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Spotlight: (Thriving and) Surviving in Japan

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I’d like to spotlight a new addition to the recommended blogs here, Surviving in Japan (without much Japanese). This blog/how-to-directory is an ever-growing guide to how to improve your life in Japan if you are not perfectly fluent in Japanese, but are in English. The author, Ashley, is a writer (and part-time teacher) with a good sense of what people settling in to Japan really need to know about. She’s also the new writer for the “Lifelines” column at the Japan Times. There’s no travel-guide-style “wear toilet slippers in the toilet or risk embarrassment!”-style advice here–you can find that in your Lonely Planet. Instead, you get instructions, recommendations, links, photos, and even translations on topics such as

There are lots of other posts on everything from minor issues like how customize your order at Starbucks to critical issues like what to do if your Alien Registration Card is missing. (I’m secretly hoping for a post on reading Japanese nutritional labels at some point! That would be handy for me over here, even.)

This blog is highly recommended for being informative, readable, and essentially performing a public service. If you’re moving to Japan or are already there, check it out! I just wish someone were doing this for every country (and in every language combination!).

You can also follow Ashley on Twitter at @survivingnjapan.

Twitter As a Lifeline

I wrote before that Twitter was like a magic cafe or an eternal, really good TESOL conference, but it can actually be a lifeline in times of disaster.

When the Tohoku Earthquake hit Japan, I was in California, but I was using Twitter at the time, on my @readable account with a lot of Japanese users. Many of them quickly tweeted 地震だ–”it’s an earthquake.” I realized something was wrong when, even fifteen minutes later, they were tweeting things like まだゆれる–”it’s still shaking.”

For people who were and are in a disaster area and are not totally fluent in the local language, the situation can range from stressful to life-threatening. Even being in the Tokyo area (distant from the tsunami and major quake damage), with aftershocks, confusing power outages, train stoppages, and food shortages, is proving a challenge for many people. People who have made a good effort to learn Japanese are still finding that a whole host of new vocabulary is cropping up–planned power outage, aftershock, evacuation, contamination, nuclear power plant, and so on.

For the first couple of days, information from official sources was hard to get (at least overseas) in English–people kept saying to watch NHK World News, but when I turned it on, it was often just a loop of tsunami warnings, or a loop of translated news that I knew to be many hours old. (I knew the news was old because Twitterers like @makiwi, a food writer, and @TimeOutTokyo, an entertainment magazine site’s account, were tweeting live news in English–read about Six 6 Tokyo Tweeters Who Kept the City Informed here. And while NHK World News was behind, CNN and MSNBC and so on were woefully behind, and just so bad overall that I quit bothering with them. Meanwhile, BBC’s radio announcers mangled Japanese place names so badly that I couldn’t understand where they meant, which was pretty useless. While there was some good mainstream reporting later [caveat], I would not currently rely on these news outlets in a crisis where I needed to make decisions.)

During this time, and even (to a great extent) now, if you wanted to get information about things like the current status of the nuclear plants, who could help with emergency translation (seriously–medical experts were volunteering on the spot!), what all those microsieverts and millisieverts meant, where you could get shelter, how you could get from Point A to Point B with the expressways closed, where get temporary medication refills, which train lines were running, where to buy bread and batteries, how to use Google People Finder to check on survivors, who would take English-speaking volunteers, where to get information on cooking with limited resources, how to extend a visa or replace a passport, and so on, you could find the answers on Twitter. And during the aftermath, many of my Japanese friends say that Twitter has also helped them feel less alone, more reassured, and constantly encouraged, despite the stress and confusion. Some people have criticized Twitter for spreading hoaxes and rumors, but those spread by word of mouth, too (and for, heaven’s sake, even newspapers). Critical thinking, asking questions, and checking with reliable Twitterers all go a long way.

