Tuesday, 25 March 2014



NCE upon a time, there was a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood. One day her mother said to her, “Little Red, grandmother is sick today, so I want you to take this basket of goodies to her. But be careful, there’s a big bad wolf in the forest”.
And so Little Red Riding Hood set off through the forest, whistling a happy little tune to herself as she went…

Thus didst this trusting young child roam freely through the forest, marveling at the verdant riches therein; the rich hues of the foliage, the succulence of the new shoots emerging from the forest floor, the beauty of the newly-bloomed flowers, and the colorful plumage of the birds that wheeled in the skies above. Verily, I say unto you, Brethren, this parable is a testament to the bounteous riches that the Good Lord….

Cor Blimey, I mean, this story is a load of old cobblers, innit. Wot mother in her right bleedin mind would let her kid wander in the forest all on her tod, when she knows bleedin well there’s a big bad wolf lurking about? No, it’s all piffle if you ask me.

The behavior of the animal under discussion, namely the wolf, raises a number of questions. One cannot help asking what motivated this individual wolf to behave in such a manner? What lay behind its inclination to devour solitary minors of the female gender? Could it have simply been a depleted supply of its customary food source? Or was there some other deep, underlying cause for such behavior? A history of childhood abuse perhaps? Bed-wetting? The implications are endless.

Strewth, the mother lets a young Sheila go wandering in the forest all by herself? Mum’s got to be a few prawns short of a Barbie. 

Notice is hereby served upon Mr B. B. Wolf (the Second Party) that if his behavior (to wit: the preying upon unaccompanied minors in a public domain) does not cease and desist forthwith, legal proceedings will be instituted against him without further notice.

Thursday. A 34-year old woodcutter, James
 (“Woodie”) Smith of Massachusetts, yester-
day killed a 95-kilogram black bear, thereby
saving the life of 84-year-old grandmother
Mrs K.M. Hood Snr of Connecticut. Smith
declined to be interviewed, protesting, “I’m
no hero. I just did what anyone else would do
when happening upon a grandmother strug-
gling for her life inside a wolf’s intestines.”

Upon arriving at the scene at 3:49 pm, I saw the body of a large animal, black in color, and distinctly wolf-shaped. This I concluded was the alleged perpetrator. Also in attendance at the crime scene were…. 


If you only read one book this year, read 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James. But if you’re casting around for a second book, EFL minus the B.S. is a good read.

Friday, 14 March 2014



I hit Korea with feet running, only to find that my timing was as wrong as it could be. I’d just spent a decade teaching in Indonesia and Thailand, and had forgotten what cold weather was. South Korea brought me up to speed on the subject in short order. Korea was cold. Frigging cold. Mind-numbingly cold. Newspaper reports said it was Korea’s coldest winter in years. Biting, cold winds swept down from Siberia, bringing rain, sleet and snow with them. Snow deposited on the streets during the day had turned to ice by next morning. My lightweight Teflon clothes from Indonesia afforded me as much protection from the cold as a band-aid.

My second misjudgement: I arrived in Seoul in a month when English schools weren’t recruiting. Job opportunities were nil, nowt, non-existent. Thus I was reduced to sitting in my tiny, windowless yogwan room with an eiderdown wrapped around my shoulders, rueing the day I ever decided to move to this god-forsaken country. Then, a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon. Or on the Armed Forces radio network to be more exact. Extras were required to appear in the movie “Inchon”, currently being filmed in and around Seoul. Twenty-five dollars a day, plus transport, plus lunch. And, while they didn’t mention it, plus the opportunity to break into the movie industry, and inexorably rise to become a leading box-office name. In “Inchon” my co-stars would be Richard Roundtree, Jacqueline Bisset, David Janssen, Ben Gazarra, Omar Sharif, and Sir Laurence Olivier (“Larry” to me, now that we’ve appeared in a film together.) I would be in good company.
I reported to the hotel the movie company had commandeered early next morning. A harried American guy announced over a megaphone that today they were filming civilian refugees at Seoul railway station, so would you please go to the wardrobe department in the basement of the hotel and get fitted out. The basement proved to be half an acre of clothes racks containing GI’s uniforms (new, used, and battle-scarred) and civilian clothes (new, used, and tatty). I was directed to the tatty end, and handed a pair of baggy trousers complete with a piece of string as a belt, a nondescript brown coat, and a stained hat. Then back up to the convention room to wait. And wait. And then wait some more. Lunch was handed out (three ham sandwiches and an apple) and we were told to get ready to be bussed to the station anytime now.

