Reflections on motivation

May 24, 2009

Hello again,

Language learning is not a quick and easy process. In a world in which instant gratification is expected, the time and effort needed to learn a language can seriously demotivate learners. This is a trend that I think will deepen ...

Personal learning strategies

April 27, 2009

Hello again,
Every so often I meet a situation for which no experience or training has fully prepared me. This was the case recently when I was teaching a woman who was so consumed by anxiety to learn quickly that she was making no progress at all. The main problem ...

More than English

October 25, 2008

Hello again.

This summer I taught a student who reminded me how much more we have to teach than the language. He was a in a category of learner I have met frequently: self-taught ...

Students’ assessment of each other

October 20, 2008

Hello again.

Student assessment of other students' work encourages them to become more closely involved in the quality and content of their own performance. While the teacher assesses...

Listening skills for teachers

June 25, 2008

Hello again,

It is important for teachers to listen actively to their students. I think we often hear what we expect to hear rather than what students are really....

Teaching abroad versus teaching at home

May 20, 2008

Hello again,

For many English language teachers the allure of foreign travel is more important than the desire to teach. For decades young graduates have tacked a TEFL certificate on to their degree and set out in search of experience and adventure. Does teaching abroad require any special qualities...

The tip of the iceberg

February 03, 2008

Hello again,

The old chestnut that there is a simple type of cultural awareness won't go away. Unfortunately some teachers believe that cultural awareness consists of observing and aping the behaviour patterns...

Coaching tools for ELT

December 20, 2007

Hello again,

Much of our teaching involves a very direct input of grammar and vocabulary. The contract between teacher and learner is clear: the teacher imparts knowledge; the learner receives it. The teacher then helps...

The tortoise and the hare

September 18, 2007

Hello again,

This summer I met a lady in a hurry. She spent at least five minutes...

Giving students feedback

July 18, 2007

Hello again,

As promised I am making some suggestions for handling feedback to...

Culture Clashes

June 28, 2007

Hello again,

Reading some forum posts reminds me of how teachers travelling around the world to work brush up against different cultures and find it difficult to cope. We learn our cultural preferences from our environment. They are not inherited. Our cultural make-up affects how we react to various stimuli and how we make judgements. One result of being immersed in our own culture is that we tend to view the actions of others from our own perspective. We project our culture and our cultural expectations...

Teachers and values

June 12, 2007

Hello again,

English language teachers occupy a very sensitive cultural space. Most teachers come ...

Teachers under stress

April 24, 2007

Hello again,

I have touched on stress related to culture shock in earlier posts and newsletters. But stress can affect teachers for other reasons. Stress is what we feel when the demands on us become too heavy. In the UK, ...

Keeping teachers safe

March 29, 2007

Hello again,

The shocking murder of a young English teacher in Japan should make schools and teachers alike consider what they do about safety. The latest ...

Coping with criticism

March 25, 2007

Hello again,
My recent posts and comments have touched a nerve with teachers. It might be helpful to consider some ways of dealing with criticism when it comes our way. If a teacher is ...

Saving face

March 19, 2007

Hello again,

To further the debate about how teachers can cope when they can’t answer tricky questions from students, I want to stress that a teacher should never try to bluff it out, as this compromises one’s integrity and ...

Supporting teachers

March 16, 2007

Hello again,

In a recent forum post a teacher described her problems in dealing with a student who clearly enjoyed asking tricky questions about grammar and watching the teacher cast around for an answer. This is a...

Learner-friendly reports

February 12, 2007

Hello again,

Reports on learners at the ends of their courses are often produced somewhat mechanically and without providing any very useful feedback to learners. They tend to be littered with clichés that simply do not address the personal learning profiles of...

When managers are unreasonable

September 06, 2006

Dealing with difficult managers

Hello again,

A recent post on the ESL Forum, made me think about the difficult position teachers are often in. Sandwiched between demanding students and exigent employers, they must feel buffeted from all sides. An earlier entry on this blog dealt with the issue of difficult students, but how does a teacher deal with an awkward employer?

Each situation is, of course, unique. The forum post mentioned a manager in a family-run business who was also a family member and whose attitude towards teachers was...

