Showing posts with label EFL Magazine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EFL Magazine. Show all posts

Why Not Teach English through Comics?

According to Jeff Hughes of the American TESOL Institute, his teachers used to criticize comic books in his youth stating “these books have zero educational value!” Nevertheless, he has testified that comic books actually improved his understanding of English and Grammar, as well as increasing his interest in reading. Moreover, his vocabulary improved, and he learned to research information.

Language learners can be fearful about reading prose texts in English, but the use of comics or graphic novels adds a plus to texts with language chunks and images together, as words and images can increase a student´s vocabulary, motivating students to make the effort to read.

Today, graphic novels and comics are recognized as a legitimate form of literature and are increasingly used in English classes.

According to research, they are not only motivating, but they also provide support for beginning and advanced readers, spicing up a somewhat dull subject matter.


“In second language education, teachers and students know the truth of the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. In fact, … the right picture at the right time may be worth several times that many words.” (Stephen Cary, Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom, p.23)

“It always strikes me as supremely odd that high culture venerates the written word on the one hand, and the fine visual arts on the other. Yet somehow putting the two together is dismissed as juvenilia. Why is that? Why can´t these forms of art go together like music and dance?” Jonathan Hennessey, Author of The U.S. Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation)

“It always strikes me as supremely odd that high culture venerates the written word on the one hand, and the fine visual arts on the other. Yet somehow putting the two together is dismissed as juvenilia. Why is that? Why can´t these forms of art go together like music and dance?” Jonathan Hennessey, Author of The U.S.

Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation)

Language learners can be fearful about reading prose texts in English, but the use of comics or graphic novels add a plus to texts with language chunks and images together, as words and images can increase a student´s vocabulary and motivate students to make the effort to read.

Comics in the classroom

According to Hayes & Athens (Haines, 2006), a number of observers think that the reading level in comics is too low. In fact, some have said that “proficient readers have to master 5,000 rare words appearing infrequently in conversation.” But in comparing the use of rare words in average adult novels and in comic books, it was found that although such words appear some 52 times per 1,000 text words, the average for comic books has been 53 times per 1,000 text words!

Another advantage of comics is that they provide fast and attractive story plots with less text. Comics can be as challenging as prose novels in ability and reading level, but are more accessible to reluctant readers.

Thanks to the visual aspect in comics, they represent a non-threatening and comprehensible medium for both writing and reading skills. It is interesting to note that there are high numbers of comic readers in countries such as Mexico (70 per cent) and Japan (90-95 per cent)!  (Cary, 2004) Another point to consider is that “popular media such as movies, video games, cartoons, and comic books can serve as a frame of reference in thinking about narrative structure” (Ranker, 2007) Comics can be used to teach punctuation or grammar aspects. They also assist students to organize their thinking and writing since comics generally are put together chronologically.

According to Gray & Fleischman (2005), Peregoy and Boyle, among other researchers, support the use of scaffolding strategies to help ESL students organize their thoughts… These strategies include teacher modeling, visuals/graphics, and hands-on learning – all of which are compatible with using comics in the classroom”.

Graphic novelist Josh Elder founded a nonprofit organization called Reading with Pictures in 2009 to advocate comic use to “promote literacy and improve educational outcomes.”  ( He says that “Comics made my educational process so fundamentally different, enhanced my prospects so significantly that I feel I had to share that with other people.”

Elder summarizes the advantages of comics as educational tools regarding what he calls the “Three E´s of Comics”:

Engagement: Comics impart meaning through the reader´s active engagement with written language and juxtaposed sequential images. Readers must actively make meaning from the interplay of text and images, as well as by filling in the gaps between panels.

Efficiency: The comic format conveys large amounts of information in a short time. This is especially effective for teaching content in the subject areas (math, science, social studies, etc.).

Effectiveness: Processing text and images together leads to better recall and transfer of learning. Neurological experiments have shown that we process text and images in different areas of the brain: known as the Dual-Coding Theory of Cognition. These experiments also indicate that pairing an image with text leads to increased memory retention for both. With comics, students not only learn the material faster, they learn it better. (Elder, 2009)

Michelle Manno (2014) makes an interesting comment when she states the following:

Before children are ready to read text, sequential art can give them practice in making meaning from material printed on a page, tracking left to right and top to bottom, interpreting symbols, and following the sequence of events in a story. Sequential art provides plenty of opportunity for connecting a story to children´s own experiences, predicting what will happen, inferring what happened between panels and summarizing, just as you would do with a text story. The advantage of sequential art is that children don´t need to be able to decode text to learn and practice comprehension skills. (Manno, 2014) Many English-speaking adults in North America were taught to read from the 1930s to the 1990s with the Dick and Jane series which used the sight word reading Method, using repetition and phrases like “Oh, see Jane. Funny, funny Jane” as well as phonetic analysis. However, in comparison with more modern readers incorporating illustrations with text, this series appeared to be rather dull and uninteresting.  

When children are exposed to graphic novels and comics full of exciting details and action, they become motivated and want to be engaged in reading much more.

Such readers provide stimulus to read even longer texts later. As graphic novels make readers decode and understand the connection between images and text, they start to use more advanced level thinking skills such as synthesis and inference. Here, literary techniques such as metaphor and symbolism begin to take on more importance.

Education expert Tracy Edmunds is a believer in the power of comics and graphic novels as educational tools, requiring readers to not only receive information passively, but also interact with the text and images to construct meaning. He mentions that “the immediacy of comics can also take what students think of as “boring” subject matter and make it interesting and motivating.” (Edmunds, 2018)

There are a number of benefits in using comics and graphic novels in the classroom, as they:

  • involve visual readers who like visual media such as video games and computer graphics
  • teach positive messages, in helping others, team work, and perseverance
  • encourage exploration of different genres, appreciating distinct literary and artistic styles
  • increase imagination and open the reader´s mind to storytelling.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Howard Gardner promulgated his Theory of Multiple Intelligences to emphasize the fact that there are different learning intelligences that allow more learners to be successful, and not only emphasizing mathematical and linguistic skills.

Certainly, all multiple intelligences can be applied in students´ comics or graphic novels. For example:

  • Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence: students can focus on what characters think and say through language to tell a story
  • Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: Making a story plot involving logic, strategy, and numbers
  • Visual/Spatial Intelligence: comics include pictures of characters in settings that encourage spatial learning
  • Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: Body movement drawing is incorporated in comics and photos can also be used
  • Interpersonal Intelligence: student learners learn better working in groups with the help of brainstorming
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence: students are stimulated to engage in self-reflection and apply their own emotions to the comic
  • Naturalistic Intelligence: pupils can incorporate details of the environment having to do with the story and photos too
  • Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence: a comic story has rhythm using repetition of panels or incorporating music in the story action (Gardner, 1993)
  • The application of Howard Gardner´s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and the use of comics and graphic novels in the classroom motivate students to become more successful in and beyond the classroom.

Gray and Fleischman in their work named Successful Strategies for English

Language Learners (2005), came up with effective strategies that could be used by teachers using comics in the classroom. Their interesting suggestions for possible application involve the following:  

Lesson Directions


  • Students will identify narrative story elements in a graphic novel /characters, setting, problem, & solution).
  • Students will create their own narrative story elements using a graphic organizer and illustrations.
  • Students will write and illustrate a comic strip using narrative story elements.



  1. Participants write and/or illustrate their favorite cartoons, cartoon characters, and/or comic strips. Participants then pair up and share their favorites.
  2. Teacher reads comic aloud to group – listen for and identify the key narrative elements (characters, setting, problem, solution).

