Bye bye Berlingo.

After being overwhelmed by the kind comments and tweets I received on and about my last post, I have decided that I love writing too much to stop blogging just because I no longer teach English in Berlin.

Thank you to all the people who said or wrote something to help me come to this decision because I’m excited about the next chapter now.

And that’s a nice book pun to lead me to introduce my new blog, which will remain a work in progress for some time:

I toyed with lots of different ideas for names, the second favourite of which was The Cereal Linguist, but none of the others quite captured the essence of why I went to Berlin and what I do now. I got lucky in the discovery of a wonderful industry which I love working in, so if some of the lovely people I met from blogging within the English Language Teaching world are interested in knowing some more about what happens in a publishing company, then perhaps I can enlighten them in this new space.

And for people who don’t care about publishing, perhaps some of my other pontificating will be of interest. We’ll see! As one of the commenters on my last proper Berlingo post said ‘only write if you feel you have something to say’ – and I often have that feeling, so here goes Chapter 2!

Feel free to join me, or feel free to delete me from your blog roll: I shan’t be offended either way, but this will (almost certainly!) be the last post I write on this blog.

So goodbye, Berlingo18, it was great fun but now it’s time for a new adventure 🙂

Rachel, January 2016

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To Berlingo or not to Berlingo?

I feel I owe this blog a short explanation. I know I wrote a lot about my big life switch in my previous post, but still, I feel the need to scribble something else.

Since 2015 turned into 2016, I have spent 10 days in Berlin and then, this evening (Wednesday 20th January 2016),  I made it official on Twitter and LinkedIn that I no longer live in Berlin.

On the face of it, that was a very simple editing task on two insignificant social media platforms. However, if you dig a little deeper, there is more to it than that.

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30 questions to ask yourself about 2015

Earlier today, I found Sandy Millin’s blog post posing a list of 30 questions to herself to sum up her 2015, and I thought the idea was so fitting to what has been a crazy year for me, that I thought I would join in! So thank you to Sandy, and to Anna Loseva who had the original idea last year! So, here goes:



    Mine and Alex’s birthday cakes – my mum is a superhero

This is always a tricky question, but I think for me it would be the joint birthday party I had with my boyfriend Alex back in July. My birthday was Saturday 18th July, and the party started in the evening and continued into Alex’s birthday on the Sunday, which was a perfect coincidence for the year I was living in a different country. I flew back for it; friends and family came from far and wide and it was just fantastic to have so many of our favourite people in one place. (And my mum made two INCREDIBLE cakes.)


The amazing people I have met in the online English language teaching community: I have been inspired, helped, consoled and advised all in this wonderful Twitter-verse I discovered around this time last year when I decided I was going to quit my publishing job and move to Berlin to do a CELTA.


I quit my job as a Digital Product Manager at Routledge, moved to Berlin, completed the CELTA, became an English teacher and then got a new job as a Digital Project Manager at Oxford University Press. A crazy year!


My boyfriend told me it reminds him of me, so now I love it too:


I am writing my blog post over Sandy’s original version so I can copy the questions, and I can leave her answer completely intact because it applies to me perfectly, too:

As always, my friends and my family, but especially some of the new babies who have entered the world this year. There have been a lot of them!

And 2 important additions of my own: my boyfriend Alex, who has been so supportive of me following my dream of living in Berlin, and my friend Sabrina, who has provided me with countless delicious meals and generally been my rock in Berlin.


Leave my job, family and friends behind and move to Berlin with no job prospects and just an expensive (but fantastic!) CELTA course to complete.



    Me at the top of the Reichstag in front of the glass dome designed by Norman Foster

This is a difficult question to a very literal person…. Can I say red/gold/black for the German flag? I’ve certainly seen it a lot of times with all the visitors I took up the government building, the Reichstag.


The 11-day holiday to visit my best friend from Durham who is living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The whole thing was a wonderful, stress-free and unforgettable experience.


‘Lecker’, which is the German word for ‘delicious.’ I have eaten a lot of delicious things this year… Probably too many, but you only live once!


Oh, also a tricky question! I swapped my flight times to fly home early to surprise my mum for her birthday in July (hers is the day before mine and therefore formed part of a triple birthday weekend extravaganza!) so I suppose that was a little extravagant, but my dad very kindly helped me out with the cost : )


Trying to learn how to code. I’d love to be able to do it, but the small introductory course I did with other English teachers was such an intense mixture of eye-opening and frustrating that I don’t think me and HTML and CSS will ever be firm friends.