Destination France

August 22, 2006

Everything ends this way in France - everything. Weddings, christenings, duels, burials, swindlings, diplomatic affairs -everything is a pretext for a good dinner. Jean Anouilh


As someone who has lived in France for the past eleven years, I have become more comfortable in this country than anywhere else. English language teachers have plenty of opportunities here but you have to be willing to go where the work is. Inevitably the greatest demand is in the major cities.

The good news for EU citizens is...

Preparing to take up a post

August 01, 2006

To travel hopefully is better than to arrive

Hello everyone,

I have been thinking about all the young teachers who will be preparing to travel to exciting new places to take up their first posts. The biggest demand for teachers comes from Asia, Eastern Europe and South America , while the supply is from North America, Europe and Oceania. This means that many teachers…

Teachers beware

June 20, 2006

How can teachers protect themselves against unscrupulous employers ?

Hello again,

I wish I could reassure teachers that all schools are honest and honor contracts. But I'm afraid the world is a dangerous place and for people who travel to countries with different systems and attitudes dangers abound. Recent comments posted on this weblog show how vulnerable teachers are when they travel abroad to take up teaching posts. Unfortunately rogue organizations do exist and the only way teachers can avoid the traps is by exercising extreme caution themselves.

First they need to know which countries or regions pose the greatest problems. While regulations and accreditation ...

Helping teachers with the host culture

June 14, 2006

A fish out of water

Hello again,

For the new teacher the experience of their first job in a strange country can be disorienting. I think schools need to help their new recruits understand their environment an adapt to it. Without such help they can find the effects of culture shock very difficult...

The native-speaker teacher debate

April 04, 2006

I have noticed some forum posts on the topic of native-speaker teachers.

Hello again,

What's your view on this topic? Should English language schools employ only native-speaker teachers? My answer is that it is entirely a matter of selecting the best teacher from the available pool for the job. Evasive? Perhaps, but I don’t want to generalise about the background you need to be an effective English language teacher. The native speaker is probably perceived as having more credibility and authenticity. But not all native speakers have an equal depth of language awareness. And, given the nature of basic English teaching in British schools (I can't speak for other countries), many have scant knowledge of English grammar. A non-native speaker, on the other hand, can often bring the useful ability to compare two or more languages and thus help students understand how English differs in structure from their first language . . .

Freedom of speech: who, when, where?

March 30, 2006

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." (George Orwell)

Hello again,

Are English teachers aware of the the restrictions they may face when teaching in non-secular cultures? An English-language lecturer has been fired from her post at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates for handing out the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to her class. Frankly, I am hardly surprised and I can’t imagine what she thought she was doing. So, does that make me anti free speech? Not at all, but freedom of expression, like all human activity, needs to be carried out responsibly. I think the Danish originals had every right to be published in Denmark, a non-Muslim country. I am sure that in Denmark, as in the rest of the western world, there is respect for people’s right to their religious beliefs . . .

Getting Private Student Feedback

February 28, 2006

Can teachers gather students' feedback without risking adverse reactions from management?

Hello again,

It is clear from reactions to an earlier posting by Patricia that teachers have their anxieties about feedback from students. They fear that any negative responses might be used against them by management. In an ideal world, the school would offer mutual support systems with all feedback being seen as a key tool in the process of continual improvement rather than as a stick to beat the overburdened backs of teachers. But we don’t live in a perfect world and undoubtedly some teachers will be put under pressure if students are critical . . .

Welcome Brenda to ESL School!

February 24, 2006

Greetings ESL experts,

Allow me to say thanks to Jake for his introduction of me and for giving me the honor or presenting to you the newest member of the ESLemployment team, Brenda Townsend Hall, PhD.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with her work, Dr. Townsend Hall is a communications consultant trainer and course designer. Now, she’ll be blogging for ESL School and writing for the ESL Expert newsletter. She offers face-to-face and distance training in the fields of interpersonal communications, business English, written communications and cross-cultural awareness. She also has runs a distance-learning training course, Teach Business English, for teachers wishing to enter the field of business English . . .

