeway, because you almost always have exactly the number of tutors you need, no more, no less. There’s no time to be sick, and any other absence is a very bad idea, particularly on days when you’re observing teaching practice (TP), when it’s vital to have one tutor per group of trainees.

We were lucky that we have a little bit of slack on the courses in Chiang Mai because of the number of trainers. Today we had demo lessons with no TP because of the level change half-way through the course, so if you have to be down a tutor, it was the best day for it. One was off sick, and another had to go to Bangkok to renew their visa.

Luckily, the one who was ill doesn’t do input, only TP, and we’d already arranged cover for the input sessions for the one in Bangkok. We shared guided lesson planning between the rest of us, and because there were no classes on Friday, we didn’t have feedback, which meant there was time to do this. The major change was having just two demo lessons in the evening, with larger than normal classes: 16 students and 10 trainees in the elementary one, and 11 students and 15 trainees in intermediate with me. We’re also very lucky that we have rooms big enough to hold that many people!

In the end we coped today, but hopefully we’ll be back to full strength tomorrow! Another reason to look after yourself

Day Two

On CELTA courses, I find the most often skipped part of language-related TPs is phonology/pronunciation. Trainees check the meaning of the language, spend ages checking the form (especially if they’ve been let loose on a whiteboard), then skip merrily along to controlled practice, without teaching students how to actually say this beautiful new piece of language they’ve taught them.

Trainees get more guidance in early TPs, and this reduces as they progress through the four weeks. At the start I can remind them repeatedly that they need to cover meaning AND form AND pronunciation, but there comes a time when they have to remember it for themselves. For two of my trainees today, that’ll be after tomorrow’s feedback.

Why do they skip it?

Often, it’s not mentioned in the plan at all, and if it’s not there, then it won’t be in the lesson unless they have a last-minute brainwave and remember it. I therefore encourage trainees to have three separate rows in their plan: one each for ‘focus on meaning’, ‘focus on form’ and ‘focus on pronunciation’, to make sure they remember to cover all three areas.

Sometimes it’s in the plan, but they blank and forget to do it in the lesson.

Still other times, it’s there, but they’ve spent hours on the warmer, the focus on form or something else earlier in the lesson, they notice they’re running out of time, and as pronunciation is clearly the least important part of introducing new language (!), they decide to drop it. Since to hit the Cambridge criteria it’s important for the students to get at least a bit of practice with the new language, this can be a sensible decision mid-TP, but I’d rather they tried to get to the point faster and gave pronunciation it’s due: what’s the point of knowing what a structure looks like if you can’t say it yourself?

No solutions here, just a general complaint…

And while we’re here, I’ll reiterate a point I made in my week two post: why, oh why, aren’t the way that meaning, form and phonology are covered in the lesson three separate criteria rather than being lumped together as one? Assessing the trainees on it as a single area frustrates me, but opinion is divided as to whether you can/should separate them out.

Does anybody know when the criteria were last updated? And when are Cambridge likely to update them again?!

Day Three

Easing off in guided lesson planning isn’t easy – the temptation is always there to help too much. Trainees need the opportunity to make their own mistakes, but they also need the chance to shine without you too.

I find TP6 to be the hardest one to do guided lesson planning for, assuming a total of 8 TPs. In the first four, trainees need support to help them focus when planning, not get carried away with materials or too stressed about introducing new language, including logical stages and not dominating the classroom too much, thereby leaving little room for students to experiment with the language themselves.

In TP5, they’ve normally just moved to a new level, so guidance is about how this will affect their teaching, and how to work with the higher/lower students.

In TP7 and TP8, trainees should be showing us how independent they can be, since they’ll be going out into the real world soon, where they’ll have to work alone. They can still ask us key questions and we’re there in emergencies, but generally they should be seeking the support of their peers rather than us.

But what do you do in TP6? Mostly I just have to try and restrain myself, making sure I’m only asking questions, and encouraging the trainees to think for themselves. Definitely an area I still need to work on…

Day Four

a.k.a. Assessor Day

The assessor’s visit looms around the end of week 3/beginning of week 4 on any CELTA course, and is dreaded by the trainees because they’re petrified about having another person watching their TPs. I have to say that since you already have up to 6 people watching, I’m not sure what difference a 7th one makes, but there you go.

