Imagine your Korea as a sparkling mecca of ELT PD

I always smile when I think of the story of two people I happen to know talking in a staff room in Turkey. One of them had just left South Korea after teaching in that fine nation for a few years and the other’s connection to Korea was mostly through people she knew and interacted with online. This teacher who had never been to Korea (though she’ll be warmly welcomed when and if she can make it!) had an extremely positive impression of English teachers in Korea. She was thinking of what she saw as plentiful opportunities for PD and overall professionalism and commitment to the craft of teaching from English teachers. This might not sound like a common description of teachers (especially foreign teachers) in Korea but it’s the impression she had. I think foreign teachers in Korea often have (and yes, often earn) a not-so-great reputation. There can be a lot of debate about how and if this not-so-great reputation is earned. One thing I am pretty sure of, though, is that there is a lot of professional development opportunities available for English teachers in South Korea. That is the subject of my brand new post over at the KOTESOL non-blog article collection something.

Go on. Click it.

I realize in the post (which can be found here and you really need to click on if this post you are currently reading is to make any sense!) I might have given an overly cheerful analysis of things. I can even sense the eyes of a few friends rolling as they think something like, “Yeah there are opportunities but you need to be in the right situation to get the most of these opportunities” and “It is easy for those who don’t teach 40 hours a week to talk about professional development opportunities” and “C’mon, Mike, I know you are not that positive or optimistic about everything” and “Yeah there are opportunities but employers don’t care as much as they *should about teachers’s PD.” I suppose I’d concede all these points while maintaining there are a lot of opportunities for PD for English teachers in Korea. 

From the Mailbag: Message Boards

A friend of mine (who I’ve actually never met in person) emailed and asked about discussion boards for language classes and I have been dragging my feet getting back to him. Sorry, friend. I am also sorry not sorry for using the question as an excuse to blog. I  hope it will be worthwhile and people will give leave some thoughts or links in the comments to add to the discussion and help my friend out, assuming it is not already too late. Reading the email from my friend I suspected he is the camp of people (like Tim Hampson) who believe me to be tech savvy. I am not so sure I am.  In this case and on this topic of message boards, I fear my responses will be disappointing or not very helpful. My friend knows I have used discussion boards as both a student and instructor on The New School MATESOL program and wondered how and if I used them in regular English classes. The simple answer is that I don’t. I have used them in the past for teacher education and training but for don’t really do anything with message boards in my English focused classes. I do use wikis in some of my courses and there is an option for discussion there but I don’t make an official (or assessed) part of the course. My friend teaches at a university in the US and his questions (summarized and paraphrased below after the picture) got me wondering why I don’t use such boards in my classes in Korea. message board What are your thoughts on message boards as an supplement to face-to-face English classes? Do you have any ideas or best practices about this? Best practices? Any thoughts? Have you ever done this for your classes? Do you know any online resources where people have talked about ideas? I can see lots of potential for such boards. My current idea is to use discussion boards prior to in-class meetings in my International Discussion class to ensure students are thinking about the issues before class. It also seems like a great chance to assess how well students can articulate their views on the topics. I think I’d try to make it so discussion boards are as “speaking-like” as possible even though they are in written form. Of course there are things like Voice Thread where the discussions could be in spoken form but I am drawn to text for the particular class I am thinking about.

My friend’s questions got me wondering why I don’t use message boards in my English classes and it seems like my reasons are not so strong. I think perhaps inertia is one of the strongest reasons. This coupled with concerns or questions about how best to set things up in advance might have prevented me from using message boards. I am thinking I might give it a go this autumn. Any suggestions, tips, sites, or links for me and my friend? Thanks in advance.

I am a used car [Guest Post]

Mike says: I received the following from a long-time native English teacher in  South Korean public schools. This teacher wanted to share his/her feelings about the experience. 