People rapidly came together on Twitter to help each other find information, connect users to other users who could translate something or supply an answer, and otherwise assist each other (even outright offering spare rooms to strangers). I noticed people’s lists of followers exploding, and not just those (like @makiwi and @TimeOutTokyo) who were valiantly translating NHK live and otherwise providing information you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Anyway, I can tell you that if I’d been in Japan, I wouldn’t have wanted to have been without Twitter. At the moment of a crisis, of course, it’s better to head for high ground, get under your desk, or whatever rather than checking Twitter (although at least one person was apparently rescued from a rooftop due to Twitter, since he wasn’t able to make a call but could send a tweet!). After that first moment, though, Twitter’s usefulness really kicks in. Disasters of one kind or another–floods, invasions, earthquakes, wildfires, uprisings–can happen almost anywhere. And despite the way we humans naturally tend to think, you’re not immune to disasters if you’re an outsider who is only there for a year or two: without fully-developed family and social networks, high-level language skills, knowledge of your surroundings, a fully-stocked household, and so on, you are probably more vulnerable.

Of course, you can’t necessarily sit there and wait for information to flow in–you need to either already have a well-developed Twitter network or be willing to seek out and find additional useful people to follow (or both). And you need be adventurous and creative in your use of English and the local language to search Twitter for the information you need (and not hesitate to ask people who might be helpful). Two places to start are 1) my Twitter guide for ESL students (simplified, but suitable for anyone, including people who use Twitter but haven’t explored its various functions–hashtags, for example, became very useful for regional information-sharing), and 2) my Twitter lists. To use Twitter lists, click on the name of the list and then the “Following: ” tab at the top. You can choose to follow individual members, who will show up in your Twitter timeline as usual. Or you can follow the whole list, but the members won’t show up in your timeline unless you also follow them individually. To read tweets from the list, you’ll have to go look at the list in your Twitter app or on Twitter.com.

Anyway, sorry for the length, but I hope this is useful to someone (although I suppose it’s better if it’s not, eh?). If you have any questions, let me know–and take care!

Post-Holiday Link Roundup

I wasn’t able to post here during the holidays, but I was somewhat active on Twitter. Here are a few links that I shared that may be of interest to you, rewritten a bit for context and easier clicking.

Twitter in Print

Thanks to the recommendation of author and Twitterati star Mayumi Ishihara, my Twitter account for English learners (@readable) was featured in a Japanese business magazine. I think it’s still on the stands in Japan–look for the 9/21 issue of 日経ビジネス Associe. On page 98, Ms. Ishihara introduces a few Twitter accounts and hashtags that can be useful to Japanese learners of English. She’s the author of a recent popular book on using Twitter to practice actually using English, so I was really pleased that she liked my account enough to recommend it to others. I enjoy being in touch with international English learners via Twitter–as a US-based teacher (at the moment), it’s an interesting way to get in touch with the concerns of learners in EFL situations.

Twitter for English Language Learners (and Teachers)

At CATESOL this past weekend, @blythe_musteric gave a great presentation about how teachers could use Twitter. Later, there was the very first CATESOL tweetup (a meeting of Twitter-users, often at an event), featuring @blythe_musteric, @pearsonlongman, @rogerdupuy, @joemcveigh, @leejeylee, @compellingtalks, @ohsanderella, @talkclouds (me), and possibly other people I’m forgetting.

During @blythe_musteric’s session and later during the tweetup, I mentioned that, particularly in Japan and Korea, English-language learners are using Twitter as a self-study tool. I have another Twitter account, @readable, which is for ELLs. I use it to post relatively simple tweets on topics of interest to English learners, links to news posts, and links to self-study tools. Eventually, I started seeing posts from my readers using the hashtags #twinglish (Twitter+English), #eigodewa (“as for English…?”), #engtwit (English+Twitter), and #kor_eng (Korean+English). Putting a hashmark (#) in front of a word makes it clickable; when you click on it you see everyone’s tweets using that hashtag, I was impressed by how many users there were experimenting with English and chatting with each other in a second language.

Some of my followers’ (connected users) responses about why they are using Twitter in English (minor mistakes corrected for one user by request; others exactly as written):

@[anonymous]: 1) Expect to meet people from all over the world and share ideas or talk with freely 2) Need to practice English regularly
@oxwinter: That’s because… I learned English at school, but few opportunities to use it here, Japan. Twitter gives us that opportunity.
@akaSEANJUNG: in ma case.. it’s just 4 fun. tryin to not to forget how 2 use…too.
@noelsora: It’s a good tool for driving me to to think in English.

