Students’ opinions about English names

After deciding to take the leap into teaching English and settling on Korea back at the beginning of 2007, I can remember reading about how many Korean students have English names, and how their teachers often have the ‘honour’ of naming their young students. How fascinating and wonderful I thought.

Giving English language learners and users English names is not unique to Korea, but it certainly seems to be very prevalent here. Some students have English names that they have used most of their lives, others have English names that they’ve used for just a year or so, and some even have multiple English names, or change their name when they feel like it. It’s not only students who have English names, at the company where I currently work, every Korean member of staff in the company (100+) must go by an English name. But not just any English name, it must be unique – as in no-one else in the company can use that name (I was told this is so that there is no confusion when sending in-company e-mails).

I’ve seen a couple of blog posts on the topic of adopting an English name, most recently this one over at ETProfessional (which also includes a couple of links to other posts).

I’ve always found the idea of adopting another name interesting. I don’t really have a strong opinion on it either way, and I’m happy to call L2 users by whatever name they prefer. For students, I’ll usually ask at the beginning of a lesson if the student wants me to call them by their English name or Korean name, and try as best I can to follow their wishes. The only time I avoid using English names is if they are (in my opinion) not suitable as a name (see below).

Every now and again, they will tell me I can choose between their English name or Korean name, and I’ve found myself opting for their Korean name recently, which suggests to me that on some level, I must prefer using Korean names.

I’ve been at my current workplace since 2008, and when I look back to that time, I think that the number of students using English names has decreased, at least that was my opinion. So, yesterday, I sat down with some of my students to get their opinion on the topic of English names. In a similar fashion to my last post on technology, I gave my students some questions to discuss and noted down their responses.


  1. Do you have an English name?
  2. Do you use your English name?
  3. In what situations do you use your English name?
  4. Did you choose your English name or did someone choose it for you?
  5. How did you choose your English name?
  6. Have you ever changed your English name? Why?
  7. Do you like your English name? Why?
  8. Do you prefer to use your English name or Korean name at this academy? Why?


All of my students are adults, studying at a private language academy. In yesterday’s class there were 19 students spread across 3 different tables. The responses below are the notes that I took, and are a mixture of different students’ opinions. I have done my best to remove any identifying information.


1. Do you have an English name?

  • YES: 13
  • NO: 6

2. Do you use your English name?

  • YES: 5 
  • NO: 2

3. In what situations do you use your English name?

Most students who said that they used their English name said they did so when meeting foreigners, especially when foreigners can’t pronounce the Korean name. Some of the students said that they would offer their Korean name first to foreign people, but if it was hard to pronounce, they would offer their English name. Others said that they automatically offered their English name when talking with foreign people.

Interestingly, one student said that she uses her English name more than her Korean name, and that all of her Korean friends call her by her English name, even when speaking in Korean.

A couple of the students, who had said they used their English name sometimes, said that they only really used it when they were abroad, but in Korea typically used their Korean names with both Korean and foreign people.

Two different students also reported that they used their English name when they wanted to keep their Korean name secret/hidden. One of the students who said this, explained that her Korean name was very common, so she liked using her English name as it was more unique.

Then a couple of the students said that they only used their English name while they were in the academy.

4. Did you choose your English name or did someone choose it for you?

5. How did you choose your English name?

8 of the students who said that they had an English name said that they chose the name themselves. The remaining 5 said that someone else chose the name for them.

Chosen by someone else

Of the students who didn’t choose their own English name, 2 said that their friend had suggested it, 1 said that their teacher in the Philippines had chosen it, and the other 2 said that their sales consultant at my academy had chosen it for them when they first signed up for their course.

This is something that some ex-sales consultants at my academy used to do quite often. When I first started, I remember one of the sales consultants insisted that students use an English name, and if they didn’t have one, she would give them a sheet with a list of names, leave the room and tell them to choose one by the time she came back! To the best of my knowledge, none of the current members of the sales team does this now, and this might explain why I have noticed a drop in the number of students using English names.

One thing I found quite interesting was that one of the students who had reported that his name had been chosen by his friends said that at the time they had been teasing him. He told me that his friends started calling him an English name after a famous gay American icon, but he didn’t realise, so adopted the name. After finding out that they had been teasing him, he decided to keep the name because he ‘liked it’.

Chosen by themselves

From the students who said that they had chosen their English name themselves, there was a bit of variety. Two students said that they had chosen their name based on an American actor or character. Two others said that they used the initials from their Korean name. One student said that she had chosen her English name because it shared the meaning with her Korean name, and another said that her English name sounded similar to her Korean name.