I was brave enough to quit my job at Routledge and follow my dream of living in Berlin. I discovered I’m not a total disaster as a teacher, which was a nice surprise, and I met some truly fantastic people both in school and outside of it.


Whether or not it was a good idea to leave a good publishing job with lovely colleagues to try my hand at being a teacher  – it turns out that it was a great idea, as that teaching experience has enabled me to land my dream job working on adult ELT materials as a Digital Project Manager at Oxford University Press.


On the rare occasions when I was home or had him to visit, my endlessly patient and kind boyfriend Alex. When he was at home and I was in England, then the bear he got me from Sweden (named Malcolm) took his place. (Sorry, I’m a soppy lump sometimes!)


Two wonderful weddings this year: an old school friend married her Canadian sweetheart and a very good friend from my badminton club at home married the sixth member of our ‘Games night’ sixsome. Both weddings were on consecutive weekends in August, which I turned into a week’s ‘holiday’ from being a teacher and just spent frolicking around London and the Home Counties with my friends and family in the sunshine.


It started considerably higher when I still worked at Routledge, and then I became a freelance English teacher and I had to return to my student ways of counting the pennies. One of a few reasons why I won’t miss being a teacher in 2016…


I had a few people doubting my decision to leave Alex and everything in England, but I’m still so, so glad I did it. (And Alex and I are still very much together, in case anyone is wondering!)


This blog, properly. It’s helped me rediscover my love of writing, which I now also do on paper a lot more. I got a message about statistics today and found out my blog has been visited 7,500 times this year, which I can’t quite believe.


I loved Sandy’s idea of being able to fly around the world and hug everyone when they need it! I can’t think of anything else creative except being invisible or able to apparate like Harry Potter, to cut the need to drive or get the train!


Perhaps maybe *eep* being so grown-up as to buy a house with Alex in 2016, and have a permanent address.
Oh, and not being a total disaster at my new job…


Having followed my dream to get enough teaching experience under my belt to land my dream job in English language teaching publishing. I also somehow got a Pass A for my CELTA, which I did not expect in a million years.


Following my dreams, eating all the cake and being the ultimate Berlin tour guide 🙂


‘Are you sure we can’t bring anything tonight?’ to the wonderful friend hosting 25+ of us for a Disney-themed New Year’s Eve party, and insisting we don’t need to bring anything!


I always see quotes I absolutely love, then forget them, but one I have cemented in my mind is the following (I also love the person who said it):

Roald Dahl

The one that is probably more suitable for the year is this, though >>>




I did, actually, which is not something I’ve fully processed yet. I moved to Berlin with the specific aim of getting enough experience to land a job in ELT publishing, and through some massive stroke of luck, I have managed exactly that…


So many wonderful friends, both online and in person. I’ve met some of the lovely online teaching crew, but would love to meet some more in 2016! Thank you everyone for all your help and support 🙂


Perhaps a few people contemplating doing a CELTA – I know of at least one girl who decided to do hers at the Berlin School of English because of my blog, and that made me so happy. I would also like to think I taught some of my students something useful about the English language!



    Being silly with statues in Rostock, on the north coast of my favourite country 🙂

This year I’ve been lucky enough to visit my friend in Kuala Lumpur, as well as travelling to my favourite city Berlin to live there. Since being in Berlin, I have visited Amsterdam with Alex, and also gone on lots of little trips to previously undiscovered German cities, like Greifswald, Rostock, Wittenberg and Warnemünde – all of which I recommend! Now I only have 2 federal states left to visit in Germany!


Anything involving sorting out my room in my parents’ house, and sorting out my scattered finances! 2016 will be the year of properly being an adult in that sense.


I’d like to help make some great English courses for adults, like those I’ve been teaching in Berlin this year, as part of my new job. I’d also love to manage to buy a house, which is currently a very scary prospect right now!

Happy New Year everyone! Thanks for inspiring me Sandy and Anna 🙂 Here’s to a great 2016!


Some Berlin bears outside the Olympic Stadium in Berlin – if you ever visit, let me know: I have the biggest list of recommendations for you 🙂

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TED Talks with ‘The English Salon’: an evening for advanced learners of English

A few weeks ago (OK, in mid-November…I’m posting this far too late!), a friend from the English Teachers’ Association of Berlin and Brandenburg (ELTABB) started a new workshop for advanced learners of English. She called it ‘The English Salon,’ and it was for more confident English speakers to come along in an informal setting, enjoy a glass of wine and watch and discuss a TED Talk. She had found a brilliant location: a little wine shop in the centre of Berlin, where she could set up a screen and speakers and where there was, of course, a lot of wine! I missed the first one for teaching reasons, but I offered to attend the second to provide a British English voice to complement Sherri’s Canadian/American English.

