Spring Has Sprung

Over a month in Korea, and it feels like it’s been longer than that already. I still have to really get myself into the swing of things at my school, but now I’ve started teaching solo in the afternoons, it’s become more of a challenge for me. Every day, after we’ve all stuffed our faces (or, in my case, due to my strong fish aversion, accepting I will be hungry until dinner time after only eating a select few items), I head to a homeroom classroom and teach 25 grinning faces some English. Unless the class is sixth grade, and the grinning faces turn into surly ‘What on earth could you possibly teach me?’ kind of faces.

Taking the class alone is certainly something which requires you to be on your toes. Kids in one class panicked as they realised they weren’t going to have their Korean teacher to assist them or translate (good), kids in another went mental at the prospect of Miss Lawrenson alone for forty minutes, and kids in the sixth grade glowered at me through too-cool-for-school eyes. The children at my school don’t have an incredibly high level of English either, so it can certainly be a tough forty minutes to get through. Worth it, however, when a third year tells you ‘I love you’ at the end of your lesson. Quite what the reply to that is supposed to be, I don’t know.

Teaching, however, is nothing new – the same problems have followed me around the globe, along with the same rewards teaching brings. Children here are a dream compared to wily, wall-climbing Spanish kids. While some of them are a little naughty, it’s usually one per school year, compared to at least half the class, as I was used to all those years back in Barcelona. Korean kids (and adults) are really inquisitive, too. Here are some of the questions I’ve been asked in virtually every introduction class:

“How old are you?” (No English/Spanish child would dream of asking this)

“How tall are you?”

“Are you married?”

These are the standard questions we were told to expect from pretty much everyone in Korea.

Other questions, such as “What’s your favourite Korean food?” were met with sniggers, as apparently I can’t pronounce Japchae…even though I am relatively sure one can’t really go wrong with that one. I should be the one laughing at them, considering there is both an L and an R in my name, but I’m supposed to be the adult here.

“What’s your blood type?” however, was an interesting change from the same old same old, and the child seemed rather surprised when I told them I didn’t actually know.

Teaching, however, is not something that interests most people, so I’ll move on to the juicy part of today’s post – cherry blossoms and spring springing.

Korea, as I’ve stated before, is by no means striking. It has a certain homely charm to it, however, which means everywhere you walk, you feel comfortable. It is hard to describe quite what the feeling is, but the very streets themselves emit warmth. It is somewhat beautiful in its ugliness. I would really like to find out the method behind the madness of rebuilding the entire country as one singular tower block (or so it seems), and I’m sure I’ll get closer to finding the answer by the end of the year.

Now it’s spring, the edge has been taken off the stark, sharp towers by the arrival of the cherry blossom. Trees all over the city have bloomed into pink paradise, lighting up our path as we stroll. Cherry blossom festivals are held all around Korea, and I was lucky enough that one was in my neighbourhood. Down the 온천천 (Oncheoncheon) river, stalls popped up and lanterns were hung delicately between the trees, ready for the thousands descending upon the banks to see the glorious cherry blossoms. Food stalls aplenty, we were faced with so much choice that we didn’t quite know what to buy – craving starchy food in order to do away with our rotten hangovers from too much Soju the night before. Soju is a Korean drink, and at a ridiculously low price for 18%, it is pretty much the go-to. Koreans pushed their way through the crowds to take selfies by the trees, and in among the small patches of rapeseed. The selfie game was incredibly strong. You only have one chance a year to get that cherry blossom pic, after all.

Reflections in the 온천천




Another spring festivity was today’s Holi Hai festival of colour, held at Haeundae Beach. Haeundae is packed with foreigners as it is, and today even more flocked to the area to chuck coloured powder at one another, dance around in the sand, and eat delicious samosas. Holi is a spring festival in India, which is becoming very popular around the world. Coloured dust is thrown into the air, sticking to everyone it comes across, and the spring festival sends out a message of frivolity, love, and togetherness. It is impossible to leave without a smile and ten different colours plastered on your face. You can almost smell the neon in the air. As it was my first Holi festival, I was unsure of how much this would just be some gimmick to get us to part with our hard-earned cash, but it was very much a day to remember – a time for us all to let loose and experience something new.

The beautiful people

Spring makes everyone happy, and as the days get warmer and the flowers creep out of their dainty buds, our grins here get larger. Here’s to the new season, and to many a new adventure that lies ahead!

Enjoying the colours
Not a selfie in sight for us
Whole potato, cut and then deep fried. Perfect hangover snack.
Not the perfect hangover snack. Silkworm larvae – an adventurous friend bought it, and instantly regretted it.
Crab, anyone?
Rabokki – a mix of tteokbokki, which is a spicy rice cake dish, and ramen, with egg and fishcake.
Making a human pyramid at the Holi festival. Gage professes his love to Soju.
Me and Ruth all coloured up
The face of happiness. Let’s leave it there.



