Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Yep, clickbait title I know. Sorry. But it’s true…these two little tips have probably saved me countless seconds since I discovered them…

Making sets of cards

Before you cut up a set of cards, mark them quickly with different coloured pens. You can do it on coloured paper too if you like, but that’s more expensive and a lot more faff!

Mark paper on the back to put it into coloured sets

Once you’ve cut them up, you can then divide them quickly into separate piles. If they get mixed up, or one falls out of a set, it’s easy to see where it belongs.

IMG_5659

Folding piles of worksheets

Once you’ve printed them all, fold the whole pile in one go.

Folding piles of worksheets 1

Separate them out into a messy pile.

Folding piles of worksheets 2

Sharpen the fold, a few at a time if necessary.

Folding piles of worksheets 3

Folding piles of worksheets 4

Repeat until you’re happy with the result:)

Folding piles of worksheets 5

What silly little things do you do to save yourself a few seconds of precious time?

Featured blog banner for Lang

Thanks a lot to Lang LTC in Warsaw for featuring my blog as part of the Edu Blog Fest on their facebook page this week. They’ll share a selection of my posts, with different ones each day, along with some ideas by their teachers inspired by those posts. Here’s the link to the first post and to their facebook page, which has a different featured blog every week, and is full of great ideas for teachers of all languages, not just English.

A couple of people I know have spoken highly of the Michel Thomas CDs for learning languages. I’ve never tried them, but one of them recommended this BBC documentary from 1997 on Youtube which I’ve just watched:

My initial impressions are that his method is a combination of:

  • intensive learning (9 hours per day for 5 days in this case – I think)
  • taking time to do lots of repetition within the lessons, and going back a step whenever necessary
  • small groups – only 8 students in this case
  • reducing the affective filter as much as possible, with comfortable seating and mood lighting
  • positive reinforcement – if you can’t say something, the teacher goes back, or supports you to be able to say it
  • translation – all words and phrases are translated from the first language of the learners (from English to French in this case)
  • breaking down the language to a manageable chunks – starting with words which are similar in your language
  • lexical chunks – no explicit focus on grammar rules, especially where the rules are similar between the two languages, and no metalanguage (grammatical/linguistic terminology). The example of le faire being used to translate do it, then encouraging learners to produce see it as le voir is a case in point
  • everything going through the teacher – there didn’t seem to be any student-student interaction in the classes in the film
  • the teacher taking full responsibility for everything in order to reduce pressure on the students
  • no memorising – ‘you should clear your mind and that should come naturally’
  • no reading or writing
  • no homework (though with 9 hours of classes each day for a week, you probably don’t need it!)

Looking at the website, one of the selling points is to ‘Learn a new language the way you learnt your own’. I don’t think that can be true, since none of us learnt our own language by translating it from another one, though it’s true that we didn’t read, write or do homework at the beginning!

I’ve listened to the 5-minute audio sample of the Arabic course, and it seems they always start with loanwords into and out of the language being learnt, i.e. English words that have moved into Arabic, and Arabic ones that have moved into English. These are then used to construct sentences by adding simple bits of grammar to them. This is clearly a good place to start, providing you have an awareness of both languages.

Reservations and reflections

The intensity of the classes means you can learn a lot without requiring homework, since the learners are getting a lot of exposure within a short time. This ‘miracle’ would probably result in a higher rate of learning than the classic 2-3 hours per week in any situation without any of the other parts of the ‘method’, though how much higher depends on the teacher and the course. Small groups also help here.

Reducing the affective filter and making students feel comfortable in the classroom should always be part of our aim. If we could all have classrooms with armchairs, I’m sure that many students would feel more comfortable. Positive reinforcement is also very important – if you believe you can speak a language, you will be able to.

Translation may work very well with a monolingual class, but what do you do with multilingual classes? Especially if you don’t know their language(s)?

Lexical chunks are clearly a much less stressful way of learning than through listing of grammar rules and doing lots of exercises. They’re just a lot harder to ‘put in order’ in terms of syllabus design, so unfortunately grammar still rules in most materials. Removing metalanguage is generally a good thing if it makes it easier for learners to understand, but can make it harder for them to study independently if they want to go away and practise outside the classroom, as it will be more challenging for them to find extra materials to practise the same things outside the classroom.

The teacher has complete control of everything going on in the classroom. This seems to take some of the freedom out of language learning, as you can only say what the teacher wants you to say. What if you want to say something different? I would hope/assume that changes at higher levels. It’s also incredibly intense for the teacher, as they are the focus of the entire lesson.

Learners should be given the option to read or write, at least at the end of the lesson. It’s an extra way of remembering what they’ve learnt, and helps them progress in all four skills, not just speaking and listening.

