Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

April 3, 2012

What has Design got to do with EFL?

I’ve just got back from this year’s IATEFL conference in Glasgow and as with everyone else I’m sure, my head is spinning with new ideas and new things to think about.

One of the sessions that struck a real chord with me was the Plenary on Wednesday morning given by Diana Laurillard. In this plenary she explored ideas of teacher communities and also course design, but a course design that was adaptable to many situations and which could be shared across these communities to create a bank of both flexible lesson plans and examples of good practice that had been tried and tested and found to be very effective.

I am sure that my explanation of this is highly simplistic and that in reality it is much more complex than I am sharing here but it was the idea of programme models that struck me most about her talk. It seems that we all to an extent go around inventing the wheel over and over and that by creating, testing, measuring and sharing we could perhaps cut down on our work-load and have a more predictable outcome to our programmes and courses. It’s worth considering I feel.

I am currently working with a young product design student and as we explore elements of design and ideas of design it has become apparent to me that everything is really about design and that by looking at anything we do from a design perspective makes it look very different and also allows us to be far more creative in our ideas and approaches. I am very excited by this idea as I have been exploring course designs and models for my own programmes both online and face to face for the past two years and through a great deal of trial and error I do belive that I have finally created a model for my programmes which is highly adaptable and also flexible enough to fit any student and any area of study that they need be it ESP, general English, exam work or professional development.

“Design is that area of human experience, skill and knowledge which is concerned with man’s ability to mould his environment to suit his material and spiritual needs.”  Archer

Design is essentially about solving problems and improving things. I think this idea is a very good fit for EFL. We, as teachers, need our skills to evolve and grow and this, in turn, will help us to give our learners a better outcome and solve the problems that we face day-to-day with students in the classroom. Rather than re-inventing the wheel each time we can work with frameworks and models that allow us to create courses and programmes which will suit our learners. Then by sharing these frameworks and the way in which we have adapted them we can build a repository of working models that will both help and be further enhanced by other teachers.

One of the programme models I have been working on is for the short  immersion courses I run here in the UK. These programmes consist of several elements which I feel must be present for the programme to be truly beneficial to participants but also to meet and hopefully exceed their expectations.

I want to share the model here – it is simple but can be adapted to any learner or group of learners who take the course (including EFL teachers).



The model shows all the elements that I need to include in an immersion programme. As you can see this goes beyond the actual lessons. Key to the success of  these programmes, I feel, is making sure that all elements interconnect in some way to add value to the language development and also to the experience for the client.

This model translates into a timetable for the programme where everything is tied in. It goes, however, beyond a mere timetable into all areas of the stay which creates the immersion and feeds back into the technical language taught in the formal sessions.

Everything is crafted to produce a programme which provides pure language practice, specialised language practice, experience of local culture, exposure to native speakers and venues that are relevant to the client’s work (or interests) and an enjoyable and comfortable stay in what is a very lovely part of the UK. I have tried to show in the diagram where these elements are two-way (as in the formal lessons) and where they are provided for the client and expected as part of the programme (e.g. with accommodation). Another level on the model shows where things are deliberately structured (ie: lessons or set work, prepared visits, meals etc..) and where they are more random (such as what happens on actual visits or when meeting people locally).

The programme begins at the airport or station and from then on every aspect of the day is to a greater or lesser extent a learning experience. Most of  the learners require a mix of general English and some technical ESP language. They are also learning within British culture which translates into the food I prepare, some of the activities we engage in (for example a visit to our village pub) and the general way in which we live day-to-day. Visits are arranged to suit their ESP needs where possible. This not only allows them to use specialist language but also to use this language with English-speaking members of their own profession which, I find, is one of the most valuable aspects of the programme.

The final piece of the jigsaw is the setting or ambience in which the learning takes place and this must also be considered as it needs to fit with all the other elements to ensure a successful outcome.

I am happy to share this model as it has been tested and works well. Please use and adapt it. In the final analysis it is not a model for an English language course particularly but for an immersion programme and can be used for any subject delivered in that format.

In my next post I will show how this works ‘on the ground’ by describing one of the programmes I have run based on this model.


To find out more about immersion programmes at Fleetham Lodge in Yorkshire follow the link.

See our learner evaluations of their programmes and their stay.


Other posts on this topic you might enjoy:

Total immersion English courses – fast, furious and fun!

Sharing your teacher’s life – courses in a teacher’s home

Creating a teacher workshop

Learning together – the value of sharing

March 2, 2012

Recent #Edchat Discussions January and February


I have got a little behind with the edchat posts so here is a digest of all the most recent.

