How did English become the Global Language?

One of the things I did today was comment on Scott Thornbury's blog post, O is for Ownership... and in my ramblings I talked about how sometimes ideas are out there, floating about in the greater Universe, simply lurking, waiting to be captured by he who listens and is prepared to act.  (It's that sort of day).

Those sorts of thoughts come, I guess though, from my youth when I was a NewAger and instead of being a reflective English teacher and practitioner or even a student,  I wrote NewAge articles philosophizing on the questions of one's path through life - instead of

"How do we learn?" "What is motivation?"
"How can the new technologies help us teach Speaking?' I wondered how we transformed from monkeys to... well, whatever we are now.

Even though it was a long, long, long, long time ago and many years have passed since those days of adventure, climbing up into volcanoes and knocking back beers while lying on Asian sandy beaches, curled up around men with long wise beards in front of dimming fires while arguing over the very nature of our beingness, the story, no matter how fantastical, of the 100th Monkey never really left me.

So today, through the rambling stroll of a streaming mind, the philosophy that we learn from those around us, consciously, subconsciously and through the trawling of multi-dimensional layered communications recorded in the shared higher consciousness, I am led to only this question:

How did English become today's one Global Language?

Okay, it's not completely, yet it surely is on the way.  By 2020, a prediction not a fact, a greater majority will speak it than those who don't, right?  It isn't the easiest language.  Nor the prettiest.  It is instead a messy code, made up of archaic irregularities, tortuous, nonsensical rules and ridiculous tongue-defying pronunciations.

So what on earth, or beyond earth, happened to set this particular meme into play?

When did the Tipping Point occur?

Who were the players, who washed the first sweet potato, who made washing it important? Who decided that English should take the place of Esperanto?  Was it life itself?  Was it a bunch of academics studying applied linguistics unraveling the codices of the brain and because they happened to be English speaking, while sharing the nature of our brains ability to learn, the onus was on English to prove the hypotheses... or was it the availability of native English speakers racing across a globe to have an adventure while earning a little cash?

Was it a curtain coming down or a wall falling down?  Was it the Almighty Dollar or Nike's abuse of children in factories? Was it Coca-cola's fault or a legion of British soldiers conquering a New World?

How did it all happen so fast?

We talk about our students' needs to learn English but somehow we don't ask how that need arose in the first place.

Does anyone have thoughts or theories?

image credit: colobus monkey by garthimage

Does Gender-Segregation in Classroom Lower Second Language Acquisition?

(Guest post by Brittany Lyons)

For decades, proponents of gender-segregation in classrooms have argued that separation of children by gender fosters a successful learning atmosphere. However, recent studies have shown that segregating classrooms by gender impacts student learning negatively.

The negative effects of separate classrooms are apparent in linguistics especially, where girls tend to develop strong academic abilities earlier than boys. Establishing gender-segregated classrooms denies boys and girls the opportunity to learn from each other, and reinforces the long-ago debunked idea that "separate but equal" is effective in institutions of learning.

Research conducted at Tel Aviv University suggests that girls help foster a stronger learning atmosphere in classrooms, and that both boys and girls benefit from being in mixed gender classes. The study found that test scores were higher overall in many areas, including reading comprehension, science and math, when boys and girls were in mixed classes. Test scores increased for both genders, and a high ratio of girls was linked to enhanced learning.

This data is supported by older education studies, which found that girls tend to excel in language arts as young children, while boys consistently develop later. This difference is true of children in many countries, and from many different linguistic backgrounds—not just in English-speaking high-income families with parents who can afford the cost of further education, be this at home, sending their children abroad or even via a distance learning program such as an online PhD education.

Whether the disparities in language acquisition are based in the brain or in upbringing, marked differences do exist between boys and girls, especially in elementary school classrooms. Listening to their female peers speak and interacting with them during classroom and playground activities helps boys to develop stronger language arts skills.

Schools who have attempted to institute gender-segregated classrooms have often seen an overall decrease in test scores, which shows that gender-segregation in schools is not effective for either boys or girls.

Another chief drawback of segregated classrooms is that they do not allow children to share their knowledge and experience with each other, but rather perpetuate gender-based cultural disparities. Learning how to interact with different people is seen as a key goal of education, especially in early childhood. Children who are deprived of the chance to interact with peers of different genders may have trouble relating to or communicating with individuals of the opposite gender later in life.

Many psychologists who focus on child and adolescent development have voiced concern that gender-segregated classrooms impact the social skills of students well into adulthood. They perpetuate unfounded stereotypes about how men and women are different, and contribute to gender-based prejudice.

The effects of gender-segregated teaching can have an impact on older students as well. Decreases in test scores occur in single-gender classrooms in both middle and high school, and grade point averages in general fall. This decrease in GPA can adversely affect students as they apply for college and scholarship opportunities. Depriving students of their best chances to enter excellent colleges and secure funding does them a disservice. The goal of public education should be to prepare individuals for successful careers and successful relationships, both of which are harmed by gender segregation.

Many of the ideas that proponents of gender-segregated classrooms have introduced into public discourse are nothing but old prejudices in new forms. These individuals argue that boys and girls are inherently different, and that they should thus be separated in classrooms. They argue that boys are more aggressive than girls, and that girls can only learn in cooperative environments. As the American Civil Liberties Union has noted in lawsuits against school districts with sex-segregated classrooms, none of these beliefs have been substantiated by science.