Far from being there to judge the trainees, the assessor’s role is actually to standardise the course and make sure that the CELTA ticks all the correct boxes and everything is running as it should. They check some of the portfolios, particularly (but not exclusively) for borderline candidates where another opinion would be welcomed. They also observe some of the TPs that day and can observe/participate in feedback if it’s on the same day.

Before their visit they get lots of documents to look over, including an overview of the performance, strengths and weaknesses of each trainee. These are the basis for a grading meeting, where the assessor and tutors discuss what candidates need to do to pass/fulfil their potential/avoid failing. Earlier in the day, the assessor meets with the trainees to collect anonymous feedback about how the course is working, and they pass this on to the tutors after the grading meeting. Finally, they make recommendations about what the centre needs to do to maintain standards.

If there’s a tutor in training on the course and the centre is not a training centre, the assessor may stay for an extra day to observe the TinT doing an input session, taking notes in TP and giving feedback, as well as checking their portfolio and offering advice.

All in all, assessment day is long for the tutors, but it’s an important way of making sure that all is as it should be.

Day Five

The joys of CELTA are many.

Watching people who’ve never taught before learn the buzz of being a teacher, knowing that their students have learnt something from them.

Knowing that the more experienced teachers appreciate the opportunity to develop and reflect that the course offers.

Seeing the lightbulb moment when a trainee finally cottons on to something that they haven’t really understood the point of before.

Watching the trainees’ development over the course.

When you see something used successfully in a lesson that you suggested in feedback to another trainee less than two hours before.

Terminology slips in assignments and lesson plans producing new and interesting terms that will never again feature in any ELT literature.

When a new input session you’ve never done before works.

Lesson approaches input session

Finally figuring out how to do something you’ve never been quite sure how to do in your own teaching because one of the trainees has just asked you how to do it, and you’ve got to answer them.

Teaching people to reflect.

Having a TP group who work together like clockwork, so you don’t really need to be in the room because the support network and bond they’ve built up between them does your work for you.

Working with inspiring people and learning their stories.

Sharing my love of teaching.

Playing: with the room, the space, feedback sessions, interaction patterns, normal sized classes (not just 2 or 3 students!), teaching style, new activities, ideas, thoughts…

Lesson approaches input session
Hearing that somebody you’ve trained has got a job and is excited about starting their new life.

Knowing that you’ll be working with a great trainee, and have the chance to help them build on the initial course.

[Warning: don’t read while you’re eating, or if you’re squeamish. Some of it is too much information.]

Start

Back in September 2013, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an auto-immune disease I’ll have for the rest of my life.

The Russian gastroenterologist who diagnosed me put me on mesalazine tablets, which I have to take two of every morning and every evening. If I’m lucky and the symptoms die down I may be able to reduce this at some point in the future. I tried last year over a period of three months or so, but had to up the dose again in December.

When I’m in the UK, I can get them on the NHS, although the first doctor I saw only gave them to me under protest, telling me I’d have to be diagnosed in the UK to be able to get them, since a Russian diagnosis wouldn’t be accepted there. Luckily, the doctor I’m now registered with is considerably more reasonable, much more helpful, and didn’t question my diagnosis at all. He just asked if it might be possible to get my Russian medical notes translated into English to add to my records.

When I’m not in the UK, I have to pay for them. I get through a box of 100 tablets in 25 days, and they’re expensive. In Sevastopol, they cost £43 for a box, which then went up to about £65 in March last year. When I bought a box in Canada, along with a box of another tablet I need, they cost £90. I’m very lucky that I can afford to pay for them, as many wouldn’t be able to.

In addition to these tablets, and various others that I was on and off like a yo-yo in 2013-2014, I was also told I needed to manage my diet. These were the original conditions:

  • 300g of food every 3 hours, to keep my body working regularly without big peaks and troughs;
  • no raw fruit or vegetables – they all have to be cooked, giving my body less work to do;
  • no milk;
  • no added fat of any kind (oil, butter, margarine etc.) – it can line your intestine, making it harder to absorb food properly;
  • no fried food (following on from the previous point).

This was OK, because as long as I had small portions, I pretty much eat what I wanted. My health improved considerably, and I lost a stone (7kg). When I went back home at Christmas, everyone commented on how healthy I looked, and how ill I’d been before I went away in September.

