The Fastest Language on Earth and Why That Doesn’t Matter

I recently came across an article titled the 7 fastest spoken languages and it got me thinking. While we normally think native speakers of other languages speak quite quickly (especially if it’s a language we’re learning or have limited proficiency in) these Language Nerds looked at 2 different studies on the subject and the results are… unsurprising. Based on syllables per second, Japanese was the fastest language surveyed and Mandarin was the slowest. English was also rated on the slower end. So what does this mean? Besides the number of syllables native speakers in the survey spoke, not much. There are a number of variables that impact how quickly we speak including:

  •         Age: Our cognitive abilities decline as we get older. This means our speech gets slower and less complex as we age. (source)
  •         Gender: Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that men speak faster than women. (source 1) (source 2)
  •         Emotional (or affective) state: Being angry or anxious increases our rate of speech. (source)

Also, there is significant variation between dialects of a language, with ‘non-standard’ varieties typically perceived as slower and unintelligent (think: US Southern drawl). Ultimately, societal expectations and context dictate how fast we speak. This is important for later.

From a strictly ‘linguistic’ perspective we can see some commonalities between the “fast” and “slow” languages. The Language Nerds focused on consonants and tones to explain the differences but I’m going to focus on morphology. We can think of morphemes as the ‘building blocks’ of language. They are the smallest unit of a word that contains information. Looking at it this way makes sense. Languages that have a low morpheme-to-word ratio (like English and Mandarin) tend to be slower than those with a higher ratios (Japanese, Turkish, Finnish).

In languages like Mandarin and English our blocks are smaller than languages like Turkish or Japanese. The most common example is the word ‘boy.’ Boy =1 morpheme. To make it plural we add the morpheme -s to make ‘boys,’ which has 2 morphemes boy+s. Mandarin is even simpler. Boy = nan-hai (男孩) which
is made of the characters man and child). One character in Mandarin equals one morpheme which equals one syllable.

In Japanese and languages like it, by contrast, words are much more morphologically complex. The Japanese word for boy is otokonoko (男の子) with otoko (男) meaning ‘man’ and no ko (の子) meaning
‘of child.’ There are 3 morphemes but 5 syllables. It gets very complicated, and we won’t get into the different kinds of morphemes, but basically the tradeoff between the different kinds of languages is how much information they pack into a given word. Morphemes can tell us anything from number, gender, time, giving
or receiving an action and more. That means, English speakers for example, would need more words to convey the above information than a Japanese speaker. So even if Japanese is spoken faster than English, Japanese words are longer and morphologically denser.

The main takeaway is that even though languages may be faster or slower based on syllable speed, all languages convey meaningful information at similar rates (read more about that here).

 While it’s fun to think about differences between languages (which is called linguistic typology btw) the
danger in comparing languages by how ‘fast’ they are lies in how we typically conflate speed with intelligence and certain personality traits. We then impose those perceptions on the speakers of that language which can lead to stereotyping. A fast-speaking Latino is usually considered ‘passionate’ while a fast-talking
New Yorker or Londoner could be viewed as less trustworthy. As in most situations, especially cross-cultural exchanges, it might be better to focus on what’s being said rather than how fast it’s being said.

A Review of the Top 10 ELT Management Courses for 2021

Online learning became the norm in 2020

This year was particularly rough for TEFL. With domestic and international travel restrictions in place for most of the year many of us were teaching online for the first time or worse, out of work altogether. My situation is the latter, as I came back to the US to take care of my mother during COVID. I still had my Masters to keep me busy, but I also felt that I could take this time to upskill and do more professional development so I can be in a stronger position when the ELT market picks back up again. Teacher management and training is something I’ve always wanted to be involved in, but I just didn’t have the right skill set (or confidence) to get into it. In my search for the perfect course, I came across quite a few good ones and some not so great. In this article I review the top 10 courses for TEFL/TESOL Teachers thinking of transitioning to management. While an MA TESOL (or ALLT as I’m currently doing) and/or a Diploma like the Trinity DipTesol or Delta are typically required for most management positions in ELT, they tend to focus on either the theoretical aspects of language learning and teaching (as is the case for university study) or refining classroom practice (Diploma). These are fine and even essential knowledge and skills for anyone moving into a senior role of their language teaching organisation. However, these courses don’t focus on how to manage and lead people and teams. There are, of course MAs that are dedicated to educational or ELT Management but these are often inaccessible to most professionals due to time, work, or financial constraints. Fortunately there are a few courses to fill in the gap between teacher and teacher-leader. For this list, I focused on courses that could be done online/via distance. They each represent a range of different lengths, costs, and study intensity but they all introduce teachers to the basics of effective school management. In no particular order, we’ll look at:

  1. Delta Module 3 (Various, Cambridge, UK)
  2. Harvard Certificate in School Management and Leadership (USA)
  3. Columbia University Certificate in Language Program Management (USA)
  4. OTHM Level 7 Diploma in Education Management (UK)
  5. IH Dos Course (UK)
  6. IH Diploma in Academic Management (UK)
  7. IDLTM (University of Queensland AU)
  8. ELT Leadership Management Certificate Program (TESOL International USA)
  9. DELTM: Diploma in English Language Teaching Management (EnglishUK)
  10. Professional Certificate in Leadership and Management in Education (University of Newcastle AU)