  • But what do you think - should boys and girls be separated? Why or why not?
  •  Have you noticed any differences in the way that males and females learn languages?

Blog post author
Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog. 

Image credit
Wikimedia commons, Daytona School

#Twitterspam works because...

most people are actually,


To be a spammer in 2011, you have to major in Human Psychology?

Practice makes perfect?

I mean there is a sort of cleverness in their approach, isn't there?

I seen a real bad blog about you. http://link2avirus

Have you seen this photo of you? http://going2wreckhavoconURcomputer

Check out this video with you in it! http://love2spam

Given the amount of people who spam me each week, because their accounts have been hacked BECAUSE they were silly enough to click through on one of these..  I think I've got to stop wondering how/why people are silly enough to fall for this trap and got to start slapping some kudos on the devious as they definitely know how to get folks caught in their webs.

If I can apply this to anything in terms of my professional development as an educator, then I'd have to say it really emphasizes my belief that learning has to be personal to prick, to stick.  

But anyway, folks, seriously, read and take note:

If you get this sort of message from someone you don't know, don't click on it.  

Wise up!


Narcissus by Archimadrill

Fossilization and then some Krashen

This morning's walk to classes was a half-hour battle with an umbrella against icy rain and I can safely say that winter is now upon us here in Manchester but at the moment, as the night closes in, I'm sitting in front of my computer with a nice hot-water bottle on my lap, my toes firmly ensconced in last year's Christmas present of sheepskin bed slipper boots. 

I hate cold so it's a good thing with all the articles the professors cook up for us to read that the heating's been turned up in my brain.

One of the tasks last week, for this week, was to think of what makes "a good speaker of a foreign language" and then to think of a particular challenge that you currently face or have faced when teaching Speaking.

We had to research the issue, select an article from Google Scholar and then come back into class to share what we learned.

I chose to look at fossilized errors, a subject I've written about before (but one also swallowed into the

because it's a subject that utterly fascinates me.

I mean why do some learners, despite a significant amount of comprehensible input, say the wrong thing over and over again, even when they are corrected over and over again?   Even when they are repeatedly exposed to the correct form via media, conversations with native speakers.  

You know the sort of errors I mean?  

"I stand up" instead of "I wake up"
The a - e - i mix up
 Trouble with filler words like, "well"
I suppose, at the end of the day, it comes down to L1 interference (first language getting in the way when producing speech in the second language) but why do some of our learners never go through this while others hit major stumbling blocks?  It isn't an age thing, if we're honest, now is it?  It isn't a gender thing... and sometimes, though not always, they are undoable...


a) placing a picture of the difference between standing up and waking up on the table as a cue card

b) teaching a mnemonic device, Send Emails with your iPad from Apple

with others, only practice seems to do the trick, with others it doesn't matter what you do, that error has been fossilized like an insect stuck in amber.

So, thus with my interest pricked, I set off on a trawl through Google scholar.   The first article I came to was by a young lady in China who pretty much put it down to not enough concentration on form in the beginner levels of classes.  I pretty much agreed with her so moved on to see if I could get something juicier.   

This one led to one of those 


Dr Han has compiled a list of the Five Central Issues in Fossilization in an article for the International Journal of Applied Linguistics and in it, along with discussing the sort of errors I'd been noticing, she also discussed the fossilization of level.  When the student ceases to make any further progress in the level attained.

Have you ever come across this sort of thing in your classes - when your learners, week upon week, year upon year, stay at more or less the exact same level?  

To be honest, I would probably name this state "stagnation" because I don't think it's necessarily permanent, it is very contextually and situationally dependent, don't you think?

Her article was a really good overview and a really good springboard to digging deeper, but like so many scholarly articles, there aren't concrete suggestions on how to deal with these issues.

Which brings me to the psychology module, where we had to read some Krashen.  For all you die-hard-the-man-is-a-god-folks, sorry... the article we had to read was, sorry-to-say-out-loud, rubbish.

Obviously he's contributed greatly, enormously, to the field of Second Language Acquisition, but in Comprehensible Output? for System in 1998, he seemed to suggest that Comprehensible Output (CO) is too rare to make any real contribution to linguistic competence...  (CO is when learners notice that they don't know how to say something correctly in the L2 or they've tried to say something meaningful but it all went pear-shaped and no one knew what they were saying, so they change it - make it simple/ ask for help and in modifying the intended phrase/structure learn something new about the language).. 

In this article, Krashen suggested that students don't enjoy being pushed to speak (hogwash, mine did... the issue is so level dependent - so culturally dependent - so classroom dynamically dependent -so why-they're-learning-English dependent - so how-did-they-learn-English-before-influenced etc) and then he went on to say that high levels of linguistic competence are possible without output - that basically, input is all a language learner needs!

Raised my blood pressure that article did - I mean - by golly, at least a million students all across the world who've studied languages, whatever language, were made to do so through readings and listening, year upon year, but did not get the opportunity to speak and, blanket statement of mine, they would disagree with this viewpoint.   I wonder, is it Krashen's fault that they are now mute because some textbooks authors thought he was right?   Hmm...

Also, I think I'd even go so far as to say: if fossilization occurs at any one particular stage in the learning process, then I'd be very tempted to pick a time when new language is obviously received, in that moment, the brain makes a use-it-or-lose-it-decision... and I'd lay the blame of error/level fossilization at not having enough freedom moments in class - at not being able to say things wrong in order to learn how to say them right.

