Sunday, 1 March 2015

Intrepid Den: Oaxaca to the Puerto Escondido

Here's the 2nd diary entry of Intrepid Den as she travels on from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido. 

Day 3

Oaxaca to the Puerto Escondido

            At 10am, I boarded the bus with my super new huge bag and began the 250 mile journey south to the Pacific Ocean.  I was just thinking how much Mexico reminded me of India, when we pulled into a town which had the same 3 wheeled tuk tuk taxis.  If it wasn't for the music, Mexico and India would be very similar – the same poverty, the same desperate street sellers along the road, the same skinny forlorn cows, donkey and goats grazing on the side of the road and the same absolutely appalling roads!  There are pot holes everywhere which slows the traffic to a crawl and then, for some ludicrous reason, there are speed humps – can you imagine speed humps on the M1???
            So I settled down for what was supposedly a 7 hour journey (how was that possible to cover 250 miles?) and suddenly I wished I'd had a pee before we left.  No matter, I was sure we'd stop for lunch but no – it was as if our macho driver was on a mission to prove that he could drive for 7 hours without a pee!  Thankfully, the weaker of us demanded a stop or two and he looked at us as if we were failures – never mind that he got out and peed too...
            And so the Sierra Madre.  It just goes on and on and on and on.  Just when you think that you must be descending, up you go again, hour after hour and this is just a two lane road where overtaking should be banned but isn't.  Luckily our driver wasn't a complete maniac and finally, we arrived at the little seaside town of Puerto Escondido.  We were unceremoniously dumped at the side of the road and once again, I got out my mighty Rough Guide to Mexico and approached a burly policeman with a very curiously shaped and very long thumb nail(?) and pointed at the map thinking he'd understand that I wanted to know where I was and he'd just point it out.  No.  So I looked at my language section in the back of the guide and said
“donde este?”  Why I said that I don't know because he began to tell me in such earnest I didn't have the heart to tell him I had no idea what he was saying and just nodded and motioned “right at the next corner”, said “muchos gracias” and smiled.  He smiled back with the obligatory gold tooth and off I went with my unfeasibly heavy bag. 
            I don't know how hot it was but after a few yards, I was pouring sweat like a cartoon character.  I was hot.  I was real hot.  The pavement was full of high kerbs and steps and no place for a three stone bag on wheels.  Why I didn't get a cab, I don't know – well I do, it would be the old budget thing again, never mind if I lost another wheel or 2...  I came across 2 completely stoned dudes and asked if they spoke English and to my utter relief they did and gave me directions.
            When finally I arrived at my hostel, I may have been delirious with heat and moisture loss but managed to garble that I had a reservation.  The young man who looked remarkably like Antonio Banderas (good) asked why I hadn't called ahead and he'd have picked me up.  Words literally failed me.  He told me how pretty I was (it must have been my wild expression) and offered to carry my bag and physically buckled under the weight of it.  He lent it against the wall, it fell over and almost broke the gate.  We both looked at this gargantuan bag and probably thought the same thing – what the hell has she got in there?  Anyway, there was no way either of us was going to lug it up a flight of stairs and so he put me in the only ground floor room he had – never mind that it had 2 double beds and is clearly designed for 4.  We simply didn't care!  He dumped the bag in the room, gave me the key and I headed straight for a cold shower.  They never have hot water ever, ever, ever.  But this time they did – unbelievable but who cared.  I washed 3 days of grime off and prepared for the next leg of my adventure.
I was only supposed to stay for 2 nights but I just knew I needed longer.  The Italian owner, Mario, said that I could stay as long as I liked and we got talking.  What a legend!  He's 75 but looks way younger, was sent to military school in England when he was 9, studied architecture and a the age of 23 went to Benin as an engineer and built a water purification plant with absolutely no experience and it just went from there, working all over Africa, getting caught in wars and god knows what and surviving.  He is one of those people who are totally full of outrageous but true stories and we talked the night away – he didn't even mind me slipping out to buy a bottle of very warm wine – he did however think I was insane to drink it – serve at “room temperature” has a totally different meaning in the 40 degree heat of Mexico...
            In the morning I went in search, as always, of coffee – and found it at, of all things, an Italian coffee shop!  The town, like all towns in boiling hot places, is all painted white and rises up into the surrounding hills.  It's full of little shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, all wonderfully painted but which will not fit in my bag.  It's fairly empty at this time of year except for lots of Canadians,  They come down from the freezing cold and stay for the winter.  One such creature, replete with straw hat, gnarled countenance and very blue eyes happened to be sitting next to me and so we got talking.  Maybe I'm lucky in encountering such interesting people or maybe I just choose the people who look the most interesting because he was also incredible – a sailor who was caught in a hurricane – 40 foot waves crashing through the windows and nearly capsizing the boat, a worker in a chicken factory – he said KFC modify their chicken so much it doesn't have feathers anymore and they can't even call it “chicken”.  That's right folks, coming to a table near you...
            I meant to go to one of the many beaches, but got talking to Mario again and once the beer started flowing, I wasn't going anywhere!  We talked all afternoon until it was dark but I got the feeling that he was like a seaside town at the end of the season when everyone has gone and suddenly, there is no purpose.  His wife died 6 years ago and without her, he feels pointless but I maybe managed to cheer him up and promised to write a new blurb for his hostel listing..  There isn't really much to do at night other than eat – fried everything with rice salad and of course tacos and no matter that I now know how to say “no tacos”, they still turn up wrapped in a cloth to keep them warm.  But no matter, with my warm wine, my super laptop and cable TV, I remembered that there is nothing that I like to do more than write – hence this blog!
            Day 3 and I was determined to get to the beach so slathered tinted body lotion over my very white body thinking it would give it a helping hand also confident that the sun factor of 15 would be enough... 