Overview of Courses

Validated byDurationModulesAssessmentCostWebsite
DELTA Module 3Cambridge University, UKvaries, typically
1-6 months
1*1 x 4000 word essay~$500 USD
IDLTMUniversity of Queensland, AU7-8 months (325 hours)98 x ~2000
word essay
& tasks
$3900 AUD
DELTMEnglishUK635 hours65 x 3500 word essay
1 x 5000
word essay
IH DoSInternational House, UK12 weeks1312 x 600-1000 word tasks£690 ($933 USD)
IH Diploma in Academic ManagementInternational House, UK6 weeks per module5-75-7 x 2500 word tasks£420 per module
ELT Leadership Management CertificateTESOL International, USA5 weeks5Not Stated$500 USD
OTHM Level 7 Diploma in Education ManagementOTHM, UK1 Year
(1200 hours)
66x 4500 word essay£950-£1250
Certificate in School Management and Leadership (CSML)Harvard University, USA16 weeks4Participation*/ Portfolio$1200 USD
Professional Certificate in Leadership and Management in EducationNewcastle University, AU12 weeks3NoneFree or $447 AUD*
Certificate in Language Program Management (LPM)Columbia University, USA16 weeks4Not Stated$3000 USD

In Depth

Delta Module 3

Long considered the ‘gold standard’ in ELT/TEFL/ESOL, Delta module 3 is the third and final module of the full Delta diploma (Cambridge Level 7 Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). This isn’t really a course in this sense that there isn’t really training or practical application tasks. Instead, all you need to do is submit a 4000-4500 word essay following the guidelines set out by Cambridge. There are no other assignments or tasks. You don’t actually have to sit through a course, but it’s highly recommended that you do. Delta M3 is widely available online through ‘brick and mortar’ schools International House and online outfits like the Distance Delta. You’ll primarily learn how to format your essay for a successful submission. Some centres include instructional component following the book From Teacher to Manager. The length of the course and the amount of feedback you receive varies. The price also varies by provider, but is roughly $400. Completing this course along with the other 2 modules leads to the full Level 7 diploma and counts for credit at some universities. According to the latest data from Ofqual, there were 175 Delta graduates between 2018-2019.


This course was originally developed by Cambridge and SIT but now offered through the Institute for Continuing Education and TESOL Education at the University of Queensland in Australia. The International Diploma for Language Teaching Management was probably the first full-fledged course dedicated to ELT management, but it’s been mired by low-visibility and poor uptake since its inception in 2000. One of the major barriers is the 5-day residential in Australia, which makes it inaccessible to most teachers, geographically and financially. The cost is also quite steep at $3,900 AUD ($2,900 USD/ £2,198) but may be worth it if you’re a teacher from Australia or New Zealand and receive a training subsidy from your employer. The outlook for the course remains poor however, as the only 2 induction sessions scheduled for 2020 were cancelled due to COVID-19.


Another course with low-visibility is the Diploma in English Language Teaching Management. The course seems much more personalised since it’s not under the auspices of a university or beholden to the strict standards of Cambridge English Assessments. Despite this, a look at the syllabus reveals the same breadth and depth you’d expect from an ELT Management course. The three tutors feature prominently in the syllabus which leads me to believe you’ll be taught by the course creators directly, which is definitely a plus. I personally don’t know anyone who has taken this course, so if you have, please leave a comment and let me know your experience. The website itself was quite sparse on details of the course but most of the information you need is in the syllabus– except the price. Again, the future of this course seems uncertain for 2021, given many of the face-to-face trainings were cancelled and I’m not sure if they were moved online.

IH DoS Course

The International House Director of Studies course does exactly what it says on the tin. This course trains you in the expectations of a Director of Studies at an International House school. Over 12 weeks, you’ll study everything from recruiting and HR for teachers to customer service to the basic financial aspects of running your department. I would imagine writing an 1000-word essay every week for 12 weeks might be a bit taxing for anyone who’s been out of academia for awhile. Participation in the online forums with your coursemates is also a very big aspect of the course. The IH DoD is run by IH OTTI (Online Teacher Training Institute– not to be confused with ITTO: International Teacher Training Organization) the online training arm of International House and has 4 intakes a year. The course is also designed to be complemented by the IH Train the Trainer course. It’s not clear if this is the same as the Cambridge Train the Trainer, but I imagine very similar.

The IH Dos course was run in-person at IH Barcelona, but unfortunately the school closed down this year because of the pandemic. This seems like a solid course, but its definitely geared towards training teachers who are already affiliated with IH. If you work for IH it costs £360 ($486 USD) and your centre will most likely be picking up the tab anyway. For the rest of us, it’s £690 ($933 USD), double that if you plan on doing the suggested train the trainer course alongside it.

IH Diploma in Academic Management

The IH Diploma in Academic Management is also offered by the IH OTTI. It consists of taking 5 of the 7 academic management courses offered by the institute. This is probably the most flexible and ‘modular’ qualifications from IH. Each module takes 6 weeks to complete, and if you were to do all of them in order, it would take about 7 months to get the full diploma. In addition to the usual coursework on managing teams and developing teachers, there is an option to look at managing centres where Young Learners are the focus. There’s nothing stopping you from taking all 7 modules if you fancy yourself an overachiever but with each module costing £420 ($567 USD) the full diploma is already £2100 ($2,839 USD). It may be a good option just to take the individual modules you need or are interested in, but in terms of cost, I feel like you could get a more comprehensive and recognisable qualification elsewhere for the same price or less.

ELT Management Certificate

TESOL International offers a 5-week certificate in management online or 3 days face-to-face. I was actually scheduled to take this course at the TESOL Arabia conference this year, but we all know what happened. This course covers all the essentials of ELT management at a reasonable price. The only downside (or upside) is the lack of assessment. The course is primarily given via a lecture format with small group discussion. If you’re the type that needs reflective tasks, report writing, and/or essays to feel like you’ve done something, this course may not be for you. It is taught by some extremely impressive faculty, however. I have attended a few professional development courses with Dr. Christine Coombes, who teaches on the certificate, and her sessions are very thorough and well-researched. The course runs twice a year online and TESOL international members receive a $100 USD (£73) discount on the course.

