Living and teaching in Perth, Australia – An update

After spending an amazing three and a half years in France, my husband and I have come back to Australia to make the most of the beach, the sunshine and the family. As I wasn’t initially doing any teaching work, (I took some time off and then tried some call centre work for a few weeks), my blogging and Linkedin activities were on hold for a few months. I missed teaching and having the opportunity to get to know students and see them develop from day to day and week to week., but was delighted to get a phone call from the PIBT at the beginning of the month inviting me to come and teach. So I can happily say that I am back in action and looking forward to being able to share my new teaching and learning experiences with you.

My new position at the Perth Institute of Technology (PIBT) at Edith Cowan university

Let me begin by telling you how much I love my new job! The staff are all lovely and we even have morning tea on Fridays. The Mt Lawley campus is really beautiful at this time of year and I can have my lunch outside at a picnic table underneath the blossom trees. My class is also a real pleasure to teach and because I see them for 14 hours a week, I really have the opportunity to get to know them. This means that my classes can be adapted to what they need and what they respond best to. The other great thing that has struck me, as compared to my students at the business school in France who only had a few hours contact time per week, is the progress that I see from week to week. These students are preparing for an IELTS exam which they need in order to be able to take various courses at Edith Cowan university. One of the most important skills that they will need for both the test and their tertiary study, and the fact that they have sufficient time to write in class means that I can give them the feedback they need.

Another great thing about teaching English to international students in Australia is that, rather than having a monolingual class like I did in France, I’ve got a real mix of nationalities and backgrounds, (Indian, Vietnamese, Saudi and Chinese). Although students do sometimes speak their L1 during class in small groups, most of the time they have no choice but to communicate English during the class. The mix does bring with it a new set of challenges though. Having taught exclusively native French speakers who tended to make all the same kinds of mistakes, this is a whole new ball game. There are different aspects of pronunciation to work on for each group and the majority of students who don’t use the same alphabet in their first language, which can mean that handwriting, capital letters and spelling aren’t always a strong point. My project this weekend is to dive into Michael Swan’s Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interfererence and Other Problems and try to get a better idea of what I’m dealing with.

More happy news – A new Australian on the way

In other news, I’m delighted to announce that my husband and I have our first baby on the way! Baby will be coming late February, in the heat of the Australian summer. With a Kiwi mum and a French dad, this little Aussie is going to have a lot of travelling and language learning to do! I’ve been reading quite a bit about bilingualism in children and I suppose that this will be something that I’ll be researching more and blogging about in the future. With everything I read, I become more and more amazed at how clever kids are and how well they can take on information to adapt to new situations. I’m almost inclined to organize a Chinese au pair who will speak only Chinese to baby so he doesn’t need to work anywhere near as hard as I do to learn the language as an adult. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted!

 

The resuscitation of the Irish language: observations of a tourist

Back in France after my amazing UK trip, I’m in my teaching/translating routine for just a little while longer before the big move back to Australia. I loved every place we visited, but Ireland was definitely my favourite. The people were friendly, the landscapes were breathtaking, (if you haven’t been yet, you must see the Ring of Kerry), and the traditional music was timeless, probably not having changed much since my ancestors left a few hundred years ago.

On a walking tour in Galway, I got talking to the guide about the Irish language. Although there is Irish language television and radio, only about 5% of the population can actually speak it fluently. Before the guide gave us a demonstration, we had never actually heard anyone speak it! In his view, the teaching of Irish in schools is pretty token: kids only learn it in primary school and even then, the teachers teaching it don’t necessarily master it themselves. He then told me about this ad for beer that came out in the early 2000s, which apparently sums up all the Irish vocabulary that kids learn at school.

It got me thinking about some of the parallels the Irish language has with the Maori language in New Zealand. We also have to learn Maori at primary school in New Zealand, but like the Irish language, it seemed to be quite symbolic when I was at school. We had a poster up in the classroom and sang some songs, as well as learning colours, numbers and basic instructions (stand up, sit down etc). It never went beyond that. Like many other learners of Maori I was not particularly motivated by the teaching, which didn’t really make the language live, and it became a drag quite quickly. As opposed to other languages like French, Arabic or Mandarin, there is no inherent motivation that comes from needing the language later in life. Maybe if kids could be taught more of the heritage that comes along with the language they might find it easier to see the point?