But then, whadda-I-kno',


Useful links
Scott Thornbury's written a cracking post with rich comments on F is Focus on Form

References (because I have to work out how to do them and even though this is not an academic paper, and merely just an opinion based personal blog post, I'm trying to be a good girl now and should...)

Han, Z. (2004) Fossilization: five central issues, International Journal of Applied Linguistics Vol14 no.2 pp. 212-239
Krashen, S. (1998) Comprehensible Output? System 26, pp 175-182

Insects in Amber by Mila Zinkova

"The Dog Ate My Internet"

...was the smart retort from one of my professors, Gary, today when I gave a reason for not being able to do my required Blackboard discussion homework on top of the articles we had to read. 

In the last few weeks I've been using a pay-as-you-go-dongle and its bytes were being chewed up at a very costly rate... which, on top of the life-changing move, is why I've not been around much in the last couple of weeks: not on the 'net, not writing emails, not FBing and all that.   It was all quick in and quick out.  Also, alas, my grandfather died recently and I'll be heading to his funeral on Friday.

But anyway, yay! The Internet is now installed at home, I have finally got my bed from Ikea although I haven't put it together yet, I have curtains up instead of propped up pieces of cardboard, I have a schedule, I have lightbulbs...  I know where my highlighter pens are although I think I may have lost my glasses.

The course tutors have been piling on the work, reams and reams of articles, 25 - 50 pages long plus book chapters to read and I swear that when they list out what else they recommend reading that there could well be an evil-grin-glint in their eyes.

That part, because I'm so keen :-) you know, trying to read it all, (even some referenced articles mentioned at the bottom of assigned) ...  all wound up becoming a bit overwhelming and on Monday I ran on over to the disability office (I'm dyslexic) to say I was freaking out.  

Nice counselor there told me it was normal to freak out and I instantly stopped freaking out.

I think I need to take a more eclectic approach - but oh,oh,  it's so hard to choose - what if I miss out on something truly groundbreaking... complain as I might about pages of stuff to read, the truth is by golly, even with the articles I don't really like, that I want to simplify and break down into you know, English, teach so much.   

This old dog is definitely picking up some new tricks.

Beyond Approaches, Methods and Techniques

The most interesting work for this module that I read last week was perhaps Diane Larsen Freeman's concluding chapter of Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching.  She has a really good voice - easy and clear, and warming - she's a really-have-been-there-and-done-that-author.   In this chapter she discussed the changes in methodology over the years and provided a really good overview of the different approaches.

I found this particularly interesting laid out, like this, as I can't say that before now I have never actually thought about how much the way that an adult learner might have been taught previously might well affect the way he learns now or how he wants to learn now.  

I thought her statement "What makes a method successful for some teachers is their investment in it" particularly interesting - I wonder if dogme works in my classroom because I simply believe it does.  

Two other phrases which really caught my eye were "learners are very versatile and can learn well sometimes despite a given method rather than because of it" and "teachers who teach as if their practice causes learning, while recognizing that they are not in control of all the relevant factors, and that at the least they are in partnership with their students in this enterprise, can be true managers of learning."

I am not fond of the term, managers, managers are a little too much like a throw-back to the top-down boss effect.  I like coaches better.  I wonder if that's a sign of the times, of these times, 2011 influenced as we are by the Business gurus and their pop psychology.  But, I tend to think that a coach encourages, motivates, builds his team.  And a classroom pulling together needs a strong, warm lead.

Psychology of Language Learning

I'm auditing this class which means I participate as a guest and have to do the assignments but won't get assessed at the end.

I really would wish it could be one of my core modules but I'm planning on doing an ISS in year two and I need to save the credits.   Our Dutch professor is a very interesting character... a coach.  

He gave us an article by Susana V. Rivera Mills and Luke Plonsky called Empowering students with language learning strategies.  This is probably the most marked up of all the texts I had to read last week and the only one I read through more than once and then reread the comments in the margins again, prior to class. 

In class this morning, Juup had us critique and analyze some of her core points and terminology  and it was jolly good fun to give it a (respectful) bashing.  I highly recommend reading it, looking out for phrases like "instructors whose students posses misconstrued notions about language learning need to provide guidance to avoid their tendency to use less effective strategies" but don't expect any real practical advice on how to do that.

In her introduction she repeated a vital question raised by Dick Allwright in 1984 - a question I have been asking for years "Why don't learners learn what teachers teach?"  But her article was pretty theoretical, so I didn't walk away with any 'a-ha' moments.

Still it discussed things like how good strategies affect motivation and wound up reminding me of my own questionings on whether or not, the term I probably incorrectly refer to as "peer-induced-motivation," has any influence over the end-"product."

Evaluation and Design of Educational Courseware

I thought I was going to wind up in the quagmire... blinded by statistics and non-educational examples and too-much-for-the-brain-to-take-in-lists of principles, on printer-costly chapters from Dix and Norman, in the random pursuit of a main point or two.

However, the briefer Wilson, in Raising the bar for instructional outcomes, did serve one up and that is this: 

e-materials need to be 



and engaging.

He also talked about mythic story structure in e-design, referencing Joseph Campbell's journey of the hero (usually used in Hollywood -see my dogme post).

