Fooling Myself into Feeling Productive

It’s so easy to feel like you’ve had a productive day!

Here’s the secret:

Start the day by cycling your kids to school.

Voilà! The rest of the day can be entirely misspent, but YOU CYCLED TO SCHOOL THIS MORNING!

So clearly I’m not an unproductive lump!

These October mornings are perfect for a bike ride with the kids. It’s not so cold that your fingers freeze to the handle bars, and not so hot that you arrive a sweaty mess.

Each time we cycle to school, our Bug does better. He’s still practicing starting on his own (it’s tricky to get one foot on a pedal and push off with the other!), but with each ride he gains confidence.

It’s a great way to kick-start the morning.

It is, however, no guarantee that the rest of the day will be as productive.


Sadly, cycling to school is simply a way for me to mask the feeling (really, the knowledge) that I’m avoiding something.

What am I avoiding?

Well, job applications. The knowledge that I am not putting as much time and energy into my job hunt as I know I should.

So instead, I thrive on fake productivity.

Fake Productivity

It’s not like these things don’t need doing: laundry, cleaning, cooking… They’re essential to smooth running of family life.

But they’re not what I really need to be focusing on right now.

And I know it. My Chico knows it. And now all of you know it.

How Can I Make it Better?

Try again tomorrow.

And if that fails, try again the next day. And the next. And the next…

Until I find a job.

Can Anybody Hear Me?

Can Anybody Hear Me?

Is it just me?

Or is applying for jobs a bit like trying to be heard above a loud, noisy crowd?

I guess that’s exactly what it is. I’m trying to make my resume stand out over hundreds of others. All those others are probably stronger than mine in many ways, and weaker in others.

But how am I to know that?

Have I gotten a response to any of my job applications? So far, just one.

Admittedly, it was a good response. I got an interview. Didn’t get the job, but hey, it’s a start.

While I know that I’m trying to be heard over hundreds of others, sometimes it feels much lonelier than that.

It feels like I’m standing in a huge, towering, dark and empty stadium. My little voice echoes and is then swallowed by the enormity of the space.

When you send an application off to an anonymous careers platform, it feels like you’re standing on that enormous stage and throwing pathetic little paper airplanes out into the empty audience.

One after another, after another, after another, after another…

One a day, every day.

Back to work!


CELTA Certification: What to Expect

It’s over, guys! I’ve made it through my CELTA certification and have come out the other side (relatively) unscathed. I am now certified to teach English as a foreign language.

As I’ve mentioned before, CELTA is a certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages. It is run by Cambridge English Language Assessment, the folks who bring us lovely exams like the IELTS, etc.

If you’re thinking of taking a CELTA certification course, read on.

“Intensive” means just that.

The full-time CELTA certification is four intensive weeks. It includes 8 hours of teaching practice, 4 written assignments, input sessions and experienced teacher observation.

In the mornings, you participate in input sessions. This is where you are taught to teach! Tutors use the Cambridge English method to teach you how to teach the main language skills: listening, reading, speaking, writing, grammar and lexis (formerly called vocabulary).

Essentially, you’re trying to absorb all kinds of useful information which you can then put into practice in your afternoon teaching sessions.

1. Teaching Practice

You’ll be teaching from day 2 of the course. In the first week, your tutors give you plenty of guidance for designing and planning your classes. Over the course of the four weeks, though, that guidance gradually reduces until in the end you are responsible for designing your own classes (materials are often provided).

Teaching planning

The day before each teaching session, you have a planning session with your group and tutor to help plan your lesson. These sessions were my favourite part of the course. My colleagues and my tutors were always helpful, and provided valuable input and ideas.

Lesson planning

At night, you go home and write your lesson plan. A lesson plan includes a detailed language analysis of language items (grammar, vocabulary) that you will be teaching. Then you plan your lesson step by step.

The idea is to have a detailed enough plan that if, for some reason, you cannot teach, another teacher can pick up your plan and teach your lesson. The first lesson plans will take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to write. Yup. Intensive.

Though the lesson plan may seem like a bother to some, I found it extremely useful, and it gave me confidence in my teaching.

