Listening Skills: Tips and links.

Listening Skills

The following websites are good for practicing listening. What are the pros and cons of each one ? What do you like or dislike about them ? How helpful do you find them ?

British Council (learn English teens). Home – skills – listening

http://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/skills/listening-skills-practice

Newsinlevels.com

https://www.newsinlevels.com/

BBC Learning English (for pronunciation)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/pronunciation

There are many courses on YouTube. I use:

English Speaking Course Unit 2

Learn English with Emma

https://www.youtube.com/user/EnglishTeacherEmma

Mad English TV

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUeS2Jmgiu0OFaTeRqkuXtw

TOEIC Channel

English Class 101

And … listen to music (with lyrics), films (short clips – 30 seconds to 1 minute) and TV shows with subtitles.

Try these:

Music

Any English song with lyrics (words) will be a great way to learn, and fun as well.

Film ‘King’s Speech’

TV show – ‘Eastenders’

This is a ‘soap opera’ – a TV drama that is shown two or three times a week. Each episode last 30 minutes and has many different characters. This drama is set in eat London, so many people have an accent typical of that area. See how much you understand.

IELTS: I love it, I hate it, it’s not my cup of tea, it’s OK.

Monday 21st January 2019

Tonight is what we call a ‘mixed bag’; the lesson includes speaking, reading, listening and grammar. It’s Monday; students will be arriving after work, tired, maybe not entirely motivated, maybe not entirely in the mood for a three-hour lesson, maybe committed to watching the clock move it’s intractable hands from 6 to 9. IELTS is a hard course, it requires work, energy, motivation. The teacher’s thankless task is to bring the book alive, motivate the unmotivated and ignore, rise above, the veiled insults and sarcasm that is prevalent in most classes. But, enough, time to put noses to grindstones and upload tonight’s plan.

The first 15 / 20 minutes or so are a French farce of people coming and going, greeting each other, moving chairs, chatting on phones. I do a short warm up exercise, introducing vocabulary or phrases. It provides useful expressions for punctual students, whereas latecomers will not have missed any book work. Tonight it’s going to be common fixed expressions and in which situation they can be used:

This one’s on me Let me think about it    It doesn’t matter Thanks for coming

I don’t believe a word of it  I’ll be with you in a minute As I was saying It was lovely to see you I don’t get the point   I see what you mean

You look great today I’ll be making a move then  Just looking, thanks 

Match the phrase(s) with the situation

You meet an old friend

Compliment someone 

You are asked a question but need time to consider

Someone tells you a story – you think it is false. 

Friends drinking in a pub / bar

You go into a shop but not necessarily to buy anything

A customer arrives but you are busy

You don’t understand what someone is trying to prove

You understand what someone thinks (but not necessarily agree with)

There is a small problem / Someone upsets you but you want to make it OK

To continue with a conversation that was interrupted.

These fixed phrases are so important in making students sound like natural speakers, which will result in higher IELTS scores.

The next section will be expressing likes, dislikes or having no strong feeling either way. A good activity will involve different skills being used, so here I will play three songs, in English naturally, but from different countries, and with different accents. I want to elicit the students’ opinions of the music and how much they can understand. First, the presentation, new vocabulary:

Like: I absolutely love … I’m crazy about … I (really) like I’m into I’m a big fan of … I’m quite keen on I haven’t heard (seen/read) this before, but I think it’s great

No strong opinion: I don’t mind I have mixed feelings about …. It’s OK I don’t really have any strong views / feelings either way

Dislike: I hate I detest I can’t stand I don’t really like I think it’s awful I’m not a big fan of … I’m not that keen on …

Secondly, we could play a ‘word bomb’. In this activity, a generic word is boarded, in this case, ‘music’. The students shout out as many words they can, a word-association game. Once the board is full, or the students have no more ideas, we can expand; types of musical genres, instruments, musical terminology, ways of listening to music, of buying music, musicians, bands, solo artists, people who work in the industry. This type of game is good as there are few ‘wrong’ answers and the speed can encourage shyer students to speak and participate (note comparative of shy can be shier or shyer).