6. Have you ever changed your English name? Why?

I’ll preface this by saying that in Korea it’s quite common for Koreans to change their Korean name. My wife changed her name about 15 years ago, and I’ve met quite a few students who have done so also – either officially or unofficially – I had intended to ask my students this question, but forgot to add it to the list yesterday. But from other discussion with students, I’ve heard about one girl who changed her name because a fortune teller told her if she kept her original name she would die soon! Another guy came home one day when he was about ten years old to the news that his parents had been to the district office and changed his name. He told me that his parents have never told him why.

Five of the 13 who had English names told me that they had changed their English name at least once. Reasons for doing so included that they were tired of the name, their name was too common (i.e. another student at the academy had the same English name), the ‘r’ sound at the beginning of one student’s name was too difficult for him to pronounce. One student said that she changed her name because it sounded too old-fashioned, before admitting that it sounded Japanese. And one more student said that he decided to change his name to copy an(other) American actor.

I haven’t found it that common for students to change their English name while studying at my academy, although every now and again a student will go away for a year or two (to do their military service, finish university, study abroad, etc.) and come back with a different English name. When I was teaching younger learners, it seemed much more common for students to change their name on a regular basis.

7. Do you like your English name? Why?

  • YES: 10
  • NO: 3

Most students said that they did like their English name, and the three who didn’t were the three who reported that they didn’t use (or almost never used) their English name.

Reasons for not liking their English name included that it was too long, and one student said that his English name was the same as one of the fictional characters that appears in our academy’s materials (this character is portrayed as a helpless fool who everyone laughs at), and the student felt embarrassed when introducing himself using that name.

8. Do you prefer to use your English name or Korean name at this academy? Why?


I have included some comments here from the students who had no English name, as well as the students who had an English name but said they preferred their Korean one.

Reasons for using their Korean name included: It was easy to remember, they mainly spoke with Korean people, “I’m Korean”. One student said that he felt it would become confusing when students were outside of the academy and wanted students to remember his Korean name. Another student said that because his father had given him his name he wanted to use it. Finally one (very low-level) student told me that he doesn’t have an English name now, because his level was so low, but when he feels that his level has improved, he will choose an English name to reflect his level.


Reasons for using an English name included: The Korean name was as common as the English name (??), the Korean name was more difficult to pronounce for foreign teachers, and again the reason that their sales consultant had suggested they use one when they first signed up and it just stuck.

Some notes on ‘names’

Out of all 13 students who said that they had an English name, I would say 12 of them had a sensible English name. I realise of course that this is very subjective, but the student whose name I felt was not suitable, has an English greeting (?) as his name, rather than an ‘actual’ name. Typically, if a student tells me their English name is something that I think is not that suitable as a name (think along the lines of ‘Mr Superstar’), I’ll use their Korean name.

Also, in writing this post, I have been quite aware of my use of the term ‘English name’. Perhaps this is very English-centric, and I realise that a lot of names are not English in origin. However, in the absence (to my knowledge) of a better term, I have continued to use it.

Final thoughts

It appears to me, from my discussions (both yesterday and on other occasions) at least, that Koreans are not quite as attached to their name(s) (either Korean or English) as people from other European/N. American countries. At first, I found this quite surprising considering what some parents go through when their children are born to select an appropriate name.

When my son was born, we decided on his English name quite quickly after he was born. His Korean name was a whole different matter. My mother-in-law drew up a list of possibilities (including the one Korean name I had suggested), and took them down to the ‘professional‘ to see whether the name was acceptable. I don’t quite understand what this professional does exactly other than write out some Chinese characters and then ask for $150, but anything for an easy life. Fortunately, the Korean name that I liked was acceptable because it ‘matched’ my 2-week old son’s character.

But perhaps this seeming willingness to change their Korean name plays a part in the ease at which they are happy to accept an English name.

In terms of choosing an English name, I don’t think most of the students I have spoken to feel too strongly about it, and decide to use an English name because they feel that it will assist foreign people who ‘have difficulty pronouncing’ their Korean name. I get the feeling that some of the students I have spoken to really do embrace their English name and it becomes part of their identity, but that might not be the case for all students.

Either way, I’m happy to call any student by (almost) any name that they choose.


I talked Tech with my students in Korea today #ELTYAK

Update (August 11 2014): You can see more commentary and analysis of this post in another post I recently wrote for

A couple of months ago, the folks over at eltjam put out an invitation to you and your students to talk tech. Then last week Mike Griffin posted his results from discussions with his students on a graduate program in Seoul. I was intrigued by the responses that Mike got, and thought that it made for an interesting discussion. So, today, I decided to do the same with some of my students.