As I mentioned at the conference, I also discovered some Japanese ELT professionals, including teachers and publishers. In particular, @MakotoIshiwata and @mayumi_ishihara do a good job using Twitter with ELLs. @Makoto_Ishiwata is actually Mr. Makoto Ishiwata, the president of Kaplan Japan. He’s written a great short post about how Japanese learners of English can benefit from using Twitter: “Suggestion: three easy steps for the Japanese to start tweeting in English.” He writes about the difference it made for him years ago when he began to think in English, and feels that Twitter can help Japanese English learners, who study English at school in an artificial way, start really thinking and communicating in English. He says that “Twitter is easy to use. The limit of 140 words is a great plus for English learners too because they don’t have to think too seriously before typing. Above all, we can share what we tweet. We can start communicating with each other. We can make new friends, including people from abroad, when we tweet in English.” (Actually, a lot of that goes for teachers, too…) Check out his post.

@mayumi_ishihara is Ms. Mayumi Ishihara, an English teacher and author. I’ve seen one of her previous books, 『英語で日記を書いてみる』Try Writing a Diary in English!, at my local Kinokuniya. She has a new book coming out in May, 『Twitterで英語をつぶやいてみる』Try Tweeting in English on Twitter! (Oh, Japanese book prices…it’s only ¥735–about $7.80 US–and it’s 200 pages!).

Both of them regularly interact with their followers in English, and their/our followers interact with each other, too. I don’t think Twitter is perfect for learning English–for one thing, there are certain grammatical structures that I just don’t even use because they take up too much room. I’m not sure if @mayumi_ishihara will address this in her book, but I hope so. [EDIT: Another drawback is that many of the English-teaching accounts that post vocabulary and so on are regularly sharing information that is archaic, useless, or downright incorrect or ungrammatical.] You also have to deal with learning abbreviations such as w/o, b/c, wknd, and so on. There are also some differences in Twitter culture between most of the fluent English-using Twittersphere and the English-learning Twittersphere: #twinglish users usually use RT in replies, not just retweets (like forwards), leaving a truncated piece of the original tweet at the end of their reply; they’re generally not familiar with things like Follow Friday/#FF; they often send a reply to thank people not just for following them but even for responding to them; and so on.

I don’t think the differences between other modes or registers of English and Twitter constitute a deal-breaker. Every mode and medium is different, and I’ve noticed that many ELL twitterers use it to share other recommendations for input, such as TV shows, books, and websites. No one is trying to learn English solely from Twitter that I’ve heard of. [EDIT: And the problem with the useless, archaic, and ungrammatical/incorrect teaching accounts is also quite true for many textbooks and commercial texts sold overseas and in the US, as well. It's not just an online problem.] Learners in countries such as Korea often feel starved for spontaneous, unstructured English input, and Twitter provides that, even if it’s not perfect. It may require access to a phone or computer, which is a time-and-money barrier that makes it somewhat less useful for the average ELL in the USA, but for East Asian learners with extensive access to sophisticated cell phones, it’s a cheaper and more flexible alternative or supplement to expensive English lessons.

I’ve had some great conversations with my followers. We’ve discovered cultural misconceptions about beer and weather, made jokes with each other, commiserated about everything from procrastination to language study, and helped each other with grammar and vocabulary (since I’m studying Japanese myself).


[EDIT: Overall, I think Twitter is a useful additional tool for English learners, particularly EFL learners and others with limited access to spontaneous English interaction, authentic English input, and an English-understanding audience. It contributes to learner autonomy, lowers the affective barrier, and promotes the idea of English as a tool for communication rather than an abstract object of study--goals that many teachers struggle with even partially achieving.]

What do you think?

Low Pay, High Qualifications

I’m working on a post about English-related books you can give as gifts. However, I just had to post this cranky message first.

I just took a look at the current issue of Ohayo Sensei (a new one should be out in a couple of days). OS is probably the best source for non-university teaching jobs in Japan.

