In Hangzhou

It is a month into my teaching experience in China.  So far, I have been enjoying my experience.  I did not know what to expect here, but perhaps due to my ignorance of geography and world facts, I did not know that it is a larger city than my hometown of Toronto by three times;  Hangzhou is 9 million.   Additionally, it is fascinating.  It has a link back to the Song Dynasty.

In another period it was written about by Marco Polo.   He described it as a teeming metropolis with a uncountable things being traded.  Here is a quote re-posted from the site “”

During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) Marco Polo, famous European traveller and explorer from Venice, visited Hangzhou. He was overwhelmed and referred to the city as “beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world.” “The number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, was so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof.”
One of the many benefits from the visit of Marco Polo was that westerners now discovered silk, which since then has been ever so appreciated.

“The Marco Polo statue”
The city of Hangzhou has not forgotten the first westerner that visited Hangzhou and introduced Hangzhou to the Europeans. Therefore Marco Polo has been honoured with a statue near the West Lake.

“…most beautiful and magnificent city in the world”
There is a Chinese proverb: “Shang you tian tang, xia you su hang” which in English means “up there is heaven, down here is Suzhou and Hangzhou”. Marco Polo apparently did not see that much difference when he called Hangzhou “the City of Heaven, and classified it as “the most beautiful and magnificent in the world.”
Marco Polo was enormously fascinated by its grandeur of the Chinese culture and technology and he described all marvelous things he saw in his book “Il Milione” (“The travels of Marco Polo” in English). In the beginning however, few believed in what he was telling, since in 13th century China’s civilization was much more advanced than the European one.

The problem in the 14th century was that the Chinese were centuries ahead in many sciences which the Western world could
not or wanted to believe.

In 2016, it does not strike you as so much different from any Western city with the big restaurant and clothing chains everywhere.  Within walking distance there is a Mcdonalds, a Subway sandwich shop, a Starbucks, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, an H and M, and a gap.  Although of course, everything is slightly changed to Chinese tastes.  Furthermore, there are many local chains of course, unique restaurants and clothing shops as well, that I had not known about before coming here, but have enjoyed.  On the main thoroughfare you can see a traditional multi tiered building, towards the famous West lake , where there are ferry rides and walkways and many traditional looking buildings.  I have not finished exploring this.   In the opposite direction giant imposing skyscraper that would seem appropriate to be the headquarters of any giant corporation.  There are some nice contrasts here between old and new.

In terms of location it is close to Shanghai, where I will soon go to visit.  Currently there is a short break due to the G20 meeting being held here in Hangzhou.  This really is a very big deal here, and may bring more recognition and buzz to the city.






Ideas for teaching the Present Perfect Progressive

I have been instructed to do the practice component of a lesson on the Present perfect Progressive.

Within the PPP structure, this is the order:  presentation, practice, production. Presentation refers to the explanation of the grammar point, practice to controlled or guided  exercises, while production activities enable the student to be practice after they have mastered the form in a more communicative manner.

So, I have set out to find the proper materials for an excellent lesson.  As with all lessons, I like to go first to some classic books, and then move on to some websites, then form a tighter plan of the best material.

To understand where my assigned “practice”segment is located, let’s look at it in context.


Scrivener (Teaching English Grammar, p. 172-175) is consistently one of the most useful sources for me. Scrivener first suggests a couple of activities if we are starting from scratch.

He gives us the form in table form suitable for presentation:

I/you/We/They { ‘ve / have { been { working, living, studying, writing, watching }}}

He/She/It {‘s/ has { been { working, living, studying, writing, watching}}}

He first explains the form with a cartoon of a  girlfriend waiting for a boyfriend to arrive on a date.  It is raining and so she has been getting more and more angry: “I have been waiting for twenty minutes in the rain, and he has not arrived”.  I like this example to graphically illustrate the form.  In this exercise he elicits from his class more captions.

Scrivener goes on to elucidate some problems for the the teacher, namely the similarity to the present perfect.  He advises the teacher that present perfect progressive is relatively rare in comparison to present perfect, so it may be important to select highly used verbs such as:

working,living, doing, looking, going, trying, running, taking, waiting, using, talking, saying, thinking, making, getting and looking 

In reference to the present perfect, he points out that although the two tenses can  sometimes be used to speak about similar time frames, that we often think of a present perfect progressive action continuing if it was not interrupted. Compare the two questions Where have you worked in the last two weeks?  Where have you been working lately?  They might have similar answers and be problematic for the students.