Escalation

In March 2014, lots of things went wrong, and I got ill again. I had blood in my stool and bad diarrhoea, so I went to the gastroenterologist on Monday. I was given IV injections of hormones for 15 minutes a day for three days, which meant it went away. By the following Monday it was back again. This process repeated itself for three weeks, until the doctor told me she couldn’t do this any more, and prescribed prednisalone tablets for me, and an even stricter diet. That weekend I was very depressed, as my friend and I had real trouble working out what I would actually be able to eat from the list I was given. In the end we settled on:

  • non-fatty meat/fish
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • cooked apples
  • honey
  • red jelly (no citrus)
  • cooked carrots
  • …and not much else.

A week after I started this diet, I went to the UK for a week to see my grandad, go to IATEFL and celebrate my birthday. I was pretty depressed because one of the things I’d been most looking forward to about going to the UK was the food, particularly being able to have cheddar. If it hadn’t been for being with friends at IATEFL, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to go to restaurants with my dietary requirements, but I know some very supportive people, and it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. I was also lucky enough to have arranged to stay in a flat anyway, so was able to cook for myself.

Because of having to plan around when conference talks were, I managed to get into a routine of eating at 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm and 10pm, something I hadn’t really worked out on the first incarnation of the diet. I didn’t always have the 10pm meal, but I’ve now realised that if I don’t, I wake up starving in the morning, and I’m really tired the next day if I have any less than six 300g meals in a day. 15-20 minutes before I’m due to eat I start to get tired, and by the time it’s 30 minutes past when I’m due to eat, I can’t string a sentence together, I find it difficult to concentrate, and my legs get really heavy if I’m walking. I also tend to yawn a lot because my blood sugar has dropped.

Addition

Looking things up on the net wasn’t much help, as any two diet pages would contradict each other in some way, especially since nobody really knows what causes ulcerative colitis, and everybody has different triggers for flare-ups. Some of these are food-related, but for me, the most common seems to be stress.

A friend is training to be a nutritionist in the UK, and has been very helpful giving me advice. We eventually decided that I was actually on an elimination diet (although I’ve been mistakenly calling it an ‘exclusion diet’ until I just looked it up – no wonder people didn’t understand!), and could gradually add food back in to my diet. Strangely, the Russian doctor said I could still eat bread/wheat, but on my friend’s advice, I decided to cut out gluten too, especially since my mum is a coeliac.

Her advice was to try a very small quantity of something to see if it had any effect, then a larger quantity a little later, then add it in properly. I edited this to a little bit one day, a normal-sized portion two or three days later, then normal-sized portions on a few consecutive days. I wasn’t really sure what effect I was looking for, but everything seemed to be OK.

Nearly a year down the line, this is what I can eat (remember: all fruit and veg has to be cooked, not raw):

  • oats and any form thereof, e.g. oat flour
  • honey
  • coconut
  • rice and any form thereof, e.g. rice flour, rice flakes, rice noodles
  • potato
  • polenta
  • oregano
  • dill
  • parsley
  • pineapple juice (very watered down)
  • non-fatty meat/fish (nothing smoked or salted)
  • red jelly (no citrus)
  • eggs
  • apple
  • apricot
  • spinach
  • carrot
  • pears
  • beetroot
  • peach
  • banana
  • leek
  • squash
  • sweet potato
  • cinnamon
  • ground almond
  • feta
  • plain yoghurt
  • cheddar (I think – still in the process of trying this)
  • some very specific gluten-free products, like Mrs Crimble’s apple rice cakes

If I cook for myself, this makes for a fairly varied diet, and considerably wider than what I started off with in March last year. I cook meals in bulk almost every day, and eat most of them cold, because I don’t particularly enjoy reheated food.

When I go to a restaurants, I always ask for un-marinated meat or fish, with rice or potatoes. I’ve only ever been told that there’s nothing I can eat at all twice, and a few times I’ve been told I can only have one half of that meal – normally just the meat with no rice/potatoes because they’re pre-prepared.

Motivation

Here are some of the reactions I’ve received to my food/diet:

  • “How can you eat that?” [Necessity, and I actually quite like it.]
  • “Why are you eating now?” [I normally tell people about colitis and what it means to me at this point.]
  • “That looks horrible.” [Thanks.]
  • “That’s really boring!” [It’s a good job you don’t have to eat it.]
  • “I could never do that!” [You could, you just haven’t needed to yet.]
  • “I hate eating cold food/dry rice/carrots…” [You don’t have to.]
  • “If you told me I couldn’t eat ______, I wouldn’t survive.” [I’m pretty sure you would.]
  • “Is that all you can eat?” [Yes.]
  • “What about ____? Can you eat that?” [No. That’s why I didn’t mention it.]
  • “What can’t you eat? We can make something without that.” [I’ll tell you what I can eat. If you can’t cook that for me, I can’t eat here.]
  • Adding garnishes to my meals in restaurants because the plate looks really empty. [I either send it back or pick it off if that’s easy to do.]

