Category Archives: All things EFL/ESOL

tips, advice, grammar, and more for teachers and learners of English as a Second or Other Language

Job Searching

I cannot believe the number of resumes and interviews I have on an almost daily basis from people that do not know how to present themselves correctly in their job searches.

If you honestly want to be considered as a reasonable candidate, you really have to present yourself as proactive, positive, enthusiastic (but not overzealous), detail-oriented, perfectionist, and hard working at every possible point of contact.

1. REVIEW YOUR RESUME before just hitting drag, drop, and send.  Make sure it reflects, as exactly as possible, what the employer is looking for.  It should highlight your most relevant experience, but also include “irrelevant” experiences as well, as they show your background and other knowledge.


You don’t know how many upside down resumes I’ve had to somehow muddle through during the interview… with no signs of embarrassment from the candidate!  Also, you MUST put all relevant education, certificates, licenses on that resume, with the name of the document, and dates studied or received.


Check your spelling, grammar, punctuation, capital letter and usage in general.  You need to demonstrate your skills in every way possible.  If you are going for an editorial job, would you really have imperfections in your writing?!  I see countless resumes, cover letters and introductions with errors, or even in Spanish… for a job teaching ENGLISH.


It’s common to see non-native Spanish speaker sending in application materials to English institutes in Chile, obviously feeling they should prove their Spanish skills.  So using that same logic, why would a native speaking Chilean send in their application in Spanish??  You’re not proving any skills here… it’s really nonsensical.  Your audience wants to know what you can do, so give it to them at the point of first contact.

Along these same lines, reach out and connect.  The strongest letters and e-mails I’ve seen have very specific language as to why they like teaching, what I can imagine being in their classroom, and how a teachers’ meeting might go with them.  They demonstrate things like leadership and excellence not only in the language on their resumes, but the presentation of these documents themselves.  They spent quality time on them making sure they were perfect and presentable, the format lining up just so, all the spaces even, etc.  All these little details make the biggest difference in getting that call back from your dream job.


My Birthday Mojito

It´s true… truth IS stranger than fiction!!

I guess I can chalk it all up to this crazy new technology; this story would simply not exist if we were still able to cook, clean, and change diapers with a cordless push button phone tucked between our shoulder and ear like in the good old days.

Anyway, so I have somehow managed to condition myself to keep my cell phone a good 6″ or so from my face, which, also based on my old-fashioned conditioning, makes me presume to literally scream into the phone, due to the distance from the “mike”.

The combination of these new habits with a public mojito is quite the opposite of deadly, as one might think. No, no no, on the contrary, it is the exact catalyst that, had I wanted to, would have gotten me laid.

So the situation was a dear friend of mine wanted to introduce me to a (single) friend of mine with some kind of ambiguous presumption of either a set/up or English class or some strange combination thereof.

This guy’s first messages came replete with severe disrespect for Spanish orthography. “k ases” for “que haces” and other major infractions. Almost dealbreaker #1, in my book of superficiality.

Then so we made a “plan” to meet Monday eve at his house, since he lives in my neighborhood. In chile, you must always always put the word “plan” between quotes. It’s the cardinal rule here. Because there is no “plan”. Never.

Well my not married but really is married but not technically, but yes technically “friend”, who has been trying to drag me to a seedy motel for months, but we still haven’t made it past the flirtation stage, ironically for his own flakiness and inability to form a “plan” into anything more concrete, said “hey, let’s meet downtown near my work and celebrate your birthday.” Of course followed by the other chilean mandate that would not be from anyone else but a married, but not technically, but technically married man, “tell me what you want to do to me”.

So around 6pm I made my way towards his work neighborhood, when he called and said he couldn’t. (Surprise, surprise). So I had two hours to kill before meeting my friend’s family member back in my neighborhood.

So the first hour was spent perusing a literal cacaphony of colorful pleather purses, lycra leggings, crocheted earrings and swoop/level sweaters, and I even bought a smelly shiny sweater for $4 USD that I will maybe wear twice. My little b-day gift to myself.

I decided to get on the bus and spend the next 45 minutes gorging on a little lava cake from Cafe Colonia (the best desserts in all of Santiago. Really.) but as we were stalled in traffic and it was taking 15 minutes just to go 5 blocks, I hopped off the bus one block after seeing some sidewalk tables from the window seat, several blocks from my own neighborhood.

The first place on the corner said they wouldn’t serve me any alcohol unless I ordered food, too, due to a Chilean law, but said the place next door would. So I went next door.