I really suspect I'll be reading more of his work and that I may well have more to say on this subject in the coming weeks/months.


p.s.  For the next two years, Tuesdays are now going to be taken up with my self-reflective, what did I learn on my MA-EdTech&TESOL.  I hope you don't mind the diary style sort of entries and I might well waffle on a bit...  if you want to skip these, then Thursdays will be for the more lesson oriented stuff and Sundays will be the EdTech-SocialMedia comments/tips posts.  

p.p.s. For all you amazing folk who've sent your good wishes via blog and FB and Twitter and for your interesting comments here on the blog last week, so sorry - the dog ate my internet - I'll respond this week :-).

Freeman-Larsen, D.  (2000) Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  Ch.12.
Rivera-Mills, S.V & Plonsky, L. (2007) Empowering students with language learning strategies: a critical review of current issues.  Foreign Language Annals, 40(3):535-548 
Wilson, B. Parrish, P. & Veletsianos, G (2008).  Raising the bar for instructional outcomes: Towards transformative learning experiences. Educational Technology. 48(3), 39-44

Image credit
Caught surfing flickr by derekGavey on

How to Avoid Overseas EFL Teaching Job Scams

(guest post by Susan Taylor)

Vacationing in a foreign country is wonderful, but it isn't always fulfilling enough. You may visit a new place, completely fall in love with the land, the people, even the food, and want to experience those things on at least a semi-permanent basis. Teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) is one way to do that.

Unfortunately, many EFL teachers can find themselves victims of job scams, which can not only cause them to lose a lot of money, but can sour them on the entire overseas experience, causing them to speak out about their negative experiences. Complaints like this are especially frustrating because language instruction can be a wonderful experience, especially overseas. If you decide to pursue an overseas EFL teaching job, be on the lookout for these red flags.


Up Front Payment Required

It's very rare that you should have to pay any kind of fee for any kind of job, let alone an EFL job. You're the one applying to do the work in order to be paid. Why should you have to pay anything before you get there? Disreputable employers, or scammers posing as EFL employers, will tell you the payment is to cover your travel costs, or for an orientation you must attend before you can begin teaching. 

Sadly, this very thing happens to many hopeful job seekers. One such story involved a woman who lost $2,500 when she wired money via Western Union for travel costs and rent fees with the promise she’d be reimbursed by the employer. When they received it and then asked her for more money, she became suspicious, and found out it was a scam.

Huffington Post columnist and author, Julie Gray, wrote an article about a very similar experience in which she described how even though she considers herself quite savvy, she still fell for a scam. It can happen to anyone.  As the instances above illustrate, if you pay that money, you'll likely never see it again. And you’ll still have to cover your travel. Be suspicious of any company that requires payment up front when you apply for a job with them.


It's Too Good To Be True

It's not difficult to find out the average pay for an EFL teacher in your country of interest. That information is available from multiple sites on the Internet, such as EFL businesses, and EFL support sites and forums. Just like most other teachers of any subject, EFL teachers don't go into that career field to become rich. 

Part of the compensation is the opportunity to live in a foreign country, and to interact with the culture and people there.  If an EFL company offers you what seems like an outrageous salary, or one that's much higher than what other companies are offering in the same area, it's probably a scam.


Questionable Web Sites

Just about anyone can build a Web site these days with just a little know-how and a Web host. In the cases of Internet scams, it's become the equivalent of a layperson hanging out a shingle that claims they're a physician. Fortunately, there are some things to look for that will help you identify EFL scam sites. 

First, look at the URL. Does it end with an unusual extension you've never seen before? Not to say that all sites with those extensions are questionable, but it's definitely a something to examine a little more closely. 

Also, is the site well designed? Are there a lot of spelling and grammar errors? Is the domain name unrelated to EFL? Any or all of these factors should tell you all you need to know about that supposed EFL employer.


Poor English

Think about it. You're applying to English schools to teach English. Doesn't it stand to reason that the people who work there would be very familiar with the language, and would have excellent English skills? One or two mistakes are probably nothing to be alarmed about. You can find errors on a lot of Web sites or advertisements written by people for whom English is their first language. But if the materials you're looking at are rife with errors, there's something wrong. 

It may also help for you to be more familiar with the native language of the country you’re attempting to teach in. For example, if you’re talking with a school in Spain and are worried about the reputation of the program, send out some tweets to people in the area and check teaching groups on Facebook for more information. If you’re rusty on the language of the country, audio-based programs help quite a bit. In this scenario, brushing up on Spanish will help you communicate, be more aware and maybe even help your instruction.

What other advice would you give to a newbie TEFLer?

Thinking and Doing, Comparing and Contrasting

Today was a beautiful day in Manchester: the trees are just beginning to add touches of yellow in their edges and the sun battles to provide us with some last warmth.

In between classes, I sat on a park bench with a thermos of brought-on-over-from-Germany, sage and honey tea, to reflect on the learning provided in the morning session with our Dutch professor Juup Stelma.   He started off the course, Psychology of Language Learning, with one of those very popular psychometric questionnaires. 

The problem with this sort of test is they force you into answering YES/NO -and well, if you, like me, have lived, then you know that being forced into black and white answers can intimidate and perhaps irritate  -  too much of what we do and think is grey;  too much is

'it DEPends,'
'er, when I'm hungry'  &
'aye, when I'm in a grand mood.' 