Now, moving on to the websites, here are some resources that I looked at.


Songs:  You can compare the differences between present perfect and present perfect with songs.  I like the following two.  As an opening exercise,  I would get the students to listen to the song and circle the appropriate tenses, following along with the music:

U2 “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” (Present Perfect)
I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
(I was) burning inside her.

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

Rolling Stones “Miss You” (Present Perfect Progressive)

I’ve been holding out so long
I’ve been sleeping all alone
Lord I miss you
I’ve been hanging on the phone
I’ve been sleeping all alone
I want to kiss you

Oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh
Oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh
Oooh oooh oooh

Oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh
Oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh
Oooh oooh oooh oooh

Well, I’ve been haunted in my sleep
You’ve been staring in my dreams
Lord I miss you.
I’ve been waiting in the hall
Been waiting on your call
When the phone rings
It’s just some friends of mine that say,
“Hey, what’s the matter man?
We’re gonna come around at twelve
With some Puerto Rican girls that are just dyin’ to meet you
We’re gonna bring a case of wine
Hey, let’s go mess and fool around
You know, like we used to”

[12″ version:]
You’ve been strung up for her too long,
You know – girls will come and go –
They’re just like streetcars…
I’ve been staying here too long,
Sometimes I feel so

Aaah Aaah Aaah Aaah Aaah Aaah Aaah
Aaah Aaah Aaah Aaah Aaah Aaah Aaah
Aaah Aaah Aaah Aaah

Oh everybody waits so long
Oh baby why you wait so long
Won’t you come on! Come on!

I’ve been walking Central Park
Singing after dark
People think I’m crazy
I’ve been stumbling on my feet
Shuffling through the street
People ask me, “What’s the matter with you boy?”

Sometimes I want to say to myself
Sometimes I say

Oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh
Oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh
Oooh oooh oooh

Oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh
Oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh
I won’t miss you child

I guess I’m lying to myself
It’s just you and no one else
Lord I won’t miss you child
You’ve been blotting out my mind
Fooling on my time
No, I won’t miss you, baby, yeah

1)Here is an example of a practice worksheet for the present perfect progressive:

2)Here is a board game using the tense:

3)my favourite website “Movies to assess grammar goals”is always a great place to start:

4) There is a dice game using the tense:

All of these could be possible exercises that would lead us from practice to production.  However, the most obvious practice exercise is the first worksheet.

Borrowing from the first exercise sheet, I have adapted the questions, so that rather than a fill in the blank form, they are actual questions that can be written on the board or used as warm ups to the class:

Have you been working today?

Have you been eating well recently?

Have you been doing enough exercise?

Has it been snowing?  Has it been raining?

Students can talk about what the appropriate answers are.

Now switching back to the Scrivener (Teaching English Grammar, p. 172-175) and his suggested verbs, we can also form some questions to be done in groups.

working,living, doing, looking, going, trying, running, taking, waiting, using, talking, saying, thinking, making, getting and looking 

The students will divide into groups and take the following exercises that show the form using only thie first three working, living, doing. They can discuss the answers among themselves.


group 1 Your verb is work:

1)Where have you been working?

ex.  I have been working in Starbucks, and at the library.

2)Who have you been working with?

ex. I have been working alone.

3)What have you been working on?

ex.  I have been working on planning some lessons.

4)How have you been working?

ex. I have been working on my computer.

I have been working in my sketchbook.


group 2 your verb is live:

1)Where have you been living?

ex. I have been living in Toronto.

ex.I have been living by the lakeshore.

2)Who have you been living with?

ex. I have been living with my room mate.

3)How long have you been living in this City?

ex.I have been living in this city for four months.

4)How long have you been living in your current house?

ex.I have been living in my current house for one month.


group 3 you verb is do*

Questions that start with doing can be answered in different ways, using new verbs.

1)What have you been doing for the past three hours?

ex.I’ve been doing my homework.

2)What have you been doing this week?

ex.I’ve been going out a lot.

3)How have you been doing?

ex.I’ve been doing well.

I’ve been feeling pretty good.


4)What have you been doing to improve your English?

ex. I have been doing exercises.

I have been reading books.


