Category Archives: contemplations merely

They just want to make a mouse.

Billy has spent the last six weeks constructing a small mouse out of bits of felt, then he gets ‘sheets’, which ask mysterious conceptual questions. I looked at the latest sheet: “What do you want to achieve by making the mouse?”
Billy and I looked at each other desperately. How global do they expect you to go with a question like that, I mean in a philosophical sense? I handed Billy a pencil. He sat down at the kitchen table and wrote, then handed me the sheet.
To make a mouse.

 

This is a passage from the latest Bridget Jones book. Yes, I’ve gone Bridget for quotes and literature references for my posts and at the moment they make more sense to me than Dostoevsky. This short nighttime post is a reminder against overthinking.

 

I’ve previously mentioned it in my post here that hearing students introduce themselves with English names in Korea was puzzling to me. One university student gave me a neat comprehensible explanation (and correct me if I’m wrong as I’m recalling that from a conversation that happened more than 2 months ago). Korean kids are made to pick an English-sounding name by their teachers either at their regular English classes at school, or at a language school they are most likely all attending in their after-school time. The latter variant was the case with the student who gave me this explanation. She said she had actually searched the Internet for the name. So, when Korean kids (and apparently university students as well) talk to non-Koreans, they use their English names ‘because they are easier to pronounce and remember’. That whole fact was bothering me for quite a while in Korea. Yes, it’s true that Korean names are not so easy to pronounce but neither would be Russian names to non-Russians. I’m not developing this into a list of nationalities but you see where that is going.

 

And you know, I think we actually have a similar thing going on with names in Russia, too. So many of my students, during our first lesson together, introduced themselves under a pretence English name, which would, however, phonetically resemble their own name. I’ve got a pretence name myself! ‘Ann’ is a variation of Anna that I adopted for signing my English lesson papers at some point at school because it sounded “more English” than Anna (or Anya) to me. No one told me at that point that my name is actually international and that change made no difference. It might still be fair to mention that I was not made or forced to adopt a new name. (I will also use this chance to publicly assure you I have no issue with being called either, and I’m sorry if that has been confusing.)

 

Well, anyway, getting back to Bridget Jones and Dostoevsky. In one of conversations with some bloggers you might know it was legitimately speculated that we teachers make a whole lot of fuss about things – or nothings. Basically, we overthink. Kids love trying on another hat and playing the game, and then for some that John, Andrew, or Sophia could stick, so what’s the harm? While some of their *thoughtful?* non-Korean communication partners will ponder how this double name scenario ‘ruins the integrity of their personality and identity’ (or something), the boys and girls may just still want to make a mouse.

 

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In addition to all said above, I was very glad to see ‘sheets’ in those inverted commas. I’ve seen ‘sheets’, I’ve downloaded ‘sheets’, I’ve made my own ‘sheets’. Sometimes my sheets included questions that students chose to skip, for no mind reeling on their part yielded to any answer that would match the depth, intensity and demand of an open-end question ‘that would help the teacher’.

 

 

The middle of the night is a great time to do proper overthinking or write a blog post. I’ve done both and I will do so again. Thanks for reading.

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5 things I want to be less

I have all sorts of work and writing to do, as well as exciting projects to think about and delve deeper into at the moment, all involving high concentration, focused attention, action research, and clear thinking. Yet here I am, dissecting and exposing my personality flaws that so aggressively jumped out at me during my recent time in Thai. I’m now less emotional than I was a week ago but I still feel like writing this down and having it out.

I have a theory why this blog has become more of a personal journal. I haven’t taught a university class since June. I haven’t taught a class in a real physical world room since September. As disappointing as it is to realize for me, classroom communication with its varied dynamics, personalities, challenges and successes is what drives me to think ELT, read your blogs and get inspired for teaching and experimenting with teaching.

Right now my mind seems to be in the condition of stagnation, professionally. It’s not easy to put the focus where I must, but speculating on self appears to come round naturally. So I’m embracing it while it’s here.

 

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5 things I want to be less – for myself, people around me, my students (since they also fall into the category of people around me), my colleagues, better communication, and clearing my sense of guilt.

1. Forceful.

I want to be less forceful. It’s a quite recent discovery. As soon as I start talking about the things I believe (maybe even mistakenly) to be true, I let it pour out of me with intensity I neither control or approve of. My overconfidence might look so aggressive at such moments, it’s appalling when I manage to take a side look at myself, post preaching. What I want to be more is distanced, in a good sense of the word. I’d prefer to be milder, more willing to stop my talking and just listen without having the load of my own opinions hovering over.