These are all singularly unhelpful reactions, and it would have been very easy to give up, especially considering the amount of organisation it takes to cook all the time. However, there are some real motivations to stick to the diet:

  • I’m not quite 30, and I’m planning to use my body for a good few years yet.
  • I like the bits of my body where they are: it could lead to me having my colon/large intestine removed or edited.
  • Eating food which doesn’t agree with me has very serious effects, which I’ve only discovered this week.

The last of these is currently the most powerful. On Saturday I went to a café here in Thailand. I don’t speak Thai, and I couldn’t communicate with the waiting staff at all. I should have gone somewhere else, or eaten the food I’d got with me, but I really felt like eating something somebody else had cooked. In the end, I just ordered rice and roast chicken from the menu, knowing it would probably come with other things, but hoping it wouldn’t. When it arrived, it was in a tomato, onion and slightly spicy sauce which I decided to eat anyway. After all, I’d been a good girl for nearly a year. I knew it would probably make me ill, but I thought it would be OK. I decided to follow it up with some coconut ice cream, since if I was going to be ill anyway, I might as well eat all of my potentially ‘dangerous’ things together.
Rice and roast chicken

Two days later it hit me. For the last 36 hours I’ve had very bad diarrhoea and a lot of blood. I’ve started taking the prednisalone tablets I only use during a flare-up. Going to the doctor is pointless, because there is nothing they can do unless it gets worse, in which case I should be heading back to England anyway. I have all of the tablets I need for now, and as the doctor in Canada said (for £110), all they can do is tell me not to get stressed, and to eat as carefully as I already am. I’m now back on a very bland diet until I’m through this flare-up. Needless to say, I won’t be naughty again.

On the plus side, at least I now know what effect I’m looking for when I try new things, although I have no idea which of the things in the sauce caused it.

Travel

The hardest thing to deal with while on this diet is long journeys, as I have to take all of my food with me. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to buy food I can eat on the way and/or that I’ll be able to eat on the plane. This means a lot of calculations. How long is the journey, including transit time and sitting around at airports/stations? How many meals does that mean? What about crossing time zones? Are there any restrictions on taking food into a country? How much space is it going to take up in my hand luggage? What if the journey is delayed in any way?

On the way to/from the States, this meant 7 meals, and I cried on the plane when I couldn’t eat the meals which everyone else was being served. On my return journey, they hadn’t even got the bland meal I’d ordered, so it was lucky I had my own food.

Travelling to Thailand, I needed 8 meals. I’d ordered gluten-free meals on the plane, and although I couldn’t eat everything, I managed to have a couple of hot things from the meal, something which made me inordinately happy. Annoyingly, I have to throw lots of things away, since I can’t eat any of the bread, fruit or salad which comes with these meals as I can’t see the ingredients/they’re not cooked. I’ve discovered gluten-free is normally the best starting point, since I can at least eat some of it. Frustratingly, you can’t order meals for multiple dietary requirements, like gluten-free and dairy-free – you have to choose one or the other. I’m not really sure what gluten-free vegetarians do.

Food plan for journey to Thailand

Food plan for journey to Thailand

Going to the Grand Canyon for a weekend, with train journeys at either end and no stops in places with kitchens, involved 16 meals, although I was lucky to have had a diner recommended to me for breakfast, and also managed to eat in the restaurant in Grand Canyon village. I had three bags with me, most of which were just for food. The trip was worth every second of planning and every gram of weight I carried with me.

The first thing most people mention when I say I’m going to a particular place is the food and the restaurants. Since I went onto this diet, the only local speciality I’ve managed to have was Dungeness crab in San Francisco – it was gorgeous! I have no idea what real Ukrainian/Russian/American/Canadian/Thai food tastes like, since I eat the same kind of food in all of their restaurants.

When I choose accommodation, I have to make sure I have access to a kitchen. Youth hostels are particularly good for this, and I also experimented with airbnb for the first time last month, staying with a lovely family in Greenwich.

One of the most depressing things I do is walk all the way around a shop, sometimes even a medium-sized supermarket, and if I’m lucky, find one thing I can eat. Shopping in a new place takes me at least a couple of hours as I have to read all of the ingredients on things.