            I walked to Zicatelle beach where the waves are so powerful, it sounds like a jet fighter flying overhead.  This is home to the famous Mexican Pipeline – waves so big that you can surf through the tubes, and wondered if it was safe to swim.  I was reminded of my favourite film when Robert Duvall says “If I say it's safe to surf this beach, it's safe to surf this beach”  (name that film).  I asked a surfer if it was safe to swim and he looked at me as if I was mad.  He went into great detail about the undertow, how a wave could come from nowhere and knock me over and I'd be disorientated and would have to hold my breath until I figured out which way was up, and how people drown all the time and how he wouldn't take his daughter there and that really, I'd be much better off going around the headland to the safer beaches.  I went in anyway and it was GREAT!  The waves were huge knocking me over, dragging me under and spitting me out, time after rollicking time.  I hadn't seen waves that big since a couple of days prior to a hurricaine hitting palm beach when the lifeguards were practically begging me not to go in. 
            Ragged and happy, I lay down to sunbathe with 2 things I hadn't noticed – 1, I had two indiscriminate logs of sand in my bikini bottoms which probably looked more like something else and 2, the surf had washed off all my rubbishy sun tan lotion.  So there I lay, baking in the baking heat, and along came a young man who waded into the surf, pulled his T shirt up a la James Dean and started to pull on his todger!!!  I wasn't sure I was seeing it right but there he was, wagging it at me and grinning!  It seemed like time to go and it was just as well, because by the time I'd walked back to the hostel, my legs were as red as my very red bag – oh how I laughed.. I was reminded of the Russians in Goa who would lie on the beach the colour of the whitest dinner plate and leave the colour of raw beef.  My skin was so hot, you could fried eggs on them.
            Weirdly, that didn't put the Antonio Banderas look alike receptionist off – he thought it was “cute” and asked if he could take me to the beach on his day off – the following day.  Why not, I thought, I didn't have anything else to do.  So moving swiftly on, he took me to the beach practically opposite for a swim.  He's quite a sweet bloke but clearly wanted more from me than I wanted to give and really all I wanted to do, was body surf.  So there he was, treading water and serenading me(?), when a huge wave would crash over him and I'd turn and be hurled off into shore on the wave, leaving him bobbing about with a surprised look on his face.  He kept asking me for a “hoog”, yep, you've guessed it – a hug, telling me that he had a son but was divorced and trying to do the right thing and how happy he'd be if I let him take me out to dinner.  Hoog or not, I thought, why not – I really haven't got anything else to do.
            Turns out that he is divorced but has since remarried – to the cook at the hostel who had seem him fawning over me!  Unbelievable!  So, my last night in Puerta Escondido was again spent in the excellent company of super Mario and some rather good Mexican Brandy which travels a lot better than the wine does!