These are hosted now on @TestSoup’s blog. I’ll add in some of the shared links here and you can get the flavour of the discussion  from John’s blog summaries.


cybraryman1:  @mikevigilant How about more Cross Curricular? : http://t.co/Ee94Y2si  #edchat

mathfour: @mikevigilant I’m inciting change (or a riot) with this: http://t.co/TcK3HI5n  #edchat

davidwees: Time isn’t just about daily schedules => Create a brick and mortar university where every course is open http://t.co/GNmZ6qGj  #edchat

DGalpert: Very interesting! Sweden debuts first classroom-less school http://t.co/5IjBxswk  via @NMHS_Principal #edchat #cpchat #edtech #jed21

davidwees: School Bells Interfere with learning: http://t.co/AsZUKNXJ  #edchat

eduk8andlead: Blended learning approaches that mix f2f & online can help tackle time & calendar issues. #edchat Carpe Diem schools http://t.co/2FhNH0zB


cybraryman1: My Parent-Teacher Communication page: http://t.co/zvwQ21nJ  #edchat 

InspiredICTeach: Neat tool to reward positive behaviour in class http://t.co/RDzTBcOb  #eLearning #ictcurric #edchat

pernilleripp: Is the report card obsolete? http://t.co/SC0DZki6   #edchat

davidwees: What mattered in 1825 on your report card was how many lines of scripture you had memorized. http://t.co/0C9yGqZY  #edchat

pernilleripp: Students define letter grades http://t.co/HFau3RqK  #edchat

pernilleripp: Why the report card should be getting an F http://t.co/p2bbZ8ES  #edchat


cybraryman1: Can infusing some Self-Directed Learning http://t.co/I5nudKaG  in a large class help teachers? #edchat 

cybraryman1: How about more student-centered learning http://t.co/uOkLzkdi  #edchat

politicalteach: What the class size research REALLY says. http://t.co/UxstT5dq  #edchat

vanroet: A blog about 1:1 schools! http://t.co/nBWxYq9b  #edchat #edfuture

@ncte: @MaryAnnReilly @CTuckerEnglish @cybraryman1 “More than a Number: Why Class Size Matters” http://t.co/JMCYuvFi  #edchat

politicalteach: Looks interesting re class size effects on achievement http://t.co/mcR0T1R1  #edchat


Mr_Brett_Clark: I can’t participate fully in today’s #edchat. Here are some things we do in our district: EVSC ICATS Website http://t.co/uHYnrAmB  

DrThomasHo: @MertonTech teachers have got to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for THEIR own learning http://t.co/KvcUjJ69  #edchat

Mr_Brett_Clark: Do any other schools/districts put together coach’s menus to differentiate PD? http://t.co/qMbDxlqX  I would like to see others. #edchat

daveandcori: Professional Development for Teachers needs to change – http://t.co/ET2VIMZd  #edchat

daveandcori: I hate when teachers will only go to learning event if it is for CEUs. Need to be always learning! #edchat http://t.co/H7HXoyfb

RobertBorgersen: I know I love and take advantage of our University Teaching Services every chance I get! http://t.co/ASN0BYw0  #edchat

NETC_Travel: Never stop learning! 12 Ways to Learn in 2012 http://t.co/aQgNTFLD  #edchat



There are no links available for this chat – but check out @TestSoup’s summary!


 kevin_corbett:  Digital Learning Futures [SLIDESHARE] http://t.co/4gq9jQP3  NEW & Awesome! Thanks @timbuckteeth #elearning #mlearning #gamification #edchat

studysync: Teachers talk tech use in the classroom at recent Portland conference: http://t.co/qKPZIPGE  #edtech #edchat

web20classroom: From @edutopia and @teachingwthsoul-20 Tidbits For New Teachers: http://t.co/NTK2I1rz #ntchat #edchat

lookforsun: I believe the #Educon principles lay positive foundation for tech use: http://t.co/6VcbkruZ #edchat

bhsprincipal: Students and teachers who are not comfortable using appropriate technology can no longer be considered literate http://t.co/rav0jyQd  #edchat

principal_kelly: Article on the digital divide http://t.co/hLUzjDZ7  #edchat

 drdouggreen: @davidwees SM has made it easier to curate the Internet for my readers at http://t.co/DMYqOAZP  #edchat

ShellTerrell: Why do we connect? Lots of educators, students, parents answer that in this video http://t.co/TTAkFIIf   #edchat

daveandcori: Social Media in Education – connect, share, learn, communicate and more http://t.co/DPe4q4vC #edchat

MertonTech: http://t.co/KcYdOT5A  SM’s value was predicted in 1973. #edchat

TeachersHelp01: SM granted me the ability & honor of helping teachers avoid the predatory 403b about 80% of teachers are in http://t.co/IOUZaLIB  #edchat

DrThomasHo: @ShellTerrell for students, digital footprint should be about their LEARNING is what I’ll say at http://t.co/3xn9LT61  #edchat

ShellTerrell: @cybraryman1: Great Why do we connect video from many of my wonderful PLN members: http://t.co/4fKwWVfF  #edchat

For the complete transcripts and more links go to the #Edchat wiki.

