Due to the return of COVID to Sai Gon, schools and language centres have been closed down, and online classes have restarted.
A big shout out to the staff at my centre. Instead of taking things easy in the build up to Tet, and enjoying time with their family, they had to work all hours to prepare for the change to distance learning.
To make these lessons work, we need students, and their parents, to follow these simple rules:
Respect your teacher and your teacher will respect you
tôn trọng giáo viên của bạn
You HAVE TO turn on your camera. If your camera is not working, you HAVE TO inform the centre.
Answer your teacher when you are asked a question.
Please control your background noise. No music, computer games or talking. Try to find somewhere quiet for the class.
Let’s work together and make the best of this situation and hopefully, we can all meet at the school in the near future.
I met an old class on Tuesday for a speaking test, and one of the students asked me why I stopped taking that class. I thought the reasons were pretty obvious, however if you really need me to explain, how about these:
I was absolutely sick of one of the students sitting directly in front of me, ignoring everything I said because she (yes, you all know who she is) was too busy on her phone, even bringing in a power-bank to make sure she had enough battery for three hours.
‘Student’ Care have mentioned this to her, and once even sent a representative to the class to tell her to stop. It had NO EFFECT; she continued using the phone each and every lesson.
I stopped calling on her to answer in class, as I only ever saw the top of her head. No doubt someone had posted a picture of a coffee or a cat to which she absolutely had to react, immediately, or risk losing a ‘friend’ that she probably hasn’t even met.
During the test I asked her to explain the centre rules, which she totally agreed with … in theory. I followed this with asking why she broke the rules. She replied that she, “Was bored.” She claimed that she was unaware that such behaviour was disrespectful.
Furthermore, I realised that with one exception, nobody was learning anything more; the class seemed happy at their level, and were not making any effort to expand their knowledge. Every lesson I stressed the importance of pronunciation features. I didn’t detect even 1% improvement, nor even the desire to improve.
Well, how did that work out for you in the speaking test ? Not so great, hey ?
Finally, I set a ‘test’ in my last two classes with you. Remember ? I gave you speaking practice then, instead of walking up and down monitoring your activity, I treated you like responsible adults. Instead of working, out came the mobile phones and English was replaced by the less than euphonic sound of the Vietnamese language.
Previously, I had given students one-to-one help. Instead of being thanked for this individual guidance, I was greeted with, “Me, again ? I spoke to you last week.”
I hope that answers your question.
Moving onwards or downwards, my Wednesday class. Talk about laid-back, I need to check if they still have a pulse.
I’ve dispensed with social pleasantries such as, “How are you ?” as I was receiving answers such as, “I’m tired,” or “I’m exhausted.” Just what a teacher wants to hear before a three-hour class.
DRINK SOME GODDAMN COFFEE
I made it perfectly clear, in the first lesson, that I am NOT here to entertain you. YOU are here to pass IELTS, which is a hard subject and requires active participation on your part. This means SPEAKING.
If your teacher asks you a question, damn well answer
Answer loudly and clearly, not just mumble begrudgingly. I told you last night, I am here to help you, I am not the enemy. If you refuse to speak or practice you are only hurting your own prospects.
At least last night, one of the ‘students’ admitted that she lacked energy or enthusiasm but, the punchline … she wants to be an English teacher.
Now we come to tonight’s class, which contains three young men.
Your behaviour over the last weeks has been unacceptable. This is a Cambridge IELTS class, not a Beer Club, certainly not a Kid’s class.
So, here are the rules:
NO SHOUTING IN THE CLASSROOM
NO CALLING OUT STUPID ANSWERS
LEARN THE NEW VOCABULARY – YOU WILL NEED IT TO PASS
NO FIGHTING IN THE CLASS – YES, I ACTUALLY HAVE TO WRITE THIS
Not too much to ask or to expect.
If you do not comply, I will stop the lesson and refuse to teach your sorry asses
I will not let you schmucks ruin an otherwise lovely class
What is the standard of behaviour in your classroom ?
At my centre, in Sai Gon, Vietnam, we have to employ classroom management (normally reserved for ‘young learners’) to ‘adults’ and some unspeakable teenagers.