The Skills Balance in ESL

January 30, 2006

Dear Bloggers,

The relative importance of the four language skills has been on my mind. One group of teachers I have spoken to recently told me how difficult it is to persuade their students to speak while another group couldn’t get their classes to write.

From a teacher’s point of view the importance of these skills is obvious but what is the students’ perspective? I want to use this blog to talk about speaking and the next one to discuss writing. The reasons for students being reluctant to talk are various . . .

Is English Language Teaching a Real Career?

January 17, 2006

Recently I was talking about careers to a group of university students. For most of them English language teaching was perceived as a short-term means of seeing the world before coming back to find a “real career”.

I started thinking about my own life in English language teaching and have to admit that at first I did just fall into it rather than make a conscious career choice. I needed to be in a certain place at a certain time and it was the work that was available and for which I had the right background . . .

Leading a Horse to Water

January 03, 2006

In the complex process by which we acquire knowledge and develop skills, the teacher is a catalyst for effective learning.

Selecting teachers for young learners.

September 22, 2005

Hello again. I'd like to take a look at the how we choose teachers for young learners today.

Teaching English to young learners—let’s say children aged from 5 – 12—is different in crucial ways from teaching teenagers and adults. When selecting teachers we need criteria that relate to children’s specific needs. Remember that children are still developing, not just physically, but also emotionally and cognitively. They need teachers who can create a classroom environment that stimulates them to work within and not beyond their ability range. By feeling comfortable with what they are asked to do, they will both acquire language and feel secure in their classroom and this, in turn, can enhance their confidence.

Dressing the part

July 28, 2005

Look, I don't want to sound like an old fuddy but frankly I think a teacher should dress like, well, a teacher. What I mean is that a teacher in shorts and a t-shirt, a teacher with a bare midriff or a mii-skirt that barely covers the essentials has no place in the classroom.

I know we live in an age when dressing down is more common than dressing up, at least in certain parts of the world, but a teacher needs to command respect. A teacher needs to needs inspire confidence.
Okay, so dress is only a surface sign, but it is important all the same. It is a sign that you respect the role of the teacher. Shorts, t-shirts and sandals are fine for the beach but not for the classroom.


July 21, 2005

Hello again. Well, summer is in full swing inthe northern hemisphere and thousands of teenagers have been sent off to benefit from English language courses during their school vacation. It's hardly surprising that learning is the last thing on their minds. After all, they've just had a full school year, probably taken hard exams and they really just want to have fun. So does this mean that teenagers and the ELT classroom are incompatible? Not necessarily but you really do need to make the courses on offer as enjoyable as you possibly can.

Do you know how your students want to learn?

July 19, 2005

Hello again. Learner power is my topic today. I wonder how many school directors think about asking their students how they want to learn? The idea of conducting a needs analysis to find out what students want to learn is nothing new, but I’m not sure if we are quite so used to trying to find out their preferred learning styles. I mention this because it strikes me that so many teachers come from the same mould, having qualified through courses based very much on progressive western views of educational practice. Typically these teachers want lots of classroom activity, learner participation and have a view of the teacher as a facilitator rather than pedagogue. On the other hand, the students will probably feel comfortable if the teaching style is in keeping with what they are used to. I can remember my own astonishment when teaching a group of 30 students in a French university only to discover that they didn’t expect to be involved in activities that required them to actually speak. They were used to being passive receptacles of information which they would record and then work on using reading and writing as the means of learning. Of course, I wanted to change all that but I realized that I could only introduce change by finding out what they expected, what they wanted and by negotiating with them possible better ways of effective language learning.

Forewarned is forearmed

May 24, 2005

Well, I certainly got a lot of response to my blog about the hapless John and the devious Olga. It clearly struck a chord with teachers in the field. But that's not surprising. The teacher can represent a coveted trophy or a sympathetic ally to an impressionable young student. If the society is not tolerant of such relatonships, the student may be further stimulated by the idea of "forbidden fuit". But two things seem to me to be important mesages from this story and some of the experiences people have recorded in their comments.

Native speakers?

May 05, 2005

Hello again. In a recent poll in my newsletter I asked readers if they thought English language teachers should be native speakers. The result was interesting, as the vote from those with an opinion was close with 48% believing they should be native speakers and 41% saying no. I don’t know what you think about this but I’ve always had mixed feelings.