I arrived at about 7.30 and made polite chitchat with the two other students who were there. Sherri had kindly provided some nibbles, and the owner of the wine shop provided us with a rather delightful glass of wine. A few other students were due a little later, so we cracked on!

Sherri first gave an overview of TED Talks, as not all students were familiar with them. There was even a professionally prepared handout, which I thought was a nice idea for students to take away with them, as it explained how they can get the most out of TED Talks.

I personally love teaching lessons with TED Talks, and always find that my students really engage with them. This is part of the reason I wanted to come along to Sherri’s new event – I thought it was a fantastic idea, and I was also curious to see how she teaches using these videos. I normally pre-teach some vocabulary in various different ways when I use them in class, and then do some exercises to further engage students in the topic before watching, but of course the aim of this evening session was for it to be informal and relaxed, so Sherri didn’t take this approach. Instead, we decided which of the 2 TED Talks she’d brought we wanted to watch, and then we started watching!

We watched the well-known talk about whether schools kill creativity by the ‘creativity expert’ Ken Robinson. Of course, education is something almost everyone has experienced and therefore has an opinion about. I hadn’t actually seen this talk before, but I had quickly printed off the script just beforehand and read it on the train to be a little prepared. Ken Robinson is British, and mumbles and makes a lot of very dry, British jokes throughout and I thought Sherri did a great job of stopping the video at these points and making sure the students had understood why everyone in the TED audience was laughing. In fact, the whole act of stopping the video every now and then is something I don’t normally do – I normally play the whole thing once, and that’s normally enough to act as a springboard for students to discuss further afterwards. (And if not, then I always have discussion questions at the ready on bits of paper!)

However, I really liked Sherri’s approach because it broke the talk down nicely, and made sure the atmosphere stayed relaxed, as everyone had time for a little nibble and a sip of their wine in the talking breaks between concentrating on the talk. She actually even skipped some bits, which I thought was a good idea because when I read the transcript I had been surprised at just how many random tangents the speaker went off on!

The meat of the talk provided more than enough fodder for just under 90 minutes of TEDconversation and everyone had contributed over the course of the evening. Between the attendants, we covered the German, North American, British and Greek school systems, so it was really interesting to compare them all – particularly for someone so interested in education like me. We often went off on tangents too, once resulting in a long conversation about Physical Education classes at school! But that’s the real beauty of TED Talks – everyone has something to say!

Overall, I think ‘The English Salon’ is a fantastic idea and one which I hope does continue into the New Year. I hope Sherri doesn’t mind me offering some feedback (in fact, I’ve asked her such, and she said it was fine 🙂 )

  • encourage the students to take notes – or at least let them know it’s OK to do so if they wish… Some learners (myself included!) like to write things like new vocabulary down and I think the wine and the nice location may have made them think such ‘school’ behaviour wasn’t acceptable
  • have more pointed questions to ask, rather than always relying on reactions to the video – sometimes students do need a little bit of coaxing! (I’m sure Sherri did have these prepared but I just find awkward silences unbearable, so am always keen to fill them as a teacher!)

PS. On a slightly related, and very proud note: my best friend from university recently gave a TEDx Talk on gender stereotypes in science, technology and engineering subjects (STEM) and I thought I’d share it here to further champion her great cause! It’s called ‘Hard Hats and Lab Coats’ and I think it’s great – but then again, I would 😉

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‘Winter activities for adults’ – an #ELTchat Summary from Wednesday 9th December

On Tuesday 8th December, I put out a plea for help on Twitter for Christmas activities for adults, as the large majority of the material I found online was aimed at children. I was also pushed for time to create something for my last few classes myself due to too many visitors coming to Berlin for the Christmas markets!

Some very kind people linked some ideas to me (major thanks to @SueAnnan), and then @Marisa_C suggested that I propose the topic for #ELTchat the following day, which I did… And it managed to win the vote (despite some scroogey resistance from some!) Of course, the time of year probably helped, as many people are coming to the end of terms and courses, but because I proposed the topic and was so excited it won, I was *ahem* volunteered to write the summary.

Christmas tree

If you’ve never heard of ELTchat before, it’s an hour-long conversation which takes place on Twitter (almost) every Wednesday, alternating between 12pm and 9pm GMT. At the end of the chat, one lucky person uses the transcript lovingly collated by @SueAnnan and summarises the discussion. All of the summaries are then added to the amazing summaries index, which, as I have just seen, dates back to October 2010.