Or, worse, if you've any intelligence then you quickly notice the relationships between the different questions separated out by a few lines and despite the valiant attempt to be "honest and truthful to oneself" you wind up wondering if you may be being tricked (why do we so distrust the psychological) and thus, forced by the pressure and the immediacy laying in wait behind the stopwatch, the demanding YES or NO, you attempt to reply in exactly the same way each time, whether or not it is the "truest" answer. 

Anyway, the resulting results are that I am a pragmatist-activist.

Oddly enough, true. 

But not surprising news.   Of course, I like life and learning to be practical (I'm a teacher!) and to be immediately applicable (tick-tock!), that's why out of all the MAs in the world, I wound up here, doing this one TESOL with real-life applicable educational and technological aims!  

Juup then acknowledged the lack of contextual reference presented through the questionnaire and wrapped up the exercise with a drawing made up of stick figures walking across the whiteboard, challenging us to think about what and who we, as people, as learners, interact with and how those things directly influence our learning.

The interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects.  

He provoked us into thinking about how the results of this non-contextual questionnaire, by Honey and Mumford, could ultimately provide a teacher with enough data to then create contextual materials and hinted at the potentiality of separating learners according to 'type.'

I'm intrigued by this idea but not sure.

In fact, it forces me to mull back over the whole concept of individual learner types - you know the now tossed out, theory of folks being auditory/kinestic/visual learners?   (gotta admit I still subscribe in part,as I know I always learn so much more from a picture than a droned lecture) but I actually tried separating out my students this way and it never really worked.   Even in the small classes.   Noticing was one thing but preparing, presenting, teaching, working together, another.   What about you?

And what do you do if you're teaching 30 or even 60 as some of my Asian colleagues need to?

Apart from the feasibility, is it practical or even worth the effort, to divide up students into theorists, pragmatists, activists and reflectors?   Aren't we all different because it is through the cooperation and collaboration of our differing skills that we make the better, more dynamic whole?   If we separate our learners into groups, won't they become flat and one dimensional?

But then, later, as I walked home, crisping my way through the first batch of dead leaves which rustle in oranges on the concrete lanes, after my class with Gary Motteram, on the Evaluation and design of Digital Software, I began reflecting once more on the infinite potentiality for well-designed computer programs to cater to these issues - whether on the surface level or deep within our id, in areas we don't even know about yet…  and how this potentiality may soon be within the reach of technology  - to teach and treat each individual learner individually while we work collectively.


Useful links related to this posting:

I received an invitation from Anne to take part in her blog challenge, of finding two similar pictures.   Why did I choose these two and how do you think they discuss the text above?

image credits:
Buddhist monk in Sirikit Dam by Tevaprapas Makklay
Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore by AngMoKio 

Back to school at the age of 42

"Sleep with one eye open" was the quickly emailed advice from my Dad the night before Jake, my internet procured van driver, turned up on my doorstep along with my younger brother.

My parents were freaking (as parents do)

but I...

a) knew everything would be alright because statistically life usually is
b) trust the MyHammer website
c) had his email details and the van number
d) hitchhiked my way across Sumbawa on the back of an onion truck when I was 25 - if nothing happened then...

Of course, when Jake and Martin actually turned up, all of Jake's mates were furiously emailing and texting, worried that he'd arrived in Stuttgart and had his liver and kidneys taken out.  Ah, you gotta just love the way that television and general overhyped media resources have created such a nervous world.

My adventure did have its ups and downs, more because a jinn attached itself to my journey, probably attracted by all the worrying family members and friends.

He, the jinn that is, decided to infiltrate my bank account and managed to stop it from working on the very day I was leaving.   Despite frantic calls to the bank at 9am on Saturday, being able to view my money but not touch it, it was a no-go and all information given by the call centre pointed to an apology on Monday (which I got but seriously, it doesn't help to know that technical problems happen).  I was worried and stressed out enough that day, already nervous about packing up my whole life and cancelling numerous jobs and contacts and saying goodbye to students and friends and throwing out garbage bag after garbage bag of stuff not needed anymore... and trying to fit the rest of nigh-on 7 years into one van.

I recounted and recounted the pounds and Euros I'd taken out during the week, crossed my fingers that my budget based on GoogleMaps information was correct.

It wasn't... 

The jinn, you see, he'd also managed to persuade a neighbour to park his Ford 4x4 in front of the van, thus blocking the driveway.  Manic calls at 2am put me in touch with the efficient German police who promised to tow it away if they couldn't contact the owners.  They turned up bleary eyed and in their pyjamas, leaving us an hour off-schedule.

Jake tapped on some keys on the GPS which then prompted "Do you want to avoid tolls?"

We clicked no - we had to try and make the ferry in time - we left, speeding away through Germany and into France.

Sure enough, it was a badly clicked decision, as French toll after toll after toll ate away at those Euros in my pocket, in trickles of €3, €6, €24, €36 and thus, fearing not having enough to pay the final toll... a quick math calculation at the last gas station on the European side to get us just enough until we were in Ole Blighty, proved to be our undoing... 10 minutes away from Calais, 25 minutes away from our afternoon ferry, we wound up with the van parked on the side of the road and a whopping bill to pay for.  No gas.

Also, of course, because I had been super-super careful to tie up all loose ends, I'd remembered TWO DAYS BEFORE to report that I no longer knew the PIN number to my credit card (because I use it only for emergencies and internet transactions)...they'd said no problem and that they'd get a new one sent to me in the UK...