 

2. Egotistical.

I want to be less self-absorbed. Here’s where I get trapped as I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with desire to think of your own benefits, well-being, pleasure, etc. Apparently the times when I’ll be able to think of myself as selfless are in the distant future. What’s erroneous and ugly about egoism is when this dictionary definition gets centerstage:

egotistical  characteristic of those having an inflated idea of their own importance; concerned chiefly or only with yourself and your advantage to the exclusion of others (also selfish).

So I want to be more unselfish and less centered on my own self there where feelings or others are involved. The combination of selfishness with other unflattering qualities in this list that I possess cause situations making me feel ashamed. The line is thin and there seem to always be potential victims to my wish to “have it my own way”, because, in fairness, I am the only one who is closest to knowing which way is good for me.

 

3. Arrogant.

I want to be less of I-know-it-all-better-and-consider-myself-superior. The ultimate reason for wishing to change this is it is simply not true. There’s a lot to be said (and even more to be withheld) about it, but there’s one example I’ll share. A couple of days ago I read this little piece on reading from brainpickings. It features a letter of 20-year-old Franz Kafka to his friend, and there’s this line that struck me: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” It is a powerful line, and I think maybe even dangerously so. For many years I have been placing this kind of books (and indeed films as well) on top of my favorites, and that’s what I would openly admit to reading. Just like Kafka (haha, really..) I used to think that “we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us”. Ask me who my favourite Russian writer is and you’ll hear Dostoevskiy in response. How does that relate to my arrogance? Well there seems to be a lot of posing in this attitude. It makes you seem different and/or more intelligent/ thoughtful/ intellectually deep than the crowds who read mass-oriented and served product. The crucial part of analysis of this extensive flaw of mine is that this perspective means I’ve missed out on so many stories just because I was assuming (with no good grounds) they were not worthy. I wanted to protect myself from mediocrity and found myself getting narrow-minded. I’m now trying to break out of these confines and open up.

 

4. Judgemental.

This is in direct relation to arrogance. As long as I consider myself knowing better, I inevitably land on the judgement plane. Examples can be plenty: what teachers do in their class, what presenters talk about in their sessions, what bloggers blog about, what Facebook friends share in their status updates, and so on and so forth. This quality of mine used to be so inflated that it would govern a lot of my behaviour in and out of teaching contexts. The progress has been made though, and I’m happy the message that there’s more benefit for me in stopping the practice of persisting judgement sank home. Still polishing it and trying to avoid or ignore people who proudly scatter their verdicts left and right.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” I’ve been turning these opening lines of The Great Gatsby over in my mind for about 10 years. I didn’t at all understand what Fitzgerald was trying to tell me at first. At this particular point of my intellectual maturity I read it to trace a note of both judgement and arrogance built-in. I’ll certainly turn to these words again.

 

5. Snappy.

This last “thing” overlaps with many others already mentioned as it’s an outer manifestation of those qualities. Josette LeBlanc wrote a post back in December 2013 about her linguistic rebellion, which was, as this circle of blogosphere goes, a spark to get 4 more people to write about theirs (links at the bottom of Josette’s initial post). I almost laid mine bare back then, but pushed the brakes as I thought that “the snapping side of me” (as I have it in my drafts) is too revealing. Now I feel fine about accepting it. Since I was about 12 I’ve heard my parents and people closest to me at this or that part of my life say that I “have a sharp tongue”. Many a time that meant some damage was done, people were hurt. I did not always feel deeply sorry about the effects my biting remarks had for members of my family. Then with time I started to call it sarcasm, or the extreme of it. Now I hope I’m in a better control of my language and my apologetic instincts are at much higher levels (sometimes fortunately even before the waspish words roll off my tongue). I can’t get over it completely, though. Luckily, you’re not going to be harmed, since it seems to be working in me only for my family, which adds pain to the fact.

 

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There are times I can physically feel the whole heavy weight of these things I want to be less on my shoulders, but most perceptibly on my mind and conscience. It causes headaches, tears, remorse, and guilt. Internet is great for making yourself look sticky sweet, or put on a trendy sarcastic hat, or remain impassively professional, or exaggerate anything to any extent. I’m not sure how great the Internet actually is for exposing one’s flaws in hopes to lessen the pressure of guilt. I am fully aware of the fact that it could be far more effective to talk about it in a more private setting, with the people who get affected.

Anyway, ELT-related blog posts on this blog are just round the corner. For now, thanks for reading what’s bothering me now.

Impulsive blogging. Questions from a bus.

Thoughts jotted down impulsively during a sudden high emotional peak on a mini-bus some 8 hours ago somewhere in southern part of continental Thailand. Barely edited, possibly harsh (to some). I apologise for this and my one-sided judgement based on exasperation and hot humid air. I’m self-concious to publish it, again, that’s what this trip is doing to me, much to my satisfaction. I relish these moments and so I want them here in the space which is mine.