What level is it possible to progress to with this method? It seems like it could be particularly useful for beginners, elementary, even pre-intermediate (A1-low B1), but what about higher levels? According to Wikipedia, the ‘Total’ courses should help you to achieve A1-A2 level in grammar, and the ‘Perfect’ courses should take you to B1-B2, again just in grammar. Vocabulary building is dealt with separately, although some vocabulary is introduced throughout the grammar courses.

Michel Thomas

Have you had any experience of the Michel Thomas method? How did you find the methodology? Did it work for you?

Innovate ELT (May 2016)

A month ago I had the pleasure of attending the Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona. It’s been a bit hectic since I got back, so this is the first chance I’ve had to share a few of the highlights of the conference for me.

Innovate ELT breaks from the traditional format of many conferences. Two of the things that I particularly liked were the mini plenaries, which anybody could apply to do, and the live lessons.

The mini plenary which I found particularly thought-provoking was by Laura Patsko, whose title was Whose English is it anyway? She’s shared a recording and the full text of her talk in this post. Among other things, it drew on her personal experience as somebody who’s lived in different English-speaking countries, as well as on her research into English as a Lingua Franca. I’d recommend taking a look.

You can also watch a recording of my own five-minute plenary on Five things I’ve learnt from five years of blogging.

Most of the live lessons during the conference were done with local students, with the conference goers watching the whole lesson, then discussing it after the students had left. In a slightly different format, Ceri Jones taught a lesson of Welsh for beginners in which all of the people in the room were the students. The session was an hour long, with some reflection before we started on our expectations of what would happen in the lesson and how much we thought we would learn, followed by the lesson itself, and ending with reflections on our experience. I’ve taken part (and given!) many lessons like this, but never in Welsh and never at a conference. I think it’s vital for language teachers to put themselves in their learners’ shoes whenever they can. This is especially important if they’re teaching very low levels to realise just how much processing goes on to be able to take in the information from the teacher, and how tiring it can be to work in another language for an extended period of time. Thanks for the opportunity to do this again, Ceri.

The most practical session I went to was by Chia Suan Chong. She shared a series of activities for working on intercultural communication skills, for example on how to identify and deal with misunderstandings, modify your language when speaking to people with different levels of English and decide what name/title to call somebody by when you meet them. You can find all of the worksheets on the Cornelsen site, to accompany their new series Simply Business.

As a bonus extra, here’s a video recorded during the conference by Chia for Business English UK in which I describe three things I think of when I think of the UK.

Take a look at their Twitter feed and website to find out more about studying Business English in the UK, and to follow the travels of Farringdon Bear.

Thank you again to ELTjam and OxfordTEFL for organising the conference.

This is a continuation of my reflection notes made while doing the Future Learn Beginner’s Italian course. You can also read about weeks 1 and 2.

One of the benefits of doing the Future Learn course in the correct weeks is that you benefit from the moderators being online. It’s possible to sign up for a course and complete it whenever you like, but during the set period of the course (in this case six weeks), various moderators are available to respond to questions in the discussion thread, normally within 24 hours. Last week I posted a comment to ask about online dictionaries, and was referred to a list by one of the moderators which included both translation and monolingual online dictionaries. I was impressed at how quickly I got a response. This was useful, though in future it might be more beneficial to have a page on the course where you can go to for extra resources like this, as I would never had found it without the moderator. Moderators would then be able to refer participants to it if they can’t find it themselves.

Another advantage of studying the course in the specified time is the ability to use the tips sent out in the summary email at the end of each week. These are pulled together based on comments and questions from the discussion threads. At the end of week 2, this included a response to user requests which I was very pleased to see:

To help you to practise listening comprehension, a downloadable audio version the dialogues will available from next week.

Perhaps the dictionary links could also have been included here?

Week 3

The video story is working well for me. I’m enjoying learning more about the characters, and am quite pleased that they don’t seem to be going down the line I’ve seen before in this kind of video of boy meets girl, lots of slightly strained sexual tension, then they fall in love at the end of the story. Instead, Mike and Anna both have partners (Sarah and Leonardo) who they tell each other about in the first video for this week, introducing descriptive language. As mentioned previously, I also like the fact that the videos are at normal speed, but you have lots of options to help you: no, English or Italian subtitles; watching at half speed, downloading the transcript, and from this week, downloading the audio.

Generally, the videos are very well produced, both for the story and the language introductions.