OTHM Level 7 Diploma in Education Management

This is a new qualification for aspiring managers regulated by Ofqual (UK) at the same level as the Cambridge Delta. What OTHM stands for isn’t clear but this is a proper qualification with several pathways to university progression via top up degrees. The course encompasses a staggering 1200 hours of total qualification time, including 600 guided learning hours. Learners on this course can expect to explore broader issues in contemporary education, research methods in education and theories underpining education and practice. This seems ideal for those looking for a purely academic qualification or perhaps looking for a route into either an MA in Education Management or an MBA. Both are possible as this course is accepted by the Universities of Chichester and Portsmouth. Neither university actually provide the course. It seems the only providers are dubious online schools with knock-off names like London School of International Business (LSIB), London School, the Cambridge Management and Leadership School (CMLS), and the London College of Professional Studies (LCPS). Each of them offer the course for around £1200 including examination fees. In the year 2018-2019, no one had actually taken up the course, perhaps because no major education and training provider or legitimate university has endorsed it. Nevertheless, it is a real qualification.

Certificate in School Management and Leadership (CSML)

The CSML is a relatively new qualification for teachers seeking to transition into management. While it’s not necessarily geared towards ELT professionals, you will find teachers from a variety of contexts including second language teachers on the course. The CSML consists of 4 modules: Leading People, Leading Schools, Leading Change, and Leading Learning. Each are self-contained and can be taken in any order. The final module, Leading Change, launches in the Summer of 2021 so, those who complete that module will be the first to graduate with the full certificate. Cohorts start 3 times a year and on the course I took this year (Leading People) there were over 300 course participants. Each week of the modules (there are 4 weeks in a module), you’ll follow Harvard’s case study method– you’re introduced to a headmaster/principal of a school facing a problem and, along with experts at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, you complete reflective tasks that relate those issues to your own context. You’ll be expected to comment on and interact with other course participants in your ‘problem of practice group.’ There are no ‘assessments’ but lots of writing and reflective tasks throughout the course. Expect to spend 4 hours per week completing watching webinars and writing. Fees are $500 for each module (though there is an introductory rate of $399 for the new module) for a total of $1500 for the full certificate. As I’ve just completed one module of the certificate I’ll be posting about my experience in more detail in a separate post. I can say though, that it was well-paced, and presented a good balance of both theory and practice in education management.

Professional Certificate in Leadership and Management in Education

The Professional Certificate in Leadership and Management in Education is the 2nd Australian qualification on the list and is hosted on Harvard’s EdX MOOC platform. As such, the programme is relatively similar in set up to Harvard’s CSML, though that course is hosted on it’s own unique and separate platform. There are only 3 modules to this certificate so it is fairly light but the bonus is that they are free to take. You’ll only pay the $149 USD to get a verified certificate (and I’m assuming digital badge for LinkedIN) for each module. The modules on this course only require 3-4 hours per week, again similar to the CSML, so it’s good for someone looking for a casual professional course without too much of a time or financial investment. The other bonus is that this course leads to ‘contribute 36 hours of NESA Registered PD… towards maintaining Lead Teacher Accreditation in [New South Wales]. (pending)’. Unfortunately at time of writing, this course has been archived. We hope it makes a comeback in 2021.

Certificate in Language Program Management (LPM)

Another new course for aspiring teacher-leaders is the LPM from the renowned Ivy League Columbia University Teacher’s College in New York. This 16 week course consists of 4 modules leading to the full certificate. Unlike the OTHM, Newcastle, or Harvard courses, this course is designed specifically for TEFL & TESOL contexts. The 4 modules cover just about everything you’d expect from an ELT management course. The only glaring difference is the price at $3,000 USD (£2,235). There is also an application fee of $100 for non-US applicants. One upside is that this course offers 9.6 Continuing Education Credits, whatever that means. This programme starts in January 2021 with the first cohort finishing in April. But at it’s current price and considering its competition in the ELT space, the Columbia name might not be enough to justify taking up this course.

So which course is right for you?

With so many variables in terms of cost,course availability, assessment type, and course delivery, there is no way to say which course is best. British quals will most likely be preferred by UK-based employers like International House, while American ones seem to be relatively nascent to the field. Ultimately though, you should chose a qualification that works with your budget, availability, preferred learning style, and is most likely to get you noticed in your particular ELT context. So which course is right for you? Let me know in the comments.

May: Saudi Arabia and the Pedagogues

This post is in response to Lee Leonard’s “A Typical Day Teaching English in Saudi Arabia.”

Like the darling buds of May, Saudi Arabia is a perennial favourite of discussion for English teachers. Every year a new crop of teachers brave the unknown to come and experience the Magic Kingdom. But rough winds do shake, and many teachers don’t last long.

So when I saw a new article about teaching in Saudi Arabia I didn’t think much of it. I bookmarked it to read later. I come across these articles all the time: new teacher to Saudi Arabia (or his wife) trying to make sense of the mess he’s thrown himself in to. Even for the most experienced traveller, the culture shock one experiences here is very much like no other. But for me, it’s “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and then came back again.” So it wasn’t until a colleague of mine in the UK sent me the same link and asked me what I thought about it, did I actually stop to read it. What I read was not surprising in the least, but no less disappointing. Read the article for yourself here.

When I first started reading I felt an immediate sense of empathy. His experiences echoed my own and that of other colleagues and bloggers– everything was true. The students were chronically late, had a penchant for fatty foods, and a general disdain for exertion both academic and physical. What I took issue with was the tone of the article and more importantly, his classroom management style.