Korea Kalling

Four years ago, I moved to Spain. In the UK, I had wanted to become a teacher. Applying for jobs and schemes usually had the same result though – ‘looking for someone with experience’. How can you get that experience if you can’t get the job in the first place? However, I soon saw a light shining at the end of a tiny tunnel. A conversation assistant in a Spanish school: great! That’ll give me something to pop on my CV. I’ll go back after a year.

Four years later, and there I still was. TEFL-qualified, experienced, and loving it. Barcelona is full of charms, and I am incredibly glad of my decision to move there. It helped me learn a language, blend into another culture, and taught me so many things.

Four years ago, I was also looking down other small tunnels, in the maze of life. One such was the opportunity to teach in South Korea, as a guest English teacher on a state school programme. I applied, and was interviewed. I pulled out because I was scared. I pulled out because I didn’t think I’d be able to be that far away from home, to live in a culture so different to my own. I pulled out because I told myself I couldn’t do it, and I wasn’t experienced enough. There’d always be someone better.

Four months ago, I began again. I believed in myself enough to apply for a position in South Korea, and wanted it enough to know that I could do it. I wanted to live in another place, experience such a new world, learn a new language, and better myself as a teacher. South Korea, an economic powerhouse steeped in tradition, but pushing itself ever forward into the modern world of technology, beckoned me. So off the radar as a tourist destination, I believed it would give me a true glimpse of life on another side of the globe.

Four months later, here I am, back in the UK, after weeks and weeks of preparation. I’ll leave all that for another day – the hoops I’ve had to jump through, and the endless paperwork I’ve almost wept tears of frustration over, have given me enough stress to last a lifetime and even two panic attacks. Four months later, however, here I am with visa in hand (well, it’s on my desk), and a position with the Busan Metropolitan Office of Education. I’m €700 worse off (not even including the flight), but my heart is lighter and sings with happiness: I did it! I got there! I’m still pinching myself over it.

So now you all know: one of the reasons I’ve been so quiet on here recently. I was planning. Plotting. Scheming for my next great adventure.

Hello Korea.




Accent tagging

Today is Yorkshire Day! Quite what that means and quite what I do with that information, I’m not sure; but with that theme in mind I set about making an Accent Tag video. I saw a few on Youtube from my area (Harrogate, North Yorkshire) but wanted to give my own a go as I think it’s quite interesting and good to have a record of as many different accents as possible.

Anyone who has watched my previous video may think my accent has changed; the one in this video is my genuine ‘speaking with friends’ accent. In my teaching videos I try to make it as neutral as possible to be clearly understood and communicate clear pronunciation.

Click the link to have a look!

Accent tag: North Yorkshire

The Trickery of English

I recently found a poem which I really liked, called ‘English Pronunciation’ by G. Nolst Trenité (actually not even a native speaker; a Dutchman, although they are renowned to be excellent at English). It demonstrates how difficult English is to learn as regards pronunciation. I’ve given it a go, and to be honest I’m surprised we ever learn to read as children…poor things!

Some of the words I wasn’t even sure of; I think either many are dated or not common in everyday usage. The majority, however, are; and I found it a huge challenge to read aloud! I wanted to do it though, to show learners that even English speakers can be baffled by their own language.

And here’s the poem if you want to read along:

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Fe0ffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

Why Some May Wish Esperanto Had Caught On…

Teaching English abroad had never occurred to me, really, truly, until I was in a desperate situation. I was stuck in a job I hated – it wasn’t a bad job by any means, not at all, but it just wasn’t for me, and I felt like I didn’t have the right skills for it. I just wasn’t cut out for the world of retail banking. I couldn’t get a job in England as a teaching assistant or even working in a school, so competitive was the field and so was the level of experience needed for them to consider you worthy of hiring. Quite the Catch 22: how to get experience when no school would give you the opportunity to do so?

So, to the internet I went, and my searches began to drift further afield. China, Mexico, Thailand. Those dream spots that seem so far away. They all had one thing in common, too: a qualification in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language in case any reader is not au fait with the many acronyms and abbreviations associated with language teaching – honestly, the list is as long as your arm). It was back to the drawing board again, as I lacked this qualification, too. Many companies offer it online for rather cheap prices, but for anyone considering doing this, whilst you will actually get the qualification, I would dissuade you from doing so as most companies look to hire people with at least one hundred and twenty classroom hours; that is, doing it in person with human guinea pigs to practise your newfound teaching skills on. I began to find companies advertising teaching abroad with no experience required. It all seemed too good to be true. Some offered ridiculous amounts of money, but I told myself these would be more likely to be traps, or have some hidden catch.