As in previous weeks, the ‘Try it yourself communication’ activity again relies on you being able to use the four or five phrases they’ve introduced so far, or going off and finding your own phrases/using what you know already. These are examples of what has been introduced: https://quizlet.com/132508088/focus-on-communication-7-flash-cards/ If they don’t have long, black hair or aren’t tall or thin, there aren’t many people you can describe:) I know they’re trying to separate the functional language and the vocabulary sections, but I don’t really feel like commenting because I don’t know what to say. I feel like a more specific prompt would be useful. This is the task at the moment:

Do you have any questions about how to describe people and things? Are you unsure about something? Share your comments and questions in the discussion below. Don’t hesitate to help other learners if you know the answer, or to share links to helpful resources.

I clicked ‘mark as complete’ without adding anything.

The vocabulary introduction is the next stage. To me, it would make sense to flip these two steps in the course. There is an extra practice activity though you have to do a bit of guesswork – are her eyes green or light? Is her hair short and black, curly and black, short and curly?

Noun and adjective agreement video: refers back to previous grammar units very clearly, so it’d be easy to find them again if you wanted to. Slight confused by this random question at the end of the grammar quiz, which doesn’t appear to practise noun and adjective agreement, and must have slipped past whoever was checking the course!

Mike e Leonardo sono _____. gentile/studenti

The ‘Exploring Italian’ section throws out a whole load of new language again, and does nothing with it apart from showing us a couple of example sentences. The phrases include: “stare insieme con (to date someone)” and “essere fidanzat-o/a/i con (to be engaged to)” Questions in the comments section reflect this: can we have the audio or hear the pronunciation? Speculation on the grammatical forms… On the plus side, the examples mostly use the characters from the video, so at least the context is maintained. [In the end of week email, the moderators said that audio files will be available for these sections from next week. Great to see how they respond to the comments.]

Italian sounds: vowels. Aha, it turns out they can easily put in sound files, as there is one to accompany each of the words used to introduce the vowel sounds. I feel like this would be a more useful way of introducing the vocabulary, or at least they could have a vocabulary list with the audio to accompany the videos so you can listen repeatedly to particular words you want to practise with ease. Lots of comments in this case to show that the differences between /e/, /ε/ and /o/, /ɔ/ haven’t been made clear. It’s OK for me because I understand the phonetics, have lots of practise differentiating sounds, and the example words they’re using to equate the sounds are from English, my mother tongue, but a lot of the course participants will have trouble distinguishing these pairs as they are so similar. A little more explanation would be useful, or indeed, a video showing you the physical differences between the sounds, rather than just an audio file!

The directions video goes nicely with where I’m up to on the Memrise Learn Basic Italian course: level 5 is called ‘Here, there and everywhere‘ and covers directions too (and, randomly, numbers and times!) The first question in the comprehension quiz asks you where Mike wants directions to. The answer was given in the introduction to this video, when the phrase ‘post office’ is pre-taught. This is an example of the importance of choosing which language to pre-teach carefully and/or ensuring that comprehension questions actually require you to comprehend the materials! The use of a map in the video with Mike and a stranger is also reflective of my experience as a tourist. I’m enjoying seeing clips of Sienna, and like the fact that it’s not just in the sunshine! Mike feels like a real person in a real city with (fairly) real reasons for needing to speak Italian.

I like the fact that the ‘focus on communication’ video begins by the teacher acknowledging that although we often use GPS nowadays, it’s still useful to be able to ask for directions. The communication quizzes generally test passive recognition of collocations, which I think is fairly useful. There was another quiz on Learning Apps to help us, this time matching the two halves of sentences. It’s good to explore this app, which I learnt about last week. Lots of people have been motivated to post in the comments, mostly writing short conversations with directions in them. These add extra reading practice. There is also peer support when people have questions about the language, for example what ‘vicino’ means, which was mentioned in the video, but never explicitly taught. I learnt it from memrise yesterday! (They teach it in the next video)

More vocab for directions in a video (the previous video was focussed on communication, or what I would class as functional language). It’s noticeable that the previous three or four stages have had about 200-300 comments, but this stage has nearly 1000. This is the difference when there is a clear task to complete. I’m not sure if this would be possible, but perhaps the interface could be adapted so that you can post your comment, then read the others. At the moment, you have to view all of the comments to see the box to post your own, so often it’s difficult not to look at other people’s answers before you write yours. There are so many different ways that people have chosen to give directions to Mike to help him find Anna – a genuinely engaging and motivating productive task, probably the first one on the course so far!

It’s now two days into week 4 and I haven’t finished week 3 yet, and didn’t have time to do any over the last three days since the last things I wrote…

Because I know I won’t have time to catch up next weekend either, and want to finish the whole thing before I get to Milan, I’m tempted to rush (though not enough to stop writing this!) Instead of watching the full video for the conjugations of ‘andare’ and ‘venire’ I listened to enough to hear the pronunciation of the verb forms, then looked at the transcript. This was probably more useful than watching the video more times as I spent time thinking about and trying to memorise the verb forms, instead of just listening to the next thing the teacher said. I’d like to be able to see the forms and listen to them individually, as I’ve said before about the vocab. Managed to get most of the quiz right, but have trouble with tu/lui/lei endings because of Spanish – I feel like there should be an -s for tu!

