Three teachers I met at the beginning of my teaching career

My first experience of teaching ELT came on my initial 4-week teaching course, the Trinity CertTESOL, in 2007. I’d decided to take the course before coming to Korea to teach, and before then had never stood at the front of a classroom to deliver a lesson in my life. I know that people are divided over the effectiveness of these type of courses and whether they can make someone a better teacher or not, and while I am sure that there are good reasons on either side of the argument, I would say that my experience was generally very positive overall. We were a group of 12, and had 4 tutors on the course, which meant plenty of opportunities to discuss with the tutors and get their opinions. The focus of this post, however, is not on the course tutors, but instead some of the other trainees on the course.

Out of the 12 of us, three had prior teaching experience/knowledge, and I quickly came to learn that speaking with these three people was just as good, and in some cases better, than the course tutors for feedback, teaching ideas, etc. I was lucky to meet some of these people on the course because some of the things I learned from them have stuck with me. Below, I’d like to describe these three teachers as best I can remember, with names changed for anonymity’s sake.


Sarah was fresh out of her PGCE (the course that all teachers have to take in the UK to become qualified to teach in the state schools). I think she’d done the secondary PGCE, which would mean she would be teaching pupils aged 11-18. She said that she’d enjoyed the course, but wasn’t 100% sure whether she wanted to go into a state school to teach yet. She was doing the Trinity course to broaden her options before making the final decision. I don’t remember her age exactly, but she must have been mid-late 20s. I didn’t get that much of an opportunity to speak with her throughout the course because she was in a different TP group to me. There is one thing that happened during one of her observations though that I remember hearing about after the class. She was teaching the pre-intermediate group, some of whom were probably lower than that. At one point in the class, she’d tried to explain the meaning of a word, but one of the students disagreed with her, quite strongly by all accounts. The student, an older middle-Eastern male, refused to accept that she was right (she was right, by the way).

The student became quite angry in the class, but rather than panicking, Sarah calmly dealt with the situation and explained that she could speak with the student after class. She continued without losing her composure and got through the lesson. I know that after the lesson she was quite shaken up, and needed to be consoled, but she never let that get in the way of her lesson, and ploughed through.

What I learned from this is that teaching can be an emotional at times, but when you’re in class, you often have to put your emotions on hold and learn to resolve unexpected situations/interruptions as they arise.


Jack was the most experienced teacher in our class, and had spent the last 30+ years teaching younger primary aged learners. He had other teaching qualifications, but his school wanted him to take the Trinity course to get some new ideas, and it was hoped that he would be able to go back to his school and assist newer teachers. I sat next to Jack for most of our input sessions, so got the chance to speak to him while we were learning.

Some of the ideas he had were quite rigid at times, but he never tried to impose his ideas on me or any of the other trainees on the course. Rather, he explained that these are things that he has found to be effective for his teaching context over the years. Like Sarah, Jack was not in my TP group, so I didn’t get to see him in action all that much, however on the second (or third–I don’t remember) day, everyone had to do a 10-minute micro-teaching session. We were split into two groups of six and I was in the group with Jack.

The mirco-teaching sessions were allowed to be on anything we wanted, not necessarily teaching English–one girl did cocktail making, for example. Because Jack was used to teaching younger kids, he chose to teach us (the other, adult, trainees) a nursery song, complete with actions. You can imagine the thoughts that were going through some of our minds when he first told us this. I think it took about 2 minutes before any inhibitions we might have had were thrown out of the window. Jack’s enthusiasm shone through, and for the next 8 minutes he had us up flapping our arms like birds, singing (I don’t sing), and just laughing and having a good time. At the end of the ten minutes, it’s fair to say, we’d learned his song.

Sometimes the content you’re given to teach, or the group of students in front of you, is not ideal. I learned from Jack that it’s important to go into the class with an enthusiastic mindset and that you can make a class work in difficult circumstances.


Kevin was another experienced teacher, in his late 30s or possibly early 40s. He had been teaching in Japan for the past 6 years, but had never taken a formal teaching course before. He was working at a Japanese university at the time teaching freshman English, but was on his summer break so decided to travel back home and to a few other countries in Europe before going back to Japan for the new semester in September of that year.

He was an extremely calm, considerate and highly intelligent teacher. I was thrilled to learn that I was in his TP group because I immediately identified that he was very knowledgeable about teaching English. By being in his TP group, I got to observe six of his lessons, which were always very polished, and it was clear he had honed his skill over time. He often complained about all the lesson planning that was involved in the course, but kept reassuring me, and other trainees, that this would not be expected in the ‘real world’ of teaching. He was probably a bit of a pain in the neck to the course tutors, but for the other trainees he had some excellent insights.

I was really lucky to have the chance to work/teach with Kevin for those 4 weeks, and every day, we would go to the cafeteria for lunch together, with the other two members of our TP group, and discuss what we’d covered that day, or what had happened during our observed classes. Kevin was very supportive of everyone, but wasn’t shy of offering constructive feedback when it was needed. And because he didn’t have to follow the positive-negative-positive sandwich style, tick-box, feedback that the course tutors were required to do, somehow his feedback seemed more valuable, at least to me.

If I had a question about any of my lessons, he’d be the first person I’d go to speak to, and often he could immediately identify what he thought would work well, and what I should cut.

As he had quite a bit of experience of teaching abroad in Asia, he was also able to give me lots of useful advice about moving abroad to teach. From advice about how to deal with Asian students, to learning the language and using it (or not) in class. From finding and teaching students on a 1-to-1 basis and how to deal with administration.

