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Twelve Days of Christmas: The Internet TESL Journal

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On the fourth day of Christmas, I’ll be introducing to you something I’ve mentioned a couple of times, but have never fully introduced. I hope that you won’t mind if I count this as a full entry, because if you don’t already know about it, or if you’ve forgotten about it, it’s worth discovering. If your binders full of lesson plans are letting you down–or if you haven’t yet built up binders full of lesson plans–and you’re interested in free activities and lesson plans, keep reading!

nicubunu_Box_with_folders from openclipart.org

The Internet TESL Journal (ITESLJ) is a free online journal that is different from other online journals because of its focus on short, practical, useful articles. I mentioned its existence very briefly when I posted a roundup of free online journals last year, and also when I noticed that you can download computer-generated mp3s of their articles. I never said why it was great, though, and the reason is that ITESLJ offers lesson ideas, games, and activities, as well as teaching techniques and reports on teachers’ own research projects, in an easy-to-access format that’s free to everyone.

As you know if you’ve tried to use a search engine to find lesson plans, the internet is cluttered with ESL and EFL sites that are only partially free, sites for which you need to register–only to find out they have almost no resources, sites for which you have to register–only to find out they’ve copied all of their materials from another site, and sites with low-quality materials that are unsuitable for your students.

ITESLJ has a good range of materials and ideas, and no registration is required. Many of the suggestions are aimed at EFL learning situations, although they can be adapted to various classrooms. If you don’t see something you like right away, just keep searching back: they’ve been around since 1995. There are specific lesson plans for every possible language skill, lessons focused on specific films, unusual lesson plans involving the use of cell phones, craft-based lesson plans, games with songs and physical movement, and lessons focusing on specific L1s. Here are some examples:

There are lots more, including ideas for working with children.

By the way, if the above is old hat to you, then may I encourage you to write something short and submit it to them? It looks like they need more submissions. Even a single activity that you’ve had work well would be an excellent thing to submit so your fellow teachers can benefit, and although I don’t think they qualify as a “peer-reviewed journal,” it’ll still look great on your CV.

Next? Well, I have no idea! Anybody out there? Let me know, especially if you like something!

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!

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.