Introduction to consonants – good that there are Italian example words which you can listen to as many times as you like. However, I don’t really like the fact that there are English example words because these can be misleading. For example /p/is aspirated in the British English ‘pit’, but not in the Italian ‘papà’, at least that I can hear.

Discussion point task at this point:

Write a description of you or someone that you know in the comments. You may include:

  • Hair colour
  • Eye colour
  • Height
  • Etc.

For example: Mia moglie è bionda, ha gli occhi marroni, non è molto alta, ma è molto carina e simpatica!

I have no idea! I can’t really remember any of these words and initially thought we hadn’t even studied them, then looked back up this post and realised they were at the beginning of this section. Directions in the middle confused me – seems like a very random order! Having looked back, this was my contribution, which required quite a lot of effort to produce:

Mia mama ha capelli longhi. Non ha capelli neri. Lei non è alta, non è piccola.

The final section for the week promises to introduce these things:

You will learn to ask for the time and the related vocabulary. Moreover you’ll also learn the names of public places and the present tense of the verbs ending in –ere and –ire.

This feels like a lot, though it may be the fact that it’s 21:30 as I write this. Not sure I’m mentally in the right place to manage all of this, but I want to try and finish the week!

The video has a few lines of dialogue, then some text messages. I think that’s the first real reading practice we’ve had so far on the course, and it’s an interesting and different way to introduce it, again well-produced too. The subtitles have the times in numbers and in words, which is great. In the comprehension quiz, I have no idea what some of the words in the final question mean ‘Anna incontra Mike oggi pomeriggio:’ but have managed to guess the answer. ‘incontra’ is like ‘encontra’ in Spanish, so I know that means ‘meet’, but I have no idea about the last two words.

How to tell the time: “You have already learned the numbers.” Hmm…not really. I’d recognise them at a push, but I wouldn’t say I’ve learnt them yet. Just started doing them on memrise, which will probably be what helps me to remember them.

There’s a Quizlet quiz to help you practise some of the questions. This is good for recognition, especially the scatter mode, which is the only one I can be bothered to play at this time of night. One of my bugbears in general (not just on this course, but in many online materials) is the disregard for punctuation, especially capital letters. Learners need to see how and where capitals are used correctly, as rules for capitalisation vary and some languages don’t have them at all. There are no capital letters at all in the set at the moment😦

The second video about time has lots of examples of times, in sentences too. Very clear. It was also good that they clarified that in informal spoken Italian you normal use 1/2/3, but when talking about official things e.g. opening hours or train times, you use the 24-hour clock. The ‘try it yourself’ quiz tests whether you recognise if times are formal or informal, rather than your understanding of the numbers themselves.

The extra practice quiz involves writing out a time in words, but only accepts one possible answer in each case, which is a bit frustrating when you have something like 20.45 and there were three possible ways to say it in the video. I couldn’t be bothered with this after one question (again, time of day/tiredness).

The next grammar video introduces new conjugations for verbs ending in -ere and -ire, comparing them to -are. It’s all in a clear table on the slide, so you can see that many of the forms are the same across all three conjugations, reducing the processing load needed to retain the information. “Don’t worry if it seems difficult. It will become familiar very quickly.” – I like these supportive messages:)

The grammar test always puts the options in the ‘correct’ order (I, you, he/she/it etc), so if you can understand the question, you don’t necessarily need to remember the verb form very confidently, just the order. Having said that, it’s helping me to remember that -i is a second person ending, not third person (Spanish again), because I keep seeing it in the same position in the list.

The last set of consonants are introduced to round of the unit. These ones are different to English, or have no equivalent. If they have no equivalent, there is an example from Spanish, though I’m not sure these match up, at least to my South American experience. I guess many people may know those sounds, but otherwise it seems odd. I’ve just noticed that all of the phonetic symbols are there too – my eyes had completely skipped over that column with the consonants! Two new symbols in my IPA arsenal now: /ɲ/ for ‘gn’ in ‘gnocchi’, /λ/ for ‘gl+i’ in ‘figli’ and ‘gli+a/e/o/u’ in ‘familia’ etc. The latter sound is equated to ‘ll’ in Spanish ‘llave’ or ‘llamar’ which I don’t think is the same sound.

OK, it’s 22:11 now, and I’m not sure how much of this I’ll actually retain, but I’ve at least seen it. Numbers continue to be a challenge, and I clearly can’t remember the description vocabulary, so should probably revise both of them. I know it’s not going to happen though, because I’m busy and unless it comes up on the course I won’t make the time to do it.

