Appreciating the English language

As a reader and a writer from way back, I’ve always enjoyed the richness of the largeEnglish language. Words paints a vivid picture for the reader and the text just seems to effortlessly flow when the author hits upon the right combination. In contrast the wrong choices of structure and vocabulary, cause even the most interesting material to become cumbersome.

Whilst I’ve always appreciated the wide selection of vocabulary available, I’ve never really given it a great deal of through until recently. To be more precise, it’s been my move into the world of teaching English to speakers of other languages that has caused me to pause and think on the vagaries, complexities and challenges that English provides.

You might like to check out this blog which is updated each Saturday with the word of the day. It comes with a short story using that particular word. It often introduces me to new vocabulary and the stories are interesting reads.

As I grow older I appreciate how very fortunate I am to have grown up as a native English speaker, but more so to have met people from so many different countries who also speak English as their first language albeit, with varying accents and expressions.  It’s this wide international experience, coupled with my formal training that has helped me become a more effective teacher. There are so many different ways to say the same thing that it’s no wonder people studying English get confused!

Michelle

Education – a key to change

EductionThe rights of the individual, the topic of our informal conversation class last night, provided for a stimulating conversation. We always begin our informal sessions with one of the students, introducing the area they’d like to talk about, and as this is a vast topic the scope is enormous, with the choice being very much up to the speaker as to which aspect of a topic they choose to explore.

As this is a C1 level class, it means there is a high degree of fluency, so the evening is always enjoyable and there is no predicting which way the conversation might flow or which areas we may segue into. The experience is highly authentic for all concerned including me.

Our lively discussion kicked off with genital mutilation of females and somehow or other managed to, very naturally, finish with the right of individuals to exercise their votes at local and national elections. How did we end up here? Well, it all came down to the our discussion that both these areas need individuals to be educated in order to stop a barbaric practice (genital mutilation) and the importance of voters exercising their right to vote in order to ensure the systems in our countries do not fail those who need them.

If we do not provide access to education for everyone, then there is little chance for improvement. Without education individuals are left in a position of ignorance, it is not their fault that they are unable to make an informed decision.

Education takes many forms, formal and informal including life experience. What is clear is that it is only through education that we evolved and therefore it must be the fundamental right of every individual to receive a basic education in their formative years. Easier said than done, but if each of us, as individuals, does our own little bit towards ensuring this is happening, the world will surely but slowly change.

I am very fortunate to have received an excellent education, not just formal but also in the university of life, and as I get older I appreciate this even more and realise that this is the most wonderful gift that an individual can ever receive. It is a gift that cannot be taken away and I thank my parents for the sacrifices they made to ensure that I received this wonderful gift.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Michelle

Paper…..such precious stuff

I suspect we take paper f1528657_625843537472168_378676817_nor granted most of the time but since I have been here in Spain I am rediscovering what a wonderful commodity it is and what an important role it plays in our lives.

Thursday saw me return to Seville again in the hope of securing my identity card. This week it was much colder and there were about 25 people ahead of me in the queue and no friendly American to chat to. I spent the time jiggling from one foot to the other as I tried to keep myself warm for 45 minutes waiting for the sun to come up and the doors to open.

The tall thin chap from last week, who I’ve now named Scruffy, was at the desk all rugged up with a bright yellow scarf round his neck and a sweatshirt that had seen better days. I did notice he’d managed to have a hair cut since last week. Very pleasantly he gave me a number and shooed me into an enormous waiting room complete with toilets. It was a different one to last week with only a couple of people in front of me and desks with loads of staff so I thought it boded well for fast processing or maybe the fact that there were loos there meant things were going to take a lot longer!

My number flashed onto the board so I approached the nearest desk where I was told to go into the next room. I found myself back where I started last week faced with the same woman who’d told me I needed more paperwork. A glance at my papers and she still didn’t seem happy, told me to wait and left the room to consult with Scruffy, who seemingly must be fairly senior. Sour Puss returned, and without a word to me, bashed something into her computer, loaded paper into a printer and then looked up, smiled and handed me the precious identity card. I beamed at her and skipped out the door!

I made a quick dash to find the International Bookshop which my American friend told me about last week. Pushing open the door I inhaled deeply, allowing the smell of new books to permeate my senses as I walked through the store in search of the English section. The selection wasn’t huge but for someone starved it was like manna from heaven! I delighted in browsing through the shelves and came away with 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction, The Goldfinch, which is a lovely thick 864 page book.

At the bus station I grab my English newspaper which is providing not only news for me but is proving to be a source of great interest for several students who have never seen an English paper before.

Paper is definitely a most valuable commodity (not only in the form of my precious ID card), but because the sight, feel and smell evoke our senses stimulating our brains into absorbing, scribbling down our thoughts or simply escaping into the depths of a great read.

Michelle

Winter is coming

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George R R Martin is a huge hit round here

It was 6 degrees when I woke up this morning. I’ll definitely have to pile an extra blanket on my bed tonight if I won’t want to turn into a popsicle. The change in weather has been very sudden and from wearing a sleeveless top last week I am now in a thermal. My latest purchase today was a pair of boots and I’ve fished out the heater for tonight.

The breeze is cold so I’m all bundled up as I walk to work which brings back memories of days spent working in UK and how I never liked going to work in the cold weather. On the upside it never snows here and the sun shines brightly to warm me. Last week, I was busy crossing the road to walk in the shade and this week I’m doing the reverse and chasing the sunny side of the street.