 

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What is it that drives you out of your native towns, fatherlands, motherlands and places you were born and maybe raised in responsibly by your parents?

What is it that pushes you hard in your back and urges you take a plane, or yet another plane?

Where does wanderlust come from and why does it rub off on you but leaves the people you leave behind unaffected?

Does it make you different, your experience?

What makes you stay and nestle in a place at some point?

 

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I’m wondering because I’m speeding on this damned tourist mini-bus packed full with Russians I am trying my best to ignore.
Through the jungle. And I want to get off this bus right now and walk my own way. Alone would be more than ok. I want to talk to people in those sad-looking, dilapidated buildings of all bright, cheerful colours of the rainbow with tiled verandas.

Look out of the window! Why won’t you look out of the window right now and take it all in…

 

Something is calling me to wander. I want to see raw culture, nature I choose to see, the green of kinds I’ve never seen, beaches I’ve never trodden, streets bustling with life I don’t know about. Something is calling me out of the shell and the prospect of letting myself get locked in is horrifying.

 

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How do I cure the burning pain in my chest of feeling disconnected with those who should be “my people”? With the gap growing only bigger, deeper, and harder, harder to bear.

“You belong there where you were born” – is a Russian saying underpinning, in my view, our very culture and one that I consider to be so unfair and unconsoling.

 

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I have questions. About things I see and things I won’t see anytime soon. About feelings I am experiencing and why am I feeling so raw. About languages I hear and why do I hear mullah voice in the jungle, where from and to do children in white robes and Muslim caps go at 8 pm, playing, goofing around and being children on a muddy road 500 meters to the ocean.
I have questions and some of them can be answered by Google, others by exploration and open character.
I have questions that have grown from within and are burning my mind and provoking my reason to take action frowned upon by others, to say the least.

 

I’m not restless. I think I’m just craving more than I’m already getting. I feel an acute need to, through experience, find meaning, balance, and My Place.

 

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These questions and musings from a bus end abruptly here with this picture from a beach.

The questions in the post are not rhetorical and I’d appreciate any perspectives shared on those problematic issues that I was concerned with earlier today.

Thanks for reading.

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Free writing at #livebloggingparty with @AnneHendler

I’m thinking of…

 

 

… a beach. This beach is long and stretches all the way into the horizon. It’s wide and deserted. It’s not a bay but an open coastline, so waves come crashing at their own good times, there really is no way you can get away from the powerful sound of the waters here. The other side of the wide sandy beach line is framed with the green, fresh and pine. Green hills slightly clouded by a bluish mist are on that other part of the horizon, facing the azure of the ocean.

There’s an occasional couple or a family to be seen here and there, as well as those seeking their solitude. It’s not hot, you actually have to be wearing jeans, jacket and sneakers to feel comfortable, though the sun is really bright and you wish you had your sunglasses on. It’s breezy enough but somehow there’s no disturbing feeling about it. The beach is in a city, so you can easily imagine it crowded at the weekends. Now it’s weekday daytime. Perfect time for a stroll.

This is what I’m seeing right now. This is what I’m experiencing. This might actually be My Perfect Beach. And I’m thinking of finally writing down and getting out what I’ve had imprinted in the back of my mind for 20 years, what I’ve told at least 4 people here in Korea about, something that has now gained enough strength to show up from the deep corners and is not afraid to grow.

 

my fav pic ever

 

This not-so-secret “something” is about the beach.

 

I don’t see how I could possibly write anything other than ultimately personal from a place like this. I see myself coming to such quiet beach on my own, sitting down facing the water, which would be coming as close as only 3 meters from reaching my feet in its mighty tidal wave. I cannot picture myself writing down pretentious lines from this place. I can, though, imagine I would yield to letting go of barriers that keep my mind (and language, as a consequence) think in terms of limits. I can imagine I would write my heart out, because it’s being called out from a source more demanding an honest answer than that of a promise to myself, a resolution “to write”, or a blog post title and notes in drafts.

 

So I used to think I can’t write from anywhere else rather than my desk in Moscow, at any time other than comfortable, safe and lonely nighttime. Apparently I’ve been proven wrong, by this beach, this day, and this ocean, as this post is just writing itself.

 

This place makes me think of other things, too.

It makes me think of just how many beaches I haven’t seen, and how few (and awful as in touristy) those I have seen are.
It makes me think again of how lucky I am to have found out I enjoy being on my own (and that I can bravely enough openly state it here).
It makes me think it’s relatively easy to live with no strings attached, or to cut those strings, in order to indulge yourself in what it is your soul is asking for. Or at least to go looking for it.

 

My perfect walk on a beach is a walk I make on my own, all the way along, stopping where I want to, staring at the sand, seashells, masses of water that I’m actually so scared of. This walk gives me a chance to stare into those parts of my Self, which so easily get neglected and underrated in the busy city routine.