I stumbled upon the CAPS company whilst looking on Gumtree, of all places. Through further research I found it to be a legitimate company, and the rest is history, as we say. Here I am in Spain, having been working in a primary school as a conversation assistant for seven months now; which I can easily say have been the best months of my life, despite the difficulties that can be faced abroad.

The CAPS company I now work for.

I am privileged to have a job such as this. Granted, the pay is essentially pocket money, and it can be difficult living with a family at times after being used to independence, but I can earn my own extra money, and I get an insight into how other families live in another country. The same cannot be said for many other people the world over. Let me get to the point of this; the world is your oyster, certainly, but more so if you happen to be lucky enough to speak English. It is incredibly difficult for those who speak other languages to have similar experiences; they do exist, of course, but with English being the international language, if you speak it, and fluently, you are much more likely to secure yourself a job or find that lucky break when everything has hit rock bottom for you in your own country. In our own countries, us English speakers are of course not novelties. We don’t need to impart it onto others, we just go about talking as normal. We don’t realise the value of our own language; whether people want to learn it or not, English is a large global presence and increases your potential job-base.

This map merely shows American International Schools, so you can imagine how many more there are and how big a business it is becoming nowadays.

Even in jobs advertising teaching other languages, such as Spanish, French, or German – you name it, in international schools and in English speaking countries, as a foreigner you have less chance. These international schools look for MFL (Modern Foreign Languages, there’s another one…) teachers whose first language is most likely English, or are at least bilingual with English as their mother tongue. This makes sense for English teachers abroad, but asking for English speakers to teach, perhaps, Chinese children Spanish? I feel we’ve lucked out here. From my experience here, natives teach their own language much better than a person who has English as a second language. I refer, of course, to natives who have a basic grasp of the language of the country they’re residing in. It’s very difficult to teach English without any reference point to the pupil’s first language. This is the new technique in language teaching: don’t ever, ever use the native language. I don’t see how this can possibly work. Certainly for basic vocabulary like dog, cat, and objects that explain themselves, but for grammatical structure and longer sentences, the student could understand wrongly and make that grammatical error for the rest of their life without correction. I really like the English teacher at my school, and believe she’s doing a brilliant job, but as she admits herself, she makes mistakes because she doesn’t have English as her first language. It doesn’t come so naturally to her. So, surely it should be the same for the English teachers who teach French, German, and whatever other language is required? It doesn’t seem so.

International schools usually use English in the classroom as the main language, which is why I suppose they look for natives with teaching skills in foreign languages. I think, however, to use a native speaker with English as a second language would be far more beneficial, and would be fairer in the international community. As English speakers, we have so much opportunity already, both in a linguistic teaching context and in other alleyways such as business, as it’s the lingua franca (allowing communication between people who do not share the same mother tongue) of the world, it seems. Whilst it’s actually only the third most spoken language in the world, people use it as a vehicle to communicate between countries. I’ve met many couples here in Spain who do not share the same mother tongue, for example an Italian man meets a Spanish woman, and at first, they speak English to communicate with one another. It’s fascinating. Especially for a language where the pronunciation is often very difficult as there are very little rules regarding how words are read.

Complex English versus International English.

I truly have the world at my feet with the language given to me as my mother tongue; and I’m genuinely not exaggerating. I’m lucky enough to speak English, which already lets me apply for basic teaching and coaching jobs regarding English abroad. I’ve managed to take classes in a school alone with no teaching practice or training before, and gain no less than six private tuition students, which astonishes me sometimes. It might not be the most sensible idea, but if you select your employees carefully, just their natural ability with language is all you need in order to learn from them. This July I will be doing a TEFL, which will broaden my horizons and allow me to go further afield should I wish, to countries such as Thailand. However, in some countries such as China or South Korea, all you need is a degree in a somewhat relevant subject, such as English, Literature, Linguistics, or Education. This is complete madness – I’ve yet to hear of similar opportunities besides childcare and au pair work that exist for non-English speakers.

Whilst I am happy to take advantage of this, I do feel the advantage I have in the world. I know for others it isn’t so easy, and I am glad of the gift of language I possess that I may pass on to my children and others. So, next time you are just chatting over coffee or singing along to your favourite song, calling your boyfriend or just simply talking to yourself, if you’re that way inclined, remember how lucky you are to be speaking the language of English. It might be big-headed, and it might seem rather provocative a statement to make, but it truly is your ticket to greater things, and, sadly, positive discrimination in the international workplace.

Behind Closed Doors?