At one previous centre, I even had a student write in his book, “I haven’t done any work, I’m not going to do any work,” then laugh at me. Unfortunately, that is not an isolated incident.
Even though we have classroom rules they are mostly ignored, but that is indicative of the country as a whole .
To make sure my customers are in no doubt, here are some rules and reminders:
No mobile / cell-phones in the classroom UNLESS it has been sanctioned by the teacher for educational purposes. My lessons start on time – if you use your phones …
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO TAKE THEM AWAY
No eating, chewing gum, slurping drinks
YOU WILL BE SENT OUT OF THE CLASS AND HAVE TO EXPLAIN TO THE MANAGER WHY YOU ARE EATING
No chatting while the teacher is talking .
FURTHERMORE, IN MOST CULTURES, THIS IS UNBELIEVABLY RUDE AND UNACCEPTABLE.
The teacher is here to help YOU learn.
We are not here to entertain you.
You have a chosen a three-hour IELTS course, so deal with it.
Take notes, write down new words, practice using them. Week after week I give you sample answers, new phrases and personal help to enable you to improve your scores.
If I see you are not taking my advise, I will not waste time and energy on you.
Finally, I will not tolerate any sarcasm, rudeness, insults or disrespect.
In the event that I have been insulted or disrespected, I shall end the lesson and you can answer for your actions to the management
If you are serious, I will do all I can to help you. If you just want to joke around and stop me doing my job, there will be consequences.
Time to turn over a new leaf
You need to work MUCH harder, but don’t take my word for it:
 motorbike riders don’t wear helmets, they overload their bike, use mobile phones, drive any way and any direction THEY want … public urination is endemic, recycling means throwing rubbish in the gutter and for many people, dogs are not pets, but lunch … and they joke about that to my face.
 good luck with this one … in nearly five years, I have never had a class that is able to just SHUT UP and listen. At first, I was shocked, adults speaking to each other, normal volume, continually while the teacher is teaching. As we say in the UK, empty vessels make the most noise, and there is a LOT of noise.
As I constantly inform my students, IELTS is not a typical English class … it is IELTS English by which I mean, students have to demonstrate a command of the language that includes a wide range of vocabulary, the confidence to speak fluently, the correct stress and intonation to keep your listener engaged, the ability to form complex sentences and link them with appropriate discourse markers. Additionally, a knowledge of how English is REALLY spoken, to wit, sounding like the student has been interacting with real native-speakers, not merely repeating verbatim from a text book, is a must.
Piece of cake, no ? (an English idiom – you will need to learn some basic expressions, phrases and idioms to make your spoken language more natural and interesting).
OK, let’s break it down. IELTS requires a lot of work, study and practice. Students that come to my class expecting to kick back and be entertained are in for a shock, and then some. As such, I will not be defining the idioms I employ in this blog, e.g. Piece of cake – YOU will have to look them up yourself.
Don’t worry, young lady, I’m here to help you. Having said that, if you’ve been on a three-month course and you’ve left it to the last week to study … then you will probably fail, and deservedly so. Yes, life in the IELTS lane is tough, it’s dog eat dog (though ‘devour’ would be a more IELTS-friendly word than ‘eat’).
Where to start ?
OK, IELTS wants what they term ‘low-frequency’ words. Basically, look at your English; replace any basic adjective or verb or indeed noun, with a ‘better’ word, a word that would be used by the higher-educated native speaker. Your best tool here is a thesaurus of which there are many online, or downloadable for free.
It works thus: Let’s start with a very basic adverb ‘very’. This is too simplistic for IELTS, so type in the word and click enter.
A number of words will appear. As above, the darker-shaded words are what the computer’s algorithm indicate would be more suitable, while giving additional options in lighter shades.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating – so let’s try it: rewrite these sentences using low-frequency words:
I think Bangkok a better destination than Chiang Mai
She bought a cheap bag
The film was good
Linking ideas with discourse markers. I give all my students a print-out of common words and expressions that must be consulted and utilised. I hope that all my students take them home and study them religiously. Conversely they may use the paper to line the bottom of a bird cage. In all reality, the majority of students say, ‘Thank you,” have a glance, put said sheet in their bag and forget all about it. Consequently, several weeks later, the students are still resorting to ‘and’, ‘but’ with a possible ‘however’.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make the horse drink
Adverbs are incredibly powerful and so easily inserted into everyday text
I worked at another large and prestigious language centre, and had the pleasure of marking some essays by teenagers. From twelve pieces of ‘writing’, I found only ONE adverb.