Guided/Independent Practice

  1. Teacher and students discuss the key narrative elements and fill in a graphic organizer based on the comic. Teacher also reviews the speech/thought bubbles and author´s use of different colored dialogue bubbles to distinguish between speakers.
  2. Model using the graphic organizer to create a superhero character and story elements.
  3. Participants use the fruits and vegetables to create superheroes and outline stories. Participants can use art materials to physically “create” superheroes (markers, glue, felt, eyes, pipe cleaners, etc.)
  4. Teacher models using graphic organizer to create comic strip. Include and point out story elements.
  5. Participants use their graphic organizers to write comic strips independently or with a partner.
  6. Pair-share, if time allows.
  7. Revisions, if necessary/time allows. Show how to cut comic strip apart and add/delete panels.


  1. Author´s Chair
  2. Questions, discussions, extensions.


  • Favorite Comic frame
  • Narrative Story Elements frame
  • Graphic novel, comic strips, etc.
  • Large pictures of popular cartoon/comic characters (Spongebob, Dora the Explorer, Spiderman, etc.)
  • Oversized dialogue bubbles (different colors)
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Name cards for fruits and vegetables
  • Art materials (markers, glue, felt, eyes. Pipe cleaners, etc.)
  • Various comic strip panels
  • Materials for modeling (overhead projector, chalkboard, chart paper, easel, etc.)


  1. Give a pair of students a wordless comic (or one with the speech bubbles deleted). Have students “script” the comic by adding speech bubbles that fit with the events in each panel. Students can also write descriptions for each panel or orally describe what is happening. (Cary, Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom, p.81)
  2. Students can take a comic strip and add a panel (or several). Students must write and illustrate what would happen next in the comic. Another option is a “class strip.” One student adds a panel and then passes it on to another student. The expanded comic strip circulated around the room with each student reading, writing, and drawing what would happen next. (Cary, Going Graphic, Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom, p.74)

  • In pairs or small groups, give students a comic strip with one panel missing (preferably in the middle). Students must read the remaining panels and discuss what they need to add to the comic strip for it to make sense. As they create their “replacement” panels, students need to pay attention to what comes before, after, and what makes sense. They also need to focus on their grammatical choices, making sure verb tenses and antecedents, for example, align with the remaining panels. Cary, Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom, p.88)

  • Comic Creator at is an excellent interactive tool. Students can create and/or publish their comics. This site also offers several lessons based on the Comic Creator tool


In accordance with the information gathered, using comics in the classroom increases literacy and satisfies the educational needs of diverse learners. It is clear that teachers should adapt to the developing needs of their students, and consider using different methods and tools for learning to stimulate and help students achieve better reading ability through the use of comics.  


  • Cary, S. (2004). Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom
  • Cutler, D. (2014). Using Superhero Comics to Teach English and History. George Lucas Educational Foundation.
  • Edmunds, T. (2018). Stem Series.
  • Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences. New Horizons: Far Hills, New Jersey, USA
  • Gray, T. & Fleischman, S. (2005). Successful Strategies for English Language Learners. Educational Leadership, 84-85
  • Gray, W. & Sharp, Z. (1930-1990). Dick and Jane. Scott Foresman: Glenview, Illinois, USA
  • Haines, J. (2006). Why Teach with Comics? Diamond Bookshelf
  • Hayes & Athens (1988).
  • Hennessey, J. (2013). The U.S. Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation.
  • Manno, M. Comics in the Classroom. blog
  • Morse, S. (2008). New York: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Peregoy, S.F. & Boyle, O.F. (2005). Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL. (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
  • Ranker, J. (2007). Using Comic Books as Read-Alouds: Insights on Reading Instruction from an English as a Second Language Classroom. The Reading Teacher, 61(4), 296-305.
  • Starr, L. (2004). Education World.
  • Graphic Novels, Comics, Etc. For Use in the Classroom
  • Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
  • Sticky Burr by John Lechner
  • Bone the Dragon Slayer series by Jeff Smith
  • Nancy Drew graphic novels by Stefan Petrucha and Sarah KinneyTeaching With Comics

This site provides comic strip/panel templates, as well as lesson ideas and evaluation rubrics. Students can learn step-by-step how to sletch cartoon figures and backgrounds.

ESL and Archie Comics


Students can view an Archie comic while listening to a podcast of the comic being read aloud. Students can also listen to an explanation of the comic and learn definitions of key terms in the comic.

Everything ESL: Interactive Web Sites for ESL Students

Various literacy based sites with interactive games, read alouds, and books that can be downloaded.

Activities for Using Comic Strips

Ideas for incorporating comic strips into lessons

The post Why Not Teach English through Comics? appeared first on EFL Magazine.

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An Interview with John F. Faneslow

Learning through Play: How Gamification Keeps Children Interested in Learning


by Mark Pemberton

Mark Pemberton, former ELT teacher and co-founder of Studycat, discusses how a blend of game-based learning, both on and offline, is helping children learn languages and connect the classroom to the home.

When you were younger, your parents likely told you to stop playing games and get on with your homework. Games were seen as a distraction from book-bound learning, leaving little to no room for them as a revision tactic. However, fast-forward almost 20 years and gamification has proven itself to be a vital part of any teachers’ toolkit.

Game-based learning has long been a part of the learning experience. We learn through play from the time we’re born, and countries such as Finland have been aware of the benefits of a less formal approach to learning for years. But with rapid technological advances and greater access to devices like smart phones and tablets, today’s digital natives aren’t just accustomed to games online, they have a real appetite for them.

The language of learning

The goal of game-based learning is to maximise the students’ enjoyment and engagement levels by capturing and maintaining their interest in the subject matter. This is achieved by providing immediate feedback; scaffolded learning, where challenges gradually increase in difficulty; forming social connections; and placing an emphasis on fun.

Examples of game-based learning are rife across STEM subjects yet, one of the most potent approaches that I have encountered is within language-learning. I taught my first classroom of pupils an English lesson in Taiwan in 1989. While the children wanted to learn, the lack of resources and traditional pedagogies meant that progress lagged. Instead of creating a fun learning environment, my students and I struggled to tick off the learning objectives day-by-day. Put simply, learning was boring for them.

I was determined to succeed though, and just as the rote approach was boring for them, it wasn’t much fun for me either. So I came to class armed with a range of home-made posters, flashcards and props. Those analogue-style games-based learning lessons transformed the children’s attitude and enjoyment. They progressed rapidly and came to class excited about learning.  Right away it was clear that game-based learning provides a greater sense of ownership and independence, a more relaxed atmosphere, and a willingness to try and try again.

Connecting the traditional with the modern

As any ELT teacher will report, these attributes and a positive outlook go a long way during language learning. It’s not that some people are more gifted with languages than others, it’s about creating an environment that is fun and reassuring and encourages students to persevere. Language-learning can feel like a risk-taking exercise filled with mispronunciations and equivalence issues however, these can be minimised with a game-based approach. By easing the pressure to perform, games build solid foundations through repetition and scaleable activities that progress in line with students’ attainment.

In some form or another, games have long been a part of the learning experience but, in the age of personalised learning, the value of many traditional teaching resources is getting lost. Today, when people think of gamification, their minds go to online platforms and apps that seamlessly guide students through various stages or learning objectives. These are of course incredibly valuable resources and resonate with pupils in a tech-centric era but it is often learning by doing that really helps improve attainment.