I think that after this, I would want the students to create their own question forms using Scrivener’s suggested list to ask each other.  I would give them the list, and then I would ask them to choose one verb from the list and write four questions to ask their partner from it.

Then I would go around the room asking how they were doing, and what sort of answers they were getting, monitoring the progress.  If I was left with time, I might go to my spare exercises from the other websites.

This covers most of the material that we need to assemble to start the students practicing. Printing out the material, I now have more than can be fit within an hour of teaching.


5 Things I learned Teaching Abroad


  1. Living and working abroad is hard work, but it isn’t as fearsome as it first appears.   It takes time to accustom yourself, and you miss the social connections you had.  However, eventually you begin to build different connections you would not have had if you hadn’t left home, as well as experiences.
  2. You have to give yourself as much time to answer questions from students as you give them to answer.  Teachers need “processing time” as well as students.  This was part of a teacher evaluation, and I really appreciate the insight.
  3. There can be essential hours of work for teachers outside the class room, and even planning.  Some of the activities can be reporting, marking, and meeting.  Each organization you work for will be distinctly different in terms of these expectations.
  4. Their are really thousands of levels of language proficiency.
  5. Cultures that you assume are close together because of geography or language really have nothing to do with each other.  (“Nada que ver)  The longer you are in the region, the more distinct the constituent people and places seem to become.

Questions to ask an Interviewer

Looking for a TEFL job, and doing an interview?

So, I have returned to Canada, and I am searching for various job opportunities. Now with a couple years of experience teaching under my belt, I am looking both here and abroad. Interviews are beginning, and to come in prepared, I have assembled a list of questions to ask my interviewer, as well as gone back to the best job advice I have read.

So, I would like to share my mental preparation.

Part 1:  TEFL Job search Questions


Is there any important information you want to tell me about processing my visa?


What do you like most about the city that you live in?


What do you like most about the region you live in?


What do you dislike the most about the city or region where you live?


Are there any risks or dangers I should be aware of?


Is there any threat of a specific kind of crime in the area? Are there any dangerous places in the city I should be aware of?


What are the most well known tourist sites of the region?


What are the neighbourhoods like in the city where you live?


In terms of food, what do recommend?


In terms of teaching, are there very slow times of the year?


Where do teachers generally go in their free time in the region?


Are there tourist attractions nearby that I must go see? Natural features? Galleries?


Museums? Historical sites? Seasonal Festivals?


What are the hours like of government offices and banks?


Will it be difficult to get a local account?


Is the currency difficult to exchange?


Will it be difficult to send and receive letters from my home country?


What is the most difficult thing for English speakers like myself when they learn the local language?


What is the most difficult thing for speakers of the local language to learn when learning English?


What is the accommodation like?


If it is necessary to search for accommodation do you have any advice?

Are there any walking tours that would help me to get accustomed to the city?


Are there any websites that would help me understand the layout of the city?


Are there any English resources (newspapers, blogs) that would help me understand the city or region?


Where is your office located, and how would you characterize the neighborhood where I will work?


What is one of the most important attributes that your organization looks for in its teachers?


Are there rewards/ recognition for the teachers? How are the teachers judged in order to receive the performance recognition?


How many people work at your school?


How many of them are teachers?


Do the teachers get together socially?


Do the teachers network, do they share ideas?


Is lesson planning creative and independent, or more regulated by the administration?


Is the management style micro managing or delegating?


Is lesson planning private on the part of the teachers, or is their some kind of database to keep track?


What kind of textbooks do you use?


What kind of testing and evaluation do you use?

How regular is testing and evaluation?


How would you characterize the pace of the lessons?


Is there a lot of time to deal with individual student concerns, or are the lessons always a rush?


What are duties that the teacher must handle, outside of the classroom?


How many hours do teachers tend to prepare there lessons at your institution?


Are there materials in English that I should bring for my lessons that cannot be found in the region? (books, magazines, resources etc.)


Are there any ESL bookstores? Are there any English bookstores? Are English books expensive there?


Do students expect progress in terms of grades on any sort of standardized tests?


How often is student progress reported to the office?


How often is attendance reported?


For the most part what do students use their English for?


Do students go on to further education in English after your program? Do they apply to English Universities?


Do students use English in business settings? Do they mainly speak with internal or external business contacts?


Do you have any advice to ensure success in my job?