The other day I was thinking about how I would describe a career as a foreign EFL teacher in public schools in South Korea. With so many ways to think of it, I could only come up with one that truly describes my personal feelings after nearly 7 years in the public school system working under contract with local and provincial education offices. My position leaves me feeling as if I am little more than a used car to those that are “in charge.”

rusty car

Think back to the purchase of a new car if you have ever made such a purchase. You get the car and it is all shiny, clean, and perfect. That was me as a new teacher in Korea. I was shiny and clean. There were no dings on my body and no scratches on my paint. The owners, the office of education and school, were so happy and they wanted to take care of me and show me off to all of their friends. They wanted to maintain me with regular servicing in the form of pay increases, ample vacation time, and a schedule that didn’t put 100,000 km a year on the odometer.

As time has passed, they have taken away a large majority of the regular servicing in the sense that vacation time has decreased by 50 percent, pay increases have stopped, the number classes has increased, and employer provided housing has taken a hit. Like a used car, they see little need to maintain us. They want to drive us harder and faster and then they want to take us to the scrap yard and get a new model.

I am not saying that this problem is unique to Korea and that it doesn’t happen in other places. I would be naïve to think in such a way. I also understand the way that Korean contract teachers are treated. Many of them are treated as if they don’t matter and they are forced into doing everything that the “real teachers” don’t want to do. During my time in Korea, I have worked with some contract workers who have English skills and teaching knowledge that surpass that of a large majority of the “real teachers.” Unfortunately, they were unable to pass a test, which many of the older “real teachers” never had to take, or their major was something other than English and they will be confined to the role of a disposable used car like many of us.

Many of them will never receive the recognition or benefits that they truly deserve. A clear case of this can be seen in the following statement that was published in a recent article in The Korea Times. “The government has refused to recognize that two part-time teachers at Danwon High School, who perished in the ferry Sewol sinking, died while on duty because they were not full-time teachers who are categorized as public servants.” So, they were not on duty because they were only part-timers and not “real teachers?” Do they not deserve any recognition for their service or sacrifice? According to those in charge, they don’t.

Some will say that this is life and it happens to everyone. I cannot deny that this is life and it happens, but does it have to happen? Would it hurt the people in charge to give a few more benefits and treat people with a little more respect based on their time of service? I feel like it wouldn’t hurt them at all and the trade-off between a greater expense and the quality of employee work would probably come close to evening out for all involved parties.

In closing, I would like to say that the things I have written only reflect my views on how some NETs and Korean contract teachers are treated. In general, Korea is a decent place with a lot of nice things to offer and a large number of people that are good and hardworking. However, until the “owners of the car” decide to maintain their automobiles better, the junk yards will become full and harder to keep out of sight.

scrap vehicles

Interview of the TEFLologists

I recently had the opportunity to meet two of the people behind the TEFLology podcast in person at the JALT EFL Teacher Journeys Conference. I so much enjoyed talking to them I asked them if they’d be interested in doing an interview here on the blog. They accepted and I am very happy to share the results of the interview below. I thought it was fun, interesting, insightful and thought-provoking and I hope you will too. Please enjoy my interview of the  TEFLologists. They are Matthew Turner (MT), Robert Lowe (RL), and Matthew Schaefer (MS). The interview starts after their logo. 

teflology pod

Hey guys. This is my first time interviewing more than one person at a time. I am sure it will be fun. To start, can I get you a drink? What are you having?
MT: If you’re buying, I’ll have a pint of craft beer. Preferably an Indian Pale Ale from the US.

MS: A glass of red wine for me. Something French would be nice, but I’m not too picky.

RL: As the summer is coming up, I’ll have a dirty izakaya (Japanese pub) beer.

Here you are. Nice selection we’ve got here, Can you each tell me a little about yourself?
MT: Thanks, bottoms up! I’m Matt, an English teacher (and podcaster I guess) from the south of England. I’ve been living and teaching in Japan for around 7 years now, and currently teach English discussion skills to university undergraduates in Tokyo. I like attending live music shows, jogging the streets at night, and sampling craft beer from all over Japan.

MS: Cheers! I’m Matthew – an American/British EFL teacher who arrived in Japan about 6 years ago after starting my career in western Europe. I work now at a university in Tokyo as a Program Manager, which means I do a bit of everything – teaching, teacher training, textbook writing, syllabus design, research, and so on. I like watching films and reading books about films.

RL: I’m Rob, an English teacher from Derby in the UK. I came to Japan after graduating from university, and I’m still here! I’ve worked in language schools around Tokyo as well as part-time in universities. I’m currently a lecturer at a university in Tokyo teaching courses in English and linguistics. I like watching films (particularly silent comedy and 80’s exploitation), and music.