Around 7:30 I ordered my mojito and I messaged the guy my location.
He said he was 15 minutes away on the subway.

7:45 came. No word.
8:00, our meeting time came. No word.
8:20 came and he finally called me. He was in our neighborhood, about a 20 minute walk from my location. “come and meet me here.”

“I can’t. Come and meet me here.”
“I can’t. I’m in the middle of a mojito.”
“I can’t go there, can you come here?”
“Why can’t you go there, it’s a short walk. I’m drinking a mojito.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“I said I am drinking a mojito. A big mojito. I cannot leave right now.”
“I can’t understand you.”
“A mojito. I am in the middle of drinking a large mojito. I cannot leave.”
“I’m not understanding you.”

Now I’m really shouting for all of downtown to hear and more. Everybody on the sidewalk tables… and on the sidewalk are looking at me and sighing. Another victim of chilean idiocy.

“I am drinking a mojito. A mo-hee-toe. I cannot leeeeve right now.”
Silence. The phone was dead.

There was a guy–kind of a good-looking guy sitting in front of me nursing a beer and cigarette, but sitting up as if waiting for someone. He was one of the many that actually had turned around to see the gringa yelling about her mojito.

“Oh, were you stood up, too?”

Well to make a long story short, we talked until he came to my table, then talked and talked until he told me he lived two blocks away (from the metro) so I drilled the guy on the specs of his apartment and begged to see it.

So they will call me if an apartment opens up in his building. In the meantime I now also have a kind of sort of with a guy who is kind of sort of in a relationship, but about to break up soon because his girlfriend lives two hours away and is looking for a replacement daddy for her three children.

Such is love, life and apartment searches in the great city of Santiago de Chile.

Life lessons stolen from the classroom

Many claim they learned their life lessons in the classroom.  However, I do believe you can also apply lessons gleaned from life into the classroom.  Here are some…

There are no do-overs in life: the grade you see is the grade you get.
Take your time, do it right. Enough said.
Memorization lasts about five hours, but learning lasts a lifetime.
Cheaters (and copycats) never win—and probably don’t do well on their SATs or first-year college courses, either.
Stay inside the lines—at least for now. Do what you have to do to make it through, and recognize the difference between creativity, independence and complete rebellion.
Learn to live with it, no matter what “it” happens to be.
Let sleeping dogs lie. No sense riling up the bullies or spazzies.
The grass is greener on the other side. The more time you waste looking at others’, the less you will have for your own.
You can’t choose your family—or intact social group, classroom peers or your primary school teachers—but you can choose your friends. Wisely choose those who will respect your integrity.
Make new friends and keep the old…unless they mistreated you.
You can’t make everybody happy all the time. If you try, you will probably just piss your students off and make them hate you even more!
Life is short, enjoy it while you can…especially if you are spending most of your time in the classroom.


Respect the Variety

As I travel and live in various parts of Latin America, it sometimes seems I experience a whole new Spanish language each time.  I feel lexically and/or semantically challenged in my first few months in a new region, and each time I suffer I find myself thinking (out loud to myself, which is even worse when outside the States) “why didn’t they teach us this in school?”  After all, during my formative years of rudimentary acquisition, they passed Spanish off to us poor high school and college newbie souls as a “one size fits all” language; which it clearly is not.

The question that I really ask myself is why this never dawned on me as an   English teacher before…  After more than a decade of traveling, teaching, and “re-learning” my Spanish in a variety of ways for a variety of cultures, I should be warning my students of the same pitfalls of English.  Nobody ever told me when I was learning Spanish in the States that a platano was a platano macho in some places, that a banana was a banano or platano, depending on where you are.  We never learned the word “guagua” as undergraduate Spanish students, nor that a toronja is a pomelo, a palta is an aguacate or that a tortilla is a big thick unleavened  bread in some places, and that there isn’t much of a recognizable linguistic difference between a lemon and lime in many countries.  These differences are a hallmark of the linguistic varieties of Spanish and can cause a second-language Spanish speaker a headache when travelling through the Americas, or even over different pockets of the U.S.

In my non-humble nor innocent beginning of my teaching experience, I, too, used to pass certain linguistic structures off with a flippant “oh, that’s just British English”.  Well, besides insulting millions of English users worldwide, in a single swoop I also just cut my students off from successful communication with those same possible interlocutors.  Formations such as “have you got a pen” are not so syntactically incorrect outside of the United States. 