Part 2: Advice from the Expert

These notes are made from the job search bible “What Color Is Your Parachute”by Richard N. Bolles, which it almost goes without saying, is well known for good advice on the job search.  Of course, he is not looking at the TEFL context specifically, but most of what he says is relevant in any interview context. This is all from the chapter 7 “Sixteen tips about Interviewing”.  Partially because interviewers have to seem objective and neutral, this can make candidates feel intimidated.  The most important thing that this chapter does is give us a picture of the psychology and anxieties of interviewers.   This helps to diminish the fear that the candidates have.   I think reading through this cheaper is a good way of getting ready.

  1. “An interview resembles dating, more than it does buying a used car (you)” By this I believe that Bolles means that interviewing is about learning if you are a good match for the company, and if they are a good match for you.  He is indicating that it is wrong to think of it as just as a sales pitch.
  2. a.”The next person who comes in here and has done some research on us, I’m going to offer a job”Prepare by researching the organization through their about us section, library articles, and by communicating with any contacts that have worked there. b.”Watch your watch or timepiece like a hawk” Make a good impression by respecting the interviewer’s time, take only 20 minutes .c.”We act as though it were a science” The interviewer may be just as anxious as you are; if the person interviewing you has the power to hire you, they will also be held responsible for the success or failure of the hiring decision.
  3. “But this employer is, after all, a human being just like you” Be compassionate towards your interviewer.  They may have as many fears about the interview as you do.
  4. “Observe the 50-50 rule”  There should be an equal division of speaking and listening during the interview.
  5. “Observe the twenty-second to two-minute rule”.  Twenty seconds to two minutes is a good length for a concise answer to a question in an interview.
  6. It is a good idea to determine how you can be an asset to the organization, by visualizing what would constitute poor performance within it, and strategizing how you will be the opposite sort of employee. Some of the attributes he managed are important regardless of the organization you work for: punctuality, willingness to work extra hours if required, drive, time management, creativity, problem solving, and social skills.  It is up to you to find the information within your CV that exemplifies these attributes.
  7. “Realize that the employer thinks the way you do your job hunt is the way you will do the job.”
  8. Bring a sample of what you have produced.  In the case of a teacher, this might mean bringing a lesson plan.
  9. “Do not badmouth previous employers”.  In fact, you should plan on saying something positive.
  10. He distills the essence of interview questions into the following:  “Why are you here?”, “What can you do for us?”, “What kind of person are you?”, “What distinguishes you from the nine hundred and nineteen other people who are applying for this job?”” Can I afford you?”.  These questions can be prepared for, by visually charting your experience.  He notes that job searchers are trying to determine similar questions, although they are posed in a different form.

11.   Try not to take interview questions about your past too personally.  Questions about the past are intended predict  future performance.  It is worth noting that the rationalization for many  classic questions, is to elicit an assurance of performance that allays some kind of anxiety on the prat of the interviewer.    We can refer to the text to get a more detailed examination of the classic questions and answers.

12.  If the interviewer begins by asking questions about the distant past, and moves more to questions about future goals, this is in fact, a positive thing.  It means the questions are moving beyond the preliminary.

13.  Small things can derail an interview.   Bolles calls these “mosquitos”, in that they are small indicators that shake your employer.   There are several things that you have to represent well in an interview:  astute attention to appearance and hygiene, minimizing nervous mannerisms, displaying confidence and a lack of hesitation  in speech, considerate behaviour towards other people (the receptionist, previous employers),  and good values.

14.What questions might help you in the job interview process

a.Can you offer me the job?

b.When may I expect to hear from you?

c.  May I ask what might be the latest time I could expect to hear from you?

d.May I contact you after the aforementioned date?

(e.If the job is not offered, “can you think of anyone else who might be interested in hiring me?”)

15.A thank you letter from the candidate must be written after every interview.  Functions of this are: to prove social skills, to remind the employer of who you are, to give the interviewer something to pass on if the hiring is a committee process, reiterate your interest in further talks, and give you an opportunity to deal with any problems that arose during your interview.  Most job hunters do not follow this advice.

16.  It is often the case that you have done nothing wrong in an unsuccessful interview, but sometimes it is helpful to get feedback on your interview from the employer, even if you did not get the job.