November 24, 2011

What’s with all the sexism?

Filed under: Education,English language courses — rliberni @ 1:55 pm

I am feeling rather angry today and so probably not the best time to write a blog post but I can’t ignore this any longer!

This week I have come across two blog posts which to me are blatantly sexist and I can’t for the life of me understand why the writers concerned had to write like this. This, coupled with the appointment earlier this year of all-male board at IATEFL, has led me to wonder exactly where we are heading with regard to gender in ELT.

OK, so I grew up in the seventies, women’s lib and all that and I wholeheartedly believe in equality, not just in gender, but for all, and this is no feminist rant, what I feel really is a very deep sense of disappointment and yes, hurt. I also have one burning question – why?

Male teacher - logical, task-driven

The first post is on the Busy teacher blog  10 Reasons Why Men are Better at Teaching Than Women I couldn’t find the name of the writer (but from the picture I think male). He balances the point here with a sister post (no pun intended!) called 10 Reasons Why Women Are Better At Teaching Than Men’ I simply don’t understand why this has to be discussed along gender lines at all!  How many male/female teachers has he observed to draw these conclusions? If we look at the 10 points then he basically seems to be saying that male teachers are good disciplinarians and logicians so their students get better results and female teachers are more empathetic and sensitive and are somehow more approachable for students. This could have walked out of  an education article from the 1950s or 60s have we learned nothing in the intervening years?

Where is the evidence? Are all women colleagues you know warm and fluffy and all male colleagues strict and task-driven? As for men being better at grammar – I’ve been a teacher trainer and I can say on my very small sample of trainees that this is very debatable.

The second post was written by Jonathan on his blog Teaching Plugged-in and entitled  ELT and the infantilisation of

Female teacher - empathetic, sensitive

the adult learner . I know that Jonathan can be controversial (though I felt his attack on Mario Rinvolucri was a little harsh) and I admire his ability to throw out ideas that might cause debate, I really feel we need much more of this in ELT. But, this post just seemed to dismiss female teachers as unfit for purpose (fortunately the comments acceded as much) and the picture I got as I read was one of the ‘little housewife doing a bit of teaching for pin money’ surely we’ve moved beyond this in the 21st century. More importantly – how does he know? – where’s the evidence? His attack on this female teacher is based, it seems, on one student’s ‘experience’ (and one-sided) – gossip and hearsay.

Just as there are many different types of student, there are also many different types of teacher, we are not just male teachers and female teachers and this kind of generalisation on what seems to be very flimsy evidence is not appropriate. Certainly, we can argue the merits of different approaches, methodologies and start a real debate about these but please lets not do any more female (or male for that matter) bashing!

As for the decision of IATEFL to appoint an all-male board I have only one word to say – SHOCKING!

June 13, 2011

Starting out in ELT

The room was dark. It was hot and humid. A mix of climate and fear made it impossible to keep cool. Soon it would be time to begin. The gentle days were over, the days of acclimatisation, of bonding, of learning the language and playing the tourist. This now, today was the reason I had come here, the reason I had made the decision to leave family and friends and travel half way around the world. This was the start, the first day of many days. It was time to step forward and make a difference.

 The tables were ranged on rows with two people at each table. I made my way down to the front where a large black board stood on an easel. I turned and looked at the smiling faces, eager, expectant. My heart raced and my mouth felt dry. Here were the university’s finest. Lecturers and senior lecturers all poised to begin the final hurdle that lay between them and their Masters and PhD courses in the US, UK and Australia – the English language exam. They were medics, dentists, engineers, mathematicians,  all experienced and dedicated and I was here to make their academic dreams become a reality. I was 21 with my degree in Music and English linguistic studies barely 3 months old and my 1-month teacher training course having been spent largely around the tourist sites of Edinburgh (the weather during my training course had been so good that none of the students had turned up to class).

I took a very deep breath, handed out copies of Kernel Lessons Intermediate and opened the first page. This was it, the first lesson! Would I leave them begging for more or running for the hills?

We began. the Kernel Lessons book came with a piece of A4 green card which was used to cover the writing on the right hand page so the students could discuss the cartoon pictures on the left – this was technology 1977 style! We moved slowly through the pictures, removed the green cards to look at the reading passages and then talked about their own daily routines. Things seemed to be going fine.

