Blacksmithing Words with TH: Mr. Smith’s Guide in using TH-words in English

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When I first came to Germany in 1999, one of the main struggles I saw and even witnessed myself in learning a foreign language was the way words were pronounced. In particular, words in English that have TH in them happen to be a struggle among Germans and other foreigners whose native language is not English. The classic example I can pull out straight away was the problem pronouncing my last name, Smith. Even though Smith is one of the top three most popular family names in the world (along with Johnson and Brown), non-native people had a lot of difficulties pronouncing my last name. Instead of Smith (where the tongue is nudged behind the lower teeth partially blocking air flow), my last name was pronounced as the following:

Smizzzz, Schmiet, Smit, Schmizz, Smis (like Swiss Miss) and Smif (like Smurf).  Funny, isn’t it. 😉  Furthermore, many insisted that my last name should be Schmidt instead of Smith.  Sorry to disappoint you, but we have a lot of Schmidt in the US and Canada, plus a beer bearing that name (which comes from my homestate of Minnesota) 🙂 :

To put it bluntly, the name is SMITH! Even more so because we have several words, whose ending is the same as my last name.

Words with TH are indeed the most difficult to pronounce in the English language- just like with the German CH, Z and all the vowels with the two dots on there. This has to do with the fact that we have two different types of TH pronunciation: the voiced (which sounds like a bee buzzing behind your teeth) and the voiceless, which produced a slight steaming sound with the tongue behind your teeth. A video below better explains how the voiced and voiceless TH’es work from a phonetical point of view:

Also important to note from a historian’s perspective that nearly every second word used during the Middle Ages had TH in there, but mostly at the beginning or end of each word, such as doth, hath, thou, cometh, etc. Many of these words over time have been transformed to the ones we use in our modern time, which meant the THes were dropped. Yet even though we’ll find our TH-words in one out of ten sentences, they are there for people to use, even though practicing can be a torture, which brings up this Tongue Twister activity.  Consisting of both the video and the sentences to practice, this activity will give you amples of opportunities to work with the TH-words so that you not only know how the TH-words are pronounced but also give you the confidence needed to say them properly.

You could say that producing TH-words is like blacksmithing: you work with it until you have the right form to use. 😉

It is highly recommended to watch the video to see how the TH-words are spoken before practicing. Yet how you implement them in class or practice them in groups or at home individually depends on you, the person who wants to handle this rather difficult part of English phonetics.

So enjoy and may the TH be with you. 🙂

 

Something in a thirty-acre thermal thicket of thorns and thistles thumped and thundered threatening the three-D thoughts of Matthew the thug- although, theatrically, it was only the thirteen-thousand thistles and thorns through the underneath of his thigh that the thirty-year old thug thought of that morning.

 

There was a mammoth with the name of Thurman, who thrives in Gotha, Thuringia. The sloth slithers through at three in the morning to slither to Thorn’s thermal threading company in Furth, threading thermalware for thirty thoughtless worthless months for thirty-three Euros a month. Through thirteen months and thirty days, this mammoth threads strings from moths and makes thermal underwear. Thurman is happy.

 

Three Catholic athletes bathe in clothes in a bathtub. The thirty-somethings thoroughly thought something that’s thick through their teeths. Through their theory they thought about thieves, thugs, theocrats and heart-throbbers that thrive through their three-thousand thirty-three throwaway thermos cloth, and loath thirty times a month.

 

Thou hath throweth thy health through thy wrath with thy thick thighbone. Theoretically cometh death onto thee though Beth Smith hath saveth thy life through warmth smooth hearth.

 

The South Path is thin. The North Thruway is thick. Through thousands of thinkers, sleuths, telepaths, sociopaths and youths, badmouthing and thrashing over vermouth for the umpteenth time, is the South Path thick and the North Thruway filthy.

 

Beth’s with Ruth. Theodore’s with Faith. They’re thinking ethics. They’re thinking theology. They’re thinking myths. They’re thinking with vermouth with a twist.

 

The Moth is on meth. The moth does math. The moth thaws myths and thus they’re through with this.

 

There are thousands Smiths on Earth. The twentieth blacksmith with the thirtieth locksmith with the fortieth gunsmith with the fiftieth silversmith with the sixtieth goldsmith with the seventieth tunesmith with the eightieth coppersmith with the ninetieth songsmith with the hundredth whitesmith. Smiths ends with z, while one smith has TH.

 

Author’s note: These tongue twister stories are homemade, by the way. 😉  Feel free to add more to this list if you have some more. 🙂

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Genre of the Week: What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

Typical one-room school church
Typical one-room school house and church in Iowa. 