At the station we were ordered to wait yet again, but at least now there was something interesting going on. They were filming a street scene just outside the station. Driver Richard Roundtree was driving a jeep carrying a military big-wig, then swinging into the station entrance at speed. They filmed the scene time after time, but it was not quite up to the director’s expectations. “Cut. Let’s try that again. Take thirteen.” Richard Roundtree then alighted from the jeep, a Korean worker reversed the jeep back to its starting point, Roundtree got back into the driver’s seat, and did the scene all over again. To actually reverse the jeep was not in Roundtree’s contract; that was the task of a scenery-shifter.

I spent the next few weekends working on ‘my film’. One day I was part of a crowd of GIs listening to General MacArthur (Sir Lawrence Olivier) as he delivered a speech from the town-hall balcony. Olivier was not actually on hand; instead there was a lackey holding up placards that read “Applaud”, “Laugh”, and “Shout ‘Hurrah’ .” On another day I was in a landing craft (just a few seats away from David Janssen) and spent most of the time waiting as walkie-talkie equipped assistants coordinated the helicopters flying overhead and the explosive charges buried in the sand.

After three weeks, my movie career ground to a halt, as by then I had picked up a couple of teaching jobs. I never did get to view “Inchon”, but I did read the review in Time magazine. “Inchon would have to be one of the worst films ever made…” it read.

My teaching year started off with a situation that is the bugbear of all new teachers. I couldn’t find a job that offered a sizeable chunk of hours, so I was reduced to teaching an hour here, two hours there (in a hole-in-the-wall apology for a school), then one and a half hours on the other side of town….
It was well over four months before I landed a job at Language Teaching Research Center, working full afternoons and evenings. LTRC was a non-profit making school run by Encyclopedia Britannica, and its mandate was to try out new teaching methodologies and assess their effectiveness. The year I was there, the Silent Way was the focus of their attention. This method, invented by Caleb Gattegno in the nineteen sixties, is based on reducing Teacher Talking Time to a bare minimum, and instead eliciting the language by various visual cues and body language. I started off full of cynicism and scorn at this off-the-wall teaching technique, but ended up a convert. In the Silent Way, students are challenged by the fact that they are responsible for their own learning. They also know that if they do not speak, no-one else is going to, and no-one is going to come to their aid. The teacher’s role is to cue them on the target language, then accept or reject the students’ utterances. It all sounds dry and humorless, but in practice it isn’t. I still use Silent Way techniques every lesson. If you spoon-feed new language to students, they’ll have forgotten it by next day. If you force them to sweat over it, they’ll retain it. Elicit, elicit, elicit. 

Korean students are hard-working, and demanding of themselves and their teachers. “Driven” wouldn’t be too strong a word for it; a legacy of parents’ pressure to push their children to the top rung of the ladder at all costs.

I am in two minds about my year’s employment in Korea. On the one hand I did learn how to teach. I did get to write a fortnightly column in The Korea Times. On the other hand I never really warmed to the Korean people. Nor, I must add, to the weather. My time in South Korea was an interesting experience, but I can’t see myself going back there in the foreseeable future.


My new book, EFL minus the B.S. (now available on Amazon) puts the English teaching game under the spotlight. From applying for a job, living overseas, work permits, management and mismanagement, classroom dynamics, teens’ and children’s classes, to sex and the single teacher.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


(and one reason to do so)

I remember my expectations when I first decided to become an English teacher 40 long years ago. “Ah hah,” I thought, “this job will provide the solution to a number of nagging dissatisfactions I have with my current status in life. First, it’ll provide a passport to international travel. The world will be my oyster. Whatsmore, I’ll be getting paid to escape my humdrum life back home. Two, I’ll be able to meet and befriend interesting overseas residents – perhaps even form a romantic liason with one (or two, or three) of them. Three, the job will give me the opportunity to pass on the intracies of my native language to the grateful populace, enabling them to better their station in life and prospects for the future. Four, the cost of living in Asia is a fraction of what it is back home. Wow, bring it on!”