Recently, there have been multiple job postings in which schools are proposing to offer salaries of ¥220000-240000/month for positions requiring experience, TESOL certification/CELTA, and/or a MATESOL/DELTA. (I’m pretty sure I saw a rate of ¥180000 in an earlier issue.) In recent years, the standard rate for eikaiwa (conversation school work) has been ¥250000 with no qualifications besides being a native English speaker. (We won’t get into that practice at the moment, or the thorny issue of the pay differences between local and foreign teachers.) And ¥250000 was considered low by the people who’d taught in Japan during the bubble economy glory days of the 80s. But okay, the yen is very strong against most currencies and the demand for classes in Japan is dropping…and maybe employers are aware of the awful teaching job situation in places like the USA…

No, I still don’t think it’s OK. I don’t think professional teachers with experience and certifications/degrees should be earning the same thing as completely new, untrained nonprofessionals, period, let alone less.

And keep in mind that in Japan, employers very rarely pay for housing. They may arrange it so you don’t have to pay the “key money” (nonrefundable gift) and deposit, or they may subsidize your rent, but the above positions do not have low pay because they also have free rent. I checked.

Please don’t apply for these jobs.

Just as it’s important for language students around the world to get the message that they should demand professional teachers with language-teaching training … employers need to get the message that they cannot expect to hire professional teachers and pay them as though they are not professionals.

There are other jobs out there; if you have a certification, apply to them. If you have a master’s, explore JREC.

Seek out a reasonable salary level, and even if you are in a situation where you don’t really need a decent salary, don’t aid in lowering the bar for everyone else.

Solving the Blogging Sword of Damocles

Especially when living and working overseas, it’s easy to plan to blog and then fail to, whether because of too much pressure or not enough opportunities to get online or an increasing backlog of photos and excursions to write up or too many options when it comes to the actual blog itself.

I think I’ve run across a couple of solutions that would have been really useful to me when I was briefly abroad in Taiwan and even more briefly in Japan; I had a lot of trouble getting organized enough to post even though a lot of people were waiting on me to.

Primarily, Posterous. It’s still under development (and very responsive to suggestions), but it’s great. Here is someone else’s explanation of Posterous. It’s a blog itself, but more importantly, a kind of blog/info management service. Imagine it: Sicily, 1945 Somewhere in East Asia, mid-afternoon. You’re required to be in the office at your conversation school, but not doing anything in particular. Prep is all done. You have photos on a USB stick, but hopping onto Facebook and your Blogger site and whatnot might not look too good. No problem, if you’ve set up Posterous.

Open an e-mail message to post@posterous.com, write the subject you want for the post, any text you want in the body, and attach your photos. (I send from Gmail, since it handles attachments so well.) Depending on how you have your Posterous set up, it’ll automatically format and post the photos and text to the services you’ve set up, such as Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, Livejournal, Flickr, and Tumbler, as well as a Posterous page itself (with the URL of yourusername.posterous.com). It’ll even post to Twitter (using the subject line of your e-mail/title of your post up to 130 characters, and then it adds a Posterous shortened url [post.ly], which I presume goes to the Posterous page).

If you only want something to post to specified services, you send your message to facebook@posterous.com or flickr@posterous.com, or both (and not everything else) by sending it to facebook+flickr@posterous.com.

Your Posterous page itself won’t look fancy; Posterous allows few options in terms of templates, but that’s fine. It’s probably not the main way people will be viewing your content, after all. Here’s a Posterous post and the same post on Tumblr, which I posted to using Posterous. I can’t show you the posts on other services because after the posts appeared, I edited them so that only certain users could see them. (That’s a drawback of Posterous–for services that allow “friends-locked” or password-protected posts, I think you’ll have to quickly edit the post after it appears.)

For when you’re browsing on your own web browser, not at work, there’s a bookmarklet you can put on your bookmark bar so that you can click and post things on Posterous.

Posterous really removes a lot of the barriers to blogging and can streamline the process, I think, so that you can just start posting. And yes, it’s free. (Maybe combine it with Picnik or Pixlr, two simple in-browser image editors.)

You can actually start by e-mailing post@posterous.com (seriously!) but to really get everything kitted out, you’ll then want to visit the site and register other services you want it to autopost to, choose how the Posterous site itself will look, etc. But this should only take a few minutes.