Time to use the blackboard. As I turned to pick up the chalk I tripped over the waste-paper basket and did a little impromptu dance. My pride dented, but with no obvious harm done, I took a piece of chalk and began to write. The chalk disintegrated. I took a second piece and a third. By about the sixth piece of chalk I was able to scribble a few words on to the board – these were duly copied down. As I returned the chalk to the box I noticed something moving inside. I shook the box and a small whitish cockroach scuttled out and flew off into the corner of the room. I gasped, they laughed. I laughed, they smiled. Our journey had begun.

It may not have been the dynamic start to a career (which has now spanned almost 34 years) that I might have hoped for, but I still remember that first lesson; how I felt, what went wrong and also what seemed to work. Our first steps are often faltering and tentative, but given good support we can blossom and grow and our learning  journey can be a blueprint for those of our students.

My first group of students seemed intimidating to me given their relative ages and status, but I was lucky, they too were teachers and they understood how I was feeling and with their support I was able to create a bond which ensured that everything would work out well. Having good support is very important at the beginning of a new career. Being a teacher puts you very much in the limelight and ‘on stage’ it is not always a comfortable place to be. You need people to turn to for advice and moral support.

Being mentored by a more experienced teacher has great value. They will often have faced the same issues and problems. They can share their own journey, which will have been similar and also see things with more of a bird’s-eye view. This advice and knowledge can be invaluable to a new teacher. I feel, however, that there is another dimension to stepping into a new career which is equally valuable and that is the support of people who are in the same boat. This solidarity helps us to see that we are not alone in facing new challenges, that others are experiencing the same doubts, apprehensions and also achievements. It is important to be able to celebrate the successes within our peer group and commiserate when things go awry.

Being part of a group with experienced mentors and other ‘new’ colleagues can certainly give us the very best safety net for the start of what, with such support, is guaranteed to be an amazing start to a wonderful career.

My own experience as mentor and mentee (I am currently working with a mentor myself), requests from new teachers for mentoring help and my firm belief that we work/learn better as part of a group has led to my setting up my own online EFL/ESL teacher mentoring programme ™ELTMentor. The programme combines the best of web-based training with ‘hands-on’ advice and support from both experienced teachers and also the ELTmentor community itself. We are about to have our second session – sign up to join us.

February 26, 2011

Duffy’s last great escape!

 Our pet terrier Duffy was killed on Sunday evening as he tried to run across the road.

Duffy RIP

Those of you who have stayed here for a course will remember him as a cute little black and white dog sitting with his bottom against the Aga (cooker). He was friendly, always on the lookout for tidbits and just a bit of a scoundrel! He liked to play and was always ready to join in games indoors and out.

If you are one of those students who wanted to take him out for a walk you will also remember that we warned you that given the chance he would run away. Many people didn’t believe us and came back with an empty lead and the dog down a rabbit hole underground scuffling and barking – he would stay there for hours returning only when it started to get dark and he was dirty, hungry and tired. Duffy was, above all, a great adventurer!

 Although he enjoyed the warmth of the kitchen and the comfort of our home he was unable to resist the smell of rabbits and the call of wide open spaces. Many a time we’ve trampled the local fields looking for him or received phone calls from worried neighbours who have seen him trotting along the road in search of adventure!

Imogen sporting Duffy's rosettes

The first time he escaped he was just six months old! He didn’t go very far but did manage to find his way into someone’s house where he started an argument between the adults and the children as to whether they could keep him or not!  Duffy had a reputation in the village for squaring up to dogs much bigger than him and the most famous example of this was when he had a huge fight with a local sheep dog during the handsomest dog class at the local dog show in the village.

His vision of himself was far bigger than the sum of his parts and this was his charm! He never held back and was always ready for something new!

When we got a second dog he took charge and led this new and unsuspecting playmate into all kinds of  mischief.   He loved being around people, the chance of a snack or a game with one of us but he loved the lure of the outside world even more.

Duffy with our other dog Maguire

 It was his oyster and he took every opportunity to escape and explore. We would often be out listening for his bark down a rabbit hole, trying to entice him out with treats and having to wait until he was ready to emerge. On a couple of occasions he stayed out all night and we found him curled up under the car in the morning. Other times he would appear covered in mud and sand but contented – he was one of the most bathed dogs around!

He loved the coal shed, the wood shed, running around the tennis court after the ball but mostly breaking free and finding a new set of rabbit burrows or a new dog to play with. He loved us too. He enjoyed nothing more than a game of ball on the lawn in the summer,to chase around in the leaves we had just raked in the autumn and to bark loudly at snowmen the children had made in the winter.