This is my first ever summary, and thankfully the nature of the chat calls for a collation of ideas rather than a summarising of opinions and arguments on complex methodological concepts, so hopefully I can’t go too far wrong…! I am, however, famously not very good at being concise, so I’ve tried to break the main bulk of the chat down into bullet-pointed sections for everybody’s ease of reference.


Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that the #ELTchat community teaches around the world, sometimes in countries where Christmas isn’t celebrated. Therefore, these are ‘winter activities for adults’, but Christmas will of course be mentioned!

Christmas/Festive Season Activities: general

  • @MarjorieRosenberg said that she does a winter holiday lesson featuring Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza where she uses overlapping circles for students to compare the traditions. She also brings in a menorah, dreidl and Christmas cracker for students.
  • @racheldaw18 (so weird to quote yourself but moving on….) suggested Christmas crosswords, of which there are hundreds online, or make your own at my favourite website
  • @sandymillin shared this mega post from her blog of a mixture of activities, some of which will feature in her BELTA Belgium webinar this Sunday 
  • @sandymillin also pointed out that there are almost 700 photos in the Festivals and Celebrations collection on the ELT Pics website
  • @sandymillin also shared this short pictorial vocab list on Christmas from her Quizlet collection
  • @sandymillin later recounted how much her students enjoyed the edible realia of eating Christmas pudding one New Year 🙂
  • @racheldaw also shared the link to some good resources she’d received in an email from Oxford University Press, via the lovely @SueAnnan (later note: the jigsaw reading went down well with a B1 group I have)
  • @marisa_C introduced everyone to ‘picture karaoke’ where you put some pictures in a Powerpoint or similar and then flick them every so often so that students have to keep up with the story. You can also show them a picture and caption that has to somehow be incorporated in their story, because the caption then allows for greater control.
  • @sandymillin then suggested something similar, via @haniazieba, where students have a picture and a caption, and they tell the story and the captions can lead them to different interpretations of the story
  • @ESOLLiz offered a discussion on terrible cracker jokes as one idea and @Marisa_C extended this by suggesting that students could then write their own. @shaunwilden then shared this link with the 50 best/worst jokes of all time
  • @KateLloyd03 shared her experience of showing students pictures of different traditions and asking them to guess the tradition – pantomime was apparently a funny one!
  • @Marisa_C proposed cutting up #ELTpics diagonally and letting students mingle to find their other half and then discuss what it could be. @shaunwilden added that you could also do this with old Christmas cards.Christmas presents
  • @Marisa_C pointed out that there are normally lots of festive articles to share authentic materials with your students – articles about commercial excess, giving to homeless people, charity gifts etc.
  • @Marisa_C uses the holiday season as an opportunity to teach her students how to send thank you letters, and then to send them to each other in the class to help class cohesion. @MarjorieRosenberg later added her own twist: writing thank you letters for bad or strange gifts, and then other students must guess the gift
  • On a similar note, @ncguerreiro suggested having an advent calendar, with a small language task per day, like “say something positive about your year”
  • @sandymillin also suggested talking about ‘hot holiday toys’ 
  • @fionaljp shared her Christmas list from
  • in the latest edition of the TEFL Commute podcast there is an activity at the end for class based on guessing what’s in the stocking
  • @sandymillin passed on @teknologic’s Christmas quiz which can be personalised
  • @sandymillin also passed on @joannacre’s Christmas advent feature from her blog
  • @sandymillin shared this lesson plan on some passages from A Christmas Carol
  • @SueAnnan had the very creative idea of getting students to follow/make instructions to produce decorations for the classroom, such as origami or paperchains (see this link from @fionljp). This might not be popular with all adults, but if you happen to have a class of parents, they might like activities they could later do with their children. Following on from this, @sandymillin added that you could do something about recycling, then link to what crafts you could make. She shared her experience of having toilet roll snowmen at her Young Learners’ social 🙂
  • Perhaps inspired by my (@racheldaw18)’s recent gallivanting across Berlin’s Christmas markets, @sandymillin made the great suggestion of a planning activity, like designing the layout of a Christmas market, and @Marisa_C then suggested organising an event to raise money for refugees.
  • @naomishema said she plays miming opening a gift box with something inside, and students have to guess what gift is. This could then be adapted that for gifts under a tree. @sandymillin added to this with some unwrapping YouTube videos
  • Thanks to @Marisa_C for passing on the link from Sue Lyon Jones @esolcourses , where there are lots of Christmas activities
  • @sandymillin shared this link to ‘Twelve Days of Christmas letters’. This is a series of letters from a woman to the man who keeps giving her presents, which start with a nice thank you letter and rapidly progress to letters from the lawyer!
  • @MarjorieRosenberg suggested adapting sentences like ‘you know you’re an engineer if…’ to be related to Christmas. For example ‘You know you’re an engineer if you find the broken light in the chain’ etc.
  • @sandymillin linked to some word clouds about Christmas and suggested playing ‘Guess the Christmas movie’ from its word cloud
  • The unstoppable @sandymillin proposed a discussion about Christmas films, for example ‘What makes a good Christmas film?’ ‘Have you seen any on the list?’. She also linked to some festive short films:
  • @fionaljp shared this link, which includes a range of festivities during December, and suggested perhaps using it for a webquest
  • rather profoundly, @ESOLLiz simply stated that, in order to keep it meaningful, she tends to rely on lots of sharing traditions from each others’ countries / families etc., which is of course one of the best ways to talk about winter holidays with mixed nationality groups!
  • after the chat @Marisa_C shared this link about Christmas around the world, which was just too good to not include

