Thursday, 14 August 2014


An assortment of passing thoughts

I sat down this morning to write an update for this blog, and found that my mind was completely devoid of ideas. Undeterred, I decided to just write on a series of random, disjointed topics – whatever came into my head. (I have never let a dearth of ideas stop me from sounding off authoritatively on any subject.) Soo… here goes. And my apologies in advance if it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

First, Asians’ music preferences. They like Western music. They’re not too up-to-date on the latest songs, but they love The Carpenters (in fact most of them know the words of “Yesterday Once More” by heart), and they love Lobo too. Why is that, I wonder? If you listen closely to The Carpenters and Lobo, you’ll find that they enunciate their words very clearly – that’s probably got a lot to do with it.

In a Vietnamese school I was doing a series of oral placement tests. Next in line was an elderly, shapeless Vietnamese woman. “Hello, what’s your name?” She raised a hand and gave that open fingered waggle that means either “no”, “nothing”, or “I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about.” I tried a few other simple questions and got the same reaction. In front of me I had a sheet of paper on which I had to record scores of one to ten on things like Pronunciation, Vocabulary Range, Listening, and Grammatical Accuracy. For the first time ever, I awarded the woman zero in every category. “That’s all, thanks. Goodbye.” Another hand-waggle. I shooed her out of the chair, and called a receptionist over. “Sorry, but that lady has absolutely no English. I doubt she could ever learn any either – she’s too old. Sorry, but in all fairness to her I think you should discourage her from enrolling here. She’d be like a fish out of water even in Beginners’ Level.”

My sage advice was, of course, ignored, and two weeks later I walked into a new Beginners’ class to find a smiling Mrs Vinh sitting there. Oh hell. Well, as you’ve probably guessed by now, Mrs Vinh turned out to be one of my star pupils, enthusiastically throwing herself into every activity, and quickly becoming a favorite of her fellow students, all of whom were a quarter her age. She had more gumption and determination to speak out than all the other students put together. Lesson Four was: “Can you swim / dance / sing / ride a bike?” etcetera. I asked Mrs Vinh “Can you sing?” and she smiled and nodded her head. “OK, please sing for us.” Without a moment’s hesitation she launched into an old Vietnamese love ballad, complete with facial expressions and hand gestures. When she came to the end of the song the whole class erupted in rapturous applause.

I asked a Pre-Intermediate level Russian student what his ideal job would be, and he answered “Proctologist”. Where in the hell had he picked that word up, I wonder?

Jeeze, this blog post sure is random, isn’t it? Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Oh yes… the boss I most love to hate. Here’s a copy of her staff Christmas Party invitation. “You are invited to the Christmas party on December 23, at XYZ Restaurant. All teachers are expected to attend. Wives and children can come, but there is a charge of 300,000 dong for each of them. Children must not sit in separate seats. Any teacher who does not attend or who leaves early will be fined 400,000 dong.” Yes, peace and goodwill to you too, you bitch. This particular school owner has become known as “The 3-D Boss” – Dishonest, Dislikeable, and Devious. (Not that she gives a damn; she’s laughing all the way to the bank.)

I’ve always found EFL jobs overseas by first going to the country of my choice, and doing my job-hunting there. I have a good friend who’s been teaching English almost as long as me and who has approached it in an entirely different way. He has first found the job on the internet, applied and been accepted, and then flown to the country in question. Which method is the more successful? You could argue the pros and cons until the cows come home, but let me quote one fact which clinches the argument. He’s now earning $32 an hour, as compared to my $20. And he gets an accommodation allowance and holiday pay too, damn his eyes.

I’ve just received a wedding invitation from an ex-student who met his wife-to-be in my class 18 months ago. Now doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy? It does me. He may not have gained much English from his course, but he did gain a life-long partner.
So, there you have it. An assortment of passing thoughts that entered my mind over the past hour. Make any sense to you?

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. 

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