 

I am thinking of a beach and what my life would be like in a place like that.

I’m thinking of a change to make.

 

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I’m grateful to Anne Hendler for several things: (1) for letting me spend the whole day with her and her students; (2) for the sweet tangerines; (3) for the attitude towards students I have yet to learn; (4) for showing me the wonderful, special beach and in this way  helping me (maybe unknowingly) find the right mood and enough courage to write this blog post. It is as different as my writing could ever get in this space. It is as personal as I can possibly make it. It is quite scary to hit “publish” right now, several hours after writing it from that rocking bench on that fantastic beach in Gangneung, too. But long live #livebloggingparty 🙂 I can hit “publish” now as I’m not alone.
Thanks, Anne!

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Thank you for reading. Here you can read Anne’s post written on that beach.

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In Asia. Part I, Korean. Episode 1, Fragmentary.

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The small white window you're now looking at in that house is mine.
The bird's hole in the wall is right there next to it.

Here I am, sitting in my apartment in Seoul, quite unexpectedly with my pet bird flapping its wings feverishly IN the wall above my bed. It’s been a week already, and this is crazy, as in how crazy fast the time’s passing, how crazy cool my time here has been, how  comfortable and home I’m feeling here. But maybe I need to start from the start.

This October I’m staying in South Korea. Seoul for the most part, but also visiting friends and ELT people I know in other places around the country. Such is the plan and what will emerge of it we’ll have to see. I’m not promising regular blogging (as I’ll surely end up breaking the promise) but writing a lot during this month, in this or that form, is one of my major objectives/ cravings/ aspirations, etc. That said, I want to make it clear upcoming posts might turn out to be a weird mishmash: ELT, travelling, culture, questions, observations, pictures, people, classrooms and such. Markedly personal and at times somewhat professional. That’s my current feeling, and here’s the first entry from Korea.

 

***** written in Dubai (lol) *****

This should have been written earlier and for a different space but I think this way it is maybe even better.

It’s October 1st 0:15 Moscow time. I’m sitting perched up in a lame version of a lotus pose on a seat identical to thousands of similar seats located at the many gates of Dubai international airport. Like quite a few fellow passengers trapped in this airport for the night hours, I’ve taken my sneakers off. Like fewer of them, I’m looking around instead of dozing off.
I’m not much of a traveller in the sense the word carries for me. But from the number of times I’ve done flying around I’ve gathered that this layover time waiting for your connection in an airport of a totally random country you’ve not put on your travel list this time is just the time when I personally feel being part of this world (I know this is a lenthy sentence). Any airport in Moscow is owned by Russians and bears this unmistakable feel of everything Russian. European airports I’ve seen are all alike and are … Well, European. There’s no face that would distinguish such airport for me.
In any case and in odd wording, my idea is that connection time gives a chance to meet the variety of the globe population without necessarily going to all those parts represented. I’m not talking skin colours, languages and looks. I mean, not just them.

I was chatting with my mom in DME some 8 hours ago preparing to leave my home for 70 days. Several times she said something that I couldn’t help but breathe through with (!!) judgement and a bit of a suppressed scorn. Then I soon recovered my spirits because I can understand where she was coming from, what her reasoning had been influenced by. This whole touristy business interferes with opportunities to see a more genuine and real view of the world.
People do live in places other than where we do. They have meals in those places, go shopping, complain about work, chat about the same problems, have relationships, live.
It is not, or should not be, about “ours” as opposed to “theirs”.

(and then I dozed off…))))

 

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It is not, or should not be, about “ours” as opposed to “theirs”.

I thought about it again sitting in Mike Griffin’s workshop Cultural Explorations for Teachers: Beyond Confucianism and Excuses at KOTESOL last Friday. The audience in the room was comprised, as I later found out, 90% of Americans.  Participation was very active, and even frighteningly active to my taste, since my workshop came next and it was going to be so NOT about Koreans, or Americans, or Americans in Korea. I couldn’t help noticing the we and they slipping off the tongues, even if the context and implications meant no harm or gave out no opposition as an intended bad thing. Maybe that’s only human and natural to think in we vs they terms, especially when you’re an expat living and teaching in a foreign country. I have no such experience and I’m neither judging nor offering any form of analysis right now. Just an observation, which will be many on my blog from this post on.

There’s a lot and too much of we vs they talk back in Moscow.

 

I’m not sure if there’s anything to discuss here in this first entry from Korea. I feel like I haven’t even started telling you about this week of my life in Asia yet.

I’ll continue then, tomorrow. Ideally, some exciting ELT-related things are going to be blogged about here very soon, alongside with the maybe less exciting personal observations of the place I’ve planted myself in for 70 days, a move I have zero regrets about. =)

 

Thanks for reading.

