Category: Reviews

My late and short K0TESOL post

I had a great time at the K0TESOL International Conference this year. I really did. I had some nice chats with lots of nice people. I didn’t see as many presentations as I would have liked because at times I was slightly amped up, nervous and focused on my own presentations. At other times I was a bit hungover tired and distracted so I wasn’t as active in seeing presentations as I could have been. I also, regretfully, didn’t spend as much time with the conference book as I could have so I missed a few talks that sounded great to me months before when I was much more prepared than I was a week or day in advance. Such is life I suppose.

Having been to quite a few conferences in the past few years I think I sort of go in waves in terms of attending a lot of sessions at some conferences and treating other conferences as something more of a social or networking social networking event. I have been thinking a lot about conferences and how valuable they are for professional development and how stepping away from conventional (get it, convention?) ways could be better for all. This could be a topic for another blog post.

I originally didn’t plan on doing much of a review or any post on the conference, to be honest. The following tweet from Geoff Jordan was just the nudge I needed. Of course, the oddness of being mentioned in the same tweet as the others was not lost on me.

Well, let’s see, I don’t have anything to say about Nunan’s presentation at this point or on this channel. And, to be fair. I only saw the roughly 7 minutes he went over time.

Luckily, David Harbinson‘s KoTESOL International Conference 2014 Review covers what Long and Thornbury said very well (with a brief but telling mention of Nunan as well). Also, Tim Hampson blogged on sessions from Thornbury and Long (and more, check out the whole series!). Speaking of Long, Jordan himself shared two helpful posts related to Task Based Language Teaching here and here.

I think I have answered Dr. Jordan’s question about as well as possible regarding what humans who are not me said at the conference. I suppose I will quickly mention what I said and did, then. I had three workshops this conference. It was a lot. I might not do such a thing again but it was enjoyable. I also had the great fortune for two of these three sessions to work with great co-presenters. Anna Loseva and Michael Free were pleasures to work with. I appreciate their insight, knowledge, passion, patience, and PPT skillz. What follows is what I said and did at the conference.

Friday’s workshop was on Korean culture and the choices we can make in class related to this. I made a last minute decision to read this post aloud (rather than print it off) and a lively discussion occurred. The title of this workshop was “Cultural Explorations for Teachers: Beyond Confucianism and Excuses” and I believe we did get beyond these 2 common aspects of conversations about English teaching in South Korea. Lots of juicy questions and points were raised. Here is a version of the PowerPoint: Cultural Explorations for Teachers, which might not make so much sense if you were not there. Please let me know if you have any questions. I think my main point (assuming I had one) was something like “don’t believe everything you hear and don’t be a defeatist as things can change.”

On Saturday Anna and I talked about the glorious #FlashmobELT movement and how it can be used to spur on teachers’ creativity. It was lots of fun. One very cool thing that came out of it was a lino wall of activities that participants in the workshop shared. Here is that wall. In the session we mentioned certain criteria we were hoping for on #FlashmobELT activities. That criteria can be found in the PowerPoint slides here: Steal your way to creativity 2.1 (the criteria can be found on slide 11 if you happen to be both very interested and in a rush). I am not sure if I answered the “What did I say” question here but one thing I said was that it is easy to pretend you are creative if you have a few ideas and adapt them.

On Sunday I had the pleasure of talking about using the Experiential Learning Cycle to talk with co-teachers along with Michael Free. The title was “Professional Development for Couples: Reflective Practice for Co-Teachers” and the slides are here CT+RP-KOTESOL 10.5.2014 (1)   It was interesting to see the problems the participants associated with co-teaching and to see if  walking through the ELC could be of help for teachers faced with potentially challenging discussions. My key takeaway here is that lots of the hurtful things we tend to imagine co-teachers saying come from starting at the end or middle of the ELC. I don’t blame co-teachers (or managers or anyone) for doing this because this is way it is usually done in the world. I think the ELC is one nice way to frame conversations about teaching and co-teaching. As Michael Free likes to say it can push the conversations back to students and their learning which is presumably why we are there.

Thanks so much for reading. I hope there was at least something of interest here.

Random additions (with some potentially “in-jokey” ones) :