Teaching:  A profession that is undervalued, underappreciated and underloved. Teachers: People who enter the classroom with one thing in mind: to teach people the basics for real life and skills for their dream job. To teach people means to show them not just how to communicate and obey the structures of our society, but also how to be decent to others, how to be tolerant towards people from different backgrounds, and lastly, how to understand the feelings and reactions of others as well as adapt to different backgrounds.  Some people perceive teachers as travellers with a backpack full of books going from place to place to teach students. Others, like Pestalozzi, taught in empty buildings, where not even the basic necessities, such as a chair or table, or even a chalk board existed, and therefore they were forced to be creative and vocal in teaching their students.  In either case, the teacher brings out the best in each and every student, by finding and developing their talents, showing them how life works and people should be treated, namely, with decency and respect.

Many people enter the profession with high expectations, only to quit the profession after 10 years for the following reasons: lack of pay and benefits, lack of available resources (esp. with regards to technology), lack of respect from the students or other members of the faculty, but most importantly, lack of support from family and friends, claiming that teaching is a “loser job” that pays “Hungerlohn!” (German for salary that is barely enough to support even one person). This explains the reason behind schools closing down due to too many students, too few teachers and too little pay.  This goes beyond the bureaucracy, test guidelines and the political talk that makes a person want to write a novel series about this topic.

And for the record, coming from a family of teachers and having taught English since 2001 (all in Germany), I have experienced enough to justify even a mystery series in a form of Tatort, exploiting the ways to anger students, teachers and even parents. 😉

But what we all don’t know is why we teachers choose this profession to begin with, let alone stay in this profession for as long as the generations before us. From a personal point of view, if it has to do with money, you would best be a lawyer, lawmaker or litigator. You’re best needed there. If it has to do with status, you would best work in a corporation. If it has to do with family, you would best be a scientist, like Albert Einstein.

You should be a teacher because you have the creative talents, ideas, character, dedication and most importantly, the heart to make a difference in the lives of others. Plus you should be a story-teller, an example for others, funny, chaotic, crazy with ideas but cool under pressure and able to handle the stress like nerves of steel.  And lastly, learning from my father (who was a teacher), you have to strategize like you are playing chess- and actually have played chess. 😉

If you are looking for more reasons, then you should take a look at this Genre of the Week entitled “What Teachers Make,” by Taylor Mali. A 12th generation of the original Dutch immigrants of New York City, Mali once taught in the classroom, having instructed English, History and test preparatory classes before finding a niché as a writer, a slam poet and a commedian. He has written six anthologies full of poems and narratives, several audio CDs and three books, one of which is entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the Worldpublished in 2012. The poem presented here comes from this book. Mali nowadays offers seminars and lectures to teachers and other professionals, providing them with an insight into the profession that is sometimes highly disregarded, yet one that is highly needed and, if one does make a difference in the lives of others, most loved.

So watch this audio by Mali and look at the comic strip provided by Zen Pencils, and then ask yourself this question:

  1. Why do you want to be a teacher?
  2. What aspects of teaching do you like?
  3. As a teacher, what difference can you make for the students? Yourself? Your institution?
  4. If people play down your profession, how would you convey and convince them that you love your job and the reasons behind it?
  5. Do many students come back to you years after you taught them? Why?

For nr. 5, it is very important for if you are in touch with them even today or come to you for a visit/help, then you definitely belong to this profession because you are doing a damn fine job.  🙂

And if you have the urge to write about it in your later life, then you really should stay in that profession until Jesus Christ tells you otherwise. That will definitely be my destination and my advice to all teachers out there, young and old. 😉

 

Link to Taylor Mali’s website you can find here as well as via youtube.

Video with soundbyte from Mali:

 

Image courtesy of Zen Pencils:

124. TAYLOR MALI: What Teachers Make

 

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Genre of the Week: Mr. Peabody’s Apples, by Madonna

Mr Peabody's Apple

This book is the first in a long series dealing with the Power of the Apple and how it plays a role in uniting a community and offering love, openness and ideas for a better world. A overture on the series you can find by clicking here

The first aspect of the apple we have looks at the truth. Lately, we’ve been confronted with several new terminologies that circumvent the real definition of the word we’ve chosen to neglect in favor of looking at news according to one person. No matter if it is fake news, alternative facts or the like, lies are lies, and rumors are just as big of a lie as the lie itself. And as one can read in this literary piece, written by a rockstar but inspired by the teachings of the Kabbalah and a founder of a rare religion, Baal Shem Tov, the power of a lie can be as damaging to a relationship as the power of the truth, which reveals pure facts and creates (or even mends) relationships.