Feedback sessions

Each TP session is followed immediately by feedback. You complete a self-evaluation, your tutor provides pointed feedback on your lesson plan and your teaching, and your colleagues (who are also observing you teach) give feedback according to some observation guidelines.

If you can’t take constructive criticism, tough. Your teaching will be thoroughly scrutinised, and some feedback will be disappointing, or hard to hear. Other feedback will be uplifting and gratifying.

You are expected to take feedback to heart and to apply it to your next lessons.

2. Written Assignments

There are 4 written assignments. They are, at most, 1000 words, and it is very clear what you are expected to write. They require some research, and will take a few hours to complete.

I did not find the written assignments very challenging. What they required was very logical and straightforward. Tutors provided a checklist for each assignment, to ensure that you had responded to all the questions and provided all the details they wanted. To be honest, not a whole lot of independent thought needed to go into them. It’s not like you have to produce original research.

For me, it was simply a matter of answering the questions within the word limit.

Some trainees found the written assignments difficult, though. If you are not comfortable writing, and if you have little experience of writing research papers, you may find them harder to complete. Don’t worry, though. You’re given a chance to resubmit each assignment, and usually you only have to resubmit the sections you struggled with in your original.

3. Input Sessions

This is where you’re taught to teach. You’ll learn about lesson planning, classroom management, phonology, reading & writing skills, course book assessment, error correction, and more.

One input session was entirely conducted in Hungarian! Without speaking a word of English, the tutor helped us learn basic phrases in Hungarian, in order to demonstrate how a language can be taught to people who have absolutely no previous knowledge of it.

Some of the input sessions I found more valuable than others, but all were useful. They were especially practical: what you learned in the input sessions could be applied almost immediately to your teaching practice.

It was also valuable to see the Cambridge English teaching method applied directly by the tutors, not just in teaching observation, but also in our input sessions.

4. Teaching Observation

Finally, you have to complete a number of hours of experienced teacher observation. We watched three DVD sessions, and observed our own tutors teaching A2 and B2 level classes for a total of 180 minutes.

During teaching observation, you are given observation tasks, or things to look out for during the session.

These observation tasks (which you also have to complete while observing your fellow trainees) are important for the final written assignment. I wasn’t as detailed in my notes as I should have been, and I found myself wishing I had noted down more specific information during my observation sessions.

By the last observation session (usually a DVD), you’re able to look at an experienced teacher and think, “I would have done that differently.” It’s a great feeling.

You won’t fail CELTA.

Very few people fail the certification. You may not get the highest grade, but you will be supported and encouraged to pass.

The tutors dedicate a lot of time to helping trainees with any difficulties. They are there to ensure that you succeed.

Your fellow trainees are also a great help. Some of my classmates were experienced teachers, while others were novices. In any case, everyone had a strength, and within our groups, everyone was happy to lend a hand to anyone having trouble.

I couldn’t have succeeded without my colleagues’ help in the teaching planning sessions. It was a great bunch of people, and we each learned a lot from the course.

Last Word?

Do it. If you’re thinking about it, just do it.

Plan to have no other obligations or distractions during that time (thank GOD for Chico and our parents who were here to help with toddler-care and housework!).

It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and it has given me prospects I never thought I’d have.

Wish me luck!

How to Learn a New Language and Sound Like an Idiot

You read that right. You WILL sound like an idiot.

You’ve heard what they say: learning a second language, especially early in life, has all kinds of benefits. It makes us smarter, can help stave off dementia, and is great for showing off in bars.

The New York Times recently published an article about the “superior social skills of bilinguals.” In a nutshell, researchers showed that bilingual children as young as 14 months demonstrated more empathy and awareness of others than their monolingual peers.

But what about people who weren’t exposed to another language as children? Is it too late for them? Are they doomed to low intelligence and poor social skills?

Not at all. It just depends on your approach. Here are 5 tips to help you learn a new language without worrying about the fact that you’re going to sound like an idiot.

