Please teach them English-The full full story

In July the crack research team here at ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections reproduced some emails from a language school manager to a new teacher and a few weeks ago (with the help of Steve Brown) we were able to share the teacher’s perspective through her replies. Now we are thrilled to share a learner’s perspective through a learning journal we were able to recover through the help of Maria Theologidou. This post will likely be even much more enjoyable if you read the previous post(s).

10/10
Today was the first day of our English lessons at the SHEA. I had mixed feelings as last year was dead boring and if I didn’t have to put up with my parents’ concerns about my future, I wouldn’t probably be here. Our teacher this year is Ms. Susie. The first thing that struck me about her was how she came into class. She was holding a big beach ball and a box full of stuff. She introduced herself and then we started playing a ball game-turns out the ball had questions on it which we had to answer. That was pretty cool as I couldn’t stand another year of “Find someone who” bingos! She also shared some things about her-she loves drawing, cooking and playing video games. In fact, she showed us a video of some Minecraft tips and tricks. When homework time came, she asked us to write a letter to ourselves about what we expect to learn by the end of the year. She didn’t specify how long the letter should be-still, I don’t have a clue what to write about. We did some goal setting in class last year, but this is completely new to us all. Let’s see how everything will go.

14/11
It’s been more than a month since my last entry, but seriously I had no time to write at all. Ms. Susie is something else! This past month was full of firsts!

Every week we have a different project we work on-last week it was bullying, this week it’s renewable forms of energy. She grouped us in teams which I didn’t really like because I don’t get along with all the people I have to work with. I complained at first, but she explained that we need to learn to work together even if we end up being with people we don’t like much. The first days were a disaster-no one paid attention to me, so I ignored them as well. But then she gave us all different roles, so things started to run more smoothly. Sometimes we run out of time, but we all see how much effort she puts in all of this. She’s more excited about projects than we are!

Another thing which I didn’t expect was all this speaking and writing. Although I enjoy writing (here, not in class, no one corrects my writing here), I’ve always hated speaking. Maybe it has to do with Mrs. Theo, our Beginners’ class teacher, who always repeated and corrected my mistakes after me. She constantly had this huge grin on her face whenever she said “You mean…” or “Not like this, dear. Hear me and repeat!  So, I hated and still hate speaking. You can imagine how I felt then when Ms. Susie asked me to talk about my favorite band in class and what inspired me about them-Arctic Monkeys btw. I turned red and only muttered “Because they are great. Arctic Monkeys are great.” Of course, we didn’t stop there! She then said “Bill, why don’t you tell Maria what you like about 30 Seconds to Mars?” I don’t think I had ever spoken to Bill before and everyone knows Bill is way too shy. So, we just stared at each other for a minute or two. I could see beads of sweat running down Bill’s forehead-after what seemed like a century, Bill managed to say “I like them because they’re nice!” Success!

Since that day, we have speaking activities all the time!!! Speaking time still freaks me out, but we’re getting somewhere I think. One thing I don’t miss is grammar-hooray! Ms. Susie shows us short films in class which we then discuss and surprisingly enough there’s grammar there! Who would have thought?

Have to go now, I still have a poster to prepare on wind and solar energy using Canva, it’s a web tool Ms. Susie showed us in class.

20/11
How can I suck at something I’m supposed to be good at??? Today we did some story writing in class. Half of us had to work on preparing the background to the story and the rest had to work on the plot. At some point we started looking into tenses–Ms. Susie drew a forest on the board with two stick figures walking. Then, she wrote a list of verbs next to the picture and asked us to make sentences. Before doing that, she asked if we remember the differences between Past Simple and Past Continuous. I was Grammar Queen (no comment) 3 times last year, so I was sure I knew the differences. So, I raised my hand with confidence and said all the rules I had learnt by heart last year. I expected something like “WOW, that’s awesome, Maria”, but instead she said “Thank you for telling us the rules, Maria, but can you give us 1-2 examples using the verbs on the board?” And that’s when everything fell apart! Everything I said was wrong!!! I’m so confused-what’s grammar supposed to be about IF NOT rules?

20/12
Christmas is almost here-yay! We’re having a party later on today and I’m trying to come up with something to cook/bring in class. We talked a lot about Christmas, especially about how the holiday has been commercialized and we analyzed popular ads in class. I’m still not sure where all this is leading us to though – I know that some of my classmates (actually their parents, but anyway) are worried about all the grammar and vocabulary quizzes we’re not taking. There was a big incident the other day during the parents’ meeting. John’s mum complained to Mr. Lee that we’re not having enough grammar practice, not taking enough tests either (tbh, we’ve only had 2 tests since September and that was because Mr. Lee stepped in and said all students should take them). I’ve thought about it as well from time to time. It’s the first time I’ve enjoyed being in the English class, but am I supposed to be having fun? We have our C1-level exams next year, so will I be ready then? Obviously, we won’t be asked to comment on John Lewis’ ads there! I don’t know-I trust Ms. Susie, but then everything is new and I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

22/01
I knew this was going to happen, I just knew it! After the Christmas break, we started talking about web design and how we can promote our city to tourists. It’s a project I was scared of at first (like I always am), but I loved how we all came up with ideas and actually worked on something different and personal at the same time. Of course this meant that we focused on the project alone and only touched our books once or twice the whole month. John’s mum has paired up with 4-5 other mums and have been complaining about Ms. Susie again. Last week they were in Mr. Lee’s office and I overheard (ok, maybe I eavesdropped a bit) them saying that she only wants to be friends with us and there’s no real educational value in what we’re doing. Mr. Lee tried to calm all of them down, but they complained that we shouldn’t be focusing on skills and talents. Bill’s mum (Bill, the shrinking violet, remember?) said that her son feels intimidated by Ms. Susie and that this isn’t what the school is famous for. “Where are all the nice practice tests they used to take?” she shrieked “Have you forgotten how much we pay for your “success guaranteed” results?” and so on and so forth. Luckily, Ms. Susie wasn’t around at the time, but I’m afraid this isn’t going to end well.

14/02
OK, so today I’m confused. Like hopelessly, terribly confused. For Valentine’s Day we had agreed to work on a class debate about beauty campaigns and how they influence our perception of beauty. Instead, Ms. Susie walked in class with a stack of worksheets and said we wouldn’t be doing the debate at all. She had brought us a nice article to work on, answer some questions on it and then work on Indirect Speech in more detail. We were all shocked! That wasn’t what we had been used to! Ms. Susie was obviously upset – I could tell from her expression and the frozen smile (which reminded me of Mrs. Theo btw) that someone had changed her mind. As you can guess, it was the most boring lesson we’ve had so far. The only ones who seemed to love everything we did were the “gang”-John, Bill and the rest. Then, we had 6 (???) grammar exercises as homework! When it was Ms. Susie who told us again and again that simply answering questions and filling in gaps doesn’t mean we know how to use grammar in speaking and writing. It’s not that I minded doing the exercises, they took less time than all the other homework assignments we had to do so far. It’s just this creepy feeling I have that the forces of evil have taken over-the same I had while watching Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader! Seriously now, I’m scared that all the other parents have managed to make Ms. Susie change her mind about how teaching should be and how we are supposed to be feeling. Let’s hope she won’t turn into a Sith Lord!