First, from Australia, we have Kylie Minogue. The lyrics start at 00.30

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c18441Eh_WE

Secondly, we turn to a Country singer from USA, Mr Hank Williams. The style is markedly different to the previous song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WXYjm74WFI

Finally, The Smiths, from the mid 1980s. here, the accent may be difficult, but it is a slow song, and under two minutes in length.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nxQLJmshak

The students will play the role of examiner and candidate. One will ask questions and the other will be expected to answer in an IELTS-style manner, ie, long sentences, discourse markers, good grammar and syntax, appropriate intonation, eye contact and body language.

I have already given the students tips of ‘buying time’ or filling up ‘dead air’ by employing expressions such as:

That’s a good / interesting question

Let me think …

Well, I would say …

How can I put it … ?

Of course, these mustn’t be over-used. Students will also be encouraged to stretch their vocabulary, and self-check:

Is that the right word ?

By which I mean …

Have I used that in the correct sense ?

After this it’s time to hit the books. As mentioned, the tasks are varied and I want to pace them so that all students feel they have understood before moving on to a new subject. Tonight we also have the three ways of pronouncing the -ed form of regular verbs:

Pronunciation of -ed past tense verbs

Words have 3 end sounds:

‘t’

‘d

‘id’

If the word ends with: 

ch / f / k / p / s / sh / thi The sound is ‘t’ look = ‘lookt’

t /or / d/ The sound is ‘id’ visit – ‘visitid’

Other sounds are ‘d’ bang = ‘bangd’

What is the correct pronunciation for these regular verbs ?

Look = Looked / laugh = laughed / end = 

beg = / visit = kiss = 

brush = / breath = love =

Read these sentences:

He cleared up the mess / He rolled up the newspaper / I have visited Hue

No Homework ! That sounded good / Teacher shouted, ‘No way !’

We all worked hard today / Tom talked so much / The students played many games and laughed till their sides burst.

To end, I like to expose the students to short video clips using a variety of Englishes (as there is so much variance even in the same city with slang, pronunciation, argot, accent, dialect, local words etc). To make it more relevant, I look for a Vietnam-related theme. One of my favourites is this chap, a serious beer enthusiast, who has just discovered a beer from Vietnam, Sai Gon Red.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKr6Cj-Xr9g

I want the students to hear a different accent from mine (I aim for a standard British variety), learn some new vocabulary and also watch the para-linguistics: the expressions, intonation, body language. As my beer-drinking friend has just discovered, to paraphrase The Smiths, “some beers are better than others.”

Teen Team Project: Tourism in HCM.

20th January 2019

This three-hour lesson was totally devoted to planning, preparing and presenting a project about tourism.

Thailand is very close and there, tourism accounts for 9.4% of their economy, a figure which is expected to rise to 12.8 % by 2028 (source: World Travel & Tourism Council).

https://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic-impact-research/countries-2018/thailand2018.pdf

This affords the teacher an opportunity to add other elements to the lesson; in addition to new vocabulary and collocations, we have, in the first two paragraphs, examples of alliteration and quoting sources to make a report more official; an opinion supported by facts.

Alliteration is a poetic devise, using words that begin with the same letter. Source quoting – stating where information is found – is a vital aspect of academic writing, so to learn it before university will be very beneficial. However, it is important to use books, newspapers or websites that are official and respected, as opposed to Wiki sites or blogs.

Tonight, I would focus on presentation skills, vocabulary used in travel promotion, and fixed expressions. The later is a great addition to the students’ repertoire, allowing them to sound more like a native-speaker. We use fixed expressions all the time. So, without further ado, into the notes.

Firstly, as a warmer, we talked about HCM / Sai Gon; what does it have to offer the tourist ?

“Trash, garbage,”

Thank you, Sir, but I don’t think you’re getting the point of the exercise. Walking around the room, various answers were put forth: history, mystery, great food, cheap (dirt cheap as we would say in the UK), interesting buildings, friendly people.

Conversely, what were the problems or issues that were keeping tourists away ? Traffic was an immediate response, pollution, petty crime, scams. Perhaps the biggest problem is simply lack of knowledge. When most westerners hear about Vietnam, they think about war, boat people, refugees … the unspeakably horrific photo of Kim Phuc, running away from a burning village. So what could be done to encourage tourism ? That was the project.