In one of my first experiences as an ESL teacher, I had the misfortune of being handed a British English book.  I didn’t know what to do with it, and I fumbled and mumbled, trying to make things work with my completely Minnesotan English.  Now I see how I could have used it as an opportunity to expand the minds of my students, teaching from the book, then adding my own U.S. flavor to the activities and vocabulary, extending the practice for multiple uses

As English instructors we must not only be aware and even knowledgeable of the possible varieties out there, but also mindful of any possible ethno- or lingui-centric comments such as “correcting” utterances such as “No I haven’t a pen.”  It is not so much to be politically correct as to be keeping the doors of International English open; even more so in the context of EFL, where the Englishes that may be encountered and used are many, with most of them quite valid, acceptable and grammatical in our current flat world.

What we are preparing future users and teachers of English for is really successful communication, wherever that may be, and in whatever context.  Obviously then, an integral part of lessons and planning is in negotiation of meaning; because a “lift” for example means different things in different parts of the world (elevator, bra, etc) it’s a good idea to prepare our students for these varieties.  We don’t want to teach a one-size-fits-all English, but respect and validate alternative correct structures, and raise our own awareness of how English is used semantically, syntactically and lexically (as well as phonologically) throughout the world.

I don’t think this necessarily means we need to travel to Ireland, Australia, England, South Africa, India, Canada and elsewhere to become English-speaking polyglots, but a little “well, at least in the U.S. this is how we say it” from time to time keeps the students psychologically prepared for variations when travelling or meeting and working with people from anywhere.  Bringing in sources from a variety of countries keeps their minds in sponge modes instead of turning into hard bricks that wouldn’t even recognize petrol inside a gas tank, regardless of what country they are driving in.  We want our students to be suffering a little less than we are as travelers or employees that need to be adaptable to each new native English speaker they encounter, no matter where they are in the world.

Keeping it going in “conversation” class

Over the years, I have worked with many types of language learners, from children to grandparents, from beginners to advanced learners from all parts of the world.  If I have learned anything from teaching, it is that students–paying or not–always always want feedback on their progress or level, be it from formal tests to informal evaluations.

Since I started working with future teachers from the U.S. and abroad, I have noticed a slight misunderstanding between teachers, students and institutions on what exactly constitutes a conversation class and for what (and who) it should serve.  Classes labeled “Conversation”, “Native Speaker” etc run the gamut of syllabied curricula with books and digital media with complicated documentation systems to lounging around  in a smoky bar and flirting in English.

First of all, any, ANY context in which English learners are paying, or at least taking precious time to advance in their English, involves learners wanting to advance in their English.  Just because a class is called “Conversation” does not necessarily mean that this is just laid back, prep-free, coffee-talk.  Depending on the student, they either want to be corrected, re-directed, or have some way to know their output is appropriate, whether it’s grammatical, phonological, lexical, and/or cultural, and it is your job to keep the focus on said objective and provide that feedback.

Since objectives and feedback are an integral part of conversation class as well, some minimal prep will obviously be involved as well.  It may be looking for ideas to bring out said grammatical, phonological, lexical and/or cultural content in an appropriate way, and many times said prep mostly happens in your head (usually at the most inconvenient times to jot anything down, such as in the shower or washing the dishes).  Specific types of questions to ask, or maybe a song lyric or a blog you read will pop into your mind, or maybe just a diagram or table (i.e. irregular past tense verbs) to bring as a “cheat sheet” to aid in the conversation.  Simply thinking of yourself as a possible learning tool may inspire you for new ideas.

Now conversation might be sounding more like class to you, and more prep work than you may have budgeted for when quoting the price (if it was your price).  But this “prep” (which is minimal compared to, say, a college writing course) doesn’t have to be time burdening, and in the end, helps you as much as your students remain focused on the session’s “curricular” goals.

Keeping it focused communicates to the student(s) that you are dedicated and aware of his/her/their needs, and worthwhile tools not only help maintain that focus but keep the objective transparent as well.  That transparency of objective will be also be seen by all, hopefully several times before the session is over.

Your ideas and tools can also be key to keeping the conversation going.  After all, in real life, a normal topic usually only lasts, what, about 10-15 lines?  About two minutes?  If there’s a real compatibility, the topics blend and turn naturally and a rhythm continues.  But that usually happens between like-minded (and languaged) friends or possibly family.  But even between those individuals there are lulls–those lulls are simply more comfortable.