Who does your language belong to?

Who does my language belong to?

I don’t mean faceless vocabulary that course books are filled with. Here I’m talking about my distress in attempts to claim my own English. That is, are there words that would define my Self in both speaking and writing, the words that would bring colours, wrap up my most mediocre sentences to look nice?..

This thought has long, really long been unsettling for me. I realize in any language I speak or would choose to learn to speak, I’ll be a borrower. I borrow some words for a post or two, and others I never return. At times the realization that this particular word or phrase initially belonged to *name* is almost literally painful.. and the word or phrase is oftentimes dismissed from my list of options to fill the blank.

Just to give you a real feel of what I’m talking about:
I’ll always know swell, lousy and phoney come from Holden Caulfield. Tenterhooks and bated breath from Laura Phelps. With a nonchalant air from a unit in my university course book, year three or something. Scavenge from Morcheeba. On the bandwagon from Kevin Stein. Hubris and listicle from Mike Griffin. Fluid and compassionate from Josette LeBlanc. Lukewarm from an episode of Modern Family. And so on and so forth… books, songs, people own these words in my imagination – because that’s where I first saw them, that’s how they finally got stored in my brain (hopefully, for good).

I may wish to type or say this or that word, because it truly and uniquely fits, but every time I feel like I’m stealing it right out of their mouths. They will know. Everybody will know. It’s just not safe vocabulary for a vain writer. Thesaurus is good at such moments, a true friend.

I’d so much like to cast off those thoughts bugging me but they’re rooted too deeply. I feel like cheating and I’m surely going to be caught red handed.

That is, suddenly, the end to my post. I would like to know if I’m weird and alone in feeling this, or if I’m weird and there’s more of us, pondering the imperfections of acquired language and acquiring language.

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Ironically (because this), I’ve bought a guide on creative writing today. I’ve read 7 pages of this book and written 5 pages of my own since then, at a frantic pace. I stopped to think about a certain word choice every now and then, but generally it was a true spasm for writing that I couldn’t hold back. Every line I read found a response in my mind, heart (or chest, to be more anatomically correct regarding the feeling), and pen in hand in the end. And I’ve thought of this commonplace idea that my writing (as well as my speaking?) might be authentically mine through means other than merely words I use.
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warning.
Soon this blog might become even less of an ELT-related space than it already is.
But then I never promised consistency.

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My teaching unprinciples

This post is being written in an unusual (for me) manner, place and situation, and to me this fact is at least just as interesting as the theme of my writing today. More about it at the bottom of the page, just a few paragraphs down. At the moment I’m curious myself about how it’ll go for me. If the end product (=the post) turns out to be of a disputable quality/ value, I’ll blame the change. Because the original idea in my draft, to my mind, was not that bad. :))

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In this emerging space of a personal blog it’s time for more personal truths to emerge. They might not be flattering, as personal truths are likely to be.

I have previously mentioned here that I oftentimes envy people who are strongly principled and follow clear directions in their life while making choices, important or less so. I’m probably not always one of them and now is the time to examine briefly and casually how principled a teacher I am.

Following my recent pet trend to look into dictionary definitions for words elemental to my post themes, here’s what Merriam-Webster tells us about a principle:
– a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions;
– a basic truth or theory: an idea that forms the basis of something;
– a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens.

Keeping those in mind, I want to lay bare some of my personal teacher truths, give comments and drag in the definition ideas where possible. This is going to be so random. Enjoy.

(1) Dialogue.
– Do you give your classes following the communicative approach?
– Mmm… Can you explain what exactly you mean or want me to say here?
– (what sounds and impresses like a word-for-word quote from the approach description)
– Well, there’s a lot of group and pair work in some of my classes, less of that in others. There’s interaction, focus on personal experiences, but, I mean, that’s maybe obvious…? I hope I mostly teach to communicate, yes. I don’t stick to the points of the method description.

It’s not a new talk for most all of you, I know. What’s my point? Maybe it is that feeling class, as in both whole teaching process and a particular lesson, makes more sense to me as a teacher who teaches to communicate than reading into the lines of methods and methodologies and being their slave. CLT is not the basic truth or theory behind my teaching, but neither is any other type of teaching on its own.

(2) I can’t stand being lectured. BUT I have been noticing myself sometimes turning on a lecturer mode while being too emotionally involved in something that I believe (at the moment of conversation) to be right. The realization of this contradiction to my own principled view, when spotted, is quite sickening. Lecturing on the brink of preaching (or is it the other way around?) is going a bit too far in my understanding of what an ordinary teacher should be expected doing in an English class.

(3) I say openly and loudly at presentations, webinars, blogs and meetings: Go for social networks with your students! Explore them, try out with your class, have fun or fail, reflect and try again – that would be pretty much the summary of my belief on the issue.
Just sneak a peek into the Students Connected FB group and judge, by its happenings, how much of that I’m doing myself these days.