Duffy and the cats Nip and Tuck

He loved everybody and we all loved him. We miss him terribly. He was part of our family, he was part of Fleetham Lodge and the experience people had when they stayed with us but he was also much bigger than all of this. When I think about his life – 6 years – it was one of pushing boundaries, taking chances and never settling for the status quo.

He looked at the wide open spaces and he couldn’t resist going out there to see what they might hold. He was truly a risk taker, an explorer, restless and curious. His 6 years were filled with adventure and that made him truly alive and fun to be with.

We worried about him, we got very annoyed with him but we also admired his spirit, I think we can all learn a lot from Duffy

His last great escape was spectacular – he tried to cross the A1 ( the major road running from London to Edinburgh). Sadly he failed this one time but he set his sights high. We too must set our sights high, we have to take risks, to fail in order to achieve.  We should be prepared to push the limits.

Saying Goodbye

We were lucky enough to be able to bring him home and place him in our garden in one of his favourite spots. We all feel very sad, we miss him but we are also inspired by him.

My daughter once said that he was a little dog with a big ambition. A ‘vaulting ambition’ which did o’erleap itself” sadly.

This is his epitaph but it also reminds us never to limit ourselves. We can all have great ambition and be so much more than we are.

January 19, 2011

Learning together – the value of sharing

January saw not only the dawn of a new year but also the second professional workshop for teachers of English held in this little corner of Yorkshire.

When I first advertised the event I wasn’t sure anybody would want to brave a wet, cold English winter for anything – so imagine my great surprise when the first reply came from a teacher in Brazil!! I have to admit I did worry and sent out as many snowy, grey winter pictures as I could but undeterred, Cecilia (@cecilialcoelho) was determined and arrived on a dull January day in the Yorkshire market town of Northallerton along with her compatriot Wellington (@wellingtonros) and two Greek teachers Dina (@DinaDobru) and Maria (@mariazygourakis).

After half an hour to unpack, we got straight into things – English afternoon tea (tea and Christmas cake), a candle-lit christmas tree and an hour of introductions. After five minutes it was as if everybody had known each other for ever and so some of us had – we had met on twitter!! One thing about teachers is that we are rarely backwards at coming forwards and we so like to talk!! So, plain sailing so far.

After a shared dinner we gathered in our makeshift cinema to watch the first of the 3 Bronte films planned (we never made Jane Eyre deciding instead to go to the pub!) The Tennant of Wildfell Hall.

The following morning we set out for Bronte country to see their house, walk the cobbled street they had walked and stride across the moors that had been the source of much of their inspiration.

Haworth did not disappoint. A cold, misty January day is probably the best time to see it when studying the Bronte novels. There was still enough cheer in the Christmas lights to lift the mood of the place and it is certainly a great example of how life might have been in nineteenth century Yorkshire. We didn’t manage the walk but did stand on the edge of the moors to see the terrain and certainly froze for the photo opportunity!

Freezing on Howarth Moor

This visit seemed to set the tone for the rest of the week. It grounded us all in the place and the mood but more importantly in togetherness. It was different, new, interesting and we were learning about each other, our teaching lives, our aspirations and our loves and hates.

The trip ended with a visit to the old Victorian station in Howarth (this is the train line used in the Railway Children). We were lucky enough to arrive just as the last steam train of the day was about to come into the station a great end to a long, yet interesting visit.

Here we were, a group of strangers brought together by the common bond of our profession and the desire to share and learn from each other.

Back to the Victorian Era!

The opportunity to live and study for a whole week allowed us to fulfill this desire in a very relaxed way. We returned home, ate and watched the first part of Wuthering Heights with the reality of the moors and the surrounding areas in our blood.

Our 6th member of the group @shellterrell arrived very late on the Monday after a horrendous journey that took her crisscrossing over the US and Europe. She arrived bloody but unbowed and was able to spend two days with us before going on to Cambridge and London.

During the next two days we explored ideas, methods and tips for teaching skills, vocabulary, grammar and for helping our students to get the most out of their English learning. From the most experienced to the least, everybody had something valuable to contribute. We worked hard morning and afternoon but also laughed a lot. We had afternoon tea, ate Greek delicacies ate a wonderful Brazilian meal and were introduced to caipirinhas!

On the Wednesday (January 5th) being Twelfth Night I had planned a party which included a special meal (we ate goose), a traditional Christmas play (A Mummers Play) and then some Parlour Games (namely Charades, Articulate and a Questions Game).

Some Brazilian Dutch Courage!

We began the evening with more caipirinhas – once the players had chosen and donned their costumes – which were, I have to say, very impressive!

The play was great and everybody performed with great gusto!

The games were great too and we ended up playing until quite late – all games were ones that could be easily played in the classroom to practise vocabulary, question forms,  tenses and a host of other items. We had a fun evening!