18/03
It took me a week to find the strength to open this notebook, pick up a pen and manage to write a line or two about everything that happened last month. Ms Susie was fired. She never told us, but we all knew. The Dark Side finally won. I don’t know what’s worse-that she showed us a different way of learning and I know what I’ll be missing from now on or that I’ll have to get used to doing things the old way? Our class is split in two-those who feel relieved Ms. Susie is gone and the rest of us. Mr. Lee has already told us we will have extra Saturday lessons to make up for all that time lost in project work. So now my weekend is completely ruined! He has already given us two essays as homework and told us we will meet our new teacher tomorrow. Can’t wait…

I’ve been wondering a lot about the reasons why adults behave this way.  I mean it was obvious to all of us, even to those who couldn’t stand Ms. Susie, that she really loved teaching and always bore our needs and interests in mind. I can’t really tell if she was a good teacher, but she was definitely someone who was passionate about teaching and cared for us. She was the first to organize Mini Master sessions in class where we shared our talents and offered tips on how others can learn what we do best. She was the first to respect that some of us hated English or speaking (like me) or writing and had class discussions on how we can change that or what we would be interested to talk/write about.

I can’t blame Mr. Lee entirely-I know we spent tons of hours working on projects, special days, debates etc. It was something no one else in the school did or had done before and it was against all school’s standards and rules. But yet-why not find some middle ground? Why not give a younger person who obviously likes teaching a second chance? And now that I’m thinking about it why not ask us instead of our parents how WE felt about Ms. Susie?

I heard some of my classmates saying that none of their friends did what we did in their exam-prep class. So that got me thinking again -why should teaching an exam class be all about tests and exercises? What was wrong with project work and speaking and …fun? Why isn’t fun serious or important enough? There are so many questions on my mind right now that I really don’t know how to put everything in words. One thing is for sure–Ms. Susie helped me discover a part of me that I never knew existed. I don’t know if she is the best teacher ever, she was a good teacher for me and that’s all that matters.

 

Just like the previous entries in this series these learning logs are invented. Maria Theologidou was kind enough to take up the challenge of writing from a learner’s perspective and I am thrilled to share it here and I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I did. I’d like to share a big thank you to Maria for this! Please be sure to check out Maria’s excellent blog if you are not already familiar with it.

A blast from the past: Notes from a talk I gave to students in 2008

A while back I got an email from the good people at pbworks informing me one of my wikis  was scheduled for “reclamation” since it hadn’t t been used in 11 months. Wondering what this particular wiki (as I have created more than my fair share of wikis in my day), entitled “Practical English,” had on it I clicked through to have a gander. Some sections were interesting. One that immediately caught my eye was follow up notes to a speech that I delivered to students who were finishing their 20 week intensive English program back in 2008. One of the reasons this caught my attention is because I didn’t really remember doing it and it seems I have been making farewell speeches for some time. In fact, one of the most popular posts on this blog in terms of hits is a 2013 farewell speech. The other thing I found eye catching about the 2008 speech  (as referenced in the notes) was the advice I gave as I am not so sure if current me agrees with everything I said at the time. I will share the speech and then follow up with comments from present day Mike. If you have read this blog before you might be guessing I will also share some random thoughts as well. You’d be right. 

 

Hello!

 

Thank you very much for coming to my speech. It seemed like you understood most of what I was saying, but I wanted to be sure to put the links and some comments on the internet for you to see. I hope that it was helpful for you and I also hope that you will continue to improve your English. This page is quite different from my speech, but I think that most of the important points are here.

Suzy and I both said that you need to practice, which is very true. (1) I think that you should think of this as the beginning of your English study, rather than the end. (2) You have made an incredible investment of time and money and now it would really be a shame if you were to waste that investment.

I think that the internet is a resource that many Korean students don’t use enough for improving their English. I think this is strange because Korea is such a wired country. (3) There is a whole world out there in English and you can find anything you are interested in. (4)  

(My favorite website) Wikipedia is a great resource for learning English. (Notice I didn’t use the word study!) Just go tohttp://wikipedia.org/ and search for things that you are interested in. (5) You could search for people or places that you are interested in. You will see natural English sentences and words the way they are usually used. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone so there might be mistakes, but there are mistakes everywhere.

I talked about social networking websites. The most popular one right now is Facebook. I won’t tell you my name on this site because there are some embarrassing pictures of me on there. The URL is http://www.facebook.com/. I think that this could be a good way to interact in English. (6)  I really like the idea of students meeting people from all around the world and using English to communicate. You will learn a lot by simply communicating with people. Other sites that are focused on learning English are http://www.englishbaby.com/ and http://www.livemocha.com/. I am really impressed with Livemocha’s system. (7) There are courses and role plays that are helpful but even better is the system of practicing with people at a similar level from all around the world. It is a great site. (8) 

Another site that I talked about is Skype. It is a free online telephone service where you can talk to anyone in the world. There is an option that you can set (Skypeme) which means that random people can just call you. (9) I think this is a fantastic way to practice spoken English because you can sit in the comfort of your home and practice speaking. You might be nervous the first time, but it can be lots of fun. I like that you get a chance to talk to many people, like in real life. Also, if you don’t like someone, you don’t have to talk to them. I don’t use Skype very often these days, but my name is migriff99. (10)

A website that has been very useful for me is Englishtips.org (http://englishtips.org/) This site is probably a little illegal in Korea. (11) It is a collection of 1,000’s of resources for learning English. You can download books and files absolutely free. You have to register, but it is very simple and easy. If you are bored of studying English a look around this site might change your feeling. It is a Russian site but you just have to click on the British flag if you want English. The search function is very helpful to find your way around.

I talked about ELLO which is the listening site that I think is the best in the world. Actually, my friend made it, but I would recommend it even if it wasn’t made by a friend. Just go to http://www.elllo.org/ to see what I mean. (12) I really like the use of lots of non-native accents and he tries to make the listening interesting. (13)

The most popular listening site is http://www.esl-lab.com/ which is pretty good as well. (14) There are a lot of things to listen to on that site. Two websites that are good for listening to the news are http://www.simpleenglishnews.com/ andhttp://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/index.cfm

They might be a bit easy for some of you, but it is a good place to start if you want to practice listening to news

Something that I didn’t mention in my speech is podcasts. (15) These are radio shows made into MP3 files. This can be a great way to practice listening on the train. Some interesting sites related to podcasts are http://www.eslpod.com/website/, http://a4esl.org/podcasts/

and http://www.eslpodcards.com/. The final one is a combination of a postcard and a podcast, which is pretty cool. (16) 

A final podcast recommendation is a site that is not very active at the moment, but has great potential, Bomb English. This site is two (very well-educated) foreigners living in Korea. They are both fluent in Korean and Korean culture, but they are native speakers of English. They offer a perspective on Korea that might surprise you. They also swear a lot and talk naturally. They don’t write what they will say before they say it, so their speaking is the opposite of the boring dialogs you might find in textbooks. Please be careful with this site because you might be shocked. I recommend the episode called, “Why we hate Misuda.” (17) 