First things first, the students. I had a class of 21 students. It was a ‘free talking’ class which usually entails groups of students sitting around together and talking about anything they fancy. I, as the teacher, then usually circulate among the tables and chat with the students. These students were all in their 20s, mostly university students studying in Daegu. All of the students are studying at a private language academy – where I work. The students were split into three groups (7, 6, 8), and were a mixture of male and female students.

Our academy does in fact use technology quite a bit, where students are required to complete an online component of their course before each lesson on their own.

I adapted the questions slightly from the ones posted by eltjam and didn’t use them all. Rather than giving the students the chance to discuss the questions together first, I led the discussion and wrote down notes. The questions I asked were:

  1. Apart from this academy’s material, what do you use outside of class to help you learn English?
  2. What technology do you use to learn English when you’re not at the academy?
  3. How do you know that technology is helping you to learn English?
  4. What language is your phone set to?
  5. What do you think about using technology in class?
  6. Is there anything you want to do with technology and learning English, but can’t?

Below are my notes and what I gathered from the students comments on the questions I asked.

1. Apart from this academy’s material, what do you use outside of class to help you learn English?

  • One student responded that he read English news articles from the likes of BBC and CNN.
  • A couple of students said that they liked listening to pop songs in English online, and that they felt that helped them learn English.
  • Quite a few of the higher level students said that they watched English dramas – when asked, many said that they tried without subtitles first, but would sometimes re-watch with English subtitles. I also asked the students who said that they did this if they were doing so specifically to learn English, and most said that they were trying to improve their listening skills.
  • A few students mentioned that they liked to listen to a Korean radio broadcast ‘입이트이는영어’, which translates into something like ‘How to speak fluently’.
  • TED Talks came up a couple of times, and many students said that they found this helpful.
  • Most students said that they used grammar books, both Korean produced and those published outside of Korea, e.g. English Grammar in Use.

2. What technology do you use to learn English when you’re not at the academy?

  • The TED Talks app cropped up a couple of times here again. One of the students showed me a ‘TED Talks Subtitles’ app.
  • Almost all students said that they used a Korean-English dictionary app, and a few said that they used an English-English dictionary app. Most students said they were familar with Naver and Daum dictionaries (two of the biggest internet search companies in Korea). One comment I got was that Daum dictionary was good for providing the correct definition, while Naver was good for providing lots of example sentences.
  • Google translate was mentioned a couple of times also, where students said they used it more as a dictionary.
  • Only one student said that he used a specific English learning app to help him: ‘SuperVocabulary’.

3. How do you know that technology is helping you to learn English?

  • Most students had difficulty answering this question. Many said that they didn’t really know.
  • One student responded that it was ‘always helpful and convenient’.
  • Another said that he didn’t really know if it was helpful, but used technology because other people had said that it helped them.

4. What language is your phone set to?

  • I asked all 21 students this question:
    • KOREAN: 17
    • ENGLISH: 3
    • JAPANESE: 1
  • Two of the three who did have their phone in English were fairly low level.
  • A couple of students said that in the past their phones had been set to English but they had changed it back.
  • Another comment that I heard twice was that the iPhone English was ‘better’ than the Android English. One of the students who previously had her iPhone in English said that she couldn’t have her Android in English because it was too difficult to use.
  • One student said that he thought that it would be useless to turn the phone to English after having used it in Korean, because it had become automatic to use the phone, and he didn’t need to read the on screen instructions, but it would have been better if he had turned his phone to English from the start.
  • One more student was very excited about the idea of turning her phone to English, and couldn’t wait to try it out.

5. What do you think about using technology in class?

  • Most of the students were actually quite indifferent to this question. Some said that they hadn’t really thought about it before, so didn’t know how to answer.
  • One of the three groups did however have a bit to say about this. One girl thought that it would be good to have handouts sent digitally to phones/tablets to save paper, and also she could write on the notes on her phone and save them for later.
  • Another student suggested using QR codes on handouts so that students could get more information later on if they wanted.
  • A couple of students felt that allowing technology in the class could be a distraction though, and that students might be tempted to play on their phones or chat with friends if they were not interested in the lesson.
  • Another student felt unsure because of the ‘technical skill’ required on both the student and teacher’s part, and that this might take up a lot of time in the lesson that could be otherwise spent on English.