Saving teachers time

This combination of app-based learning paired with traditional face-to-face techniques and resources ensures that pupils are engaged and driving their own learning experience. Importantly, it also connects the classroom to the home-learning environment – a crucial element for ESL pupils where practice makes perfect. Connecting the old and the new provides pupils and teachers with best-practice education methods. Crucially though, the way technology has evolved means that we’ve been able to create a solution that enables the concept of blended classrooms to transform into blended homes where students can continue to learn through games.  It also means that teachers save time. Using what I valued when I taught, our dashboard technology allows teachers to play games on digital whiteboards, assign game-based homework to family devices, and receive real time learner outcomes.

Breaking down the walls of traditional teaching has been one of the greatest benefits I have experienced from gamification in language learning. Technology’s advancement now means that children are afforded the opportunity to reflect their classrooms into their home, creating the ultimate flipped classroom while accelerating learning. What’s more, inviting blended learning into the home through gamification has also allowed for greater parental engagement. Game-based learning has demonstrated its ability to foster self-advocacy amongst children, but it is also a great tool for collaboration with peers and parents as friendly competitions and card games emerge.

With the advanced integration of technologies in the classroom and home, teaching and learning practices have rapidly evolved. Edtech is influencing almost every aspect of the modern learning experience and has brought with it a wide range of benefits for pupils and teachers alike. However, it is important to remember the value of paper-based materials and physical games that can also support curriculum objectives to create a holistic learning experience. Finding a way to balance screen time with physical games, get parents engaged in their child’s learning and help children discover the fun of language learning and there is no stopping you!

Pull out box

  • What are some challenges you have faced as an ELT teacher?
  • How has gamification or game-based learning helped you and your students?

Mark Pemberton is a former teacher and co-founder of Studycat – a global leader in education technology, with over 6 million users across the world.

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A (North) American K-12 and University Primer

University Primer

Tory Thorkelson

Just to be clear, I am a Canadian and so will include examples from both the United States and Canada (but not Mexico which is part of North America, but has a much different system of education – although not as different as you might think (1)). Now, let me offer an explanation of the basics of public education (K-12) and College or University in North America and the pesky jargon to go with it!

K-12, anyone?!

According to this chart (2), about the only thing the US, Canada (and the UK!) agree on is that the first two+ years of a child’s life involve a Nursery. Ages 3-4 are both called Preschool in the US and Canada (even though children attend a kind of daycare/organized program in many cases) and then titles apparently diverge with Canadian Kids in Ontario going to Junior (4-5) and Senior Kindergarten (5-6) and other Canadian as well as American kids continuing on in Preschool for another year (4-5) and then entering Kindergarten for a year (5-6) (3). From Grades 1-12 (Ages 6-18) both Canada and America use the same terms for grades for the  most part but where junior and senior high begins and ends may differ and they may be called junior high, middle school or senior public school (3).

While elementary school normally covers grades 1-5 or 6, middle (junior) high may cover 6-9, 7-8, 7-9 or even be non-existent with elementary school running from grades 1-8 and High school being from 9-12, for example(3). In Quebec, public school ends at Grade 11 and there is a pre-college program called CEGEP. While it ended a number of years ago, Ontario used to have a grade 13/OAC as well but it was phased out in 2003. This is still true in parts of Oregon and North Carolina in the US. This replaced the first year of college in some cases or at least could be transferred into college credits. (4)

Is a typical degree Two, Three or Four years?

A typical university degree is 4 years in length (5); although when I went to University in the mid-80’s a 3 year degree was the ‘norm’ at my university. While in Canada, a university degree is not the same as a college diploma or certificate from a Vocational/Trade College or community college where programs may last from a few months to a year or two. In recent years, Vocational and Technical colleges have offered Associate Degrees (AD) which allow students to transfer to a typical 4 year degree in the US. A University degree is synonymous with a College degree or Baccalaureate degree (5). The years at High School or University are labelled Fresh people instead of the old Freshmen (1st year students), Sophomores (2nd  year of University), Juniors (Grade 11 or 3rd Year University) and Seniors (Grade 12 or Final Year of Undergraduate degree).

What about Graduate school?

In North America, a Master’s degree is done after a Bachelor’s degree and is followed by a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy), Ed.D (Doctor of Education) or LLB (Law degree), for example, see here for more information on each level of degree (7) and a pretty exhaustive list of the various degrees at all levels(25). Incidentally, the number of students with a university degree of some kind has risen dramatically since 2000 in the US (8). While in Europe, for example, some degrees combine a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree into one and in Asia many students do their Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees (or even Master’s and Ph.D.’s) at the same university or even in the same department, North American students are expected to do all 3 degrees at different universities (or at least their Masters and Ph.D. at another university than their Bachelor’s degree) starting locally or near home with their Bachelor’s degree and then doing their Master’s and/or Ph.D. in other states/provinces or even overseas. According to IIE, “…332, 727 US students studied abroad for academic credit in 2016/17, an increase of 2.3% over the previous year” (9).

What is a GPA?

The GPA, or Grade  Point Average, is calculated based on a 1-4 point scale with the grades A-F roughly equivalent to 0-4 on the GPA scale (10). There are a few universities that use a 4.5 GPA scale apparently (and high schools may use a weighted 5.0 GPA; you can see a tool to convert your GPA here (12), but 4.0 is the standard in North America. For the UK equivalents, see (11).

Who are Professors, Instructors, Readers and Tutors?!

These terms are a bit confusing since, in North America, titles range from Instructor to Adjunct Professor to Assistant/Associate Professor and, finally, full Professor. In the UK, the terms Tutor (1 on 1 teacher/coach/mentor), Lecturer (classroom instructor and researcher) and Professor /Reader (Academic with teaching/researching) may be used (13) (14).

What are the exams to get into University?

American Universities require students to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or ACT test before they get accepted (and probably a TOEFL or IELTS test if you are a non-native speaker), and – while the GRE Exam is required for almost every graduate school program – if you want to get into Medical school or Law school, for example, you will need to take the MCATS or LSAT, respectively (15). Be aware that many universities also have their own tests and – in Canada – tests like the Can TEST (17)or the CELPIP test may be required as well(16).

What alternatives are there to traditional University programs?

Many students do internships during their roughly 4 month summer vacation, from May to September in the US and Canada. While it seems obvious to get practical experience in your chosen field, like articling for Law students or doing teaching practicums for prospective teachers, some majors may also incorporate on the job training (OJT) as part of their programs with a mixture of work experience and class work combined in order to get your diploma of degree. Business or Finance degrees are another area where this is common practice. Remember that this OJT may be paid but the more common internships widely advertised often are not (18).

What are Fraternities and Sororities?

In theory, fraternities (brotherhoods) and sororities (sisterhoods) are single sex groups of students who join together to promote common social or intellectual interests. However, they are also very powerful both nationally and internationally and many members of the so called “Greek system” (or “Greek Life”) go on to powerful positions in politics or business in the US. See this article for a decent overview of their pros and cons (19) and explanations of some of their more common practices (19). See here for a list of the best known Fraternities (20) and Sororities along with some background information (21).

What are Study week and March Break?!

While Spring break or March break is a common practice at public schools and universities in the US and Canada, some universities have a study week or reading week instead in February or early March instead. According to one of my University Professors, it was created to counter the spike in returning students feeling depressed after returning to university after the short vacation for Christmas and New Years that is common at North American Universities. See this article for an overview of research that suggests the peak is in the spring all around the world rather than in the winter (24).

What should I do with all my free time?!

Besides the aforementioned Fraternities, Sororities and Internship/OJT opportunities mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to fill your free time at college or university in North America other than just hanging out at the on campus pub or a café.  Most majors or departments have in house clubs or societies for their students but organizations like AISEC (Association Internationale des Étudiants En Sciences Économiques et Commerciales (French: International Association of Students in Economics and Management) offer an internationally recognized network of associations with a well-established history. See (22) below for more details about AISEC or this page for a list of many more clubs/organizations and associations for nearly every department/major (23).