I felt then, and I still do now, that I learned more from Kevin during those 4 weeks than any one other individual (trainee, trainer or student).

Something in common

All three of these educators were great teachers, and I admired them greatly. They, however, also all shared something else in common in addition to being excellent teachers; All three of them were non-native speakers of English.

They’d all been born in other countries and grew up speaking a language other than English. Sarah was German and had moved to the UK to study her PGCE only a year earlier. Jack was Vietnamese, and had been a primary school teacher in Vietnam all his working life. He still had some gaps in his English ability, but for his teaching context, it was more than enough. Kevin was Swiss and grew up speaking French and German. He could also speak Italian and Japanese, and one more language (maybe Spanish). He knew more about the structure of English than any of the other trainees on the course, and taught me about things such as the be-verbgerunds, phrasal verbs and more.

While I’ve thought about these teachers’ skills/techniques/abilities often throughout my teaching career, it’s something that I’ve been considering more in recent months and especially over the last week or so. Perhaps meeting these teachers right at the beginning of my teaching pulled the wool over my eyes a little towards the negative attitudes towards non-native English speaking teachers. Also, perhaps being in Korea, where it’s just par for the course that almost all foreign English teachers will be native-English speakers because of the government’s policy on issuing teaching visas, has made me blind to the struggle that some non-native English speaking teachers have to go through in order to secure a teaching job, simply because I don’t get the chance to meet that many people not from the UK, US, Ireland, NZ, Aus, South Africa & Canada in person in Korea.

As I said though, I have become more aware/vocal of the issue thanks in large part to the work of Marek Kiczkowiak (@MarekKiczkowiak) who runs the blog TEFL Equity Advocates. And last week, Mike Griffin (@MichaelEGriffinput up a post on his blog, which really helped me to think and get involved in the dialogue in relation to the situation here in Korea.

I guess my message to anyone advocating positions for native English speakers only, or perhaps for people sat on the fence or just ignorant to the issue would be to STOP and think about it for a minute. Is there anything that would inherently make a native English speaker a better teacher than a non-native speaker? If your answer is YES, I’d suggest you haven’t thought hard enough and you need to go away and do some more thinking.

PowerPoint Bingo Caller

BallEnter 630

Here is the latest PowerPoint project that I’ve been working on. It’s an automatic bingo caller that randomly calls numbers between 1 and up to a maximum of 99. It also keeps track of all of the balls that have been called.

I’ve put links to the file as well as more information on this page.

‘A Challenging Conversation’ ACT I SCENE I


  • Teacher: British, male, late 20s
  • Student A: Korean, male, late 20s, graphic designer, high-beginner
  • Student B: Korean, female, early 20s, economics student, pre-intermediate
  • Student C: Korean, male, mid 20s, university student, devout Christian, beginning
  • Student D: Korean, female, mid 20s, university student, intermediate


(Based on real events)

Int. A modern language school in South Korea. A large classroom. It’s 7pm, and the place is semi-busy. The TV at the front of the class is showing a news report from the BBC about a massacre at a school in Pakistan. Three students crowd around the TV, watching, trying to see if they can understand all of the words that flash up on the screen. The Teacher enters, there are three tables of 4-5 students. It’s a discussion class, but the students are already in discussion. Without introducing himself, the Teacher goes and sits at a table with Students A, B, C, D.

Student B has her iPad out, and is showing student A images from a recent trip to Morocco. Students C and D are watching on silently. Teacher sits down between Students A and B.

TEACHER: May I sit here? 

STUDENT BSure… (looks back to Student A) this is the desert in Morocco. There is nothing there. It’s all desert.

STUDENT AYou can’t see anything. Is it hot?

STUDENT BYes. Very hot. Mmm.

STUDENT AWhy do you go to Morocco?

STUDENT BI want to see the new place.

STUDENT ADo you have experience of another country?

STUDENT BYes. I went to Paris.

STUDENT AFor a vacation?

STUDENT BNo. Exchange student.

STUDENT AWow. You can speak French?

STUDENT BNo, my classes were English. I was the worst student. I can’t speak English. I hated my school.

STUDENT AI want to go to Paris.

STUDENT BParis is beautiful.

STUDENT AI want to go to the Eiffel Top.

STUDENT BAh, no… Eiffel Tower is dangerous.

STUDENT ADangerous? … Ah, you mean the gypsies?

Teacher looks at Student A with a confused expression.


STUDENT AMany people steal things at the Eiffel Top.

STUDENT BAh, you mean black face man?

STUDENT AYes. Gypsies. Lots of gypsies.

TEACHER: (To Student A) Do you mean thieves?

STUDENT AYes. Gypsies. Thieves.

TEACHER: Oh, I think you can just call them thieves.

STUDENT BBlack face man… black man. (To Teacher) can I say black face… black man.

TEACHER: Umm.. well what do you mean?

STUDENT BMan with a black face. Is it okay to say black man?

TEACHER: Well, you can say black man, but I don’t understand why you want to say it.

STUDENT BNear, the Eiffel Tower, there are lots of black men. I can say black man?

TEACHER: You can, but I don’t know why you want to say it, because he (Teacher gestures towards Student A) is talking about thieves…

STUDENT A…so many gypsies…

TEACHER: …and you are talking about black people. You can say black people, but why are you connecting the two?