The writer sounds a lot like myself when I first arrived in the Magic Kingdom back in 2013. I was naïve but ambitious. I felt that I had a mandate to bring my fresh and innovative Cantabrigian approaches to whip the next generation of Saudi learners into shape. I mean, that’s why they hired me, right? Lol. Without going into much detail, it was a challenge to say the least and I felt like everything, from the students to the administration to my own colleagues, was against me at times. CELTA and Delta don’t prepare you for a place like this. They assume your students (and higher ups) have already gone through a ‘western’ education and are disciplined and motivated enough to appreciate your efforts. It comes as a shock, then, when there is so much resistance to your approach. I felt I understood the author’s frustration.



It starts when he asks a student that has come in late, “Would you like some tea?” I thought they were doing a functions lesson on eating out at a restaurant. “Would you like some cake?” he continued. But as this went on it started to take on a more degenerate tone culminating with “this… is a classroom not a coffee shop.” It doesn’t stop there however, but it should have. He continues to berate the student with another line of sarcastic questioning and asking pedantic and abstract grammar rules. A less experienced me would have cheered this behaviour on. “You show him!” I probably would have said to myself, silently nodding approval in his direction. But this kind of heavy handedness, this kind of rule-stickling, causes more stress than its supposed worth.  And no “rule-stickling is not a real word, but it should be. We as teachers here are indeed in the business of teaching English, and also academic/study skills, professionalism, etc. because they do, for the most part, lack these skills. But we are not here to humiliate and degrade students. This teacher ate up 5-7 minutes (maybe even more) of precious class time to make an example of this student rather than reward the students who did show up on time with his full attention. Aside from suffering this indignity, this student will have to write “I will not be late” 15 times on a piece of paper which he’ll have to turn into said teacher. How dare this student forget “one of the 23 class rules, he signed a pledge to uphold”! Mind you, these are not children. They are college age 18-21.

Also, what does the student’s weight or health have to do with anything?

He admits “It may seem that I am being an overbearing asshole, but my class works, and the kids love it.” This may be true in the short term, but being a pedant or having a reputation for pettiness will not serve well in the long run. If a typical day involves going over the “23 rules” and chastising students publicly for relatively minor indiscretions, you’re doing it wrong. You would be surprised how far a stern look and polite gesturing will go. In my experience, sarcasm rarely achieved more than a few cheap laughs and a small boost to my ego for the day. This, at the cost of mutual trust and respect. Taking a step back, I know I wouldn’t appreciate being in this student’s position, especially as an adult. I’m not really sure what the point of this article was besides to make a caricature out of the country and this poor student.

I used to employ tactics similar to his. Not as extreme, but I was known as the “hard” teacher. Some students respected me, but the vast majority resented me. I blamed their resentment on a lack of understanding the intent of my methods. Which for the most part was true, but I never fully accepted that if I expected them to change I, too, would need to change my methods to reach them. That’s my job. That’s not to say it’s always the teachers fault but I think our belief in what we do and how we do what do often interferes with the reality in the classroom. Sometimes we need to take a step back and critically re-evaluate our roles and our methods to make sure we’re as effective as we can be. This is especially true in a new country and with new students.

(one of my lessons on nationalities…obviously the pre-teaching stage of the activity.)


Maybe we, as British or American (or Canadian, Irish, Australian, South African, etc.) teachers should stop looking at Saudi culture as a problem to be fixed. Who are we to think we can change a society  or the institutions it’s made of?  Regardless of our qualifications or years of experience, we are not messiahs. Yes, Saudization charges us with equipping our learners with the skills they need to take their country into the 21st century, but as long as we continue to infantalise the young people of this country, we can never expect them to realise their potential. Or maybe that’s been the point all along.

For more information about teaching in Saudi Arabia check out this powerpoint or leave a comment below and I’ll be in touch. Also check out my post 7 Taboos in the Saudi Classroom.

Next post: British versus American teacher-training styles

Six ‘useless’ things foreign language teachers do

The Language Gym

images (1)

  1. Recasts

Recasts are the most frequent form of feedback that teachers give students in the course of oral interactions. They consists of utterances by the teacher that repeat the student’s erroneous utterance but ‘fix’ the mistake(s) without changing the meaning in any way. Example:

Student: hier j’ai allé au cinéma

Teacher: je suis allé au cinéma

Recasts, according to research (e.g. Doughty, 1994) are extensively used in the classroom representing up to 60 or even 70 % of all teacher feedback on oral performance. An interesting finding by Doughty is that recasts tend to concern themselves with minor errors rather than big problems.

As several studies have clearly shown, recasts do not really ‘work’ as they are not noticed most of the time. Havranek (1999) investigated to what extent learners recall corrective feedback from the teacher or their own or their peers’ mistakes. She found that less than one third…

View original post 1,234 more words

What Brexit Means for TEFL in Europe

I’ve never liked the idea of people splitting up. This is no doubt some unresolved childhood trauma surrounding my own parents’ separation. Being the Anglophile I am, It came as a relief then, when The UK decided it was ‘better together’ back in 2014. Now, as an in/out referendum looms for Britain in June, I’m starting to get separation anxiety once again. This time however, the prospect of a divorce has never seemed so auspicious.

Britain leaving the EU will have major implications for anyone currently or wanting to teach in Europe and for the first time, Britons may yet have to prove their worth when it comes to working in their own back yard.

There are several scenarios, should the UK decide to leave The Union, but let’s start with what we know.

If Britain leaves, The Republic of Ireland will be the only native English speaking country in the EU.

