Posts Tagged With: teaching English

Have you heard the one about my life?

I was born in Bradford...lived in Brazil...buried in Scunthorpe. The End

I was born in Bradford…lived in Brazil…buried in Scunthorpe. The End

‘If I wrote a book about my life, it would be a best-seller!’ How many times have I heard that old chestnut, I wonder. People presume that their own life is like a racy novel, beginning in the cradle and ending in the grave. All they need to do is write it all down. Evidently, philosophers describe this kind of thinking as ‘diachronic’ – treating life as an evolving narrative. But is life really like that? Don’t we all remember things in a muddle, forgetting most of it and piecing the rest together like highlights from a B-movie? How much of what we remember is reliable? More to the point, are we the same person all the way through? Am I really that daft schoolboy who clapped in the middle of a chamber music recital because I thought it was finished? Beetroot was the colour of my face (and the headmaster’s).

Surely we need to be selective about our pasts, dredging up only a few choice morsels. So, scratching my head, I have come up with a few incredible moments from the rich tapestry of my life so far – ‘from Bradford to Brazil‘…

A tractor factory is no place for a vinyl junkie!

A tractor factory is no place for a vinyl junkie…

1974: As a Bradford lad with very little between the ears, I found myself working in a monstrous factory, fitting wheels on tractors. One day an older workmate was boasting about his son passing university exams. Feeling jealous, I told him proudly that I had passed a few ‘O’ levels myself. He looked me up and down – observing my grimy overalls, oily face and unkempt hair – and said: “You! You must be joking. You are nothing but a filthy stink!” The next morning, as I approached the factory gates, I stopped and thought, ‘I can’t face it anymore’. So I went for a steamclean and a week later got a job in a record shop.

A cross between Jim Morrison and Rupert Brooke? Doing my homework for Bradford College, 1982

A cross between Jim Morrison and Rupert Brooke? Doing my homework for Bradford College, 1982

1982: Landing back in starry Bradford after 6 months in California, I thought myself a man of the world. I had also read the odd book on my travels. One night an old pal heard me and my new posh voice waxing lyrical about literature. “Eh, Martin”, he said, “you’re talking to your mates, now. Stop trying to sound like Oscar Wilde.” It was true, I had become a pretentious chump. So I cut my long hair short, bought myself an old suit and tie from a charity shop and enrolled at Bradford College: I went from Jim Morrison to Rupert Brooke in the blink of a town hall pigeon. After a couple of weeks on the course, one of my fellow students said: “What’s with the suit? You look like a down-at-heel insurance man”. Charming.

Irish writer Anthony Cronin once dubbed me a 'playboy' for some reason...

Irish writer Anthony Cronin once dubbed me a ‘playboy’ for some reason…

1986: I pitched up in London and was invited to look after the flat of a distinguished Irish writer, Anthony Cronin, while he went back to Dublin to think. As my passport was about to expire and I didn’t have a job, I asked Tony what I should put down as my ‘occupation’ on the application form. “Just put playboy”, he said. Then I did get a job, teaching English to foreigners in a school in the West End. One day, after a heavy lunch with an Italian guy whose English was appalling, we returned to the school to carry on with the lesson. Despite my Herculean efforts to keep listening to the guy, I nodded off, slumping onto the desk in front. I woke up with a bang as the student’s fist crashed down on the table and he shouted: “Wake up! I pay many money for this course!”

1992: On my first trip to Brazil, I headed to Rio and a job in an English school. As a single bloke, I was understandably looking forward to sowing my wild oats with a bevy of Brazilian beauties. I knocked on the door of the school and it was opened by a coordinator who welcomed me and attempted to introduce me to some other teachers. But it was lunchtime and the place was empty. Apart, that is, from one young woman sitting at a table marking her students’ homework. So, lo and behold, I was introduced to my future wife. Bang went any fantasies of dental floss bikinis – my fate was to be under the thumb for the next 23 years…

So sorry that I cannot join you, ladies...I'm getting married!

So sorry that I cannot join you, ladies…I’m getting married!