I recently finished reading a great book on raising bilingual children which emphasised the importance of ‘exposure time’ when learning a second language. Basically, if you don’t have the opportunity to interact in a language on a daily basis, or at least regularly, it becomes much more difficult to master that language. It seems like common sense really, but it comes as no surprise that one-hour-a-week language programs don’t have amazing results. Perhaps it could be a good idea to make schools completely bilingual, as is becoming more common with English/French here and apparently Mandarin/English in Australia.

So, I wish the Irish all my luck with in their efforts to keep their language alive, and hope that the challenges of teaching a heritage language won’t stop them from trying harder.

Adh mor ort!

The England trip – from Coronation street to Shakespeare

image

I’m proud to announce that I’m no longer an English teacher who has never been to England! We arrived in London on Monday and visited the usual tourist traps: the hop-on, hop-off bus tour, Buckingham palace and a river cruise on the Thames. One of my highlights was the commentary on the river cruise, not given by a tour guide, but rather one of the ‘watermen’ who’s job was to captain the boat. It was really fascinating to hear his thick London accent and the effort he was made to speak slowly to the boat full of non-native English speakers.

As I’m writing, I’m in Stratford-On-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. It’s a real pleasure to be here after studying at least one of his works every year of my secondary curriculum. This morning I did a walking tour to see all of the old Elizabethan houses, (the kind you see in ‘Shakespeare in Love’. The tour guide was great, dressed in a suit with a black hat with a black umbrella- a real British stereotype!

We actually got talking about the inclusion of Shakespeare in the New Zealand and Australian curriculum, and whether or not it was a good idea. In my personal experience, the poetry was really interesting but the plays were too much. I can understand that for those with no British heritage whatsoever that it could be hard to see the point of the exercise. Also, given the amount of time it takes to study a Shakespearean play, perhaps that time could be better spent learning something practical. That said, it’s unlikely that students will be exposed to this kind of work later in their lives and it could be important for their culture.

Not all the folk here express themselves with the elegance of Shakespeare’s characters. I was lucky enough this morning to witness a Coronation Street-style domestic dispute in a pub, where a woman yelled at and threw a beer over her husband. It was actually about as comprehensible to me as a Shakespearean play. That just goes to show how differently our versions of English have developed.

I’m looking forward to heading North and getting to hear even more of the wonderful accents England has to offer, before we hit Scotland and Ireland.

The DALF C2 Preparation: My Crack at the most difficult French exam

Flickr: PaintedWorksByKB

Flickr: PaintedWorksByKB

Before I head off to Australia in two months’ time, I’ve decided to sign up for the Diplôme Approfondi de la Langue Francaise – Niveau C2. When I tell people about it, they almost almost respond with, “Why? You already speak French!”. I’m not sure if it’s because of my love for standardised testing, being a TOEFL and TOEIC teacher myself, or if it could be my frustration at my French not being perfect yet, after so many years studying. I would just love to have a certificate that said I was at C2 level! I honestly doubt that it will get any better once I’m back down under.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the test, the DALF C2 is an exam that is made up of two parts: a listening and speaking part, and a reading and writing part. For the first part, candidates listen to an audio recording twice, (generally from radio stations that are equivalent to BBC radio). They then have one hour to prepare a 10-minute presentation of its contents, followed by a debate with the jury. For the second part, candidates have 3 1/2 hours to read a variety of texts on a single topic and write an essay.

The part that scares me the most is the writing part. For the C1 level exam that I did last year, I managed to get 11/25 in the writing part and 21/25 in the speaking. I suppose this is because I’m used to speaking French everyday, but my writing is usually limited to writing business emails. I think that the reputation French has for being difficult in terms of grammar is rightfully. It took me quite a while to figure out the difference between ceci/cela (meaning this), and celui-ci/celle-ci (which can replace it in certain cases).

My preparation for the exam actually started last year when I started thinking about doing the exam, but in typical student fashion, I didn’t really start studying very seriously until about a week ago. I’ve now got just one month until I sit the real thing, and during a lot of that time I’ll be on holiday in England.

And so, not wanting to cough up to pay for a French teacher, (unfortunately there are no group classes available in Dijon for this level), I’m going to try to get away with self-study and ‘community correction’. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of friends who I visit at the weekends to practice the speaking task. As for the writing, I’ve opened up a google docs folder that I contribute to several times a week and asked a group of French friends to make corrections and add their explanations in comments section. So far its working really well and I’ve been getting some really constructive feedback.