Oh, and you can attach not just images (.jpg, .png., .gif–all resized automatically, though they can link to the large size if you want), but also .doc, .ppt., .mp3, .avi, and .mpg (plus more). I haven’t experimented with this to see how they display, but Posterous claims they’ll all be handled intelligently.

WHAT YOU CAN’T DO: Format things. If you’re posting from e-mail, you’re not going to be able to put pictures in between text. You can’t change fonts, colors, spacing, etc., with HTML, nor write links any way other than as bare http:// … This is strangely freeing in a way, but if you are a hands-on coding junkie, you will be very dissatisfied. Finally, you can password-protect things on Posterous, but you can’t turn on other sites’ privacy settings from within the Posterous e-mail. (EDIT: Okay, after you post you can, in fact, edit the post that appears on Posterous.com to include HTML and other formatting, but it won’t carry over to other sites. If you can do it before it’s pushed to the other sites, I don’t know how yet.)

Tumblr itself is also fairly simple to use and can cross-post; my feeling is that Posterous is more flexible and I like it more. (Other people vociferously disagree and are huge Tumbler fans, so if you’re intrigued by the notion and don’t click with Posterous, check into Tumblr.) Tumblr doesn’t natively support comments, so it’s cool for presenting a list of images (for example, the Mori Girls Tumblr) but not so great for interaction without some hoop-jumping. If you click on “Comment” on my Tumblr post, since I actually made the post with Posterous, you are taken to Posterous. Some people just like Tumblr more, though, so it’s also worth considering as a solution, and you can add comments if you check into it with Google.

These tools are all potentially excellent for your students too, by the way. As mentioned in the Mashable Posterous Guide, you can make a multi-user Posterous that your students could post to, introducing their community or local restaurants, etc.

If you try it yourself or with your students, let me know how it goes.

(Of course, there’s always the more powerful WordPress.com, the popular Blogger, and various other options, as well as hosting it yourself like I do, but I wanted to mention Posterous as a kind of low-resistance way to just make it happen.)

10 Ways to Make the Best of Your Time in…

At The View From Over Here there’s an excellent post on “How to Make the Best of Your Time in Korea” with some great specific advice for people teaching EFL in South Korea. The other writer has kindly agreed to let me borrow her list framework as a springboard for my own general EFL list, but you should go read the original for her perspective even if you’re not going to Korea, I think.

Here are my suggestions based on my experiences traveling and studying abroad, as well as what I’ve learned from friends and colleagues working overseas (or those who’ve come here):

    Korean Washing Machine by a friend (used with permission)

    "Korean Washing Machine" by a friend (used with permission)

  1. Learn at least some of the language! She mentions that even if all you do is learn to read menus, you’ll be a lot happier than your compatriots who didn’t bother. Very true! Start small–learn the writing system. Learn chunks that let you get out and about, like “Is this train going to…?” Use tools: I use an online dictionary for Japanese that includes slang and whole phrases, combined with a plug-in mouseover dictionary, and I can switch to typing in Japanese instantly and easily. As a result, I can go beyond my real abilities to get information I need. Learning about the language’s structure can make teaching English easier, too, since you’ll learn some sources of common errors. P. S. My friend who works in Korea and has the complex washing machine pictured above notes that no, you won’t be able to muddle through with just a dictionary–hers yielded things like “heavenly blessings” and “the geographic features of a mountain” for some of those labels!
     
  2. Learn some culture and history. You’ll understand people better and the sights you see will be more interesting (see #8). You don’t have to hit the history books unless you want to–you can watch movies and TV shows, read novels and manga/comic books, read a Culture Shock book or Moon handbook (technically these are travel guides, but they’re heavy on history and culture), etc.
     
  3. We got a little over excited by daedrius (edited, with permission)

    "We got a little over excited" by daedrius (edited, with permission)

  4. Choose your friends wisely. I thought the other blogger was really smart to point this one out. If you’re looking for a satisfying career experience and you surround yourself with party animals, or you find that you’re inexplicably depressed and somehow don’t notice that you’re hanging out only with Bitter Expats … you need to change things. Don’t be afraid to move on from one group of people to another. People whose goals and activities don’t match with yours can really ruin your EFL experience. So can spending all weekend and all evening in your apartment by yourself because you don’t know anyone. Use Meetup.com, Facebook, etc., if you’re having trouble finding the right people.
     
