Japan or bust: journey’s end (guest post)

This is the final part of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category.

Graham’s magic!

Phase 7: Journey’s End

Eikawa: GABA

And now we come to the grand finale. Sort of. Gaba was actually one of the very first places I applied to upon returning to Japan, literally within a week of landing. Gaba is a nation-wide conversation school that specialises in tutoring (usually) adults one-to-one English with customised lessons, making them uniquely suited to the style of teaching I was looking for…. with a few provisos that I will explain later.

Gaba hires instructors from many walks of life to create a diverse selection of teachers for their clients. You don’t need even to be a native English speaker, just a fluent speaker, but with at least a Bachelor’s degree and like all EFL positions, a history of teaching will play in your favour. With no former teaching experience and no teaching qualification, I emphasised my educational background, my varied interests and my travel experience in my resume. This tactic worked and I was accepted for an interview.

The interview was the most formal I have had so far; strictly dark suit, smart shoes and tie. The applicants were given a company talk and asked to take a short English/teaching quiz* just to prove we could at least think like teachers, even if we had no experience. We were given separate interviews, in which I blagged confidence harder than I have ever done before. My interviewer told me my resume was impressive and that, were I to be hired, I would likely be popular with clients with science-based jobs, wanting to learn English to aid their research/understanding of scientific literature.

*Research helps. I found at least two blogs describing the Gaba interviews in detail. One common question was “Is _____ a gerund?” Though proficient in English, I am not as knowledgable in its terminology. A gerund is a word that is both a noun and a verb, e.g. painting, building. In my interview, the word in question was ‘boring’. I answered no, with the reasoning that I knew ‘boring’ as a verb and an adjective. It turns out that a hole made by boring can also be called a ‘boring’, hence it can be a noun and therefore is a gerund. I would personally call this a bore-hole; I do not know if this was counted against me or not. [Note from Sandy: I didn’t know this either. I feel there may be a flaw in this logic.]

Two days later I was called back for a second interview and trial lesson with a staff member acting as a client, just to see how I performed. I did the best I could and I think I performed admirably. But two days later, I received an email I had been dreading…. I had not been accepted for the April recruitments. They did ask my permission to keep my details in case they wished to contact me in the future. Something I was genuinely not expecting them to do. But after two months of job hunting and working at conversation cafes, I received an unexpected phone call at the end of May, asking me if I was still interested and willing to start training next week for April recruitment. I gleefully accepted.

Before I had even applied to Gaba, I had done extensive background research on the company and doing so revealed many mixed opinions, the bulk of which centre around their scheduling system. Gaba instructors are not employees, but contractors and hence are not entitled to many standards that most workers are, including compensation for training days and travel costs. They also do not provide set working hours, meaning one’s attendance may be required without guarantee of salary. But it is also this system that gives Gaba its greatest perk: flexibility.

Allow me to explain further. Instructors choose their own working hours, divided into 40 minute lessons throughout the day, from 7:00-22:00 on weekdays and 8:45-21:15 on weekends. You can choose to teach anything from one lesson per week to fifty (or more if you have the energy!). Taking holidays are easy; if you want a day, week or even a month off, you simply don’t book any slots for those days. However, these time slots have to be booked by students (or allocated to students by the counsellors) for it to count as a lesson. If you make yourself available for ten slots on a particular day, but only seven get booked, you are only paid for seven lessons.

Depending on your lifestyle, this can be somewhat disorderly. Imagine you have designated slots for three lessons, a break and then another two lessons. Now imagine only the first three are booked. This is not too much of a problem – you can easily ask the staff to cancel the last two and go home early. But imagine that only the first and last lessons are booked. This will mean about two and a half hours of doing (almost) nothing and not getting paid. Likewise, last minute bookings are not uncommon, and you may have prepared for three lessons, only to discover you have a fourth minutes before it starts.

Occasionally, you get No Shows, meaning the lesson is booked, but the student does not turn up. In such cases, the Instructor is still paid but must remain his/her booth in case the student does appear, even if it’s only for the last five minutes. If the student cancels before 6 pm the previous day, the lesson slot becomes unbooked again. If the student cancels after 6 pm the previous day, the lesson slot becomes rebookable, meaning the instructor will be present and get paid, but will either have to teach a late booking or do related activities such as marking homework.

The likelihood of being booked is, on average, is 60% for a new instructor. Gaba encourage you to book early mornings, evenings and weekends where possible as these are peak hours. Should you become promoted (‘belted up’ in their terminology), you will also earn more money per lesson during these hours. Your likelihood of being booked also increases with time spent in the company and for veterans, it is about 90-100%.

Timetable of my first week. UME and CHA refer to the teaching locations.

Monday: I was being certified, so no lessons

Tuesday: Allocated five lessons, none were booked. Not surprising given it was only online for 24 hours. Spent the first three slots planning for tomorrow’s lessons, cancelled the last two and went home.

Wednesday: First proper day and all five slots were booked, including two of the desirable client-requested blue bookings!

Thursday: Four allocated slots, only the first and last were booked. Had a very long lunch break.

Friday: Day off!

Saturday: Five allocated slots, four were booked. The 16:00 slot was booked less than an hour before the lesson started, so speedy preparation was required.

Sunday: Five slots, first three were booked. Luckily, I was able to cancel the unbooked slots and meet up with a friend.

I was fully aware of (and okay with) all of this information before I even had my interview. Regardless of what you may think of Gaba’s system, I believe they very open about the pros and pitfalls of it. The booking system is explained in detail during the company talk, on their website and even on Wikipedia. I have a feeling that many of the complaints of Gaba that I had read about were from instructors who had not researched the company – as late as the contract signing, there was an individual in our group who appeared to be unaware of the payment system. To counter, I have spoken to many staff members who are more than happy with working for Gaba, even after many years.

The training was a breakdown of the company and their teaching method. Gaba uses communicative language teaching as their ideology and emphasises learning functions of a language (e.g. describing people, scheduling, complaining) over the more traditional methods like learning grammar and sentence structure. They produce many text books to cover many functions, and some are specialised to business clients, some to travellers, some to those needing it for every day activities. Gaba also prides itself on customisation; altering the text and teaching additional words and phrases relevant to the client’s needs – something harder to do outside of one-to-one teaching.

A typical lesson consists of 5 minutes chatting, 10 minutes reading the target language (a sample conversation) and answering any of the client’s questions about words and phrases they may be unfamiliar with, 10-15 minutes of practising additional words and phrases, and inventing examples that may be useful to the client, 5-10 minutes of role play and 5 minutes of feedback. However, clients may request anything that helps them with their skills, whether it be reading a newspaper, scientific journal, practising a presentation or even just having a conversation. As I am a new instructor, many just want to spend the lesson chatting and get to know me. Even in such cases, we are still expected to take notes and suggest improvements for the client’s English.

The trainees practised trial sessions with one another, and we discovered the importance of planning a lesson in only a few minutes, keeping track of time during the lesson, altering your language to suit the client’s level and coming up with ideas on the fly. After three days of training we were…. almost… ready to start teaching. Experience will be the practice from here on.

At the time of writing, I’ve had about 25 lessons and already I’ve seen great variety in the client base in terms of background, hobbies, jobs and needs. I am still treading unfamiliar ground right now but I hope I will become more confident and enjoy it. And I hope Gaba’s scheduling system stays a blessing rather than a curse – I’ve come a long way and I don’t want it to all be for naught.

But either way, it’s a start.

That’s the last of Graham’s posts about how he made it to Japan and found work. If it’s something that will be interesting to others, I’d like to ask him to write more about his experiences as an unqualified teacher in Japan. I hope you’ll agree that it’s been a fascinating insight into how he made the leap from dream to reality, and that it inspires you to follow your dreams too!

Japan or bust: on the hunt (guest post)

This is part four of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category.

Graham’s magic!

Phase 6: Let’s get down to business

Visa, house, bank and phone in hand – I was ready to find work!

Service: Osaka Employment Service Center for Foreigners

This was the first place I knew about from the UK. But my second big gripe with Japan is that this place is staggeringly useless. Despite advertising “English speaking staff available”, there was a single man whose English was intermediate at best and everyone else didn’t speak a word of it. Really? I’m not demanding that everyone in Japan speak fluent English, but there are a few places I would expect it, a presumably government-funded employment centre for foreigners advertising the linguistic prowess of its staff being one of them. I had to register; there were helpful guides written in Chinese and Portuguese, but none in English. Really? I mean, realllly???

Once I finally commanded the attention of the only staff member who could speak any English at all, things got even less impressive. I wanted to search for an English teaching position in a school, something I know there is high demand for in Osaka. He was able to find and print out ONE job advert (written entirely in Japanese). Realllllllyyyyy?????? I called the number multiple times on different days and got no reply. I never went to the Employment Center again.

Websites: Freelance tuition

In a country where learning English is in high demand and doing so costs a premium, many students find hiring a personal tutor more cost- and time-efficient, and many teachers find it likewise. There are many websites that allow students to find teachers: my-sensei.comhello-sensei.com121sensei.com and findstudents.net to name a few. In Tokyo, craiglist.jp is also a popular choice, though the Osaka version is somewhat bare.

All of these websites follow a similar format. Fill in your personal details, contact information, previous teaching experience, interests, teaching style and specialities, areas near to you (in particular, accessible train lines and nearby stations) and your fee. Tutoring fees range enormously: from ¥100-15,000 (or more) per hour, with ¥2,000 being the average starting price.