Both scenarios depend on how the UK restructures its relationship with the EU (i.e. by staying in the EEA [European Economic Area] like Switzerland and Norway). One scenario is British teachers of English being on equal footing with teachers from the US, Australia, and Canada when it comes to competing for jobs on the Continent. Without the reciprocity agreements for work and living in member states as granted by the EU, British citizens jeopardise their preferred status in hiring. They too would have to go through the bureaucratic hell what so many non-EU citizens go through when looking for work in Europe.

Take a look at this screenshot from


Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 04.49.10
Notice the little EU flag next to each advert?

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 04.50.04
By preferred, they generally mean “we can’t hire you if you don’t have the right to work in the EU.” Expect a lot of doors suddenly closed to you because of this.

Another scenario would see Brexit as a boon for European non-native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs) who, thanks to Europe’s extremely restricted labour market, will be in much higher demand as language schools may not want to go through the lengthy and expensive work visa application process. This prospect interestingly enough may remove any locus standi for European NNESTs facing discrimination in hiring abroad as they will have they luxury of working visa-free in at least 30 countries in Europe while the rest of us can only dream of working there.

In sum, it’s up to the people of Britain to decide whether they are in or out of the European Union. But those that want out should think carefully about what life is like on the outside. Unless the EU changes it’s rules on immigration (and in light of the tragic events in Brussels and the ongoing refugee crisis, I don’t foresee this happening) British teachers may well have to look beyond the fortress of Europe to practise their craft.


March: NNEST Competitiveness in TEFL and the Fetish of Nativity


“All borders are explanations of identity. We construct borders, literally and figuratively, to fortify our sense of who we are; and we cross them in search of who we might become. They are philosophies of space, credibility contests, latitudes of neurosis, signatures to the social contract, soothing containments, scars.”

Frances Stonor Saunder [LRB]
British Journalist and Historian


This month we’re re-visiting a perennial hot topic in ELT, which is, Native (NESTs) vs Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs). I think March is a good month for this debate as it was originally dedicated to Mars, who was the god of war, competition, and glory. The main issue that we come across is that NNESTs are not seen as competitive on the global market as NESTs. I want to address why that is, and also why the discourse around “Native Speakerism” and authenticity have failed to make any headway– We see the same re-hashing of why one is better than the other and vice versa, without any concrete resolution. We’re not going to resolve this here (or any time soon) but a large part of that is because the debate has thus far been relatively insular and myopic. That is to say, we’ve run this idea through the same channels and with the same voices.

This isn’t an issue specific to ELT though. It’s part of a broader anthropology of education and that in itself really resists the kinds of technicalities we as English professionals want to impose on the subject in terms of skill sets and who brings what to the table. So, perhaps the conversation continues to be re-hashed because it hasn’t been framed correctly. The competition between NEST and NNEST isn’t a competition of competing skill sets but the commodification of the western teacher (who is generally speaking, white and Commonwealth). We should consider that language schools (and other LTOs) and their clients aren’t paying for skill, they are paying for an authentic experience, and for many of them a white teacher, a native speaker, is the closest they will come to experiencing the Western world. So instead of an evaluation of of who is a better model for pronunciation or has more extensive knowledge of phrasal verbs, we should be looking at this debate from an interdisciplinary perspective. This issue encompasses the philosophy of aesthetics, i.e. what an English teacher should look like and what they should sound like and also, the cult of fetish that has grown up in the industry around these ideals. Both of these must be explored through the legacy and lens of post-colonialism, history, and the performance of identity.

In this article, I’m going to focus on the NNEST issue as it relates to Europe rather than Asia. Mainly because Europe is really the genesis of this debate yet most of the attention has been focused on European NNESTs struggling to gain access to Asian (including Middle Eastern) markets than vice versa. Also the most prominent voices of the TEFL equality movement are coming from European/EU Academics and teachers at the moment. TEFL Equity Advocates (TEA) is one of the organisations at the forefront of the NNEST equality movement. And while their work is respectable, I find it slightly problematic in the global discourse given that despite their “Non-native” status, the are privileged in the EU/EEA in terms of priority in employment .

On Competition

Everything starts with Empire. Mars was a major figure in the Roman Empire (especially in the Western regions) and rather than being an agent of destruction, he was seen as a stabilising force, bringing peace and stability through conflict. (Think Orwell, “War is Peace.”) And so the idea of competition as an exercise of peace in Europe and the West  is very much ingrained in western narratives. In the West, competition is still considered as a good thing. The evolution of European politics, society, and economics has been a game of one-upmanship for centuries. This narrative though is seemingly at odds with those in the East, which generally place a much higher value on harmony. Unsurprisingly, Asia seems to be the major bone of contention for NNESTs in terms of competitiveness.

“To give just one example, many countries have strict visa restriction whereby only citizens of 7 countries are classified as NES: the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Such visa restrictions legitimize native speakerism and racism, giving the public and the ELT community an impression that discrimination is legal and thus acceptable. They also legitimize the false belief that English is primarily spoken in those 7 Inner Circle countries. That it is their English that NNES students and teachers should imitate. Mind you, there are over 50 countries where English is the official language, and the country with most English speakers in the world is not the US, but India. While on the other hand, only about 5% of South Africa’s population are NES.”