2000: It wasn’t enough for lowly Bradford City to have reached the Olympian heights of the Premiership. Oh, no! We had to STAY there. Needing a win on the last day of the season, we faced the mighty Liverpool (Stevie Gerrard, Michael Owen et al). One goal from Bantams captain David Wetherall did the trick, sending the fans at Valley Parade into hysterics. Having watched the game in a London pub and imbibed a skinful of Youngs Special Bitter, I went and laid down on Richmond Green to look up at the sky and thank God in his heaven. In retrospect, I don’t think he was listening.

My begoggled son Edward winning the World Cup for England, 2008

My begoggled son Edward winning the World Cup for England, 2008

2008: As a proud dad, I watched my son, in goggles and gloves, win the World Cup almost single-handedly! Not the dastardly FIFA one, I mean the version for 10-year-olds in Chertsey. Guess which team he was representing? England, of course. Some of the other dads were not happy with the result and swore the match had been fixed. It had. Edward, my son, had accepted a bribe: if he lifted the cup he would be rewarded with a homemade cheeseburger and could stay up to watch Match of the Day on telly.

Erm, excuse me, are you sure this is the Richon Hotel, Porto Alegre?

Erm, excuse me, are you sure this is the Richon Hotel, Porto Alegre?

2011: After selling up in England, my family and I landed in downtown Porto Alegre, Brazil, with 9 heavy suitcases on a sunny Saturday lunchtime. Our hotel was just yards away from the city’s teeming ‘camelódromo’ – a ramshackle street trader’s market full of cheap tat. What a shock! From the sleepy villages of Surrey to the chaos and human struggle of the Brazilian poor. I laid down on the bed in my puny hotel room, pale and shaking, believing I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was wrong, of course. After a few beers I remembered that you can’t have real adventures without taking risks.

As for the next 40 years, I wonder what thrills await me before I shuffle off this mortal coil? A few more second-hand LPs to add to my collection, at least. What I really wish for is the chance to go back to 1974, where I started this little trawl through the past. It could all have been so different. I could have been a contender…

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is your TEFL ticket past its sell-by date?

Excuse me, love, do you have any bangers and mash?

Excuse me, love, do you have any bangers and mash?

Travel, travel and more travel – that’s what everybody would like to do, if only they had the time and the money. “See the world, lad, before you settle down”, my grandad used to say. Of course, he was right. There is nothing like travel for seeing how the other half live, delving into exotic cultures and then realising the limitations of your own. For some of us, travel can be addictive. We soon get bored with the easy life at home and yearn for adventure. When the travel bug gets serious, we want to throw off our tourist garb and settle somewhere for a while, learn the lingo, fall in love, submerge ourselves. But how to earn an honest crust?

Teaching English abroad is bags of fun when you're young...

Teaching English abroad is bags of fun when you’re young…

Well, if you are lucky enough to be a native English speaker, Bob’s your uncle! You can teach English, of course – what could be simpler? You were born speaking English so it’s as natural to you as falling off a lorry. All you have to do is talk…and listen to your sweet (but very slow) students without falling asleep. Eureka! Instant job, instant income! But hang on a minute…you know how to speak English, but you’re not sure how to, erm, ‘teach’ it. What about grammar and all that stuff? Well, to be honest, depending on how far-flung your destination is, you might get by with little or no previous experience. If a student asks you about the ‘Present Perfect’, you can always say you’ll do that in the future. Trouble is, if you go somewhere more popular, you might face competition from somebody ‘trained’: a qualified TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher, no less.

Yes, folks, the world is choc full of TEFL teachers of every hue and stamp – the young and the old, the keen and the jaded, the settled and the shackled. In my experience, there are three predominant ‘types’ of TEFL teacher you are likely to come across on your travels:

Hooray - I've got my TEFL ticket to the world! How far is Timbuktu?

Hooray – I’ve got my TEFL ticket to the world! How far is Timbuktu?

The Backpacker: this is the charlie who jumps off the banana boat in Rio and, after filling his nostrils with that tropical sea air and spotting the beach totty, bangs on the door of the first ‘School of English’ in view. He’s a chancer, an opportunist, but hey – he’s doing no-one any harm! Besides, he will most likely be paid peanuts but doesn’t care because he is only in it for the ride, ‘the craic’ as they say in Dublin. Come Christmas he’ll be on the plane heading back to Aunty Doreen and Uncle Derek in Darlington, no hearts broken. Believe me, there is wisdom in his nonchalance.