I haven’t downloaded any of the slides or extra resources yet, and just go back to the page I need using the ‘to do’ list if I’m not sure about something. Still feel like I’m learning, but pretty passively. This is mostly my own fault, but I also don’t feel like the course is making me be particularly active at points when I should be able to produce target language. It tests you at various points, but normally before rather than after the fact.

Roll on week four…

Sue Swift has just posted this very useful list of questions for anybody thinking about where to study for Delta Module Two. I’d recommend working your way through them, not only to check with your course provider what their answers are, but also to give yourself an idea of things that might go wrong during the course and think about what you can do about them. This will help you to feel more prepared going into the course.

Good luck!

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11 things (again)

1. Acknowledge the nominating bloggers/2. Share 11 facts about yourself

Clare Fielder recently nominated me to take part in the ’11 things’ blog challenge which she wants to revive. I originally shared my facts in December 2013 but I liked Clare’s questions so have decided to answer them here. I’ve also nominated a few more people to answer the questions who weren’t blogging last time I did this. I hope they’ll join in!

3. Answer the 11 random questions the nominating blogger has created for you

1. How are you feeling today?

Happy, for many different reasons:)

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting on the train to Warsaw for my penultimate weekend of working on a part-time CELTA. It’s the fourth time I’ve been, and (I hope!) the first time I’ll actually get to see some of the city, due to a combination of (what is supposed to be) good weather and light evenings.

It’s the last week of the school year for most of the teachers at IH Bydgoszcz and we had a great swapshop of summer school activities this afternoon. Everyone is very positive as we finish off the year, and there’s a real buzz in the staffroom.

I also had the best night’s sleep I’ve had for a long time last night, which I suspect was because I managed to walk both to and from school for the first time in over a month. I sprained my ankle for the third time on 4th May, and I managed to ditch the crutches yesterday. Roll on complete recovery!

Life is good, with lots of great plans lined up for the summer (watch this space), and the fact that I’m taking the first steps to a long-held dream of buying my own flat.:)

2. What book is closest to you as you write this? And would you recommend it to others? Why (not)?

Because I’ve only got a small rucksack with me for the weekend, I couldn’t fit in my real book, and as I write this I’ve just realised that I left my iPad behind so I don’t have my ebook either. Oops! That means I have no idea what the nearest book to me is right now…something one of the other passengers is reading! If I was at home, this would be my answer…

I’ve read the first few pages of The Pickwick Papers on a free books app on my iPad which I’m using to catch up with classics I’ve never got round to reading before. I love Charles Dickens, so I’m pretty sure I’ll like this.

I’m also reading two paper books, The Song of Homanathe second in a fantasy series, which is fine, and The Rose of Sebastopol. I noticed it in our school library a couple of weeks ago, and obviously needed to read it because of my connections with Sevastopol and Crimea. It’s set in the Crimean War, which I know more about than I used to, but still not much. I’ve only read a few pages of it so far, so am not sure if I can recommend it or not yet, although they were very easy to read, so I probably would.

3. What’s your top tip for de-stressing after a hard day at work?

Walk.

Being outside really clears my head and gives me time to think. As somebody who used to be allergic to exercise, I’ve noticed a massive difference since I started tracking my steps about four years ago, and I’ve drastically increased the amount of exercise I do. It’s gone from 1,500-2,000 steps on some days, up to over 10,000 most days. I feel so much better for it, and I now always try to live or stay in places which mean I can walk to and from work. It’s also helped me to lose weight.

4. Have you ever learnt any foreign languages? How has this helped you be a better language teacher?

Erm, just the odd one or two. I’m a bit of an addict!

I did French and German at school, and added Spanish at university, reaching C1 level in all of them, although they’re a bit rusty now, especially my French.

I’ve learnt Czech, Russian and (currently) Polish because of living in the countries. I’m about pre-int in the first two, and my Polish is improving all the time, especially since I started actually speaking!

I’ve also dabbled in Malay, Greek, Mandarin, Thai and braille, and am trying to learn some Italian ready for a CELTA in Milan this summer.

Being a language learner myself has made a massive difference to my teaching, because although it’s impossible for me to truly understand what it’s like to learn English as a foreign language, I do know what it’s like to feel like an idiot or a very small child, to be mostly or completely illiterate, to feel frustrated because you know you know that word…and on the flip side, I have hundreds of tried and tested language learning techniques I can share, and I completely get the feeling of achievement you feel when you manage to understand or communicate successfully, so I keep trying to push my students past the pain so that they can get to that point!