I like pictures.  Small pictures, big pictures, pictures of people, things, specific activities, ambiguous activities or multiple activities.  I do many things with pictures.  Pictures can drive content (adventures, fashion, etc), new vocabulary (outdoor sports, clothing articles, etc), almost any verb tense, q/a, and structure (Where [aux] _____ [participle], etc.).  An added benefit of pictures is they can be found in any culture; they transcend the borders of language.

I also like either a small whiteboard or transparency paper to use for questions and answers about grammar, spelling, word order, and especially for students to work things out or draw pictures.  Questions always, always arise about “what is this thing?” and having a quick, easy, and erasable way to make a temporary mess has been a time-saver, budget-friendly way to save a tree, while meeting the needs of your more visual, visceral and artistic-minded learners.

The erasable material is also helpful for when mistakes arises.  Along the lines that it is never a good idea to “keep incorrect English around”, the temporary writing resource allows the student to ask if something is written this way, or the facilitator may write down what s/he hears students say, then provide the working tableau to correct it in that simpler, visual form.

Especially for visceral learners, a few small objects are also useful.  Legos and play-doh can form new letters or concepts, lending to a form of teacher/student-produced art that can also be shared and discussed.  A song on your iPod or phone, even pictures of friends or family on your phone… it doesn’t need to be high tech, expensive or over-researched.  A text with errors (NOT hard to find on message boards!) can provide a mini-lesson on spelling or grammar, and fodder for conversation as well.  (What would you do and where would you go with something like “i been thinking that obama mite not like oil”?)

Planning aspects such as specific questions to steer the conversation, which errors will you have the student fix and which will you gloss over (punctuation?  m-i-g-h-t? the present perfect progressive??)  You might segway into different sources of oil, different contraptions associated with it, Lady Obama’s fashions, or whatever line you think your learners will be most interested in.

Remember that you are the driver of this conversation hour, and your followers will be looking at you to take over that steering wheel, even if they are the alpha conversers.  You need to be able to take that wheel at the first lull or hiccup in the conversation to keep it going.  Option Bs and Cs such as extra pictures, questions, topics or hands-on items can aid big time.

I would NEVER recommend bringing a laptop, or worse, convening your session in front of a desktop.  It’s more time consuming and distracting than you realize, and you will spend precious talk time looking things up and basically playing on the computer instead of observing for learner errors to fix, which should be what drives most of your planning and objective-setting for your conversation hours.

However, if you and/or your students have internet access on their phones or in the class setting, one link to a photo, song or very short TED Talks video can likewise be taken down a variety of conversational paths.

Obviously, the idea behind a successful conversation hour is to keep the conversation moving in a variety of directions with several types of contextual materials that are more or less custom-fit for your type of learner(s). Wow! But don’t let the words “planning” or “class” overwhelm you.  Have fun with it.  Teaching English should be just as enjoyable for you as for the student, especially something as laid-back as a conversation class.

If you use your imagination and let your students’ needs be your muse, it will be appreciated, and more importantly help your credibility as their professional, and will aid in giving all their money’s (or minutes’) worth… all in the name of having fun with English.

Welcome to my new ESL/EFL teaching blog….

Maybe I should make this space my unofficial all things teaching blog.

Anyone can come in and write questions, and I can share my knowledge, experience, and resources.

I had a lot of assumptions and questions, myself, when I first arrived here, and I’m finding that people both in this country and outside want to know the world of English teaching everywhere.

For my first blog, I’d like to share my advice on what things you might want to bring with you when heading beyond the U.S. borders to teach English.

You need to keep in mind that whatever job teaching English you might get, you will be PAID IN THE LOCAL CURRENCY.  Right now, in most parts of the world, especially Latin America and Europe (the middle east is probably the place to go right now in terms of ESL income), you will be making a lot less every month, and that little income will have to be enough for rent, food, expenses such as cell phones and possibly the internet, which right now are less affordable for the masses… and anything not locally produced is almost double the price as in the States.  So if you’re just planning on surviving and maybe a little traveling, you should be fine…  But if you want to do anything “extra”, say, shake things up in the classroom, simple things like index cards, post-it notes or print media in English, if you get lucky enough to find such sources, be prepared to shell out, because a People magazine in Santiago cost almost $10 USD, and Vanity Fair cost $15.  On the flip side, you could probably stay drunk on wine your entire time in Chile and still be able to afford fancy salmon and steak dinners.