I wanted to illustrate the difference between a scam and petty crime. The latter includes bag-snatching and pickpocketing, the former is tricking people out of money, for example fake taxis, over-charging, giving people incorrect change etc. We then watched a short video, highlighting some issues, as well as listening to English being spoken by some young Vietnamese. A good way to learn is to check for mistakes. What grammar or pronunciations errors can you find here?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-j0FfVIKJnw

At one stage, the presenter is walking past a group of tourists, some of whom wave to the camera and make various gestures. This allowed me to introduce a neologism, a new word or phrase that has evolved out of modern technology: photo-bombing. Here is a famous example of the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch with the rock group U2:

Now was a chance for some new vocabulary, words and phrases associated with holidays and travel.

breathtaking / stunning/ sensational / incredible / remarkable/ exclusive / inspiring / spectacular /

once in a lifetime experience/ never to be forgotten / unbeatable prices

book now to avoid disappointment/ best decision you’ll ever make

Structure: To begin with / furthermore … additionally / the fact is … / therefore

As an Example, I showed a short file about London:

VISIT LONDON TODAY !

SEE

Buckingham Palace Tower Bridge

British Museum Wembley Stadium

Shops, parks, theatres, restaurants

London – one of the world’s GREAT cities

A holiday of a lifetime ! Book early !

Mr Paul Tours – visit our website mrpaultours@ukonline.co.vn for more information.

From this, I made a short presentation:

Now is the perfect time to visit London, England’s glorious capital. The weather is perfect for walking, so you can enjoy the lush parks, world-famous museums and incredible, unbelievable shops. There is something for everyone … and more ! Like sports ? Go to one of the many Premier League football games. Love shopping ? Everything is here – shop till you drop ! Adore culture – soak up hundreds of years of history.

Flights from TSN airport daily. Seven-day all-inclusive package tour starting from only 50m VND ! All transfers and transport included. Air-conditioned mini bus with Vietnamese-speaking guide.

So what makes a good presentation ?

Volume – not too loud, but not too soft.

Intonation – sound enthusiastic, but again, not overly so. If you sound bored, the listeners will be.

Pace – not too fast, or too slow

Eye contact – look at the audience, engage with them but don’t stare at anyone.

Walk around – this can be energising, but too much will be distracting.

Stick to the point. Avoid repetition or deviating from the subject.

Keep slides simple and basic; too much text and the audience will be too busy reading to listen to you (I got that tip from a former student, a marketing executive).

Gestures, and body language. Look professional and people will take you seriously. Open hand signs indicate honesty. Cross-armed seems hostile.

And then it was time for the teacher to pipe down (stop talking) and let the students work. Most classes have mixed abilities, confidence levels, introverts and extroverts. I wanted each of the four groups to have at least one confident student, so I asked some of the students quietly, explaining my rationale, and they agreed (one deferred, but promised to move next class … right, Ms Uyen ?)

I gave them a set time, after which they had to present. Then came the issue of who would go first; here’s where a pack of playing cards comes in handy. I picked an Ace, 2, 3 & 4 and let the students choose. You can’t argue with the cards !

The work was very impressive, some groups quoted their source material, others had very gifted public speakers. We’ll build on this in the next lesson, when they can practise using fixed expressions and travel adjectives (and the accompanying intonation).

A special thanks must go to my TA, the wonderful Ms Vy, who assisted and co-taught with me. I’ll be writing about my experience with TAs at various schools … but that is for another day.


Young Teens: A funny thing happened to me …

Thursday 17th January

Tonight’s class has fourteen students, mostly girls (“made of sugar and spice and all things nice,”) and four young lads, one of whom demonstrates slight Hulk-like tendencies (i.e. gets angry at the slightest provocation and starts lifting chairs as if to hurl them through several walls). Simple classroom management has to be employed here; the lads are NOT allowed to sit next to each other. Of course, at this age the boys categorically will NOT sit next to any girl (just wait a year or two until those hormones kick in!) so I have to locate them around the room. It can be dis-illutioning for a teacher to allocate so much time to controlling a class as opposed to teaching them, but such are the realities. C’est la vie.

The theme of the lesson is how to tell an anecdote, but to begin (and to wait for the inevitable latecomers), we’ll do some quick warm-up games. I’ll also be able to recycle work form other lessons (which justifies the time spent making slides / Powerpoint Presentations etc).

We’ll begin with a quiz; I’ll show four famous buildings and ask the students to identify them and tell me as much as they can about them:


After, I will point to some (previously-boarded) numbers and ask how to pronounce them, numbers such as:

2019

10, 000

£35.99p

$10.33

Friday the 13th

I’ll show them that amounts (e.g. £35.99p are often said as simply 35 99, rather than saying ‘pounds and pence.’