Although I love learning and I hope to perfect my French, this exercise has left me wondering about how necessary it really is for advanced students to work with a trained teacher. My ‘correction community’, which is made up principally of non-trained teachers, is doing such a great job correcting my writing. What’s more, if there’s something I don’t really understand, I seem to be able to find some pretty good answers when I google it. I suppose I am just really lucky to have so many supportive people around to give me a hand.

 

Update 28/06/2014

I am proud to say that I have finally received my results for the DALF C2 exam and I passed! All that hard work paid off. I’ll have to make sure I keep reading in French and listening to the French radio so I don’t lose all my skills.

TESOL France Presentation Overview – Tailoring ESP courses – Part 2: Technical English for the Construction Products Industry

Flickr,   DaraKero_F
Flickr, DaraKero_F

2014 has arrived and the end-of-year rush has given way to a calmer time for reflection on new year’s resolutions, both personal and professional. My free time in December was taken up with learning Mandarin and Spanish, and preparing for different running events. This year is going to be a big change for me as from tomorrow I will be working as a freelancer. Although I will continue to teach business English, I think that the competitiveness of the market will no doubt be a harsh reminder of the importance of tailoring courses to clients’ specific needs. In this light, I’d like to return to my thread on using companies’ promotional materials in teaching to make courses relevant to students’ jobs. This time, I’m going to discuss a project I did for a construction products company.

The company I worked with makes products for concrete such as admixtures and fibers, liquid pigments and air and vapour barriers. My students here included a maintenance manager, logistics people and a marketing and communication assistant. To be honest, I had no idea about what a ‘surface-retarder’ was when I first arrived. The only interaction I had ever had was walking on it. And so, when I first arrived on the site, I wasn’t used to seeing the forklifts driving around, the industrial-sized barrels of salt water for defrosting the ground or the people dressed up in their overalls, facemasks and hard hats. The first thing I did was to ask my elementary-level maintenance manager for a tour of the site. He showed me the safety equipment (I had all that vocabulary mastered at least) and we went on our way. There were machines for grinding, mixing different powders and packaging them. One part had different brightly-coloured dust scattered around the workshop, which reminded me of an Indian dye festival. At this point I had difficulty imagining what exactly the products were for and didn’t really have the technical vocabulary my student needed to be able to explain how the machines operated and common repairs he made.

With regards to the technical parts, I had to do some good old-fashioned online research. I asked my student to bring me some technical drawings and looked up translations for French words in the dictionary. I did have some textbooks in my office to help me with some of the vocabulary we needed, although it makes sense that publishers aren’t going to produce textbooks for industries so specialized and limited in size. To help me understand what exactly they were making, brochures with colour photos of the products used on real concrete structures. The fireproofing, waterproofing and graffiti-proofing weren’t so hard to get my head around, but the pigments and textured finishes were a little more complicated.

Here’s an example of what concrete pigment looks like:

Concrete pigment

Concrete pigment

There’s also something else called pre-cast concrete. Essentially the company prepares the concrete in specially-made moulds for the customer to give it different textures and patterns. You can have concrete with different finishes to look like bricks, wood or even bamboo.

And so, with my intermediate level marketing and communication assistant we worked with a number of brochures and samples to help her to be able to present her company’s products. The company also has a wall outside with different samples of decorative pre-cast concrete, so it was an excellent exercise to take my students out of the classroom and have them touch and describe the different textures. On a more technical level we could also look at and measure the depths of different grooves and the measurements of each panel, and imagine the applications of each mould. Here‘s an example of the kind of catalogue we worked with.

Other exercises that could be done with any products (obviously this is much easier of you have a brochure or a selection of products in front of you) is to compare their prices, sales and perhaps customer feedback.

And so, this job has given me a great insight into an industry that was previously foreign to me and as a result of exploiting companies’ promotional materials, my students completed their training with a lot of the vocabulary they needed in their work. I would love to hear from any other language trainers about how they have tackled such technical subject matter.

TESOL France Presentation Overview – Tailoring ESP courses – Part 1: Comparing hotels with travel agents

Wharariki Beach

Wharariki Beach

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the TESOL France annual coloquium in Paris, where I met some great teachers and attended some excellent presentations. I gave a presentation myself about exploiting companies’ promotional materials for teaching and I thought I’d write up a little overview here. Here’s the first part, watch this space for the construction and pharmaceuticals industries, as well as some FAQs.