Father ChristmasChristmas/Festive Season Activities: video-based

  • @shaunwilden got over his Grinchy start 🙂 and shared this link to a lesson on one of the John Lewis adverts
  • @ncguerreiro posted a link to the Believe Mog video, which can provide a great opportunity to talk about similar adverts in students’ own countries and unforgettable Christmases
  • @sandymillin shared this idea from the AllatC blog based on a Curry’s advert
  • @Marisa_C also reminded us that you can always watch (and discuss) a classic Christmas movie, or part of one. @Sandymillin suggested all of my favourites: Muppet Christmas Carol, Love Actually, The Holiday and shared a lesson plan from @leoselivan on Love Actually
  • @sandymillin shared the Creature Comfort videos

Christmas/Festive Season Activities: music-based

  • the classic Christmas gap-fill: thanks to @Marisa_C, here is a huge list for some ideas
  • @SueAnnan suggested an interesting twist on the above: comparing songs through the ages
  • @sandymillin proposed playing students a few Christmas carols and then getting them to choose one they’d like to learn and sing
  • Or you could take the translation approach, as suggested by @sandymillin: for example, Silent Night is in so many languages – students could have a go at translating it into English, and then compare it to an English version. Or vice versa, which would be a little less challenging.
  • @Marisa_C introduced everyone to Jacqui Lawson’s e-cards, which together produce a playful advent calendar
  • @MarjorieRosenberg sings ‘Twelve days of Christmas’ with her students, with different groups each singing one part each

 Christmas/Festive Season Activities: food-based

  • @naomishema likes to print out lots of food photos and discuss them with her students
  • @sandymillin took a photo diary of her Christmas a few years ago, and now uses those photos with her students (Google Images is of course a good substitute!)
  • @sandymillin also suggested challenging students to cook from an English recipe – then the teacher definitely benefits, too!Mince pies
  • @racheldaw18 (yes, me again, sorry) shared a blog post from a lesson she created on the M&S Christmas food advert, which can lead to a great exchange of food vocabulary

Christmas/Festive Season Activities: alternative ideas

If you find yourself with a group of students who are Scrooge reincarnate, then here are some other ideas that appeared over the course of the chat.

  • @Marisa_C pointed out that you can have some very serious discussions about the meaning of Christmas with ‘a dour group of students who enjoy slagging off Christmas’
  • @sandymillin also took inspiration from a Tesco advert (British supermarket) on having a gluten-free Christmas to encourage students to explore problems that Christmas can cause
  • @naomishema also mentioned that you could discuss how people who may have had a bad Christmas experience can learn to enjoy it again

And we didn’t just talk about Christmas…

New Year’s Activities

  • New Year’s Resolutions: get students to discuss theirs (I liked this idea so much I knocked up New Year’s Resolutions very quickly for a low-level company class I have)
    @marisa_C linked to a post of hers which features Bridget Jones
  • New Year’s cards: lots of the ideas for cutting up pictures and cards and letting students mingle as suggested above, can of course also be used for lessons on New Year


A few extra links

@sandymillin shared a link from @cerirhiannon about Vlogmas and the 12 Edtech tools of Christmas for the technologically-inclined among us

Christmas Crackers@sandymillin’s webinar on activities for Christmas and New Year with BELT Belgium (I’ll post the recorded link once it’s over, if that’s allowed!