For a more active game, help them burn off some energy, I’ll do a ‘run & write.’ In their previous lesson, they learnt past continuous. For this game, the class can be kept in two teams (a bit of competition adds to the excitement, even if there are no prizes at all), one team has a red marker, the other, a blue. I will say a sentence using simple past, they have to write it on the board, using past continuous. For example:

Last night I slept = Last night I was sleeping

Then the whole team has to shout out the sentence. It could get somewhat noisy and impossible to monitor, but it creates freedom for everyone to speak (they are not being listened to individually) and gets the whole class involved, and a noisy engaged class is far preferable to one slouching, sighing and sleeping.

We will then move into the topic area, combining story-telling with pronunciation and accents. I have a great clip of the magnificent Irish actor, Peter O’Toole being interviewed by the fast-talking USA TV host David Letterman. The students can compare the two accents, see which one they understand easier. The clip is below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Fl3bOeXvyI

Letterman asks O’Toole if he has a story about a fellow actor, Richard Harris. Instead of a rather pedestrian, “Let me see …,” O’Toole, cigarette in hand, responds, “Oh, I’ll shuffle through my memory,” before proceeding to tell said story (this occurs at 0:32 – 3:33).

I extend the activity by asking the students to mimic / copy O’Toole’s voice and elocution. Obviously, I don’t condone smoking at all, but students have had great fun sitting crossed legged, imaginary cigarette held aloft, and repeating, “Oh, I’ll shuffle through my memory.”

The serious aspect here is to demonstrate the rhythms and stresses in English – the elongated “oh,” as he thinks, the focus on the verb, “shuffle’, the linking of “through my,” and the final stressed but downwards – intonations of “memory.” A lot of work covered in just six words. Good value for your teaching bucks !

We’ll then move into a personal anecdote of mine. I’ll create a slide and give a leading narrative using tonight’s key language:

For one thing

As I discovered last year

As you can imagine

In fact …

like the time …

Thanks to ..

People are very interested in stars as I discovered last year when I was in

I saw a very large

Outside a large

in the centre of the city. As you can imagine, I was curious. There were a lot of people there, in fact many were extremely …….

Why were they there, for whom were they waiting ? This was like the time I was in London and many film stars were going into a cinema. I waited … but nothing happened. I was thinking of going, but thanks to some screaming and shouting, I stayed. To my surprise, I saw the world-famous Hollywood movie star …

I felt very lucky. Actually, it was very exciting I just wish I had my phone with me.

The students will then turn to book work, some listening and then creating their own anecdote. Here, I will probably have to help, give ideas. Most students spent too long thinking about ideas and therefore not producing any work. I have found it better to give them a limited choice and then make them start the work.

(In my first year, at my first centre, the students had to write a short story about a boy and girl going to the cinema. I checked all the pupil’s progress, only to find one student had done nothing, all lesson, because he couldn’t think of names for his protagonists. At the end of the semester, I was asked for my recommendation; should he be allowed to progress to the next level ? Absolutely not (it was the only honest answer) CUT TO angry parents, wagging of fingers and pulling of student out of school. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as we say.)

Today we also have some speaking practice and a quick lesson about British culture, in which they will listen and read about the author Daniel Defoe. This will be a chance to elicit how much they know about British literary characters. It could be surprising; they may know Oliver Twist, or Alice (Wonderland). Who knows … some may even have heard of Robinson Crusoe … we shall see. This will then lead into famous writers from Vietnam. I think the most famous is The Tale of Kieu’ by Nguyen Du.

Very famous Vietnamese poem and I highly recommend giving it a read.

Adult Class Level 3: Manners, etiquette and culture shock

Tuesday 15th January

Tonight is the last lesson of the four-week block, so will culminate in an oral test: I will listen to all the students individually for three minutes or so, then give a grade and some brief feedback.

The bookwork covers vocabulary, speaking and pronunciation, so that’s a great opportunity to prepare the students for the speaking review.

I’ve just finished a short booklet about how intermediate learners can move up to advanced levels:

The book advocates teaching / learning collocations (which I always teach) and ‘chunks’ of language, or frequently used expressions.

Collocations are words that always go together, for example take a photo (not do a photo, make a photo), jump on a bus, grab a bite to eat, make your mind up etc.