Teacher Evaluation

It is good to recieve feedback on your work, right?  Constructive criticism is always helpful, right?  Well then, why does it seem that teacher evaluations are preceded by a feeling of trepidation, I might even say “dread”.  Something to remember when you are teaching, and you give constructive criticism, is that there a lot of apprehension associated with feedback, even if it is essentially a positive thing.

My teacher feedback, given to me by a very diplomatic experienced fellow teacher at the company, turned out to be very constructive.  After I taught the lesson which she observed, I was asked to do a self evaluation.  This was submitted to her in a written form just after the lesson was taught.  I was asked to say how the lesson went, and summarize the good and the bad points.  Then, I met and from my notes, presented my own ideas about what had happened.  Finally, I met my evaluator in person and she first brought the positive things, and then the negative things with suggestions.

For me, I think this is a good indication of how constructive criticism should be expressed, because I did not feel threatened by it:

1)assiduous note taking

2)self-evaluation is good as a first step

3)peer evaluation should be given with the positive first

4)problems should always be accompanied by suggestions

In my case, what was the good and the bad?  What were the suggestions?

I will call my evaluator JS to predict the names of the innocent.  JS said that I presented my topic which was prepositions, to my students very visually.  This was right for the level, which was starter.  In other words, my use of pictures helped to illustrate the concept.

She further said, that I was able to connect the use of prepositions to numerous practical exercises; for example, I got the students to describe two different sets of pictures in the textbook about office settings, and got them to describe the location of various work locations relative to each other.  So, I was able to use numerous visual examples.

She also mentioned, that I was patient with my students and allowed them to process their own answers to questions.  She said that I waited for them to phrase the answers.

However, on the criticism side of the list,  I react to quickly to questions and give too many explanations as answers.  This can throw off the students.  Sometimes, she said, a teacher must give a simpler answer and filter out alternatives.  This could be viewed as a helpful “lie” about language, in some respects, but it is more about editing what is impractical to students.

she said that I needed to think more about my answers to questions, and give myself time to process the answers.  JS said that it takes time to understand what you are being asked, so, as a teacher to do the same things for myself as I do for my students.  Give myself time to pause, think, and respond.

This was summarized on the data base of my company, so that I could reflect on the advice on future.

I think the evaluation was professional and great advice which I will definitely use.

How much study time is required for a TOEFL ibt test?

How much study time is required for a TOEFL ibt test?

You will hear a variety of answers: one month, two months, even three or four months, a year.  Why? It depends on your current situation.

If you are cramming, and it is one month away, you may need a pretty fixed schedule.

If you want more of a rush schedule for one month of planning, here is a resource: 

If your date is secure, and you know what you want to achieve, then the simple answer, according the official TOEFL website:

“Start preparing for the test at least 8 weeks before your test date.”

However, if you are starting from the beginning, consider this test planner which is posted for free on the TOEFL site:

They look at:

1)Choosing a target institution where to study

2) Researching deadlines and requirements

3)Deciding when to take the test

4)Registering three to four months before the test date

5)Preparation planning

Students taking the TOEFL ibt usually want to take the test to qualify for studying at an English-speaking university next year. Once they register, there is a set date when they need to take the test.  An obvious determining factor for study time is how much time a working individual can set aside.  Students are working to save up money to make studying in a foreign country possible, and they can not commit to more than a certain number of hours a week.  There is only so much time available.

To give you an example, I had about seven students at a university here in Chile.  These students were quite dedicated.  They were taking a three and half hour class three times a week.  The level might be what you would call high intermediate, or even pre-advanced.   I would estimate that we spent about a month studying test strategy, or about 42 hours, and at the end, I still didn’t feel it was very much time.

Even though this seems like a large chunk of time, it was only a part of the preparation course they were taking, which intended to move them more securely into the advanced level.  A month is not enough to get improve the grammar of each individual student by a wide margin.  We spent time not studying grammar, but studying test strategy!

People very rarely take a four and half hour test.  It requires prolonged concentration.  It also necessitates learning specific strategies, since it requires students to understand instructions very rapidly.  The less time they spend understanding the questions, the more time they can devote to answering them.  Here are examples of subjects connected to test strategy which is about understanding instructions.  In other words:

a) Understanding the structure of each section

b) Understanding the type of content that is presented in each section

c) Understanding the types questions in each section

d) Understanding the types of answers for each

e) Practicing completing tasks in the allotted time

However, from a teaching perspective another question is: “What is the student’s current level, and what is the score they need to obtain on the test? ” Determining a student’s level will depend on their knowledge of test strategy, and also their English skills in general. These are connected but distinct skills.  If you are seriously far a way from academic proficiency, than you can study a course which prepares you for an academic level of English proficiency, or EAP.

structure for lesson plans

There are many ways to create lesson plans.