Filling in each form slowly chips away at your patience, as does the need to refresh your profile weekly to ensure its visibility, but these websites are (usually) free to use and getting your face on as many websites as possible will give you a better pool of students. Unfortunately, like everything, this is a competitive market and students are obviously going to hire more experienced teachers, and word-of-mouth is far more important here. I only got a few contacts over multiple months – my lack of teaching experience and lack of commitment in refreshing my profile likely stymied my chances.

Website: Kansai Flea Market

Kansai is a region in the middle of Japan containing, among others, the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. To the amusement of many Westerners, this region is also known as Kinki.

This was not the first website I found for job-hunting in Japan, but it is the one that gave me the most interviews. Many of the adverts were sketchy in detail, and I must say, even somewhat dodgy-sounding…

Despite the suspicion this was some sort of code for Yakuza recruitment, I applied. It was an English teaching job but basically none of the other information was true.

…however a decent number of ads interested me. My first jobs in Japan were conversation cafes.

At conversation cafes, clients pay a minimal fee (by Japanese standards) to chat to natural English speakers for 1-5 hours, while enjoying a soft drink or two. Most clients are already somewhat proficient at English, at least able to speak in basic sentences, while many are quite literate. Some use conversation cafes as a means of language exposure, some use it to make sure their skills don’t go rusty, some just like chatting to foreigners! Topics can be about anything and everything, whatever the client and host find as common ground or as a topic of interest. You are not expected to necessarily teach them, but you can write words, show pictures, draw diagrams as you see fit. No fancy work clothes, just casual clothes are fine. And it is probably one of the easiest jobs in the world – all you do is talk and listen!

The pay is understandably low; ¥1000 (£6) per hour, paid in cash, and you are unlikely to work more than 10 hours per week, if that. Also, given that you are not employed, or even contracted, there are no additional benefits like insurance or pension. There is possible room for development; some cafes do teaching classes as well, presumably made available to those with more suitable backgrounds, or who have managed to work a substantial number of shifts, but generally it’s a dead-end job.

Cafe: Leafcup

Leafcup is a nation-wide group of conversation cafes. Criteria for staff is absolutely minimal; if you can speak English and are not an illegal immigrant, you can work there. It is basically a walk-in job; I had no interview beyond a chat with the cafe manager in the middle of one of their international parties.

The hours, however, are terrible. You have no scheduled work times; the cafe will periodically email you (maybe once or twice a week) to ask if you are available to work a shift on a particular day at a particular time, and you need to reply quickly before it is offered to someone else. Occasionally they will send out mass emails for shifts or notifications of cancelled shifts and it is a first-reply-first-served basis. I lived very close-by and I could seize these impromptu shifts easily, but even so, I probably worked an average of less than one shift per week.

I would still recommend anyone looking for work (ANY work) in Japan with nothing already lined up to become a Leafcup instructor as soon as they land. No hours are expected of you beyond what you accept (and it’s super easy to cancel a shift), so it will not interfere with your job hunting and if nothing else, it is a very easy way to network (especially at the international parties held every other Saturday) and depending on your ultimate work schedule, an extra ¥2000 for a laid-back evening’s work may not be a bad thing.

Cafe: Pocket English Shinsaibashi

In the middle of Osaka’s shopping district is a little conversation cafe with a small but loyal group of customers. Unlike Leafcup, PE is not a chain and it does not appear to have any hierarchy beyond the owner, a cheerful young woman named Maho. The interview was the best of any I had ever had. She asked me to do a trial two-hour chat to see how I did, and was impressed with my clear voice and the range of topics covered. I shrugged off my nerves after a few minutes and enjoyed the whole thing. She asked me to start as soon as I could. Best of all, I got paid for the interview!

And thus began my first major commitment in Osaka. As PE has a smaller pool of staff, there was an immediate need for me to work longer hours. Indeed, during May 2014, there were only three staff members, including myself, and I was the only foreigner. In practice, this still only meant 3-5 hours, 3-4 days a week (and still only ¥1000 per hour), but it was a start.

Pocket English
At my work station, in my work clothes. Observe the lack of fume cupboards and lab coat.

PE’s atmosphere is much friendlier than Leafcup’s; the small, cosy room, the sofas, tree-trunk design tables and 1980s pop music playing in the background contrast to Leafcup’s hard chairs and largely empty space. PE also allows chat hosts to help themselves to snacks and free drinks, something that Leafcup chat hosts are generally forbidden from doing; this small difference is a great comfort when talking continuously for 5 hours on a hot, humid, Japanese summer day.

The clientele are pretty much what I was hoping for; working professionals at any age between 23-83. And all have their reasons for wanting to learn; some want to better understand English TV shows and movies, some need it to further their careers, some (actually, many) enjoy travelling and can do so with greater ease with some English under their belts. Some just like to do it as a hobby; I’ve met many retirees who are keeping themselves occupied despite their age, showing you’re never too old to try something new.

The only possible downside is that it is only open weekend afternoons and weekday evenings, reducing the number of potential shifts one can work. Also, Maho insists that you do not work for any other conversation cafe in addition to PE. As such I did my best to keep my occasional shift at Leafcup quiet, a feat sometimes jeopardised when a shared client would appear and loudly proclaim “Hey! I saw you at Leafcup yesterday!”

As much as I enjoy(ed) working at PE, the wages were simply not enough to cover my living costs, and I still had too much free time. I needed to find some additional income.

Cafe: Plus Color

Near Utsubo Park, Osaka, is another conversation cafe that is incredibly hard to find and I barely got to my interview in time. They operate in the afternoons as well as the evenings, meaning I could potentially work a shift at PC before doing my usual shift at PE. The interview at PC was somewhat more formal than either of the other two conversation cafes and the atmosphere somewhat more stark. Possibly because of my insistence that I could only work afternoon shifts, I was unsuccessful in my application.

Eikawa: Marvin’s School

A small studio between Osaka and Kobe, and one of the most aggravating interviews I ever had. I replied to their offer of an interview… which apparently they did not receive and I arrived at the school unexpected. Fortunately, they didn’t turn me away. Unfortunately, they asked me to teach a class. Wait, they had virtually no idea who I was and they weren’t even anticipating my arrival and they asked me to teach a class with almost no preparation. Reaaaaaalllllllyyyy??????????? This wasn’t a conversation cafe, this was a school! In the end, I did a half-baked lesson based on the differences between US and UK English, which gave the two clients plenty of information but I’m not sure how useful it was. Marvin’s School offered me a shift but their interview method of “throw you in the deep end with no arm-bands” didn’t instil great faith in me. I didn’t bother to follow up.

Website: GaijinPot

GaijinPot is a forum and personalised ads site for work and accommodation, and probably the best known of its kind. There aren’t as many ads as KFM, but the jobs advertised are somewhat more professional. If you are a happy job-hunter, you can create a resume online and and allow companies to contact you, and likewise search through ads and apply to job positions directly. Filtering the search options to “Entry Level”, “Kansai Region Only” and “Japanese Beginner Level” dramatically reduced the number of potential jobs for me. Among the ones that interested me were video game translator and tester (though the pay was very poor) and a couple of teaching positions.

Eikawa: NOVA

NOVA is an eikawa mired in bad reputation and indeed went bankrupt a few years ago. They reformed, though smaller than before, and given that a common joke among EFL teachers in Japan is that NOVA stands for No Vacation, I was hesitant to apply for them. One of my friends, a former NOVA employee, confirms their shifty reputation; he claims to have been screwed over by his contract (the exact details of which have slipped my mind) and spoke of their policy of giving a ¥200 bonus for every lesson taught, which is nullified if you are late for ONE lesson, potentially costing a teacher a big chunk of their rightfully earned salary. Some former students have likewise complained about their teaching methods. Thankfully, as desperate as I was for a job, I never applied for NOVA.

The final phase in Graham’s adventures coming soon…

Japan or bust: on the way (guest post)

This is part three of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category, where you can find out more about Graham, why he wanted to go to Japan, and what he did in the UK to prepare.

Graham’s magic!

Phase 3: Screw it, I’m going to Japan anyway

If Japan wasn’t going to invite me, I was going to crash the party. A second trip to London (luckily coinciding with a friend’s wedding), a visit to the Japanese embassy and a parting of £23 allowed me to get a working holiday visa. This gave me one year to travel, live, and work in Japan. Even if I failed to get a job, I would have at least been to the country I had dreamed of for so many years.

With my passport returned, I booked a flight from London to Tokyo a mere five days before I flew. I waved goodbye to my family and friends and proceeded to travel around Japan for two months. I really cannot emphasise enough that Japan is EXACTLY how you imagine it to be…

In lieu of a picture of the shinkansen, a temple or some ramen, I decided this one better embodies Japan. (Graham’s photo)

…and that is exactly what makes it an essential destination. I could talk at even greater length of the sights I saw during my travels but that’s a story for another day; I will merely say I was able to cover Tokyo, Nikko, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Naruto, Naoshima, Okayama, Tottori, Hiroshima, Akiyoshidai, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Okinawa, Zamami and Ishigaki. I considered this useful research on the Japanese lifestyle, hopefully allowing me to better understand my hypothetical future students.

Then I decided it was time to settle down and start work…. no wait, actually, I travelled for another month. I flew to Malaysia to meet some friends for a crazy Chinese New Year celebration before heading north to Thailand to meet some more friends. Anyway, with 9 months left on my visa, I returned to Japan to look for lodging and work.