This can be so helpful to an English-language learner, as the words form one unit – ‘take a photo’ is ONE unit, not three separate words. This can really help in reading – instead of seeing a mass of words, patterns will emerge, almost like breaking a code. With practice, students will be able to predict a sentence / phrase just by its opening word/s.

Frequently used phrases are beneficial to make speakers sound more natural (and that should be the aim, in order to progress to a higher level of proficiency), and they are so common, they can be used in everyday situations. On p. 18, Richards quotes some common expressions:

This one’s on me It was lovely to see you I’ll be making a move then

I see what you mean Thanks for coming Let me think about it

I don’t believe a word of it Just looking, thanks It doesn’t matter

I don’t get the point I’ll be with you in a minute You look great today

As I was saying

We’ll talk about how and where these expressions can be used, then do some exercises, role-playing. Classic CELTA-style method: present then do controlled practice (the third stage is produce – to see if the students are able to use the phrases with correct intonation and in the correct situation).

Friends are having drinks in a pub / bar

You go into a shop but not necessarily to buy anything

A customer arrives but you are busy

You meet an old friend

Compliment someone

You don’t understand what someone is trying to prove

You understand what someone thinks (but not necessarily agree with)

Someone tells you a story – you think it is false.

You are asked a question but need time to consider

There is a small problem / Someone upsets you but you want to make it OK

To continue with a conversation that was interrupted. 

Then the students will work in pairs to produce simple conversations, for example: Oh, it’s late, I’m tired / I’ll be making a move then (I will leave).

I’ll then introduce a visual activity, as it’s good to vary the tasks; something I learnt from Eisenstein’s film theory (Sergi Eisenstein, Soviet filmmaker, NOT Albert Einstein, physicist), the ‘Montage of Attractions.’ This is basically having lots of different things following each other, linked together, to maintain interest and constant stimulation. More of this in other posts as it is especially applicable to young learners.

I’ll show a slide of various activities and ask which are acceptable, polite, impolite, illegal. This comes under the umbrella heading of culture shock – different customs, different countries. For example, this friendly gesture in the UK is impolite in Vietnam:

SONY DSC

This, I falsely believed, was the universal sign for ‘good luck’ so, during tests, I (being polite and friendly), wished my students (usually young learners), ‘good luck’. No one took the time to tell me it didn’t mean that in Vietnam; it is, in fact, a representation of female genitalia. Whoops ! What message my students took from my inadvertent gesture is a matter of speculation. Here are some other social no-nos:

Totally acceptable in the west, but an insult in Thailand where hands must be pointed down. My US friends also tell me that they use two fingers, so if the taxi drives past, they can keep one finger up to represent their feelings. We would never do that in Britain … well, almost never.
Street micturition – a ubiquitous sight in Vietnam.
Pregnant woman stands while three men sit.

Lastly, I will conduct a simplified version of last night’s lesson. I show photos of my bad day (it was one of those days). I’ll board some details, times and events, show some photos and ask the students to make sentences, pushing them to employ adjectives, adverbs and discourse markers. The full activity can be found on last night’s IELTS notes

https://thaypaulsnotes.com/2019/01/14/ielts-lesson-3-may-the-force-be-with-you/

Before a test, most students find it hard to concentrate on learning new material, so I’ll use the 90 minutes to encourage as much speaking as possible. Hopefully, they’ll be more prepared for the oral test and will do themselves proud.

IELTS: Lesson 3 – ‘May the force be with you.’

Monday 14th January 2019

Tonight’s lesson focuses on reading and listening, quite passive activities so, to offset this, I’ll do some warm up exercises that will be (hopefully) relevant, interesting and stimulating.

The first exercise needs to be quite light and easy. Students arrive at various times and I don’t want the task interrupted, nor have to keep explaining for latecomers. At the same time, it is not fair that those who are punctual should have some unproductive ‘downtime’.

Yesterday was ‘one of those days’ – nothing seemed to go right but I’ll take my own advise and try to turn the lemons into lemonade: I’ll use it as a learning exercise.

I’ll board some information and then show the students a slide of various pictures and see if they can construct an interesting, flowing narrative. Later in the lesson, I’ll have a task where they have to build longer sentences utilising discourse markers, adjectives and adverbs, so this will give me a general view of their capabilities.