(3) Quebec and Ontario have some rather unique features as do Newfoundland and Labrador. See:






















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I Never Set Out to Be a Publisher but Here I Am!

Alphabet Publishing

By Walton Burns founder of Aphabet Publishing 

Alphabet Publishing began as a self-publishing venture that took on a life of its own. As things often do.

In 2016, I had been teaching for 15 years. After I placed second in a lesson plan context, I came to the attention of Nick Robinson who helped me start my career as a professional materials writer doing coursebooks and online teaching materials. Through my work at an IEP, I’d also fallen into the niche area of writing standardized tests and    for a while I’d been sharing materials on my blog. I was just starting to transfer them to Teachers Pay Teachers to try to make a bit of a profit.

Why Self-Publishing?

At the same time, I had the germ of an idea for a book, a group of activities that teachers could use to start off a new term. I’m a big fan of teacher activity books and I have a shelf groaning under the weight of my collection of Penny Ur and Mario Rinvolucri books. I didn’t (and don’t) have the name recognition of Penny Ur and my collection of activities was quite small.I didn’t know if I could make a profit on it and I didn’t think a publisher would touch it, so  I decided that it was time to learn a new set of skills and have a new experience, trying to self-publish it.

After publishing my book, I was approached by a colleague who’d put out a PDF ebook but now wanted to turn it into a paperback. So we took each other on as trial cases. Would I enjoy working as someone else’s publisher? Would she enjoy the process? Could we actually make some sales or not?

That actually went pretty well and I was starting to build up some expertise. I put out a few new books of my own and then I started getting proposals from people I didn’t know. Surprisingly, I started making some larger sales and I realized that I enjoyed reading the Chicago Manual of Style and browsing fonts on websites. I started to attend webinars on book marketing and slowly the fact dawned on me that I was a proper publisher. I still have to do freelance writing and editing on the side to pay the bills (for now, at any rate), but the bulk of my time and energy is spent on publishing.

Author-Led is the Way to Go

As an independent author without a large marketing or research staff, I publish almost exclusively author-led projects. One of the joys of my work is that I work with talented and passionate authors who come to me with an idea that they believe in deeply. Why else would they send me a proposal rather than going to one of the big publishers? So I feel that it’s my job to stay out of the way of the author way as much as possible. And just as I fell into publishing, our books have fallen into a niche, driven by the authors that have pitched to us. Our main focus is on materials that use the creative and performing arts to teach English, whether that be drawing, creative writing, drama, music, or film. We have a series of plays for English language learners, a collection of stories to be completed by the reader and two books of illustrated prompts for students to respond to by drawing, coloring, writing, or speaking.We’ve also collaborated with New Zealand filmmakers who produce scripted dramas for language learners.

We’re big fans of teacher resource books. I think a good collection of activities can be a huge influence on a teacher, particularly a new teacher. Not only is it always good to have a store of activities and different ways of practicing language in the classroom, but it is also good to have activities which come from a particular approach to learning and teaching. So teacher-resource books are a nice way to introduce theory in an easily digestible way.

Propose to Us

We tend to get proposals year-round and we are open to them at any time, though it may take us a while to be able to look at your project. When you do query us, please include as many details about the project as possible. What’s the target audience? Where will your materials be used? What skills do they teach? Why do you think they are in demand? And most importantly, what makes them unique? It’s always a good sign if you’ve been using your materials yourself and/or been sharing them with colleagues.

Finally, where are you in the writing process?

Do you have an MS all ready or are you planning to write it over the next year? We need to know this because we can only take on so many projects at a time.

Because we are small and lack a large marketing budget, we also like authors who are committed to getting involved in marketing. If you have a large social media following or a blog or do a lot of presenting at conferences and article-writing, that goes a long way to marketing a book.

Where Do We Go from Here?

After we get your proposal, we’ll try to get back to you as soon as we can and let you know if it’s a good fit or not. We might ask for some more information, which is a good sign that we’re interested. Should we decide to publish your work, we’d send you a contract to discuss. At the same time, we’d begin editing your book. The first wave is usually for content, ensuring the idea of the book is sound and well-realized throughout. This is usually the phase that requires the most rewriting and reworking.

After that, there are a few rounds of copy-editing or line-editing, where typos and style issues are sorted out. Once we are both satisfied as to the state of the manuscript, we send your book to the designer. The designers we work with are professionals who know what works and what sells.However, we like to give the author some input, so we always share cover and interior designs with you. After that, we put the book up for printing. Currently, we operate through print on demand services such as KDP (formerly Createspace) and IngramSpark. We also create ebook versions of most books, unless we don’t think the book will work well in a digital format.

And if you decide you want to plunge ahead with self-publishing, or even go with another publisher, we do offer freelance editing and design services at affordable rates. Publishing a book is a major step in your life. It should be fun and fulfilling. We want to make sure authors can enjoy the process without having to get overly stressed. So feel free to get in touch if you’re interested in potentially publishing with us or looking to use our services. We have a website at and you can email me at

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Lessons from Student Evaluations (or Teaching by the Numbers):

by Tory Thorkelson

As I have mentioned previously, our university here in Korea does student evaluations of our classes online (and has done so since 2002) but the questions and format change regularly. While I do my own informal evaluations, which are entirely comment based, the numbers (or percentages) from the university versions have taught me a few important lessons that I thought I would share with you.

1) The 70%s:

Yes, there have been a handful of these in my 20+ years. In some cases, it was my fault. For example, the class that I took on as a favor to another program which had 30 students, with half at the low to high beginner levels and the other half at virtual native speaker level. I divided the class in half and told the high level students to do book reports, research projects, journals and other out of class work to meet the homework component. I interviewed them twice and had them do some presentations so I could help the lower level students more in class, I also tested a new textbook as well which looked great (and was highly recommended by a friend from another University) which turned out to be a mistake. Nobody was really happy and so my first 74% score was the result. I take much of the blame for that.

On the other hand, some were not entirely my fault. I had a medical English sophomore class. They did not believe English was important for them, despite the fact that virtually all the medical textbooks they brought to class were in English. They did not want to do medical English (I asked) and chose a textbook from a few I passed around (publisher samples) and so I tried to teach the class. There was whining and complaining, arguments over most of the homework and assignments, and general unhappiness. A number of students were absent or skipped presentation days. In the end, the grades ranged from D’s to a high of a B. I was told they could not fail as they would have to repeat the entire year. As was my habit at that time, I posted their final grades on the door of the classroom and then handed my grades in to the administration. A few weeks later, I saw the final grades for this class online and – magically – the curve ranged from B’s to A’s. My boss called me in to explain why I got a 74% for that class, and I showed her my records, copies of homework, and posted grades. She sighed and accepted my explanation. I never heard another word about it.

2) The 80%s:

Most of my classes, or about 60%, are in this range. This is not surprising as we change course offerings every two to four years. New classes in subjects I am not exactly an expert in, like Business Writing, Introduction to Communication, or Current Events and Listening which I taught for the first time last term all at least begin here. This seems reasonable since the chances of wowing my students with my knowhow in an area I am researching and preparing lessons for week by week or class by class is pretty unlikely. Scores like this tell me that a majority of students appreciated my efforts and forgave me my occasional moments of humanity (like clicking the wrong link or taking a chance on a video I forgot to preview beforehand). As long as most of my students are happy, then I feel like I am doing my job.

3) The 90%s:

These classes are mostly in areas where I know the subject well, like Tourism English or my Introduction to Acting Class where I never achieved lower than a 96%. It helps when I love the subject personally as well but I can not pretend to know how much that contributes to the final score.