Another compelling attraction of EFL was that there was nothing I needed to do beforehand to prepare myself for my dramatic career change. I was a native English speaker, after all. My grammar was up to scratch, my vocabulary adequate, my people-skills satisfactory. All I needed to do was present myself at an English school overseas, and say “Here I am, and when do I start?”

I forget exactly when the disillusionment set in. Three, maybe four months later.
Disillusionment number one. I had joined a school in Jakarta where disorganization ruled the day. The management didn’t know what it was doing, the students’ needs were ignored, and teachers were treated as tiresome yet necessary evils. Was this just bad luck on my part, that my first school was of mickey mouse quality? Um, no… I was later to find that anywhere in Asia, badly run schools outnumber well-run ones by a ratio of 3:1.

Disillusionment number two. My expectation that I’d be paid well for my contribution to the nation’s development was dashed by payday one. My pay was, in a word, peanuts. And therein lies a lesson for all newbies to the Asian EFL game. When you’re living in a country with a gross national product far lower than your own country’s, don’t expect to be paid at anywhere near the rates you’d get back home. No, no, no, no, no. Squash that thought right off.

Disillusionment number three. OK, so I’m being paid crap money, but look on the bright side: the cost of living is so low over here, I won’t need all that much money to get by. Well… yes and no. For one thing, the local shop-keepers, landlords and suppliers will see you as easy game; a foreigner, obviously loaded, possibly verging on millionaire, and ripe for over-charging. Your accommodation, your purchases, even down to that packet of ciggies you bought ten minutes ago, have all been price-adjusted accordingly in view of your foreigness. Call it a white-skin tax. Call it sliding-scale exchange-rate calibrations. Call it… ok, call it over-charging if you will, but there’s little point in getting hot under the collar about it. It’s a fact of overseas life. Welcome to Asia.

Disillusionment number four. Romantic liaisons? Yes… sure. Not so difficult to come by. Being a foreign teacher, you’re looked up to as a rather desirable commodity: well-heeled, well-qualified, well-educated, well-spoken…. Most of all well-heeled. But romantic liaisons come at a price. There’s the small matter of your girl’s rent, due the day before yesterday, and her landlord has already started complaining loudly about the late payment. And this cell phone of hers… I mean, look at it! Last year’s model. And all of her friends have already upgraded to the latest smart phone with touch-screen, mega-pixel, Bluetooth, android, dual processer. It’s so embarrassing when I haul out this antiquated old model and my friends smile pityingly at me. And, by the way, Baby Brother is starting school next week and he doesn’t have shoes, uniform, or text books yet. Could you possibly…?

Disillusionment number five. I’ll be passing on the Queen’s English to a grateful populace hungry for the opportunity to better their job prospects and their station in life. OK, yes, maybe you do have three or four students who would qualify for that description. But what about the other 98%? Kids who don’t want to be stuck in an EFL classroom, and who would far rather be at home playing video games. Teenagers bored out of their trees with English lessons. Corporate class students, dog-tired after a full day’s work, forced by their bosses to attend English class. Adult learners who’ve been studying English for three years and who still can’t utter one grammatically correct sentence.

Disillusionment number six. You don’t need any training to become an English teacher, providing you’re a native speaker with OK grammar. You’re hot to trot. No, not exactly. There’s a bit more to it than that. Keeping a class occupied and interested for two hours at a stretch does require more than a good command of the language and an impressive vocabulary. It requires a number of teaching techniques, strategies, ploys, and tricks of the trade which can only be acquired with time, experience and – dare I say it – training.

So, all things considered, if you’re contemplating a life in EFL, don’t. Take up a postman’s job, take up selling life insurance, or flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s.

But, hold on a sec! Before you completely dismiss the EFL career notion from your head, let me add a post script here. In spite of the crap pay, the pathetic school management, and the venal bosses, there is one compensation. Your students. Sure, some can be pains in the butt, but the majority are well-meaning, likeable people who look upon you to help them learn English and thereby move on up in the world. You’ll sometimes see this demonstrated when you walk into a class and find the students squirming in their seats and tittering behind their hands. What the–? You turn around and find the reason for their mirth. There on the whiteboard someone has written “Mr John, we love you.” Complete with a drawing of a heart.


EFL minus the B.S. is now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle form. The book will be of interest to (a) people contemplating a job in EFL, (b) newbies wondering just what their EFL course trainers left out, and (c) battle-hardened veterans of the classroom. Buy your copy today.