            And so after 4 days in Puerto Escondido, I once again loaded up my enormous bag, gave Mario a huge hoog and set off up along the road to wave down a bus, pay the equivalent of £1.70 and headed off the 50 miles to San Agustinillo. 


            Three of us got off at the abandoned, dusty crossroads and shared a taxi along the dirt track into the tiny town.  They were German girls from Hamburg who, of course, spoke perfect English.  I had already booked at the Posada Paloma and they too came into see if there was a room – there wasn't – the circus is coming to the next town, Mazunte, and everything is booked – thank god I'd planned ahead!  And so I was taken to my room and what a beautiful room!  Mosquito nets draped around the bed, tiled floors, ceiling fan, little desk and chair and even somewhere to hang all of my clothes and by god have I got a lot...  I don't think I've been as happy with a room since my one in the fort in Jaisalmeer in Rhajasthan.

            The weirdest thing is though, everyone here seems to be retired Canadians.  Apparently, the next towns either side are the party towns – Dixie, the lady in the next room said they're all right if you like dread locks and tattoos and I thought, yep, they're my type of towns.  I think they will be more like Goa and Dixie even said that they are full of hippies who came in the 60's – exactly like Goa...  I am only booked here for 3 days and just know, once again, that this is a room I want to spend more time in, so I spoke to the ladies in reception and they said they'd see what they could do.  Later, an unfeasibly good looking young man told me that I go and stay in his house for an unfeasibly enormous price but when I said it was too much, he said he'd find me something else for 2 days and then I could come back here.  Dixie said “didn't you tell him you're really good company?” - I didn't realise I was up for sale...  So out for a walk along the beach and I am astonished at just how beautiful it is.  Palm trees swaying, a steep beach with the obligatory waves pounding around the bay and little cafes and restaurants hiding in the shade .  And everyone is so friendly! I've been holaing all evening.  I even found a vegetarian restaurant – not that I'm a vegetarian but by god could I do with a salad and that's exactly what I had – a veritable mountain of goodness with quinoa all washed down with (back in my room) lashings of brandy.  Oh, how I like it here!

            The following day, I set out for a swim.  Taking no chances, I dressed in factor 30 sun cream and headed across the road to the beach.  Weirdly, the waves are bigger here than they were on the “surfer” beach I'd left behind, but maybe it's just the time of year.  The beach is made up of little bays, broken by rocky outcrops,  little fishing boats lined up on the beach and condors circling silently above on the warm airy thermals..  It is lined with little restaurants crouched in the shade, none of which has any menus, and at night, little light.  Never mind.    I found a bay with pounding waves and other swimmers (you can't be sure there aren't rip tides...), dumped my stuff and waded in.  The waves were huge!  It reminded me of when me and my brother Sean were little kids and we'd swim like dolphins in waves too big and seas too rough for our own good, but survived.  This was similar!  I felt like a piece of tumbleweed, being hurled, rolled, dragged under and finally spat out on the shore.  When the waves break, it is like a liquid avalanche; deafening, fierce, unstoppable and totally wild.  I loved it and must have been in for an hour until the skin on my fingers looked like prunes.  And It's a good job I like swimming so much, because there isn't much else to do...