Sometimes you need ideas for a format.  I am intending to show you one in this short post.

In my present company, we were asked to supply lesson plans in a structure.  However, I also want to make sure that you understand this is only one of many possible structures.  Even now, the company has changed the requirements of the structure, making it no longer current information.  So, the structure can be changed and innovated according to how much time you think that you will have to create the lessons.  Here, is one possible structure:

Pre lesson plan:


Warm up and fillers


Post lesson plan:


To what Extent was the objective achieved?

Ideas for next class

Each of these fields does not have to be filled out with very long answers for you to have a viable plan. The objective can be one sentence long.  In fact, it almost works better if the objective is a little terse, because I find that if I define the objective precisely enough, my work is much easier afterwards. They urge us to make the goal as measurable as possible.

The best warm ups have been short and fun.  Warm ups and fillers can be short games intended  just to get the lesson started and the student inspired.    There are a number of web pages specifically devoted to warm ups that have really helped me.

Then, the activities section is where you really get down to work.  These are the activities that are going to take up the most time in your lesson: the readings, listening exercises, questions and communicative activities that you will use.

I realize that this is quite a different system than you will see explained on other sites.  What is different here is the post lesson component.  It is good to have a post lesson component because, I gaurantee that your lesson will always go off on different tangents. Some of these tangents will be extremely useful.  The students will ask questions that will form the basis of new lessons.  If you write down what happened afterwards, you will have a record.  Finally, you want to know if you and your students are hitting your goals.

An Interesting Year

Looking back at last year, 2014 was an interesting year for me. There were two components for me that I think are worth explaining. The first part has to do with moving to a new country, the second with teaching in general.

I know this is a teaching blog, but I want to explain the impact of being in a new country.

  1. Moving to Chile

First of all, moving to a new country has been interesting. I did not realize some fundamental facts about South America or Chile before I arrived, concerning the climate, the history, geography, and the language, which probably seem obvious to any body that has taken a passing interest.

The cycle of the seasons being inverted was not even apparent to me, or the profound effect of this on world commerce. I work with a food supplier, and the fact that it is summer during our winter is crucial to what is in season. That is, what they export, and when they export depends on what is not growing in other countries.

Furthermore, the legacy of Spanish colonialism, while somewhat similar to the legacy of other empires, presents a completely different and new historical context to live in. All the street names in British influenced countries reflect the legacy of the British empire.  Whereas here, you will see new names relating to a different history of colonialism and independence against the Spanish rule. One thing specific to Chile, that is of great interest is that some of indigenous tribes here, were never completely defeated by the Spanish, and therefore have maintained some degree of autonomy. It has been great fun to go to the museums and landmarks, and read about some of these events which have been completely new to me. Today, I was reading about the wars of independence, the dictatorships, and progress towards democracy that occurred in most Latin American countries. In Chile of course, the coup occurred when Allende’s socialist government was deposed and replaced by the Pinochet dictatorship.

There are other things, specific to Chile that were simply facts I did not know. It takes two hours to travel the width of Chile, but the length of the country spans the entire continent of South America. There is a mountain range, a desert, several islands, and a vast coastline. The climate of the country changes several times because it is so long. The fact that it sits on a tectonic plate means that it has frequent earthquakes. Which means that although Santiago is an old city, many of its oldest buildings have been replaced several times. This and many other things that are plain and obvious to Chileans are completely new to me. Right now, it feels like there is a lot yet to see.

I will admit that for me a great deal of the excitement has been to learn a new language. Before November of 2013 I did not speak a word of Spanish, other than words that all North Americans are familiar with. I would limit it almost exclusively to Mexican food, and a couple popular songs. At this point, just a little over a year later, I do not consider myself a fluent speaker. However, I can piece together the central messages of most newspaper stories when reading, and I can have extended conversations with people who take the time to speak with me. My Spanish is still limited, even broken; there is much to learn, and it is a continuous struggle to keep learning. “Pero yo siento que yo puedo comunicarme y esta es un habilidad que sin ese viaje, yo no tuviera.” That is to say, I feel that I can communicate, and this is an ability that I would not have without this trip.