To improve writing I recommended the obvious: write a lot. (18) Don’t worry about mistakes and just make a habit out of writing every day. You will make mistakes but you will find out what is difficult for you to write. Why not send emails to your soon-to-be former classmates? Reading is also a great way to improve your writing. (19) 

I mentioned that students should try to spend as much time reading as possible. Only read what you are interested in. What do you read in Korean? Try to read that in English. It is a great idea to follow one story in English. I mean, read the same story in different newspapers on different days and you will find that your understanding will improve. I strongly recommend reading the whole newspaper in English. (20)

I think it is great if you read something and understand 80%. (21) You don’t need to understand everything. I can certainly say that I don’t know every word that I read in English. That is natural. You need to see words in their natural context many times before you can really know it. This is why I told you to burn your “Voca” books. (22) 

I also recommended graded readers. They are classic or famous books made easier. (23) The harder vocabulary words are taken out but the stories are the same. I think these are great, especially for lower level students. The key here is to make sure to read a little bit every day. You can find these books at most bookstores. Perhaps you could do a search on Englishtips for some suitable books.

Another general hint–Think in English as much as you can. (24) Train yourself to see the world in English. When you do this, you will also discover what you don’t know how to say in English. 

Remember Einstein’s quote, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  (25) 

 

Notes from 2016: 

  1. Who the hell is Suzy? I don’t think it is this Susie (from some recent posts). I guess that was placeholder name all the way back then as I am sure I never worked with anyone named Suzy.
  2. Trite but good point. I wonder how many followed this.
  3. I am still surprised by this.
  4. True, but is it so simple? Are there skills and strategies and language needed to do this? Is this something that could or could have been included in such a program?
  5. So nerdy to have Wikipedia as a favorite site.
    Of course now I might suggest Simple English Wikipedia and also students making edits themselves.
  6. It seems a bit quaint to be telling Ss about Facebook like it is some brand new thing but back in the day (the Cyworld days) not a lot of Korean people were on Facebook.
  7. From afar and from 2016 it seems like this type of site never really got too popular with students. I am not sure and would love to be corrected on this.
  8. Is it? Really?
  9. As far as I know, Skypeme never really took of for students or the general public. Again, I could be wrong.
  10. Still my address.
  11. By probably a little illegal I mean “illegal.” I’d be lying if I said I never downloaded a book from Englishtips but I am not sure if I’d recommend such a site these days. Maybe I’d recommend Free and Fair ELT instead.
  12. Still a great recommendation. I am looking forward to seeing ELLLO founder Todd Beuckens at the 2016 KOTESOL International Conference.
  13. In 2008 I would have predicted by 2016 there would be an abundance of nice resources for listening with non-native speakers doing the speaking.
  14. I have no idea what I based the “most popular” line on. I have not thought about that site for ages. I guess it is fine but it doesn’t really excite me and has not been part of my recommendations for a few years now.
  15. Podcasts! Nice recommendation, Mike!
    I feel like I saw a nice list of recommended podcasts for students recently but I couldn’t find it in an intense 4 minutes of googling. Suggestions welcome.
  16. I forgot about this one!
  17. This was an interesting pod and I thought they had a lot to offer students.
  18. Perhaps a little simplistic but yeah writing is good for writing.
  19. I think this is solid advice but I am not sure if I made it clear enough or provided enough proof or reasoning. I am not an official member of the “Cult of ER” but I do believe it has a lot to offer and I wish I sold the case a bit better in my notes and in the speech itself. Maybe the paragraph that follows was convincing enough.
  20. The whole newspaper? Even the classified and ads? Doesn’t that conflict with the previous point about reading what is interesting? Anyway I like the idea of reading about the same event from different sources and on different days. Lots of lexis related to the topic would likely be repeated.
  21. Nice idea but that number might be a bit low.
  22. We’ll have us a little book barbecue in the yard. They’ll see the flames for miles.
  23. I know 2008 is not soo long ago but I felt a twinge of pride about recommending these all the way back then.
  24. I don’t  even really know what this means nor if it is good advice.I wonder what other people think about this one. From here the advice seems a bit empty and potentially unhelpful without clear examples or strategies.
  25. I like to think this quote was not quite so banal back in 2008. I also like to think I wasn’t completely convinced Einstein had said this or that I’d have been easily persuaded by the plethora of myths out there about Einstein and what he said. 

Please teach them English–the full story

A few weeks ago, the crack research team here at ELT RRR reproduced some emails from a language school manager to a new teacher. Since then, we have also managed to trace the replies made by the teacher to the manager. In the interests of balance, we are now able to post the email discussion in full, showing the emails from both parties. Below you can see the original emails followed by the responses. 

As always, let us know what you think in the comments.


Dear Susie,

It is wonderful to have you working with us. We appreciate your enthusiasm and energy. It is great that you care about the students and connect with them. It is great to see you have some interests in common with the students, including Pokemon Go and Minecraft. I am sure you will be able to share thoughts and ideas related to computers and Internet Technology. I am looking forward to a nice year (or more!) working with you at Super Happy English Academy for Children. I know that you don’t have much experience teaching English but I think your passion for learning and teaching will be a great asset for you. I also think your artistic background and your previous experience teaching underwater basket-weaving will be useful experiences for you to draw upon in your work here. Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can be of any assistance to you. Take care and have a great year. Best of luck!

Sincerely yours,

John LEE
Academic Manager

 

Dear Mr. Lee,

Thank you very much for your email and for the warm welcome to your school. I also hope that I will be able to make a positive contribution to your curriculum and to the students themselves. It is true that I have only recently completed my initial TESOL certificate and I did find this course challenging, particularly the apparent need in language teaching to identify specific language aims prior to every lesson. However, I feel that the TESOL course allowed me to learn some very practical techniques for classroom management, giving instructions and clarifying language, which I will use to enhance my classroom practice.

There may be some confusion about my previous teaching experience, which I feel I should clarify. I have previously worked on programs for young adults, mostly focusing on the development of what are often known as 21st Century Skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking and digital literacy. While this work included a project involving basket weaving and another that required students to visit the local swimming pool, I have never actually taught underwater basket-weaving, as you mentioned in your email.

I look forward to getting started at the Super Happy English Academy for Children.

Regards,

Susie Smith


Dear Susie,

I hope this finds you well. I have heard good things about your teaching performance. Thank you ever so much for the great efforts you have been making. It is noticed and very much appreciated.

There is one issue, however. We have noticed you are placing a huge priority on creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. These are very important, of course, but we need to find a balance between these skills and actual language learning.  I feel I was not clear enough in the orientation. My apologies. Our main focus at SHEAFC is teaching English. We always need to keep in mind that students’ parents are paying a lot of money for them to develop their vocabulary and grammar. Also of utmost importance are speaking and writing skills, which our students don’t get much practice with in their public school classes. We need to focus as much as possible on teaching English. Please be sure to let me know if you have any questions or concerns or if there is anything I can help you with or clarify.