5. Describe your teaching style by comparison to an animal, and explain the similarities!

Sorry. Going to skip this one, as I find this kind of thing really difficult! Anyone who wants to attempt an answer in the comments is welcome to try…😉

6. What are your areas of specialism & expertise within ELT / teaching, and your strengths as a teacher?

My main area of expertise is in knowing where to find the answers to questions I have, mostly through the amazing network of teachers I’m connected to both online and offline. I’m also very organised, which makes my life a lot easier as a manager, and means I’m often asked about how I manage to get so much done.

In the classroom, I think my strengths lie in my ability to empathise with the students due to my own language learning experience, as I said in question four. I’m also very reflective, and I’m always trying to improve my teaching.

7. Which are the most recently used smiley/emojis on your mobile phone/whatsapp or instant messenger programme?

The ones I use the most are:),😉 and :p I don’t really know that many other emojis and I don’t have a smartphone, so it’ll be a while before I get round to learning any, I suspect.

8. What was the most recent photo you took?

Not quite the most recent photo (I suspect nobody really wants to see the progress of my sprained ankle healing, but if you do, I’ll be adding them to ELTpics ‘Health’ set when I’ve got the full set…)

This is the room in the hotel I stayed in in Warsaw three weekends ago, the last time I was there. For some reason I got into the habit of taking photos of all of the bedrooms I live/stay in, probably because there have been so many with the amount of moving around I’ve done, and now I can’t stop doing it…

Hotel Reytan, Warsaw

9. Where are you based, and would you recommend working there to others?

Answered that question recently as a whole blogpost, before I read this question:) Here’s a nicer photo that I hope social media will pick over the hotel one when deciding what to highlight from this post! It’s my mum in the botanic garden across the road from my flat during her first visit to the city a few weeks ago:

Mum in the botanic garden under a tree covered in red blossom

10. What’s your best memory of a lesson you’ve taught?

When I was working at IH Newcastle, I had a group of B1 intermediate students who stayed together for about six weeks, and who I taught for twenty hours a week, two every morning, and two every afternoon. Having the same group of students for so long was very unusual there, as new ones normally joined the group every Monday, and left on Friday, either to go home or to move to a different level. We got to know each other really well, and we often talked about food. One week we decided to dedicate our afternoon lessons to cookery and food, with the final lesson of the week in the school flats to cook together.

Sandy, an Arabic student and a Czech student chopping onions

We represented five different countries and ate traditional food from Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the UK, which we all worked together to prepare. Some of the students had never really cooked before so it was a whole new adventure for them. It was a fabulous afternoon full of laughter and delicious food, and is one of my all-time favourite lessons. It is proof of the positive effect that English lessons can have, as it really brought us all closer together.

The whole class, featuring students from four different countries, plus me

11. What would you like to say to me, now that I’ve nominated you for this challenge?!

Thank you for encouraging me to re-read my previous answers, and bringing back some happy memories! And thanks for inviting me to play again on my blog – it’s so nice to have the time to do that at the moment, as these are often the posts I most enjoy writing:)

4. List 11 bloggers

Seconding a few of Clare’s nominations:

Joanna – https://myeltrambles.com/

Zhenya – https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/

Anna – https://annazernova.wordpress.com/

Hana – https://hanatichaeltblog.wordpress.com/

And my extra ones:

Elly – https://thebestticher.wordpress.com

Tekhnologic – http://tekhnologic.wordpress.com

Rachel – https://publishingandpondering.wordpress.com

Matt – https://muddlesintomaxims.com

Pete – https://eltplanning.com

Svetlana – https://eltcation.wordpress.com/

Katherine Bilsborough – she doesn’t have a blog, but she can guest post here if she wants to join in😉

5. Questions for nominated bloggers

Again, I’m going to steal some of Clare’s questions and add a few of my own:

  1. What’s your favourite thing you’ve written (ELT or otherwise)?
  2. Do you have a favourite recipe you want to share?
  3. What’s the last photo you took?
  4. What’s the last piece of music you listened to?
  5. What was the last film or TV show you watched? Would you recommend it?
  6. Do you ever listen to podcasts? Any favourites? If you don’t, can I persuade you?:)
  7. What tip would you offer to a new blogger?
  8. What’s your memory of the best lesson you’ve taught?
  9. Have you ever made a mistake or been in a bad situation which felt huge at the time, but now you’re really glad it happened?
  10. Where are you based and would you recommend it to others?
  11. What question do you wish I’d asked you, and what’s the answer?

Update

Russie nominated me on her list – thanks! I chose a couple of questions to answer to add to the ones above:

What would you describe as quintessentially English?