I had chosen Osaka as my base of operations as it is a large city with high demand for foreign workers. It is right in the middle of Honshu, the main island of Japan, with easy access to any other place I may be likely to travel to. Osaka is also famous for its food and shopping, two items likely to benefit those living in it. Plus Kyoto and Kobe are very nearby.

Phase 4: A man’s home is his castle. A gaijin’s house is a gaijin house.

I crashed at the incredibly cheap Toyo Hotel in Shin-Imamiya for a few days. I needed to relax after my three months of travelling (I maintain that if you’re not exhausted after travelling, you’re not doing it right) and I needed to find a place to live. Apartments can be tricky to rent for foreigners; landlords may not be willing to let non-Japanese speakers, or those without a current source of income, sign contracts. Also, in addition to two months’ rent in advance, tenants are also likely to have to pay high deposits, including key money. This can mean a new tenant has to pay the equivalent of 3-6 months rent up-front.

Not with gaijin houses (gaijin means ‘foreigner’, and has become a kind of community name for expats working in Japan) – gaijin houses are similar to student houses in that they offer cheap accommodation in shared houses. They are fully furnished and are only available for foreigners. Best of all, you pay rent only, no deposit or key money. It was pure luck that I was able to find the perfect place to stay on my first try. While searching for gaijin houses, I found a post about cheap gaigin houses.

I heeded this man’s praise and contacted the landlord. After viewing the accommodation, I asked if I could move in straight away. Easiest move I have ever done. The house itself is small, but ultimately this is standard for Japanese housing. I chose the Western style room over the Japanese style; it costs more but the room is slightly larger and comes with a bed (as opposed to a futon and tatami mat). The area is quiet, but there are plenty of supermarkets and restaurants nearby, and Umeda, one of the largest train stations and shopping centres in Osaka, is only 20 minutes walk away. My ¥40,000 (~£240) rent covers my room, water and internet. I only pay for the electricity that I use in my room (around ¥2,000 per month in the summer, ¥4,000 in the winter). The toilet, shower and washing machine are shared but currently I am the only one living in this two-bedroom house. It’s a little lonely but it means I can spread my stuff out into the hall. My landlord has also kindly let me borrow a bike for a mere ¥3,000 deposit, an investment that has already saved me at least as much in train fares.

Phase 5: Phoning it in and taking it to the bank

The day after I moved in to my gaijin house was one of the busiest days since coming to Japan. I wanted to start job hunting ASAP, but I needed to register my address, get a phone and open a bank account. I intended to do all three in one day.

Registering myself wasn’t too hard; once I found my ward office, I just showed my registration card, filled in some forms and asked them to write my address on the card in kanji. The next two were problematic. In Japan, you need a phone number to open a bank account….. but you need a bank account to buy a contract phone. The banks would not allow me to use my landlord’s phone, so the only option was to buy a prepaid phone.

This was my first major gripe with Japan; everywhere else I have been in the world, using a phone is a simple matter of buying a SIM card and inserting it into your phone. Japan does not use a 2G signal and my Samsung phone that had served me so well in the UK was useless here. Finding a prepaid phone was alarmingly difficult, only Softbank seemed to have them and finding a Softbank store with stock was infuriatingly hard. I eventually found one – and buying a phone in Japan is painfully bureaucratic; with no exaggeration, it is harder than opening a bank account. I know this having done one after another. I had to fill in more forms, choose my number and my PIN, I had to show my registration card and my passport, the latter of which I didn’t even need for opening a bank account!

The next phase in Graham’s adventures coming soon…

Japan or bust: in the UK (guest post)

This is part of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category. Read phase 1 to find out more about Graham, and why he wanted to go to Japan. In phase 2 he tells us about the options for teaching in Japan which he investigated while still in the UK.

Graham’s magic!

Phase 2: Searching from the UK

Programme: JET

The most common recommendation for those wanting to teach in Japan is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET), a government-run system that offers a lot of support to aspiring teachers. While former JETs talk fondly of their experiences (and indeed at the time of writing, I have a JET friend in Tottori who is enthusiastic about her work), ultimately I didn’t even consider it as an option for me. I wanted to teach adults and JET focuses mainly on high school students, plus it didn’t have the amount of free time I desired, having just finished a PhD, one of the few perks of which is you can generally come and go as you please.

Eikawa: GEOS

A friend of mine recalled his time in Japan teaching with GEOS and recommended them as a capable eikawa (English school). A quick Google search reveals they are now bankrupt and hence unlikely to be hiring.

Eikawa: ECC

My first real consideration was By Education, Through Communication and For Community, better known as ECC, a hybrid school and corporation with a solid reputation. I believe their pay is marginally lower than JET’s but they offer higher support for their teachers and give the opportunity to teach both adults and children. I would be expected to do both, though I could put a preference for the latter if I wished. ECC’s main selling point though, was its relatively low working hours (29.5 per week) and its high amount of holiday time (7 weeks, including national holidays). At the time, this seemed like the perfect match for me.

I just made it in time for their June recruitment, though during the application I did get asked the question I was hoping I would be able to avoid: “If you have a PhD in Chemistry, why are you looking to teach English?” Despite this, I was accepted for an interview in London, though apparently Japanese companies often do not pay accommodation or transport costs for interviews, even when in another country. Luckily I have kind friends in London.

There were sixteen interviewees in total, some already teachers, some from other walks of life. After a company talk, we were given an hour-long English test; you had to get a minimum of 70% of continue with the interview process and about half of us were anticipated to fail. It was actually pretty difficult for a non-linguist like me, though I passed and I was able to go on to the next stage. As ECC predicted, seven people failed, two of whom were actual English teachers! Worst of all, I had a quick glimpse of the papers and saw some had failed at 69%!

The remaining nine of us had to plan and perform a practice lesson for teaching simple vocabulary. Long story short, I did my best but I was not among the final five who made it to the final stage. How many were accepted I will never know. But I imagine my lack of TEFL certification and previous experience did not benefit me. I was back to square one again.

The next phase in Graham’s adventures coming soon…


Japan or bust: how I changed careers to achieve a dream (guest post)

This is the first in a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka’ category.

Graham’s magic!

Phase 1: I dream of Japan

Japan has fascinated me for many years. The combination of its modern image as a crazy, busy, futuristic wonderland with its traditional, almost mythical, history of shoguns, samurai and martial arts has kept it high on my list of places to visit for as long as I have wanted to travel. A high proportion of my ample collection of video games originate from Japan (Final Fantasy VII, despite its age, remains my favourite game of all time) and I diligently practised karate during my university days. The more I learned about Japanese culture…

If the trains are late by more than five minutes, you are given a note to show to your boss as a reason for your lateness.

The crime rate is so low, you can leave your bike unlocked at night and nobody will steal it!

With the exception of Monaco, Japanese people are the longest-lived people in the world!

…the more I wanted to see it first-hand. And so began a journey that would take me the best part of a decade.

Japan in one picture. Yes, even the girl in the pizza suit.
Japan in one picture. Yes, even the girl in the pizza suit.*

I am a scientist by education and I never pictured myself as anything else until recently. My dream was to work as an industrial chemist and ultimately move to Japan, hopefully working on some exciting new technology (like designing self-repairing metal for a car or a giant robot) or synthesising world-changing chemicals (like a cure for cancer that also gives you gives you Super Saiyan powers). I studied Chemistry at Durham University for my undergraduate degree, with three years of lectures and practice labs, before working a year in industry at FujiFilm Imaging Colorants, Scotland. The advantage of doing an industrial placement during the final year rather than as a penultimate sandwich year was that, upon graduation, it would be easier to make the transition into the working world.

And this situation seemed perfect – I was working for a Japanese company after all, surely it would be easy to transfer to Japan from here? But sadly this was 2008 and the economy was taking a major hit – FujiFilm IC could not afford to take on graduates and they weren’t even able to continue their industrial placement scheme the following year. Fewer places were hiring and many of my friends were laid off mere months after being hired for their first job. My time as an undergraduate finished on a low note and the future was not looking as bright as it should have. Finding funded PhD positions was easier than finding a job. I went from having no intention of doing a PhD (at least not until I was older) to having one confirmed at the University of Nottingham in a mere three weeks.

It was somewhat less abroad than what I was hoping for but financially speaking, it was stable and more than enough for my lifestyle. Having a doctorate under one’s belt can only be a good thing, plus I would extend my time as a student by 4-5 years, something I was very happy about. During my first year, I discovered a university program called BESTS (Building Experience and Skill Travel Scholarships) which allowed research students to spend part of their degree working abroad. Japan was among the countries that had allowed BESTS students to work there previously, and the research I was undertaking was also being done in Japan. I could even take a bonus module in Beginner Japanese as part of my PhD (something that FujiFilm IC had offered to previous placement students but not to my year’s). All a perfect fit, right?

Sadly, when you are a PhD student, your supervisor is your king, and unfortunately, I am quite the anti-monarchist. We were destined to have many clashes during my studies and the notion that his students may also be productive outside of his laboratory was an alien concept to him. And while the University of Nottingham gave me the best experiences of my twenties, none of them were in the Chemistry department. I’m sure the majority of people with PhDs enjoyed their research, but I didn’t. And as my second graduation approached, I was once again flustered as to where to go. Industry hadn’t worked for me and neither had academia.