I hadn't reckoned on the jinn...

and thus, I didn't even have a credit card to take care of the breakdown on the side of the road.  It took some persuasion and desperation to convince the French-uber-expensive-fix it man (€186) to take the British currency.  He huffed, he puffed.  It's money.



Finally, after paying a fine for missing the right ferry and making our way through the south of the UK with nary a pee-stop, we got here around 10 in the evening and were met by my friendly landlord who'd brought round bread, tea and cookies in case we were hungry.

And so, oh-my-god, I am here.  In Manchester,  in a super-super-super friendly city where people talk to me for absolutely no reason.   I am sharing a flat with lovely young postgraduates who, so far, don't mind/know that I'm an old lady.

I am sleeping on the floor because I was outbid on e-bay on the bed I wanted.

There are still boxes which haven't been opened and unpacked yet.

I'm relearning how to cook soup from scratch, put together spaghetti bolognese, tuna-fish pasta and other cheap dishes (send me your student-food recipes!)

I've met my tutors and some of the onsite participants and they're all very friendly and interesting.  I'm also looking forward to hooking up with the off-site distance folk.

The University is amazing, the library is wonderful (although lots of the books I want are on one-week-only-loans so will have to reach deep into the coffers to purchase some).  

I have a student card and can get cheap tickets to movies and stuff.  Yippeeee! Lars von Trier here I come.

My course modules look RIDICULOUSLY UBER COOL (for an edtech tesol geek like me) and it's hard to decide for sure which ones to do, but I've worked out a good plan for the next two years and I am ridiculously, ridiculously excited to learn.

So, tomorrow, at the age of 42, wearing jeans which have already been laid out plus brand-new-shiny polished up DrMartens, me, after 15+ years in the classroom, I shall be walking in not as teacher but as learner.

p.s. Thanks Anne Hodgson for introducing me to MyHammer!
p.p.s nervous as all get-out, so wish me luck!
image credit:Photograph by Mike Peel ( [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

10 Speaking English Activities using

Many English Language teachers, when deciding to work with a video clip in their classrooms, make a false assumption that for an activity to be considered as really teaching, then prior to showing it, they'd better sit down for a few hours, prepare an extensive worksheet filled with vocabulary and grammar questions and order to turn it into a good pedagogical exercise, you know to ensure it's really not just glorified babysitting.  ;-)

Personally, I don't agree and I really don't think that extensive worksheets provide a particularly authentic experience - such a thing mainly just erodes the power of the message within the video, takes away the inherent pleasure in learning from TED speakers.   

I'm fond of using TED with my adult language learners (+ similar sites - see here for a list of others) for the ingenuity and its realistic relevance and because I know that whenever I visit TED I'll always find short, topical talks which can be used to kick-off real discussions within my classroom: stuff my adult students want to know and talk more about... speeches that will either captivate their interest or through understanding, even with lower students at only 50%, will encourage them to feel a greater motivation about where their English is going.

Here are a few simple activities you can do with the video clip you're about to show/ are showing/ have shown to your students without designing a full worksheet :

1. Prediction:  what's the video going to be about?
Using the search bar function on TED, choose an interesting video (possibly related to the industry your students are currently working in) and then tell your students that they are going to watch a video with xyz talking about abc.  

Ask them what they think the speaker will be discussing and why they think this.   Do they have any pre-formed opinions on the subject matter?  After watching, get them to talk about whether or not the video met their expectations.  Why, why not?


2. Vocabulary Collection
Give students a piece of paper with the numbers 1 - 10 written on it.   While watching, any video you've chosen, ask them to write ten words they found most interesting / or ten words they didn't understand / or ten words which they think would summarize the story.  

After watching, encourage students to share the words they've collected and to tell each other why these words were the ones they recorded.

Best with short TED videos: (see here)

3. Debate
While browsing TED, look for a video which the community has marked as persuasive.  Show the video and ask your students what the main points discussed in the video were.  Ask them to choose sides on these - to take an opposing view from others in the classroom and to debate it.


4. Post-speech interview
Ask students to pretend that they are journalists at a TED talk.   

Watch one of videos marked as informative and get them to write down questions while-watching and post-viewing.   Get one student to pretend to be the TED speaker, and encourage him/her to sit in the center of the classroom (aim to pick a student who's most likely to know about the ESP subject matter) and then get the other students to read out and ask their questions.

Works with any informative TED video, examples:

5a. Critique Presentation Style
Give students a piece of paper and divide it to 2 parts:  
+ / -

Tell students to analyze a 3- 6 minute speech: to think about the presenter's style of delivery and ask them to write pluses and minuses, things like: she spoke too quickly; she flaps her hands about; she loves her subject material; she used good slides.


5b. Compare body-language
Choose two very short videos on similar subjects less than 4 minutes (or use the first few minutes of a longer video) and turn these on without using sound.  

Ask your students to pay attention to the speakers' body language and facial expressions while giving their talks and to compare these.   How many times do they move around the stage?   How do they stand, where do they keep their hands?   Who looks more convinced and thus convincing?  

After this discussion, play the videos again with sound, do they still think the same way?  What role does body language play in the audience's reception of the content of a talk?