On the last two days we explored more ideas and experiences around speaking and reading. Copious amounts of tea and coffee were drunk as we shared resources both online and offline, demonstrated activities using the computer, whiteboard and anything else to hand (including the contents of my bathroom cabinet!).

On the Friday we got an extra surprise as it began to snow!  Out came the hats, scarves, boots and gloves! Out came the cameras and bang went the session! It was such a lovely and magical end to the week’s activities.

Playing in the snow

The group spent the Saturday exploring York and then it was over :-(.

Looking back it seems an age ago and while we were together it seemed like much longer than a week.
So why am I telling you about this?
Well, because to eat, sleep and breathe our subject, our teaching, our ideas and experiences together was a unique experience. I provided the physical platform for this but the fact that it worked and was a valuable (I am speaking for myself but I think/hope the others agree), very enjoyable and thought-provoking week is, I think, worth sharing!
I will leave you with some of the handiwork!
See post on the first worshop – Creating a teacher workshop
Find out more  about teacher workshops in Yorkshire
Other posts:

December 2, 2010

Sharing your teacher’s life – courses in a teacher’s home

Studying over a cup of coffee!

Having students come and live and study in your home is no mean undertaking for either the student or the teacher but with some careful planning and a lot of give and take, the experience can be very rewarding for both.

As total immersion language learning experiences go living with your teacher has to be one of the best. Not only are you dropped into a full language experience, you are also surrounded by the culture, social life and even the petty goings-on of an English, Scottish, US etc. household – you become part of the life in that house for the period that you are there. You need to be prepared for this – you will have to share your teacher’s life for the duration of your stay.

The great advantage of doing this is that you have, on tap, your own ‘language expert’, not only to teach you, but also as a resource for all your questions and uncertainties.

Far from being mundane, you can find yourself  involved in some interesting events that give you extra chances to practise and learn! A student of mine recently joined us at the family celebration of a 90th birthday! It was a formal, private party in a restaurant in Tunbridge Wells (she was staying with me in Yorkshire) and it gave her the chance to speak with a lot of native speakers (there were over 60 people) and see another part of England. These kinds of occasions provide authentic opportunities for you to use the skills you are developing in your course. They can be challenging but they are also very valuable.

Attending a large function

Not all students can expect to be entertained in such a way but your teacher will make sure that you are included in their daily activities and you must make the most of these chances to use your English in a real and yet unthreatening way. You may think that it would be impossible to manage in such situations but in fact the very fact of it being a real situation and not a classroom exercise helps you to function. The people who are asking you questions about your country, job, family etc.. really do want to know, they are not just role-playing – this is it for real!!
Whatever time of year you choose to come there are interesting places and activities for you to enjoy in addition to the high quality language lessons you will do with your teacher. Teachers want to share their local area, customs, and celebrations with you.
So how do we manage time on these courses?
Let me give you a run-down of a typical day with my students. Other teachers may do this differently but you can expect a mix of formal lessons, social time and planned activities on most immersion courses done in a teacher’s home.
  1. The day begins with breakfast – which for my students is cereal, bread, sometimes eggs We have this around 8.30
  2. Lessons start at 9.30 and go through to 12.45 with a coffee break in the middle
  3. Lunch at 1.00 soup, sandwiches, salad – sometimes students ask to prepare something – I love this!
  4. Some afternoons we go out, others are spent studying tasks I have assigned or students have chosen. Some of my students need to connect with their offices in the afternoons (it breaks the immersion – but if it’s necessary this can be the time to do it)
  5. We meet again around 4.30 for another hour’s lesson or to chat over a cup of tea and maybe some homemade cake or biscuits!
  6. Most students then like to have some personal time to watch TV or relax – I can prepare dinner.
  7. After dinner (8 – 9 ish) some students want to retire to their rooms, others want to watch TV – we usually have a couple of movie nights together!
  8. Then we start again!

Shopping in Harrogate!

Weekends are a mix of organised trips or free time where students are welcome to hang around the house, go out for walks or catch the bus to the local town.

Who do these courses suit?

Of course this is not for everybody. Some people would run a mile at the thought of living in someone else’s home! That is fine. If you are looking for somewhere to learn a lot of English in a short time, want to find out a bit about the culture in the UK, don’t mind joining in family life, don’t necessarily need an en suite bathroom and are happy to be flexible and adaptable, then this should suit you well. If you are none of these then you may want to consider carefully whether this type of course would work for you.

If you decide to go for it then you should have a really good experience!