            I wonder what I expected?  Somewhere like Goa I suppose where I could live happily on £10 a day for everything including an awful lot of drink...  (There's that old budget again.)  But it's not like that.  People, mostly Canadians, come here to get out of the cold and do here pretty much what they would do at home – nothing.  I have Canadian friends who are an exception to this (Tannis, Keith and Shelagh) but the one's here are the type who iron their shorts, polish their leather belts, eat and sleep – very early.  Weird.  And to prove this point, I got talking to a Canadian in a restaurant who came from Quebec and it was like wading through custard.  I was sure I was asking interesting questions about architecture, culture, language, heritage etc and he just didn't animate.  In the end, I gave up, ate so much chilli sauce I swear it's coming out of my eyes, left and just went back to my room where at least I didn't have to try to talk to anyone.  Instead, I did some reading, writing and of course, some drinking.  When all the lights were out, I headed to the bathroom and closed my door to stop  bugs getting in.  As soon as I heard the final click of the door, I knew I'd made a mistake – yes, I'd locked myself out!!!
            What was I to do?  I tried to jimmy the window frame off  with a tiny coin I'd found on the floor so that I could reach around the mosquito gauze but all I managed to do was break a piece of the wood off.  Luckily, I could still hear movement in the next room so tentatively knocked the door.  “Dixie” came out and on hearing my plight, was keen to help – this was EXCITEMENT!  So armed with her knife, which also didn't work, and then her torch, we wandered around the deserted, dark, reception looking for help and finding none.  She asked if I had a phone and she could ring the unfeasibly good looking man (Fabian) – yes, I do have a phone – in my room...  In the end, she lent me a sheet and pillow from their spare bed – she even offered to let me sleep in it but it all seemed too much like a sit- com – the three of us saying good night like in The Waltons with a little harmonica beep at the end, and so I went and slept outside in a hammock, cocooned in the sheet to stop me getting eaten alive by bugs and that's where I laid until Ramos, the so called night receptionist, burst through the door like a rampant bear, filled his rucksack with cold beer from the fridge (!???) and seing me as some sort of apparition, let me back into my room.
            This morning I appealed for clemency, forgiveness, understanding and sympathy and got all 4 – apparently, Ramos should have been there and it was all HIS fault.  Obviously I was happy to go along with that one... Who knows what tonight will bring but tomorrow, the circus is coming to town at the next beach along.  I almost wonder if I should have brought my juggling clubs with me but realise that would have been even more insane that bringing the 6 pairs of shoes in varying degrees of sophistication; from my old worn out mocassins, to the fancy gold ones, to the stilettos which I only envisage wearing in New York and maybe Bogota, Cartagena and Mexico City and ONLY to get in and out of taxis or in my even wilder fantasy, limos – oh how I live in dreams!
            I will of course, let you know.  So for now, it's over and out from a place in Paradise.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

This month's Top TEFL blogs...

Thanks to a serious case of man flu, end of term exams and excessive report writing, February turned into an impossible month to blog. But here's some top TEFL blog posts. 

Not a bad view from the classroom
Photo by Jessy Eykendorp
Teach English in Indonesia
Ever thought about teaching TEFL in Indonesia? I know I did a few times while I was out that way. No chance now though. If you are then take a look at this post on TEFL Zone for a decent guide on Teaching English in Indonesia.

I is for Intonation 
Possibly one of the most overlooked aspects of pronunciation that students could benefit from, but what does Scott Thornbury think about it? Have a look at I is for Intonation.

Movies in class
This is a great lesson on Movie Segments from a hilarious film The Internship which highlights the uses of as a matter of fact, and in fact. 

A Cautionary Tale
This is a witty post by English Teacher X about Getting Rich or Dying teaching.

A few useful swear word style expressions
We all know what words everyone learns first when they learn a new language. The ones that you can remember easily and produce at most stages of the day. Check out this post on Fluent in 3 months about 21 Curse words.

Have a great month.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Intrepid Den: Travels through Central and South America, Oaxaca

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the first of many guest posts by Intrepid Den. Den is on an adventure of a lifetime travelling through Central and South America and has asked me if I will post her diary entries on my blog, and why wouldn't I? She is, of course, an excellent writer, and you will no doubt be entertained by her writing and anecdotes, it runs in the family you know. So here's the first dairy entries, Day 1 and 2 in Oaxaca.

Day 1 Oaxaca

            Hung like a hammock in the hills, high above the Sierra Madre of Mexico, lies the tiny city of Oaxaca.  It's so remote, that when Cortez and the Conquistadors came to the Americas looking for gold and found non in Oaxaca, they left it alone and it was allowed to carry on as it always had done.  Today, it is quiet, respectful, regal and in total harmony with the surrounding nature.  It still has a soul untouched by the ravages of consumerism and the diseases of the West.  No one smokes, no one drinks and no one is fat.  They still have their own dialects and no one speaks English.

            This is the town I arrived it on my first trip to Mexico, part of 3 month trip that will take me to the Pacific beaches of Mexico, the towns and Caribbean beaches of Columbia, both the oceans of Costa Rica and finally, to the metropolis of the Western world which is New York.

            Arriving late at night, I was dropped off by collective mini-van at my hostel Zipolite in the southern part of town.  I was shown to my barren room by a really helpful girl – it had no more than a table, chair and a bed but that was all I needed.  After travelling for nearly 24 hours, all I wanted to do was sleep!