6. Is there anything you want to do with technology and learning English, but can’t?

  • Some students said that they hadn’t thought about it.
  • One student said that she’d like to record her voice so that she could listen back to it later on, but didn’t know how. (One other student immediately showed her the voice record function).
  • One student said that he would like it if all YouTube videos had English subtitles so that he could check his understanding.
  • Quite a few students said that because they use Hangeul Word Processor, a Korean equivalent of Microsoft Word, they were unable to check their spelling and grammar because the spellcheck only worked for Korean. They didn’t have Word on their computers to use the Microsoft spellchecker. As a result, they didn’t know how they could check their spelling.
  • One student said that she would really like to be able to find out the meaning of idioms and proverbs online but didn’t know how.
  • Another student who had studied in the US said that she really wanted to be able to use the Netflix app on her phone, but couldn’t because it was blocked in Korea.
  • Finally, a couple of students commented on how they would like an app to be able to do our academy’s online component of their course instead of having to do it on the computer.


I think the thing that stuck out the most for me, was the lack of apps that students used/were aware of, apart from the dictionaries. Only one student said that he used an English learning app specifically. I was also a little surprised at the comments about watching dramas/TED Talks without subtitles, and wonder whether students were just saying this because they felt that they had to because it was the ‘right’ answer.

If nothing else, I hope our discussion of technology at least raised my students’ awareness that there were things they could do, and I was quite happy to see the other students making suggestions and helping out students who didn’t really know what they could do.

How do I use Twitter (for PD or otherwise)?

This post has been sitting, unfinished, in my drafts for a few months, but after Mike Griffin and Laura Soracco‘s excellent webinar this morning (afternoon/evening depending on where you are) on using the internet for professional development, I thought it was about time I revisited it.

Rather than a kind of ‘how-to‘ guide for Twitter, I thought I’d post a ‘How-I‘ description. There are already a few posts by others on using Twitter for professional development in ELT, for example this one by Sandy Millin, and this recent one by Anthony Schmidt, and this Guardian article by Russell Stannard, and no doubt many more that I’m just to lazy to search for.

Who do I follow?

Now, my two main reasons for using Twitter are to keep up with ELT by reading/discussing with other teachers and to follow the news (non-ELT related). So the majority of the people that I follow on Twitter are people connected to ELT: teachers, trainers, linguists, materials writers, etc. I don’t really follow many celebrities, although I think that there are a couple that I am still following, and many of my family members are on Twitter so I follow them, but they don’t really use it that much.

I typically find new people to follow from watching webinars, or when other people re-tweet interesting people. If someone follows me, and their description is related to ELT, TESOL, English language, then I’ll follow back, because I expect that they’re going to have something that I’m interested in when I’m on Twitter.

I used to follow a load of news Twitter accounts, but today, the only news feeds that I follow are The Guardian and Guardian News, The Independent and the BBC News accounts: UK, World and Breaking News. I unfollowed most of the other news accounts because they filled up my Twitter stream too quickly.

How do I use lists?

Instead of following all of the news accounts on Twitter, I made a separate ListThat way, when I want to read the news feeds, all I have to do is check out my list, and it doesn’t clutter up my regular Twitter feed, when I am just want to read ELT stuff. At the moment, my news list is the only list I use.

How do I read tweets?

I use TweetDeck when I’m at home and out and about on my laptop, and I use the Twitter application for Android. TweetDeck is the first program I open up when my computer starts, and I always have it up on my second screen when I’m at home. While the Twitter application for Android isn’t that great, it is nice to get notifications on the phone straight away, and I like to browse Twitter when I have free time on my phone. Occasionally, I’ll send tweets from my phone, but use Tweetdeck when I can.

On TweetDeck, I have a column for notifications, my Twitter feed, as well as a few others, such as #KELTchat, and my DMs. I also have a column for my news list, but I keep that hidden at the end because it’s a little distracting when I can see it out of the corner of my eye and it moves so quickly. I only scroll across when I want to read the news. When there is a webinar, conference, #chat etc, I’ll create a new column during that time with the hashtag, which makes it really easy to follow along.

What about e-mail notifications?

I have turned off absolutely all of my e-mail notifications from Twitter. I don’t need them and don’t want them. I already get all of my notifications from TweetDeck and my phone. It seems that Twitter has quite a few different e-mail notification options. To be honest, I don’t really need to know that someone favourited the re-tweet of a tweet that I had re-tweeted. Thanks anyway though, Twitter.

And what about that favourite button?

This seems to be one that some people get a little confused about. What’s it for? Is it the same as Facebook’s Like button? I guess it’s really up to you how you want to use it, and I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer. I typically use it for two main reasons.