The brain part is being optimistic
The brain part is being optimistic (From ‘Piled Higher and Deeper’, copyright Jorge Cham)

“Why not teach English in Asia?” multiple friends suggested. I’m not sure if this was a recommendation based on my English skills and love of Asian culture or simply as a go-to gap year-esque idea, but the thought intrigued me. I am a pedant for accuracy in English and I had experience dealing with people with beginner English skills, so why not? Plus it would be a means to my long-standing goal of getting into the land of the rising sun. May 2013, my PhD was near completion, my quest for an English school in Japan began.

Phase 2 in Graham’s adventures coming soon…

*Image credits
Temple image from ‘theswissrock’City image from nhouse.sgSushi image from PBSGirl in pizza suit image from Business Insider

Christmas activities

Here is the collection of Christmas activities which I presented at the International House Sevastopol seminar on Saturday December 21st 2013.

Some of the activities are available on the web, some I have created, and some are versions of time-honoured none-Christmas EFL activities adapted to the festive season. If there’s no link, click on the picture within the presentation and it should take you to the activity. Hopefully the slides are self-explanatory, but if not, feel free to leave me a comment.

In addition, here are some photos from Christmas 2010 which my family gave me permission to take and share. I talked about one of them using fotobabble.

Lights on a garden tree Snow on Christmas Day! Barrel organ as part of Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Red phone boxes in the snow Stuffing the turkey Pigs in blankets Part-cooked turkey Table set with crackers Table set with crackers Turkey in the oven Fully-cooked turkey Ready to pull crackers Eating Christmas dinner, wearing cracker hats Christmas pudding in the microwave Pouring brandy on the Christmas pudding The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) Evening meal of Christmas cake and leftovers... Christmas cake IMG_4106

I realise that this is a bit late for many of you, but you can save it for next year 🙂

Questions for micro-dictations

I’m putting together some activities to help students understand more fluent English speech, ready for a seminar on listening skills I’m running next weekend.  One of the activities is micro-dictations of common questions spoken at as normal a speed as possible. It can be difficult to find things like this ready-prepared, so I’ve recorded some and embedded them here:

What’s your name?
Where are you from?
What do you do?
What are you going to have?
What are you going to do tomorrow?
Did you have a good holiday?

Listening attentivelyI’d be interested to hear how you use them.

Moving to a new country (Sevastopol)

A few days after I arrived in Sevastopol, Lea Sobocan posted this on facebook:

I have a request for my PLN – more specifically for the segment of you who have experienced living in another country/culture.

I’m currently discussing moving to another country/immigration with my students and I’d really appreciate any thoughts, feelings, difficulties and joys to be found in living abroad. Preferably in audio form, but whatever works for you.

Some of the people I’ve spoken with saw immigration to another country as something you just get up and do and they seem to be certain everyone will greet them with open arms. I’d like to offer a more balanced view and a first-hand account of someone who had this experience.

Any help, in form of text, audio clip or similar will be greatly appreciated.

Lea had helped me before by recording a clip about her favourite TV show, so I thought it was only fair I return the favour. I recorded this audioboo about moving to Sevastopol, then promptly forgot about it:

A few days later I was surprised to get a message from Claire Hart telling me that she had created a series of activities around my two-minute recording. I asked her to share the result with you, and I think you’ll agree, it’s a pretty good lesson. Thanks Claire!

How Claire used the recording

Killing a bit of time before the first class of the day, I found myself reading my Twitter feed. One of the tweets that popped up was from Sandy Millin. It was a link to an audio recording she had posted on Audioboo where she talked about her experience of recently relocating to Sevastopol, Ukraine. The class I was about to start teaching was a C1 group who had asked for practice listening to British people speaking because they tend to find their British colleagues difficult to understand. I’d been using excerpts from BBC television series and BBC world service podcasts with them over the previous weeks, but Sandy’s recording seemed to provide a refreshing alternative to that.

I decided to take a chance and improvise an activity around Sandy’s recording with just 2 minutes to go before the class started. This was a bit of a challenge, but I found that having to think on my feet rather than going through a pre-planned, pre-rehearsed routine made me more present and alert. What was striking is how surprised the learners were to learn that Sandy is a real person and she’s talking about experiences that she has really had. I suppose this just goes to show how learners get used to listening to people playing fictional characters having scripted conversations with each other. When I told them that I actually know Sandy, their enthusiasm shot up even more. I’ve used this recording with several groups at a range of levels and, interestingly, all of them seem to have understood more of what Sandy said than they usually understand when we listen to a recording designed for English learning. Even my A2 group could accurately recount the key points that Sandy made and include some of the detail.

The “real-ness” of this activity was particularly palpable when I used the recording with a group of eight, five of whom have moved to Germany from either Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Poland or Romania. When I asked them to consider why people would move to a foreign country, what difficulties you can face when you make that move and how you can overcome them, the non-Germans in the group were able to tap into their real experiences and share those with the others. When I asked them to write short texts evaluating the benefits and difficulties of moving to a foreign country, what I got back from them were honest and touching accounts of how hard moving to a foreign country can be, but how it can help you to find a better quality of life. They put a lot of effort into writing these texts because the topic was important to them. Even the learners who haven’t had the experience of moving to another country themselves, seemed to have a lot of empathy for Sandy and were keenly interested in what is going on in her life.

The lesson skeleton

1. Look at the statement “I’ve just moved to Sevastopol”

  • What have I done?
  • When did I do it?

2. Ask the learners if they know where Sevastopol is. Can they find it on a map of Europe? What do they know about Ukraine? Which countries are its neighbours? What languages do they speak there? What food do they eat? Have they ever visited this part of the world?

Memorial to Heroic Defenders of Sevastopol
Memorial to Heroic Defenders of Sevastopol

3. Show them information about the population of Sevastopol, its climate and its landmarks and ask them to say what questions this information gives you the answers to. You can also use this as an opportunity to practise saying long numbers, comparing temperatures or discussing what sights they enjoy visiting.

Chersonesus, an Ancient Greek town in the suburbs of Sevastopol
Chersonesus, an Ancient Greek town in the suburbs of Sevastopol

4. Ask them if they think Sevastopol would be a good place to go on holiday to. Why/ why not?

5. Ask them to brainstorm reasons why someone would move to Sevastopol. Then ask them to speculate about why Sandy, an English teacher who is originally from England but who’s lived in a few different countries, would move to Sevastopol.

Why would you move to Sevastopol?

6. Listen to the recording and give them level-appropriate questions to answer. A lower-level question could be: What words does Sandy think you should learn first when you move to another country and why? A higher-level question could be: What difficulties did Sandy face when she arrived in Sevastopol and how has she been able to overcome them?

7. As a follow-up or homework task, you can ask the learners to write a text on the benefits and difficulties of living a foreign country.

This presentation has slides connected to each of the steps in the lesson skeleton:

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

What I’ve learned here is that if you make a recording where you honestly describe interesting, unusual or important experiences in your life and share it through sites like Audioboo, you can produce meaningful authentic audio material that learners will respond really well to because it’ll resonate with them and their lives. The response I’ve received to using this recording has been extremely positive and my learners are now keen to know what Sandy does next.

About Claire

Claire Hart

Claire Hart teaches general English, business English and technical English to university students and business people in Southern Germany. She frequently presents on topics such as using authentic materials, mobile learning and teaching technical English at ELT conferences. She’s also a course book and teacher’s book author and an online materials writer, specialising in business English and ESP materials.

Insurance for EFL teachers?

Before I went to the Czech Republic I bought a year’s worth of travel insurance (from a man who asked me if the Czech Republic was in the USA or Canada…). After that I completely forgot about it, which was probably very careless, but it didn’t even cross my mind. I had the EU health insurance card, which covered the most important thing, and I forgot about everything else. This is odd because I wouldn’t dream of going in holiday from the UK without travel insurance.

Now that I’m about to move to a none-EU country, the question of insurance has crossed my mind again. As before, I have medical insurance, but what about everything else? What about missed flights or lost luggage? What about repatriation to the UK if I need it? I hope I never do, but it seems risky to have nothing.

What do you do? Are there any companies you can recommend?

Reading speed

During my Delta I put together a course proposal designed to help IELTS students improve their reading and writing skills. As part of it I did a needs analysis. Here are two of the questions:

D2: How do you feel about reading in English?

1 (It’s very difficult – I often don’t understand) 0
2 4
3 1
4 1
5 (It’s very easy – I always understand) 0

D3: Why?

“I think I need to learn more vocabulary”

“The time is very short for deep reading, so when I skim through the article, I can’t find the right answer easily. Moreover sometimes in T, F and NG  question, I find it hard to decide whether it was F or NG”

“i have to read more news paper and do alot of practice”

“i am worried about time because texts are very long so time is my enemy”

“no time”

Half of the students mentioned time as a particular problem, so I had to look for ways to help them. It was difficult to find much information about reading speed, but I strongly believe that it is an area which needs more of a spotlight on it, especially for exam students. I have therefore tried to share what I found, but I would be grateful if anyone else has any ideas.

FInding an appropriate speed

The only methodology book which I could find with information about reading speed was Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language* by Christine Nuttall (3rd edition: 2005).  She says:

A flexible reading speed is the sign of a competent reader. Instead of plodding through everything at the same careful speed, or always trying to read as fast as possible, students must learn to use different rates for different materials and different purposes, and must have practice in assessing what type of reading is appropriate in various circumstances. Unless you encourage them to skim and scan and treat some texts with a degree of irreverance, they may never learn to take these risks, which are a necessary step towards becoming a more effective reader. (p31-32)

Now it’s true that we may tell students to skim or scan certain texts, or that we may give them questions or a time limit to try and encourage them to do this, but what can we actually do to help slow readers learn to process text faster?