6. Wh-
Write on the board/flipchart the wh-questions: 

Show the video you've (or one of your students') chosen and tell them they shouldn't write anything down while they're watching. After the video is finished, ask students to sit in groups and discuss what they watched, who was the presenter, why did she make this speech, how effective was it: encourage them to ask each other questions and share opinions.

Works with any TED video.

7. Critical Thinking  - Who's the target audience?
Take one of the videos marked as most-emailed and watch it with your students.    

Show or tell them that out of the thousands of videos on the site, this was one of the most-shared with others via email and social networks.  Ask them to think about what sort of people found this video so interesting they sent it on to family members/ friends/ co-workers/ members of their online communities.   Was the speech designed to go viral?

Will they send it on too?  Why or why not?
Get them to practice writing a "FB status update or a Tweet" summarizing the video in less that 140 characters!


8. Will this idea fly?
Choose a video marked as ingenious, in a subject matter your students have expressed a clear interest in or is connected to their work.  

Watch the video with them and then ask them to discuss in groups whether or not they think the idea has merit; if they've already heard of something similar or if they disagree with its potentiality.


9. In his/her shoes...
Review the videos marked as courageous and try to choose a video outside the scope of your students' normal interests and responsibilities.   Encourage a group discussion on whether or not, they could have done what was shown in the presentation; how they may have done things differently; who they know in their own lives/ read about who has done something like this?


10. Rank my TED video!
Encourage students to find a TED video based on something they are personally interested in.
It doesn't need to be about work, it can be a poem/song - it can be about glowing underwater fish! 
Whatever they like and while they watch -  possibly as homework (using the interactive transcripts in their own language if they need to) they can take brief notes about the subject matter.

In the next lesson, get students to share with each other what they watched.   Encourage them to    "rank" each person's suggestion in order of interest and at the end of the session, as a group watch the one that sounded the most fascinating.

11. What else?   
Have you got any zero-preparation/ great tips to share with fellow English Language Teachers on using TED in the classroom?  Do let me know your favorite videos, how you use them or any other ideas and experiences.


THIS POST IS A RE-POSTING OF AN ACCIDENTALLY DELETED ARTICLE DATED BACK TO JANUARY 2011 (the first lot of comments below are copies of those posted between 26 Jan and ...) 
update 050911: actually, it looks like Blogger/Blogspot has been losing posts (in general, not just my own :( ... re the link to other sites which is also no longer here - will repost these up as well!)

Edu-Blogging Tip: Subscribe to your own blog...

by email.


I recently discovered one of my "best" articles (Speaking Tips for Teaching with TED) had disappeared... probably at some point I was deleting a spam-comment but accidentally deleted the full post!

However a quick search through my googlemail account led to the whole thing and I'll put it up again tomorrow.

So, edu-bloggers, if you haven't set up this back-up procedure yet, do!

How to subscribe to your own blog:
Wordpress has various useful plug-ins
I use Google's FeedBurner

Useful links related to this posting:
7 useful reminders when edu-blogging
Looking backwards to look forwards
Thoughts on being an edu-blogger
Carnival - 24+ tips for being an edu-blogger by edu-bloggers

Glossary of EduBlogging Terms, Mike Harrison's Blog
Glossary of phrases and expresssions based on the word blog, Sue Lyon Jones's blog
The Dogma of Edublogging, Nick Jaworksi's blog

The Best Kept Secrets of Highly Successful Edubloggers
Part 1 on Shelly Terrell's blog
Part 2 on Janet Bianchini's blog
Part 3 on Berni Wall's blog
Part 4 on Monika Hardy's blog 

image credit Email by Sean MacEntee 

p.s. It looks like the problem was not my own fault, but blogger's!   A number of my posts are now missing in action and I will have to do a series of updates.  Don't hesitate to let me know if one of your favorites is missing!

Aprenda Inglês - Voxy for Portuguese Speakers

Super excited to relay that in less than a month, Voxy for Portuguese-speaking English-language-learners is the number #1 education app in Brazil and has been downloaded a whopping 30,800 times!

If you're a English Language Teacher based in Brazil, do check it out and share with your students:

Aprenda Inglês - Voxy

What is Voxy?

Voxy uses web-based and mobile technologies to create a fun, flexible, contextual and convenient learning environment, providing interesting supplementary materials which support the language learning experience.

Why use Voxy?

It's free... and all lessons are based on current real-world news stories.  Learners have full control over the pacing and frequency of use and simple repetition games ensure students review the words they've encountered within articles they've read.

Geo-location based phrases provide relevant expressions they want in the moment they need to use them and camera flashcards help students to stay on top of words they're interested in knowing.

How can teachers use Voxy in the classroom?

1. Predict the Story
  • Choose a few words related to one of the articles on the Voxy website and put these up on the board/ IWB.
  • Before reading, ask students to guess what the story might be about.

2. Predict the Vocabulary
  • Choose one of the most recent Voxy stories that has been popular in the local media.
  • Before reading, get students to brainstorm the vocabulary which the story may contain.
  • After reading, ask students how many had guessed correctly and what words could also have been added.

3.  What's the Grammar?
  • Choose one of the Voxy articles.
  • Ask students to analyze the different tenses used and discuss the reasons why these were chosen.
  • Can they rewrite the story using other tenses?

 4. Choose a new picture!
  • Get students to browse through current Voxy stories and to choose one they are most interested in.
  • Can they find a different creative-commons licensed picture to go with this story?
  • Ask them to explain why they prefer the picture they chose.