The transcript of this whole #ELTchat, thanks to @SueAnnan:

Phew, I made it! If you spot any broken links, typos or misquotes, please let me know! Otherwise, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 🙂


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A MaWSIG MeetUp: ‘What’s hot and what’s not in ELT publishing?’

A few months ago, Dale Coulter and I had a strange psychic moment whereby we both replied to a tweet from MaWSIG saying more or less the same thing. MaWSIG is the Special Interest Group for Materials Writing from IATEFL, the international organisation for teachers of English as a foreign language. One of the lovely ladies behind the MaWSIG Twitter account had written something about the recent MeetUp they’d organised with MELTA, the Munich version of Berlin’s ELTABB (English Language Teacher’s Association of Berlin and Brandenburg), and Dale and I simultaneously – although separately! – decided it would be great to do something similar in Berlin, so replied to MaWSIG to that exact effect.

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Diary of a newbie English teacher part six: to language school or not to language school?

Written on Thursday, 19th November 

For some reason, I’ve now found some new energy and enthusiasm for blogging and, en route to a new company class this afternoon, I had an idea for a new post which might be helpful for other people thinking about moving to Berlin to teach English.

I actually arrived 45 minutes too early for this company class (how embarrassing) so I had time to sit in their very hipster foyer, complete with very hipster fishtank and assorted Nespresso-like machines and do some scribbling. I had to pretend I belonged, at least!

So, my day today looks like this:

8am – 9.30am: class with a lovely A2-ish Russian lady at a software company in Kreuzberg, who started lessons earlier this year and is learning at the speed of light. This is a class I was given by the Berlin School of English.

9.30 – 11am: class with three wonderful B2-ish (solid intermediate) students at the same software company, which is located in the roof apartment of a seriously gorgeous building (complete with standing desks and barbecues on the roof which they use in summer!) This class is of course also from the Berlin School of English.

12.30 – 14.00 (not 12.00 – 13.30 as I had clearly decided!): brand new class for a new ‘language services’ organisation in a new company in an equally cool building overlooking the river.

15.15 – 16.45: a fairly new B1-ish (intermediate) class of steel workers who are based on an industrial estate out on the edges of Berlin (ie. the end of the U7 underground line, and then a 10-minute bus journey!)

I live much more centrally in the city now than I used to, but I have just calculated that this day contains approximately 4 hours of travelling in total! If I still lived in Weißensee in the northeast, this would certainly be longer. The new addition of the lunchtime class, and the cooperation with a second ‘language school’ is new for me this week, so I’ve never actually had such a crazy day before in terms of company hopping. Usually, I have some respite in the afternoon back at the Berlin School of English to teach the third lesson of the intensive courses from 13.15 – 14.45. However, even that was quite stressful as I’d then have to hot-foot it down to Rudow. As it happened, then, this new class fits a bit better in the middle of the day, but does see me out of the house and away from school all day.

This got me thinking: what are the advantages and disadvantages between working in a more traditional language school environment versus a more typical freelance lifestyle of hopping from company to company?

So, in true WordPress style, I give you a list of exactly that, according to my own experiences and opinions (as ever!)

Advantages of a language school

  • For me, the most important benefit here is the community: I technically have around 40 other colleagues – some of whom I see much more often; some of whom only rarely appear in the staff room. We all share ideas, help each other out in a teaching crisis, and rant to each other about problem students in the staff room.
  • In this same vein, you *should* also have management staff in a language school, typically a Director of Studies and/or an Assistant Director of Studies, whose primary purpose is to look after the well-being of their teaching staff. Our DoS was my CELTA tutor, and is a wonderfully patient man, so I feel very lucky indeed that we’re able to ask for help when we need it. As our school tends to recruit a lot from the CELTA course it runs (makes sense), it’s common that lots of us are fairly new to ELT as a profession, and they couldn’t be more helpful.
  • This brings me nicely to another point: induction. At the Berlin School of English, the senior staff run through a whole induction system with you, explain how the intensive courses work; how the staff room works and what to do with all the blue bits of paper! You don’t feel like you’re thrown in at the deep end, and you’re also very well supported in terms of your first few lessons with each new class.
  • You also have somewhere to leave your things. I have already developed a reputation for being a bit of an organisational freak, so have been lucky enough to be given not just one, but two whole pigeon holes in our wall of filing chaos. I file and keep my best lessons, my class files and assorted other teaching things, and I even have space for some PG Tips and a little squeezy bottle of Robinsons Squash : ) Along the same lines, there is also endless free coffee, tea, milk and use of a fridge and microwave, so you really can live at school quite happily (as I often did at the beginning of my time here.)
  • Cancellation policy: at our school, you get paid for the class if your student(s) cancel within less than 24 hours of the class, which is sometimes a real gem if you’ve prepared a great lesson and then get told they’re ill/still in a meeting/stuck on the U-Bahn etc etc. Then you have a ready-made lesson for next week and can save yourself the prep time!
  • Since I teach in such a large language school, the hours are pretty regular: after six months of teaching, I now have six of my own company classes and two individual classes, which guarantees me at least 9 classes worth of work each week – just about enough to pay the bills.