*I get 10% of anything you spend if you click on the Amazon link and choose to buy something. Thanks in advance!

Average speeds

The average native speaker reads at approximately 300wpm (words per minute) according to most sources I could find. One article on Forbes lists the average reading speeds for different kinds of native speakers, including college graduates and high-level executives. In contrast, Jensen (1986:106, in Anderson 1999) states that “at the end of a reading course, even advanced ESL students may read only 100 words per minute or less.” To get a sense of what different speeds feel like, Breaking News English has the same text available at 100, 200 and 300 wpm.

As well as getting through the words, you also need to understand them. Nuttall states that 70% comprehension is generally considered enough (p58). Non-native speakers have various problems here:

  • unknown vocabulary;
  • vocabulary which they only recognise in spoken, but not written form;
  • cultural information;
  • unfamiliar or complicated grammatical structures;
  • (for some learners) characters different to their own language, and possibly in a different direction too;
  • and probably many other things…

It is therefore important to choose relatively straightforward texts, generally below the student’s current reading level, when focussing on reading speed.

(Arabic speakers may have an additional problem, which you can read more about here.)

Testing reading speed

Nuttall describes a method for finding out students’ reading speed which is unfortunately far too long to reproduce here. You can find it on page 57 of her book.

There are many different reading speed tests available online and as apps, which you can use easily if you have internet access, or by asking students to find out their reading speed at home. These tests are all designed for native speakers, so students need to have a fairly high level of English to use them in order to reduce the number of problems which they might encounter from the list above. Here are some of the ones I’ve tried:

There are many other sites and apps available. The best ones have comprehension questions after the speed test to give you an adjusted speed based on how much you understood. In case you’re interested, I read at about 400 wpm in English on a screen – I read somewhere that screen reading speeds are normally slower than paper speeds.

I love reading
I wonder how fast he can read?
(Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @katysdavis, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/)

Not always bad

Two habits which I used to discourage my students from in the past were subvocalizing (forming the sounds of the words while you are reading, and sometimes even murmuring them) and following the text with a finger/pencil. I have now realised that I do these things too sometimes, as it can be appropriate for some texts. However, if this is the only way your students can read, then you need to help them broaden their range of reading styles, or to select reading matter which is more suited to their level in terms of grammar, vocabulary and cultural knowledge.

Why is slow reading a problem?

In an ideal world it wouldn’t matter how quickly students read, and they would have all the time they needed to get through every text. In reality, students who can only read slowly are probably losing out in class, as their classmates race ahead. They will also find exams more difficult. Finally, it stops them from becoming the effective reader described at the start of this post. As Nuttall says:

The relationship between reading speed and comprehension is complex, but they are certainly closely linked. A slow reader is likely to read with poor understanding, if only because his memory is taxed: the beginning of a paragraph may be forgotten by the time he has struggled to the end of it. But it is not clear which is the cause and which the effect: do people read quickly because they understand easily, or do they understand easily because of the speed at which they read? (p54)

By only treating reading as a vehicle for grammar or vocabulary, or at best a few comprehension questions, rather than training students to improve their reading speed, we are leaving slow(er) readers behind, and denying them the chance to reap the benefits of a range of reading styles. Here are some ways you can help them.


Fluent readers group text into multi-word chunks or ‘sense groups’, enabling them to move across the text quickly. Each position their eye stops in is called a ‘fixation’. The fewer fixations your eye makes, the faster you will read. For example, the previous sentence might be broken into the following sense groups by an efficient reader:

The fewer fixations / your eye makes, / the faster / you will read.

Less efficient readers might chunk it like this:

The fewer / fixations your/ eye /makes, the /faster you /will read.

or even read it word by word. Nuttall again:

The student’s problem is often that he does not know the target language well enough to chunk effectively. Many students read word by word, especially if the text is difficult, so to encourage good reading habits, a lot of practice with easy texts is needed. There is never enough time for this in the classroom, so this is [an] important purpose for an extensive reading programme. (p55)

To train students to chunk effectively, it is important to use texts which are relatively easy, as Nuttall says above. There are various things you can then do with the text (adapted from Nuttall p55):

  • Put it into centred columns on a page. The reader tries to force himself to make one fixation per line:

Centred column

  • Do the same thing, but have students use a ‘mask’ (a piece of paper) to reveal the lines as they are reading them. You can also do this on an OHP (or using some IWB software, but I don’t know specifics) to manage the speed they’re reading at.
  • Put it into Spreeder. Set it so that it is just above the students current reading speed. For example, if they read at 100wpm, set it for 120wpm. You can choose the size of the chunks, but unfortunately it doesn’t chunk in sense groups. However, it requires a lot less work than either of the ideas above! It is also something students can use at home very easily.

I also think that this concept is a good argument for using the lexical approach, as that should help students to recognise chunks more easily.

Other ideas

Encouraging students to use a mask (a piece of card with a whole cut out to show only one line and the first part of the next) can give them more awareness of the speed at which they are reading. By moving it down the page at a constant speed it forces them to move their eyes faster and not get bogged down when they come across words they don’t understand. They could also hold a piece of card above the lines that they are reading – Nuttall (p59) recommends above rather than below the line, so that the flow of the eye from one line to the next is not interrupted.

These two links will take you to other activities you can try to help students improve their reading speed:

Increasing reading speed for EAP: three areas to focus on – Katy Simpson Davis

Improving reading speed: activities for the classroom – Neil J. Anderson

There are also hundreds of sites aimed at native speakers to help improve reading speed, which you can find through any search engine.

Summary of key points

To become effective readers, students need to be in control of a range of reading techniques, one of which is the ability to read a text quickly.

Being able to read quickly is particularly important for exam students, who normally have to read a lot of text in a short period of time.

Texts used to practise reading speed should be below the student’s current reading level.

Chunking is an important skill that efficient readers have, enabling them to read groups of words in one go, without having to read every word separately.

I hope you have found this useful. Do you do anything else to help your students improve their reading speed?

Useful links for Delta

During my Delta I gathered a list of links which I returned to again and again. I’ve also seen many useful links since that I wish had been around before I started my course! I thought I’d share these with you, and I will try and keep the list up-to-date as I find more things which I consider useful. Please let me know in the comments if you think I have missed anything or if any of the links are broken.


Take your time Delta Module One / Module Three

If you’re looking at this page, you are probably contemplating doing the Delta, or are already part-way through it. I’ve created a more relaxed way to study for Delta Module One, taking your time over the course of an academic year to really get to know the content before you take the exam, or for Delta Module Three, being supported throughout the process of writing your assignment. Find out more here.


Before you decide that Delta is the right qualification for you, take a look at this list of alternatives from Jim at SpongeELT. Sam Smith did the Delta and the DipTESOL in the same year (top tip: don’t do this – it’s a heck of a lot of work!) and has compared the two qualifications. Pete Clements’ tips on How to get a DipTESOL Distinction are equally applicable to doing the Delta.

Jim Fuller has a general introduction to Delta. I particularly like this paragraph:

Before doing Delta I had in my mind that Delta was an impossible-to-conquer beast that only those teachers with years and years of experience would even consider taking on. Now, whilst I certainly wouldn’t recommend taking on Delta with less than two, perhaps even three years of experience, I would, however, recommend viewing it differently than I did. You see, I was looking at it the wrong way. Delta is not just exams and ridiculous amounts of assignments, LSAs, etc., it is a programme in true professional development. YOU are the starting point and Delta then makes you look at that and then look at where you want/need to be. It is hard. It is long. But, it is massively worthwhile.

If you want everything in one place, try ‘How to Pass Delta‘, a very reasonably priced e-book written by Damian Williams, who was one of the tutors on my course. Another excellent resource is ELT Concourse’s Delta index, recommended by Katy M. I particularly like the myth-busting they do about Delta.

ITI Istanbul have produced a webinar lasting a little over an hour, also called How to pass Delta:

Sally Hirst, who presented the ITI webinar above, is in the process of compiling a very useful website about the Delta modules – as of August 2021, it includes clear study tips on how to study for Module One, how to find what to read and how to read what you find. There is also a set of questions to help you work out what you might need to read for Delta Module Two, though much of the reading you do is applicable to all three modules.

DublinTEFL have a series of short videos called ‘How can I prepare for a DipTESOL or a Delta?

I collected all of the Delta posts I have written on my blog into one page. The one which is probably most useful is called Preparing for the Delta, including advice about some good books to read before the course and a lot of ways you can improve/brush up on your Word skills in preparation for all of the typing you’ll end up doing. I’ve also written one about Delta grade statistics, summarising statistics from 2014-2019 for each of the three modules.

Lizzie Pinard, who got a Distinction in all three modules, has been writing an incredibly useful series of posts about the Delta since she finished her course. Here is her annotated list of the resources she read before and during the course. Sue Swift regularly posts useful materials on The Delta Course blog.

Alex Walls has a selection of useful Delta resources, including reading lists for each module.

Chris Wilson wrote a summary of an ELTchat entitled ‘How to survive, and make the most of, your Delta‘. Chris also recommended tools he uses to keep track of references from his background reading for Delta, and shared his Delta diary from throughout the course.

Anthony Ash did the Delta full-time in Autumn 2014, and wrote a series of posts about his thoughts on various things that come up during the course. These cover the highs and lows of someone going through Delta, and give a good overview of what the course is like. He has also written a series of posts offering a general introduction to the course, particularly useful if you have no idea what it is or how it works!