The story takes place in a fictitious town called Happyville, and it deals with three key characters in the story: Mr. Peabody, Billy and Tommy. Every Saturday, the town would have a baseball game, where Mr. Peabody was the coach of the Happyville Baseball team, a profession which he holds just as dearly as that of a history teacher in elementary school, his other (but primary) job. One of the players, Billy, would help Peabody with the clean-up after the baseball game, and is considered one of the coach’s favorites because of his support for the team and his moral values.

Swing and Hit

However, the character of Mr. Peabody is put to the test, when another student, Tommy, watches him take an apple from Mr. Funkadeli’s Produce Shop after the game, on his way home. Curious, Tommy decides to take his skateboard home but not before explaining Mr. Peabody’s actions to his friends. They observe this again the next Saturday after the baseball team played another game- and lost again, like in the first one. Thanks to the rumors that started spreading like wildfire, the whole town knew about it and the following Saturday after that……

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There was no baseball game, and the town was silent with only a handful of people on the streets- most of them staring at Mr. Peabody with mistrust. Arriving at the field that day, he saw Billy, who explained to him that many people thought he was a thief for stealing an apple.

Mr. Peabody’s response: Yes he takes an apple without paying, but because he pays for it when he grabs his shipment of milk from the store before the game, but picks up the apple after the game. Even the produce-seller confirmed his advanced payment for the apple. 🙂

Tommy received word from Billy about this and went over to Mr. Peabody to apologize for the rumors and asked what can be done to make up for it. Apology accepted but in return, Mr. Peabody asks Tommy to bring a feather pillow to the baseball field an hour later. As windy as it is, he is to do the most unthinkable with the pillow……

And this is where we stop here.

 

You can take a guess at what Tommy does with the pillow at the baseball field, but the action is something that shows us a valuable lesson: Sometimes even a simple way of making up for the tiniest mistake is impossible to do.

Sometimes facing up to the crime and taking the punishment for it is the best way to teach a person a lesson. If you lie in court, you face prison time for perjury and obstructing justice. If you lie to your partner, you face the biggest possibility of a break-up. If you lie to your parents or elders, you lose priviledges or even get spanked. And if you are the leader of a country, even alternative facts can lead you to lose the respect and support of your people, no matter how many wars you lead your country into. In either case, Mr. Peabody’s Apple shows the readers that even a single apple represents the truth involving the character and those around him.

As Madonna wrote, Tommy represented the truth from his point of view and his rumors are along the same lines as the alternative facts presented by President Trump and his White House staff, which the majority of Americans and the rest of the world have long since figured out. His friends making rumors represent the followers of Trump who either have embraced his policies or even accepted him as President without a fight. Harsh and hurtful as it is, I cannot say anything else more but the truth there. Billy represents the person who seeks the truth for himself and accepts the situation as it is, while looking for action that is appropriate. In this case, he understands Mr. Peabody’s logic and does nothing except tell Tommy about it, which led to the pillow episode. Had Mr. Peabody actually stolen the apple, his reactions would have ranged from asking “Why?” to not forgiving him for it. Who knows?

And the person with the apple, Mr. Peabody, he represents the main person in the story who takes action and is ready to explain why. He symbolizes the truth which is an open book, and if opened and read properly, people would understand why. One could implement Mr. Peabody’s actions to the actions taking place right now, whether it is refugees coming to Europe and North America for a better life because of their home regions being torn up by war and no solution to even rebuilding, or even thel logic of trying to nationalize a country to protect the workers from globalization, the phenomenon which is dominating the landscape and bringing countries together to fight problems that are destroying our world, including poverty, scarce resources and most importantly, the environment.

Mr. Peabody’s Apple represents the truth which we seek when we want to understand the actions of others and the lies (be it pure, rumors or even alternative facts) that we try to wrap around, yet it is as sinful as eating the “Apple of Wisdom” prescribed by the Serpeant, which led to Adam and Eve being expelled, according to the Book of Genesis. If we see something that we may see wrong from our end, instead of spreading rumors and lying about it, we should confront the matter and find out why. After all, as I’ve written an earlier piece about confronting the truth, we do have the ideas and tools to make things better for us. We just need to use it properly so that we don’t offend others who might turn around and take action against us in return.

This is where I’m reminded by a quote I posted recently on my old facebook page, which I’m currently dividing up between Trump fans and anti-Trump fans (will have to explain this in a later post):

Never judge others by their behavior before judging your own first. It’s very likely that your actions can influence their opinions about you.