I was back in the UK for 24 hours in between two CELTA course last year, and had one of the most English days of my life. My mum, grandma and I went to a little village in Northamptonshire called Lillingstone Lovell for an ‘Open Gardens’ day. The village was full of traditional cottages and had a beautiful parish church. You could go into different people’s gardens and see all the beautiful plants and sculptures they’d got in them. We finished the day with a cream tea at the village hall.

Lillingstone Lovell church on the open gardens day

What was the last experience that made you a stronger person?

Over the last couple of years there have been two main things which have changed me as a person. I’ve written about both of them on my blog. One was being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (warning: do not read if you’re squeamish) and the other was being in Sevastopol during the year when it became Russian. Both of them have made me even more determined to make the most out of everything which comes my way, because you never know when your life will change. They also made me appreciate just how little control you have over some things, and that it’s important to stay positive as much as possible.

I’ve heard about this talk from the 2013 IH Director of Studies conference many times, so when YouTube suggested it to me this evening, I finally decided to watch it. I’m glad I did.

In this 52-minute talk, Tessa describes a framework based largely on work by Michael Huberman describing teachers’ impressions of the different stages of our professional life cycle. It was full of fascinating quotes from teachers, many of which rang true with stages I have been through or people who I have worked with.

When searching for a link to Huberman’s work, I also came across this IH Journal article by Ron White on Teachers’ Professional Life Cycles, which covers some of the same ground as Tessa’s talk, although I’m not sure if it pre- or post-dates the presentation.

On a completely different note, it was also a pleasure to see a presentation which doesn’t rely on PowerPoint, and it inspires me to have a go at a different presentation style for at least one talk over the next year. I do it sometimes on CELTA, but have always used PowerPoint for conferences and seminars.

It would be good to know whether you think this kind of framework has practical applications, or whether it’s just something that’s interesting to be aware of.

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! 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.

Teaching English Associates names word cloud

My contribution for May is advice for both teachers and students on how to use podcasts to develop their listening skills.

Two different people have recently told me how Poland exceeded their expectations. Those who’ve never been here think they’re going to get some kind of post-Soviet, post-war, depressing, grey place to live and work. When I tell people I’ve decided to make Bydgoszcz my home and buy a flat here, I’m often greeted with surprise.

I’d never thought of applying to Poland and was always amazed that other people wanted to live there. Then I visited for a few days and was pleased by how much I liked it. I definitely want to move there now.

Why on Earth would you want to come here when your TEFL certificate could open the doors to Spain, Thailand, or any number of other holiday destinations? Let’s face it, very few aspiring TEFL travellers start out on their CELTA saying “I’ve always wanted to move to Central Europe. Sign me up!”

I am so surprised by Poland as I had imagined something grey and post war. I honestly thought we would be faced with abandoned concrete buildings everywhere! I also imagined old taxis and copious amounts of grey tasteless bread. When I told people I was going to Warsaw for the weekend I was met with incredulous looks or pity that that was the chosen destination!

Popular culture has a lot to answer for. So what’s it really like?

I first fell in love with Central Europe* when I lived in Brno in the Czech Republic.

Brno Cathedral

I have to admit that I started out with similar impressions to those in the quotes above, but thankfully it didn’t take me long to get over them. In fact, within 24 hours of arriving in Brno, I’d already decided I wanted to come back for a second year. I ended up staying for three, and made this video as a way of expressing my feelings for the city. I’ve since been back many times, and it always feels like going home. I left for two reasons: to be in the UK for the year before the Olympics and Paralympics and to develop my career further. Otherwise I’d probably still be there!

When I was offered the chance to move to Bydgoszcz, I knew that I would feel comfortable here and that I would get a lot out of my life and work. I haven’t regretted that decision for one moment.

*I know Germany counts as Central Europe too, and my love of the language and many trips there count too, but in this post I’m talking about the places that are still suffering from the impressions created when they were behind the Iron Curtain. I’m also mostly addressing this post to Brits thinking about where to move to as I know we have a lot of stereotypes to get over – I can’t speak for those from other cultural backgrounds.😉

Why teach in Central Europe?

Because our schools are not at the top of the list as a dream destination, it’s in our interests to help you develop professionally to make sure we get good teachers in through the doors. (Please note, I’m speaking from my perspective as somebody who’s worked for International House schools – I can’t vouch for anywhere else!) Many IH schools in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic have good reputations as places to start out your career. Accommodation is also often provided in school flats, so it’s one less thing for you to worry about when you move here.

You’ll experience a culture which is similar enough to what you’re used to in the UK that you can fit in pretty quickly, but at the same time different enough that you’ll be learning new things all the time.