My students have been coming to class all excited about Game of Thrones Season 5 which has just wrapped up filming in Osuna which is the next town to us. Several attended casting calls for locals or have friends who were lucky enough to land a role as an extra. It’s a big deal for the locals as tourism is expected to get a boost as a result of these locations being chosen. In a place which has a high unemployment rate (34.5%) this is welcome news. English is definitely the key to employment and explains why there are so many language schools in Spain and the high demand for native English speakers.

Michelle

Why the change of lifestyle……an answer to the question so many are asking

As a child I lived all over the world and called several different counties home. My father worked for the United Nations and this somewhat nomadic lifestyle was the life I was born into, so of course, I did not realise that our lifestyle was so different. As I grew older and stared work in London I would work few months to save enough money and head off somewhere on my travels.

One of my trips took me to Australia and I met my husband. Family life and commitments meant my wanderlust had to be curbed. Four years ago I found myself single again with my children almost all grown up – Sasha was about to finish school and head to university – the a little voice that lurked deep in the back of my head started saying that now was the time I could start thinking about make my dream of travelling and living abroad come true.

The only problem was that I would need money to live overseas for any length of time or I would need some kind of income stream. This presented a dilemma as it reduced where I could go with my current skills to just English speaking countries. I pondered how I could possible work in countries where my knowledge of the local language was not exactly top quality or in many cases non-existent.

After some research and analysis I decided that I could use a skill that I already possessed and knew was in high demand – English.

I was always good at this subject at school and for many years have been editing and writing for others so why not develop my English further by learning to teach?

My Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) studies had to happen in conjunction with working full time and this meant when the schedule was really full my studies when on hold for bit.

Luckily I found English classes a very refreshing break from my day-to-day work because the students were all so keen and eager to learn. They looked to their future with the view that learning English was a way to secure their future life.

My TESOL studies open up a whole new world. I was forced to exercise my brain in a totally different way and exposed to so many new concepts around the acquisition of a second language.

Through my training I met an amazing array of individuals, all with incredible stories to tell, of their journey to settle in Australia. I also met teachers with interesting stories of where they had been and the things they had experienced.

One of the positives of being a TESOL teacher is that none of the students know my history. I am just their English teacher. They know nothing about my awards, my breast cancer journey or my business successes and therefore there are no expectations other than for me to help them learn English.

It is really nice to be able to live in anonymity without people expecting me to live up to a reputation.

The other reason for this change is I’ve always told my clients they can achieve whatever they set their minds to and sometime I think they are sceptical. But I am walking the walk as well as having talked the talk.

I am demonstrating that, despite the fact I am no longer a spring chicken, I am perfectly capable of moving across the world and finding a job in a country that does not use English as its main language.

I was successful in achieving my goal because I took a very strategic approach. I had a plan.

Today I’m paid a good wage in a country where unemployment figures are 24.5%, have a very comfortable apartment and am enjoying this new way of life whilst also, thanks to the business hours I keep, am able to keep a little toe in the business world by continuing to mentor, provide strategic advice and write.

I’m also sticking to my philosophy of choosing to only work with people who I have a mutual respect for.

I’m working at an English Academy where the policy is to keep the fees as low as possible as the boss believes that education should be available to everyone and she offers many additional extra’s that other places would charge for and this is really valuable to those who have no jobs and so little money.

How long will I stay? Who know! Let’s see which way the wind blows.

Hasta luego
Michelle

WHAT MY CURRENT JOB IS

Several of you have been emailing and asking exactly what I am doing. Well after being CEO at Lifeline Top End I am now teaching English as a second language. This is not a complete surprise for those who know me. It’s been something I’ve been working on for about 3 years now which has included doing Cert IV, private clients in Darwin as well as working as a volunteer with asylum seekers and refugees (yes, while I had my regular job). I have 2 conversation classes, 1 business English class, one class of teenagers who come in twice a week, a class of advanced English students once a week and a class of uni students once a week, and the rest are two different levels of English all preparing to do the Trinity College exams that come in twice a week for sessions of 2 hours each. My class has several Manuel’s and lots of Maria’s but thankfully they all have their own nicknames so it makes life easier – and no the Manuel’s are not like the one in Fawlty Towers!

I have formal Spanish lessons starting Thursday and thus far have manage to get by with rusty memory of school days lessons and Italian words hoping I get a hit! So far no great disasters apart from the extra bread rolls I mentioned last update. Have managed photocopying, domestic tasks (with lots of hand gestures to help along the comprehension) and shopping. Today I tackled the social security which was the biggest challenge as all the paperwork was in Spanish that I had to fill in but you have to go to Social Security here to get a number that goes on your work contract. Next I have to go to Seville to the police and get a Spanish ID card but that cannot happen till I get my Social Security number, then when I have the ID card I need to go back to Social Security again for them to note it down. Yes, it’s a bit of to-ing an fro-ing but everyone is extremely pleasant to deal with and it’s the system so I just go with the flow – take a number, go have a coffee across the road, come back and check what number they are up to, go to the supermarket, come back again and check the numbers – you get the idea.

On the whole life in Spain is very pleasant. Work days are most civilized with a start of 10am every day except Thursday when it is 9. Long siesta break from 12 till 4 (just about everything shuts) then a few more hours work in the evening. It’s totally different to Australian work practices and I know it could drive some folks nuts but it’s working for me. Sunday is also a day when everything is shut so you have to get organised and do your grocery shopping in advance – none of the 7 day a week trading nonsense/convenience depending on which way you choose to look at it!

The only thing that is a little hard to get used to is the fact that the church bells ring through the night – yep, every hour! I must admit I must be getting accustomed to the sound as now I only hear them about twice a night. Give me another week and I reckon I might be able to sleep through them all night 🙂

Why did I decide to make this change of career is another question several of you asked. Promise I will answer that one in my next blog.

Michelle