Perhaps the most satisfying courses in this group are the ones like our recently discontinued Job skills and interview course which moved from the mid-80% to a 99% the last time I taught it, as I had 10 years to perfect and streamline what I was teaching to match the needs of the students and the realities of the job market. My Story of English Class has also been in the 80%s and 90%s over the years as most students find a seminar style course a hard adjustment and it moved from senior level elective to a sophomore level one but with tweaking it will get back into the 90% range again I am sure over time.

4) The 100%:

Getting 100% as an approval rating from a class is kind of like getting a platinum medal in the Olympics or discovering that unicorns and dragons exist. The fact that this was a Monday morning 9.00 am class with a very mixed group of students made it even more satisfying that they were perfectly happy with the class. I did not do anything differently from any other class I teach, but I was quickly able to get to know the students well as there were only 8 of them who came regularly to class. The got along pretty well as people and there was also a good balance of older and younger students so all of this contributed to the class satisfaction I am sure.

None of us like the idea of student evaluations being a key aspect of whether we can keep our jobs or not, especially since research shows how flawed they can be (see: but they can offer important insights into your students minds which will help your teaching and courses to evolve over time if you read between the lines and do not take everything too personally.

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The Importance of Teacher Self-Care


By Patrice Palmer

I recently attended the TESOL Convention where I had a conversation with a teacher about the work that I’m doing related to teacher self-care. I wasn’t surprised when she responded the way she did because a few years ago, I would have responded in a similar fashion.

In 2015, I left classroom teaching after a 20-year career due to professional burn-out. Sadly, self-care was not part of my vocabulary. I’m now on a mission as a teacher self-care crusader and advocate to talk about its importance. 

Teaching is a profession that requires giving of one’s self to make a difference for students. The chronic use of empathy and depletion of emotional resources are strongly associated with emotional exhaustion and/or professional burnout (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001).

There is a growing interest in the area of student well-being but everyone must flourish, including students, teachers, and administrative staff. Research studies suggest that learning happens best when teachers and their students are well but the added benefit is that as teachers flourish, relationships with students, colleagues and the larger community become more positive (Cherkowski & Walker, 2018). Therefore, the learning and working environment is sustaining for all when teachers increase their well-being and flourish through self-care practices.

Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.

Eleanor Brownn

Self-care is not an indulgence but the key to sustaining the joys and rewards of one’s teaching practice. Self-care is defined as skills and strategies used to maintain personal, familial, emotional, and spiritual needs while attending to the needs and demands of others (Newell & MacNeil, 2016). Without self-care, teachers are at risk of emotional exhaustion and/or professional burn-out.

Joys, Rewards and Gifts of Teaching

Teachers derive high levels of job satisfaction because of the close connection to others and the opportunity to help and teach. According to a recent study, students most often describe their teachers as caring, which is an essential quality in our work as teachers however in order for us to maintain the caring attitude, it must be strongly guarded (Skovholt and D’Rozario, 2000).

The Hazards

Although there are many joys from our teaching practice, the profession is not without its hazards:


  • low motivation
  • high level of needs such as trauma
  • large classes
  • multi-levels


no set boundaries

  • no set boundaries
  • boredom or meaning burn-out
  • no or little support
  • perfectionism
  • unrealistic workloads


  • continuous or late enrollment of students (common in ESL classes)
  • negative colleagues
  • organizational bureaucracy
  • ineffective leadership
  • precarious work
  • multiple jobs at multiple schools
  • no health benefits or sick days for part-time/contract faculty

In addition to these hazards, teachers are among those professionals with the highest levels of job stress and burnout across many countries (Stoeber & Renner, 2008). Increased legislative and admin regulations, educational standards with little professional development opportunities, planning time, support and resources contribute to stress (Action & Glasgow, 2015, Spilt, Koomen & Thijs, 2011, Curry, 2012)

I encourage teachers to watch for warning signs. Christine Maslach has conducted extensive research in the area of burn-out and has designed a survey for educators which is available online. This kind of survey can help you identify warning signs.

Self-Care Strategies

Self-care is a way for teachers to build resilience, ensure their well-being and flourish but it requires a change in mindsets and healthy habits. When I returned to teaching in 2017, I realized that I needed to adopt self-care strategies if I wanted to prevent burn-out again. I strongly believe that self-care should be easy to do, be no cost/low cost and avoid adding time to an already busy career. To achieve this, I have adopted new mindsets and developed new healthy habits:

Mindset 1: I Matter!
Mindset 2: Guilt be gone!
Mindset 3: Express Gratitude
Mindset 4: Let go of perfection
Mindset 5: Notice the Good Stuff
Mindset 6: No is a complete sentence
Mindset 7: Teaching is a career, not a lifestyle

Mindset 1 was the most challenging because for my entire career, I put everyone else’s needs first.  I strongly believe that I matter and people who love me think I matter too. If you are not ready to embrace new mindsets, then it will be very difficult to practice self-care. Design your own set of mindsets that will work for you.

New Healthy Habits

The only proper way to eliminate bad habits is to replace them with good ones.

Jerome Hines.

Think about some of your current habits (good or bad).  What habits could be getting in the way of your self-care?   Here’s my list of new habits:

Habit 1: Walk! (cancelled my parking pass)

Habit 2: Set reasonable marking expectations

Habit 3: No email on weekends or evenings

Habit 4: Drink more water and less coffee

Habit 5: After work ritual

Habit 6: Spend time doing things I like other than teaching

Habit 7: Connect with people important to me

Habit 8: Have a non-work day

Institutional Initiatives

Teacher well-being should be a priority. The rise of precarious and insecure work, low wages, and a lack of health benefits have harmful health effects. Precarious workers are three times more likely to rate their health as less than good, so the promotion of well-being through access to health benefits is needed along with more stable employment (Access Alliance, n.d.). For new teachers, stress levels are extremely high so buddies or mentorships are a good way to provide support. Spurgeon and Thompson (2018) argue that well-being should be part of teacher education programs. I think that this is a very good idea. Teachers must also be provided with proper workspaces. A friend of mine who is in a college faculty indicated that personal desks were replaced by open concept shared computer stations (personal communication). During a webinar on this topic that I conducted in December 2018, teachers indicated that a good work environment, feeling valued, respected and appreciated for their work contributed to their well-being. Expressing appreciation for the work that teachers do costs nothing. Well-being committees are spreading in the UK and Australia with good results. 


Self-care is not an indulgence but needed in the work that we do. It is natural for teachers to put others first but we must find ways to maintain our vitality, health, and well-being in order to be our best for others. Teachers need to be empowered and encouraged to take care of themselves but this requires teachers and administrators to ensure that this happens. What about you?  What are your self-care practices?  Does your school/institution have a well-being program?  Please enter your comments below.


  • Cherkowski, S. & Walker, K. (2018). Teacher wellbeing. noticing, nurturing, sustaining and flourishing in schools. Burlington, ON: Word & Deed Publishing.
  • Newell, J. & MacNeil, G. (2010). Professional burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue: A review of theoretical terms, risk factors, and preventive methods for clinicians and researchers. Best Practices in Mental Health, 6(2).Lyccum Books.
  • Skovholt, T.M. & D’Rozario, V. (2000). Portraits of outstanding and inadequate teachers in Singapore: The impact of emotional intelligence. Teaching & Learning, 40(1), 9–17.
  • Skovholt, T. M. & Trotter-Mathison, M. (2011). The resilient practitioner: Burnout prevention and self-care strategies for counselors, therapists, teachers, and health professionals, second edition. (2nd Edition ed.) New York: Taylor and Francis.
  • Stoeber, J. & Rennert, D. (2008). Perfectionism in school teachers: Relations with stress appraisals, coping styles, and burnout. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 21, 37–53.
  • Split, J. L., Koomen, H. M. & Thijs, J. T. (2011). Teacher well-being: The importance of teacher-student relationships. Educational Psychology Review, 23(4), 457–477.
  • Spurgeon, J. & Thompson, L. (2018). Rooted in resilience: A framework for the integration of well-being in teacher education programs. University of Pennsylvania.