STUDENT BNear the Eiffel Tower there are many black men.

TEACHER: So, are you saying that black people are thieves?

STUDENT BNot all, but in Paris many thieves are black people.

TEACHER: Hmm.. OK. I think you need to be careful?

STUDENT BReally? Why?

TEACHER: Well, when he is talking about thieves, and then you talk about black people, it kind of sounds likes you are saying that black people are thieves. I don’t think that’s fair. Some black people might be thieves, but some white people are thieves and some Asian people are thieves too. Black people aren’t thieves. Thieves are thieves.

STUDENT BOh. Yes. It’s not black people. I will be careful. Thank you… Hmm… I see… (Student B sits there contemplating what Teacher has just said).

STUDENT ABut the Eiffel Top is dangerous. Because of gypsies.


TEACHER: I think any place where there are many tourists can be dangerous. Even in Seoul, there are thieves.

STUDENT BAh YES! Sydney. Australia. Sydney is very dangerous.


STUDENT BThe Muslims. The Muslims are a problem.

STUDENT DYou mean the attacker in the cafe yesterday?

STUDENT BYes. These days Muslims cause a lot of problems.

TEACHER: Whoa! It’s not Muslims who are causing the problem.


TEACHER: No. It’s not Muslims or people who follow Islam that are creating the problem.

STUDENT BBut he was Islam…

TEACHER: OK. The gunman in that cafe was Muslim, yes. But how many Muslims are there in Australia?

STUDENT DI don’t know… a million?

Teacher thinks about that answer for a moment, knows it’s not correct but decides to go with it any way.

TEACHER: OK. So let’s say there are a million Muslims in Australia. How many gunmen were there in the cafe? One right. There was only one. That’s one out of a million! It’s not the Muslims.

STUDENT BSo, Islams are not a problem?

TEACHER: I don’t think it’s Muslims who are a problem. It’s terrorists.

STUDENT CMuslims are right. Right. You know right? Muslims are right. Korea is right. Muslims more right Korea.

TEACHER: But you can’t blame Muslims. I think the media is not always fair on Muslims. You know yesterday, there was another shooting in Pennsylvania in the US?


TEACHER: Pennsylvania. It’s a state in the US. It’s a place in the US. There was a shooting there yesterday.

The Students look blankly at the Teacher

TEACHER (cont): Did you hear about the shooting in the US?


TEACHER: OK. So there was also another shooting in the US yesterday. A gunman killed 5 or 6 people. This is also terrible, right? But in the newspapers, they talked about the man from Sydney as a Muslim gunman, but in the US, they only said gunman or attacker. Do you think that’s fair?

STUDENT CI don’t understand. What does he say? (Turns to Student D) Can you translate what he says?

STUDENT DUmm.. I don’t know his point exactly.

TEACHER: So, I’m trying to say that when a Muslim person does something bad, the news always says his religion. But if it’s another person, if it’s a Christian, they never say a Christian attacker. It’s only when it’s a Muslim.

STUDENT CTeacher, are you Muslim?

(The Students burst into laughter, with the exception of Student C)

TEACHER: No, I’m not. I’m not a Muslim.

(More laughter. Again except for Student C)

STUDENT C: Sorry, teacher. Sorry… Sorry. I just wonder.

TEACHER: It’s OK. Honestly. Don’t worry.

STUDENT CSorry. I just think… why you protect Islam?

TEACHER: Well, Muslims are not terrorists. Terrorists are terrorists.

STUDENT BWhat is different Muslim and Islam?

TEACHER: Well, Islam is the religion and a Muslim is the person who follows Islam. At least I think that’s correct. I’m not 100% sure.

STUDENT BAh okay. It’s not the same?

STUDENT CWhat he say?

(Student C stand up, and moves to a seat directly next to Student B so that he is closer to the conversation.)

STUDENT D(To Teacher) So, are you a Christian?

TEACHER: No. I’m not a Christian.

STUDENT BYou are atheist?

STUDENT C(To Student B) What?

STUDENT B(Translates into Korean)

TEACHER: Umm… well, not really. I think people might call me an agnostic?

STUDENT CWhat is it?

TEACHER: I don’t believe in God, and I don’t think there is a God. But I really don’t know.

STUDENT DSo, you don’t care?

TEACHER: It’s not that I don’t care. Rather, I just don’t think we can ever know. I’m interested in other people’s opinions. But I don’t think that there is anything higher up. I am happy to accept other people have opinions and I think it is absolutely right for other people to believe different things.

STUDENT CIn UK. Christian is not strong.

TEACHER: Umm.. what do you mean?

STUDENT CI heard Christian is not strong in UK. In Korea, Christian very strong. But UK not many Christian.

TEACHER: Ah. Well, I think a lot of people say they are Christian in the UK, but not all of them go to church or practice Christianity.


TEACHER: Good question. Umm, I don’t know.

STUDENT CMany Muslims in your country?

TEACHER: There are more than there are in Korea.

STUDENT CHow many?

TEACHER: I don’t know. I can find out if you like.

(Without waiting for an answer Teacher pulls out his phone and types ‘Religion in UK’ into Google. He clicks on the first link which takes him to a Wikipedia entry that contains pie charts breaking down the different religions in the UK.)

TEACHER (cont): So it says here that 4.4% of the population in the UK follow Islam.

(Teacher shows the phone to Students C and B)

TEACHER (cont): And it looks like almost 60% of people are Christian.