My main conclusion about moving to a new place to teach with a different language, is that I understand the struggle my students are going through, and will more accurately understand what various people immigrating to Canada go through, if I ever teach there.

I will say however, that I feel I have only scratched the surface of what can be done here.  This is really exciting.

2.My First Year Teaching

Concerning the teaching, although I had heard horror stories about the first year of teaching, my experience was not at all negative. I think this is partially because I was not teaching large classes of young students in the public school system. Perhaps it was because Instead, I was teaching small classes of adults in corporate settings, most of whom do not see learning as an obligation, for a small modern teaching company.  I think this set up took a lot of the pressure off my mind.  I am sure there are great joys to teaching young students in a public school setting, however I also assume it can be quite stressful in the first year, especially in terms of discipline and classroom management.

I have taught many lessons on many subjects, but I have to say one of the things that is a great pleasure, are the small moments of collaboration between the teachers. The Language Company is a modern company with 50 or so teachers who all have different students. They travel to the students not the other way around. In the office, and on the internet, we often share with each other and benefit from the resources there. This in short, has been a great thing.

In terms of my success with teaching, I feel that it is a very long process learning a language. Consider that it may take a day or a week to introduce a verb tense. However, it may take a life time to really master a language.

From my own experience, learning grammatical rules is only a first step. You need to learn many new verbs, each one with their particularities and differences in actual application. This can take years. So, although I see progress in my students, what must be considered in teaching is that you only see a snapshot of each students’ progress. You are there to introduce them to ideas, and get them to practice them in a very limited time frame. You do your best, but you can only encourage them to start a journey that may take them a very long time to complete. In fact, it can be argued that with language, the possibilities to improve your understanding and capabilities are infinite. It should be obvious, that native speakers such as myself are still learning the scope of how they can communicate despite having exponentially more experience. Patience and time are key to the learning process.

The imperative that lessons should be built to be authentic and communicative that I learned in school, is more difficult to attain than I thought. I am most proud of lessons that I designed specifically for my students, because I feel these have been high points in terms of seeing their motivation.

3 months in

Long time, no journal.

Here is a short piece of writing that will act as shorthand for some of the experiences I have had so far:

My phone tells a story of photography all in a row.  I am glad to have all the memories so neatly filed somewhere, experience is not so neat.

All smiles, first dinner, snapshots, we are tourists winding through the fort that started Santiago.

Palm trees, cactus plants like Medusas hair. Houses with lattice work windows.

Graffiti on a pompous old building.  The tags are ugly sometimes, but sometimes they go further into the surreal: a mural of a three eyed cat, for example.

The old churches are sometimes interrupted by steel and glass from a newer economy.

Wandering back from the market, the Feria de pulgas or flee market covers the whole park with a fabric of teenagers selling their whole life.

In the adjacent quiet park, stray dogs are bothering all the couples who have no problem necking all day.

On a Quiet Sunday, scale to the top of the hill at the centre of Santiago.  Cristobal, some guitar music floats from the tiny chapel, and you see 360 degrees of city.

On a Monday, Unapologetic dishes are left by teachers hurrying out to work.

Above it a window, the Andes is massive, full of snow capped details.

On Wednesday, Chile wins a soccer match against a World Cup champion.  During the game the people are more silent than the statues in the Church, after it is the sound of thousands of car horns.

It is the winter Solstice on the weekend.  There is a small gathering, with sorpaipillas.  This is fried bread  made out of pumpkins and flour.  The sound of people speaking Spanish in the kitchen, and singing Brazilian samba played using a guitar and palms on a table is not caught on my phone.

I am piecing together a new language with new words. I do not understand everything, yet.


ESL Job Interviews

I had an interview with a fairly large private school in Toronto.   This is  a school with several branches over the country.  It was what I would call a “high stakes” moment.   Even though I prepared for a fairly long time, I think that I could have done much better.

For my own benefit, I am writing an entry so that I remember precisely what the interview was like.  I admit here, that I am the last one to give advice.  I feel a bit like a beggar sidelining as a financial planner, but at the risk of criticism, it is at least fresh in my mind what pitfalls might occur.  I really wanted this job, and I felt like my preparation time was not used as efficiently as it could have been.   Having said that, this entry may also be helpful for those who wish to know what a ESL job interview is like, from someone who has just participated in one.