Like in the story, when judging others by their actions, it leaves an impression on them and helps them judge you by your own behavior. If you choose to be ignorant, you can expect the most rotten apple (or one that is tainted with harmful chemicals). If you choose to be open and find out the truth, you can have the best harvest of apples you can imagine. And perhaps one courtesy of Mr. Peabody if you find out more behind his actions and story. 😉

 

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Author’s Anti-alternative fact:  The same rockstar, pop singer and actress, who wrote Material Girl, Crazy for You, Vogue, Take a Bow, Jump and This Used to be My Playground also wrote over two dozen books, mostly during the first decade of the third millenium, including the English Roses collection, Yakov and the Seven Thieves, and The Girlie Show. Mr. Peabody’s Apples, released in 2003, was the second of five children’s books and dozens of short stories and has even made it to Schloastic Magazine in the USA. This includes lesson plans for elementary school.  Madonna splits her time between London and New York and continues to sing and act to this day. You can find more about her via website.

 

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Dining in Stein in Schleswig-Holstein: Some More Tongue-Twisters in English

 

dining in SH

Actors, singers and comedians have done it. Teachers and professors as well. In order to better articulate their words to the audience, they had to practice speaking with a wine cork in their mouths. Situated in a vertical position between the upper and lower jaws, this technique has been proven effective in getting their mouths to move, while stretching it in a vertical position.

This exercise is also quite useful when learning English. 🙂

There are several words, whose endings produce the “ahhh” sound, in particular the endings of I+ consonant+ E. Regardless of which consonant you choose to insert, they all have the same result- a sound you produce while your mouth is in a vertical position. The difference is simply the different intonations you use.

And therefore, using the theme of dining in Stein, in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, here are some tongue twisters for you to practice, with the goal of getting you to stretch your mouth and better pronounce the words in English.

So without further ado….. 🙂

 

-INE/-EIN:

Two swines dine in Stein

Stein is in Holstein

Two beer steins

From Schleswig-Holstein

Enshrined in Turpentine

Like a serpentine

Whining to the swine

While dining with wine in Holstein.

 

 

-IDE/ -YDE / -Y/ -IE:

Clyde dyed his hide with dioxide

Clyde died from carbon monoxide

Dr. Hyde dyed his hide with peroxide

Dr. Hyde died from carbon dioxide.

Where are Clyde and Dr. Hyde?

They hide and confide to Heidi

And take pride from the dye on the hide

That they died from dioxide and not peroxide.

 

-IBE:

Jeff scribed a jibe

Geoff subscribed to Jibe

Jeff conscribed a bribe

Geoff unsubscribed

Jeff prescribed Geoff to Gibe

Now Geoff starts to describe

How Gibe circumscribes a bribe

And describes to a tribe

How Jibe and Gibe describe

How to circumscribe a bribe.

 

-ICE:

Three mice stole the dice

The dice had spice on ice

Three mice had lice on the ice

Who gave advice at a price.

The lice sliced the ice

And the mice were nice

And traded allspice with the lice for spice

To put on the ice.

Now the mice and the lice

Are eating ice with spice

And gave advice for allspice

Eaten while on ice.

 

 

-IME:

Two mimes chimed in.

A crime was chimed at bedtime

A mime did a crime at dinnertime

A mime chimed about a crime at nighttime

When bedtime chimed for the mime

It’s crime-fighting time at daytime

When a mime chimes about lime

Stolen at lunchtime by a mime

That lime was worth a dime

Was it worth a crime for a mime to steal a lime

When it was lunchtime and halftime

Of a football match between mimes?

 

  -ILE:

Three juveniles pile a woodpile

Two crocodiles are in the Nile

Somewhile a mile of crocodiles

Saw a pile of reptiles

While the juveniles reconcile

To the two crocodiles in the Nile

Who are bile and riled

Because the reptiles became Gentiles

Who tiled the mile of crocodiles

While the two crocodiles swam into the Nile.

 

 -IPE

Two pipers swiped bagpipes

Two bagpipes were wiped by snipers

They griped about the bagpipes’ stripes

And wiped the pipes with blowpipes.

Now the pipers griped about the blowpipes

The handypipes are way too ripe

The striped bagpipes look like cesspipes

The gripes turned to tripe

The pipers piped their bagpipes

And blew the snipers into the stovepipe

They gripe no more because the pipes are stripe

And tripe no more they try.

 

-IZE

We organize to unionize

And socialize to romanticize

And personalize to institutionalize

And nationalize to legitimize

And equalize to legalize

And overcapitalize to monopolize

And overspecialize to modernize

And overdramatize to outsize

And overemphasize to moralize

And robotize to radicalize

And vandalize to terrorize

And universalize to unrealize

And vitalize to vocalize

And spiritualize to memorialize

And stabilize to visualize its size of

a globalized  society.