STUDENT C(Surprised) That’s more Korea! I heard Christian not strong in UK.

TEACHER: Yes. As I say, many people say that they are Christian, but they don’t really do anything.

STUDENT CHow many Muslim?

TEACHER: See here, it says 4.4% of people are Muslim.

STUDENT CHow many people?

TEACHER: Umm… There are 63 million people in the UK, so I don’t know. How many is that?

STUDENT CMany! Surprised. I don’t know Muslim in UK.

TEACHER: There are a lot of different cultures and religions in the UK.

STUDENT BIs there a temple in the UK. I never seen a temple in the UK.

TEACHER: I don’t know. There might be.

STUDENT CNo Buddhism in UK.

TEACHER: Well, actually my mother is a Buddhist, so there are some in the UK.

STUDENT BSo there is a temple?

TEACHER: Well, not for my mother’s type of Buddhism. It’s different from Korean Buddhism. She follows a Buddhism from Japan.


TEACHER: They don’t have temples.

STUDENT ADoes she have a … (points to his wrist).

TEACHER: Oh, you mean beads. She doesn’t wear beads on her wrist, but she does have some beads that she holds in her hand (Teacher puts his hands together and rubs). When she chants she rubs the beads. It’s a bit different from Korea.

STUDENT CYou are Buddhist?

TEACHER: No. I’m not Buddhist. Only my mother is.

STUDENT COh, most people follow parents religion.

TEACHER: I think a lot of people do, but not always. Actually my mother became a Buddhist when I was 10. But she never made us become a Buddhist too.


TEACHER: I think I’m a bit more independent. My mother said I could choose.

STUDENT CI think you are very… (Korean word)

STUDENT B(Translating) stubborn…?

STUDENT CStubborn.

STUDENT BStubborn… is that right?

TEACHER: I don’t know.

STUDENT BStrong? Stubborn?

STUDENT DI think just independent. Strong mind.

STUDENT BBut Muslims. You must be careful.

(Teacher rolls his eyes)

STUDENT B (cont)My friend in Rome. Very dangerous. They attacked her.


STUDENT BTwo Muslims. With a knife.


STUDENT BShe is walking down the street. Two Muslims hold the knife.

STUDENT DHow do you know they are Muslims?

STUDENT BThey are wearing hi… (She stops to think. Draws an imaginary circle with her finger around her face) hijab. They put the knife to her. (She gestures holding a knife and pointing it at her chest).

STUDENT D(laughs) Really? A knife? Maybe they just want to cut some bread. Maybe they want to give her the knife.

STUDENT BNo. They tell her come with me.


STUDENT BYes. She ran away.

TEACHER: Where was this? Rome?

STUDENT BYes. Rome. Two Muslims put the knife to her and say you must come with me. But she ran away.


STUDENT BShe screamed and shouted a lot. Some foreigners saw her and they helped her run away.

TEACHER: Foreigners?

STUDENT BYes, people in Rome. Local people.


STUDENT BShe ran away. But scared. Muslims are dangerous. Be careful.

TEACHER: I don’t think it’s fair to say that Muslims are dangerous. This means all Muslims are dangerous. But they are not. I think some people are dangerous.

STUDENT BBut they are Muslim.

TEACHER: Yes. I understand that. But do you remember back in 2007, there was a man who went into a university in the US and killed lots of people?

STUDENT CWhat does he say?

STUDENT BAh, you mean Korean?

TEACHER: Yes. He was Korean. He killed more than 30 people at a university in the US.


TEACHER: Yes. But even though he was Korean, people didn’t go around saying that Korean people are dangerous. It was just one person. He was crazy, but we have to be careful.

STUDENT BOh, I see. Korean people.

TEACHER: Right. If we judge people on one crazy person’s actions, it can be dangerous.

STUDENT CWhat he mean?

STUDENT BIn America, a Korean man killed many people.


TEACHER: Anyway, my time is up here. I have to go an speak to some other students. It was nice talking to you.

STUDENTS (together): Bye.

Fade to Black



Comments/criticisms/observations are welcome.

  • How did Teacher react to the situation?
  • Should he have engaged students on such controversial topics?
  • Is it an EFL teacher’s place to explain things (as he/she sees them) to students?
  • Should Teacher have tried to steer the conversation away from these topics?
  • Have you ever had a conversation like this?
  • Is Teacher too opinionated?
  • What did Teacher do wrong?
  • What should Teacher do differently next time?
  • What is the purpose of discussion classes in the EFL classroom?

Linguistic Landscapes in Korea (and Wales)

I’d never heard of the term ‘Linguistic Landscape’ until the announcement of this week’s #KELTchat. You can read more about it over on the #KELTchat page, which also includes some links to other places, such as Scott Thornbury’s A-Z blog, which includes the following handy description:

refers to the visibility and salience of languages on public and commercial signs in a given territory or region. It is proposed that the linguistic landscape may serve important informational and symbolic functions as a marker of the relative power and status of the linguistic communities inhabiting the territory (Landry and Bourhis, 1997: 23).

Anyone who’s visited Korea knows that you can’t walk 5 feet (that’s 1.5 metres meters) without seeing English somewhere, some of it okay, some of it more questionable. I’ve often wondered what the purpose of English on (some) signs was. I can understand the use of it on corporations such as McDonald’s, KFC, etc. who are foreign companies, often American. But what about the small Korean companies, the ones who don’t really offer anything to English speaking people, who don’t trade overseas? Why do they use English on their signs?