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Has the Jargon Got You Down?


By Mary Catharine Breadner

Like other industries, the EFL world has an abundance of jargon. From acronyms to theory, it is almost impossible to follow when you are a beginner. When I first started, I had to learn many of the acronyms and jargon during my training, before I was even working in the industry.

Let’s start with the basics, what is the difference between EFL, ELT, and ESL. These three seem to be used interchangeably, but they have very distinct meanings. EFL is English as a Foreign language. These days, most teachers who work in countries where English is not the primary language are teaching EFL. For example, in my case, working in Portugal, where most people’s first language is Portuguese, means that I am teaching English as a foreign language.  Teachers who  teach English in English speaking countries, to learners who didn’t learn English as their first language, are for the most part teaching ESL, or English as a second language. All of this, not to be confused with ELF, which stands for English as a lingua franca, which means when two people whose first language isn’t English use English to communicate. Finally, we have ELT, which is English language teaching, probably what most of you reading this already do or are thinking about doing as a future career. I often get asked, what is the difference? And the answer is, each of these acronyms which look similar has specific meanings and uses. The best advice I can give is to learn them and be able to know which one or ones apply to you.

The next most common question is about teacher training and teacher qualifications for those who are looking at job postings or trying to research how to enter the ELT industry for the first time. Let me start by saying, I am not endorsing one or the other, and you’ll need to do a lot of research on your own before really deciding. But here are a few of my thoughts.

Common questions include:

What is a TESOL? What about TEFL? Is it better to have a CELTA or a DELTA? Is it better to get a CELTA or Trinity? Like above, the world of teacher qualifications is also a minefield of acronyms. TESOL is the umbrella term for the field we are all working in: Teaching English to Speakers of other languages, and the rest are all certificates or programs that qualify teachers to teach English. CELTA, DELTA, and Trinity are all programs for teachers, and they are well known. CELTA and DELTAare both offered by Cambridge, the CELTA is a certificate and the DELTA is a diploma. The DELTA is considerably more intense and requires a substantial skill set to even enter the course. The CELTA and the Trinity(short for the TrinityCERT TESOL) are qualifications that are highly respected worldwide and recommended to anyone wanting to teach overseas as a career. The best advice I can give you is that a certification is important and before you commit to one or the other look at some job postings that you really want and see what they require. It is important to note that some qualifications include practical teaching experience, something that some employers require, so before signing up for an online-only qualification ensure that you don’t need any practical teaching experience to land your first job. It is also important to talk to people currently working in the field to see what they think is the most useful.

So, once you know what type of training you need or want, you’ll have to turn your head to all the acronyms that teachers use in the classroom and professionally. There are so many, and I am only going to discuss a few. The best list with definitions that I have come across is from the Teacher Training Organization at, check out their list of EFL ESL Teaching Terminology.

But let’s go over a few. The first thing that hit me, moving from what was the traditional teaching method I had been exposed to, where the teacher does most of the talking from the front of the room, and the students do most of the listening, was that in an ESL classroom, that is not the case, you will be encouraged to increase Student Talk Time (STT) and reduce the Teacher Talk Time (TTT) as much possible. The idea is that we want students to take risks, apply language and learn as much as possible in the classroom so they can build confidence to speak outside our classroom walls.

The next most important concepts are Productive Skills and Receptive Skills. Most likely your lessons will revolve around improving students productive and receptive skills, productive skills are language production: writing and speaking, and receptive skills: reading and listening. Most, if not all, standardized English tests are also based on these 4 components. You will need to plan to expose students to all four of these skills. They are the basis for most ESL programs.

Speaking of programs, you will also need to know the importance of the coursebooks, the workbooks, and the teacher’s book. Each plays a role in your classroom. The coursebook will guide the content expectations, what the students are projected to learn over the course of the semester or academic year. The workbooks are generally supplementary material that will support students, and you as the teacher, when the coursebooks don’t have enough practice exercises. And finally, the teacher’s book. This is an invaluable resource, it will give you ideas and help to provide some background information on the concepts and content in the coursebooks. And unofficially, there is your very best friend, the internet! There are literally thousands of resources, ideas, and other teachers to connect with online. So, don’t be shy, and connect with others, I am sure that at one time or another everyone struggles with similar challenges making our classes more engaging and impactful.

And finally, there is another wide range of tools, that unfortunately carry another host of acronyms. From the Interactive Whiteboards, commonly referred to as IWB, or the Learners Management System (LMS), usually an online platform designed to support learners or assign homework. There are also the types of classes you might teach, from English for Special Purposes (ESP), English for Academic Purposes (EAP), or the most common Business English.

This might seem a little overwhelming at first, but it gets easier. And it seems that the more you learn, the more jargon will appear.

Keep reading, keep reaching out to other teachers, and most importantly ‘just ask’.

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Cambridge University Press Launches New YouTube Channel for Learners of English

Language and Communication

Interview with Rachel Paling

Promoter of  Brain-Friendly Learning and Founder of Efficient Language Coaching

By Sharyn Collins

Rachel, first of all, many thanks for taking time out of your unbelievably busy schedule to do this interview. It’s only May, and I believe you have already visited a great many countries as a promoter of brain-friendly learning.

Yes, so far this year, I certainly have done a lot of flying. It has been amazing to visit Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Lisbon, London, France, Florida, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Buenos Aires.

As you know, I am kept very busy as editor of this magazine, but I like to keep my hand in by doing a bit of EFL teaching from time to time, and so I was delighted to be able to come to London in February this year and take your Neurolanguage Coaching Course myself. I have so much to say about it, but could we first start way back and discuss what brought you to the point where you decided to spend your professional life concentrating more on the brain and brain-friendly coaching? Where did your EFL journey start? Like so many teachers in EFL did you set out to be a teacher or did you fall into it?  

Well, in fact, my journey started when I fell in love with a Spaniard at the age of 15. Two years later in 1983, I moved to Spain. In those two years between the ages of 15 and 17 I taught myself to read and write Spanish and then when I moved there I transformed my written in spoken language. We married the year after and I began working in a school for adults teaching English. Obviously, I was new to teaching and this was really the start of the EFL journey for me.

 Did you stay in Spain for a long time?

I lived in Spain for 12 years – I was at the school for about 4 years and then went on to do other things, gaining different work experience and even running a business with my husband, but always in the background, I was teaching private clients as well. Then, in 1991, I took a long distance access to a university exam in Spanish with the UNED Madrid (very grateful to my brother-in-law for really pushing me to do that) and then began a law degree also with the UNED in Spanish. In 1995, I moved back to the UK and continued studying a BA in Law and Spanish at Sheffield University.

Did you go straight into law after university?

Actually, I didn’t. By then I was passionate about Human Rights and so I decided to do a Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation which is, in fact, a special programme with a consortium of European Universities. This took me to Venice, Italy and Bochum, Germany and throughout my studies, I was again teaching English in the background. In Germany, I began working for a school that focused on business English and I began working in corporates doing both business and legal English. The owner wanted me to stay after I finished the MA, but I was determined to continue and become a fully fledged lawyer. So I returned to the UK to do my PG Diploma in law and then in  2001, I started to train to be a lawyer in a law firm in Bristol.