Quite often I find myself unconsciously steering the conversation or course line in my class the way I would not normally do, discussing texts and topics I would naturally not want to include (for the reason that they’re trite, mostly).
Quite often I find myself wishing for the calm, regularity and boredom of a coursebook while claiming to be all too pro-coursebookless teaching style (I’m sure that is not a word).

Why did I call those points my “unprinciples”? Many a time I catch myself thinking, saying or doing something that I generally don’t believe to be 100% true or right. And maybe that is so because I don’t believe most things to be 100% true or right, most of the time. I doubt and then I doubt more, but this hesitation, aside from being refreshing, can also prove frustrating.
As anything is possible, I can expect any kind of a choice from myself in class and I’m not always too happy with those choices.

Maybe those uncomfortable un- and semi-principles could be called a compromise?…

Thanks for reading.

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@KateSpringcait, who can usually be found blogging here, today could also be found blogging when sitting next to me in a cafe in the centre of Moscow. This was her *excellent!* idea and I highly recommend it to others, too. It is fun, it’s the first time I’ve blogged outside of the comfort (and distractions!) of my home, and I want to do this again. In the end, writing alone is not really a principle I hold on to too passionately either.

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Impressions we/ you/ they make

I’ll do my best now to write a non-whiney blog post. Essentially, I’m NOT annoyed much by instances of the behaviour I’ll lay out in this post. I most often try to keep an objective distanced view, make notes, and subsequent *logical* conclusions. And these conclusions is exactly what matters and drove me to be writing this.

This post is also nothing spectacular or new. It’s about impressions we/ you/ they make when communicating with others online. I’ll mostly be referring to emails here.

 

I’m wondering just how much it is a “Russian thing” to seem (be?), sound, and come across as rude while emailing in English. I’m less and less sure that simply teaching the formal/ informal letter templates, useful phrases and email layouts ultimately helps actually writing better letters. By “better letters” I mean those which (a) carry a message across; (b) don’t hurt/ humuliate/ shock the person on the receiving side. 

So, a few instances that brought me to think that I should be teaching more than just typical expressions, structure and style of common letter types.

1)  The other day I heard amusing and slightly disturbing comments related to writing complaint letters. Namely, threats were considered a norm, in addition to quite typical clipped and sharp half-sentences. Yes, the problem is real and does not come from an exciting case-study scenario. Thus, I now realize, emotions are truly involved and making a difference to the process of writing the letter in question. Is this a common practice? How emotional do you get when/if you find yourself in a similar situation? Do you then follow the rules we teach? Just wondering.

 

2) A few months ago there was a vastly comical but also to a large extent pretty sad correspondence thread in my mailbox. Both sides of it are/were connected with English language teaching or at least with the English language (which is L2 for both sides, by the way). The correspondence was around a professional issue, which is exactly what made it look particularly tragic for me. I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows in bewilderment when I saw Dear Anna!!!!!! The last sentence in the letter invited me to be even more excited about the whole thing, as the amount of exclamation marks tripled, I think. Well, in fairness, the main chunk of that letter conveyed the message and was mainly to the point. I smiled and was reasonably excited.

 

3) The same professional issue had to face more online communication but with a different person. The striking, and frankly speaking, somewhat offending thing about this particular thread was the tone (demanding? aggressive? offhand?) and failure to meet the communication target in the first place. I didn’t lose much as a result of this and had to offer my own very polite but unambiguously (as for the reason for it) clipped response. It was very much about the impression my conversation partner made.

 

4) Finally, this point is also about impressions and conclusions. It is less ethical than previous three, though, as it features some copied and pasted lines of real communication which took place.

The story setting: I was looking for an apartment to rent. The country is NOT Russia (which makes me want to dwell more on the culture impact and how far it extends, and also to be more condescending towards us rude and direct Russians). Here are the extracts of three responses I received. My initial messages included general info about myself, my upcoming visit and some specific questions about the apartments.

Response #1

I uploaded other pictures that you can refer. <…> To make your reservation, you should click “Book it!” button. You can also visit here before you make a reservation completed. To do so, just email me.

(Note: I did ask about extra photos. I did mention, too, that I’m not in that country now or in the following several weeks.)

Response #2

My apt is open for you.

(Note: ok.)

Response #3

Hello Anna

Thanks for your message. 
Big welcome to …. (omitted for secrecy and suspence building purpose, to be revealed soon))

Of course, this studio is available for you.

Yes, I have met some nice guests here. Usually they were working in that table.

If you need more information or help, tell me 🙂

Best,

– … (name)

 

Task: out of these three, choose the person I responded to. 