Best regards,

John Lee

Dear Mr. Lee,

Thanks for your email. I am pleased that you are receiving positive comments about my teaching. I am certainly putting a lot of work into planning my lessons, as I learned on my TESOL course that this is very important, so it is good that my efforts are being acknowledged.

I am sorry if you feel I am working on some skills more than I should be. It’s just that the first thing that struck me with the students here is how they have problems completing tasks that involve working together; these kinds of activities seem to be unusual for them and they are often unwilling to talk to each other about anything. As you mentioned, the students need to develop their speaking and writing skills in English, and I have been trying to set communicative and collaborative tasks to allow them to do this, but it is taking time for them to become confident in using English.

I understand though that the priority is to focus on language so I will certainly try to be more explicit about these stages of my lessons in future.

Best regards,

Susie


Hello again Susie,

I hope you had a nice weekend and are feeling energized for another week of teaching English to our students. I am writing again to remind you about your primary job here, which is teaching to English to our students. Things like creativity and critical thinking are always secondary. I can fully understand why and how you view them as important but I want to emphasize the main aim is always improving the students’ English ability. Thank you in advance for your understanding. As always, please let me know if you have any questions. Have a great week!

Best,

Mr. Lee

Hi John,

Thank you for your email and for the reminder about focusing explicitly on English in my lessons. I am trying hard to do this, and I always try to incorporate some explicit focus on grammar or vocabulary into my lessons. However, my understanding about language learning is that it is important to introduce new grammar and vocabulary items within a meaningful context. This means giving students an authentic reason for using these items of language, and it seems the most obvious way to do this is to get the students to work on tasks that require the students to think critically, about the language they are using as well as the lesson content. The students seem to be quite good at telling me English grammar rules, but they are not so good at actually putting them into practice. This is why I am doing a lot of work that involves creativity, as it requires the students to speak to each other as they develop their ideas, and work together to produce spoken or written texts that include the target language.

I am very aware of the expectation here to focus on language, but I don’t thinking this means I should avoid developing other important skills at the same time. In fact, this seems to be an effective way of motivating the students to use English.

Best wishes,

Susie


Dear Susie,

I hope you are doing well. Unfortunately I am not doing very well. Many of the parents have been complaining about what is going on in your classes. They expect their children to learn English not website design and programming. I know that you think your students are “digital natives” and this type of work should be no problem for them but this is all very new to our students. They are spending an inordinate amount of time building up their webdesign skills and not enough time brushing up on their English. This is not a coding academy. It is an English school. Also, just in case you are not already aware, our students have technology class at their schools with trained professionals who studied education and technology in college.

I did a bit of research on these 21st century skills you are continually talking about and using as a reason for your pedagogical choices. The criminals at Pearson (who, let’s face it, are not at all interested in students’ development or well-being but are only motivated by the almighty dollar) say,  “Twenty-first century education gives students the opportunity to think deeply about issues, solve problems creativly, [SIC] work in teams and communicate clearly using a varietly [SIC] of media to help develop critical thinking skills. It is less about students getting the right answers and more about students asking the right questions.” I have to tell you, unfortunately, within our current system and paradigm getting the right answer is still important.Students have tests that determine their futures and we need to ensure they are as prepared for these tests as possible.

Also, please use your own 21st century and googling skills to find out about Pearson and what they are doing in the country of your birth in order to decide if you want to align yourself with them and people of their ilk. Alternatively, just have a look at this link: http://fortune.com/2015/01/21/everybody-hates-pearson/

or this one:

http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/pearson-education-115026As you know, I have nothing against running a business or trying to make a profit. I think many of those pushing this 21st Century skills are trying to find a new blue ocean and profit for the rest of this century. Since you are a proponent of critical thinking I’d ask you to think critically about the forces behind this 21st Century skills movement, especially as related to teaching English.  I think I am a bit off track and on a tangent here but my point is to remind you to focus on improving students’ English ability.

I don’t want to be too harsh or direct but I want to remind you that you were hired as an English teacher and this is what we hope and expect you will do. Please teach them English. I hope you will consider this message as a first warning. As always, my door is always open for questions and discussion.

Sincerely,

John

Dear John,

I am sorry that the parents seem unhappy with our latest class project. You are right that I had expected the students to have better ICT skills than they do, particularly because they receive separate classes in digital technology. This has meant that the project, which involved the students working in groups to set up a website giving information for visitors to their city, took rather longer than I had anticipated. However, I feel I should point out that during the project we focused on, clarified and practiced the following areas of language:

  • Understanding oral and written instructions, including contrastive analysis of sound-spelling relationships.
  • Vocabulary for local places of interest and/or cultural significance.
  • There is/are and expressions of quantity to describe places in a town (“there’s a big park”, “there are a number of museums” etc.)
  • Modality in persuasive language (e.g. “you really should/must/ought to visit the Museum of Culture”).
  • Language for making suggestions (Let’s/Why don’t we + short infinitive, How about + verb+ing).
  • Language for agreeing and disagreeing (e.g. “That’s a/an great/interesting/terrible idea!”).

With each of these items I have included some overt language focus in class. However, the overall focus of each lesson has tended to be on the content i.e. the project itself, with the language focus embedded within this project work to provide a genuine, authentic context in which to present the language. This, along with the fact that they seem very motivated by the project, may be why the students are talking to their parents about the non-linguistic skills they are developing rather than the linguistic input.

I am pleased to see you are now researching the concept of 21st century skills, but I would advise you to look beyond what you found on the Pearson website. I am relatively new to EFL but not to the Education profession, and I agree that publishing companies such as Pearson are likely to be motivated more by profit than by the pedagogical value of their products. But it is my belief (based on a considerable amount of critical reflection) that in advocating 21st century skills Pearson are merely jumping on an already popular bandwagon and trying to subvert it so it can become profitable for them. 21st century skills can easily be focused on and developed without using Pearson materials or following their guidelines.

Having said that, I found your point about students being required to get the “right answer” interesting, particularly because we are operating within a specific paradigm where students have to pass tests. I understand this, but at the same time, is it not important for us as educators to give students the skills to question this paradigm? Do we want tomorrow’s adults to simply carry on making the same mistakes as us, or to be able to transform society for the better? You may argue that this is not our role and that we are only supposed to teach language, but language is meaningless without a context, and it is hard to think of more motivating contexts for young people than those which encourage them to engage with and challenge the status quo.

If you would like to read more about 21st century skills I would recommend the following links:

http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/RotherhamWillingham.pdf (which stresses the importance of retaining a strong focus on subject knowledge while simultaneously developing 21st century skills).

http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/download/5ks5f2x078kl.pdf?expires=1470319257&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=D7D8E20345D7E7EE1BED94D45B471769 (a research report on 21st century skills for young people in OECD countries, identifying challenges regarding implementation and assessment).

http://www.designshare.com/images/chap6_designing_new_learning_environments.pdf (which includes a section on how project-based work can be used to develop 21st century skills along with subject-specific knowledge).