  • A K0TESOL bigwig said, “I liked your blog post” as he zoomed past me. Considering there are more than 150 posts on the blog I asked, “Which one?” He said he was talking about this one. That was very interesting to me, and become more interesting when he said he’d like to talk about it.
  • I felt this conference was very well run and I thought there were lots of great options for talks to see.
  • Unrelated to the previous bullet points here, I am now a member of KOTESOL.
  • I liked how all the doors had room numbers at this conference.
  • Actually, the venue was great all around.
  • During the wine and cheese party some classy folks like myself (read #KELTchatters) went out and got beers and string cheese. I personally couldn’t handle the waiting in the hot and oxygen deprived line before the gates were eventually lifted for common folks to also enjoy the wine and cheese.
  • At K0TESOL I was able to make some additions to the “Interviews” page on this blog. You will just have to click the link and find out what I am talking about.
  • This was the first year I can remember the conference starting out with workshops on the Friday before the conference began in earnest. I enjoyed the workshops I attended (done by Anna Loseva and Tana Ebaugh). It was fun(ny) to know that at the same time I was doing my workshop Barb Sakamoto and Ahmar Mahboob were running ones in the other room.
  • There were lots of cool people I missed seeing this time around who I’d seen at previous conferences.
  • I really should remember to update the page on this blog where I listed presentations I have done. It would be so easy. The titles are here. I just need to cut and paste them. Ah well, I will wait till the end of the term.
  • I obviously made the title for this post before finishing the post. It is not exactly short. Though it might be short in the “day late and a dollar short” sense of things.

Burgers, language, culture, confusion, and headaches

I had a burger in mind. It was one of those things. My friend had mentioned a burger joint on the weekend but the universe and more local and personal factors conspired against it. So the burger didn’t happen during my weekend outside of the big smoke. The funny thing is I don’t even eat burgers all that much and can easily live without them. This was a case where the idea was going to stay in mind till the desired was satiated. When I arrived at the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul I wandered around a bit and and saw a burger joint called Johnny Rockets. I had some vague memory of this place as being American and the decor was set up like something of a 50’s burger joint. Well, as much as it could in the food court of a shopping area attached to a bus terminal. I decided Johnny Rockets was the place to go, at least to get that burger out of my mind.

Before I tell you about the burger and the place I will tell you about a restaurant in my neighborhood I frequent. It is called Abiko Curry. They serve Japanese style curry rice and related dishes there. Those familiar with (Indian) curry might be surprised by the taste. I enjoy it, even though I like to think of it as vastly different from Indian curry. I don’t really have the language to describe what it tastes like so I think you will have to try it yourself if you are not familiar. Sorry. Abiko Curry sells Japanese-style curry and there is plenty of Japanese around in the restaurant as well. Something I found interesting there was how the staff says (I think) “Irashaimasen!” when customers arrive. Say is probably not the most appropriate verb here. Perhaps sing or enthusiastically shout would be more correct. I guess it adds some Japanese style or feel to this Japanese curry joint in another country. The staff also thanks and says goodbye to customers in Japanese, also in what seems to me to be a singsongy manner. I get a slight kick out of this whole thing and for me it adds to the experience.*

The most striking thing for me about Johnny Rockets at the Express Bus Station in Seoul was not the high prices or even the decor. It was the singsongy greetings and goodbyes the staff gives to customers. In English. I found it not only surprising but also jarring. “Harro!** Welcome!” they shouted in unison to each and every arriving customer. This bugged me.


I am still not completely sure why it bothered me so. Maybe it was just too loud for my fragile condition at that time. It was loud but I think there was more to it. I am afraid my annoyance with this doesn’t paint me in a very positive light but I have been thinking about it for a long time and I have already typed about 600 words so there is no reason to turn back now. Congrats to you for reading over 600 words basically about two dining establishments and one guy’s craving for a burger. Good job, good effort.

Back to Johnny and his Rocket, I think part of what bothered me (on some level) is that their greeting was not how we greet folks in the US of A. ‘Murica. This is not what it sounds like. At this point it might be possible for some readers to be “thinking poor little big white native speaking guy had his burger ruined by Asians not greeting customers in the way he is accustomed to and so he is now whining about it on his blog.” I don’t have much of a defense to that except to say I think I am trying to find and explore the causes for my annoyance rather than simply whinging. I think the fact it was close but still far away from the culture I grew up in that caused it to be annoying to me. When it was Japanese language and culture used in a curry shop I had nary a problem with it, but when it was closer to home and still off it was jarring and headache inducing.

One idea that kept coming to me is the idea of the Uncanny Valley.*** This place was in some ways close to my idea of an all American place servin’ up fries and burgers that came from a past I didn’t even experience but it was still way off. That gap got under my skin and was evidenced in the itchiness I felt when I heard the greetings.

If the greetings had been done in Korean it would not have registered with me, I am sure. There was something about it being done in English.  I briefly highlighted the English pronunciation above. I wonder what my reaction would have been if  the staff sounded like they were from Seattle instead of Seoul. I think of myself as and ELF kind of guy but something here got me. I guess I wondering why they had to do this greeting in English but I also realize it is part of their shtick**** and not really and of my damned business.

Maybe this  use of English (“my language” even though I realize it’s not) just for show and nothing more bothered me? It doesn’t usually. Some Johnny Foreigners get all bent out of shape when they see English errors on signs and things in businesses. It doesn’t tend to bug me at all because I know that this English is more for decoration and more for their typical customers, who are Korean. It is not about me. I am fine with that. Yet, hearing the English-ish greetings in melodious unison in this place  irked me.  Was it about sound or this specific sound. Was it something else?