Adverbs add information and interest to your language, but my students seem to avoid them like the plague. They may deign to insert a ‘very’ to please me … but it doesn’t ! I expect, nay, DEMAND more.
Without further ado
An example. IELTS will give students a very open-ended subject and then expect a well-constructed piece of writing, or fluent, coherent speech upon said subject, with no deviation, hesitation or repetition. It is a chance for the student to perform a solo, to demonstrate how much they have learnt and studied … or otherwise … generally it is ‘otherwise’.
Time for an anecdote. I was teaching one class, and endeavouring to give them ample opportunity to speak and practice English. Nobody spoke. If I selected some students, they would make an appalling act of not having heard the question, or to answer in a single word. Some students even began laughing that teacher was asking the class but nobody was responding. Hilarious … but he who laughs last, laughs longest. I decided this class was a waste of my time (because it WAS a waste of my time) and left them to their fate … CUT TO some weeks later, it’s the day of their speaking test … suddenly, they are running up to me for help, “What should I say ?”, “I don’t know what to do”, “I’m going to fail.” Temptation was to tellthem where to go ( that is an expression that does NOT imply direction !), but I gave them what help I could in the minute I could spare. Needless to say … most of the class were disappointed with their score, and no doubt, upon arrival at the family nest, were met were screams and derision. And no doubt they put the blame squarely where it belongs … on the foreign teacher !
The concluding line was an example of irony. I’m not going to tell you what irony is, look it up for yourself ! Do you want a fish or a fishing rod and knowledge of how to catch your own fish ?
So now, a fairly run-of-the mill IELTS question:
Tell me about your favourite gadget
This piece is, as one would expect, quite lengthy and jam-packed with information and detail. I don’t expect you to write or speak at this level … but I expect you to TRY.
As you read, look out for:
complex sentences (sentences which coney more than one piece of information)
expressions, phrases and idioms
THEN – practice reading aloud. Not just once and, “Teacher, finished,” but again … and again … and again. Yes, this is not entertainment but it WILL help you get the score you want from IELTS
One of my favourite electronic devices is my Kindle, an ebook reader, which is small and light. I always take it with me when I travel; I’d be lost without it.
The Kindle is primarily a way to buy, store and read books in electronic format. At first, I wasn’t convinced; I liked reading real books. However, books take up a lot of space and, at least in the UK, are rather expensive. When I saw what a Kindle can do, and that so many books are free, I was hooked ! I had to get one. I bought my device in 2014 and I’m still using it today.
As mentioned, I use my Kindle for reading. Literature, including poetry, is one of my passions. Instead of going to a shop, I just browse the online store, click and wait for it to download. With reasonable wifi, this can just take a minute or so … then I can start reading. It is no surprise that ebooks are ubiquitous in the UK.
Although I read a lot, the Kindle is more than just an ebook. It has wifi so I can access the internet, can play music, write notes and play games.
The wifi is vital, especially when I travel. I can maintain contact with friends and family, watch YouTube if the hotel TV is less than enthralling, or read travel guides such as Trip Advisor. Naturally, I can also book tickets or make reservations and therefore pay significantly less.
I recently travelled to Thailand to meet some friends. I didn’t want to buy a new SIM card, and my friend only had an old phone, so there was a dilemma; how to stay in touch ? Thanks to my Kindle, I had email access, so we could plan when and where to meet.
I can’t watch Vietnamese TV, due to the language barrier. Consequently, the Kindle plays an even bigger part of my life, as I need some way to relax after toiling away for hours at work.
The choice of books is amazing. In the stores, a single book can cost around £10, but recently I downloaded the entire output of the Russian write Tolstoy for less than £1.50 … incredible !
Kindles come in many shapes and sizes, so before you buy, you need to ascertain how you’ll be using it. For example, do you want a basic ebook reader, just for books, or the latest model with wifi ? This will, naturally, affect the cost. Then you have to decide upon the extras, for example how much storage space do you require, or a super-fast charger or protective case ? All of these bump the price up considerably.