 

So, to me it all boils down to the impression, even if that sounds harsh. I mean to say, those other apartments could be really great, and I understand that the contact people do not necessarily feel extremely comfortable talking in Engilsh. Also, I’m a language teacher and I’m really understanding. I seriously don’t mind any of those replies, I could deal with that outrageous (to me) correspondence with the Russian ELT people without venting too much.

What matters in the end is that I will rent that other flat.

 

*****

Tell me please if I’m being the worst of an English teacher with these observations jumping out at me as biting my eyes. Where do these issues come from? Should I feel bad about being picky?

Convince me, if you will, that a person, of whatever culture and background, will by all means continue writing grammatically, lexically, stylistically correct letters after you’ve taught them a lesson on it… Throw stones at me but I think it’s about how people think and what they accept as a norm in communicating in their mother tongue.

 

I hope I didn’t sound too arrogant or unprofessional. I’d like to talk more about this.

Thank you. 

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I don’t like this.

Impulsive, prompted by a picture of a fancy salad, post about non-ELT things.

When I was watching the recording of the iTDi Summer School MOOC session by Rose Bard a few days ago, I wrote on Facebook that it’s rich with ideas I relate to. After the session I found a note I’d only half-consciously made while following Rose. The note says:

Help them go beyond “I don’t like this”.

I turned the page of my planner over to this new week and let the note fade away from my memory, without giving it much further thought. Since I’m in this lazy-jelly-brain summer state.

写真 (1)

A few minutes ago (upd: a couple of hours – it takes time to write, even if impulsively) I was flipping casually through the pages of a mag. I saw this picture. I wasn’t hungry, and in fairness I’m no good or satisfactory cook, but I thought it looked fresh and easy. When my eyes glanced through ingredients and saw “300g of pears” there, only a millisecond passed before my mind registered a fleeting but confident “I don’t like pears” line.
I’m sorry for the lack of logic and presence of irrationality here, but this was when I frowned at myself and rushed to this screen to type an incoherent post about the dangers (?) of not liking stuff.

Where am I going with this?

“I don’t like this.”
It sounds like a strong statement of personal will, manifestation of solid knowledge of self, its needs and desires.
It also sounds to me now like a limit, a constraint one willingly prescribes for oneself, to live within and know little better.

And since it’s only human to like and dislike, I imagine I could, in a carefree summer fashion, connect this to teaching and learning.
I don’t like to teach kids. I don’t like to teach, or better say deal with, grammar. I don’t like role-plays. These are major and all have stories of reasons behind. However… What is it about me and liking here? Does liking have a place at all for a teacher, imagining herself to be a more or less professional? Feel free to let me know in a comment.

I don’t like it that I regularly struggle with writing.
I don’t like libraries.
I don’t like Quizlet. (it’s funny just how often this app name makes an appearance in my posts)))

It’s fascinating to me to analyse what lies behind those dislikes binding down our experiences. It’s no less fascinating to imagine now what can happen once I let go of my dislikes. It’s bound to be uncomfortable there out of the homelike confines. I might, in the end, harden in my view and confidently proceed with disliking.
Incidentally, I might just as well reconsider.

*****

I don’t like pears much. If I see them sold at the market I don’t have an impulse to buy a kilo, not even one pear (as opposed to cherries). If I happen to have pears on my dining table, I’ll most likely choose another fruit or nothing. If one feeds me pears I’ll eat and like them, though. I love lemonade made of pears. Pear cakes. The smell of pears. I’m not totally sure what’s behind my dislike. I don’t have a serious point worthy of hours of thinking over with this post. I don’t like cockroaches either, but I’m not inclined to try liking them, or making pets of them, not at this point of my life. Obviously, you can’t rejoice in all things in the world, and indeed why would you?

But seriously, next time I catch myself thinking “I don’t like this”, I’m going to take a step in just the opposite direction. Facing the antipathy, probing for stamina, going beyond my self-imposed prejudice.

The Help them go beyond “I don’t like this” sank deep into my mind and heart, and I want to explore it, for myself and maybe students, too.

*** Late Warning***
It should be obvious I’m musing while being well aware of how far from generalizations this whole line of reasoning is. Thank you.

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Apps. Illusions and facts.

I have just read this post and thought maybe I have more to say on the topic than a reasonably sized blog post comment would fit. It’s about apps, students, and teachers in between (or by the side).

Within 2 years I’ve come quite a way from being frantically and irritably enthusiastic about apps for learning English to being bearably enthusiastic and critical about their content, value and purpose. The history of my iTunes purchases would show you positively more than 50 various apps, either specifically designed and presented as tools for learning a foreign language or fit for that goal from my view (at the moment of purchase). It would be a strong and valid argument that my devices are a curious teacher’s devices, bound to be different from any curious student’s ones.