I was once asked by a Korean colleague to check a slogan that had been written in English. I wish I could remember what it was, but I can’t. All I can remember is that it made no sense. I asked her where it had come from and why she wanted me to check it. Her boyfriend, whose English was quite poor, had recently started working for a medium-large Korean company. Because he was new, one of his first tasks was to come up with a slogan, in English, that was to be placed on some promotional material. I had no idea what the product was, or the purpose for the slogan. Only that it needed to be in English. I tried my hardest to find out what it was for, but no luck. Even the boyfriend didn’t fully understand what he was supposed to write. Perhaps this is indicative of that attitude (of some) in Korea towards English. It’s there to look pretty, but is it really important if it is correct or not? However the same might be said about other languages in the UK, such as when this teenager found out she’d had ‘supermarket’ tattooed on to her belly instead of her boyfriend’s name.

The following are just a collection of pictures that I just happened to have stored on my phone from the past year.


March Mom's Touch Kyobo Dog do


This is quite a common site in Korea. When new restaurants are being built/refurbished, a lot of the signs outside are displayed in English.

This is quite a common site in Korea. When new restaurants are being built/refurbished, a lot of the signs outside are displayed in English.

I also find this McDonald's near where I live quite interesting.  All of the signage for the drive-thru is in English.

I find this McDonald’s near where I live quite interesting. All of the signage for the drive-thru is in English.

This KFC one caught my attention during the World Cup. For a country that is quite nationalistic, especially when it comes to soccer/football, I find it amusing that KFC's support for the team is in English.

This KFC one caught my attention during the World Cup. For a country that is quite nationalistic, especially when it comes to soccer/football, I find it amusing that KFC’s support for the team is in English.

Babies are beautiful

The hospital where my son was born had English signs and phrases throughout. All of the promotional pictures that were on the walls also seemed to feature white women.

When H&M opened in Daegu, I saw this poster with the spelling 'favourite'.

When H&M opened in Daegu, I saw this poster with the non-American spelling ‘favourite’, which I find to be quite rare here.

Some of these businesses, especially those featured at the top, may be excused for their incorrect use of English. However, there are probably some companies in Korea, you know, whose business is selling the English language, who shouldn’t really be able to get away with putting out mistake-ridden English.

'Grand Opening' would really be better, if you really have to use the phrase.

‘Grand Opening’ would really be better, if you really have to use the phrase.

Obviously not for the punctuation practice.

Obviously not for the punctuation practice.



For me, growing up in Wales, bilingual signs were normal. You might think, that given how 47.3% of people living in Ceredigion (where I grew up) speak Welsh, it would be quite important to get it it right on public signs. Unfortunately, it turns out that’s not always the case. Only this week were two supermarkets guilty of putting up signs that used incorrect Welsh. Tesco thought that ATMs were the place to offer free erections, and then a few days later, Asda mistakenly used Scottish Gaelic instead of Welsh.

Starbucks hasn’t done any better in Aberystwyth, the same town as the Tesco supermarket above. While it is not the first Starbucks in Wales, it is the first to adopt Welsh over English in the store – at least in theory. Unfortunately, the majority of the signs just didn’t really make that much sense.

This last one, however, is probably my favourite translation mistake of all time, made by the council in South Wales, no less. While the English part of the sign was correct, the Welsh translation below was in fact an auto-response message, telling the sender that the recipient was out of the office.


Landry, R. and Bourhis, R. (1997) ‘Linguistic landscape and ethnolinguistic vitality: an empirical study’, Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 16,  1.

Where am I from? An identity crisis?

**See UPDATE below**

If you’re following David Crystal on Twitter, you may have seen lots of talk about potatoes in the last few days. I wasn’t quite sure what it was all about, until @ELF_Pron tweeted about this post yesterday.

Ben Crystal (David Crystal’s son) and David Crystal have recently released a book called You say potato: A book about accentsTo tie in with the book, the Crystals have been asking people from around the world to record themselves saying the word ‘potato’ and to note where they are from. All of the recordings are uploaded and added to a map on Macmillan’s website for everyone to see.

Potato Map

Most of the recordings come from the UK, probably because of the appearances that Ben and David Crystal have been making on daytime television over there in the last few days.

So, I thought I’d give it a go and add my voice, but then I noticed something. The website says that you should record yourself saying: “This is how I say potato and I come from / live in [location]”. And this is where I got stuck – what should I insert as my location? I’ve been in Korea for the last 7 years, in a city called Daegu. Should I mention that? Surely not, after all, this is a survey about accents. I don’t speak Korean, and I don’t speak with a Korean accent. So saying I live in Korea can’t be what they’re after. At the time of writing, only one entry from Korea has been posted, by ‘Jimin’ – a Korean.

So, where to say I’m from? I grew up in West Wales between the ages of 6 to 21, mostly in and around a little town called Aberaeron to be exact, and later Aberystwyth, 16 miles up the road, where I went to university.


I grew up speaking Welsh as my second language, and despite not having actually spoken it for the last 10 years, could probably still use it conversationally (don’t test me, please). But, I never adopted the Welsh accent. Sure there were (probably not so much now now) a few words that had a Welsh twang to them, especially when speaking with other Welsh speakers, but I’d never say I had a Welsh accent. So, should I say that I’m from Aberaeron/West Wales? I guess it’s the closest thing I’d call to a hometown, but again, this survey is about accents, so it doesn’t quite sound right to say I’m from West Wales, because I don’t speak with a Welsh accent.