First of all, let me describe exactly what was required for the interview.  They asked for:

-Two references with contact information

– Certificates attesting to my B. A and TESL education

– A one hour lesson plan.  In this particular case the lesson plan was for a low level learner, and it was on comparative adjectives.

When I arrived at the office, I was also asked to fill out an application.   As silly as it sounds, this blindsided me a bit, because I was focused on preparing my lesson plan.   I will describe the application. First, there was a section on personal details; address, phone number, etc.  Then, there was a section on employment history asking of a list of three employers and their contact information.

Finally, there was  a section asking questions on TESL knowledge.  This section consisted of about five questions.

The first one was:  list the 8 parts of speech.

The second was:  analyze a sentence by identifying all the parts of speech.

The third was: define the terms “irony”, “metaphor”, and “asimile” and “abridge

The last question was: what is your teaching philosophy in two sentences.

After filling out the application I went to a table with the director and head teacher of the language school, and the interview proceeded.  They asked me questions concerning my CV.

Here are a couple of the questions that were asked.

“Tell us a bit of your teaching experience.”

They modified the question:”what is your greatest strength/weakness?”  Here, it became: “What do you like to teach most: reading, writing, communication, or grammar?”

“How would you deal with classroom management issues?”

Then, I presented my lesson plan.  They asked me to treat them as if they were students, and present the lesson exactly as I would, on a white board.

After that, they began to give me some information on the school itself.  One thing that was noted was that the teachers start by taking lessons here and there as substitutes.  After a three month they start to take on lessons as full time teachers.  Then these teachers are laid off after the summer, as the student numbers also dwindle.  This information was important, as it highlighted that the interview period continues as the teachers begin to make a reputation for themselves with the new school.


Obviously, if you want to prepare, you can use the description above  as a sort of recipe for what you will need in an ESL interview.

I did some things well in my interview, and other things badly.  I got so nervous I made a mistake on the application that would have my grammar teacher chiding me and shaking her head in disbelief.  However, let me say this about how I would prepare in a perfect world:

1) All 5 W’s of the interview should be written down, and committed to memory.  The top three of these are who, when,  where.

2) Documents/documentation printed and placed in a folder.  These include a: CV, Lesson plan, and certificates. All relevant contact information for employers on hand, ready to be copied into an application if need be.

3) Preparation  and intimate knowledge of the grammatical details of the sample lesson, with special care paid to lesson time, lesson level, and lesson subject.  From now on, I have decided to use the Azar grammar to clarify the points before looking on the internet.  Dividing up what needs to presented should be the task, with no scrambling.

4) Preparation should include not only outline the grammatical rule, but also research to address questions on exceptions.  

5) Rehearsal of the presentation itself.  A lesson is a scripted performance, and you are your own director.  You need to know how you will behave physically.

6) Job spiders:  Basically, this is a technique of visually mapping your CV.  You review each of the  experiences on your CV and draw a “spider”.  Here is an excerpt from recruiter .com that describes what the map is attempting to do, which is to create a mental image of tangible achievements:

“This will be a critical element of your resume. You are not just creating a list of the places you went to school and the degrees you earned, but rather the skills and abilities that you have that will be a positive complement to the company. You want to show not just what it is that you do, but what happens when you take these skills and apply them to a position. You want to create a situation in which your employers can envision you in the position and helping them overcome the challenges and issues that they are currently facing.  ”

Here is a really formal version of visually mapping your CV, but you can make yours just with lines and bubbles sketched in a notepad:

What is good about this is that he is connecting his skills to his experience.  This type of mental map has to be strong in your mind when you go into an interview situation.

7) I forgot some fundamentals from school that I should have reviewed before hand.  One thing I was not aware of, (although I am sure it was outlined to me at some point) is that articles are adjectives.  This makes all the sense in the world.  However, as a new graduate, some important details need to be refreshed.  With more experience I will remember these like a second nature, but for now, I need to drill the essentials, again.

8) Appearance: It is not usual for men to check their appearance closely.  Right before a job interview, it may be important to do so with care, in a mirror.

9)”What colour is your own parachute?” is a classic job search book.  I found that going through the chapter on interviews before an interview is helpful psychologically.  It primes you so that you are thinking of exactly what it is like.  It is such good general advice.