The only periods of illness I’ve had since March were 24 hours on arrival in the States, which I think was from the stress of the journey, 3 weeks in December when I was stressed on the very intensive course in Vancouver and didn’t know what was happening with Sevastopol, and now.

But it’s not all bad. Moving around has given me the chance to try lots of different types of food, like rice flakes in Sevastopol, lots of gluten-free things in North America, rice tortillas in Canada (which I became pretty addicted to and now can’t find anywhere else!) and rice flour in Thailand.

The benefits

Living with such a strict diet has actually had a lot of benefits.

I’ve lost 3 stone (21kg) and am the right weight for my height for the first time in my adult life.

I feel much healthier, and my bad knee doesn’t protest as much.

I’m much more aware of what I’m eating, and know the ingredients of pretty much everything I put into my body.

I’ve become a much more creative cook, and experiment a lot more to try to make my diet interesting: it’s amazing how cooking the same combination of ingredients in a different way can make it taste completely different.

I’ve learnt the difference between the taste of herbs – before I just used mixed herbs, or none at all.

I’ve tried things which I didn’t like or had never had before, like beetroot and polenta.

I’ve learnt how to cook some things I’d only ever had in meals made by others before, like squash and sweet potato.

I can now make pancakes, meatballs (though some say they’re not really meatballs because they’re not friend), and different versions of cake (one of which I was told has a similar texture to cookies) without recipes.

I almost always have food with me, so never get hangry.

I know that a large pan of rice and meat is enough for at least two days worth of meals.

I’ve realised how organised I am ;)

I’ve discovered that my friends are a fount of recipes and ideas to make my diet more interesting.

My friends and family have been very supportive and understanding.

I’ve become very quick (I hope!) at explaining colitis and my diet, and people seem to be genuinely interested in trying to understand it. Once they realise I’m not just being awkward, they’re normally very accommodating.

The future

So far, I haven’t needed to be admitted to hospital. I’m hoping that by managing my diet, I’ll be able to avoid that.

People with ulcerative colitis are at increased risk of bowel cancer, so in a few years I’ll have to start having regular colonoscopies to check I’m OK. That means I want to be based in one place by then.

I know somebody else who had to go through an elimination diet as a teenager. It took him about 3 years to get back to eating ‘normally’ with a couple of exceptions. He’s now in his 30s, and is almost always fine. It was great to know there’s a possible end point to the diet, although I know there will probably be some things I’ll never be able to have again.

I’m really looking forward to having my own kitchen again when I arrive in Poland in August, so that I can start experimenting properly again. I miss having an oven here in Thailand!

In my immediate future, it’s midnight here and before I go to bed I have to pack up the food I’ve been cooking while writing this post, so that I can eat tomorrow. I’ve been meaning to write this for a very long time and it’s good to get it out of my system!

The end

I’m very happy to talk about what’s happening to me, because I think it’s important that people know about illnesses like colitis and the related illness of Crohn’s disease, which my uncle has. They are normally invisible, and they can be difficult to talk about because of the embarrassing effects they have on your life. I also think it’s important people know that life doesn’t have to stop if you’re diagnosed with something like this. We’re all very good at getting on with life when it gets difficult.

Ultimately, I know that I am very lucky to know what is wrong with me, to be in a position to get treatment for it, and to be able to continue living my currently pretty amazing life. Long may it continue ;)

Information gap set up reminder

What do you mean, you don’t understand? ;) The face you’re pulling right now is the one which the students will show you if you attempt to set up a ‘complicated’ speaking activity and the instructions go wrong. Information gaps are activities which can work brilliantly if you set them up efficiently, and fall completely flat if you don’t.

Before we go any further, what exactly is an information gap?

An information gap task is a technique in language teaching where students are missing information necessary to complete a task or solve a problem, and must communicate with their classmates to fill in the gaps. It is often used in communicative language teaching and task-based language learning.

Wikipedia

They’re very common in coursebooks, and are often used to practise specific language points at the ‘freer practice’ stage of a lesson, but they can easily be used for fluency practice without a particular grammatical focus too. Boggle’s World ESL has some examples if you’re still a bit confused.

Here’s a simple guide to setting one up, including some potential problems so you can think about whether/how you’ll check instructions.