If you’re interested in purchasing one, I have some information for you. I did a quick Google search and saw prices started at under 2 million VND, averaged around 5 million, but some were over 15 million. That, for me, is too extravagant.
In conclusion, my Kindle is very much a part of my life. It accompanies me everywhere. I simply don’t know what I would do without it.
Now … YOUR TURN
Write a piece about YOUR favourite gadget, using the above as a model
Many interviews have similar questions. Read the following and then role-play with a partner. Feel free to add your own information, or make up something new.
What experience do you have ? // What do you know about the company ? // Have you ever had to work to a deadline ?
Tell me about yourself
I was born in …. and I graduated from …. University in 2014 with a major in Business Administration. Since then I’ve had two year’s experience in administrative work at ABC and XYZ Corporation.
I’m a very organised person, well-balanced and efficient. I’m hard-working and dedicated.
In my free time, I like to travel and I love to paint. Furthermore, I enjoy going out having coffee with friends.
What do you know about (COMPANY) ?
XXX are an established company with a good reputation. They help …….. and there are over (xx) sites in VN (or your country).
What are your strengths ?
I feel I am easy-going, hard-working, careful and diligent. I think my greatest strength is my positive outlook, even during times of stress. I can work under pressure and I really enjoy a challenge. Lastly, I like working in a team.
What are your weaknesses ?
Well, my English isn’t perfect, so this will be a great chance to improve. Maybe I can be a little quiet sometimes; that’s why working as part of a team will help bring me out.
Can you give an example of when you had to deal with an angry customer ?
One time, a customer didn’t like the price of a visa, and he began shouting and getting angry. I asked him if I could explain the reason. I then told him how it wasn’t our fault, but that I understood his anger and said sorry. Then I told him he could check elsewhere, but we would still be happy to serve him. He calmed down, said sorry to me and bought the visa and was happy.
Where do you see yourself in two years ?
My short-terms goals are to work hard and efficiently, so I can master this job. However, in the long-term, I would be interested in possibly doing more courses so I could be a manager.
What can you bring to the job ?
I’m very friendly and enjoy working with people. I always try to be happy at work and share my positive outlook. I’m very motivated and open to learning. I’m very excited about being a part of this great company.
Do you have any questions ?
May I just ask, what career opportunities are there at XXX ?
It is not a good idea to ask immediately about salary, money and bonuses, although this is an important part of the interview process.
24th January for 30th January 2020. IELTS Bands 4 – 5.5 Unit 7
Firstly, a big hello to all my readers and followers in India. Yesterday I had over fifty visits from students from the sub-continent and I want you all to know how much I appreciate you taking the time to check out my blog. Thank you so much.
My Indian friends – what is the standard of behaviour in your classrooms ? In my centre, in Sai Gon, Vietnam, we have to employ classroom management (normally reserved for ‘young learners’) to adults. Namely, we have to continually tell the class:
No mobile / cell-phones in the classroom UNLESS it has been sanctioned by the teacher for educational purposes.
No eating, chewing gum, slurping drinks
NO CHATTING WHILE THE TEACHER IS TALKING. THE TEACHER IS HERE TO HELP YOU. FURTHERMORE, IN MOST CULTURES, THIS IS UNBELIEVABLY RUDE AND UNACCEPTABLE.
Take notes, write down new words, practice using them
The teacher is here to help YOU learn. We are not here to entertain you.
These are not MY rules – they are the rules of the centre. If you cannot abide by them, then stop coming to class, stop wasting everyone’s time and money.
Let’s leave the last word to Uncle Ho, bác hồ:
Understand, my Vietnamese classes ? Even Uncle Ho says you,
“need to work much harder.”
And now, without further ado, a warm up exercise to see how much the class has remembered from the last lesson … if anything.
Firstly, complete these phrases and then use them in sentences:
over the ______ // under the ________ // under ________ // more or ________
I’m over the …… because I passed my IELTS test.
Ms Linh is not here, she’s feeling under ………..
The class understood the video, more ……..