So, a podcast about TEFL stuff. Really?
We’re well aware that it’s an incredibly nerdy thing to do – especially when we have to explain it to non-TEFL friends and family – but it’s an interest we all share and a subject that’s surprisingly under-served in the growing podcast world.

Cool. We like nerdy around here. How did you get the idea?
We noticed that even when we went out for a non-work-related drink in the pub, we would often end up talking TEFL. We’re also all big podcast fans and a lot of our favorite ones are just people talking about things that they’re into.

I see. I know the feeling of talking TEFL all the time. Who do you think is your target audience?
Our target audience is any TEFL practitioner with more than a passing interest in TEFL methodology and/or history. Of course we understand that English language teachers around the world do the job for many different reasons, but we’re aiming more at the career language teachers who have a passion for the profession and the issues around it. There are no ideas for classroom activities or grammar breakdowns. At the same time, we try to keep it as entertaining as possible and will occasionally veer slightly off-topic. A few non-TEFL friends of ours have told us that it is fun to listen to, even if they have no interest in how learner dictionaries have developed over the years, or who Harold Palmer is!

Great. And for folks that are interested, are you on Itunes? What is the best way to find you?
Yes, we’re on iTunes. You can easily find us by typing TEFLology into a search engine. However, don’t be put off if the almighty Google asks: “did you mean Teleology?” You most definitely didn’t mean that. Or, you can find us by using this link:

Excellent. Thanks. Can you recommend an episode to start with for a new listener?
MT: I think we’ve developed our technique over time, so I would go for a slightly  later episode. My personal favourite is episode 11 where we discussed the work of Stephen Krashen, and authenticity in English language teaching with an honorary TEFLologist, Richard Pinner.

RL: I think there are a few good entry points with accessible subjects for new listeners. My personal favourites are episode 12, episode 16, and episode 23. Each episode has three topics, so new listeners might want to look through the titles for something that interests them!

And, what do you wish you knew when you started the pod?
Although it didn’t take us long to figure out, we didn’t realise at first how easy it was to set up interviews with some of the big names in TEFL. Usually a friendly email and a flexible schedule is enough, and almost everyone we’ve contacted has been incredibly accommodating and generous with their time. But there’s probably a few we missed out on at the beginning!

I see. That is an interesting insight. I won’t share it too widely. I noticed you have some really interesting interviews already. Who would you like to interview in the future?
MT: It would be great to get hold of David Nunan, Paul Nation, or Michael Long one day. We’ve talked about a lot of ELT pioneers from history too, for example Henry Sweet and Harold Palmer, and although we can’t interview them, it would be great to interview a relative of theirs.

MT: David Crystal is one of the few subjects of our ‘TEFL Pioneers’ section that is still alive, so it’d be great to speak to him.

RL: I’d love to have Suresh Canagarajah as a guest. His writing and presentations are very engaging and he is passionate about what he does. I think he’d be a great guest.

What was the most awkward moment you’ve had thus far?
MS: I’d have to say the Claire Kramsch interview. She’s a clearly formidable intellect and a somewhat intimidating interviewee. At one point, I made a comment and left it hanging, hoping she would pick up the thread and continue talking. She just looked at me and said, “That’s not a question.” Luckily, we were able to edit it to make me look like less of an amateur!

MT: For me, it was when Rod Ellis swore during our interview with him. I think he was referring to the city of Huddersfield in the UK (apologies to any listeners we had there). When we interviewed Nina Spada at JALT2014, we unfortunately had to use a public area to conduct the interview. This meant there was a lot of background noise. This made me feel slightly embarrassed.

RL: I think it was when we got into an uncontrollable giggling fit while discussing the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin falling ill with a bone disease and having his leg amputated. What you hear on the episode is heavily edited – it actually went on for more than five minutes. For the record, we do not believe there is anything funny about bone diseases or amputations.