Candles for All Soul's Night at the Military Cemetary

Candles for All Soul’s Night at the Military Cemetary, Bydgoszcz

The food here is delicious and affordable. Czech Svíčková and Polish pierogi are two of my favourite discoveries, but any semi-decent restaurant will serve you delicious food for a really low price. I don’t drink, but I’ve also been reliably informed that Czech beer is the best in the world. One of my favourite quotes from a visiting friend:

Do you mean I’ve just eaten that huge meal and had two beers, and it cost me less than £10?

Poznan - Saint Martin's Day rogale, a kind of croissant filled with almond and poppy seed

Poznan – rogale, a kind of croissant filled with almond and poppy seed, traditionally eaten for Saint Martin’s Day (11th November), but available all year round

You can get fresh fruit and vegetables from markets all year. Polish apples have a well-deserved reputation as some of the best in the world, and the berries you can get in the spring are juicy, sweet, and (did I mention?) cheap.

Zelny Trh vegetables, Brno

Zelny Trh (Green Market) vegetables, Brno

Admittedly it’s a bit harder to eat out if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, but it’s definitely getting easier and shouldn’t stop you from considering Central Europe.

There’s always something going on, especially in the spring. It’s rare that I went into the main square in Brno at a weekend without seeing some kind of interesting festival, show or performance, and the same is proving true of Bydgoszcz.

River concerts, Opera Nova, Bydgoszcz

River concerts, Opera Nova, Bydgoszcz

Slackline games, Bydgoszcz

Slackline games, Bydgoszcz

Far from being post-Soviet, the architecture on show across Central Europe is varied and interesting, and full of history.

Bydgoszcz Post Office

Bydgoszcz Post Office: from the 19th century

Cathedral of St. Martin and Mikulas and archaeology museum, Bydgoszcz

Cathedral of St. Martin and Mikulas and archaeology museum, Bydgoszcz

Bydgoszcz warehouses

The symbol of Bydgoszcz – warehouses by the River Brda

Poznan - town hall and herring houses

Poznan – town hall and herring houses

That’s not to say that ugly Soviet buildings don’t exist, just that there is a lot more variety than you might expect. Rare is the Polish or Czech town square that doesn’t have at least one building or monument that jars with the rest of the architecture to our British eyes. But that’s how you know you’re living in a different country😉

Znojmo, Czech Republic, with the roof of a communist department store in the foreground

Znojmo, Czech Republic, with the roof of a communist department store in the foreground

Public transport is generally cheap, clean and very regular. A three-month tram pass in Brno used to cost me approximately £40, and I could use it at any time of the day to get all over the city, with hourly night buses on offer too. That was about 0.05% of my salary if I remember rightly! In both Bydgoszcz and Brno, they also often run old trams at weekends and holidays if you want to experience a bit of retro travel.

Trams in Brno

Trams in Brno

Old tram in Bydgoszcz

Old tram in Bydgoszcz

There are so many little towns and villages to explore, and hundreds of castles and stately homes. Did you know the Czech Republic has one of the highest densities of castles of any country in the world, with over 2000 in the country? Most of them are easily accessible by the afore-mentioned cheap and efficient public transport (though check what times the buses/trains come back!) I can’t drive, and have managed to explore many different places easily.

Lednice chateau, south of Brno

Lednice chateau, south of Brno

Hrad Karlstejn, outside Prague

Hrad Karlstejn, outside Prague

A much more flattering picture of Znojmo!

A much more flattering picture of Znojmo in the Czech Republic!

Hrad Pernstejn, near Brno

Hrad Pernstejn, near Brno

Torun

Torun – a World Heritage site 40 minutes from Bydgoszcz…

Torun - Copernicus

…and the birthplace of Nicolas Copernicus

It’s easy to travel internationally too: I’ve been to Budapest, Krakow, Bratislava, Vienna, Poznan, Warsaw, Prague, and Stockholm, all with ease, and mostly on the train or the excellent Czech Student Agency buses!

You get four seasons.

Autumn sunlight in the park by the Philharmonia

Autumn in the park nearest my flat

Admittedly, the winter can feel pretty long when you’re in the middle of it. When I was in Brno we had about 10 weeks with snow on the ground one year, and a few days of -20C. People here know how to deal with it though, and it very rarely causes problems.

Brno in the snow - walk from Vinohrady to Stara Osada

Having said that, global warming seems to be reducing the likelihood of a really cold winter, and this year in Bydgoszcz we had almost no snow. It was about five months of grey and dullness instead, but when you’re at work, that doesn’t really matter when the heating’s on:) When the spring arrives, it’s stunning, and you really appreciate it. The city comes to life, tables and chairs appear in all of the squares, and there’s a real café culture.

Park near the Philharmonia in the spring

And if all that doesn’t convince you to come to Central Europe, here’s one of my favourite ever Buzzfeed collections: 27 reasons you should never visit Poland

So what are you waiting for?

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