  5. Make friends with the locals! It might be difficult, but try to make friends with local people, and not just through language exchanges (which I haven’t found to work very well). I’ve known people who’ve had good luck joining kimono clubs and martial arts schools, though this seems to work best out in the countryside where they’re too kind/baffled to say no to a nonfluent foreigner. Asking a co-worker to teach you to cook local food might be a good way to get to know them, too. If you have suggestions on how to tackle this one, leave a comment!
     
  6. Thoughts by gad__

    "Thoughts" by gad__

  7. Find the right type of job for you. I know, just having work is good, but you should pay attention to shift times, student age, how much planning there is, how much commuting, etc., before you take a job. You don’t want to not be able to either take care of your students well or enjoy your life. Once you get the job, if it really isn’t a good match for you, you may have to leave. Do so if needed, as gracefully as possible. Make sure you understand your contract, your living arrangements (particularly if they’re tied to your job), and your legal rights in terms of your salary, residency/visa status, etc. Don’t ever let yourself be in the position of fearing to quit because you don’t know what will happen if you do.
     
  8. Heiwa elementary school by ajari

    "Heiwa elementary school" by ajari

  9. Do your research about your school. Use Google and bulletin boards to see if you can find out anything specific about the college, conversation school, etc., you’re considering. Some places are really awful, with illegal working conditions; others are simply imperfect; others are fine (remember, complainers are always louder than happy folk, and people’s metrics for acceptability are different). Unfortunately, the more subtle relevant information–like whether a particular school will allow you to use modern, communicative teaching methods–is often virtually impossible to find out on the internet. Contacting a previous instructor is sometimes possible if you’re being recruited or if you’ve gotten an offer, so that may be your best chance.
     
  10. Remember, it’s just a job. There are plenty of bad and not-so-great English-teaching positions back home, even for people with MAs (trust me…) and, I assume, for people with PhDs as well. As long as you’re overseas, you’re in a position to do something interesting, so enjoy your free time, travel (catch the train if your town itself is boring), learn the language, attempt to make culturally sensitive changes at your workplace (like the paper I read by a teacher in Japan who started an extensive reading club and eventually got it funded by the school!), find a new job if it’s that bad, or do something to make the most of where you are. Hey, if you’re abroad, I’m already jealous of you!
     
  11. [Takao] Eco Lift by scion_cho

    "Takao Eco Lift" by scion_cho

  12. Travel! I know people who lived in Japan for a year or more and never looked at a travel guide, because they thought travel guides were only for tourists who were passing through. This is nonsense. Buy the Rough Guide for wherever you’re going. It’s full of information about restaurants, parks, and day trips, plus a lot of relevant cultural and historical notes. Check out Chris in South Korea for inspiration–he goes somewhere new every week! Hit Google and look for bloggers writing about things in your country or even your province. If you’re teaching in Europe or most parts of Asia, you’re well-situated for travel to surrounding countries, too.
     
  13. "Oh my... rice IS fun!!" by Anjuli

    "Oh my... rice IS fun!!" by Anjuli

  14. Eat the food. No, really, just eat it. In Taiwan, some of my classmates were betrayed by Pizza Hut’s squid-corn-mayo pizza once, flipped out, and basically ate at McDonald’s the rest of the time. Naturally, they were miserable compared to the people enjoying Taiwan’s “Western-style” cafes, Taiwanese cuisine, and first-rate international restaurants. When you buy food to eat at home, the blogger at The View From Here mentions that it’s good if you can spend your money at small local markets some of the time, instead of giant supermarkets or department stores. As a bonus, you may be able to get to know the local shop owners, and you may feel more comfortable trying out your language skills on them. Check out the Lonely Planet World Food Guides and similar books if you’re nervous about or unfamiliar with the new place’s cuisine, terms, and customs. Find the balance that works for you–I admit I frequented a certain Taipei hotel’s Sunday brunch buffet so I could get my good cheese hit.
     