Duly noted and thanks for the sad and funny responses. Shifting gears here a bit…Do you listen to podcasts? Which ones? 
RL: I listen to a mix of comedy and serious podcasts. The History of Japan and History of English podcasts are great, and I also listen to The League of Nerds (about science), Radiodrome and Mark Kermode’s FilmReviews (about films), anything Richard Herring puts out (about comedy) and We Hate Movies (about movies and comedy).

MS: I have a lot of “informative” podcasts saved on my computer – Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is a good one – but I almost always fall back on comedy ones, especially from the L.A. improv scene. Comedy Bang Bang is great, plus anything with Paul F. Tompkins or Andy Daly.

Do you read blogs?
MS: The TEFL blogging world is growing in many exciting ways. Geoff Jordan’s is a great place to start, especially as he’s good at promoting other interesting blogs. (Geoff is also an upcoming TEFLology interviewee – look out for his episode soon!)

MT: I’m a big fan of Russ Mayne’s Evidence Based EFL blog, but don’t get much chance to read a lot of blogs at the moment!

RL: I read more blogs in the past, particularly when I was doing my DipTESOL. I enjoyed reading Lindsay Clandfield’s Six Things blog when it was going, unfortunately I think it’s now defunct. I also like Scott Thornbury’s infamous A-Z of ELT. I used to also enjoy reading Oli Beddall’s blog about his experiments with Dogme. I hope that gets going again!

I am also a big fan of both Russ and Geoff  (and the others you mentioned as well!) and had the pleasure of interviewing them on my blog. Here is the interview of Russ and here is the one of Geoff.

Quick question for Rob. I know you are working on your PhD related to Native Speakerism in Japan. Any recommended readings on this?
RL: I think the best place to start is Adrian Holliday’s book “The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language“, where he most fully explored the idea. The book “Native speakerism in Japan” by Stephanie Ann Houghton (who we interviewed on the podcast) and Damien Rivers has been very influential recently. I don’t agree with everything they say, but those are some good starting points. There are three books coming out this year and next which look good too.

I think I will have to check that out. Thanks! And now we enter the random round, aka the “Lightning round.” What is your favorite Japanese food? 
MT: This is tough, as it changes with the season. But pushed, I think it would have to be ramen. Ramen is so diverse in Japan, with so many different varieties and tastes. I’ve only just scratched the surface with this. I’m also partial to a bit of eel too, but try telling that to someone in the UK.

MS: I have to second Matt’s eel choice. My particular favorite is hitsumabushi, which is a famous grilled eel dish from the city of Nagoya. (Ramen is also pretty great!)

RL: Sushi, but as a vegetarian just the veggie options.

Natto. Yes or no?
MT: No! A hundred times NO!

MS: I’m afraid not. I can handle it in small doses, but it’s not my first choice in the morning!

RL: To dissent from my esteemed colleagues, yes. You are both just weak.

If you weren’t in this field what would you like to do?
RL: I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I would be happy doing that at least part time. I used to write for music magazines as a student, and I think I’d have ended up writing things about music and films if I hadn’t gone into the lucrative TEFL industry.

MT: I’ve always had an interest in art and design and come from an artistic background. So if I wasn’t doing this job, I’d like to be a graphic designer of some sort. However, there are ample chances for this in English teaching too.

MS: I’m a huge film fan, but have very little artistic talent, so I’d love to one day open a small art-house cinema. Selecting a handful of new and old films to show each month would be a blast.

It seems like music is important to you. What type of music do you like?
MS: American indie rock. Pavement is still my favorite band. (MS)

MT: I’ll second Matt. I’m also into a lot of electronic music too, with my current favourites being Animal Collective. I also like a lot of new British indie music including Young Knives and The Wombats.

RL: Punk mainly, but a bit of everything. I’m also a massive Tom Waits and Bob Dylan fan.

Who is your “Dream Interview,” non-ELT division?
MT: I think it would have to be a comedian of some kind, perhaps Stewart Lee. An artist would be interesting too, I watched a documentary about Jeff Koons the other day, so I’d like to talk to him more.

MS: It’s hard to imagine what interview questions I’d ask Steven Spielberg or the Coen brothers – I’d rather not have them try to explain the magic – but I’d happily hang out with Richard Linklater for an hour or two.