-TEA Website (link to full article)

The author here is completely correct. Visa restrictions by nationality are completely superficial and do little arbitrate the calibre of those teachers who are allowed in. What this fails to take into account is that both NESTs from the United States and Commonwealth countries are essentially locked out of the EU labour market as well despite being native speakers. By law, a company must be able to justify hiring a foreigner over a citizen/national of that country and then the whole of the EU. There are ways around this of course, but most companies don’t want to bother with the paperwork involved or the hefty sponsorship fees. Have a look on any Tefl job board advertising positions in Europe and you’ll see “EU Nationals perferred” or “We can only accept applications from those with the right to work in the EU.” That right to work requires a job offer, which is a nice little catch-22 to get around the fact that they simply will not hire a non-EU citizen. So while I sympathise with the plight of the NNEST trying to find work abroad, they too must acknowledge that they are privileged in many ways. I am, myself, a native speaker, with a Masters Degree, CELTA, and almost 10 years experience in teaching. Yet an NNEST from Italy or the Czech Republic would be given first consideration for a teaching job in the EU since I hold an American passport. If European NNESTs want to have a moral standing in this debate they should be willing to fight against the restrictive labour laws in their own backyard. We should remember that empires, both ancient and modern, don’t fall because of  external competition; they usually collapse under the weight of their own moral failings.

On Nativity



What constitutes nativity and specifically the performance of being native is part of a very extensive and nuanced narrative of identity for almost a millennia. The native has always been contrasted against mainstream society as the “exotic other” and in times of empire that otherness was always fetishised. By fetishised I mean the fantasy that the native embodies, e.g. the idea of the noble savage, whose curious yet primitive ways are mythically and morally superior to and uncorrupted by the mainstream/dominant civilization. This too applies to our industry. The white male is automatically perceived as a more authentic choice for an English teacher, and for us teachers it is a mystery as to why that is considering there are just as many qualified teachers who are of colour, who are female, and who are LGBT. The irony here is that in previous eras, the native was always brown-skinned and dark haired under the auspice of a white hegemony whereas now it’s an Aryan aesthetic that is very much sought after in predominately ‘coloured’ societies. Anyone that has lived as an ethnic minority anywhere, of any colour, can attest to this idea that your otherness imbues you with some kind of innate talent and to make that judgement based on a visual aesthetic is specious. The Native English teacher of today has become a commodity to be fetishised over and as much as we can see it as a position of privilege, it’s still racism.

English is a global and inclusive language, our industry should be too.

We have the responsibility to use our privilege in our classrooms, in our schools, in our adopted homes, and in our own countries to challenge perceptions, break down legal barriers, and educate our learners about the diversity of English.




February: Language Learning in the Digital Age: Going Back to the Roots

February is an odd month. Not just because it’s the only month with less than 30 days or that most people find the first “R” highly problematic, but because of its origins. February, unlike many months of the year, isn’t named after a god, number, or person. Instead, it’s etymology lies in a Roman festival of purification. As with most Roman festivals, this involved copious amounts of food and sex under the auspices of divine favour. It should come as no surprise that the remnants of these festivals still survive in the Western world. Both Mardi Gras (which is Fat Tuesday in the US or Pancake day in some countries including the UK) and Valentine’s Day are a testament to how tradition endures through modernity even though original meaning is ignored or completely lost.


The history of the month of February is pretty fascinating, and then things get really weird.

Contemporary trends in education are not unaffected by this theme and I would even go so far as to say that they embrace them. Case in point, we are in the middle of the largest shake-up in education in recent years. No, it’s not Dogme, or the Flipped Learning, or Demand High, or what have you—though I will concede that those are part of a larger trend of going back to the origins of language teaching. In fact, it’s something much more concrete, or should I say, digital. A big change is happening, and very few of us teachers are even aware of it. It’s coming from the other side of the teacher’s desk and outside of the language school altogether.

As long as the internet has been around there have been websites dedicated to explaining basic phrases, conjugations, and the finer points of English grammar. Some of the even better websites had (and still have) quizzes, flash cards, Pelmanisms, and other games to reinforce learning. Though the graphics got marginally better over the years with the advent of Flash and higher connection speeds to accommodate all those words moving around, it essentially remained an extension of the classroom. It was usually something on a professor’s university or school website to supplement the day’s lesson. Then in about 2011-2012 apps like Duolingo, Memrise, and MindSnacks appeared on our smartphones and began to revolutionise how people approached language learning. Now, in 2016, these apps are being used by millions around the world to learn languages, with Duolingo alone boasting 100 million users. This really isn’t surprising once you consider the increasing ubiquity of smartphones and the practical, commercial, and recreational benefits of language learning. But does this mean teachers and classrooms will be obsolete in 5 to 10 years? Is this really the best way to learn a language? What’s really different between these apps and the clunky websites of yesteryear?


The short answer to these questions is no, maybe, and not much.


OB-WF013_langap_DV_20130201133933-1 (source: Duolingo)

Despite their popularity and commercial success (Duolingo is valued at just under a billion dollars), most of these apps have very glaring shortcomings. I’ve only mentioned the most popular, but there are (depending on the language) hundreds of apps and they all essentially use the Grammar Translation Method with a dash of Behaviourism. The basic premise is the user is given a text and then has to translate that text idiomatically into or out of the target language. Simple stuff. If the answer is correct, you get a bright green check, a pleasant chime, and you move on. If it’s incorrect, you get a big red “X”, a jarring chime, and (if it’s a good app) an explanation on why it’s incorrect. You’ll normally have to come across that text again until you get it right. This method has fallen out of favour by most ELT practioners since it’s seen as “not communicative” and a bit old-school, though there has been a small resurgence of interest in this method, possibly aided by the popularity of language learning apps. However, it’s not hard to see why so many teachers shun this method. Take for example this sentence from Duolingo:




When would you ever use this in real life conversation (or ever)? Just like our parents’ school books, we are all too often given a random assortment of sentences in the target language to translate with no real context or real-world application.