(1) I use it as an acknowledgement when sending a tweet seems unnecessary or I have nothing else to say. Often, if someone says thanks, rather than replying with a ‘thank you for saying thanks’ tweet, I’ll hit the fav button. Also, during a #chat, I’ll use it to show that I have seen someone’s tweet, but have nothing really to add to the conversation at this point. I’ll admit that I do occasionally use it as a kind of ‘Like’ button, but try to avoid it if I can.

(2) If I see a tweet that I think might be interesting, but don’t have time to read the link at that moment, I use the favourite button to keep it for later. Then when I get home I can go back through my recent favourites to catch up on things I had marked.

When I use the fav button to save a tweet for later, I typically ‘un-fav’ it later on after reading it, just to kind of clean up my fav list.


If I re-tweet a tweet that includes a link, there is a 99% chance that I have read the link. I very rarely RT a link/article that I haven’t read through. Sometimes, I’ll fav the tweet first and then RT it later (and then delete the fav).

Like many Twitter people, my RTs don’t necessarily mean that I agree or endorse what has been said. If I RT something, it’s because I think it is interesting and something that other people might also be interested in.

I sometimes RT people’s tweets that link to a blog post they have written, but typically I prefer to visit the blog, and tweet it out myself. First, I think it shows that I have actually been to the page and read the post, and also it gives that person’s tweet a bit more coverage. If I simply RT someone’s tweet, then anyone who follows both me and that person, will only see one tweet (i.e. they don’t see my RT). By sending out a new tweet, I think people are more likely to notice something if it seems that more people are talking about it. Make sense?

So, that’s pretty much how I use Twitter. Am I missing something or doing anything wrong?

Dealing with latecomers

I was once told by a senior (Korean) manager at the private language academy where I work that some Korean students are always going to be late, and we just need to expect that. She told us (a group of teachers) that 30% of Korean students will come late, and that working for a private language school, where we provide a service, it’s important to treat the students as customers and deal with their lateness as part of our job as an ELT.

I don’t know where she got the figure of 30% from. Maybe it was plucked out of the air, maybe she had read some research. I also don’t know whether it is true, whether it only relates to Koreans or whether students from other countries are also often late. But I do know that student lateness is something that I experience on a fairly regular basis.

Firstly, a note on my teaching context. I teach at a private language academy in Daegu, South Korea. We teach adult students aged 18 and over. The majority of the students are university students, but there are also some adult workers. It’s not cheap to study at my academy (not that my salary reflects that :p). The students schedule classes for when they want to join, and most classes I teach are with a different group of students every time. I teach two main types of classes – one has up to 4 students, the other up to 9.

Reasons for tardiness

There are of course many reasons that students have for being late to class. Some of them quite legitimate, others perhaps not so much (in my opinion of course). Some of the reasons that I have heard over the last few years include, in no order other than that in which I can think of them: (1) My boss/professor wanted me to stay late to talk about something. (2) I was waiting to park my car downstairs (understandable as I know how long it can sometimes take to park the car, and our students are only allowed to park for free for 90 minutes). (3) My bus/subway was late (I’ve lived in Korea 7 years, and I don’t think the bus or subway has ever been late!) (4) My baby was sick and I had to drop her off at the hospital on my way to class (true story!) (5) I woke up late (at least you’re honest). (6) I had to schedule my class at this time, even though I told the front desk I wouldn’t be able to make it on time. They said it would be okay. (This happens sometimes, the teachers are very rarely told about it beforehand). (7) Sorry. (Not really an excuse but, sometimes it’s all that’s offered – better than silence I guess). (8) I forgot about my class so I rushed to get to the centre. (9) I was already in the centre, and I forgot about my class. (10) Sorry, I tried to get here as quickly as possible (as the student comes in smelling of fags – cultural note: fags means cigarettes in Br English). (11) Sorry for being late, I woke up at 6am, travelled from my house in Pohang to my head office in Ulsan (33.2 miles), then had a meeting in Daejeon (121 miles), and then had to get to Daegu for my class (75.5 miles) (In fairness, this student arrived to class probably just under 2 minutes late).

So quite the variety of excuses then.

How late?

Of course, as the last example above shows, students are sometimes only just a couple of minutes late – no real problem to me, and I don’t really count that as being late in such small classes anyway. I always try to spend a few minutes right at the beginning of class to talk to students about their weekend plans, how they found the work leading up to the class, etc.

I would say that quite a common amount of time for being late, in my experience, is between 10-15 minutes. However, I occasionally have students turn up 25-30 minutes late (half of the class time) and even had one student turn up 48 minutes late to a class once – he came in, without saying a word, sat down and began to get out his book. There were only two other students in the class! He knew he was late, but still wanted to get what he could from the lesson.