 

How’s the mouth stretching now? If you feel a pull, then it’s working wonders. Keep practicing until you can hear the difference. Good luck. 😉

 

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Stein is a resort town in Schleswig-Holstein. Located east of Kiel along the Baltic Sea coast, it has a population of 830 residents and belongs to the district of Plön. For more on the town, please click here to the town’s website. 🙂

 

A video on how these I-con-E words are pronounced, produced by the author, is available here for you to listen to and use for your purpose. Have fun! 🙂

 

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In School in Germany: The Characteristics of Being a Great Teacher of English (as a Foreign Language)

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A few months back, I was approached by a colleague of mine, who runs a pair of online columns devoted to English writing, wanting to know from me some of the things that are important for teaching English as a foreign language.  After some thoughtful consideration and looking back at what I’ve experienced in the 15+ years I’ve been teaching here in Germany, dealing with everything in the sun, I decided to compile a list of ideas that are especially useful for those entering the field or are struggling in their first year on the job. The characteristics I mention here do not necessarily mean that if you don’t have them, you will never be a great teacher. It just simply means that if something goes wrong, you may want to think about them and ask yourself if it is useful to try them, at least. After all, each teacher has his/her way of teaching English language and culture.

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  1. Image is Everything- This was the slogan that tennis great André Agassi used for his Nikon camera commercials in the late 1980s and 90s. As a teacher, you have to market yourself to the students in a way that they will respect you from the first day on. This goes beyond your outer appearance. It even outguns the knowledge of your native language. It has to do with being on the level with your students and finding ways to get them to follow you. Sometimes you and your students find the right chemistry right away and you have a productive and successful class. Other times there is a wall that you cannot overcome, even if you try. Then it is like the love affair between man and woman, or in my case, the beamer and the laptop as stated in an earlier article.
  2. Your Students are your Audience; your Friends. Treat them with Care- I was once told that teaching is a business and the students are your customers. If you have students who “hate” you and your teaching and decide to annoy you at their convenience, then that is where the German formal “Sie” and the business-like relationship comes in. However, not all of them are like that. Many of them stay with you as long as you are working at their institution and even become your friends for life. To give you a hint: In my last semester teaching in Bayreuth in 2009, I had a class where all but three of the 20 people had been in my previous classes. All of them are still in contact. If you have this experience, then it is because you did something right, by listening to what they want, customizing your classes to make them interesting and you are integrated into their “culture” and they into yours. Almost all of them are eager to learn from you, and not just for the sake of languages.
  3. You need Structure; You need Discipline- A Frank Fitts from American Beauty quote that definitely applies to teaching, especially English. As Germans, especially in the eastern half, are obsessed with a structured form of teaching, you should structure the teaching to cater to their needs. It’s like a presentation: you have the introduction, the key points, the summary and time for questions and clarity. Then you make sure that they are kept in line with what they learned. Entertainment only serves as a frosting to the cake. This was a lesson I learned from a colleague at a private institution recently.
  4. Less is More- Too much of everything in an English classroom, even worksheets, are never a good thing. If you find yourself having a complaint where there were too much print materials to work with, you may want to reduce it and alternate your teaching methods. Sometimes some help from another source will help a great deal.
  5. Back-up your stuff in the classroom: Stewart Tunnicliff, who runs a couple Leipzig-based websites and a translation/proofreading business once said this when he presented the WordPress presentation at the Intercultural Blogger Conference in March. I have to say it also applies to teaching as well. Despite the careful planning that Germans are famous for, a back-up plan must always be in store, should your original plan fail in the classroom due to the students’ lack of interest, some technical glitches, missing elements because you were in a hurry, etc. While some teachers believe that Plan B is non-existent, they haven’t seen some situations, including those I experienced, where it was warranted. So have a Back-up plan ready, and ……
  6. Plan for technical doomsday- Your computer will crash, its relationship with the beamer will fail, the files will not open, the speakers will not operate, anything will happen. It has happened with the best teachers and they have dealt with them. Almost all of those who experienced a technical “Panne” have learned to do this one important item next time they work a technical equipment: check to make sure everything is in order before entering the stage with eager students awaiting to watch something “educational.” 😉
  7. Creativity and spontaneity are bread and butter- If there is a characteristic a teacher must have, there are two of them: being creative and spontaneous. A creative person comes up with activities on paper, through brainstorming and best of all, in the classroom in a spontaneous manner. A spontaneous person foregoes a planned session because of cock-ups along the way, presents a new strategy out of the blue, and gives it to the group for them to do. 99 times out of 100, that works every time. Teachers must have the brains to do both if they wish to continue with their career in the long term.
  8. Be a great storyteller- Storytelling not only provides students with a sense of entertainment, but also lessons for them to learn from, both in a moral and philosophical manner as well as when learning a foreign language. The stories told don’t have to be very personal ones, but they should be ones that are related to reality, and students can relate to. Even the tiniest story, including a person and a chain-smoker, who disregards the no smoking sign, getting into a debate on smoking, brings value to the students as some of them are smokers wanting to quit but don’t know how. Think about it. 🙂
  9. Slow and easy always wins friends- Especially for Americans teaching foreign languages, teachers love to speak at their tempo, which is for the non-native speakers of English, too fast. Sometimes a problem with dialect can hinder the success in the classroom. Slow down. Speak high English (with a Chicago dialect), have someone listen to you if you feel it is necessary. No student will mob you if you speak extra slowly and clearly, or did one student do that?
  10. Make sure your exits are covered- If a student complains about a bad grade, explain to him/her why and what can be done to improve it. If students become a smart-ass, surprise them with a quiz to test their knowledge. If a person wikiing his assignment says his grandma helped him with English, invite her to class unannounced. If lectures are needed, give it to them. Students will respect you if you keep pace with their learning but will love you if you are ahead of the game. A lesson I learned after dealing with the unbelieveable. 🙂
  11. Finally, be decent. Teaching students goes beyond the subject or the basic skills needed for the job. The main goal of a teacher is to show students how to be decent. Decency is a commodity that is well underrated but one we need so that we can love our neighbors and friends and respect their rights and wishes. It also means that teachers learn by example, by being professional and kind to others. A video with a lecture of how decency and justice goes together, shows us how important our job is, which is to teach our future generation how to be decent.