Hello again Susie,

I am sorry to always write to you with complaints but when the parents complain to me I have to relay the complaints on to you. The issue is again a lack, or a least a perception of a lack, of focus on actual language learning. I know we discussed the idea of doing a debate in class and I said it sounded like a good chance. I just didn’t know you were going to spend 2 weeks setting it up and choose such challenging and grown-up topics. The  issues of female genital mutilation, gay rights and bathrooms for transgendered people in the United States are not things our students have considered much to date. It is beyond their life experiences and everyday talk. These are not issues our students would likely be comfortable or articulate talking about in their first language. It seems such topics are well beyond their English ability. I realize you could make the case that your English class is the the time and the place for developing these skills but my point remains that you are here to teach English. I’m also not sure if it is appropriate to foist your worldview on impressionable students under the guise of critical thinking. Would you have been completely fine with the situation if students didn’t eventually concur with your views on these topics? I suppose it doesn’t matter. What matters is that our students learn English or at the very least that their parents are satisfied with the progress their children are making and the class content. Please, I implore you, use the textbook. It has the English students need for their tests and their future here in this imperfect yet real world we find ourselves in.

Regards,

John Lee

 

Dear John,

I am bit confused. In your last email you were very critical about Pearson. Now you are telling me I must use a textbook that is published by this very company. I’m afraid I don’t see the logic here. Big publishing companies that produce ELT materials for the global market are often criticized for selecting bland and inoffensive topics which fail to develop critical thinking skills, precisely so that they can be sold anywhere in the world. As you seemed to disagree with Pearson’s commercial motivations, I thought you would be pleased that I was avoiding such materials.

I was unsure about choosing topics that might be too culturally sensitive, and I certainly didn’t want to be accused of imposing my own cultural values on the students, but at the same time I want to create contexts that students can relate to, and which allow them to engage with and challenge existing values and norms. This, along with a desire to expand the students’ capacity as global citizens, is why I chose topics that are more prevalent in cultures outside this country.

I do not feel that the topics I chose are “grown-up,” as you put it; FGM is performed on young girls, and while the students do not have first-hand experience of it, they were able to relate to the notion of having such a thing imposed on them by an older generation and how this would make them feel. Similarly, while LGBTI issues are rarely discussed (if at all) in this country, this doesn’t mean that there are no gay or transgender people here, so these topics also have relevance for the students, particularly those who happen to be LGBT themselves (please don’t suggest to me that none of them are).

You are right that the students were unused to discussing these topics, so we did spend a lot of time researching the concepts and generating some factual information before structuring their arguments for the debates, which explains the two weeks of preparation. I would like to point out though that the grammar content in the textbook for this period was:

  1. Expressions of quantity (A few, about a third, more than half etc.)
  2. Indirect questions (I’d like to know, I wonder if, Could you tell me etc.)
  3. Reporting verbs (say, tell +object, ask, suggest etc.)

I can safely say that all of this language was focused on and practiced during the debate project. The textbook introduced this language along with vocabulary related to food (“A few of us like potatoes,” “I wonder if she likes potatoes,” “I asked her if she liked potatoes” etc.) but this didn’t seem to replicate anything that the students would ever use in real life. In any case, we had previously covered food vocabulary in our Recipe Book project.

I assure you that I am not neglecting the language required for the students to pass their assessments-I am merely trying to find ways to introduce it within meaningful and engaging contexts. The parents may have problems seeing this but the students are very aware of how their language is developing; I know because I have recently introduced Reflective Practice Journals, where the students document their thoughts on how they are progressing in their learning.

Regards,

Susie


Dear Ms. Smith,

I regret to inform you that we will have to terminate your contract. Even after receiving multiple emails and warnings you still persisted in your pursuit of 21st century skills instead of simply teaching English. I asked you and reminded you many times but you never listened. I tried to be understanding but the last straw was when you spent 3 weeks creating a Justin Beiber parody song and then had students perform a lip dub version of it to upload to youtube which took another 3 weeks. I actually had to hire a temporary worker just to field all the complaints from parents. When I asked you about the educational purposes of this you didn’t really give me a clear answer but just said something about it being something you should do as a 21st century teacher and that it was all about collaboration. Our school is not a proving ground for your status as a 21st century teacher and the focus should be on the students and their needs. Instead of dealing with further complaints I have decided to let you go. I hope you will understand my position on this. I wish you good luck in all your future endeavors and in spite of your early termination I’d be happy to provide a reference, especially for jobs outside the English teaching sector.You are a passionate and energetic person and I hope you can find your niche.

Please do me a favor and avoid Twitter in class for the next 2 weeks before your employment is finally terminated.

Thank you for your understanding. I sincerely wish things had turned out differently.

Yours truly,

John Lee

Academic Manager
Super Happy English Academy for Children

 

Dear Mr Lee,

I have to say I am not surprised at your decision, based on how you have responded to the work I have done with my students. I insist that I did listen to your warnings, but I felt they were based on a fundamental misunderstanding of my classroom practice. You and the students’ parents seem convinced that unless grammar and vocabulary are presented front and center as the main focus of a lesson, they are not being taught. I feel certain that the project work I have done in my lessons has been very effective in developing my students’ knowledge and skills in English. In addition, we have also focused on and developed skills which are absolutely essential for young people growing up as global citizens in the 21st century and which, I may say, were sorely lacking when I first arrived at the school.

The idea for the Justin Bieber parody project, for example, came from the students themselves as they were criticizing occasions when Justin Bieber treated the media with disdain despite having initially gained popularity through social and traditional media. I saw this as a great opportunity for students to express their views on the role of the media in celebrity culture, while at the same time introducing them to the concept of satire, which is essential in understanding so many popular texts in English. I tried to explain to you the inter-connectedness between these skills and linguistic content, and how important all of this is for 21st century citizens, but you seemed unwilling to listen.

I can say with confidence that my students have made tremendous progress in critical thinking, working collaboratively with others, creative thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and digital literacy. When I taught my first lesson in your school the students acted as if they had never been asked to give their opinion about anything before; it was almost as if they didn’t understand the question. Now, they are able to formulate their own critical questions and are developing a healthy sense of skepticism, which can only be helpful in their future lives.

I enjoyed working with the students in your school, and I am pretty sure they enjoyed my classes too. However, I feel the expectations of parents and the resulting parameters that the school chooses to work within are limiting to the development of the students, on a linguistic level as well as a broader, educational level. It is clear that you are looking for staff who can merely demonstrate an understanding of linguistic forms and meanings for the purposes of passing tests, rather than developing any ability to use language meaningfully or authentically. I can’t help feeling that such an approach does not prepare the students adequately for the situations they are likely to find themselves needing to use English in when they are older.

Like you, I also wish that things had worked out differently, but I fully understand your decision. I will of course comply with your request to avoid using Twitter and other social media while I complete my contract. I wish you luck in finding a replacement who is able to work towards the goals of your organization.