            With coffee, is the way I like to start my day, so the following morning I went to search for it.  There were no coffee shops, but what there was, was a street stall with 3 enormous vats; one of hot chocolate – the locals favourite, one of “coffee” and one of thick hot white stuff.  I'm dairy intolerant so didn't want milk (what my alternatives might be hadn't really registered – usually it's soya milk) but as I speak not a word of Spanish, I stood there in the early morning, mooing like a cow.  What they thought they were looking at seemed to be something really amusing to them and with big smiles, they shook their heads – no it was not milk.   What it was, I still have no idea, but I bought one of both for next to no money and headed back to my room to imbibe – interesting, but not like any coffee I'd ever had before.

            Refreshed, I wanted to log on to my super new, super mini laptop, to let those who care know that I'd arrived.  I'd packed and planned in a hurry – this time last month, I wasn't going anywhere.  And now here I was!  I dug out my adaptor plug I'd last used in India.  I looked at the round pins on the plug and then I looked at the straight holes in the wall.  It was never going to work and bearing in mind I had an entire bag of chargers for phones, cameras and everything else you could think of,  including hair straightners without which, my hair has all the sophistication of a 10 year old's, all plans of sight seeing were void.  I had to sort the plug situation and sort it fast.

            After serveral hours and many miles on foot going this way and then that and this way again (clearly lost) and passing the same bemused people again and again, I found the tourist booth where someone did in fact speak english and within minutes, I'd found an adaptor.  I was so happy, I wanted to kiss her.  She had no idea what it meant to me!

            Re-connected and re-invigorated, I set out to see the city – I can never relate the scale of a map to real life, but Oaxaca is really tiny and everything is within one mile – all the churches, markets, shops and restaurants – magnificent!  There are churches everywhere which proves that where Cortez failed, priests didn't – they weren't looking for gold, they were there to give it, in the words of God.  And what a legacy they left – the churches are breathtaking.  The ornate facades have crumbled slightly, but inside, they are so beautiful, even I would wonder at the existence of an Almighty!  Santo Domingo de Guzman in particular, is a building of sheer masonic majesty and has stood there for over 500 years!
Food in Oaxaca is supposed to be unique and the street stalls come highly recommended.  I had no idea what to try from the myriad on offer so allowed myself to be enticed by a smiling, plucky, young girl – how often do we just need a helping hand?  She showed me minced beef which yes, I could eat, but seemed disconbobulated when I pointed at the tacos etc and shook my head (I have a wheat and grain intolerance as well – not much fun in a land most anywhere).  She smiled beatifically and then she bade me sit down.  She set to work frying the mince and then ladelling swathes of yellow stuff that looked like piped play dough all over it and then brought it over, (with the obligatory tacos) and yes, you've guessed it – cheese, but not like cheese any of us would know and which of course I can't eat....  So there I sat, at a taco stall, trying to pick the beef out of what seemed like wallpaper paste AND she over charged me!  I know they're poor and in comparison, I am rich, but I'm on a sparse budget!  Luckily, afterwards, when still trying to find real coffee and once again, failing, I met a local man who seemed beguiled by me and my plug story and he treated me to a bowl of “coffee” which was mostly “milk” with only enough instant coffee to change its colour....

            And so the first day was almost over and having found the only booze shop in town, I headed home with a bottle of Chilean wine to drink and smoke in relative peace up on the roof as the little lights of the little city came on and lit, like a christmas tree, the surrounding hills.

Day 2

            Feeling slightly more normal, I took a second look at my enormous bag which could seat 2 comfortably but which had lost a wheel in Houston.  The old song, if anyone remembers it, “One wheel on my wagon, and I'm not rolling along” popped into my head.  I thought:
            “Am I really prepared to lug this thing on one wheel over 5000 miles?”

            Luckily and surprisingly, (the budget again) I decided not to and so out I went again.  Same streets, same bemused faces, same tourist booth and after circumnavigating the town, I found a huge hypermarket where I was assured, I would find exactly what I wanted.  I didn't, but what I did find, was the smallest booze section of perhaps any supermarket on earth – I bought one just to make it worth their while...  Finally, I found a bag with 2 wheels which was perhaps a little bigger than I needed – in fact on closer inspection, it would fit my 12 year old god daughter Rosa in.  But never mind, it would do and choice was non-existent.  And this is where I really discovered what everyone in Oaxaca does – they work in the service industry and Ghandi would be so proud of them!  One person opened the door of the shop and greeted me, two other people served me, another took my money and lastly, another described to me the exact details of the item AND the guarantee even though it was completely obvious I didn't understand a single work he said.  And it is the same in every single shop and cafe and I am so pleased to see it – machines don't buy things they just make more profit for the owners!!!!!!!

            So, enormous bag on wheels safely stowed, I thought it was time I really ate something substantial.  I'd passed a bar be que chicken shop earlier – huge racks of chickens as yellow as the sun – that's the quality of the food in Oaxaca, and so I headed back there.  I pointed to “1/4”, was waved to a table and not long after,an enormous plate of perfect chicken, rice, salad and all manner of chilli sauces arrived and I am not even embarassed to say, I ate like a pig.  I was happy, they were happy and when I offered them what I thought it cost – next to nothing, they even gave half of it back to me!!!  If I could eat in a place like that every day, I would never cook again.

            Almost too full to walk, I headed back into town with my (now) fully charged camera to really see what Oaxaca had and discovered the north of the city which is basically the half a mile above the the main square.  Today was Valentine's day.  I was surprised to find that they celebrated it but they certainly did.  Everywhere, there were women selling flowers and enormous clouds of balloons all declaring love.  There was such an innocence of love it was simply heartening.  One couple sat on the steps of a church, the girl holding a 3ft teddy bear and they were just so in love.  I asked if I could take their photo and it was as if this was the only decleration they needed to proclaim what was obvious – they would spend the rest of their lives together.  It is all so uncomplicated.

            And then I walked and walked and walked.  I passed textiles for which Oaxaca is famous, I passed tiny old ladies selling lace, I passed deeply lined Indian ladies who's skin was as tough as the leather goods they sold and I passed workmen laying a new road, dressed in straw hats and literally, hewing kerb stones  from bare rock and everyone, almost without exception, showed a simple courtesy that would make even the worst misenthrope smile.  Even back at the hostel, the girl, having realised morning coffee was something of a problem for me, led me into the back room, showed me a little two plate electric cooker and between us, we understood that I could use it and in the morning, that is exactly what I did, albeit with a sachet of instant coffee but you know what?  It was pretty perfect.

            Oaxaca.  What a wonderful place and even though hardly anyone spoke English and I spoke no Spanish, I think we all had an experience to share and I am so glad I started my Mexican adventure there.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Novel Spain: Neighbours from Hell, Weird house mates, Expat Resolutions, and Best blogs about Spain

Just a quick post to keep you informed on what's happening on the other side of the blogging network at A Novel Spain.

Exactly what I keep telling myself, but out loud.
Photo by deeplifequotes
Why are house mates so weird?
And I'm not talking about house mates that you are married to, that will be a different post, once my wife stops reading what I write. I have had to put up with quite a few nutters over my time in Sevilla though. Check out my two blogs Why are housemates so weird? Part 1, and Part 2

Neighbours from Hell
We've all had one, or more, of these over our lifetime. My experiences with Spanish neighbours have been pretty atrocious though. Check out my two latest blogs titled Neighbours from Hell Part 1, and Part 2

Expat Resolutions
If you read my post on TEFL Resolutions then you might like one based on life as an expat: Reflections on 2014 and some expat resolutions.

Best blogs about Spain and expat life
And finally, here's a link to my monthly blog of the best articles and posts I've read about Spain and expat life. This month includes blogs about Madrid, Homesickness, Top Expat countries and more.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Questions that will drive you barmy as a TEFL teacher

In the real world, what do you get when you ask a silly question? That’s right, a silly answer, a funny look, or even a slap round the chops. What about in class though? Have you got any pet hate questions that students ask you repeatedly, over and over again, which are pushing you to consider becoming a lollypop lady?

I don’t think I could ever be a lollypop lady: all that abuse from chavy English kids on a cold wet morning, the risk of getting run over by a mother driving her screaming kids to school while on her mobile phone, but mainly because they’d probably realise I was a bloke at the interview. 

I do have a few questions that chisel away at my knee cap and make me want to shout out certain expletives. But I am a professional, and professionals don’t swear in front of a class. I do imagine silly answers though, and sometimes I give one, depending on whether they’d understand me or not.

Here are the top ten questions, with a hypothetical answer underneath in brackets, which I don’t recommend you using, unless you think you can pull it off, nothing wrong with teaching a bit of irony in class, I suppose.