The problem: Business English and ESP teachers aren’t always trained in whatever they need to be teaching

My first few teaching jobs were disasters. I prepared my classes on my own and oblivious to pedagogy and professional objectives, I taught grammar-heavy classes which were simply too general. My CELTA helped with the pedagogy side of things, but didn’t give me any better idea about how to make my classes more relevant to my students’ jobs. And while I do cringe when I think about some of the classes I taught in those beginning days, they do serve as excellent lessons as to what not to do when teaching BE and ESP classes. I know teachers are really busy and aren’t always specialists in the areas they’re teaching in, but at the end of the day we’re being paid to teach relevant skills that students can use immediately in their jobs.

How can we keep our teaching relevant?

Here are a couple of things that are particularly important

Needs analyses

Schools generally do these at the beginning of a course as well as an oral evaluation, (if your school doesn’t, you’ve got a problem). It’s important to read through them regularly throughout the course to keep the students’ objectives fresh in your mind. However detailed the reports you get may be, it’s still important to talk you your students about their objectives when you first meet them, as well as the situations where they need English.

Every lesson, ask your students what they’re up to

Needs change, and to be the most effective teacher you can be, you need to keep up with them. Ask your students about projects they’re working on at the moment and ask them to bring along an email or a plan and talk you through it. Have them practice their presentations on you.

Troll for information about their job and their industry

Pick up brochures at reception (if you’re lucky they might be some in English). Take a look at the company’s website and websites of competitors. Another suggestion I had was to contact the HR department and get a job description to give you a better idea.

COMPARING HOTELS AND DESTINATIONS WITH TRAVEL AGENTS

  • A little background

The company my student works for organizes international group travel to Eastern Europe, the Americas and Asia. Although the organizational side of things is in French, my student and her colleagues accompany groups to different locations. She needed to be able to fulfill the roles including guide, interpreter and support person. My student began at an elementary level, so it was important to break the course up into manageable chunks and balance the practical English focus with fundamental grammar. You can see here the topics we covered, they’re all pretty straightforward ‘travel English’, although I didn’t manage to find everything I needed in textbooks and travel guides. Finding materials for the airport English part was easy enough online, and the textbooks we work with seem to all have parts with some vocabulary for recommending places and giving directions. Explaining to an Indian police officer that your wallet and passport have been stolen or that your client is having a heart attack is a different story.

  • A mini-presentation to work on hotel vocabulary and comparatives

When designing a package, my student needed to decide on which hotels groups would stay at and obviously compare them based on criteria including location, facilities and price. To begin with, I gave her a little presentation about two hotels in a destination I had chosen myself and showed her their websites. The presentation I did with my student was simply browsing the net, so the preparation was minimal. I simply looked at the hotels’ webpages and their corresponding TripAdvisor reviews to look at vocabulary for describing hotels as well as comparisons.

HW Beach photo

I’m going to go on holiday with my mum to the Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. It’s a region with beautiful hills, forest and beautiful beaches. The most famous beach is called ‘Hot Water Beach’. It gets its name from the hot water that comes up from springs under the ground and at low tide visitors like to dig holes in the sand and sit in the hot pools. I would like to spend one week relaxing on the beach, doing some bushwalks and reading books. I need to book some accommodation, and I have two possibilities in mind

The first place I’ve found is a bed and breakfast called ‘Hot Water Bed and Breakfast’. Does a bed and breakfast. It has a view of the ocean and is very close to the beach and the forest. There is a balcony where I can read my book and relax. The beds are queen-sized and the price is $120 per night which is around 75EUROs. It has tea and coffee making facilities and breakfast is included. Unfortunately there’s no wifi, so I won’t be able to upload my holiday photos until I get home.

The second place is called ‘Whitianga Beach Motels and Cabins’. It’s also very close to a beach, although you have to drive for half an hour to get to Hot Water Beach. Here, it’s possible to order breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are laundry facilities, so I can wash my clothes and the rooms have single and double beds. The price is $110 a night, which is around 65EUROs. There are also tea and coffee facilities and wifi. 

Which of these do you think I should choose? Why?

(write target language on board – comparatives and facilities)

Perhaps before I book I should have a look at some reviews to help me with my decision?

First, let’s have a look at the reviews for the bed and breakfast. You can see that 28 people have reviewed it as ‘excellent’ and it only has one ‘poor’ review. The last reviewer ‘loved it’ and overall it looks like a pretty popular place.