You see, I’m not Welsh. I was born in a town called Guildford – about 45 minutes south of London. At least, I think it’s about 45 minutes south of London because I’ve only ever been there a handful of times, when I was much younger. I remember some things from my very early childhood, living in England, but not much. My mother’s from the South of England, and so I do quite broadly speaking talk with a southern English accent. But it feels uncomfortable to say that I’m from Guildford, because I’m not. I’ve never lived there. I know there’s a law school there, and an ice rink, and an ice hockey team – but I couldn’t tell you how to get there, or anything else about the place.

You see my dilemma?

When I’m asked where I’m from, it’s always a bit of a complicated answer. I’ll always start with ‘I’m from the UK’ or ‘I’m British’. I identify as being British, rather than English or Welsh. The only time I’ll differentiate between English and Welsh is during the rugby, where I’ll always cheer for England over Wales.

But just saying I’m from the UK usually leads on to the question of ‘whereabouts’? Talking to a Brit, I’ll usually answer with ‘I grew up in Aberystwyth’. To anyone from further afield, I’ll just say I grew up in Wales.

But then, I’ll usually get pulled up on this and asked to explain what I mean by ‘grew up’ *sigh*. It’s at this point that people begin to turn off.

Language, accent and identity.

All of this poses some quite interesting questions, at least for me. What do accent and language have to do with identity? Identity is quite a big topic in SLA, especially within the area of motivation. There are numerous books on the topic that include the word identity. Motivation, Language and Identity and the L2 Self (edited by Zoltan Dornyei and Ema Ushioda) and Self and Identity in Adolescent Foreign Language Learning (by Florentina Taylor) are just two examples.

Do people keep their accent because they want to be connected to their community? Urszula Clark talked about this in her talk for the British Council Seminars series earlier this year. I wrote about that talk (with a link to the video) here. I’ve also heard the argument that when it comes to English language learners, many of them choose to keep their accent because it helps to identify where they are from. Unfortunately, this is not something that many of my learners in Korea seem to believe. For them, speaking ‘like a native speaker’ without a Korean accent is more desirable. But you’d be hard pushed to find a Korean learner of English, who does not identify as Korean.

And what about language itself and identity? Could you say that someone can be from a certain area even if they don’t speak the language. Again, I think we have to look to the example of Wales. According to the most recent UK census, 562,016 people claimed to be able to speak Welsh. Compare that to the 2,393, 825 who couldn’t. While the latter number will of course include people who have moved into Wales, it also includes people who were born and grew up in Wales. This is because in certain areas of the country, mainly in the south, where the majority of people live, Welsh is not learned or taught at school. My stepfather is Welsh, has been all his life, but he doesn’t speak a word of Welsh. Compare this to mid-Wales and the north where some people are brought up speaking Welsh. Many of the people I went to school with never even began to speak English until they started school. But a Welsh person from Bangor (north) is surely just as Welsh as someone from Blaenau Gwent (south), no?

And then there was the story on the BBC yesterday about the Welsh-speaking Argentines, who despite having roots in Wales, clearly identify as being from Argentina.

The matter of where you’re from, language, accent and identity is not so clear cut after all. So what should I say when I record myself saying potato? Perhaps I’ll just say something like “This is how I say potato and I am originally from the UK, born in Guildford, but grew up in Aberaeron, but now living in Daegu, Korea where I’ve been for the last 7 years” and let the editors figure out where to place me on the map.


Just a little update: After sending in my recording, it looks like I’ve been placed in Guildford!


Why do I continue to work at private academies (hagwons) in Korea?

I’ve been working in Korea for the last seven years. Throughout that time, I’ve been working in private language academies, known as hagwons in Korea. While these days I am doing other ELT work, my primary income still comes from my work at a private academy. Private academies, and the teachers that work there, often get a bad rep in Korea. You might want to check out Mike Griffin’s post on the topic for more on this.

I’ve not really experienced that much negativity, but I guess it does exist. The one comment that I do often get from some people in Korea over and over, is why I’ve not started looking for university jobs. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t looked at what’s on offer and sent out a few speculative e-mails, but the attraction of university jobs is just not really there for me. That’s not to say that somewhere down the line I won’t be more interested, but just at this moment in time, I’m not really looking to move into the university sector in Korea. I’m happy doing what I do.

Sure, working for a hagwon has its disadvantages – the small amount of vacation days for example. And the pay’s not that great either. But the one reason, by far, that has kept me here is because of the students people I get to teach meet and work with.

They might not be the best English speakers, or even the best students. Some of them can be challenging at times, but every day is different, and every day I get the opportunity to meet these people and find out a little more about their lives. I’m lucky (imo) that I get to teach very small classes. This week, for example, has been a pretty quiet week so I’ve had a few one-to-one classes. Here is just a snapshot of a few of the learners I’ve worked with this week:

  • The ex-businessman turned public servant who once ran a successful IT business until he lost everything during the economic crisis in 2008. He’s now studying English to improve his speaking skills so that he can take the TOEFL and get into graduate school in the US to study for his MBA. He’s quite bitter about having lost all his money, and it shows.
  • The 20-something nurse who works in an emergency room at a university hospital, who came to class at 9pm having just finished a 16-hour shift. She was going to go home after class to get a few hours sleep before he next 16-hour shift due to start at 4am. She kept saying the worst part of the job was having to deal with patients ‘expiring’. She hates her job.
  • The classical opera singer/lecturer who had just returned from a concert in the US. Currently working at a university in the city, but planning to move to the US to teach classical singing next year. He’s one of the most eager students I’ve met.
  • The pre-med student who had an excellent command of the the vocabulary for the lesson (commercial relationships!), and had come prepared to class with lots of questions about the new idioms he’d come across. He’s hoping, although still undecided, to become a surgeon*.