So many tests at school, the pupils were under ………
Secondly, what do these words mean, the make a short sentence using them:
I shall try to incorporate some teaching points about India in this blog which, although written before the Lunar New Year (Tet Holiday), is for next week.
The above sentence is an example of the type of English that is expected in order to pass the IELTS exam. As you can plainly see, it isn’t too difficult; I inserted a low-frequency word (‘incorporate‘), used a relative pronoun (‘which‘) in order to make the sentence longer and more fluent, then employed a discourse marker (‘although‘) to link contrasting ideas together in a coherent sentence.
To recap, what you will need to use in both writing and speaking are:
adjectives (but not just the most basic, common ones)
complex sentences (introduce extra information in supporting clauses)
Does this look like YOUR city ? What is similar, what is noticeably different ?
Vocabulary building and listening
In the real world, most students will not be communicating with English-language teachers, but probably with other non-native speakers, so learning to appreciate and understand English spoken with a ‘new’ accent is an extremely useful skill. Here’s a great video which features a charming young Indian lady teaching new vocabulary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKUxuD0m5A8
Instead of using ‘very’ + adjective (I am very tired), use a single word:
Try to use ‘sagacious’, ‘exquisite’, ‘colossal’ and ‘spacious’
The classrooms in Block D are ……….. (big)
The furnishings are perfect, they are ……….
Building an underground train network is a ………… undertaking
The old man was ………. People came to him for advise.
This is also a listening skills exercise.
Do you have any problems understanding her ? Why ?
5th December for 7th December 2019 Super Safari 1 U 6, L 3 & 4 (pp. 50 – 51)
Today’s objective is to impose stronger classroom management and to introduce some new activities. The class has some new students, and it’s their first time in a classroom. Last week one of the new students was hard to control, running around the room, then drawing over the walls. Naturally, bad behaviour becomes contagious so it needs to be stopped … immediately.
From experience, I have seen that rewards work better than punishments; I shall make a chart and each week assign colour stars to each student based on their behaviour. Each week, the students will be able to see how they have performed.
Furthermore, I’d like to introduce a story section. At this age (mostly around 4), a very short story using basic vocabulary is sufficient. After I tell the story, I will repeat and the students can help me retell it.
Another change will be the games. I’ve tried ‘musical statues’ or ‘freeze’ but that hasn’t worked out so well. While some students stay still, others, mostly the boys, start doing an Irish jig or windmill impressions or forming fists and moving closer and closer to me. Hitting the teacher will be an instant BLACK MARK.
It can be frustrating getting a lesson started as students (or rather their parents) arrive up to fifteen minutes late and each new arrival diverts the attention of the class. Therefore, it’s good to start with a song, and YouTube has a vast selection of suitable material. Naturally, a song featuring ‘Hello’ is appropriate.
This can be played twice and the students can act out the emotions (I’m good, great, wonderful).
Next – a physical activity. Here we can use Teacher Says or Mike (the monkey) says:
Stand up // sit down // jump // hop // put your hands on your head // wave hello
Next – a review of last lesson’s new vocabulary (bird, rabbit, fish, cat). I’ll put the flashcards around the room. After, I’ll ask for two students to find a certain card (while making sure no other students jumps up and joins in). The student that finds it will hold it up and ask the class, “What is it ?”. I drill for “It’s a …” form of answer.
The students that haven’t participated yet can take part in the next activity. I will show them a card and they have to act or mime that animal, while the other students must shout out the name.
Next – story time. Our class puppet is Mike the monkey. Student can sit of front of the whiteboard.
They must ask, “Hello, Mike, how are you ?”
(the TAs’ help is invaluable here, as it is for the entire lesson. In fact, the TAs make the lesson work much more than I could ever do).
Mike says, “Today I am sad.”
Students ask, “Why are you sad, Mike ?”
Mike, “I don’t want to be a monkey.”
Students, “Why not, Mike ?”
Mike, “I want to fly like Polly.”
Yes, Polly can fly (mime flying).
Mike, “I want to be big and strong like Leo.”
Yes, Leo is big and strong.
Mike, “I am small. I want to be big like Gina.”
Yes, Gina is big. VERY big.
But Mike … you are very funny. Class … where is the ball ?