Disadvantages of a language school

  • The most famous disadvantage is unfortunately the pay. In comparison to what I know colleagues teaching directly in companies are paid, we are not paid fantastically. But, as per my last point above, the hours are more regular so it’s swings and roundabouts really! I expect few people come to Berlin to teach English to get rich anyway…!
  • If you’re into materials-free, dogme ELT, then a language school is not necessarily the place for you. For our intensive courses, we have to follow a plan in order to comply with various regulations from the job office, from where we get a lot of students. However, saying that, I can teach exactly what I like in my company classes, so I find it’s a nice mixture. (Sometimes it’s great to be told you have to teach the Present Perfect 3 because then you’re not spoilt for choice and consequently overwhelmed!)
  • There can be a lot of paperwork: files to fill out to write down what you’ve done, vocabulary topics to add, availability sheets… If you don’t like admin, then it might be a little overwhelming at first, but you do get into a routine. (Thanks to the lovely Gosia who write the fantastic Lesson Plans Digger blog for this addition!)

I actually can’t think of any other language school disadvantages at the moment… So onto the other side of the coin!

Advantages of being a *true* freelance English teacher, teaching directly in companies with no middle man

  • Without wanting to sound like I’m obsessed with money (because I’m really not), this approach is generally much better paid. I can offer vague numbers from friends I know: €60 per 90 minutes to teach in a company with no middle-man like a language school. I won’t give away exactly what the BSE pays, as I don’t think that’s fair, but it’s a damn sight less than that!
  • You are free to teach exactly what you want: no rules, nobody watching you, and no official office to answer to (the most of the time, anyway).

On the flip side, there are disadvantages to this:

  • It could be lonely, spending your week hopping around the city from company to company on your own. You have no colleagues to laugh and joke around with, nor to discuss your classes with.
  • You don’t have anywhere to leave your things, make yourself a tea or leave your lunch. Today I feel a lot like a gypsy as I have all my snacks and lunch with me, and it’s a lot to lug around!
  • You have to be quite strict in terms of cancellations in order to get your money. This can require some serious bravery if you’re not great at negotiating.
  • You have to manage, and even produce all your own paperwork. For things like invoices and taxes this can be pretty straightforward after a while, but it’s also a good idea to document everything you do with each class so you don’t accidentally repeat things; and that kind of paperwork can easily back up if you don’t keep on top of it.

Of course, there are numerous variations on these two themes: I have chosen to contrast the two very opposing models of teaching. In Berlin particularly, there are lots of language organisations which send you directly into companies (David McFetridge works for one of the more famous and best established, for example, and will most likely have some thoughts on this topic to bulk out my list!) where a staff room and lots of help is offered. Equally, there are undoubtedly language schools which have no real community to speak of, where people show up to teach their classes and don’t hang around to prepare and chat like we do. At the end of the day, you need to decide what’s right for you! I like the mixture I have at the moment, but we’ll see what the future brings!

If you are teaching English in Berlin, or anywhere else for that matter, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this topic. In my current state of sleep deprivation, it’s highly likely I’ve forgotten something important…

Later addition: 

I have received lots of comments on Twitter about this post, and with their posters’ permission, I include them anonymised here for some further thoughts on this issue. Do you agree?

‘I think everyone should work for a language school at least once. It is a great way to learn!’

‘…[I have a] very similar lifestyle, travelling, but I don’t get bored!’



Posted in Berlin, Berlin School of English, Business English, ELT, newbie, NQT, reflection, teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

My first ever creative teaching idea: talking about food

This will, for once, be a short post, but I just wanted to share what could well be my first ever truly creative and own idea for teaching something (!)

It’s an idea for teaching adjectives of food, and I came up with it by accident in about 15 minutes when I was asked to cover a B2C (upper B2) class at short notice for a poorly colleague. I teach on intensive courses, and we follow a plan to give the students who stay for 4, 8, or even 12 weeks some semblance of structure. Luckily for me and my last-minute preparation (which I hate!), the lesson today was a vocabulary topic, which is normally a vocabulary section from one of the main coursebooks. Students are given a list of 6 – 10 at the start of each two-week course (higher levels get more choice) and they vote to choose which 4 will feature in lessons during those two weeks. Usually, these lessons are perceived to be fairly easy to teach, as it’s a question of copying a pre-made sheet from one of our many school binders.