Forget grammar, Alfredo...let's just chat till the pubs open

Forget grammar, Alfredo…let’s just chat till the pubs open

The Dabbler: these guys are by far the most common, thickly spread like dandelions in a prison garden. They arrive in their 20s on a Club Med holiday, get hooked on the sun and the laid-back lifestyle and end up drinking so much they forget to go home. These time-servers have a rudimentary knowledge of English teaching methodology, having completed a three-week crash course in Bournemouth in 1991. Or was it 1993? They can’t remember. As teachers they are popular types, ditching the dreaded ‘course book’ for something called ‘conversation’, which often turns out to be a teacher’s monologue about past exploits, peppered with personal anecdotes. Lessons may be extended if there is a bar nearby. For the dabbler, ‘home’ is a murky memory too scary to contemplate, a cold dark place full of stressed-out people with crippling mortgages.

The Pro: this power-dressed Iron Lady makes the rest of us look like supermarket stackers on a pub trip. She has spent years studying the whys and wherefores of teaching methodology and the science of language acquisition, finally being honoured with an MA in Linguistics from Utah University. She is Miss Serious and never gets her knickers in a twist. When not in the classroom overawing students with her knowledge, she can be found lurking in the corridors of TEFL Conferences in Milan or São Paulo, clutching a bunch of papers concerning the effects of modal verbs on mental health.

Today's word is 'cheek'...these are your cheeks - go on, feel them!

Today’s word is ‘cheek’…these are your cheeks – go on, feel them!

Different though they may be in many respects, these TEFL ‘types’ all face the same dilemma: whether to stick it out in the big wide world or whether to face the music one day and creep back ‘home’ to Bognor Regis. The key words here are ‘happiness’ and ‘job satisfaction’: if you have both of these, you are laughing. You may also be well-integrated into a new, foreign family and feel perfectly settled in your adopted homeland. But for those of us who haven’t embraced TEFL heartily as a lifelong career, endless days of ‘conversation’ – broken by the occasional detour into the dictionary of phrasal verbs – becomes steadily less rewarding.

There were two old TEFL teachers sat in deckchairs, and one said the the other...

There were two old TEFL teachers sat in deckchairs, and one said to the other…

After all, TEFL is not rocket science. Actually, it is much more of a laudable profession for those people who are non-native speakers and have had to study the language for years. I have met many non-native EFL teachers and they love everything about English, gaining much personal satisfaction from their achievements in a foreign tongue. Most of them put us native ‘buskers’ to shame.

Miss - how do you say 'I fancy the pants off you' in English?

Miss – how do you say ‘I fancy the pants off you’ in English?

So, as an old hand at the ‘game’, what is my advice to those of you considering the TEFL route around the world? That’s simple: definitely go for it, no question about that. Nothing comes close to the soul-lifting experience of living abroad. However, there is a caveat I must throw in: don’t put all your eggs in one basket (or all your verbs in the same sentence). In my experience, it is only for the very few that TEFL becomes an engaging and financially rewarding long-term career. Before you swan off to Beijing, you need to think seriously about adding more strings to your bow, or developing a parallel career. Then, if you end up back in Blighty with a backpack full of memories and empty pockets, you are not reduced to serving behind the bar at the Nag’s Head in Romford.

All those fabulous memories...but one day I might end up back in Wigan

All those fabulous memories…but one day I might end up back in Wigan

TEFL may be a ‘ticket to the world’, but it just might not be enough to keep you abroad forever. As Spandau Ballet put it so memorably in the 80s, ‘I bought a ticket to the world / But now I’ve come back again / Why do I find it hard to write the next line / Oh I want the truth to be said’. ‘Writing the next line’ is, figuratively speaking, what you will have to do post-TEFL, so be prepared. Oh, and the name of the song? True, of course, like everything I write in From Bradford to Brazil! And don’t be late for class tomorrow…

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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