I had been prepared that naturally there would be differences in the education system to our own here in Spain, and was keen to see what they were. Questions were on my mind when I first arrived. How did other countries educate? How different would it be to my schooling career? What would the behaviour of the children be like, and how would they be disciplined? Children tend to be similar the world over. All in all, it depends mostly on how they are treated at home. We have become very different to the ‘children must be seen and not heard’, and now, children are expected to be themselves, allowed to enjoy the most of their short childhood.

There are obvious differences and similarities here; as mentioned before, the school hours are something that was quite strange for me to get used to, but in general the children attend school for a similar amount of hours as our British children. One thing I’ve not been able to get used to is the idea that children are able to call teachers by their first name – it’s no ‘Miss Lawrenson’ here, or ‘Mr Rodriguez’. Even the head teacher is known to the children only by her first name. I don’t know the reasoning behind this, but for me it seems very informal; an idea that they are trying to get the children to look to them as an equal, a friend, a chum. I remember first finding out my teacher’s first name, and how incredibly shocking it was that you knew something secret about them – I do believe using surnames commands some respect, and also shrouds the teacher in a small amount of mystery. It sets up a small barrier, and calls upon formality which should be present in a school.

However, I digress. The point of me writing about the differences in the schooling system was to illustrate one matter that I have found incredibly strange and very different to the way we view education – here in Spain, the ideas such as OFSTED and constant school vigilance/assessment of teachers is almost non-existent. Teachers here are given free reign to do whatever they please. They have an idea of privacy in the classroom, that a teacher may do as they like and trust is given that they are doing the correct thing to educate the children in their class. Whilst I agree there should be a level of trust that takes for granted the idea that teachers are doing their best to teach at the correct level, the correct content and to the right ability, I find it very hard to believe, coming from a nation which constantly examines both its schools and its educators, that there is simply no method of evaluating a teacher’s performance. Not even the head teacher is ever a presence in the classroom – coming to check that their employees are doing the job they are supposed to do. I just don’t understand: in every other job, people are evaluated, checked, measured on some sort of performance scheme, given feedback, and so on. How can teachers improve here, if nobody even knows what content they are teaching in the lessons? They could be giving lectures on what they did on the weekend, for all we know. I highly doubt that they are, and this is an extreme example, but it surely could happen if nobody checks the curriculum is being followed and taught in the proper manner.

I would hesitate to put my child in a school if I did not know what went on behind its doors. How do we know what they are learning, asides from glancing at their homework? I trust that the four year teaching degree they undertake here truly prepares teachers for their entire career – I only wish that type of further education was similar in England. A PGCE for one difficult year hardly seems enough to know everything there is to know about your future profession, considering how many things a teacher has to undertake. Here, like in England, teachers are viewed to have long holidays, an easy job, a good job. I call upon anybody who should say such a thing to teach in a school for a week, especially with the pay that teachers receive here. It’s lower paid than in Great Britain, and there is no rising pay-scale rewarding longer-serving teachers and educators for their input over the years. A head of department barely makes more than your regular teacher. It’s hardly worth doing it for the extra work, except of course to put it on your CV. I hardly see the point, however, in creating positions such as head of department, when one cannot even be sure what the teachers beneath you are actively doing in class. Of course, they have to be directed, and work together to choose the material and curriculum topics, the way they will study them, and the objectives they have to work toward.

The idea of utmost trust and no vigilance, however, is one that I just can’t get around in my head. Whilst constant observation is not a good idea, it is equally nonsensical for me that nobody should be seeing what goes on in the classroom – education is a public service, so it should be able to be seen by everybody; what does a teacher have to hide? In private and semi-private schools, when a parent pays for the education, I would feel even more of a right to ensure my children were actually getting the education I was paying for. Marks given in class and report cards are not enough to know if a school is functioning properly and well. You can look publicly for how well a school performs in England – and I genuinely think this should be a law here. A public service should not be shrouded in mystery, and parents have a right to know what their children are doing in the long hours they are at school.

I do love Spain; the people are friendly, families are close, the weather is of course fantastic, and the culture they have here is brilliant. This said, one thing I have not been able to understand is their view on education. I say this only from the point of view of being in a primary school – naturally, I have no experience of ESO, their secondary system, and cannot comment on that, but having spoken to the mother I currently live with, who teaches in ESO, I know that the privacy in the classroom idea is exactly the same. I think, too, that they need to revise how they treat their educators. Whilst Spain is having a difficult time at the moment, the people they trust to educate their next generation are underpaid, overworked, and constantly at risk of job cuts. Much like the rest of the world, I assume, but I do wish people would look at teaching in a more serious manner. We cannot survive without education; and I would hope that my children would receive a proper one, at that. I’m only a foreigner, and I don’t pretend to know everything about the systems here, or how they work; but after seven months I can truly say there are some things here that baffle me – aside from the fact that they don’t like eating curry.