Olya Sergeeva has written about her Delta too, as has Emma Johnston and Dr Harriet Lowe. Harriet talks about the gaps between L2 teaching and L2 research in her series of 5 posts, as well as what she feels she got out of the course as a whole.

If you’re considering doing a Distance version of the course, but are struggling to find a local tutor, Alex Case may be able to help.

The facebook group Delta and DipTESOL – Candidates and Survivors is a great place to go for advice.

If you are worried about academic writing as part of your Delta course, you may be interested in this short course from CELT Athens, called Academic Writing for the Cambridge Delta. [Note: I haven’t seen or done this course, but I think the premise is interesting, and I know it’s a reputable centre. The inclusion of the link does not consitute a recommendation!]

Finally, although this is advice designed for MA students, I think Laura Patsko’s tips on how to recover from an MA can definitely be applied to Delta candidates too!

Module One

I’ve created a Take your time Delta Module One course. It runs over 30 weeks, with about 3 hours of work per week. There are three options: October to May for the June exam, March to November for the December exam, or a little more intensively over the summer followed by monthly meetings for the December exam.

Here’s what current participants say about the course:

Emma Johnston has self-study tips for Module One, based on the post-2015 version of the exam.

[Please note: the rest of these links are based on the old version of the exam. Many of them are still relevant, but please check carefully that the descriptions of the questions match up with the updated version of the exam.]

ELT Concourse has a comprehensive Module One preparation course, which is completely free. You probably won’t need many of the other resources here if you use that, but just in case…

I created a ‘Delta’ group on Quizlet, which contains all of the Delta-related flashcards I made/could find. Quizlet is a great resource to help you brush up on your terminology, which is especially useful for parts one and two of Paper One of the exam. If you have never used Quizlet, here is my guide to show you how to make the most of it. There is also an app available for Apple devices.

The Cambridge website has a list of materials for Delta candidates, including various past papers. David Harbinson has compiled a list of books and resources for Delta Module One.

James Fuller has a guide showing you how to prepare for the exam. Dale Coulter created a step-by-step guide to the Delta exam, divided into one post for each of the two papers: Paper One; Paper Two. Lizzie Pinard did the same: Paper One; Paper Two. She also created a list of useful resources to help you revise for the exam, as well as a countdown which you can use as a last-minute checklist to make sure you know everything, or a starting point to plan your studies. Ricardo Barros describes how he prepared for the exam, as do Yuliya Speroff and Sérgio Pantoja. I’ve written a post with ideas about how to lay out your answers in the exam and information on how I prepared for it (though this is now perhaps out of date due to changes in the exam since I took it).

Emma Gore-Lloyd made an infographic with questions for evaluating the effectiveness of a test, relevant to Paper 2 Question 1, and much prettier to look at than a lot of the things I was revising from!

You can also find a guide to the exam on ELT Notebook and tips from Lu Bodeman. Roya Caviglia has created a flowchart with a breakdown of the marks for each section of the exam. Barry O’Leary has general tips for how to prepare for the Delta exam and tips for dealing with Module 1Elliot Brett wrote about how he felt about doing the exam and his tips for success. Jamie Clayton reviewed the Distance Delta Module One course.

Module Two

If you’re trying to decide where to do your Delta Module Two course, Sue Swift has a set of useful questions.

Information about all of my Delta Module Two assignments is available on my Delta page, including a summary of feedback on two passes (one merit for an essay) and two fails, so you can get some idea of the problems I had and what I learnt from my experience. At the other end of the scale, Ricardo Barros tells us how he got a distinction in at least three of his LSAs (nobody ever finds out about LSA4!) and shares his bibliographies. He has also shared the bibliographies from Konstantinos’ LSAs, mostly focussing on young learners. Stewart offers practical tips for writing your background essay and lesson plan based on his experience from his first two LSAs.

Lizzie Pinard gives you her reading list and feedback from her LSA1 on lexis (collocations), and Tiago Bueno goes into a lot of detail about his LSA3 on reading. Jim Fuller from Sponge ELT has a list of tips for the whole of Module 2, along with his reference lists for all of the assignments he wrote. Alex Walls talks about how to succeed in Module 2. Martin Hajek shares his Module 2 tips, including a list of books he found it useful to read.

Matthew Smith shared his Delta Module Two assignments and Joanna Malefaki shared her grammar one and her vocabulary one. Jemma Gardner shared her experimental practice assignment, on the subject of Dogme, and Rachel Tsateri shared her lesson plan on the same topic. Ricardo Barros has shared an example of some of the materials for his LSAs on phrasal verbs and listening. ELT notebook also has examples on developing fluency and phrasal verbs. Emma Halliday shared an example of a listening essay (merit) and lesson plan (pass). Bruno Sousa wrote about Community Language Learning, his choice for experimental practice. Please bear in mind that Cambridge does not take plagiarism lightly, and it can result in you being banned from the course – these are examples only, so please do not copy from them!

Talk TEFL has a Delta LSA survival kit full of lots of tips and decoding some of the many acronyms on Delta courses.

Katy M has written about her experience of doing Delta Module Two, including some practical tips for how to reduce your stress levels. Jamie Clayton wrote some notes from different weeks of the Module Two course, including tips for planning lessons.

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus and Jennie Wright have written a book called ‘Experimental Practice in ELT‘ which came directly out of their experiences of Delta Module 2. It includes lesson plans and ideas for the five most popular topics for the Experimental Practice part of the Professional Development Assignment. It’s available from the-round for a very reasonable price.

Mike Harrison runs the Experimental Practice Academy blog, including interviews with various people about their Delta experimental practice.

Lizzie Pinard explains:

And if you need a bit of a laugh, I would highly recommend The stages of a Delta assignment, all of which I have definitely experienced! You could also read The Secret DoS on why we should banish the word ‘practise’ from our aims.

Module Three

Dublin TEFL have a guide to help you choose your specialism for Module 3.

Read this before you start writing anything: Lina Gordyshevskaya has practical tips which will make completing your Module 3 assignment more efficient and hopefully save you time and stress.

Information about my Module 3 assignment, on teaching exam classes, with a specific focus on IELTS reading and writing, is available on my Delta page.

Jim Fuller at Sponge ELT has written a very comprehensive guide to what Module 3 is, ideas for how to approach it, and supplied a very long reading list you could use as a starting point. Martin Hajek reflected on his Module 3 experience, and talked about why he recommends you find a tutor to help you, or at least somebody who can read your assignment.

An overview of types of syllabus was a useful primer for different types of syllabus, although I would recommend reading about them in more depth before you write about them.

Yuliya Speroff has written about her whole Delta experience, and has included her reference list for the Module 3 EAP syllabus she wrote. Lizzie Pinard has guides to writing each section of the Module 3 assignment:

Please remember that Cambridge looks on plagiarism very seriously – if you copy sections of other assignments, you are likely to be disqualified from the course.


Skills are reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Lizzie Pinard’s Delta Notes* is a series Lizzie has produced based on the notebooks she kept during her Delta course. Here are her notes on:

Sue Swift has a 9-minute presentation introducing skills and sub-skills, with particular reference to listening and speaking. Rachael Roberts has a post which asks What do we mean by speaking skills? This is useful as a starting point to help you think about sub-skills and come up with a more specific speaking aim for an LSA.

I have a list of online bookmarks, which I constantly add too. The links below take you to the bookmarks tagged ‘Delta’ and:


Systems are grammar, lexis, phonology and discourse management.

I looked at conditionals (grammar) and multi-part verbs (lexis) for my two systems LSAs. For the latter, I found a couple of particularly useful articles in the Macmillan Dictionaries magazine, including one about the pronunciation of phrasal verbs, by Adrian Underhill. You can find my full bibliography in my assignment on my Delta page.

Lizzie Pinard’s Delta Notes* is a series Lizzie has produced based on the notebooks she kept during her Delta course. Here are her notes on:

I have a list of online bookmarks, which I constantly add too. The links below take you to the bookmarks tagged ‘Delta’ and:


Lizzie Pinard’s Delta Notes* on:

Emma Gore-Lloyd is doing the Delta at IH Seville intensively in autumn 2014. She’s writing a series of posts including some reflection questions for her weekly blogging.

I have a list of bookmarks on diigo to which I regularly add. I tag all of the ones I think are relevant to Delta. You can subscribe to the list to find out when I add anything new.

Remember that it will all be over at some point, and you’ll be able to go through the post-Delta phases described by Joanna Malefaki.

And finally, if it’s all getting a bit much, go and see English Droid.

(*This series is a work in progress, and I will add more links to it as Lizzie writes the posts.)

Good luck!

Ways to practise your languages

One from the archives, from my first year of post-Celta teaching. I’ve just found this file on my computer, last opened on 1st April 2008. I’m still pretty happy with it, although I’d probably make it a lot longer now! What do you think?

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Irregular verbs revision with minimal planning

  1. Ask the students to cover the board with as many verbs as they can think of. They should stick to the infinitive/first form, and will probably do this without prompting
  2. Elicit any corrections to spelling/form.
  3. Leave a pile of squares of paper/post-it notes on a desk. Ask students to write the past simple form of each verb on the pieces of paper, one verb per piece, then stick the past form on top of the present form on the board. When they have finished, all of the infinitive verbs should be covered by all of the past forms.
  4. Circle any incorrect past forms, including where students have written a past form for a different verb (thinking specifically of fall-felt here!). Ask students to correct them.
  5. Write a separate list of only the problematic forms on the board, and ask students to copy it into their notebooks. We endedd up with 8 verbs from a total of about 40, including feel-felt, think-thought, fall-fell, show-showed, hear-heard
  6. Drill the pronunciation of the pairs.
  7. In pairs, ask students to write a short story including all of the past forms. This took my students 10 minutes.
  8. Create a gallery of the stories/Ask students to read them out.