Did you qualify as a lawyer?

I did. But by then my mind was starting to concentrate on the other things in my life: my love of languages, my love for teaching,  my love of travelling. My study and love of Human Rights law had set me on another path, and now I wanted to explore more about how humans treated and interacted with each other and how people reacted in certain situations. I started to think about what triggered reactions and why so many reactions were negative. I also felt that understanding was not enough and that I wanted to help people to understand these reactions and so to understand and be gentle with their own brains and the brains of others. Perhaps this was the beginning of my understanding of compassion.

So, unwilling to carry on as a lawyer what did you do?

Well, I contacted the school I had worked with in Germany and they welcomed me back. With open arms.  I helped them to develop business and legal English courses for corporates and in addition, I was accepted as visiting lecturer for legal English at the Faculty of Law in Verona, Italy.

From 2003 to 2009 my life became a regular commute between Germany and Italy, working with Corporates from Tuesday to Friday and then at the university in Verona on Monday.

You were now lecturing in Verona and teaching English in Germany, so where did the idea of coaching come from?

Already back in the year 2000, the owner of the school in Germany had said he wanted me to be a language coach as he had done an MA with an element of coaching in it and wanted to develop this. However, when I asked what he really meant bu coaching, he simply told me to tailor the course to the client. I instinctively felt there was more to caching and so I decided to train myself to become a life coach and took various coaching courses over 4 – 5 years, some of which  were brain-based coaching training and I became a certified ACC coach with the International Coaching Federation.

Clearly, you were starting on your path to discovering language coaching.

I certainly was and the years between 2003 and 2009 were an interesting period. This was the time when I was testing and trying to see what could be applied to language learning. I felt strongly that there was massive room for improvement in the methods of teaching as we knew them. I felt strongly that the brain had been very much neglected in the learning process and I wanted to introduce a new way of teaching, a way based more on thought and consideration for the needs of the client and certainly based more on the way the client’s brain functioned and reacted to certain methods of teaching. 

You talked about Italy and Germany and how you were “commuting” between them, is that where you picked up your Italian and German?

Yes, it was. I had done French, Latin and Greek at school, then Spanish and Catalan when I was living near Barcelona and then I developed the Italian and German too. I

How many languages do you speak now?

Quite a few.  I did play a little bit with some Arabic some years ago and would love to get back into that and recently I have been trying to get into some Russian. Honestly, I love learning languages and if I had more time would really be immersed in the learning.

So, there you were between Germany and Italy, enjoying a good life, but your life turned another corner, could you tell us about that?

Yes, my life turned a massive corner. In 2009, I had a car crash, which thankfully was not too serious, but it forced me to reassess my life, and I decided to stop doing the commute to Italy. I had so much work in Germany and so I decided to really concentrate on my clients. In those years, I was developing more and more the concept of language coaching, but still, I would say without a clear definition. The crunch came when I had a really “difficult” meeting with a purchasing manager in a very big international company, who really could not understand the difference between coaching and teaching and at that point in 2010 I was still not able to adequately express the difference. After that meeting, I realised that the concept needed to be crystallised and that is when I really started to sit and create.  

Was it the right decision?

Most definitely, because I was starting to develop some exciting ideas about teaching which would finally present me with a new perspective which encompasses the coaching aspects and the neuroscience aspects into language learning. I was starting to think more and more about my brain and the brains of my clients and how I could understand both more, as a way of producing more effective language training. Step by step I was starting to teach in a way which was more brain- friendly and more student centric, working more as a facilitator than as a teacher. In short, I was starting to develop my neurolanguage coaching and in 2012 I sat down for seven days and wrote the manual for the training and finally, it crystalised into something I could introduce to others as a new concept. 

I had witnessed how students could block their own learning by being stressed or distracted and also related this to my own language learning journeys. I had seen students get frustrated and lose confidence and motivation and I wanted to find a remedy for this and find a way of teaching which would be more effective and potentially achieve better results in a quicker timeframe. I wanted faster and more noticeable results with happy students. I wanted a much more holistic approach to transferring knowledge. 

Was it a easy develop the concept of neurolanguage coaching ?

In the beginning, it really was not easy. As a one-woman show, pioneering something totally new, sometimes there was a lot of resistance. Some people really did not like the connection of language together with coaching, in particular in some countries like Germany, coaching was seen as a confidential process often with similarities to psychotherapy and in fact “professional coaches” often went through and perhaps still go through a 5 year diploma,  to become a professional coach, this is totally different to the life coaching approach of the International Coach Federation. So, for many, it was and still is difficult to reconcile their own understanding and concept of coaching and then to bridge it into the area of language and my neurolanguage coaching. 

That must have been very frustrating when you saw the potential for your learners with this new approach, so what did you do to change things?  

I realized that this would need to be a step by step process, gradually bringing the new idea to the world and in 2012 I piloted the teacher training programme with my teachers and then started with the first courses online and face to face in Paris and in London. Slowly, through these last 7 years, Neurolanguage Coaching is now worldwide and there are nearly 400 Neurolanguage Coaches in countries all over the world.

So now could you please let us have some of those definitions to make it clear in our brains exactly what Neurolanguage coaching really is.

With pleasure. “Neurolanguage Coaching is the efficient and fast transfer of language knowledge from the Language Coach to the Language Coachee with sustainable effects facilitated by brain- based coaching and coaching principles.”

This was the rather academic definition that I created in 2012 and in essence, we are bringing the principles, competences, ethics and structure from professional coaching together with the principles and knowledge of neuroscience, cognitive psychotherapy and neuroeducation into the language learning process, really tailoring it to each and every learner wherever possible so that the learning potentially has a greater impact.

Our world is changing rapidly. We now have more stress, definitely more distractions, attention spans are shorter, we have been pushed into systems and in many ways lost touch with ourselves. The teaching models which we have are over 100 years old and were developed for a whole different mindset, mostly the teacher taught and the students listened. As educators we now have to adapt to a new set of circumstances in order to be most useful to our students and in particular we have to get our learners from the passive to the active learner again – a little back like going back to the Socratic way of interaction. 

So many people including myself couple neurolanguage learning with neuro lingusitic programing or NLP  and so you’ll now not be surprised that I need you to explain the differences.

Honestly, I have never done NLP, so I am not an expert. From what I understand, NLP relates to our different perspectives and emotions but does not connect back to the neuroscience (although I  hear that they are now starting to do this .I). NLP and normal life coaching have nothing to do with language learning. Neurolanguage coaching really brings in the awareness of the brain, so that the coach her/himself understands firstly themselves and their own coaching style and delivery, and then tries to assist the learner to find his/her own way of learning while constantly connecting the learner to the target language and the best way for them to learn this.

You mentioned that you have trained nearly 400 neurolanguage coaches in many different countries, so the word is being spread. Could I ask therefore, what is next for you? Are you going to continue giving your training online and face to face and have you any more plans for the future?

Well, I will definitely be offering the training in more countries face to face, delivering to groups so that we can reach more people and make the course more price friendly for the different regions of the world. I am also developing more licensed teacher trainers of my course who will also be delivering in their own languages, so we will be able to reach teachers delivering different language combinations as Neurolanguage coaching can be used to coach in any language.

Personally, I am continuing to develop myself, learning more about my own brain and also undergoing studies in this field which I will reveal once I have completed them.

That sounds a bit mysterious, I will await your revelation with great anticipation, Rachael!

Finally, I am honoured to have been invited to giving at talk at your Neurolanguage Conference to be held in Portugal in May this year.  I’ll be talking about my pet subject, charismatic leadership and how even in the 21st century, charm and charismatic behaviour can have an effect on our brains. Could you tell us a little about the conference and how it has come about?