Yours sincerely,

Susie Smith


 

In case you missed it from the original post, these are not real emails. The first round of emails from the manager were written by me (Mike) and Susie’s replies come courtesy of Steve Brown (@sbrowntweets). If you’d like to know more about what Steve thinks of 21st century skills (usually referred to as Essential Skills in the UK) and other ELT-related issues, you may want to visit his (excellent) blog: https://stevebrown70.wordpress.com. Steve will be happy to respond to any comments below. I am grateful Steve took the time to write up the other side of the story and thrilled with how it came out. I hope readers enjoyed Susie’s responses as much as I did. 

Sudden and scattered thoughts on one of my mentors

I have written before about some of my mentors.
I have written about PLNs, or at least mine, a few times (like here and here and here).

I have written about my teaching context from January 2007 to December 2008 quite a few times.

However, if memory serves, I’ve never written about one of the most influential colleagues from that time. Actually, the person I am writing about was one of my most influential colleagues ever. I feel compelled to share a few thoughts tonight, so here goes.

When we met in 2007 she had been teaching for nearly 40 years.
I guess she was around 30 years older than me.

I think she started as a math teacher and taught math in her native country as well as in international schools around the world for quite some time before coming to Korea. We worked together in a language school attached to a university and taught intensive immersion type courses.

Her evaluation scores were off the charts.
Students loved her and were fiercely loyal to her.

I was very interested materials-light teaching. She was not.
She exploited the crap out that textbook. I think she used every page at least once.

I was afraid of the dreaded Teacher Talking Time.
She didn’t give a shit about that. She’d talk as much as she felt she needed to.

I was uncomfortable putting students on the spot without thinking time.
She kept students on their toes and frequently asked students to speak out in front of the whole class.

I was a bit uncomfortable with direct error correction in front of the whole class.
She told students when they got something wrong and had other students jump in to help and correct.

To combine the previous two points, one of her most common activities was to to have one student answer a question and to have the rest of the students decide by vote if it the answer was grammatically correct or not.

I thought fluency was where it was at and she was seemingly more focused on accuracy.

I was a fly by the seat of my pants sort of guy and she was so bloody organized.

I was probably overly concerned about students’ feelings while she was more concerned about their learning. I was focused on fun and variety and she was focused on ensuring that the students were learning.

I was a bit negative on drilling. She saw the benefits in it and used drills often in order to give students chances to practice.

One thing that always sticks out in my mind is even with all those differences (especially related to experience) she was always respectful of the choices other teachers made. She might disagree with the methods and techniques other teachers used. She chose to teach her class the way she thought best. I admired how she handled the differences between teaching styles and philosophies and all. She never seemed superior or preachy about it but just went out and taught how she knew best and in accordance with her beliefs. Nearly 10 years later this is still every impressive to me.

During the time we worked together we had so many discussions about teaching and learning. I fondly remember standing chatting (and ostensibly planning) after classes almost daily while she sat at her desk and actually prepared for the next day. Those discussions on teaching and learning as well as techniques and methodology combined to form one of my best learning experiences and I didn’t have to pay a dime or single won for it. In those talks, she was certainly respectful of differences of opinion but she was also not afraid to tell me I was fucking crazy if she felt that way.

We had a lot in common even with all the major philosophical differences stated above. We both loved a good joke and didn’t shy away from some off color humor. What a great sense of humor! She is in the semi-exclusive club of those who have made me blush. We liked the occasional adult beverage. We had our issues with management and at times spoke out when we felt it was necessary. We both cared about the students and did our best to ensure they learned and got a lot out of the experience. She was passionate about teaching and learning. I fear in my portrayal above I did not accurately capture how kind, caring, fun, and loving she was.

It’s time for the very scattered thoughts portion of this post:

  • I was just thinking about her the other day when I remembered how she once praised me when I said, “If I were you I’d…” rather than “If I was you I’d…” as she thought the latter was more common among those of us who use American English.
  • I always think about her when I think about student evaluations because she received 5 out of 5 from every student in a class for timeliness when this admittedly was not her strong suit or even her concern. I think this tells us a lot about human nature and the validity of some specific questions on student evaluation sheets. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t actually on time. Students didn’t care about that because they were thrilled with the lessons.
  • Today while thinking about her I shed some tears right there in the middle of a coffee shop. I then had a big chuckle as I figured she’d think I was being a sentimental fool.
  • Back in 2010 she wrote a  lovely and touching recommendation for me when I applied to get trained up as a teacher trainer. I  was moved and flattered when I read such nice words from someone who was such an inspiration to me.

And now, for the abrupt end. Dear reader, I thank you for reading. I thank her for being such a great colleague, mentor, role-model and friend and I thank the universe for giving me the chance to laugh and learn with her.

When I first started to teach I…

Back in early December 2014 started a Google doc and asked teachers to complete the sentence, “When I first started to teach I…” In what I saw as a successful example of crowd-sourcing I sent out a message on Twitter and in some Facebook groups and watched the sentences roll in. I’d planned to share the responses in a blog post or presentation or something but didn’t manage to do so till now. Below is what I wrote on the Google doc and below that are the responses I received. I am still grateful for the responses and pleased to share them with you here. I hope you get as much out of it as I have.  Any comments or additions are welcome.


In a recent #KELTchat the topic was “Reflecting on the Teacher Behind the Practice” which was based on a workshop delivered by Thomas SC Farrell. In the workshop participants were asked to complete a series of sentences, using “narrative frames.” One that caught my interest was frame that started “When I first started to teach I ….” During the Twitter chat there were a bunch of interesting responses and I thought I’d try to collect some more here. To be very honest, I am not sure what I will do them. Maybe a blog post or a presentation or something. Please feel free to use these for whatever purpose comes to mind as well. It is all for fun and development. 

Please feel free to leave your name (or way to be found online) or not. I’d love responses of around 140 characters but I will not be too picky on this.

Thanks!
Michael Griffin
 


When I first started to teach I knew exactly what I was doing and why what had been done previously was wrong.
@michaelegriffin

When I first started to teach, I used thermal transparencies and an overhead projector for lecture materials.
google.com/+JasonBurnett42

When I first started to teach I was chill and confident. The more I learned about teaching, the more doubtful I became.
@JosetteLB

When I first started to teach, I found what I had been looking for. My life acquired a meaning. I started to live. I ceased to be pretentious. Oh yes. I ceased.
@patjack67

When I first started to teach, Pterodactyls flew over Jurassic forests
@mrjollyenglish 

When I first started to teach I leaned on the textbook like a crutch.