I made up these activities during an hour of a cover lesson with B1 Intermediate students today. One of them said at the end, completely unprompted, “That was a useful lesson”, so I thought I’d write here so I could remember it in the future!

Ten blogs in ten minutes (IH TOC 60)

I’ve just finished my presentation at the International House Teachers’ Online Conference to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the IH organisation. All of the presentations are 10 minutes long, and there are 60 presentations in total. All of the videos are (will be) available on the blog. There’s something for everyone!

IH 60th anniversary

For my presentation I had the difficult job of choosing 10 blogs to share with the world. I decided to choose blogs which I go back to again and again and/or which lead readers to other great bloggers. Sorry if I had to miss you out! Here is the presentation, handout and the video. Ten blogs in ten minutes (IH TOC 60)

Thanks to Mike Griffin for inspiring me to do this by celebrating his PLN.

Note: I made a little mistake with the ELTsquared blog, which is actually at http://www.eltsquared.co.uk – sorry Chris!

Happy birthday IH!


Kevin’s blog, The Other Things Matter, has now moved to wordpress: https://theotherthingsmatter.wordpress.com/

The blog starter list has also moved.

Verb-noun collocations

I’ve just created these powerpoint slides based on some brainstorming we did in class today. What would you do with them? I’ll try to update the post later with what I do with them after the lesson tomorrow!

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

How to be a freelancer – Mike Hogan (IATEFL 2013)

The first in a planned series of summaries of the talks I’m attending at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. Please feel free to add or correct me if I’ve misinterpreted anything!

These are the main points from Mike Hogan’s talk, taken from my tweets.

Think about the lifestyle you have and the one you want to have and how much that will cost you. Then budget.
Work on a 9 or 10 month income – how much can you realistically expect to make (accounting for holidays/sick pay)
Manage things on a monthly basis rather than over a year to avoid feeling swamped by a box of receipts!
To help maximise your income, think about maximising downtime when you’re not teaching. e.g. teaching online/writing
Make sure you’re taking advantage of busy times in your country by filling your timetable e.g. outside school holidays
Think about how your year looks, as a company would, rather than on a month-by-month basis
Ask yourself: What am I trying to sell? What makes me different from everyone else? Where can people learn about me?
Show a portfolio to demonstrate that you are developing. Training doesn’t stop with your initial qualificiation
Look the part. Dress the same way that your client dresses: if they’re wearing a suit, you should be too.
Walk the talk: for example, if you’re teaching presentation skills, make sure you’ve practised presenting. To practise presenting, start with small groups at your school. To practise negotiating: try it in real life. Practise asking for discounts.
Investigate the market: check what others are charging. Is it the same product but cheaper? Added value but more?
Give your client consultation to manage their expectations. Remember for them, training/teaching can be a commodity
If they can’t negotiate on price, clients may try to reduce contact hours instead.Supplement face-to-face with online
Be realisitic: it’s better to build a network of freelancers in your area to refer clients to if you can’t help.
The European Profiling Grid (EPG) will be similar to the CEF to show qualification levels of teachers. Watch this space.
Quality control: Remember the relationship between quality & reputation. Are you willing to risk your personal reputation?

If you want to keep work, remember:
How do you check your quality?
What do people think when they hear your name?
What do you want them to think?
Are your courses being extended?
Are you chasing work?
Are you being referred?

Value the benefits of high-profile learners. A high-level 121 can get you a lot more work.
When people switch companies, will they take you with them? What about when university students graduate? This can build your base.
Don’t forget the admin. Try setting aside a day a month to manage this. Makes your life easier.
Conferences and taxis to companies can be tax-deductible, among other things.


The special case of Arabic

At IH Newcastle, we have a relatively high proportion of Arabic mother-tongue students. In my experience, one of the biggest problems they have is with spelling in English, which causes them trouble with both reading and writing. I have tried many strategies to help them to improve in this area, including recommending Quizlet and the read-say-spell, cover-write-check method which was one of the ways I was taught to spell in English. These have had limited success, and until today I didn’t really know why.
I’ve just come across a section entitled ‘The Special Case of Arabic’ by Ann Ryan of the University of Wales, Swansea (in Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy edited by Norbert Schmitt and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp.184-192). She gives examples such as:

  • we get water from deep wheels (wells)
  • you get upstairs in a left (lift)
  • I met my friend in the model of the square (middle)

These examples immediately struck a chord. I had always put such problems down to poor spelling-pronunciation awareness in the learners, but could never understand why these seemed to be so much greater for Arabic learners than for those from other languages, even those written in non-Roman scripts.
Ann Ryan’s explains that in Arabic, words are based on a root that normally consists of three consonants, which can be combined with different patterns of vowels to produce word families, for example k-t-b generates maktaba – library, ketaab – book, kataba – he wrote and so on.
She then goes on to show that Arabic speakers often carry this convention over to their English reading and vocabulary learning, meaning that they use consonants to represent English words. Thus, Arabic learners translated the English ‘cruel’ to equivalents meaning ‘curl’ or ‘cereal’; or translated English ‘finish’ to Arabic ‘fishing’.
Arabic speakers also had much greater trouble in identifying when vowels had been deleted from words than when consonants had been deleted. Their reaction time and errors in this experiment were significantly higher than that of Japanese, Thai and Romance speakers. In short, they have a kind of ‘vowel blindness’. As Ann Ryan says:

The problem seems to take the form of ignoring the presence of vowels when storing vocabulary and an almost indiscriminate choice as to which vowel to use when one is needed.

I would recommend reading the full chapter to follow up on my brief paraphrasing and check I haven’t missed anything!

The implications of this for teaching Arabic students are quite serious. If students aren’t seeing the vowels, or aren’t remembering them, this could inhibit their learning greatly. What can we do to help them notice and pay attention to vowels? In short, to help them completely change a cognitive process which is carried over from L1?

As a visual learner, my only current idea would be to give each vowel a colour, e.g. ‘a’ is red, ‘e’ is blue…and encourage learners to use this in class for words which they struggle to discriminate. What do you think? How would you tackle this?

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @notyetlanguage, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (EFL activities)

This week my students have been reading the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I took my students on a trip to Durham (where some of the first two films were filmed) last week because one of them is a huge fan of the books, and while we were there we talked about reading in English. 

My class in the cloisters in Durham
My class in the cloisters at Durham Cathedral, where some of the Hogwarts courtyard scenes from the first two films were recorded

I discovered that they don’t really read in English, partly because it’s daunting, and partly because they can’t be bothered 😉 so I decided I’d make them do it by bringing it to class. We’ve done a whole range of activities based on the chapter, none of which included comprehension questions, but I’m sure you could write some if you wanted to. Let me know which ones you use, and if you have any more 🙂

Harry Potter

The first question was ‘What do you think of when I say Harry Potter?’ My students are upper intermediate, from six different countries, aged 18-30. There was clearly a whole range of opinions, but nobody was out-and-out negative. As feedback, I asked a list of questions, with students standing up if the answer was yes. I joined in with the standing up. Stand up if:

  • you have never read or watched any Harry Potter.
  • you have watched part of a Harry Potter film only.
  • you have watched a complete film in your own language.
  • you have watched all of the films in your own language.
  • you have watched a complete film in English.
  • you have watched all of the films in English.
  • you have read one or more of the books in your own language.
  • you have read all of the books in your own language.
  • you have read any of the books in English (one student had finished Philosopher’s Stone the day before!).
  • you have read all of the books in English.

The titles

On scraps of paper, students guessed what they thought the titles of the books are in English – one title per piece of paper, with a number (1-7) indicating which book. The students who had no idea became the teachers. They collected the paper and compared the answers against a list I took with me.

I then put the titles on the board one at a time, and we talked about what they meant and how they differed, mostly in terms of word order, from the translations. We also talked about capitalization.

The titles in Britain are:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

For students who didn’t know the books, we talked about the meaning of some of the words, especially goblet and phoenix.

The first page

To get into the book, I started off by asking students to read the first page (until ‘high chair’ if you have it in front of you). When they finished, they had to stand up. It wasn’t a race, but rather was designed to help them appreciate different reading speeds in class. Afterwards, I asked them two questions:

  • How did you read the page? For example, did you follow words with your pen? Did you underline words you didn’t understand?
  • How would you have read it in your own language?

The aim of these lessons was to reduce the students’ fear of reading in English. One of the things I did the first time I tried to read a book in German was copy every word I didn’t know onto a long list. After 2 pages I had about 100 words, and I stopped reading because I was so depressed! My class weren’t that bad, but I strongly believe (from personal experience) that:

If you don’t understand a word, keep reading.

If you see a word you don’t understand three times, keep reading.

If you see a word 10 times and you still don’t understand it, it might be important. You should probably look it up.

Especially in children’s fiction, ‘difficult’ words are generally explained. If a ‘difficult’ word only appears once, then the likelihood of it being essential to a story are slim. We came back to this point at various points during the week, and I think the students are a lot happier to continue reading now.

Adjectives and nouns

Before reading the first page, I handed out this sheet:

(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to. For some reason, the word cloud doesn’t always appear properly. If that happens, once you’ve downloaded and opened the file, right click on the word cloud and select ‘arrange’>’bring to front’ or ‘in front of text’. You should be able to see it and move it to wherever you want on the page.)