RL: I’d love to interview Buster Keaton, if he were still alive. It would be fascinating to hear about the early days of filmmaking and the way people performed such dangerous stunts without the kind of safeguards and technology we have nowadays.

Thanks so much for taking the time, guys. I really enjoyed it and I hope you did too.I am looking forward to checking out more of your work.  Devoted readers of this blog might be interested in checking out the latest TEFLology Podcast here. 

ELT Conference Logos: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly

Mike says: It all started when I shared a link to the KOTESOL RPSIG August 22nd Day of Reflection on a social network that allows more than 140 characters. My friend and fellow ELT professional commented Steve King on the logo for the 2015 KOTESOL International Conference (which can be seen below) shared along with the link, remarking, “Man that diagram… I’ve seen a dozen like it, a thousand. What is it with ELT conferences and wacky geometrical diagram concept logos?” He then went on to share some other images from various ELT conferences and I suggested a collection of these would be an interesting blog post. To my delight he graciously accepted the offer and wrote the entertaining piece that follows. Please feel free to share your thoughts or other memorable images in the comments. I will turn it over to Steve.


I’ve been working in ELT for quite some time, as a teacher, teacher trainer, and in publishing both as a researcher and as a business representative. That means I’ve been to quite a few conferences. TEFL this, TESOL that. Association of this or that. Here and there.

And it’s alright. I get to travel to a bunch of places, meet new people, meet up with old friends and colleagues, see some interesting talks, and have some meaningful interaction with people connected to a given project I might be working on. I quite like conferences. I’ve been to some tiny ones, such as Panama TESOL in 2013, which must have had all of 70 people, and to some huge ones such as the big TESOL International Events in Toronto, Dallas, and Philadelphia.

There’s one thing though that amuses, bewilders and bothers me. I’ve started even to look forward to seeing what spurious nonsense they’re going to come up with next. The next meaningless banality to wrap around what is plainly no more than a gathering of people who happen to work in the same industry.

I’m talking of course about the logo. You’ll find these on the conference program, on the lanyard you wear around your neck, on a banner above the stage in the plenary room, on posters throughout the conference site. On its website, its social media presence, on its call for proposals and on its conference proceedings book.

I’ll be blunt. More often than not, these are utterly meaningless, comically designed and, on occasion, almost unforgivably pretentious. There are two principally criminal elements to them:

The graphic: You might have a silhouette of the host city’s skyline at best, or, at worst, some contorted geometrical ‘concept’ design that’s somehow supposed to make you think, nay, to reflect on why we’re all here, in this city for the weekend. You get some amusingly trippy colors on these at times too. Bold reds. Pinks. Greens. YELLOW!

The slogan: These buzzword heavy word salads are rinsed, re-used, and repeated ad nauseum. The same freaking words over and over again. Community. Identity. Empowerment. Innovation. Challenges. Solutions. Transforming. I think maybe that there is an Online Conference Theme Buzzword Generator out there somewhere that organizers have been using. Or I would believe that, only there’s the fact that these words have been used continuously since before the internet was invented.

They’re not all bad. Researching this piece after a brief conversation with Mike Griffin, I actually found some I like. So let’s delve in. Here’s The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly of ELT Conference Logos.

The Good

TESOL International, Philadelphia 2012



Now this is actually excellent. Right as it says there on the tin. You have a conference theme that actually connects somehow to the host city in a positive way, and a nice graphic of some people, well, they’re just walking to a conference. In order to, I presume, do something or talk about something positive and excellent about their work. Well done, Philly. Well done.


Cambodia TESOL 2014camtesol logoI like this a lot. It doesn’t try and be anything other than what it is. Which is a conference about English Language Teaching. In Cambodia. Thanks, Cambodia. Others, take note.


The Bad


JALT 2006, Kitakyushu


Now I went to this conference and I quite enjoyed it. But I can’t put my hand on my heart and say it had an effect whatsoever on my ‘identity’ or especially motivated me. I mean, presumably most people who were there kind of like their jobs and don’t need to schlep it all the way to Kitakyushu to feel motivated. I guess it kind of helped with community in that I bonded with a bunch of people over six pints of Guinness in an Irish bar on the conference Saturday, but really. Come on.