I was told by the trainers on my initial teaching course that we were so lucky to have the group of students that we did for our TP. They told us we would never have students like this in the ‘real world’. How wrong were they! While there are still other things that I enjoy about my current job, I feel that it’s the people I’m going to miss most when (if?) I move on.

*Through discussions with other doctors and medical students in the country, becoming a surgeon is one of the ‘lowest’ positions in medicine, due in part to the low salary and the amount of litigation in Korea.

#KoTESOL International Conference 2014 – Review

The KoTESOL International Conference 2014 was held this past weekend from October 3-5. This year KoTESOL had found itself a new location, at COEX in Gangnam. This meant an extra early start for me because the venue is about 45 mins from Seoul station.


The venue for this year’s conference is a step up from previous years . Not that there was anything really wrong with SookMyung Women’s University, but it’s nice to be in a proper convention centre where everything is conveniently laid out and nearby. Everything was well organised and signposted right from the beginning in terms of collecting the name badge and figuring out where to go.

The rooms are generally a good size although with no windows it did tend to get a little stuffy inside. The main hall where the plenaries and keynote took place was sufficiently large enough, although big columns throughout the room made it difficult for some (I guess) to see the presenter well. KOTESOL might also have liked to have people waiting outside the hall door especially at the end of sessions. As David mundane Nunan (oops, damn autocorrect – I was writing this on my phone) was concluding his session, people were already filling in to see Scott Thornbury from the back of the room with little regard to the session that was still going on.


The opening ceremony, scheduled for 10, started around 10.20, and consisted of the usual Chair and Presidents’ (plural as KOTESOL had joined forces with KAFLE  to host the conference this year) opening remarks.

Opening Ceremony - KoTESOL 2014

While no-one attends a conference for the opening ceremony itself, I got the feeling that this year, any real sense of event was lacking. A feeling that stuck through for other parts of the conference – that’s not to say that it was disorganised in any way, but rather not as much was made of the plenary speakers as had been done so in previous years. Scott Thornbury’s presentation was the last thing of the day at 5pm on Saturday, and the two Sunday plenaries were scheduled alongside each other – surely a contradiction to the term ‘plenary‘?


Interaction, creativity, and acquisition in the L2 classroom

Next up was Mike Long, most notable for his interaction hypothesis. I was looking forward to seeing Mike Long because maximising student interaction and encouraging students to participate in tasks through negotiating meaning is something I have been attempting to do for a few years. Mike Long is also the educational advisor for the company at which I work, so naturally a lot of his ideas have made their way into our curriculum.

I really don’t think 50 minutes was enough for Long to get through everything he had wanted to say and large parts of his talk seemed rushed.

His talk was nothing groundbreaking, starting off by talking about IRF (Initiation-Response-Feedback), and just how little students actually get to speak in teacher fronted classes. By his estimates, a student in an IRF class will be lucky to have spent more than an hour speaking the L2 during a year-long course. Reason enough for him to push for encouraging more group work in classes.

In mentioning IRF, Long talked about teachers’ reluctance to admit that is what their classes were like, and that for some teachers, it’s only after watching themselves teach or seeing a transcript of their lesson that they were actually able to get a better picture of the interaction in their classes.

Long also touched on feedback arguing that overt feedback might best be used for non salient language errors. He gave the example of an American speaker using the prefix un- when in- was in fact correct. This error, Long says, needs pointing out because when pronounced it is unstressed and not usually noticeable.

While Long gave some advice to teachers, he did stress that they were merely suggestions and a teacher in his or her local context was ultimately the expert on what needs to be done in their own classroom.

He concluded his session with a look at a section of a transcript between a teacher and student where the teacher had to negotiate the meaning from what the student was trying to say which provided much longer and varied turns on the students part.

He also talked about approaches and methods saying that while they were prevalent on teacher trainer courses, teachers rarely thought about them while planning and teaching actual lessons. He suggested that perhaps they don’t really exist.


Stealing your way to creativity

Mike Griffin and Anna Loseva joined forces once again to talk about stealing your way to creativity. The focus of the talk was on activities, something which Mike has made his feelings quite clear about, for example here. The main gist of the talk was on promoting the idea and encouraging teachers to share and use activities, it’s okay to use another person’s activity, and as Anna said: “Students don’t care where you get the ideas from.” However, the pair made it clear that teachers should not just be activity collectors and that it’s up to you, as a teacher, to use what’s available and adapt it for your context. Being adaptable is in fact one of the criteria put forward by Mike and Anna for the suggestions posted on #FlashMobELT.

The session finished with attendees contributing and sharing their own activity ideas. You can see all of the suggestions that were made during the session here.

Activities - KoTESOL 2014


Social media to change English learning experience

Anna went solo for her second presentation of the day (third overall) on using social media in the classroom. Talking about how she had used social media in her classroom, and facilitating a group discussion in the intimate presentation space, Anna did a great job of encouraging us to think about just how powerful social media can be in the classroom. And her ‘top tip’ for teachers: Find out what social media your students already use and capitalise on that.