  15. Try to think of where you are as home. Remember, wherever you go, there you are. Be mindful of that and enjoy it. Make a place for yourself online (by connecting with other bloggers, etc., in your area) and offline (by joining clubs, classes, etc.). I’d advise against cluttering up your place too much if you’ll only be there a year, but don’t go the other way and live in a barracks room. Make yourself comfortable. If you think of where you are as home and not a temporary pass-through, you should be more motivated to make your life a good one. Take care of your health, living environment, mental and social needs, physical and aesthetic comfort, and whatever else you need. Don’t put it off because “it’s just nine more months”–this can go from miserable to dangerous pretty fast.
     

You may notice that many of these suggestions seem to relate to moving your focus from internal to external. In fact, it reminds me of integrative orientation in terms of language learning. Getting comfortable in a new culture, and not just getting over culture shock but actually learning to live successfully, may have some parallels to successful language learning, so it wouldn’t surprise me if something of an integrative orientation is helpful in this process as well. At any rate, the unhappiest people on certain bulletin boards do seem to mostly be the ones who either relate everything to themselves or relate everything to their home countries.

If you have other suggestions, leave them in the comments and I’ll make a follow-up post later! If you’ve have links to posts with tips for specific countries, those would be great too. Many of you have more experience overseas than I do, so your general or specific suggestions would be very welcome. Don’t forget to hit up “How to Make the Best of Your Time in Korea” if that’s where you’re heading!

International Kindle at Last

So, previously I posted some caveats about the Kindle, but the fact remained that it was and is a very appealing piece of technology for internationally travelling teachers who don’t want to carry suitcases full of books with them. Even if you didn’t experience the USB issue that my friend experienced, though, the fact was that you couldn’t use its wireless purchasing ability outside of the US–that’s the delightful and financially dangerous ability to think “Oh, I’d really like to read XYZ…” while you’re sitting on a subway platform somewhere, pull out your Kindle, buy it even though there’s not a wifi connection there (because essentially Amazon’s paying for you to use cell networks), and start reading it in just a couple of minutes.

Anyway, good news–the new Amazon Kindle International edition has you covered if you are in Europe, South America, and Asia (scroll for Asia), excepting Finland, Lithuania, Mongolia, Vietnam, Iran, and some other areas that don’t run on 3G or EDGE/GPRS, etc. Some parts of Africa are included. Popular EFL destinations like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan look to be well covered. They will ship the Kindle itself to you–to Japan, for example, the cost is $20.98 (ouch, but it’s “priority courier” and will arrive in 2 to 4 days [!!!] after it’s shipped).

But don’t get this if you’re a bookworm with poor impulse control and a maxed out credit card…Me, I’m not getting one for various reasons, one of which is that I can’t take it in the bathtub. (Get back to me when it’s waterproof.) Plus I live in an English-speaking country and can buy books at Half-Price Books for $1 each, so I hesitate to spend this much money on a gadget–but at the prices English books cost in places like Japan, it might be worth it. Never mind the space you’d save in a small apartment…

If you get one or think you might, don’t forget to click the “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” link on the left, under the product image, when you’re browsing on Amazon. TESOL books, in particular, could use more representation on the Kindle. Clicking on it doesn’t commit you to anything; it just lets Amazon and the publisher know that people are interested in seeing that book in a Kindle version.

If you’ve come up with a creative way to use your Kindle, let us know about it and I’ll post again later, because I think the international functionality means that these will become much more common items among EFL teachers. I may write about it over on Readable Blog, too; for a really serious English learner, it could be a good tool. (To my surprise, Cambridge graded readers are available on Kindle! AWESOME.)



Get Together with International Conferences and Groups

Get Together! (image by lumaxart.com)

Get Together! (image by lumaxart.com)


Dear Korean teachers, Japanese teachers, Thai teachers, etc.,

Do you remember how much fun you had when you were a MATESOL or PhD student in the US going to your local conference, or in the UK or Australia, or going to the international TESOL conference? I remember going with my international student classmates. The conferences were so much better because they were there! You don’t need to stop going to conferences just because you are back in Seoul or Okayama or Bangkok. In addition to the fun and inspiration of conferences, you may be able to find out about grants for materials and training, get free books, make useful international and local connections, etc. It can be great just to share ideas with (and complain to) people who really understand your job and concerns, when your non-English-teaching co-workers, friends, and family probably don’t. For example, if your country tends to prefer old-fashioned teaching methods like grammar-translation or the audiolingual method, other teachers from your country may know how to help convince school administrators to let you add more modern teaching techniques like extensive reading or task-based teaching. They may know about successful programs at specific schools and have exam results that you can show your school’s administrators and concerned parents. How else can you get this information? It’s invaluable!