There are several statements, open for criticism of course, that I believe to be largely true.

1) Students need guidance in choosing apps. Producing a list of apps, whether long or short, is not guidance.
2) To think and hope that students will continually and persistently use apps you recommend, or apps they find on their own, would be an illusion.
3) Some apps will stick, most won’t. It’s highly individual. Most just won’t!
4) Recognize the difference between apps for use in class WITH a teacher and apps for use outside of class.

Random comments now.

On durability:
If you have ever played a game on your phone, you might have noticed that it gets boring pretty soon. Some games last longer in your phone than others but all of them without exception come to a dead end in terms of your interest in them. The same, in my experience, relates to apps for learning a language. Any apps which are not in your day-to-day use will likely have a short life span.

On the key factor:
The key factor being what it is that personally suits your style of… not really learning a language, but rather having a relationship with your phone. My example is this: I’m subscribed to quite a few podcasts. Some of them I rarely but do use in class. Others were added with a fair prospect of listening to in my spare time, or long commute hours. That was an illusion. Fact: there’s something in listening to podcasts as a type of activity that does not tick for me. However, I know people who are regular listeners and do that with pleasure, which I’m jealous of. I’m ready and willing to learn that skill… Some day. 🙂

On apps used with or without teacher:
There are apps intended to be used in an instruction-led mode, that is for classroom use, for homework, for a course of English. For me the best (or worst) example is Quizlet, which I still can’t imagine to be used by a student of mine, on their own, for the fun of adding own flashcards and playing vocabulary games there is questionable. It looks a nerdy pastime, really, and, as “Jenny” rightfully noted, phones are perceived as a nice way to relax after studying and working hard.

Not to appear overly grumpy, here’s a list of apps designed for autonomous language study but proved working/ popular among my friends and students:
Memrise (mentioned previously here – and, by the way, I gave up on it for now)
Duolingo (recommended by a few teacher and non-teacher friends)
Lingualeo (all-time favorite for Russian learners for several years! Lots of positive comments and nice feedback. Some of my colleagues at the university where I teach use it in class and for homework.)
Busuu (my personal favorite which does work for me, or rather would work if I were a disciplined learner)

Now this is where I see the dissonance that could be mended. The ubiquitous association is “books and notebooks = studying (and doing it hard); phone and apps = friends and fun”. Look at your phone, browse through what’s in it. My guess is your home screen would probably reflect your interests and lifestyle. This is exactly what I see as a chance for those apps to make way into your (= a language learner’s) mobile device. Apps which are not originally made for learning any language could become pleasant and discreet partners in your daily life. Those apps which do not thrust much of focused linguistic exposure on you, but provide you with the content you’re up for, in systematic view and following recognizable patterns. Fotopedia for photos and stories, Instagram for photos and communication with friends, TripAdvisor for travelling, Horoscopes for the lovers of horoscopes, Infographics for the lovers of figures and facts, Fitness for sports and training programmes, Games (first thing on my mind) for anyone – whatever comes along with the specific scope of interests of the cell phone owner looks potentially English-worthy to me. If you’d like to push students’ use of apps, be nagging and ask for feedback on it once in a while. I often chat with my students about it or just show interest in what’s in their phones.

*****
Being a teacher, I might not be a typical learner of a foreign language, but since most of my Japanese studies happen in the realm of mobile devices, here’s what I can share.
– My 日本語 folder is full with 12 apps, only three of which I regularly use.
– Phone itself is set in Japanese, so the majority of all other apps operate in Japanese, too. Which, frankly speaking, is oftentimes frustrating but also fun.
– Blog posts and articles I find online (on culture, language, grammar, whatever else Japanese) are saved in Pocket app. It’s helpful for me to get back to the same things again and again.
– There are a couple of great Japanese-speaking chat partners that agree to chat with me in Line. Stressful, enjoyable, Japanese-only chat time. I love it and hope it is useful, even if unsystematic (or thanks to it maybe?).
– One day I’ll write a separate post on this issue… For now I’ll just admit to reading a guide to Japanese grammar (!!! reading a grammar guide, seriously, me) AND finding it very useful. Yes, it is an app.
*****

My final lines, possibly summarizing all those bits and pieces of facts and thoughts about apps:
Mike asks why Korean students don’t use apps for learning English. I’m not saying it by way of giving an answer, but my belief is that the problem lies in the wording and expectation from this wording – “an app for learning English”. I might very well be wrong in my assumption that Korean/ Russian/ Italian/ Indonesian/ Finnish/ etc learners of English would have the same reasoning as Jenny. They could, though, start using apps for learning English as soon as these apps stop being handed over to them as apps for learning English. Or they could already be using their phones in the ways that they do and enriching their English, without giving it much of a serious thought. And this, to me, is also fine.

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