  You need to remember that this is your teacher’s home.
  • Respect their privacy and that of the other members of the family. They must also respect yours.
  • They are your personal English resource for the duration of your stay but if you wear them out they won’t be any good to you so be sensitive to the teacher’s need for personal time.
  • Most teachers want you to be involved with all the activities of the family while you stay with them. Embrace this chance as it gives you real situations in which to use and develop your English but don’t be shy about refusing if you really don’t want to be involved in something.
  • Don’t hide in your room! If you are not sure what to do in-between lessons ask your teacher if you can help with anything – most of my students end up in the kitchen with me! Remember these are the times when you are using English spontaneously and learning language that you will probably never find in a course book!

For the teacher it is a little like ‘going underground’ – the focus is on the student for the duration of the course as they want to give you the best experience they can.

Sharing your teacher’s life is a great way to learn a language and the hidden benefits in terms of culture, meeting new people and really experiencing life in another country are even more valuable!

Some other posts on  immersion courses:

 Total immersion English courses – fast, furious and fun!

Language immersion

Creating a teacher workshop

Fleetham Life

Find out more about my Immersion courses

October 25, 2010

Total immersion English courses – fast, furious and fun!

So what happens on an immersion course?

Hours of study, lots of homework, tests, grammar exercises, listening and reading and writing exercises to do in the evenings. Plenty of speaking practice of course and the teacher pays quite a lot of attention to pronunciation and other errors.

Immersion courses are a great way of getting a lot of language in a short space of time. They are tough, tiring and possibly tedious (?) but the results are worth the effort.

Most of this is true in one way or another, but tough, tiring and tedious – well not necessarily!!

Total Immersion English - Berni-style!

My group arrived at Leeds airport from Holland late on a Sunday evening. They were a little apprehensive but we launched into the conversation and headed towards the car. I had hired a car as I wasn’t sure we’d all fit comfortably in mine. The first problem was finding it in the car park! The next, trying to move the seats forward so everybody could get in and the third – how to open the boot!!

Not a great start perhaps but they all joined in working out the problems and their apprehensions were forgotten!

The journey must have seemed very long. I asked questions and pointed out landmarks where I could in the dark. We arrived they were allocated their rooms and then we all met in the kitchen for a cup of tea and a brief introduction. The chat was polite, if a little strained and we were to re-visit this episode at the end of the week. Soon we all turned in anticipating the start of the course the next morning.

Working hard - of course!

Day One

Breakfast was great with soft-boiled eggs from our hens and home-made jams and marmalade. Everyone was raring to go and trying their best to use English. Claudia, another student also staying (with her own teacher) was introduced to everyone and the day got off to a very positive start.

We moved into the ‘classroom’ and began. A round-robin of introductions followed by telephone practice, formal/informal language and some useful vocabulary and phrases. A coffee break in the aga-warm kitchen and then back to work. Everybody was working hard and contributing well in English. At the end of the lesson I gave them each a lateral thinking puzzle. This was the real ice-breaker! Not only were the solutions annoying and funny, they also brought out a very competitive streak in the group which formed the basis of a lot of what we did for the remainder of the course!

After lunch we set off on a walk with the dogs. This was a good opportunity to get each student alone for a while and find out what made them tick and where any problems lay. A kind of individual testing – enjoyable, healthy and very productive!

An hour of email practice followed with everybody more relaxed and eager to contribute. We all decamped to the kitchen for a well-earned glass of wine.

Dinner, an amazing paella, had been prepared by my amazing business-woman-student from Colombia (and her teacher) who despite her post beginner level of English was certainly life and soul of the party!! Then the first of our two movie nights – ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ .

The first day ended on a high with everyone speaking English and great camaraderie!

Day two:

It was cold so we had to light the wood burning stove which is always a challenge! It behaved and we got down to work. Idioms, more telephone practice, lots of office-related vocabulary and above all speaking practice!  The morning ended with a game – Word Battleships – now the battle-lines were drawn and a re-match would be inevitable. (I should point out that my group were all women in their middle years, working and teaching in a university and normally very mild-mannered!)

The magnificent Silver Swan at Bowes Museum.

Our activity this afternoon was a visit to Bowes Museum an we had to be there at 2.00 to see the Silver Swan  strut its stuff. This 18th century, mechanical, swan is wound only once a day at 2.00 p.m. the performance lasts just 40 seconds but it is well worth seeing! We made it by the skin of our teeth but all were satisfied! The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the ceramics, paintings, rooms sets and other treasures of this amazing museum.

Tea in the museum cafe revealed that the group had amassed a large vocabulary of domestic objects and solicited information from other visitors and the curators! They were proud and I was suitably impressed! We also created our own word for an object they hadn’t managed to identify in English – a butter-float (butter dish) – this was to become the table joke at every meal!

A further lesson on emails and we joined the others for dinner. Our final activity was a trip to the village pub to taste some local beer! A great end to a busy day.