Mike is funny
Repeat story but give out masks to four of the students, so they can act Polly, Leo, Gina & Mike. Possibly most students will want to take part, so it can be re-enacted as required. Make sure students copy the actions and repeat key words.
Mike is now teacher …
Thay Mike. “Is the ball big or small ? What colour is it ? It’s a small red ball.“
“Excellent ! Now, what letter is this ?”
Excellent ! Letter ‘d’ … ‘d’ is for dog.
Hand out as many markers as possible and see how many students can write ‘dog’. Some students still write ‘d’ as a ‘b’. By the end of the block, I would like the students to be able to write some basic words.
Next – Thay Student: Choose a student and they will tell the class what to do, for example ‘sit down’, ‘stand up’, ‘jump’, ‘be Polly’, ‘be Leo.’
This should easily take us into, if not over break time (always good to have more planned) after which is book work and activity books.
Today’s new verbs are: fly, swim, jump and walk. Once the students have learnt the pronunciation, they can practice. Which of these animals can fly … swim .. ?
Finally, at the end of the two-hour lesson (which is challenging for both students and staff), we can unwind with some colouring, but even here, the teaching continues. The TAs and I go around the class and ask them informal questions about their drawing and the colours they use. Meanwhile, we play a song that features some key vocabulary and show an image that could inspire our budding artists and allows them to develop their innocent imagination.
The lesson plans are set in stone, so I have to adhere to them; there will be a grammar review, a double page of listening, and then a handout for the students to practise speaking … but that’s not enough for the three hours, so I’ve decided to make as many speaking activities as possible.
Unfortunately, I’ll also have to show the presentation about classroom rules, as I’ve had some issues with ADULTS … yes, adults, disrupting the class, being disrespectful and basically trying the zen-like patience of the writer of this blog. Said writer has been working every day for nearly three weeks and my patience was never ‘zen-like’ at the best of times.
This problem is widespread in Vietnam; I’ve seen it at all centres, and all ages. It is quite hard for a teacher to accept the rudeness and disrespect engendered by such behaviour. So … what to do …
First, a quiet word with the student – to explain what is wrong and WHY.
Secondly, move the student to a new chair. If the student refuses, then it is time for the third move.
Last resort – abandon the lesson. Tell the school office that the student is violating THEIR rules, disrespecting the teacher and other (paying) students and that I will not be able to continue teaching with the student in the class. My feeling is that the Vietnamese will support each other, especially one who is a paying customer, so I will simply leave the room … and everyone will have wasted their time and money. To quote Brad Pitt in ‘Inglorious…’, I might get chewed out, but it won’t be the first time, sure as hell won’t be the last.
However, this happy pic does lead into a plethora of speaking activities I have planned – idea being, if they’re are speaking English, that won’t have time to speak Vietnamese (yeah, right !)
First Activity – a vocabulary building game. I give students a sheet with several new words and several definitions. They have to match them together, then make sentences from them.
Second Activity – Desert Survival. Two teams, both have a number of items to help them survive in the desert after a plane crash. From the list of 18, they have to choose just 5. They must learn and practice negotiation language such as:
I see your point
I respectfully disagree
That’s an interesting choice, however …
You’re argument is not without value, having said that …
Third Activity – eyewitness. Work in pairs. One student looks at a photo or picture of a man committing a crime. After two minutes, the other students plays the role of a police officer, trying to gather information, for example age-range, clothing, distinctive markings, behaviour etc.
Fourth Activity – small talk. A list of general topics and the students have to try to keep the conversation going as long as possible. As with all speaking exercises, give examples or models first:
What do you do ? // I’m a student . // Really ? Where do you study ? What do you study ? How do you find you class ? What do you like best about your university ? What are the biggest challenges ?
Fifth activity – Friends – I show five male friends and the students has to guess their personalities and occupations. Here I’ll board some new adjectives and jobs, as well as encouraging the students to use opinion phrases – after all, they don’t know my friends – they are basing their answers merely on looks.
To break up the speaking (which some will do, some will half-heartedly attempt, some will ostentatiously NOT do), we can use so real life listening. One popular clip is the foodie Mark Wiens eating eggs in HCM City: