And this is why there will always be a need for native English speaking teachers around the world. In fact, the selection of signage abominations on a BBC page suggests the demand currently exceeds supply, in China at least. Alternatively, sign making companies are just too cheap and prefer to use Google Translate. On days when Google isn’t blocked in China, anyway. I regularly seem similar errors in Mexico City, often by organisations and companies who really should be able to afford a native English speaking proof reader.

I would love to know what the punishment is for a mentally unbalanced ragamuffin who’s a little the worse for wear, smelling strongly of effluviam and smoking in the wrong spot with a dangerous amount of bomb making equipment in his pockets.


Fry’s English Delight

I’ve pronounced Stephen Fry, English comic genius, as my choice as Person of 2010. For many reasons, some of which are rather pre-2010, others which are definitely this year. And this one, which is very English language. His excellent radio series, Fry’s English Delight. You should be able to find parts two and three on YouTube very easily.

Most English language course books are divided into chapters tackling real life subjects. General English will features train stations, airports, supermarkets and of course restaurants. Here is a supplementary learning tool – the postcard, received by myself through the post today. Language, culture and humour all wrapped into one 6×4 card.

Septic Tanks

The most oft asked question for a Brit teaching English in Mexico City is….what’s the difference between British English and American English? The answer I give depends largely on my mood at that moment. Perhaps I’m feeling like a smug, superior little Englander, in which case I’ll tell them that the difference is we Brits speak English.

Or perhaps I’m in a humble, post empire mood, in which case I’ll tell them that British English is now the junior partner in this global language of ours. I might even go further with the junior partner argument. But no, I’m simply not qualified, nor was my education expensive enough, to be able to argue with a man of such high post as the Prime Minister of the UK.

If I’m not being daft, I’ll simply tell them that the Americans have made some obvious improvements to the spelling of the language, such as removing the random ‘u’ in many words. Humor, not humour. I may suggest that American English is the older variety of the two. And that American accents are generally milder than the many British variants. Some of which are so coarse and unintelligible as to leave the impression you’ve just been conversing with a drunk caveman.

The common use vocabulary is essentially the same, with just the occasional word tripping us up. Brits were mystified when Ronald Reagan described Libya’s Colonol Gaddafi as flakey. Did we hear right? The US just bombed Libya because their leader has some sort of skin ailment? Us Brits need to be even more careful when over the other side of the pond. Declaring that you wouldn’t mind a fag would raise a few eyebrows. In certain parts of the bible belt, it might cause a raised shotgun and request to leave the premises.

But really these are all minor differences, of the sort which exist not only between the two nations, but within the borders of each country. The real difference? I’m inclined to believe that British English is so much more fun. This may, of course, simply be my British bias, and because I’ve been exposed to British English just that little bit more. But British slang seems so much more random, mystifying and varied. Cockney Rhyming slang has no equal. British slang also tends to have a little more wit to it. Of course, this is all entirely subjective opinion. The septic tanks may beg to differ. Wankers… 🙂

There’s more subjective opinion on this weeks Americana podcast by the BBC, which is always a good show, and will explain my expletive at the end of the previous paragraph. It’s too good a word to let pass by without use. You can use on friends in jest, or non friends to offend. You should probably assume that I’m using it in the former.  This weeks episode, Big Cities and Small Towns features just a little bit of slang based audio journalism at the end, which I’ve posted below.

Teachers Latin America

Everyone fancies packing their bags and wandering off to live in another country at some stage in their lives. I’m pretty sure for a lot of the good citizens of the UK that ‘stage of life’ starts at around 10 years of age and continues until the 80th birthday. Or death. Whichever comes sooner.

How easy is it? Really, it’s very easy. You just save a bit of cash, pack your bags, buy a plane ticket, get on plane, get off plane, book into a hostel or somewhere cheap until you get more permanent digs. Arrange to do a TEFL course with a reputable provider, and providing you have a little savvy and aren’t completely illiterate….voila. You’ve done it.

Don’t read too much into the negative stuff you find on the web, and don’t worry yourself too much about the tales of red tape that accompanies virtually every online forum you’ll stumble across. Corruption is everywhere, and as a result, you’ll be able to work a way round the bureaucratic mess.

For Mexico I highly recommend Teachers Latin America. It’s run by a guy called Guy. Which is a good introduction to homophones – he should use it more often as an intro to the world of grammar. Maybe he does, and I missed it when I did the TEFL course. Book a course with him and let me know. He’s a helpful chap anyway, and will guide you through the maze of accomodation, employment and socializing as well as how to actually pass on your native language skills to Mexican students.