When I first started to teach I didn’t know there even were textbooks for young learners
@patjack67

When I first started to teach, I had more temper tantrums than my students (aged 5).
@annehendler

When I first started teaching, I was told I must only speak English to my beginner level Korean middle school students.
@mrjollyenglish

When I first started teaching (Eng) I thought I’d be doing it only 6 mnths mostly as a holiday~there was some freedom in that…
@michaelchesnut2

When I first started to teach non-ELT I found it tough, and when I first started to teach ELT I found it tougher!
@muranava

When I first started to teach, I pored over teachers’ guides.
@hvvnam

When I first started to teach, I forced all of my students to take English nicknames.
@hvvnam

When I first started to teach, I planned and planned and planned.
@cl_oki

When I first started to teach, I didn’t have a textbook.
@cl_oki

When I first started to teach, I stayed behind after class to plan the next day. My boss didn’t like that, and asked me to come in in the morning instead.
@languagebubble

When I first started to teach, I used songs and many textbooks in different contexts.
Pearl

When I first started to teach, I relied on course books a lot. I learned to be with my students instead.
@zhenyadnipro

When I first started to teach, I learned from my students that they found repeating and repeating un-engaging and wanted to express themselves and practice through communication.

When I first started teaching I was so confident and my lessons were something like “G is for Grammar lesson” post by Scott Thornbury (An A-Z of ELT)

When I first started teaching I didn’t know much but I knew that connecting with my students was essential. Nothing I’ve learned since has been as fundamental.
@HadaLitim

When I first started teaching (adults), I was younger than quite a large majority than them. I’m now a couple of years older than most.
@DavidHarbinson

When I first started teaching, I felt like a bit of a phony in the classroom, and kept waiting for someone to come and tell me that they’d made a terrible mistake and it was time to leave. @DavidHarbinson

When I first started to teach I… was very naive and sensitive. I would take every little  uncomfortable moment in the classroom very seriously and think about it for days on end. I’ve learnt to let it go since then.
@annloseva

When I first started to teach I was 19 and created my own crosswords.
@annloseva

When I first started to teach, I had no idea how students learned and little idea of what I was doing. My students saved me with their generosity of spirit and good humor. I owe them so much. @wilma_luth

When I first started to teach, I did what I had been taught to do, and it seemed to me to be working pretty well, except those classes that I ‘couldn’t reach’. I had no chops, no thinking-in-action, other than this doesn’t seem to be working. And I planned like no tomorrow. Fortunately I had some vague unidentified sense of reflection, so I worked my way out of the rabbit hole after a few years. Thinking about those students still makes me smile.
@tanaebaugh

When I first started to teach (in 1989!) I couldn’t imagine how to learn the 300 names of the 300 children I saw everyday or what to do with them. I had a little cart and would go from room to room to spend 15 – 30 minutes with each group every day. Some of  my students called me the “Adios lady” (I was teaching Spanish). About 3 weeks into my first job,  a kindergarten teacher handed me a note and then said “These are the names of the children that you didn’t call on today. And you should do more than have them stand up and sit down for 15 minutes.” She dismissed me with her tone and her facial expression and I went to the bathroom and cried.
@MaryScholl

When I first started to teach, I felt like I was following instructions from a book and there was an invisible force dictating what was right and wrong to do in the classroom, but it wasn’t completely up to me to decide what was best for my students. Fortunately, that didn’t last long.
@LauraSoracco

When I first started to teach, I thought it was a huge buzz, I loved my students, I was confident, I still thought I was a real person not a teacher, and I wasn’t very good. These things have all changed. My students are better off – am I?
@sophiakhan4

When I first started to teach, I thought I had to follow the coursebook on every single page and not deviate at all – and I also thought I was not allowed to make mistakes.
@vickyloras

When I first started to teach I just wanted to run the clock down.
Thomas Topham

When I first started to teach oxen would walk through my open air classroom (in rural Sri Lanka)
Matthew Noble @newbieCELTA [Mg’s note: He is now @tesolmatthew)

When I first started to teach the teachable ‘content’ of English was like a ‘solid mass’ to me, and I didn’t have much any *pedagogical* language awareness to speak of – Matthew Noble @newbieCELTA

When I first started to teach I approached it as if the opposite of the below principles (of the silent way, as it happens…but at the heart of CLT/modern method generally) were sort of guiding truths. I was obsessed with teaching, and didn’t “see” learning. I acted as if imitation were the goal, not generation. I didn’t consider experimentation valid, and saw error as problematic. I didn’t understand any connections between L1 and L2. I thought that learning was subordinate to teaching. Very much not:

  1. Teachers should concentrate on how students learn, not on how to teach
  2. Imitation and drill are not the primary means by which students learn
  3. Learning consists of trial and error, deliberate experimentation, suspending judgement, and revising conclusions
  4. In learning, learners draw on everything that they already know, especially their native language
  5. The teacher must not interfere with the learning process

(principles of silent way from: http://ltsc.ph-karlsruhe.de/swstevick.pdf)
Matthew Noble @newbieCELTA

When I first started to teach, though, maybe #4 above was in play in my mind (though definitly not in a productive way, more of a crutch/making up for the lack of clear teaching kind of way) – Matthew Noble @newbieCELTP

I realized that there was a deep psychological aspect to teaching. My solo students would release their hidden secrets and fears.

When I first started teaching, I had no idea.
@joannalwarden

How is everyone fine with this?

Recently I was discussing job ads for EFL jobs in South Korea with a friend (who also happens to be a former advisee and hopefully will be a future co-author).  After he’d  read a sampling of ads from a popular “ESL” jobs website he was struck by how few job ads professed any desire for teachers with experience, qualifications, or personal characteristics or anything except a heartbeat and an ability to acquire the appropriate visa. “How is everyone fine with this?” he wondered.

He said he couldn’t get his head around how these language schools seemed not to care at all about experience or anything related to the job itself. The idea of language schools in Korea (and indeed around the world) just looking for a young (White?) face with “the right” accent is nothing new but I thought his question was poignant.

He went on, “How can these school directors be happy with such high turnover? How can they be happy to get new teachers with no experience showing up every year? How can parents be happy with this situation? How is this better for the students? How is everyone fine with this?” As he asked these questions he was referring to the job ads not mentioning qualifications and also how some ads seemed to paint teaching in Korea as something of a vacation from life.

*Disclaimer break
This is as good a time as any for me to mention that I not talking about all language schools in Korea. I’m doing my best to base these thoughts on the handful of ads I saw on a popular site. And yea, just a handful or two so all thoughts can be taken with a healthy portion of salt. Perhaps there are hundreds or even thousands of schools interested in hiring the best teachers and providing the best possible education for their paying customers. I don’t want to besmirch the reputation of a whole industry and I apologize for any over generalizations here. I cannot claim to know the reasons schools would not mention qualifications in their ads. When I speculate wildly as I do below please keep in mind I am only speculating wildly about a few places and not every single hogwon in Korea. Again, I’m just sharing some thoughts based on what I saw on job ads and a discussion I had.
*

When my friend asked how everyone was fine with the situation I was feeling quite cynical and suggested maybe school directors and owners don’t want teachers with experience or strong beliefs because teachers without these are likely more pliable. While quite cynical I don’t think it’s an unreasonable explanation. I think in the private education business (both in and out of Korea) teachers are asked to do things for reasons other than maximizing students’ learning. Some typical examples of such reasons might be, “that is what the parents want,” “that is what our competitors are doing,” “that is what we have always done.” My idea was that teachers who know about the field might resist doing things like swamping students with word lists of over 30 words to memorize daily.