So, what’s the problem?

Of course the guy who turned up 48 minutes into a 55-minute class is a big problem (in fact I asked him to wait outside until I’d finished the class in this case.) But what about the others? One of the major problems I have noticed with students coming late is that it can really disrupt the class dynamic. Many of the classes I teach have students in who are meeting for the first time, or who don’t know each other all that well. Korea has a real hierarchical structure to its society, and the way that you address people and behave towards them is often dictated by who is older, as well as social standing. By coming in late, there’s no ‘feeling-out’ process for the students to assess each other and see where they fit. Even though during class it doesn’t really matter, there is often this feeling of tension and uneasiness when the students haven’t had a chance to introduce themselves. Perhaps this is not just a Korean thing? Maybe it’s the same in all cultures?

Then there’s the issue of missing the input/teaching part of the class (if that’s your way). You spend 20 minutes leading up to an activity, pre-teaching vocab, going over relevant grammar (or whatever) only for Johnny Nowatch to come in and start asking questions because he doesn’t understand a word.

Even if Mr Nowatch understands everything, he’s gonna be cold. Most teachers (am I making an ASS out of U and ME?) probably start off quite slowly at the beginning of the class, and build up to more challenging activities at the end. He comes in, probably not having spoken English that day, maybe even not that week, and often struggles through.

What to do?

Dealing with latecomers, then, is essentially part of the teacher’s job. In private language schools, the students have paid for the service, they are customers. In fact, our academy has a policy of never turning away students if they want to join their class, no matter how late they join. In reality, the Korean support staff will try to encourage them to reschedule to join another time, but every now and again, a student will be persistent and insist on joining. Typically, if a student comes late to one of my classes, the first thing I’ll want to do is minimize the impact on the students who are already there – who have made the effort to come on time.

If we’re mid activity – there are two options. I can either ask the student to take a seat and wait until we are at the end of the current activity, at which point I will incorporate the student into the next step. Alternatively, especially if you feel the latecomer’s level is good enough, you can have him/her join an existing group, and ask the group to explain the activity to the student. I quite like this because it gives the students in the existing group the opportunity of explaining and helping the other student – all in English of course.

During a teacher explanation stage of a lesson/activity is perhaps a little more challenging. The student comes in late. Do you stop mid explanation and ask the student to take a seat and ask for an explanation? Doing so risks losing your train of thought and diverting the attention of the students who are already there. OR do you carry on like nothing’s happened and wait until you finish the explanation to address the student? For me, it’s probably a bit of a mixture of both. I might quickly say Hi to the latecomer, but then continue with where I was. So what to do next with the latecomer? I can have the students begin the activity and then go over it again with Miss Tardy, or perhaps have her join a group, like above and have them explain it to her. But then that often creates the problem of putting that group behind the others.

But perhaps the best way to deal with latecomers is to pre-empt it. Nip it in the bud at the beginning of a course. I’ve known some teachers to draw up learning contracts with their students that set out what is expected. I don’t do this, and can’t really as I see different groups of students every day and it is never the same. But doing so, might shift more responsibility on to the students.

Of course, having a latecomer is not always such a bad thing. Every now and then I’m happy to see a student come, even if they are late. Because I know at the end of the class we have a role play coming up which is much more suitable for partners, and until now I’ve been wondering what I’ll do with an odd (in the number sense) group of three.


  1. What do you do when a student comes late?
  2. Do you allow students who come late to join the class?
  3. Do you have a cut-off point after which students aren’t allowed to join a class?
  4. How big a problem is tardiness where you work?
  5. What opportunities can be created when students join the class late?
  6. Is it better to have a student join late or not join at all?
  7. How much time do you spend with a latecomer to explain the instructions that you have just explained to the class?

Some links re teaching English online/freelance [UPDATED]

Post updated July 8 2014 to add links 6-10.

One thing that I have been considering/contemplating quite recently is a move into freelance teaching. Whether that be face-to-face, online or a combination of the two. I’m not sure whether it is because I have been thinking about it, but I have noticed quite a bit of stuff online about teaching freelance/online. Some of it came about as a result of Googling, but most just appeared in my Twitter stream. I’ve effectively been teaching freelance for the last year and a bit, albeit with the same academy, with a guaranteed number of hours a week and to a fixed schedule. While my future is still a little uncertain at the moment, and I’m not quite ready to jump into freelance teaching on my own quite yet, here’s some of what I have found recently, in no particular order (other than that’s the way that are currently opened in my browser):

1. How to get started as an online teacher of English

The British Council Voices blog published a post by Emma Segev titled How to get started as an online teacher of English.