Other apps like Memrise, rely on mnemonic devices and visual stimuli to help you memorise language. Ed Cooke, one of the founders of Memrise had this to say about the app: “Learning should always be emotional; you should always be delighted and proud of what you’ve learned.” The problem here is the focus on memory. I feel that, while the intent and research methods that underpin the app are well-founded and well-meaning but there’s still this element of rote memorisation which we as teachers have tried steer our students away from and instead find more authentic ways to make the language stick. You can find a full list of criticism and debate here.




 (source: Memrise)

The best app that I’ve found for language learning is sadly one of the least popular. At 5 million downloads, Mindsnacks pales in comparison to Dulingo. It was only created for iPhone/iPad and they have since re-branded and moved into brain training apps . If you have an iPhone, it’s still available for download on the App Store. What I liked about it was that it wasn’t a one-trick pony. It practiced and tested not only your memory and spelling, but it also added word and sentence transformations, image recognition, and error recognition. I felt it was coherent, methodologically robust, and polished which is something I haven’t come across in any other app.


 (source: MindSnacks)

So why then, if this was such a superior product, wasn’t it more successful? The answer to that, and why so many other apps have failed to breakthrough to mainstream success is that they failed to capitalise on the social element of language learning. Even though all of the elements for learning are there (spaced repetition, audio and visual reinforcement, measurable progress, etc.) Duolingo and Memrise are built on the premise that they are driven by their community of users and that includes: students and teachers, linguists, wannabe grammarians, hardcore polyglots, and the casual learner. The vast majority of the content is created, vetted, and scrutinsed by that community and the discourse around that process reifies this online community– which is something other apps and even schools have failed to do. In a way, those stupid sentences I showed as an example above, become the talking points on the Duolingo and Memrise forums and Facebook groups and they take on their own meaning within those communities.


It’s a very democratic and organic experience but it’s not for everyone. While people do arrange social events via these apps, the majority of the interaction remains in cyberspace and virtual forums. Many still (thankfully) prefer a more visceral language learning experience. This keeps us employed but places a unique onus on teaching professionals to remain not only responsive to our students needs, but also relevant as the lines between teacher and student, online and offline continue to blur.


Next month… beware the Ides of March.. or should I say Nones? In the spirit of Mars, I talk more about gamification as well as being competitive in the ELT market.

January: Doors, Deltas, Dilemmas


In conventional wisdom, January is named for the Roman god Janus, the god of open doors and transitions. He is depicted as having two faces representing the past and present. As I  enter my 9th year in teaching next month, I look back on the wisdom of my mentors, tutors, and teacher-trainers, starting with my CELTA and what that has meant for me for the Delta and beyond.

I remember when I started my CELTA at IH Newcastle in August 2008, my course tutor told us, “DELTA opens doors.” It was the ultimate qualification of the ELT teacher bar, perhaps, an MA TESOL. Since then I had my eyes set on getting one, becoming a senior teacher, CELTA trainer, and eventually a Delta trainer/course assessor. Fast forward to January 2014. I felt like my career was stuck in the doldrums–an unfulfilling routine of present perfect and communicative activities. Remembering the words of my tutor,  I started preparing for the Module 1 exam and the extended essay for Module 3. The Delta would open the door to new positions, new challenges, and more money. By December of 2015, after receiving my results for Modules 1 & 2, I felt that that door was shut.

Just as it was true in 2008, the Delta still opens doors for many. But getting through that door is the challenge in and of itself. Despite my best effort, I didn’t quite make it. That, coupled with being the victim of racist attack, and subsequently losing my position at IH Bydgoszcz due to the severity of my injuries, spiraled me into a deep depression. I began to question whether I was cut out for teaching. As professionals (especially in the teaching profession) we take great pride in our credentials. They give us credibility and authority in an increasingly crowded and competitive industry. So what happens to the ‘failed’ candidate? Telling potential employers I’ve done the course seems misleading at best but at worst dishonest. It’s not that I had learned nothing–quite the opposite in fact (though  I still have a few misgivings about the course). The experience it seems, has left me straddling the doorway, one foot towards my goal, and one foot back where I was before.

Like Janus, I look back to where I was before and look forward to the future of my career with a new sense of purpose. This year I’ll be looking at where things fell apart on the course, as mentioned in my last post, but with special attention to specific Cambridge Delta criteria. I’ll also be looking into the future of teacher training, digital media in ELT, and old methods that have recently been given new life. So here is to opening new doors in 2016.





5 Do’s and Dont’s of Delta Module 2 (Weeks 3-8)


In my naïveté I thought it would be possible to update weekly on my progress through the Delta course. How wrong was I! Work started to pile up by Week 3 and I had more or less lost steam by Week 5. It’s all done and dusted now and we won’t get results until December, but to be honest I’m not expecting a pass. In any case, I’ve come up with a list of Do’s and Dont’s of what you can and should do if you want to be more successful on Module 2. These are based not only on my experience and those of the other candidates at my centre here in Poland, but also conversations from other Deltoids at centres in Greece, the UK, and Thailand.