The narrative: 6.50 leave for work 7.40 – 9.40 Young Learners class (21 students) 10.10 arrive home 10.11 – 14.30 wedding party across the street 10.30 – 12.00 prepare work online 17.00 – 21.30 another wedding party but much louder, more drunken karaoke singers 18.00 go for coffee BUT 23.30 Tottenham Vs Manchester United (0 – 1) so ‘All’s well that ends well.’

Vocabulary: cancellation hyper-active irritating excruciating connection deafening anti-smoking culture shock a real handful “A plague on both your houses !”





After, we’ll do a sentence-building exercise. I’ll show how to turn a basic sentence into something more elaborate:

Make longer, more interesting sentences:

I like music but I don’t like karaoke.

Although I love both listening to and playing music, I absolutely detest karaoke because I hear it so frequently in my neighbourhood and I find it abhorrent.

Expand these basic sentences:

I have been to Paris but not Berlin.

She liked the film so she read the book.

His girlfriend asked him to stop playing video games but he didn’t listen and she left him.

The last exercise will lead into the book work, (where students have to look at pictures of various people, some world famous, other not so) and attempt to deduce the reason for their fame. I’ll show six photos of famous Vietnamese, from history, sports and the arts. The students should be warmed up by now and be willing to discuss with partners or in groups who the people are, why they are famous, dates, any information.

Non-Vietnamese may not know many but they may be surprised by the last (a clue there) photo; they may know her without knowing it.

This should stimulate some good discussion especially in a mixed-age class. The first four are historical figures, and it’s fairly obvious what kind of person the fifth man is, and why he’s famous. The last figure could stump the students, but if they look at her, maybe they can guess what field she’s in; the way she looks, the manner in which she holds her head.

The answers are:

Võ Nguyên Giáp (General who defeated the French in 1954) Trung Sisters (defeated the Chinese around 40 AD / CE) Lê Lợi ( 15th C emperor) Võ Thị Sáu (Student activist against the French) Hoang Xuan Vinh (First Vietnamese to win Gold at the Olympics)
Ngô Thanh Vân (Model & actress – she was in ‘The Last Jedi’)

Veronica Ngo is Gunner Paige in THE LAST JEDI.
(Ngô Thanh Vân)

NOTE: Võ Thị Sáu could be a controversial figure and living in Vietnam, one has to be sensitive and delicate about certain subjects. I include her because she is a famous Vietnamese woman, with streets named after her.

Tonight’s reading exercise is practising scanning or skimming through a text, to help develop speed reading, finding pertinent information in a limited amount of time. There will be a block of text and students are given 90 seconds or 2 minutes to find the answers to some questions.

The secret is, of course, to read the questions first then just look for the answers, skimming over unnecessary text, in the same way as a listening test requires reading the questions, only listening for those answers.

After break, the lesson changes gear into listening. Many students find this the hardest part, and each track may need to be played several times. I usually play the entire text once through, then repeat but in short segments.

The last half-hour needs to be a ‘wind-down’ section. As they have focused on reading and listening, the activities should be active and fun. A general knowledge test can be entertaining, the class put into groups and points awarded. Depending on the mood of the class, we could try a B2B game – one student has to guess either a famous person or describe a photo or video clip from clues given by the team-mates. A time limit could be set to make it more dramatic.

It is good to see the students leave smiling and exhilarated from the games as opposed to shoulders hunched and shattered expressions from a grammar-overload. The students, like the Force, awaken !






New Teen Class: Once bitten … twice bitten ?

Saturday 12th January

I vowed NEVER to teach teens again after my last experience(s) at this centre: I covered one class at a different centre and, apart from two or three students, it was a total nightmare, while my own class was a wonderful teen-spirit bitches brew of arrogance, attitude confrontation and contempt.

However, in the spirit of ‘Keep calm and carry on’ or getting back on the horse that has just thrown (and kicked) you, I agreed to a new teenage class. I have already met this class; I substituted one night for them and I was dreading it. However, they were delightful, only one ‘difficult’ student and that person piped down after the first period. One of the students even came up to me afterwards and apologised for her class’s behaviour and disrespect … so sweet.