There are many more, but these eleven are the most important elements of a teacher, in my opinion. Each teacher has his/her style of teaching which works in some cases and fails in others. Even more so, teachers have different personalities that can work out or cause conflicts. In either case, what is important is making sure the students get a proper education so that they can go out, see the world and experience it themselves. How it is done is solely up to the teacher, yet if something fails, they should take a different approach. In either case, in the end, if students walk out of the halls of school or university with a great sense of satisfaction, then it is a sure-fire sign that they will leave footprints in your hearts forever,

let alone pairs of sneakers on the line outside your home. 🙂

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In School in Germany: The Characteristics of Being a Great Teacher of English (as a Foreign Language)

DSCF8130

A few months back, I was approached by a colleague of mine, who runs a pair of online columns devoted to English writing, wanting to know from me some of the things that are important for teaching English as a foreign language.  After some thoughtful consideration and looking back at what I’ve experienced in the 15+ years I’ve been teaching here in Germany, dealing with everything in the sun, I decided to compile a list of ideas that are especially useful for those entering the field or are struggling in their first year on the job. The characteristics I mention here do not necessarily mean that if you don’t have them, you will never be a great teacher. It just simply means that if something goes wrong, you may want to think about them and ask yourself if it is useful to try them, at least. After all, each teacher has his/her way of teaching English language and culture.