2. How to survive in the freelance market

The OUP Global blog is doing a 6-part series on How to survive in the freelance market. The posts are written by Bethany Cagnol and Mike Hogan. Part 1 is here, and part 2 here, with the other parts due to follow in the future.

3. Challenges of teaching business English online

Joanna Malefaki posted the Challenges of teaching business English online on her blog back in March.

4. 7 tools for truly effective training courses

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus posted 7 tools for truly effective training courses on her blog to complement her Belta webinar last month (which I think you can watch online if you are a Belta member). During the webinar, Christina mentioned that a lot of the tools she uses are designed for 1:1 or small groups.

5. Teaching online in Korea: Tips, tricks and tools

This post, Teaching online in Korea: Tips, tricks and tools, also has some useful information. Some of which specific to Korea, while other ideas useful for anyone.

6. Teaching English online: opportunities and pitfalls

In this post, again from the British Council Voices blog, Sylvia Guinan looks at Teaching English online: opportunities and pitfalls. Sylvia’s post touches on one-to-one teaching, but focuses mainly on teaching larger groups online and the tools that a teacher can use to create their own LMS (Learning Management System).

7. The perks of being an online teacher

Joanna Malefaki, mentioned already above, also has this post about the perks of being an online teacherwith some great reasons for teaching online, including the chance to wear your pajamas!

8. Some perks of teaching online

Vedrana Vojković follows up on Joanna Malefaki’s post with some of her own perks of teaching online. While there is some overlap, Vedrana provides a slightly different perspective on online teaching, talking about asynchronous courses.

9. Who’d be a freelance teacher?

In two in-depth posts from the Cooperativa de Serveis Linguistics de Barcelona, the author looks at freelance teaching with a focus on Spain. The first post, Who’d be a freelance teacher? (pt. 1) looks at some of the fear and stigma teachers face when considering working for themselves. In the second post, aptly named Who’d be a freelance teacher? (pt. 2), the focus is on some of the positives.

10. Introduction to online teaching for new teachers

The ESL blog has these two posts about teaching online for new teachers written by Kenneth Beare. The first, Introduction to online teaching for English teachers, looks at working for yourself or for a company and the competition. The second post, Guide to teaching online for new teachers, focuses on what the online teacher needs.

This is what I have come across recently re teaching online or freelance. If you know of any other resources, blogs, posts, etc. I’d be interested to hear about them, while I consider my next move…

OneThing from last week

In the #OneThing tradition, started by Anne Hendler a few weeks back, I have began thinking more and more about the simple day to day occurrences in my classroom. Here is one from last week (it is not a dream):

It was a 1:1 class with an intermediate student. He’d been away in another country for quite some months and had recently returned to study at our academy. When he first started, probably 2 years ago, he was quite a low level. Since coming back, I’d noticed somewhat of an improvement in his English ability, but his fluency was perhaps lower than that of other students at his level. He would sometimes spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to say something and regularly stop mid sentence and try to reformulate what it was he wanted to say. This made it quite difficult sometimes to follow him with ease.

One of the target structures during the class was relative clauses to describe words/jobs etc. E.g. A teacher is someone who helps students learn shit (used for illustrative purposes for this blog post only). The theme of this particular class was the medical profession, and, therefore, the student had a list of words that he had to define related to the topic. We started the activity, and I began by eliciting the target structure. This was actually this particular student’s second time at doing this class, so he was able to provide the target structure quite quickly without much effort. Great, I thought. This should go quite smoothly.

We started off quite well. “A dentist is someone who treat patients’ teeth”. Okay, there was a little bit of confusion with subject-verb agreement, which we quickly rectified. “A counselor is someone who helps people with marriage problems.” Not bad, I thought. But then things started to go wrong. I noticed that on a few words, this student would start to speak, stop, go back, and make a real mess of the sentence he was trying to spit out. It was getting quite frustrating – not that I showed any frustration of course. I’ve done this class a number of times, and it is quite common for students to do this – be able to produce one sentence and then the next minute get completely stuck. We got to one example in particular, and the student was having a difficult time coming up with a sentence. The word was pharmacy. Now sometimes students will get a little confused and say something like: A pharmacy is someone who gives you drugs. But this student didn’t make that mistake. He started off - A pharmacy is a store - good start, I thought – that…, and this is where he began to mumble. He went back and started again. “What are you trying to say?” I asked him. “I know the word, I just can’t explain in English.” He said. “That’s okay, try again.” I said. A pharmacy is a store that you… gives… pharmacist… gives… drugs… you can… (or something like that). “Okay, let’s try it together.” I said. “A pharmacy is a store – this is good. And it sells medicine. So can you put the two sentences together?” I asked.