  1. DON’T do the the pre-course tasks. This sounds counter-intuitive but they in no way prepare you for your assessed coursework. This may be nominal requirement from Cambridge. These are usually a series of language awareness/analysis tasks. While well-intentioned, your tutors were probably not involved in crafting the pre-course tasks, they probably don’t know what they entailed, and the material will most likely be covered in an input session anyway (which you are not assessed for). The best way to prepare for your course is to have a look online for previous LSAs (Language Systems/Skills Assignments) to get a sense for the style that Cambridge want and also what will be required of you (Check out they have a large database of essays you can access for free). Depending on how much time you have, you could try writing a few drafts to get a feel for how to get your point across effectively given the word count.  The other thing is start writing lesson plans. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a Senior Teacher, DoS, or teacher-friend who can go through it with you. At the Delta level, it’s not enough to just do something that kind of makes sense for 60 minutes. You’ll need to show a critical awareness of why you’re doing what you’re doing (think Lesson Aims and Stage Aims) and also the students will need to leave having learned something worthwhile. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a battery of “go-to” lessons that just “work.” You’ll probably not have a lesson plan for this though. Make one. Do a post-hoc write-up of what you’ve done and try to fill in those aims.
  2. DON’T compare yourself to others. This is a trap quite a few candidates on my course fell into. To get onto a Delta course you have to prove that you belong there. As such, there will be some very strong candidates in your cohort. They just get it. They know how to write good aims, they know how to manage a class, they’re always on top of things. Just remember, it’s not a competition. You aren’t being ranked by Cambridge and your tutors (if they are as professional as mine were) won’t compare you to the other candidates either. You’ll see ways of doing things you never thought of before and if you’re like me, it can make you feel wholly inadequate. The best thing to do is to learn from and support everyone on your cohort. Have lesson jams, share ideas over lunch, read and critique each others lesson(s) (plans). But remember, you got onto the course for a reason. Observe others, learn from them, but be yourself.
  3. DON’T be afraid to ask for help. Even “experienced” teachers could stand to be knocked down a few pegs. There are a lot of things we didn’t know we didn’t know about. As a matter of pride, asking questions or for help might be seen as a sign of weakness. It’s not. At the end of the day this course is down to your own development. Take full advantage of the resources at your centre. This isn’t just the school library, it includes your tutors, the other candidates, your learners, and possibly other Delta-qualified teachers at your centre. This is a unique opportunity to “Ask all of the questions you were too afraid to ask” and experiment before you go back to wherever it is or whatever job you came from. Your tutors may be cold and stand-offish, the other candidates may be unfriendly, but you’re paying for this experience, make the most of it. As the Geordies say, “Shy bairns get nowt!”
  4. DON’T fall behind. Good time management is absolutely essential. Again, good time management is absolutely essential. You will most likely have to attend the input sessions on your course, and these will sadly eat up the better part of the day which you could be using to do your planning or writing your LSA. Between all of the assignments flying around and the accompanying (excessive!) paperwork, you’ll need to account for just about every waking hour of the day (and sometimes sleeping hours as well). On the intensive course, the workload can be downright unreasonable–especially given that there are no allowances for slips in quality. If you’re the old-fashioned pen and paper type, get a planner. If you’re more MacBook than workbook, use applications like iCal to manage your workload. It’s easy to spend too much time on lesson planning– 15-30 page lesson plans in addition to your LSA is normal, at the expense of just about anything else really. So, whatever you use, staying on top of things is first and foremost.
  5. DO take care of yourself. If you’re doing the intensive 8-week course, it will probably be the most stressful 2 months you’ve done in your entire career. At least once a week, make a point to do something you enjoy, or explore the city where you’re doing your course, or just nothing. You’d be surprised by how many candidates forget to breathe after Week 3. But again, not comparing yourself to others and managing your time well, will keep stress levels in check. Stress leads to errors in judgement, oversights in planning, and bad rapport with the other candidates and your learners. All of these you can’t afford to let happen. If you ever feel yourself being overwhelmed, remember why you’re doing the course in the first place and breathe.

If you’d like further reviews of the Delta course, you can find some insightful reading herehere, and here.

Did you have a similar experience on the Delta? Is there anything else to add to this list? Comment below, it’s free!

11950835_10101888177045093_568277467_n From my LSA4 Writing lesson, students wrote an online review of a restaurant and “posted” them on Yelp. Afterwards they read each others and “liked” their favourite.

Delta Module 2 Week 2: The Going Gets Tougher

Dzień Dobry, Wrocław calling!

11695785_10101823046477273_5051946845036992849_n We’ve just finished week 2 here at IH Wrocław and things have definitely reached a more frenetic pace. I have been told and reassured however that after this week, things get more manageable. During this week we have completed or Professional Development Assignment (PDA) Stage 2, Finished all of our Developmental lessons, and been tasked with our first Language Systems Assignment. If it seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is. During the day there are input sessions from 12-3 and we’re observing our colleagues from 4-6 (or 6:15-8:15 for group 2). So there’s really not a lot of time to focus on incorporating the input sessions into your actual lessons just yet, I hope the idea is that we’ll have time before our first assessed lesson next week but we shall see.

11745926_10101823046317593_5075404120760467083_n                       10393798_10101823046307613_1884501484312185271_n

So far we’ve had input sessions on lesson shapes (TTT & PPP), clarifying and analysing target language, and phonology. Fridays are our 1-1 tutorials with our tutors to discuss our LSA’s and general feedback.

I have to say the workload is overwhelming. I haven’t had to write anything academic since I finished my MA 5 years ago, so switching gears is a bit of a shock to the system. Fortunately all of the candidates are supportive of each other, and we spend some of our (very) limited down time sharing lesson ideas, journal articles, and resources with each other. And of course there’s always the moral support over a glass of wine at the end of the day. It’s nice to be in a community of professionals who are passionate about learning and teaching!

I was asked last week by @anthonyash “What were you expecting?” To be honest, I thought it would be more experimental and lesson planning would be more hands on. I imagined lesson jamming and really pushing the boundaries of teaching. The lesson jamming hasn’t happened yet, but my boundaries have been pushed in other ways. The course is really more about making you a solid, proficient teacher. I was expecting to have to come up with lessons á la Thornbury or Judy Gilbert, but that’s simply not the case. Like I mentioned earlier, we spent a lot of time on the basic lesson shapes, so the idea is to have a good pedagogical grounding rather than collecting more bells and whistles (though sometimes there are bells and whistles!).