With the ‘Friends’ exercise (pictures of five men and students have to guess their personality and occupation), the subtext is ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ This could be adapted or paraphrased as ‘don’t judge a class by its (text) book.’ At my old centre, I reviewed a book before my first lesson with a small class. The subject was 3-D printing, quite complicated … and then I met the class. Of the seven ‘students’, one was special needs (and that student was a darling, a pleasure to meet), two were quiet, one almost to the point of a personality disorder, and the remainder simply tried to out-do each other in stupidity and disruption to the class. I used to start each lesson with the imputation that having pen and paper to hand could be beneficial. They would learn new words and would remember them much easier if they wrote them down. At the end of one lesson, I checked. One student had produced this after two hours:

Notes … or note … taken by a former student from a two-hour lesson. One word: ‘hut.’

I desperately hope this class is better. There are eighteen students, ranging from twelve years old to fifteen years old. That three-year gap can be a chasm at this age.

Their book is quite high level and features many TED talks, which can be difficult to follow for English-learners due to the speed of delivery and range of vocabulary.

These classes are three-hour long, so I need to find many games, activities and opportunities for inter-action, as a balance to the book work which may be rather dry for some students.

I have two young classes in the morning, then this evening class. It makes the day very long, but at least I only have one class Sunday morning, and Tet Holiday is coming soon. On the way home, I may well stop off the Grabbike to pick up some beer. Will it be to celebrate a great lesson or to drown my sorrows ? Either way … beer will be consumed (and Manchester United take on Tottenham, their first real challenge under the new manager).

The lesson plan with activities will follow.

Nightmare on IELTS Street.

The IELTS exam is becoming increasingly important, as a sign of English proficiency, and as a requirement for working or studying abroad. It is quite academic, and requires a lot of work by the students. From a teacher’s point of view, it can be quite unappealing, as a lot of the work is quite dry; students will get bored and restless, which will manifest itself in their behaviour. I’m not just talking about teenage classes, or younger learners; one of my worst classes EVER was with an adult (so-called) IELTS class

I first encountered IELTS when I was applying for my second job in Sai Gon. This was with a smaller company, centrally located and smartly-designed, which offered IELTS classes. I had to prepare an IELTS lesson and I, of course, had no idea what that entailed. After some online searching, I groped together a vague lesson plan – it was a writing lesson, I believe.

The ‘lesson’ was for two young adults, under the supervision of the office manager. I recall I had to talk about a graph, then guide the students as to how an essay should be written (word count, structure, paragraphs etc).

Naturally, I had no idea how well I performed (because a lot of teaching is a type of performance) and waited for my Grabbike home, thinking that there were other schools to which I could apply. But the next day, I got the call that I was accepted. Obviously, their need for teachers overcame my blatant shortcomings.

The site of my second English centre, opposite the War Museum. The campus has now relocated and the site is a medical centre.

And so to IELTS. I was sent to ‘the best’ public school to teach 45-minutes classes. Public schools in Sai Gon are usually in rooms with no air-conditioning, probably no IT or whiteboard – it’s chalk and dusters – and an average of forty students, most of whom couldn’t care less about English. It was, for them, simply a free lesson, a chance to do their chemistry homework, or play with a Rubik’s Cube, or sleep, or anything save learning English.

It was certainly a mixed bag. Teaching the same lesson to different classes are different lessons. One class was silent as the grave (except one loud-mouth who thought he knew everything and was intent on proving how the Cambridge books were wrong and he knew better). Apparently they were used to the teacher speaking, and they just wrote (pretended to). Not great preparation for the speaking component. Another class of supposedly higher-achievers hated me, and loved showing it. I was lucky if I got five students to even acknowledge my presence in the room, let alone listen to me.

However, the last class of the week was the best. I was able to introduce Camus, Kafka and Rimbaud into the lessons. It made a change from the quotes attributed to Lenin that adorned several classrooms (apparently, “study, study and study,” or “learn, learn, learn.”). And it was one of these quotes from Camus that made to decide to quit this company:

“What am I doing here, wasting my time, destroying my vocal chords and exhausting myself when the vast majority of students couldn’t care less.” The situation was absurd. I want to spend my mornings drinking coffee and reading Camus. I resigned the same day. Merci, Albert.

Some time later, I was working for one of the top centres and was offered an adult IELTS class. Let me do my best to reproduce the scenario.