The first question I would raise with those who believe being a native speaker is an essential prerequisite for an English language teacher is, which native speaker would you choose? My point is that native speakers are not by virtue of their birth language experts. I can think of many native speakers whose command of their own language is remarkably poor! Evidently being a native speaker is not in itself a guarantee of any linguistic understanding. Of course, native speakers have a certain instinctive feel for the language that probably cannot be acquired. But the non-native speaker, having gone through the process of really mastering English, is more likely to understand the learning process and the pitfalls that are peculiar to learning the language.

Better Late then Never

May 03, 2005

Whenever I talk to teachers I don't usually have to wait long before they start listing their concerns about students. I wonder what would come top of your list of teachers’ complaints about student behavior. My guess is that punctuality would come pretty high. It doesn’t sound too difficult on the surface to insist that students should come on time to their lessons but in practice there may be factors that make the lateness habit difficult to break.

Take country cultures, for example. Some countries, notably those in northern Europe or North America place a high value on punctuality. To be late is considered rude, sloppy, even insulting behavior. But in other countries, punctuality is not valued in the same way. Time is seen in a much less rigid way so being a late is quite acceptable. I remember attending an appointment in the south of France for which I was dutifully a few minutes early. After I had waited for fifteen minutes, I asked the secretary what was causing the delay. She looked quite surprised and said that the person I was seeing naturally didn’t me expect to arrive punctually and expected the appointment to take place about 30 minutes after the agreed time.

Building flexibility into the contract

April 28, 2005

Hello again. Do you ever feel that your staff are working against you rather than with you? I suppose we all have moments when we look for cooperation and find resistance! From a manager's point of view, the crucial issue is to keep classes going without disruption. But the teacher's viewpoint can be very different.

A school director recently posed the following question:

"The contract I give teachers states that 22 teaching contact hours per week are normal. But, occasionally, I have to ask staff to increase their hours (to cover for a sick colleague, for example). At other times, if student numbers fall, they teach less than 22 hours. But recently they have come to see me as a group to say they think it is unfair to be asked to teach extra hours unless they are paid overtime. What should I do?"

English Teachers and Culture Shock

April 26, 2005

I was talking recently to a young woman who had just returned from a teaching post in Korea. She said her first months in her job were a nightmare because of the unfamiliarity of everything. It made me wonder how teachers can prepare themselves to cope with culture shock.

Anyone who leaves their familiar environment for a prolonged spell is prone to the stress of culture shock. Although we know on a rational level that we are going to meet unfamiliar routines and customs, emotionally it takes time to adjust and this period of adjustment leads to unexpected reactions. These could include mood swings, depression, frustration, loneliness, apathy, even panic or physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, colds, stomach upsets. Each of us reacts differently under stress . . .

The hallmarks of a professional teacher

April 19, 2005

Have you ever wondered what the qualities of a really professional teacher are? I know that all teachers want their students to like them, but being liked isn't the be-all and end-all really, is it? I mean teachers have to make some unpopular decisions sometimes.

Teachers can be popular just because they are friendly and helpful, but to be truly professional and effective they need other qualities. Students may not be able to put their finger on just why one teacher is more effective than another but we need to be able to identify the skills and behavior we require in a true professional.

Dangerous liaisons

March 26, 2005

We've all met them. They're young, handsome, newly qualified and out to see the world. John is just one more young man using his English teaching certificate to help him travel before he settles down. He's done a stint in Mexico, in China and now he's in Eastern Europe. Of course all his female students adore him. But John is too professional to become entangled with a student. But he's just discovered that situations can get very nasty despite his good intentions.

In his new class, one student, let's call her Olga, quickly fell under his spell. She was always waiting after class to ask him to explain something. John's only human and he was flattered by her attention so when she asked him to join her and her friends at a restaurant one evening, he didn't see any harm in it. Only there were no other friends and Olga made it clear that it wasn't just food on the menu. John dealt with her firmly but politely saying that teachers were not allowed to have relationships with students. He left the restaurant.