Letters of recommendation are cheap and easy. I could waffle on about the merits of the course material etc. But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I took the course just over five years ago, and I’m still here, still teaching English, and still in touch with Guy. And happy enough to write up a recommendation once in a while.

This time, the ‘post of recommendation’ is to celebrate the unveiling of his new website – which was long overdue! Although I shouldn’t poke fun, seeing as I did offer to help design a new one about a year or so ago and never got round to it. He’s also (re)starting a blog. He had a pretty good one that died a couple of years ago at the hands of some unruly Terror Bytes, but hopefully this one will stay the distance!

Getting Involved

Teaching English involves many things. Vocabulary, grammar, listening, context, conversation and many other bits and pieces that make up a language. But it can also be more specific, when required. There’s no point teaching a businessman or woman the ins and outs of zoology when they deal with accountancy on a daily basis. Unless the student has such an interest!

Most students appreciate involving their industry in classes, and there are numerous ways to do this. Just chatting about what they do exactly. Bringing in audio of video that is related. I tried a different approach recently. The idea started out as a simple ‘factory tour’ where they would show me around their plastics factory.

But the idea evolved. Firstly into a factory tour which I would video, so that we could go back into the classroom and discuss their processes, look up and bits of vocab that didn’t come straight to mind, and generally analyse the workings of the factory floor. Later, we decided to produce a promotional video as a learning project.

It’s fun to do, involves everyone, is a great way to bring their industry into the classroom and of course, there’s a final product to show for all the effort. It took a fair few classes to produce. Firstly a discussion where we decided what we wanted to film and talk about. Then script writing, for both spoken and text content. Then two takes to create the video.

The film might not earn anyone any Oscars for acting, nor me any awards for videography. But I’ve looked at YouTube videos where people have done something similar, and this is much better than any I’ve seen. So I’m happy with the end result. I hope the gang at the factory are as well.

Rosetta Stone

If there’s one thing TEFL teachers and their students have in common, it’s the need to learn a new language. Or improve upon existing skills. For me, it was about learning Spanish from scratch. In the UK, when I grew up, there was only the option to study French, although you could delve into Spanish or German later on. Spanish, obviously, would have been more useful to me. I think it’s fair to say that along with English and Mandarin, it is one of the ‘Big Three’ global languages, and it’s use will grow rather than decline.

So how to learn a language. It’s no good landing in a country and expecting to pick it up just by wandering around, listening and reading adverts on the metro system. I can tell you that from experience. As a result, whilst I have a pretty decent vocab when it comes to adjectives and nouns, my grasp of verbs is pretty poor. There’s no way round it – study is required.

I’ve flitted with a few courses, but I’ve finally found one that appeals to me. Rosetta Stone is a fully computer based learning system, that offers courses in countless languages, and best of all, as far as I’m concerned, there’s a Latin American Spanish course. The differences between Spanish Spanish and LatAm Spanish are not huge, but if the appropriate one is available, then all’s well and good.

I’ve not long started the course, and have chosen to start from the very beginning. My Spanish is good enough that I could skip a fair chunk of the beginning, but as I’d previously taken a rather patchy route to language learning, my grammar is also patchy. It can’t hurt to fix my basic errors. Besides, it’s nice to complete a whole course.

My first impressions? Well, it is very easy to get into. Install, load it up, and away you go. It’s also easy to dip in and out of according to the time I have available. Only got five minutes? Great, I can get some study done. With a book based course, you’d spend that five minutes getting the books out, finding your place and looking for a pen.

It’s also thoroughly engaging. I’m enjoying it. That’s key to learning anything. There’s a lot of mouse work, clicking on pictures according to the audio. There is also voice recognition, which allows you to practise pronunciation. I’ve put this through its paces, by seeing how accurate it is. It’s more than accurate enough, although sometimes it’ll tell you you’ve got it wrong when you’ve got it spot on. But it’s only the mildest of mild frustrations.

So far, it has the thumbs up from me. Although as I pointed out, it’s early days. I’ll complete a more thorough review when I complete the course. That will be some months in the future though. It’s a pretty extensive teaching system, with the language split into five courses, each one itself split into lengthy sections. I’m not complaining though. The one drawback? The price. It’s not cheap.