Photo by Marco Bellucci
1. “We do now?”
   (“Now? Yes, or you could come back on Saturday morning.”)

Why do students ask that? You spend about ten minutes on a grammar presentation, let’s say, showing the difference between past simple and present perfect. You do a couple of examples on the board, check key words and do some drilling. Then you hand out a sheet with some examples, or shout out the page number for them to turn to. There is still a good hour of class left, but someone always asks “We do now?” “Well, yes, that was the idea, unless you just wanted to sit and flick through this dictionary?”

I’m not sure if this has something connected to their school; do they never do grammar or vocabulary activities there? Do they spend the whole class speaking in English and then do all the writing at home? From what I’ve heard, I think not, so I just don’t get why they even ask the question.

2. “Pen or pencil?”
(“Whatever grabs your boat, mate.”)

This is another that bemuses me. I get it with the small kids, the ones who still are unsure what the actual difference is between a pen and pencil, or those who have a new pen and their mother told them to check before they used it, or those who have only just been allowed a pen at school. I remember those days, it was like a reward that we could actually use a pen. We were finally old enough to be trusted to use fountain pens and not get ink on out ties, but what did we do? Flick it at the teacher's white shirt. But I don’t get it in an English class, especially as it’s their book or notebook. To have a bit of fun with this one you can say no to both, and watch them glaze over.

3. “We copy the example?”
(“No, don’t bother, it’s not like it will take less than a second, and it won’t help you with the next activities at all.”)

Of course you copy the example. It always seems like such a struggle for them, doesn’t it? To copy an example. They are about to write ten sentences, so why will another one hurt? I guess it’s the easy way out. They are at school, writing, and writing, with both pen and pencil, for most of the day, so any less work is a god send. One day I said no to copying an example, there was literally a cheer round the class, just because they didn’t have to copy: I play tennis with my rabbit. I sometimes wonder whether they get together before class and decide who is going to ask the 'copy the example' question. Do they have a bet on it? And see who can save the class from the dreaded example sentence.

4. “Is for homework?”
(“Or you can just stay and do it here while everyone else leaves?”)

You would have thought that half way through the term, once the class have triggered onto your routine, the old traditional routine of setting homework at the end of class, that they would just assume it was for homework. So when you write homework on the board, with pages numbers, activities, and are standing at the front, with the activity book, going over the homework, then why do they ask? Is it a security thing, do they feel safe knowing that it’s definitely homework, or are they just testing us to see if we will change our minds at the last second? 

What I love doing sometimes is setting the homework at the start of the class, just after we corrected the previous homework. You should see their faces; they literally think it’s time to go home.

5. “In the notebook?”
(“No, today I want you all to write on your partner’s face.)

Yes, the notebook. You have the notebook on your table. I just said "notebook", no I didn’t say "no book", as much as it sounds the same, and we do most of these activities in our notebooks so yes, unless you have a folder of paper, or a receipt in your jacket pocket with lots of extra space at the end, please use your notebook.

Someone must have asked him a few times already.
Photo by Vox Efx
6.“What time is it?”
(“It’s time to stop asking me what the time is.”)

This gets on my nerves. Not only because it makes me think of the time, which slows down the day, but because it obviously means they are having a rubbish time. The only time I check my watch when I am enjoying myself, is while watching the footy. I rarely do while watching a film, unless it’s getting late and the ads are being particularly long. So when a students says “¿que hora es?” I don’t answer. If they do in English then I respond quickly, and using precise past and to functions to confuse them.

7. “How do you say laptop?”
(“Laptop, why, how do you say it?)

I quite like this question actually, but only because I have fun with it. When they confuse the two questions of “What is a laptop?” “Or, what is laptop in Spanish?” and instead they ask "How do you say laptop?" I just say it. This can go on for a while, usually until another student dives in and either says it in Spanish, or tells them to use the other question. By the end of term though, they've normally mastered the question.

8. “What does mean mean?”
(“Are you actually joking? Because if you’re not, then you really need to find a decent teacher.”)

Okay, this doesn’t happen a lot, but I reckon at least once a month, or term, someone will ask what mean means. I read once that it takes a while for students to process information, but that's just being silly. Surely most people would cotton on, especially after the activities we did in class explaining the meaning of mean. I dunno, sometimes I think there is a camera set up on us just to see how long it is before we blow.