Of course, time and money are still an issue, but you can check each group’s website for grants and reduced fees. You may even be able to get your boss to pay for your membership or attendance if you bring up the idea in the right way. Another concern for some teachers is that a few of these conferences and associations are dominated by foreign, “native-speaker” teachers. However, I’ve heard that a lot of them would be really happy to have more local teachers involved. They just aren’t sure how to reach out, because (…sigh…) many of them are monolingual English-speakers. So I’d like to encourage you to try joining your local association, going to their conference and workshops, presenting at the conference, writing for their publications, and becoming part of their leadership. Even if they don’t know it, they really need you! If you’re nervous about going, try to find a co-worker or former classmate to attend with you.

I’d also like to address this to any Canadians, Americans, Singaporeans, and others who have found themselves teaching English abroad despite having no teaching training and no applied linguistics background: Please check into these conferences and associations. You won’t become a full-fledged professional in a weekend, but sometimes the workshops are amazing. You could learn enough to really benefit your students and make what you do far more interesting for yourself, as well. (Some conversation-school instructors have told me that they’ve wound up totally rethinking the entire concept of “English teaching” as a result of being dragged to a conference.) Major conferences sometimes have free resources, too, which can make your life a lot easier. You, too, can bring a co-worker or fellow expat with you if you’re nervous, and you may also be able to get your boss to pay for membership or attendance.

Of course, if you’re teaching overseas as a professional, whether it’s long-term or short-term, you should definitely check out these groups. As a bonus, a few of them include the teaching of local languages as part of their mission statement, which could make things more interesting (and perhaps provide some high-quality language-learning connections for you). I’ve noted a couple that mentioned it, but others likely do as well. Some groups have peer-reviewed or less formal publications, both of which can provide a good place to start getting published if you have extra time on your hands. Several groups, like JALT, have affiliations within an entire region–I recently received information from JALT’s Extensive Reading group that they’re doing presentations with KOTESOL in Korea. So you may be even able to make connections in the next location where you’re considering teaching, without going anywhere.

Okay, where do you find these groups? Well, TESOL has a list of worldwide affiliates, but many of the links are broken. You can at least use the title to type into Google.

Here are a few active groups:

  • ThaiTESOL, Thailand (4 regional groups, annual conference, special interest groups)
  • KOTESOL, South Korea (9 regional groups, annual conference, monthly regional meetings/workshops, regional conferences and special events, special interest groups)
  • JALT, Japan (37 regional groups, annual conference, regional meetings/workshops, special events, special interest groups, publications — note: includes Japanese and other languages)
  • HAAL, Hong Kong (7 seminars a year, a research forum “every few years”)
  • BELTA, Bangladesh (Several regional groups, annual conference, publications)
  • PALT, Philippines (Annual conference and workshops — note: includes Filipino, local, and other languages)
  • TESOL Spain, Spain (12 regional groups, annual conference, publications)
  • TESOL Greece, Greece (Annual conference, workshops and seminars, special interest groups, publications)
  • TESOL France, France (1 regional group, annual colloquium, workshops, special interest groups, publications)
  • BRAZ-TESOL, Brazil (12 regional groups, annual conference, workshops, special interest groups)
  • Peru TESOL, Peru (Annual conference, regional seminars, publications)
  • MEXTESOL, Mexico (18 regional groups, annual conference, monthly regional events, publications)
  • INGED, Turkey (Annual conference, seminars, workshops, publications)
  • MATE, Morocco (11 regional groups, annual conference, publications)

    These are just some of the many international groups. If you can’t find a group for your area, you can leave a comment and I’ll try to find them.

    If you’ve had great experiences with your local group, comment and tell us about it! I’ve heard good things about KOTESOL activities and met people from the JALT Extensive Reading special interest group when they did some great presentations at TESOL in 2007.