In the conversation with my friend I didn’t mention the desire of language schools to cut costs and the assumption that more experienced teachers would cost more money. I can see how hiring more expensive teachers would cut into the profits of a small business. I suppose part of the issue here is that from the view of many employers experience is not really worth paying for.

This leads me to darker and even more cynical points. Maybe the schools simply don’t care at all. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe knowledge, attitude, skills, and awareness are not important to the objective of getting students to pay for English lessons.

clusterfuck

I have only mentioned three potential reasons here. I have a sense I might be missing some potential reasons for the dearth of requirements related to the job of teaching in the job ads we saw. Any additional theories are welcome. What am I missing?

Lingering over this whole discussion is the native speaker fallacy and the idea any “native speaker” will do. I think this pernicious belief influences students, parents, teachers, schools and the whole industry. I don’t even know who benefits from this situation (with the possible exception of recruiters). How is everyone fine with this?

Get your Linguistic Landscape on

I recently participated in an interesting course from iTDi. The course was called Creating ELT Materials and was led by Katherine Bilsborough. I learned a lot in the course and decided to share some of the material I used for one of the assignments.

The assignment was to create learning materials based on authentic material. I pored over the Authentic* materials that may or may not be useful for class page on this blog and decided to try something new. I had a bunch of pictures of signs from around Seoul on my phone and thought I could cook up something interesting using these signs.

Thus far, with my future interpreter/translator students I have not done too much with signs except for occasionally asking students about the Korean in a particular interesting looking (well, to me at least) sign. I think there is a lot of room to exploit English and mixed English signs in an EFL country. My friend Michael Chesnut’s narrative article on three Korean undergraduate students’ experiences conducting a linguistic landscape research project can be found here and might offer some food for thought.

Another potentially useful resource is the Map of the Urban Linguistic Landscape blog which has a variety of pictures as well as ideas for using them. This Storify of the #KELTchat on Linguistic Landscapes also has a lot of ideas for using linguistic landscapes with classes and the preview for that KELTchat chat also includes some nice links including a post from Scott Thornbury. If readers would like to share other useful and related links in the comments I’d be happy to paste them here in the body of the post. 

In order to use the signs in class I thought I’d simply create a slideshow of the pictures and have students look at the pictures in turn and discuss them with a partner. I’d also offer some suggested questions which would be something like the following:

  1. Have you ever seen this sign before? If so, where?
  2. Why do you think Mike chose this picture?  
  3. Where might we find this image? What is the purpose of this sign?
  4. How can we say the English part in Korean? How can we say the Korean part in English?
  5. Are there any interesting aspects of this sign?
  6. Do you think the sign conveys what is intended?
  7. Is there anything you’d change on this sign? Why
  8. What do you think about the choices to use English in this sign? 
  9. What questions do you have for Mike or our classmates? 

One thing I wanted to avoid in this lesson was choosing a bunch of pictures that showed bad English all over town. I wanted to avoid the Engrish.com style which I figured could be demotivating (though also potentially valuable as a way of identifying errors). I wanted to focus on things I thought were interesting rather than simply wrong. I think there is enough worry about getting signs wrong in Korea as witnessed by this recent article in The Korea Times, “Authorities fry [SIC!] hard to fix Korean menus lost in translation.” So, sometimes in the pictures below there is something that probably *should be changed but not always. There is always something I found interesting. Please enjoy the pictures! I will share some thoughts and a brief explanation of each picture at the bottom of this post. All shots were taken on my Samsung Note II and were taken with #nofilter.

20150312_120006 (1)

1) Don’t get your freak on, though.

reporuous

2) So repurous. Very temptation.

20160527_151100 (1)

3) Especially dangerous to say in Korea, perhaps

20150610_141408 (1)

4) Not his most famous quotation.

20151124_211204

5) Presumably about the Greek (well, actually Egyptian originally) goddess.

20160304_202049 (1)

6) Good ol’ Uncle Beard.

20160614_143655 (3)

7) Cool example of mixing languages in the same word.

20141114_141627 (2)

8) All the cool guys avoid peeing on the floor.

20140902_112622 (1).jpg

9) Delicious.

20160525_110845 (3)

10) Party without worries.

My notes and explanations:
(If I missed anything or got anything wrong please let me know. I’d also be happy to explain more, or better yet ask a student to do so, if the brief explanation is not enough.)

  1. I  mostly chose this because I thought the phrase “get your __ on” was interesting. I wasn’t sure if most of my students would know it but there it was on an ad for the whole student population to see. I was also interesting in hearing what sort of feeling this expression might give readers. Does it seem hip and cool or forced and strange? Does it seem too casual? Does it matter?
  2. I know I said I didn’t want to focus too much on errors but this was too interesting. It is actually just a typo. The only hits on Google for repurous seemed to be Chinese and Korean misquotes of the following:The instinct of the coffee is temptation.
    Strong aroma is sweeter than wine, soft taste is more rapturous than kiss.
    Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.
    – CharlesMaurice de TalleyrandPérigord (1754 – 1838)
    I am not sure if there is much learning from this except that we need to be careful and that spellcheck can be a good friend.
  3. Many of my students this year were surprised to note the difference between “I love dog” and “I love dogs.” This picture is a good way to introduce the concept.
  4. The main reason I chose this picture is because of the importance of the question “Did you eat?” in Korean culture and how it doesn’t always match to what “native speakers” would expect to hear. There might be more on this question in an upcoming post.
  5. My guess is if this salon were in the US they would have changed their name. But it is not and they didn’t and the name jumped out at me. Maybe it’s not all that interesting. Moving on.
  6. The Korean word 아저씨 (ajeossi) is something like “older guy” but here they called it Uncle (which is not so far off). And the guy (the owner of the restaurant) has a beard so he became “Beard Uncle.” Maybe “bearded uncle” would have worked. I’d probably go with “The bearded guy ” but I don’t know. I’d love to hear how students would translate it.
  7. There are some interesting things happening here including using two scripts within one word.
    I’m reading this as a pun on a Korean folk tale (Kongji and Patji) and a pun on
    Bean 콩 (pronounced “kong”)
    Red bean 팥 (pronounced “pat”)
    Which makes Kong-G (kongji) and Pat-G (patji/patzzi).
    Maybe my students won’t think it as clever as I do and maybe they will not be as impressed with themselves for figuring it out but I felt compelled to share it.
  8. I love this image so much and actually used it in a presentation recently. The basic idea is that Chung-Ang is the name of my uni and chung-ang in Korean (and Chinese characters) means “middle.” This image is found in the male restrooms, exhorting viewers to be “Chung-Ang people” and aim for the center.
  9. Very punny.
  10. It says something like “Don’t worry about the school festival (which is like “Spring Weekend” in some US colleges). Chung-Ang University will pay for you.” The English in the first line caught my eye, especially because the sign is for the whole student population. I had to wonder what was behind the choice to use English here in this way.

 

Updates: 

Sandy Millin shared some great links/sets from #ELTpics in the comments and here they are:
Linguistic Landscapes
Signs:
Weird, wacky English