There were about a dozen students, two over thirty years of age, but the rest teenagers. Oh, crap ! All types were represented here: the one that says his mother sent him and he DOES NOT want to be here, the one that walks into the room, ignores the teacher and begins to sleep on his desk, the one that looks with contempt and hatred at the teacher, deciding that there was nothing I could teach him and he was going to sigh and mutter throughout the lesson. Let us not forget the type that has confused a class room with a social club, and thinks it’s absolutely acceptable that he should carry on a conversation, top-volume, with his neighbour, in Vietnamese (which, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is not the most euphonic of tongues). Latecomers are par for the course in Vietnam, barely worth mentioning. And then there was the know-it-all; the student who had studied the grammar book and wanted to ask questions. And more questions. And … yeah, so on and so on.

The ‘Camus’ moment came when, after a lengthy discussion about the placement of adverbs, he informed me that he was going to continue using adverbs as he thought best, and ignore my advice (after all, I only have a distinction in linguistics, have written plays and been published, not to mention possessing a teaching qualification from one of the best teaching schools). I know teachers are supposed to be endowed with infinite patience, but after a long sweaty day, screaming teens, sourly teens, swearing teens, the odd-lunatic, and work-shy TAs, infinity somehow becomes a lot nearer. After three lessons, I requested, then begged, then offered to pay for a replacement teacher. Full credit to the centre, they complied, but it was the final nail, or straw, take your pick. Notice given and by October I was a free man … but after reading Camus, that is a very contentious statement. And now … time for coffee.

Friends (men). Teaching sheet.

I use this sheet for many classes, usually for personality adjectives, as well as occupations. It’s adapted from a class I took at International House, London.

For higher level classes, you could also use this to illustrate the adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’

The students have to guess the personality of my friends, just by looking at them; their expressions, posture, dress sense, hair style etc. Then they have to try to guess the occupation.

This is a great way to introduce new vocabulary and job titles. Additionally, students can learn that many adjectives are not necessarily positive or negative, for example ‘serious’. Being serious could be very positive (in a professional context) but negative in other situations.

I’ve put some sample adjectives and jobs after the last photo, as well as the answers to their current occupations.

Peter
David
Alex
Victor
Simon

Personality adjectives: aggressive arrogant calm funny (haha) funny (crazy) generous honest humorous kind mean modest polite quiet reliable rude selfish serious thoughtless trustworthy

 

Occupations: estate agent plumber DJ mechanic bouncer surgeon accountant actor cook/chef removal man insurance agent bank clerk detective business man barista lawyer shop manager unemployed slacker

Peter is unemployed. He has an MA in Business Studies and is currently looking for work, so he is sending out his CV and photo.

David is a DJ

Alex is an actor. He is also a Buddhist so normally has shaven hair. However, he is very big and strong, so he gets cast as gangsters or bad men, despite being very gentle and soft-spoken in real life.

Victor is a self-employed plumber.

Simon is a doctor. He is highly professional and serious, but is seen here on holiday, after a few sangrias (wine cocktails). Someone took a photo with a flash, so his eyes look wide and big.

Don’t say, “I’m fine.”

I use this as a warmer / ice-breaker with most of my new classes. On, the board, I’ll write:

Do NOT say, “I’m fine.”

The first students arrives and I ask how they are …

“I’m fine,” is, invariably, the response. I point to the board and try to elicit alternative answers.

This is repeated with all new students, and becomes integrated into the lesson. Late-comers (there are always late-comers in Vietnam) are greeted with the same question, and look perplexed when the whole class laughs at them for saying, what they believed to be, the ONLY possible answer.

It seems that from Kindergarten class, Vietnamese students are drilled with:

“How are you ?” “I’m fine.” Maybe an, “I’m fine, thank you,” and it’s left at that.

English is such a rich language which, admittedly, can be daunting for learners – so many ways to say the same thing.

I explain that native-speakers don’t really use “I’m fine.” It’s meaningless and conveys no emotion. If anything, it’s used sarcastically, in fights between partners:

“I’m not going to help you, do it yourself !”

“OK, fine !”

From this point we can start suggesting other responses … and intonations.

“I’m good,” “I’m great,” “I’m over the Moon.”

This leads to how we use so much intonation to express meaning in English.

A less positive reply could be “I’m so-so,” or “I’m OK.” Even there, “I’m OK,” get’s it’s meaning from how it’s pronounced … it can mean good or just so-so depended on paralinguistics (body language, tone of voice, expression).

Then we come to not feeling so great.

“I’m terrible,” “I feel lousy,” “I’m a little under the weather,” (idiom)

So, we have an ice-breaking session and mini lesson featuring pronunciation, intonation, vocabulary and use of idiom. That is rather more than fine.