I honestly don’t think the idea or the ideal of an American burger joint is sacrosanct and seeing this altered is what made me uncomfortable. Yet, I didn’t like being there and I don’t think there much of a chance I will be going back. I’d love to know if there are any other theories on why this might have impacted me in this way. I’d also love to know if anyone has had any similar experiences in their lives, whether home or abroad. Thanks for reading.

By the way, the burger was just ok. I am not sure how accurate my review is because I was in a rush to get the hell out there.




*I like the “Chicken Set.” I usually go for the 2 (out of 4?) on the spiciness index they use at Abiko Curry.

**Oh how I fretted about this spelling and point. The fact is it sounded more like an R than an L to me. As the many tired jokes can attest this is often an issue for Northeast Asian users of English. I don’t wish to make fun of the staff there or try to impose any sort of linguistic norms upon them.

***I realize this is not an apt comparison because everyone involved was fully human. This is simply what kept coming to my mind and not a proper explanation of my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

****שטיק –Yiddish achievement unlocked!

****I am relatively proud of myself for not using the word appropriation anywhere here. I also resisted the temptation to include a picture of Katy Perry in some weird version of geisha dress as I thought it would be confusing and detract from my points. You know, assuming I had them.


I wrote this post in advance and used the “schedule post” function. I will surely get back to any comments, but maybe not immediately. Comments are very much appreciated but a response from me might not come immediately. 

David and Me

It was autumn 2008 and I was a young, fresh faced new MATESOL student. I was working in a job that I enjoyed at a “unigwon” in Seoul. I was teaching adults and college students in an intensive English program. There were many issues with the job and the program (which have been detailed at times on this blog) but on the whole I loved the job and loved working with adults and young adults. I was attending my first K0TESOL conference in a long time. I had just accosted met Scott Thornbury. I was feeling extremely enthusiastic about the field and my place in it. Then I saw David Graddol’s plenary and suddenly I was feeling less excited. I was downright nervous. My feelings were more along the lines of “What in the hell have I gotten myself into?” In the talk there was a lot of talk about demographics and probably even demography. There were charts. Lotsa charts. There was doom and gloom and a lack of hope, from what I recall. I remember thinking, “This is a sinking ship. Why would you get an MA in a field that will evaporate before your very eyes? This is just your  first term. Maybe you can consider this a sunk cost and escape while there is still time and still hope. This whole TESOL game is rigged and the peak is coming in 2010. That is awfully soon. Abort the mission! Get out while you can!” In the aftermath of Graddol’s talk I was seriously reconsidering my choice to get more deeply involved in the industry. It was as hilarious as it was shocking to me. How did I manage to not know that the field was crumbling? How did I not do the required research before diving headfirst into this MA? I remember thinking, “Really, Mike, you didn’t think to check on this stuff?”

2008-Poster-cropped (1)

A poster from the event that served as my introduction to David Graddol.

A week or after the conference I saw a chat between Mssrs. Thornbury and Graddol in which perhaps some of my fears were allayed a bit.  Graddol said he didn’t have much fear for those just starting out. He said that English teachers have always been changing and adapting and “English teachers have to be constantly transforming themselves and  reinventing themselves.”  The whole video of this discussion/interview is less than 3 minutes and is worth a look in my humble and not so scared opinion. It’s right here. Watch it.

Even if my fears were slightly assuaged, Graddol’s talk at K0TESOL had a big impact on me. To give one example, it actually gave me a bit of a push to get into teacher training. My thinking was if jobs figure to dry up teaching English to adults there will be more jobs training teachers  of younger learners (for a time at least). Watching his talk gave me the necessary nudge to pursue something I had been thinking about for a while. Perhaps I took his exhortation to transform to heart. By spring 2009 I was working as a teacher trainer full time. I was also immersed in English Next, a (free!!) book from Graddol (commissioned by the British Council) all about the trends of English all around the world. It is from 2006 and is thus a bit out of date in such a rapidly changing area but I still think it is worth a read or at least a flip through.

I hadn’t really thought about Graddol all that much for a few years (though of course some of the ideas and stats and charts came to mind from time to time) until this year.  Suddenly, there he was back in my life and on my radar. He gave big plenary/keynote type-talks at both TESOL and IATEFL this year. There was a #KELTchat on Tuesday discussing these recent talks. The preview for the chat (which has lots of good links including links to the talks themselves) is here and a Storified collection of the 12 hour (!) chat is here. I think the chat offers a nice variety of thoughts, questions, worries, wonders, explanations, beliefs, prognostications, and links.

Though my initial encounter with Graddol was one of trepidation I have to say that now seeing his charts and his ideas are like meeting an old friend. An old friend that when I see him, memories of a different and more emotional time come flooding in. I thank you very much for reading and I hope it was as interesting for you to read as it was for me to reminisce about. For now and perhaps looking ahead maybe I *should go ahead check out his book about profiling English in China.