“Wait!” said my student. “A pharmacy sells medicine? We can say that? But a pharmacy is not a person?”

So, suddenly it all made sense. Not just the difficulty that this student was having, but all the times before where students have had trouble. The student wasn’t having difficulty with the target language, he was struggling with the idea of using a business as the subject of the sentence. Thinking about it from his point of view, it’s completely understandable why he was having trouble. The idea that we can say that a non-human entity performs an action was what he was getting caught up on.

As soon as I had assured him that we can, and indeed often do say things like this (we looked at a few others: CGV (local cinema chain) shows movies, Mrs Kim’s Academy (fictitious learning institute) teaches English), he was back on track, and had no real difficulty in producing coherent sentences for the rest of the examples.

For me, the whole things just goes to show that there is sometimes a lot more that the students need to be aware of when we isolate a piece of target language and expect them to produce correct sentences. In fact, the student admitted he had heard the example sentences (CGV shows movies) before and accepted them as correct without thinking about it. But when it came to using it in a relative clause, he was forced to think about it.

So the next time I teach this lesson, and a student has difficulty with the same word, I’ll have a pretty good idea about what’s going wrong (I hope). Perhaps the reason for this student’s lack of fluency is that he is getting caught up on other things like this – he is always questioning himself about whether we can say this or not. He obviously still has a lot to learn…

…as do I.

Looking for expert quotes/snippets/beliefs about language learning & ELT

I’m looking for quotes/beliefs about ELT, language learning, etc. that the ‘experts’ have written/said. Something similar to some of the quotes below. If you have any suggestions, ideas, please do share. Thanks!


It is generally true to say that when sets of words are being learned, the relations between these new entries in the lexicon can be a source of interference making the learning task more difficult: learning opportunities, morphologically similar words, or phonologically similar words together can make learning much more difficult. When words are not learned in sets, the relations by analogy between new and known words can make learning easier. That is, if you already know several words with a certain consonant cluster, then learning a new one with the same initial consonant cluster will be easier. Similarly, already knowing the word for ‘a male relative older than your parents’ will make the learning of the word for a ‘male relative younger than your parents’ easier.

-Nation, I.S.P. (2001) Learning Vocabulary in Another Language


Human language is creative. That is, language does not provide us with a set of prepackaged messages. Rather, it allows us to produce and understand new words and sentences whenever needed… Linguistic competence can be defined as subconscious knowledge that enables the native speakers of a language to produce and understand an unlimited number of both familiar and novel utterances… This subconscious knowledge allows speakers of a language to produce an infinite number of sentences, many of which we have never uttered or heard before. This is often referred to as language creativity. We don’t memorize language; we create it.

-O’Grady, Archibald, Arnoff and Rees-Miller (2010) Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction (Study Guide)


Repeating something [new language] a number of times, one after the other, isn’t especially useful. What language students need is repeated encounters with language which are spaced out – that is, language which students come back to again and again, with time lapses in between.

-Harmer, J. (2007) The Practice of English Language Teaching


A central element of language teaching is raising students’ awareness of, and developing their ability to ‘chunk’ language.

-Lewis, M. (1993) The Lexical Approach


The concept question, by virtue of the fact that it rarely, if ever, occurs in real communication, has no place in communicative language teaching (CLT)… Let’s remember a simple maxim: If it doesn’t happen in real communication, then it shouldn’t happen in the classroom.

-Penston, T. (2013) English Teaching Professional 89


One of the most important things that teachers have to learn is how to adjust their language to make it appropriate for different groups of learners, particularly lower-level learners.

Use gestures, pictures and other things that will support what you are saying to make it easier to understand.

Speak with natural rhythm and intonation.

Speak at a natural speed, but pause slightly longer after each ‘chunk’, if necessary.

Try to avoid ‘difficult’ vocabulary (for example, very idiomatic language).

Try to avoid complex grammar patterns.

- Thornbury, S & Watkins, P. (2007) The CELTA Course – Trainee Book


The best methods are therefore those that supply “comprehensible input” in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are “ready”, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.

-Krashen, S. (1982) Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition


This suggests to me that there are two ‘vocabularies’ that the learners need to acquire: the 6,000 + high-frequency lexical words (and chunks) that provide the threshold into fluency, and the 150 or so common functors that cement these lexical words together.

Thornbury, S. (2013). Big Questions in ELT