9. “Can we play a game?”
(“Of course you can?” “Si?” “Sure, there’s about twenty minutes left of class, and when you get home you can play on your new Play Station 6 as much as you like.”)

It’s worse if they just say “game,” then I just don’t respond. I like games, I really do. I know they are useful for revising vocabulary, phonetics, and adding competition to the class can be motivating. But what I don’t like is the way it changes students, and me. Everyone suddenly becomes aggressive, a grass, or a snitch, try to fool the teacher and make him pay for making a mistake. Gang up on the Profe and catch him out at his own rules.

Yes, games are good, but it has to be controlled. Which is why I don’t just whip up a game at the end of class if I haven’t planned one, because nine times out of ten someone will leave the class soul destroyed and in tears (and it's usually me).

10. “Can we watch a film?”
(“I’m sure you could watch a film, but could is about ability, and as there is no film on here, then I’d have to say that you couldn’t watch a film.”)

Sure, films are great, I’ve learnt loads from Spanish TV. But I can’t just chuck on a film and let kids watch it. Not only would I lose my job if I did it every week, but if they are going to watch a film, how do I know if they were actually watching, and not just sitting at the back talking in Spanish, or doing a bit of free time doodling? So I can’t just put on a film, no. Let me prepare one for you with some questions, yes. But I'm guessing you didn't want to have to think while you watch the film.

So those are the top ten questions that get on my goat. Obviously, I’ve never used any of the actual answers as a response, and this blog was just a bit of fun, so don’t get your y-fronts in a squirm.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

This month's top ESL blogs!

Thought I'd start the year off with one of my top ESL blogs. This is a compilation of the best blogs I've read this year.

Not a bad sky line: Kuwait City.
Photo by Cajie
Teaching in Kuwait City
Not a bad choice according to Alexis Fletcher on The Teacher Port Blog. Alexis gives a decent account of his experience teaching there, including the pros and cons and some advice for anyone who wants to teach English in Kuwait.

New FCE exam: Essay Writing
In case you didn't know, the FCE exam has changed and now part 1 of the writing is an essay. In other words your students will have to write an essay. Here's some useful worksheet material from Alex Case based on Writing Essays.

Top Articles read on Around the World 'L'
Massive fan of this blog, so I was intrigued to find out what the most popular posts were, and also how many reads they had. Check out Top Read's of the Year for some excellent travel based posts. 

Dip or DELTA?
There's a useful article on Oxford TEFL Blog, which looks at the differences between the Trinity Dip and the Cambridge DELTA. I did the DELTA, but I'll leave you decide.

Why teach TEFL?
If you're considering taking up TEFL then there's a decent post on the i-to-i tefl blog titled 6 reasons to teach abroad before you die. I'd like to add that if you're lucky you can gather a decent collections of pens and pencils that students leave on the floor, and now and then a new pencil case.

That's all for this month. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

10 New Year TEFL resolutions

Happy New Year to all TEFL teachers out there, even those cowboy ones who hate teaching and just use it as a means to travel. For my first blog this year, here are my New Year TEFL resolutions. Let’s see whether any apply to you. Take them with a pinch of salt, it's been a long Christmas.

Lovely dear.
Photo by gruntzooki

  1. I will make the most of my DELTA, and not forget that I busted my arse off for a year or so to become a better teacher.
  2. I will correct student’s pronunciation more, even if I understand them, and especially if I know that they will never pronounce like a native speaker.
  3. I will change students round in their chairs, and not let evil gangs develop in my classroom.
  4. I will blog more about tefl, and try to respond to comments within at least a week.
  5. I will not speak to students in a cockney, Geordie, or American accent in the hope they will improve their range of listening skills (or maybe I will actually).
  6. I will clean my board once a week. I don’t mean rub out the words, but actually clean it, so there isn't a strange blue mist constantly floating around.
  7. I will do more phonetics activities in class, especially considering the amount of time I spent teaching my students the sounds and symbols.
  8. I will play more games with my students, and be patient if it kicks off in the process. 
  9. I will not pretend that I didn’t hear my students swearing at each other instead of taking action.
  10. I will continue to remember that there are many worse jobs than teaching English, and enjoy my life at work.
What about you? Have you got any new resolutions? Have a good one.