1.   Bring about 8-10 magazines.  Or even just the pictures.  But something with many short blurbs and articles, like People, US Weekly or even Cosmopolitan will provide kids from age 6 (always preview your content before going into the classroom!!!!!) on up will give your high beginners and beyond some fodder for reading, writing, thinking and discussing, and countless ideas for projects.

The hardest thing to find in another country is print material in English, so if you know what level and age your learners will be, try to find appropriate anything you can get your hands on.  Short short story anthologies, poetry, essays; fiction, non-fiction, genre…  Especially texts less than a page long will become truly invaluable.  I’ve actually used paragraphs and excerpts from novels I was reading for my adult learners and became very creative in what they would do with it… they absolutely loved working with the material and using their own creativity.

2. On heavy cardstock, type up in (very) large font and print out and cut up:

the alphabet

irregular participles (you will likely use them at almost any learner level)

irregular plural count nouns; .ie. teeth, feet  (these too; advanced learners tend to forget)

various words with “sh” “ch” “dg” “y” “l” and “r” sounds; these are the most difficult for pronunciation, universally

These are basics.  As you start teaching, your index cards that you also bring (preferably colored) will help with more things that come up along the way.

Lamination seems pretty universal, so that part will not break your bank overseas.  The challenge will just be finding it, since many schools do not offer the service in their copy centers (if your school even HAS a copy center…)

3. Post-its.  Bring a hunk of the basic 3 x 3″ squares.  You want them big enough to write yourself planning notes as classtime goes, as well as for your students to write words that can be seen from far away.  I like to play the “who am I?” game with these.

4. Coveted clippies.  Are almost extinct if not outrageously priced (they already are in the States, if you ask me).  A decent sized box from Staples should suffice as long as you don’t share them, for heaven’s sake!!  Paper clips abound everywhere, but don’t be surprised when they look quite different from what we’re used to!

5. If you like colored whiteboard markers, buy them before leaving the States!  Same goes for college-ruled spiral notebooks and neatbooks (Latin America only sells grid notebooks!  Ugh!!)  You may or may not find Sharpies, but they will cost more.

6. A U. S. calendar!  You will be surprised at how fast you forget, and all of a sudden a day hits when you finally find time to make a phone call with your Skype or MagicJack, and low and behold the bank, post office or student loan center cannot be reached because it’s Labor Day!  I keep my U.S. and local calendar side by side, but I also write in the holidays to the other to keep me “streamlined”.

7. If you plan on spending a significant amount of time abroad, I recommend investing in a MagicJack.  There are both computer and wall jacks available now, and depending on how long you will be gone (you can always renew for very reasonable prices as well), you buy the device for about $40 and a subscription for about $20/year… so if you plan on using the phone to talk to local numbers (800 numbers can by Skyped completely free, no subscription) more than $60 worth, such as friends, family, businesses that don’t have 800 numbers (which is most of the small, local ones that you might want to use to send flowers to a bride or a salon gift cert for a christmas present).  I had to call the local rental car number to know if my rental was going to have a USB device in it, and a local Miami number to complain about my flight service.  If I had used Skype, I would have had to spend a few dollars just to be on hold for all those hours…

8. Your favorite blankie.  If you end up any “medium” distance from the equator, chances are that heating will be more or less basic if existent at all.  It’s quite common, for example, to see women with fashionable blankets or shawls around them in their office as they lesson plan, correct tests or answer e-mail, and many have them in the classroom as well.  I recommend a wool plaid for men’s laps, and something like a merino blend for women.  So find something cozy and fuzzy and warm; something that will match almost anything you might be wearing (same goes with socks, too).

9. A few good novels, or better, your Kindle, if you have one.  Believe me, as much as you will want to practice your new language, on long trips or at beddie-bye time, it’s REALLY really nice to curl up with something favorite and familiar from time to time.  Some pocket novels can be stowed in a purse or backpack and taken out in those long lines at the bank, post office, or long trips so you don’t go completely batty of boredom.

Wherever you end up, and whoever you end up teaching, if you bring some basic materials for them and yourself that are adaptable and catch-all, you should have a lot of activities and lessons within just a few hands-on items.

Of course, this list isn’t all-comprehensive, but I hope it gives you a start and sparks your inspiration for more things that are small, easy-to-carry and will go with you a long way.  Lamination or protective plastic around any print-outs or paper will help a lot.  Anything that can’t be used up in one activity or hour.  Re-usables, recyclables, etc. (That’s why I like play-doh for kids.)

I hope to see other comments from other teachers and/or travelers to share some of the things that have been useful (and not) in your experiences.

Good night and safe travels.