Here you’ll see that we have a review that would be too advanced for my elementary learner; with a lot of vocabulary that might not be particularly useful for her (I’m not sure when she’ll have the opportunity to use “wallowing” or “nomads” in the future). Here I think it would just be best to focus on the title of the review.

Now let’s have a look at the Beach Motel and Cabins in Whitianga. Oh dear, this doesn’t look good. We have four ‘average’ ratings and three ‘terrible’ ones. And the most recent person didn’t like it at all. Here I think it’s important to look at the vocabulary ‘disgusting’, ‘filthy’ and ‘smelly’ and it could also be a good time to talk about things in hotel rooms like sheets, pillowcases, tea and coffee facilities, mould…

I then asked her to prepare a similar mini-presentation of two hotels at a destination of her choice. The students I have worked with have all enjoyed this exercise as I suppose it was interesting in that they discovered a new place in the world they might not have hear about before. I think they also appreciated doing something a little different from the textbook, although I did use the textbook as support for a clear presentation of comparatives. They could see the point in it and would use the same skills in their work immediately after.

Italki Review

italkiI am proud to say that this morning I managed to get out of bed at 6:15am for my 15th Italki/Skype Chinese lesson. My regular teacher Ally helped me wrestle with a particularly daunting unit in my book on shopping (with lots of numbers and vocabulary for clothing and department stores). I’ve been learning Chinese and Spanish with Italki for four months now and although there are already a good number of helpful reviews online explaining exactly how it works, (such as the one by Fluent in 3 Months you can find here), I would like to share some of the things I appreciate about it and some of the things I don’t.

If you’d like to make an account and check it out, you can use my referral link here.

Features I like:

  • Language partners – Free conversation/writing practice

Although language partnering certainly isn’t a new idea, italki provides a forum where you in can get in contact with native speakers of the language you’re learning and either communicate with them by message or organise Skype meetups. This is great for conversation practice and putting anything you learnt in lessons to use. As you might have guessed, English speakers are in hot demand so I haven’t actually had to search for any language partners myself. Although this is quite helpful for me in Spanish, my Chinese isn’t anywhere near advanced enough to be able to take part in casual conversation. In my experience Chinese non-teachers tend to complicate things more than they need to and ‘language exchanges’ can become English conversation practice. If you want to go this route, make sure you agree on how much time you want to spend speaking each language and tell them whether or not it’s appropriate for them to Skype you anytime you’re online (some students are more enthusiastic than others).

  • Informal tutoring

Informal tutoring is a more casual kind of language training which is useful for revising anything you’ve already looked at with a teacher. For Chinese, for example, I seem to need to repeat a lesson two or three times before I can get a good grasp on the vocabulary and remember the complete phrases. The main advantage of informal tutoring is that it’s less expensive than professional lessons and you’ll see that many of the trained teachers on the site also provide informal tutoring. This is definitely worth a try.

  • Trial lessons – Try before you buy

One of the biggest advantages of Italki is that you can take up to 5 trial lessons with different teachers to see which one best suits your needs. I didn’t gel with the first couple of teachers I tried as I felt they moved too quickly and didn’t have me repeat enough (don’t we language teachers make difficult students?). Before settling on a regular teacher, I recommend you shop around.

  • Teachers’ availability – You can find someone available most of the time

I love waking up early and having my Skype class with my tea and toast. Thanks to the time difference between here and China, I can have a class at 6:30 or 7am if I like.

  • My notebook – Have your writing corrected

After my lessons, or in fact whenever I like, I can write something in my notebook in one of the languages I’m learning. Native speakers can check and correct this and give me feedback, (and I can do the same thing for their English).

  • My referral link

If anyone signs up to italki using my referral link, and then tops up their account I get bonus credits I can put toward classes.

One improvement that could be made:

  • Class time length – 1H plus

Although it’s possible to have 30-minute trial lessons, it doesn’t seem to be possible to organise regular 30-minute classes. This is a shame because I think two 30-minute classes a week would be much easier to fit into my schedule than a whole hour and it would also help with concentration and make homework more manageable.

So please check out the site and tell me what you think, I hope you’ll enjoy it and find it as useful as I do!

Correction:

Italki’s marketing department has informed me that there are in fact teachers offering 30 minute lessons, so I’ll sign up for a few and let you know how it goes!