I challenged students to think of as many adjectives as they could that would collocate with each noun. i had to tell them that ‘people’ and ‘sky’ were two separate words.

Once they’d read the first page and we’d had the discussion above, they returned to the sheet and found the corresponding adjectives from page. Here are the answers:

(no) finer boy

thin, blonde woman (Mrs. Dursley)

dull, grey Tuesday

greatest fear

big, beefy man

good-for-nothing husband

the last/unDursleyish people

cloudy sky

anything strange/mysterious

very large moustache

strange/mysterious things

good reason

small son

most boring tie

screaming baby (Dudley)

Throughout this exercise, and the ones following it, I tried to discourage students from using dictionaries. Instead, they had to use what they know about the world and about Harry Potter in particular to guess what words meant and try and explain them to me so I could confirm, or help them change, their guesses.

As revision, they said the nouns, and their partner had to say which adjective collocated with it.

For homework, they used the BYU-BNC corpus to check which of their collocations were correct – I showed them how to do this during class first.

Peculiar events

On pages 8 (from “None of them noticed…”) to 11 (to “a whisper about the Potters…”), Mr Dursley witnesses, and misses, a series of strange events. Students worked in pairs to highlight the strange events, again without using dictionaries. They then summarised the events using key words, and we talked about how often each description was repeated, and the fact that even if they didn’t understand the description the first time it appeared, they usually did by the last time. These were the key words and events I came up with:


owls flying in the day

page 8: “None of them noticed a large tawny owl flutter past the window”. 

page 9: “owls swooping past in broad daylight”

page 10: “there have been hundreds of sightings of these birds flying in every direction since sunrise”

page 11: “Owls flying by daylight?”



page 8: “a cat reading a map” “It was now reading the sign that said ‘Privet Drive'”

page 10: “…the first thing he saw […] was the tabby cat he’d spotted that morning. It was now sitting on his garden wall.” “It just gave him a stern look.”



page 8: “…there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about. People in cloaks”

page 9: “This lot were whispering excitedly.” “‘The Potters, that’s right, that’s what I heard -‘”

page 11: “Mysterious people in cloaks all over the place? And a whisper, a whisper about the Potters…”



page 9-10: “The man was wearing a violet cloak. He didn’t seem at all upset at being almost knocked to the ground. On the contrary, his face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made passers-by stare: ‘Don’t be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!’ And the old man hugged Mr Dursley around the middle and walked off”


shooting stars

page 10: “instead of the rain I promised yesterday, they’ve had a downpour of shooting stars!”

page 11: “Shooting stars all over Britain?”

Peculiar words

Once they’d identified all of the events, the groups had to try to work out the meaning of any of the words they didn’t understand in the lines they’d highlighted. I emphasised that they should focus on these lines, as these are the important events here.

After they’d guessed as many as they could, each group was allowed to choose one word from each page, i.e. one from page 8, one from 9, one from 10, and one from the top of 11, to look up in the dictionary.

They then mingled to share their words.

Fan pictures

The website Harry Potter companion is a repository for everything you ever needed to know about the Harry Potter universe, and many things you probably didn’t. They have chapter-by-chapter guides to all of the books. Each guide has a set of fan pictures accompanied/inspired by quotes from the relevant chapter. Here are the pictures from chapter 1 in a slide show, so you can print them out and cut them up:

Students had read the rest of the chapter (page 11 to page 18) for homework. Only one of them failed to heed the warning that the next lesson would be very difficult if they didn’t. Before looking at the pictures, we started the lesson with students verbally summarising what they could remember from the chapter. I put the pictures around the room. Students had to circulate and try to identify a quote which could be matched to each picture.

You can check the answers by going to the Harry Potter Companion.

Verbs and adverbs

I wrote these verbs on the board:

say, sniff, nod, blink, repeat, appear, whisper, behave, act, climb, sit, lay sth down, look up (emphasising that this is the opposite of ‘look down’ not the phrasal verb)

Students had to decide which adverbs you could use with each verb. Once they had as many as they could think of, they went back to the book and looked for more. While they did this, I checked their lists and we talked about why some of their suggestions were not possible. Finally, we put the adverbs on the board to check, and talked about some of the stranger combinations, like ‘blink furiously’.

Verbs and adverbs

Summarising the chapter

We spent a whole two-hour lesson today on writing a summary. In pairs or groups of three, the students had to summarise the main events of the chapter in not more than 100 words. Inevitably, they tried to include every event they could think of, which meant a lot of editing.

The groups swapped first drafts. They then had to improve on these and rewrite them, with a little help from some prompt questions on the board and some advice about what to look up in the dictionary. Examples of my prompt questions were:

  • Are all of the main ideas included?
  • Is tense use logical?
  • Are capital letters in the right places?

The second-draft summaries were excellent, but unfortunately I forgot to copy one to put on here!

Never judge a book by it’s cover

For our final two-hour lesson, we’re going to look at some of the different covers for the first Harry Potter book:

Students will:

  • identify the objects they can see on the covers;
  • describe some of the similarities and differences between the covers;
  • think about why those images were chosen for each cover;
  • decide which cover would make them most/least likely to pick up the book – disregarding the language barrier of course!

The great Harry Potter language quiz

The final activity of the week will be a quiz bringing together the language we’ve studied this week, so the Harry Potter fanatics shouldn’t have any particular advantage over the newbies!


All of the adverbs are one small pieces of paper, one per piece.

In a variation on the classic adverb revision game, the adverbs will be divided between the groups. They have five minutes to decide how to mime or act out all of their adverbs, without saying it. 

Each group will then perform, winning five points for each adverb another group guesses, and losing one for each one they fail to guess from the other groups. (this scoring system may be edited on consultation with the students!)


One word: pictionary. 

The rest of them

I’ve kept a list of the random words which have come up during the week. The final part of the quiz will be a backs to the board/hot seat game. In this game, students work in pairs. One student can see the board, the other is facing them and cannot. The teacher writes a word or phrase on the board. The student who can see it describes it to the one who can’t, without using any of the words on the board, or variations of them, and without translating. As soon as the student with their back to the board thinks they know what is on the board, they stand up and tell the teacher. Two points for being first, one point for any other pair who gets the correct answer but are slower.


Although I enjoy Harry Potter, I’ve only read them once, and watched them twice (once at the cinema, once on DVD) or sometimes a couple more times. I’m interested in the universe Rowling has created, but nowhere near as obsessed as some of my students. Her books are sometimes the whole reason they want to come to the UK! I was lucky, in that only one student didn’t really like Harry Potter at the start of the week, and two of them had never read or watched any of it, and they seem to have enjoyed the classes as much as the fans.

Sharing the richness of her language has made me re-appreciate how good her writing is, and how suitable it is for teaching, as well as the many layers of what she put together, no matter how much it might be sneered at by those who ‘hate’ Harry Potter. I’m sure there’s a lot more you can do with it too. The activities I’ve written about here, I came up with fairly quickly. You could use it to focus on so many different aspects of language. 

The best thing about this week, though, was that today, in our fourth of five lessons, two of the students walked in carrying brand-new copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Neither of them have read a book in English before. One of them had even decided that he would use each chapter to focus on a different kind of language, once he had read it. In chapter two, he had circled all of the verbs of speaking, and all without any encouragement from me.

And if that isn’t an argument for extensive reading, I don’t know what is.


It’s half past three

It’s half past three.

Thirty minutes ago the tram I was on hit a woman as she was crossing the road. She lay on the road, bleeding profusely. I am a first aider and I had no idea what to do or say. Thankfully I was not the first person to reach her – a pharmacist (lekař) got there first. She knew what to do to help the woman, kept her calm and knew what words to use. The ambulance arrived within five minutes, and the replacement bus to continue our journey arrived soon afterwards. I do not know what state this woman was in when the ambulance arrived as I thought that three people helping her was enough, and an unqualified foreigner who didn’t speak enough of her language wouldn’t help.

I did my first aid course in early July last year, and it was sufficient for summer school aches and pains, and even a minor head injury when one boy fell while running down the stairs. It did not prepare me for this and all I could think was “I should know what to do”. As soon as I get back home I plan to book a refresher course to get up-to-date again, as it’s amazing how quickly you forget (use it or lose it).

The helplessness I felt, even knowing some of the language, is enough to make me go home and find out simple phrases like “Don’t worry.” “The ambulance will be here soon.” Anything to make her feel better.

I hope she survives.

In twenty minutes I have to start a two-hour lesson. I am writing this to help me deal with witnessing this. I don’t know what else to do.

One of the things it made me realise is that we worry about our students and their attitudes coming into class, but what about the teacher? Krashen’s Affective Filter covers the students’ learning, but what about the teachers’ teaching? I don’t ever remember being told how to approach a class when something like this has happened. I’m shaken up, but not enough to warrant cancelling the class. I have taught this group for two years and am coming to the end of my time with them – it’s not fair to them. But I think I will spend a couple of minutes at the beginning of the class telling them what has happened so that they know why I am upset. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, but I’m a talker, and I want to get it out of my system (I know how callous that sounds). This writing is one way of doing that, but until I speak about it I won’t feel any release.

What would you tell a teacher in a similar situation?

Should you share these things with your students?

If you have never done a first-aid course or don’t know how to say some simple comforting phrases in the language spoken where you live, I would recommend you find out. And I hope you never find yourself in my situation, and even more fervently, that you are never the victim of what happened to that poor women.