The Michael Griffin Appreciation Plenary (Part 2)

Embracing change – One step at a time

Thornbury - KoTESOL 2014

Scott Thornbury’s plenary, as expected, was a polished talk that spoke to the theme of the conference. Speaking in The English Connection (KoTESOL’s own quarterly publication), Thornbury says: “Change need not be threatening, and, in fact, can be effected through a few simple practices, at least some of which are easily integrated into the teacher’s routine.” Taking his inspiration from Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul GawandeThornbury suggested 5 ways in which teachers can embrace change.

The second piece of advice mirrored the suggestion earlier in the day by Mike Long that essentially reminds us that display questions are not the only ones at our disposal, and our job is to go off script, speak to the students as individuals, and find out about them. Give them a chance to use English to really communicate.

Suggestion number 3 was to count something. Thornbury suggested a number of things that teachers could count, and by doing so, you should learn something about your practice. You can count the number of times a student speaks, the number of times you say ‘good’ to a student (or the number of times you touch your nose). This really spoke to me from a reflective practice point of view, and is a helpful reminder of how important it is for us to look at our own classes. As Mike Long said, many teachers are often amazed at how little their students actually get to speak when re-watching a class.

Number 4 was to write something. Recording your thoughts and feelings is a good way to think about your practice and as Thornbury said, blogs, as an example, are a great way to create a sense of community. In my last post on CPD, I quoted Keith Harding who says one of the essential elements of continuing professional development is to make CPD activities evaluative and not just descriptive. Blogging gives you the opportunity to share experiences with others, receive feedback and gain new perspectives on your teaching.

And the final suggestion was to go out and embrace change. After all “there is no development without change” (Thornbury 2014).


Understanding language variation for language teaching

Mahboob started off his talk by asking the attendees to consider what the words ‘language’ and ‘grammar’ meant. Guessing that those present would offer up answers along the lines of ‘a way to communicate’ and ‘the rules of the language’, Mahboob challenged this definitions by arguing that language is certainly a tool for communication, but that’s not what it is, and that grammar despite what many language teachers might think, is not a set of rules.

But the focus of the talk was on language variation, and Mahboob described a language variation framework that consists of 3 different dimensions. This model allows us to then identify eight, what Mahboob calls, domains.

Language Variation Framework - KoTESOL 2014

Mahboob, A. 2014

The eight domains that Mahboob identifies are:

  1. Local, written, everyday/casual – things such as emails shared between friends fit into this domain.
  2. Local, oral, everyday/casual – which may include chats between friends and people of a close relationship.
  3. Local, written, specialised purposes – in this domain, Mahboob includes people writing within a specialised field, and gave the example of farmers using written guidelines.
  4. Local, oral, specialised purposes – like domain 3, Mahboob have the example again of farmers talking together about crops or other topics related to farming.
  5. Global, written, everyday – Mahboob says that this domain differs from domain 1 because it includes people who are using language to communicate with others outside their community, giving the example of the text found in newspapers, which he says avoid expressions that are not widely found outside of specific communities.
  6. Global, oral, everyday – this domain includes the types of casual conversations held between two or more people who come from different parts of the world.
  7. Global, written, specialised purposes – the type of academic text found in articles, for, as an example, the ELT community would fall into this domain.
  8. Global, oral, specialised purposes – this domain includes the language used typically by, again as an example, academics talking at an ELT conference.

Mahboob suggested that when it came to language teaching, domains 5 and 6 were used as the ‘standard’. This, according to Mahboob was not acceptable. He gave the example of non-native English speaking students coming to study at his university (University of Sydney) with their 7.0 IELTS score, which in his view did not prepare them well enough for the type of academic writing that they would be required to do on the course.

I don’t think that it’s a secret that despite the name Academic IELTS, there’s not really all that much academic about the test. So it is understandable that Mahboob felt that there needed to be a change. But rather than suggesting that the IELTS test itself needed changing, he seemed to suggest that teachers needed to change their classes to suit the needs of their students and that in fact we should be assisting our students to learn the English required for domains 7 and 8, and that a shift was needed. While I agree that undoubtedly, there are some students who do need the level of language on the final two domains, I don’t think that all students do. And anyway, isn’t that the purpose of EAP classes? Was he suggesting that all of our classes should become more like EAP classes?

While I found the first part about language variation interesting, and it was a new perspective on language variation for me, I feel that the implications for language teaching were just not applicable for a large majority of language teachers. In fact, I would say that the a significant number of my students are learning English with the purpose of using it within domains 5 & 6. That being said, I look forward to reading more from Mahboob when I have time in the future, and his talk is by far the one I’ve come away from thinking about the most. A number of his articles are available for download on his academia page.


In addition to the presentations, I also managed to meet quite a few people from Twitter for the first time, including:

@breathyvowel, @bryanteacher, @RhettTeacher, @AnnLoseva, @barbsaka, @tanaebaugh, @MichaelChestnut2, @timhampson, @timknowsefl and maybe one or two more I’m forgetting (sorry).


Mahboob, A. (2014). Language variation and education: A focus on Pakistan in Buschfeld, S., Hoffmann, T., Huber, M. and Kautzsch, A. (Eds.), The evolution of Englishes: The Dynamic Model and beyond (pp. 267-281) Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Thornbury, S. (2014). Interview: Prof. Scott Thornbury The English Connection 18/3