Step 1: Allocating roles

Tell your students what role they will take in the info gap.Don’t move the students yet! To make the rest of this explanation easier, I’ll say you’re doing one with two sets of information, so roles ‘A’ and ‘B’. A ‘C’ in brackets shows what you would do with an info gap with three sets of information.

Potential problems and possible solutions

The wrong number of students, e.g. an odd number when you need pairs.
Don’t work with the leftover student – you need to be free to monitor and help! Instead, have two As or Bs in one pair, and tell them how to share the work, e.g. take it in turns to ask/answer a question. Think carefully about who your two As/Bs should be to make sure you don’t end up with a strong student doing all the work or a less dominant student with no opportunity to speak because their partner won’t let them get a word in.

Students can’t remember which role you allocated.
Before you go any further, ask them to put up their hands to check they know who they are: “Who’s A? Who’s B?”

Step 2: Preparation time

Before your students speak, they need time to understand the task and work out what they’re going to say. Group As together and Bs together: AAA BBB (CCC) to prepare. For example, for a question and answer task they could work out the questions. For a ‘describe your picture’ type task, they could describe the picture they have to each other. This will give them a chance to rehearse and to ask you for any language they need.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students start trying to do the actual information gap.
Make it clear that this is preparation time and that e.g. they should only write the questions, not answer them – their partner will do that later.

Step 3: Information gap

Your students should now be ready to do the task. Regroup them AB(C) AB(C) AB(C). When they’re sitting in the right places, tell them exactly what they need to do. Something like this:

A, you ask your questions. B, you answer them. Then B, you ask, and A, you answer.

or

A, tell B one thing in your picture. B, tell A if it’s the same or different to your picture. If it’s different, circle it. Then B, tell A one thing in your picture. Find 8 differences between your pictures. Don’t look at the other picture.

Potential problems and possible solutions

Students speak their own language.
This is natural if the task is too difficult for them. They may not have had enough preparation time, so you could give them more. Encourage them to speak English, and tell them you realise that English might be slower, but they need practice to help them get faster!

They look at each other’s paper/sheet/picture etc.
When giving your instructions, check carefully that students know they’re not allowed to look. You can also seat them back to back:

Back to back

or in two rows facing each other with a large gap between. Bear in mind that this may create noise issues, although that can encourage quieter students to speak more loudly to make themselves heard, and helps students to get practice with phrases like “Can you say that again please?”

Students forget to write the answers/circle the differences etc.
Check that they know what to do, and monitor during the activity so that you can remind them if you need to.

Step 4: Checking the answers

If students should now have all of the same information on their paper, they can compare their sheets side by side to spot differences/mistakes/missing information etc.

Otherwise, it’s good to return students to their original AAA BBB (CCC) groups to share the things they found out.

Step 5: Feedback

Don’t forget this stage! You need two parts:

  • Feedback on content: This can be as simple as ‘Did you find all of the differences?’ or ‘Did you both get all of the information right?’, followed by further checking of the problem areas.
  • Feedback on language: While you were monitoring, you were (hopefully!) taking notes of some of the language students were using successfully and any problems they may have had. Choose a few of these to focus on, and make sure you praise the good language too.

If I’ve done my job right, the image at the top should now make perfect sense :) I made it off the cuff during a CELTA input session when the trainees asked me how to do this, and I thought it might be useful for others too. I hope it works!

Or at least an attempt at paragraph blogging (I find it hard to stop writing, so maybe this will help!) The idea was proposed by Ann Loseva and Kate @springcait.

Today two different trainees on my current CELTA course mentioned that they didn’t want to ask for help because they felt like they might be bothering people. This is a feeling I often used to have, but I’m hoping I’ve got over now.*

What I’ve realised is that most of the time when you ask somebody something, they’ll say yes.

Need help? Ask: you’ll get it.

Stuck at home and bored? Invite somebody to do something with you: they’ll do it.

Nobody to spend your birthday with? Tell your friends: someone will be free.

What’s the worst that can happen? They might say no.

And if they do? At least you tried.

We’re normally a lot more worried about bothering other people than they are about being bothered.

Of course, it’s a two-way street. You have to be prepared to say yes when other people bother you. After all, you never know where it might take you.

Me in a fighter plane on the USS Midway

When travelling alone, you don’t get photos like this without bothering other people!

* I still have trouble getting started on a new social life when I move somewhere new, but four months of CELTAs and moving round a lot have (hopefully!) made me a bit more proactive. We’ll see what happens when I move to Poland!

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