1. Forget about perfection.

First things first: If you’re learning a language as an adult, you are probably never going to speak it perfectly. You will always have an accent. You will always make grammatical mistakes. You will probably do as I do, and make embarrassingly hilarious vocabulary mix-ups (like the time I mixed up “arbusto” and “buitre” in Spanish. Look those words up.)

Just accept that and move on. It will take the pressure out of learning a new language.

2. Fluency is about perception.

A friend once asked me if I was fluent in Spanish. I said I definitely wasn’t. Then he asked if I could be dropped onto a street in Spain and ask someone the way to the train station. I said, “Yes, of course I could!” “Well, then,” he said. “You’re fluent.”

My perception then of fluency was speaking fluidly, without making any grammatical mistakes or searching for words. But actually, my friend was right.

Language is about communication. If you are able to communicate what you need, and make yourself understood, and understand with relative ease, then you have achieved fluency.

3. You won’t learn a new language until you’re forced to.

If we’re honest, most of us are too lazy to work on learning a language until we’re in a situation where we’ll be forced to use it.

Despite being born in Switzerland, I didn’t really learn French until I was thrown in at the deep end and started in public school at age nine. Same with Spanish. I didn’t really improve until I lived in Spain for a month, and I wouldn’t have said I was fluent until a few months after meeting Chico.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t study language in a course setting, work on vocab, or anything like that. You definitely should.

But you will probably find that you won’t be able to do much with it until you’re thrown from the frying pan into the fire, and you’ve got to find your way to the train station in a foreign city.

4. Train your brain to think in the new language.

People say I have a gift for languages. The one thing that might be considered a gift, though, is the ability to think in the language in which I’m speaking. Even if I don’t really speak the language.

It wasn’t until I started an intensive German course in January, that I realized just how valuable this is. Even though I stumbled through sentences, and searched for my words, I found that I was actually thinking in limited German in my head.

Thinking in the language you’re studying will help you to practice using the vocabulary you know. It will also help you to speak without worrying about producing perfect, complete sentences. And that leads me to:

5. Just go for it.

Seriously, don’t try and come up with the perfect sentence in your head before speaking. By the time you’re ready, the conversation will have totally changed course, and you’ll be that awkward dude harping back on a topic that’s been over for ten minutes.

Yes, you are going to sound like an idiot sometimes.

No, no one cares.

Have a sense of humor about it, and be ready to laugh at yourself as heartily as the next guy. If you are timid and hold back from throwing yourself into a conversation, you’ll never get far.



It’s OK to End a Sentence with a Preposition


Sound like Yoda you will if to not end sentences with prepositions you try.

No, it’s common sense.

My ex-boss may be surprised to see me say this because I used to argue stringently for “correct” grammar rules that dictate we must not end a sentence with a preposition. It was what I was always taught!

Then I got talking with a grammatically-inclined girlfriend who told me that actually, the no-preposition-at-end-of-sentence rule was an ancient attempt to make English grammar structure more closely resemble that of Latin. In fact, the rule doesn’t even take into consideration normal, everyday English usage!

Even the Oxford Dictionary Agrees!

Well, by that I mean the Oxford Dictionaries blog. This 2011 entry points out the futility in trying to avoid ending every sentence with a preposition.

Take, for example, the question:

“Who are you going to the prom with?”

To satisfy the no-preposition-ending rule, the question would have to be posed as:

“With whom are you going to the prom?”

Does anyone actually talk like that? No! Of course not!

Where to End a Sentence with a Preposition

According to the Oxford Dictionary blog, it is most appropriate, and even better English, to end a sentence with a preposition in the following cases:

  • A passive structure (I like being made a fuss of)
  • An infinitive structure (At my prom I had no one to dance with) — note: that’s not true, I had an awesome prom date.
  • Questions beginning with who, what, where, when, etc. (what city do you live in?)
  • A relative clause (that reminds me of the city I used to live in)

For more information about these types of clause, visit the Oxford Dictionary’s helpful Grammar A-Z resource.

Welcome to Grammar Freedom

If you’re like me and have tried to follow grammar rules, this news will come as a relief.

As my friend who first opened my eyes said, welcome to grammar freedom. Go forth and unabashedly end your sentences with prepositions! Do it!