DSCF8393

  1. Image is Everything- This was the slogan that tennis great André Agassi used for his Nikon camera commercials in the late 1980s and 90s. As a teacher, you have to market yourself to the students in a way that they will respect you from the first day on. This goes beyond your outer appearance. It even outguns the knowledge of your native language. It has to do with being on the level with your students and finding ways to get them to follow you. Sometimes you and your students find the right chemistry right away and you have a productive and successful class. Other times there is a wall that you cannot overcome, even if you try. Then it is like the love affair between man and woman, or in my case, the beamer and the laptop as stated in an earlier article.
  2. Your Students are your Audience; your Friends. Treat them with Care- I was once told that teaching is a business and the students are your customers. If you have students who “hate” you and your teaching and decide to annoy you at their convenience, then that is where the German formal “Sie” and the business-like relationship comes in. However, not all of them are like that. Many of them stay with you as long as you are working at their institution and even become your friends for life. To give you a hint: In my last semester teaching in Bayreuth in 2009, I had a class where all but three of the 20 people had been in my previous classes. All of them are still in contact. If you have this experience, then it is because you did something right, by listening to what they want, customizing your classes to make them interesting and you are integrated into their “culture” and they into yours. Almost all of them are eager to learn from you, and not just for the sake of languages.
  3. You need Structure; You need Discipline- A Frank Fitts from American Beauty quote that definitely applies to teaching, especially English. As Germans, especially in the eastern half, are obsessed with a structured form of teaching, you should structure the teaching to cater to their needs. It’s like a presentation: you have the introduction, the key points, the summary and time for questions and clarity. Then you make sure that they are kept in line with what they learned. Entertainment only serves as a frosting to the cake. This was a lesson I learned from a colleague at a private institution recently.
  4. Less is More- Too much of everything in an English classroom, even worksheets, are never a good thing. If you find yourself having a complaint where there were too much print materials to work with, you may want to reduce it and alternate your teaching methods. Sometimes some help from another source will help a great deal.
  5. Back-up your stuff in the classroom: Stewart Tunnicliff, who runs a couple Leipzig-based websites and a translation/proofreading business once said this when he presented the WordPress presentation at the Intercultural Blogger Conference in March. I have to say it also applies to teaching as well. Despite the careful planning that Germans are famous for, a back-up plan must always be in store, should your original plan fail in the classroom due to the students’ lack of interest, some technical glitches, missing elements because you were in a hurry, etc. While some teachers believe that Plan B is non-existent, they haven’t seen some situations, including those I experienced, where it was warranted. So have a Back-up plan ready, and ……
  6. Plan for technical doomsday- Your computer will crash, its relationship with the beamer will fail, the files will not open, the speakers will not operate, anything will happen. It has happened with the best teachers and they have dealt with them. Almost all of those who experienced a technical “Panne” have learned to do this one important item next time they work a technical equipment: check to make sure everything is in order before entering the stage with eager students awaiting to watch something “educational.” 😉
  7. Creativity and spontaneity are bread and butter- If there is a characteristic a teacher must have, there are two of them: being creative and spontaneous. A creative person comes up with activities on paper, through brainstorming and best of all, in the classroom in a spontaneous manner. A spontaneous person foregoes a planned session because of cock-ups along the way, presents a new strategy out of the blue, and gives it to the group for them to do. 99 times out of 100, that works every time. Teachers must have the brains to do both if they wish to continue with their career in the long term.
  8. Be a great storyteller- Storytelling not only provides students with a sense of entertainment, but also lessons for them to learn from, both in a moral and philosophical manner as well as when learning a foreign language. The stories told don’t have to be very personal ones, but they should be ones that are related to reality, and students can relate to. Even the tiniest story, including a person and a chain-smoker, who disregards the no smoking sign, getting into a debate on smoking, brings value to the students as some of them are smokers wanting to quit but don’t know how. Think about it. 🙂
  9. Slow and easy always wins friends- Especially for Americans teaching foreign languages, teachers love to speak at their tempo, which is for the non-native speakers of English, too fast. Sometimes a problem with dialect can hinder the success in the classroom. Slow down. Speak high English (with a Chicago dialect), have someone listen to you if you feel it is necessary. No student will mob you if you speak extra slowly and clearly, or did one student do that?
  10. Make sure your exits are covered- If a student complains about a bad grade, explain to him/her why and what can be done to improve it. If students become a smart-ass, surprise them with a quiz to test their knowledge. If a person wikiing his assignment says his grandma helped him with English, invite her to class unannounced. If lectures are needed, give it to them. Students will respect you if you keep pace with their learning but will love you if you are ahead of the game. A lesson I learned after dealing with the unbelieveable. 🙂
  11. Finally, be decent. Teaching students goes beyond the subject or the basic skills needed for the job. The main goal of a teacher is to show students how to be decent. Decency is a commodity that is well underrated but one we need so that we can love our neighbors and friends and respect their rights and wishes. It also means that teachers learn by example, by being professional and kind to others. A video with a lecture of how decency and justice goes together, shows us how important our job is, which is to teach our future generation how to be decent.

There are many more, but these eleven are the most important elements of a teacher, in my opinion. Each teacher has his/her style of teaching which works in some cases and fails in others. Even more so, teachers have different personalities that can work out or cause conflicts. In either case, what is important is making sure the students get a proper education so that they can go out, see the world and experience it themselves. How it is done is solely up to the teacher, yet if something fails, they should take a different approach. In either case, in the end, if students walk out of the halls of school or university with a great sense of satisfaction, then it is a sure-fire sign that they will leave footprints in your hearts forever,

let alone pairs of sneakers on the line outside your home. 🙂

 

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In School in Germany: The Black Box

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The Black Box– a secret device hid inside an aircraft to record the flight from start to finish. The box is used to determine how the flight went, but also in worst case scenario, how it crashed. The black box is top secret and can only be opened when deemed necessary.