Again, luckily for me, the topic I was due to teach was ‘talking about food and drink,’ and not ‘the vocabulary of contracts,’ which I could have ended up with! The worksheet (potentially from In Company) was an assortment of word-building exercises, like ‘salty’ from ‘salt’ or ‘tasty’ from ‘taste’ and other suffixes. Overall, it was adjective-tastic, and pretty easy for an very good B2 class. Sometimes these vocabulary topics can be last a whole 90-minute lesson, but sometimes they are over before you know it, leaving you to create some kind of practice activity – at least, that’s what I always try to do, which usually ends up being conversation questions to force the use of the new vocabulary.

Anyway, due to aforementioned lack of planning time, I didn’t have time to type up questions, however quick that might have been. Then, I had an epiphany! Very possibly my first real teaching epiphany since I started teaching properly after my CELTA in mid-May.

We had been talking about Christmas in the staff room earlier that morning, so my mind wandered to food…to Christmas food..and then, aha! To the Marks & Spencers Christmas food adverts! They are slightly sexualised, which the students found hilarious, and they are chock-a-block with juicy adjectives to give students a perfect model of how to use all their new vocabulary.

So, I went through the fairly dry worksheet, then played the advert basically cold and it got a laugh from even the weakest student. (I thought it was so much more recent than 2006!)

We talked a little bit about what they thought of it, and then I wrote the following on the board:

This is …………………   ………………. food; this is M&S …………………………..   …………………. 

The second time round, they had to complete the gaps:

This is not just food; this is M&S Christmas food.

Then I read the students my version:

With freshly-podded, crisp green peas, oak-smoked back bacon and vine-ripened tomatoes, this is not just a pasta dish; this is Rachel’s mum’s magical rainbow pasta dish. Rainbow pasta

And then set them to work on creating their own such adverts…and they loved it 🙂 They all went way overboard and created some really fantastic pieces.

So there you have it, short and sweet, but hopefully a useful activity for anyone teaching chefs, people in the food industry…or just anyone who likes food (ie., everyone!)

PS. By some bizarre stroke of ELT fate, just after I started writing this and got distracted onto Facebook, an ELT Twitter friend / fellow teacher asked a question about teaching food vocabulary to more advanced students, so I shall suggest this as one of the ideas 🙂

Posted in Berlin School of English, newbie, NQT, teaching ideas, Uncategorized, vocabulary | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

An intriguing student: a dictation exam

So I have about six other blog posts pending at the moment, which I will hopefully finish once I’ve moved flats this weekend, but I have just had a very interesting class which I think warrants a quick scribble.

I had my first one-to-one class today with a lovely lady called L who is Chinese-born but who has been living in Germany for 12 years, and married to a German for most of those. Aside from my envy of her 14-year-old son, who is growing up English/German/Chinese trilingual (with some French at school for fun), I loved my first lesson with L.

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Posted in ELT, newbie, NQT, one-to-one, teaching | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

#BlogChallenge: What did you teach today?

I first caught wind of this blog challenge on Hana Tichá’s blog, where she wrote a post in response to Anthony Smith’s original idea, the ‘blurb’ for which I quote below:

Have you ever wanted to observe the class of someone you follow on Twitter? Have you ever wondered what magic and wonder the most prolific ELT bloggers make in their classrooms? Are teacher’s lessons as grandiose and amazing as their blog posts make them seem? Or, do they have troughs and peaks of engagement, excitement, and learning – just like anyone else?

Blog Challenge: out of curiosity and intrigue, and as a means of reflection, write what you did in your class(es) today, from checking attendance to giving a test to blowing students minds with the most dogme-inspired, task-based, mobile-assisted, coursebook-free, PARSNIP-full lesson non-plan ever. You don’t have to explain why, unless you’d like. Just give the raw, nitty-gritty details.

I was hooked. I have only been properly teaching English since I finished my CELTA in early May of this year, and have since tried to read as many books and blog posts in an effort to keep improving my teaching skills. Therefore, I thought I’d give a little something back and contribute to this blog challenge since I enjoyed the last challenge I did so much. And perhaps some of the wonderful followers I have out there, who are far more experienced than me, can give me some pointers along the way!

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Posted in blog challenges | Tagged , , | 4 Comments