5. Rewrite the headlines!
  • Get students to browse through current Voxy stories and to choose one they are most interested in.
  • Can they write a better headline for the story they chose?

6.  Where in the world?
  • Using a world map in your classroom, encourage students to pin-up printed out Voxy stories which have taken place all over the world.

7. Track and update stories
  • Get students to browse through current Voxy stories and to choose one they are most interested in.
  • Can they create a timeline and continually update the story as it unfolds or develops?

8. Discuss and debate
  • Choose a controversial article and then divide up your class into two teams.
  • Tell one half they believe in one side of an argument and the other half believes something else.
  • Encourage them to debate the issue(s).

9.  Roleplay
  • Choose a story with multiple roles
  • Encourage students to pick roles and to write up a dialogue (e.g. an interview, a conversation)
  • Get them to practice and role play the various events surrounding the situation in the article.

Have you got any other great suggestions on how teachers can use Voxy in their language-learning classrooms?

If you've already used Voxy in your classroom - what do your students think of our site?

Disclaimer:  I am an ELT-Academic Consultant for Voxy

Useful links

Dogme and the First Day of a New Class

 Recently, after teaching a group of teachers with another teacher, I had some not-so-great feedback:

"The 2nd teacher didn't give us no papers. I didn't learn with her."

Despite that she got a solid 2hr lesson of intense speaking practice with me and her group, three times a week, based on subjects they all chose at the beginning of the course, she was unhappy.   And although the feedback from the other students/group ranging from happy to very happy, it was her feedback which taught me the most.

Because I failed.  

Not in teaching her, but in properly communicating what was actually happening in the classroom.   I learned a very valuable lesson and thought I'd share it with you and that is if you're going to teach with minimal resources then for many students, especially if you're teaching adults,  you do really need to do the following:

1.  On the first day of class, explain what dogme is and tell the students ahead of time why you will not be providing photocopied sheets of paper or why you aren't using a textbook.

Discuss the benefits of a student-centered curriculum.  Talk to them about why you need them to be doing the work - what the reasons are for asking them bringing in the real-life emails and documents they use or need to understand.  

Don't forget that many people, across a wide range of cultures, have grown up with the viewpoint that the classroom is a place to be spoon-fed, so do make sure that they understand that you are going to be treating them like the adults they are!

2.  Do do a very thorough "wants" analysis.  i.e. find out exactly what their needs are before creating your course curriculum around these.  Add dates for on-the-spot flexibility.  Type it up as an outline to ensure they understand your professionalism and hand this out to your students - the more they know that you are on top of things the better. 

The more they know that they are on top of the content of their learning, the better. 

Go back to this sheet/table often during the course - get them to think about where they are at different intervals and ask if they are still happy with the direction they are heading in or if they would like to make any changes to their goals and learning targets.

3. Do a "what are your personal expectations" exercise - i.e. encourage them to write a paragraph about the level of English they expect to have by the end of the course.  

Whenever you are reviewing your outline at various steps, ask them to also review their own expectations at the same time.   Obviously, set aside time for a discussion about this at the end of the course.  (This is what I'd failed to do!)

If not, if they haven't realized by the end of the course, that they have in fact received what they needed and wanted to learn and that they have in fact, significantly improved their speaking and listening skills, that their notebooks are now chock-filled with contextual emergent vocabulary and language... then you may wind up with a few folks in your class who think you were just winging it.

Keeping all adult learners happy isn't an easy task by any means but good communication is one of the tricks to making it a little more so!

Do you have any other tips for the first days/week when running Dogme classes?

Useful links related to this posting: 


photocredit: Wikimedia Commons, Manjith Kainickara

Speed Dating as Vocabulary Review

Speed Dating
This fun and useful exercise really works well as a filler or after you've taught a number of lessons and want to check your students have learned the vocabulary taught - either the emerged lexis if you're a dogme teacher, or with items from textbook exercises.

If you're teaching a group of regular students who are coming back after a long break, this activity works as a nice warmer-upper.

Ask your students to write down 5 - 7 words that they've recently learned.   

Instruct them that they shouldn't write the explanations or translations on this paper/ phones/ laptops - however they should know these - so as they write, do allow them to use (e)dictionaries. 

If you've been working with a textbook, you can also get different students to go through different units. If you're working dogme, then get them to go through their notes.  If you've been working online, get them to browse through their blogs/flashcards/

Set up the classroom's chairs like this:

Give students around 5 minutes to tell each other the meaning of the words they wrote down.   After this time (using a buzzer or bell), get your students to switch pairs/mini-groups.  

Continue doing this until each student has talked to a maximum number of other students.

Once you have your students back in the room/ back to the original classroom set up, ask each to tell you the most interesting word(s) they learned and to also create a sentence using this word.

On a nice day, it's really fun to do this activity outside/ in another area of your school/ courtyard or on rainy days in the hallway and obviously they can also do it while standing up!

Useful links related to this posting: 
What does it mean to know a word?
What do you do with emergent language?
Complicated Vocabulary, Make Cartoons!
Powerpointing me


Have you ever done this activity, how well did it work?   Have you got another variant or perhaps an extra suggestion to add - please don't hesitate to let us know your ideas on how to expand this.   If you like, don't hesitate to print this exercise out/email it and share it with colleagues- see the buttons below.

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