KOTESOL International Conference, 2015, Seoul


Man, it’s all in there on this one. Wacky geometrical logo: Check. Colors straight from a child’s candy stash: Check. Disconnected, disjointed sloganeering veering off in all sorts of actual and conceptual directions: Check. Confused and somewhat dazed look on my face as I try and figure all that out: Check.


TESOL 2015, TorontoTESOL torontoOK. So what do we have here…. “Crossing borders”, huh? So…. Where are we going with this? Some place off to the right on a blue arrow that looks a bit like a Picasso Dolphin? ….so what next. “Building Bridges”. Let’s see, back across the border on the purple arrow thingy and sort of point back at the “Crossing Borders” thing? Why? This would be really confusing, but thank God you have those green and pink square joblets in the background to help you make some sense out of it.



Eurocall 2012, Gothenburg


“Using, Learning, Knowing. Using, Learning, Knowing. Using, Learning, Knowing. Using, Learning, Knowing. You are feeling very sleepy. Using, Learning, Knowing. Come into my cold, deathly embrace”


The Ugly


JALT PanSIG Conference 2015, Kobe


Oh boy. Where do I start with this one? It certainly raises something within me, but I can tell you for free it’s not ‘happiness’. It’s somewhere between ‘bewilderment’, and ‘outright confusion’ as to what possible narrative could come from this to lead to any semblance of tangible clarity around what this weekend was all about? This is straight from the happy-clappy-for-the-sake-of-it farm, isn’t it?


IATEFL BESIG Conference 2013, Budapest


Please folks, can someone who went to this tell me what exactly was going on here? Or are the attendees of this 2013 junket still trying to find their way home from Budapest?


MEXTESOL 2008, Guanajuato


So you’ve got a bronze statue dude, who is sort of inside a church or a cathedral, with another church inside. But it’s also outside And he has a hammer and he’s fixing a bronze shoe. And it’s all going on in a way in which just positively screams “New Ways for New Needs in ELT”


JALT Pan-SIG 2013, Nagoya


Is there something in the water in Japan? Yet again you have the assorted fruit flavors running all around your eyes, and this time they have a JIGSAW! Yeah! A freaking jigsaw people. But no buzzwords this time. Maybe they just kind of gave up.

Social media for trainer professional development

I just did a webinar. Zero prizes will be awarded if you guess the topic, however. The webinar was part of the SIT Trainer Webinar Series and I thoroughly enjoyed the session. It was great to talk to people around the world about this topic. I mostly just tried to share my enthusiasm for social media, especially for teacher trainers in their professional development. I talked about my experiences with and my reasons for using social media. I also recommended some people, places and groups that might be useful for teacher trainers. The list of recommendations can be found here. As always with such lists it is a bit awkweird because I surely forgot someone and might have placed things in strange categories and such.  Anyway, I thought it might of use or interest to a few people that did not attend the webinar so I am sharing it here. The webinar recording itself will not be shared widely but if you’d like to see my PowerPoint, here it is: Social media for trainer professional development. As you can see I am a firm believer in simplicity and PPTs not giving away too much of what is said in the talk. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for the list.


If you really want to know why this picture is here you will need to go ahead and click on the PowerPoint. He’s Canadian, by the way.

Reverse! (A reblog and a welcome)

I believe it is no secret to those who read my blog or follow me on Twitter that I am a very big fan of Hana Tichá (or Hana Teacher, as she is known in my brain). I think I first became aware of her blog in late 2013. I mentioned her blog here in 2014 as one of the blogs I was looking forward to that year. My expectations were more than met as Hana was prolific, thoughtful, thought-provoking, interesting and entertaining. If I had to file any complaints they’d be that she wrote too much to keep up with all the great stuff she was writing and that she was writing on Blogger. Both “problems” were surely surmountable but it seems that only the former will (luckily!) remain as she has recently migrated from Blogger to WordPress. In keeping with the tradition of welcoming new bloggers to the WordPress cartel family I’d like to share a post from Hana here. The post I am sharing is one I missed when it first came out. I urge you to read all her posts. It’s a great blog.

And here is the post about much more than the order to follow when using coursebooks. Reverse!.
(I guess this wasn’t strictly a reblog but anyway please visit Hana’s blog in its new home)