Well, Sharyn, you know I am passionate about bringing learning into the 21st century and there are so many amazing eductors worldwide bringing in new ideas and new approaches and we are now  starting to embrace the sciences to enhance learning. I do think that we are very much in the era of neuroeducation which actually was first coined back in the 1990s. My conference is about bringing together like- minded people who are interested in finding out how we can enhance the learning process and make it more effective and efficient. I am thrilled that you will be there along with speakers talking about neuroscience, neurofeedback, coaching, language learning, practical intelligence, emotional intelligence, leadership, learner authenticity etc etc. There are participants coming from all over the world, not only neurolanguage coaches but also educators of languages, other disciplines and even HR/L&D. And this conference is different ……all participants stay together all the way through – everyone has the same experience, no break-outs, no clashing of sessions, and the networking and feeling of togetherness is phenomenal! For more information, the website gives the background and the speakers´details.

Rachel, I want to thank you for doing this interview.  I know neurolanguage training is a whole new ball game, as the Americans say, and it’s hard in a short interview to do it justice but what would you suggest for teachers who have I an interest in what you are doing?

With pleasure, they can connect with me on one of my live webinars, I love interacting with like-minded professionals who  are perhaps intuitively already coming into the coaching approach. I also suggest that they read my book, Neurolanguage Coaching, Brain friendly language learning and take a look at my websites. That is the best way to get started and if they would like a personal call with me or one of my licensed trainers, with great pleasure, happy to connect.

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Changing English Teaching in Japan

by Jonathan Packer      

In Japan, as a high school and college teacher and previously an assistant language teacher in high schools and junior high schools, I have been privileged to participate in a school system producing good results with an inclusivity that does not exclude students as may happen in England.

In Japan every child has a right to education and a school place, not just “access” to education as is on offer in England and Wales. This basic right then underlies much of the curriculum which is based on a clear set of values.

There are no league tables or public rankings based on Sats-like data in Japanese schools. Also Japan performs well according to international measures of attainment like Pisa.


Testing is a basic feature of any education system. Tests have a ‘backwash’, changing both what is taught and students’ perceptions of what they have to achieve.

So assessment is not just an add-on where teachers are then doing their own thing, but changes teachers’ ideas about what they are doing, the aim of their teaching as well.

So that is where to start changing English teaching in Japan: testing..

Of course exams can be more or less rigorous. There as many ways of assessment as roads to Rome but all have to have reliability (or repeatability) and also validity (or reality). That Rome has to be real.

In Japan, testing in schools is summative and usually not just criterion-based. That means they can be less rigorous on that scale, less number based, but oddly, English tests tend to be at the ‘rigorous’ end of that scale, about right and wrong answers instead of the very grey area that is language and what language may mean.

Also, softer skills like teamwork or participation in the class get credits in this system of progression that is externally mediated but school-based, leading to school graduation. To get into university you then need to take a test…

These softer skills that are part of it can be misunderstood in this system. Here assessment is not just about numbers but also values. These come from a Constitution that says education has to be beneficial to both the individual and society and “to contribute to world peace and to improving the welfare of humanity.”

What to change

In this article I will suggest that that this is not at all incompatible with good English teaching and an international outlook. This main ethos does not need changing but a certain expectation around correctness in grammar and translation seems subtly not to chime with that constitutional imperative, and the principle which is at the heart of Japanese education, which is fairness.

That approach, along with learning three thousand English words before you graduate, a centrally set requirement, seems fair, because checking meaning in Japanese provides the same baseline for all, it seems. The problem is language and meaning are not like that.

To paraphrase George Orwell, some parts of language are more translatable than others, and the untranslatable parts – deep understanding, operational effectiveness in some context or other, fluency – also count for something. They count for a lot.

Also school textbooks, and school tests, which are often grammar-and-translation based are often derived from a methodology which does not quite fit the bill internationally, as a level test using translation into Japanese cannot, for example. These are reliable measures of overall English language ability only in the sense of repeatability, but not validity.

An insufficient methodology has developed its own insufficient outgrowth of cultural practice and invalid teaching and testing practices.

 The challenge

So what to do? Teachers are trained in and often believe in these practices, as conforming with the basic educational ethos of this system. The suggestion that they are not really much use is not likely by to win their instant assent but what if there is a third term which combines that basic fairness with valid testing?

Also the part of the system in Japan which trusts the professionalism of teachers is also basic to it. It is both important in itself and a great opportunity because teachers themselves can control testing methodologies and outcomes much more than in the UK or USA. And anyway, I agree with and support the public service ethos of Japanese education which is fairness.

So what is to be done to effect change?

School assessment should certainly not be replaced by wholesale externally produced or privately administered out-sourced testing which itself has a wrong or mixed up emphasis like the TOEIC test – it leads to a number – that Japanese companies often use, or some universities have as an entrance requirement.

Step Eiken, which the government currently uses for surveys of level among school students, also has these elements of unrealistic over-complex grammar or over-simplified vocabulary meanings that are (rightly) approached by students like a memory test.  .

The challenge is validity. Remembering words out of context with a single translated meaning, or deciphering very long complex sentences no real speaker of English would ever want to use or understand, does not pass that particular test.

Further this invalidity in the system is something many students see themselves when they first meet it and become demotivated, in the first year of junior high school aged 12. And now that threshold is to be pushed back as fifth and sixth year elementary school students will have to study a similar formal English from next year.

 What to change

Japan should therefore use:

  1. Valid internationally recognized testing for level. (not like TOEIC or Eiken).
  2.  School tests that have this basic quality of fairness, that are tests of what students have done in class for progression from year to year with inclusivity as is suitable for the Japanese school system.

All that Japan-produced materials and textbooks tend to lack in fact.

And such testing – a little like the negotiation of Japanese daily life – needs elements of vagueness and indeterminacy to it – not to be just hard-edged with value-free answers like yes or no, or a gap-fill with one word only to fill in, or which are too ‘unitary’ and simplistic.

And if that sounds a little vague, this is just what the Cambridge IELTS test or Trinity College Speaking exams are like, for example, assessing not a ‘right’ answer but looking at deeper levels of skills that are performed like inference, or reading between the lines, or coming up with coherent as well as cohesive writing and speaking.

A mapped progression from different baselines with diagnostic testing would not work here, for reasons which the above makes clear, and not least because it would be very difficult administratively but also because that is out of step with a certain ‘vagueness’ that allows inclusivity and progression for all.

So, I think the same principles and values need to underlie English testing in schools as the rest of school life. That means fairness, but also a certain vagueness or indeterminacy that is a noticeable if difficult-to-describe feature of the Japanese public space. One which is not at all in contradiction with good attainment, as the evidence shows.


That compatibility with the existing teacher-led system for testing is what otherwise excellent text-books produced outside Japan tend not to have, meaning there is a big gap in terms of valid, appropriate English testing materials available in Japanese schools.

Also, for busy teachers, even if theoretically they can do this themselves, it is hard if not impossible for them to produce and reinvent such tests independently; certainly not new one-off syllabuses or curriculums. What is needed is something that works systematically, that complements and does not contradict the values of Japanese public education

So to change English teaching in Japan what is needed first is to change testing. I will write about how this might be done and what is happening now in this rapidly changing world of English teaching and learning in Japan in a forthcoming article and welcome any thoughts and contributions and suggestions from readers who are teachers in Japan or anywhere!



Pisa and Japan:

  • The ethos of inclusivity and attainment described in this article is underpinned in law and the Japanese Constitution.

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