Each of us has our own black box in our heads, kept locked away and containing the secrets and desires that the majority of the public does not want to hear or see- that is unless there is someone who is willing to open it up and accept our dark sides. 🙂

But the black box does not necessarily have to be full of secrets that can destroy one person. It can also serve as something to share with others where all can learn from it and the person who has the secret can benefit from it; especially when it comes to learning a foreign language or other subjects.

Most recently, I developed a Black Box exercise which can be utilized wherever needed, pending on which subject you are teaching which topic you wish to discuss. Good for all ages and regardless of whether it’s for 1-1 training or a classroom setting, it is a two-part exercise that requires work on both the teacher’s and the students’ parts, but in the end, will bear fruit as far as discussion and learning is concerned. What you need for materials are the following:

For each student and the teacher, you need one sheet of black paper and another sheet of a colored paper of choice.

Use the black sheet of paper, fold it along horizontal lines in half and afterwards, fold the halves into half again, thus having a sheet folded into quarters, as seen in the picture below.

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The next step is to fold the horizontal portion of the sheet into two halves then again into quarters, thus creating a origami with eight rectangular shapes. Please ensure that the sheet is closed in half horizontally, as seen in the pictures below.

Fold the vertical portion in half....
Fold the vertical portion in half….
....and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
….and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
Closed-book format like this....
Closed-book format like this….

The next step many people may fall for (and I have many times myself). Here you need to fold the outer corners of the folded sheet of paper. What is meant by outer corner is the folded sheet and not the single sheet, as some people have done. Please see the pics below to see how the corners should be folded. Normally, the corners folded should have a 45° angle touching the folded crease in each corner with a tab sticking out down the middle on both sides.

This is not the way to fold it!
This is not the way to fold it!
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.

Fold these tabs outwards so that they cover the outer corners. Then place your fingers in the opening and sandwich the long ends, so that in the end, a half a box is revealed. It should look like this in the end…..

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Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards....
Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards….
Top portion of the box finished! :-) Now the bottom portion needs to be done.....
Top portion of the box finished! 🙂 Now the bottom portion needs to be done…..

Repeat the steps with the other half of the box and you have yourself the finished product, as seen below:

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Once you have completed your black box, you can do many activities with them, where students can cut into pieces and place various colors of paper into the box, pending on what topic you are talking about in class. These multi-colored cards are then picked out by random, either by the teacher walking by and picking one from each student’s black box or by asking them to submit a card of a certain color into the teacher’s own black box and then, the teacher chooses one. Black boxes are very useful for foreign language teaching as they serve the following purposes:

  1. They can be used to break the ice and start a conversation in class,

  2. They can be used for introducing new vocabulary and cultural themes a student or teacher picked up while encountering media or visiting an event and a wants to share,

and 3. They can be used for conversational purposes based on a topic previously discussed in class. This is especially useful when teaching a subject in a non-native language, such as bilingual history, social studies, religion, and music in either English, French, Spanish, Russian or other languages.

In one case, students can ask the teacher a question about a topic of interest. This is especially useful if the teacher is a native speaker of a language being taught in the classroom. In other words, Ask the Ami a question about American Culture. 😉

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I have tried (and am still trying) to introduce this in the general English where one colored card has a question pertaining to the topics learned in the workbook, another for questions on vocabulary, another for questions for discussion, and the last one for questions for the American. However, this can be done with other subjects and topics, yet one has to be aware of the audience and their knowledge of both the topic and the language.

Another concern is that some students (especially in a large classroom setting) may find a creative way of ruining such an activity by posing questions and providing vocabulary words that are inappropriate, personally attacking other students or even the teacher with a question or comment, or playing Devil’s Advocate on a topic deemed controversial and not suitable for the classroom. Here the teacher will need to set guidelines for such an activity to avoid any conflicts in the classroom that might have a negative impact on the teaching environment or even the teacher’s career. While the Black Box is suitable for all ages, students need to be aware of the questions and vocabulary words they are asking which may be difficult for them to understand if they are either too young or the language level is too low. That means an A-level student should not be asking philosophical questions about Socrates if his/her level is suitable for small talk and telephone conversations.

Nevertheless, the Black Box function similarily like the device on the airplane: it brings out the most thought-provoking questions to the students in class, who will benefit from learning from the “secrets” kept locked away until now, while thinking about and utilizing the knowledge learned in the classroom in a positive manner. A wiser man once said to the author: Never judge a person by his looks or actions, but by his inner thoughts and backgrounds. It applies to not only future partners in relationships but also people you encounter along the way. After all, the most interesting aspects come from the most unusual people. 🙂

Enjoy the exercise and one confession: Yellow is my color because my devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team, in case you are wondering. It is also the favorite color of my daughter’s whose homemade box idea inspired this activity. 🙂 ❤

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