Day Three:

 Our morning sessions are very relaxed now – everybody knows what to expect and we are all very comfortable with each other. We work through the language exercises, all punctuated by laughter and joking – it’s a great atmosphere. The dogs feature large at our coffee breaks and try to join in the lessons too – I think they might be allowed but I am resolute – they are a distraction!

Durham Cathedral - a place worth a visit!

After lunch we all head off to Durham and its wonderful Cathedral. After a visit there, which includes a rehearsal by both the organist and choir – an added bonus, the ladies head off to the shops.

The return journey is quiet – it has been a long day but we have dinner (Shepherds pie) to look forward to and our second movie night. The choice of movie was left up to the group – ‘An Accidental Tourist’ which was less than we had hoped but we endured!

Day Four:

Today we are concentrating on instructions and have decided to use recipes as a launch. Food and the differences between English, Dutch and Colombian cuisine have been very much to the fore over the past few days and so it seemed an appropriate choice. I learn about several Dutch delicacies and they explain scones and christmas pudding! More email etiquette, formal/informal language and we are ready for the daily challenge of Word Battleships – this will be the final encounter!

After lunch we have a tour of the Georgian Theatre in Richmond (N.Yorks), a fish and chip supper and then off to a performance at said theatre.

The tour was excellent – the student who felt on Sunday evening that she wouldn’t say a word all week, asked several questions of the tour guide – we learnt about the theatre in the 18th century explored the auditorium, the dressing rooms and the mechanics under the stage. We moved scenery, created thunder and gasped at the tiny, yet compact little auditorium – the oldest in the country.

We had enjoyed the day immensely and thought it complete, but there were still surprises in store!

 The Georgian theatre is very small and some of the seats are situated over the stage, this makes for inevitable audience participation and the students were all brought into the performance (a play about a British comedian Frankie Howerd). In fact two of them were targeted so much by the main actor that they were in hysterics!

On stage at the Georgian Theatre!

At one point, when volunteers were asked for, my husband was frog-marched backstage to reappear centre stage sporting a centurion helmet and wielding a spear! He delivered an ode with great aplomb and this set all of us into further hysterics. We all had tears rolling down our cheeks.

At the end of the play we were invited to the bar for a glass of wine and we met the actors there. The principal actor told the students that he hoped he hadn’t embarrassed them and was thrilled to know that they had travelled from Holland and Colombia and been taken to see his play. They were bold enough to ask if he would have a photo taken with us all! He was delighted and insisted that we go on to the stage to do this!

The whole experience was thrilling for all of us and we laughed about the experience and re-lived it around the kitchen table well into the night!

Day five:

The final day – we were all a little subdued after the previous evening and a little sad to be finishing what had been an amazing learning adventure together.

We rounded off the week with more language work, an evaluation of the week’s course and some discussion about how to continue the learning process.

After a leisurely lunch I drove them to the airport and we said our goodbyes.

Returning to the house things felt a little flat and quiet. It had been a wonderful 5 days!

I read the comments they had written in a card to me and will share some of them here:

  • “Thanks for this wonderful week. I didn’t expect that English speaking would be so funny!”
  • ” Hope to be back!”
  • “I really felt at home – thanks for making me self-confident!”
  • “We learned a lot and laughed as much!”

The greatest downside for the teacher is that you eat a lot! (preparing typical English dishes and sampling traditions such as afternoon tea!)

The best thing for everybody – it doesn’t matter what you are doing; washing up, looking for lost dogs, learning new phrasal verbs or hobnobbing with actors  – you will be learning :)!!

October 1, 2010

Sharing diaries – Writing from the heart

This is the 3rd and final part in my series on writing for a wider audience. In this final piece I want to look at diaries and how, although more intimate and certainly very authentic pieces of writing, they can still be shared.


Writing Diaries

From time immemorial diaries have been an obvious genre of writing for use with students. There are many different ways of approaching diary writing from formal work schedules through daily records to very personal commentaries.

A recent development of the diary format can been in the use of Learner Diaries. This is an excellent and personal way for a student to record their learning both in terms of  progress and also personal reaction to the process and results. It can be at once a practical and a reflective piece of writing. As such it is highly personal and allows the freedom to be more creative.

In a classroom situation students will share their learner diaries with the teacher and perhaps with each other too. When students are studying alone, it may seem pointless to keep such a diary as there is no one to read it (this is not necessarily a good reason not to write one) and who is going to correct it?

See Nik Peachey’s piece on Learner Diaries

I think there are two things to say here.

  • Firstly, keeping a learner diary just for yourself is a valuable thing to do. You will develop a record of your learning which can be very revealing about your journey through the process and it will help you to develop and progress your skills in the future.
  • Secondly, taking into account my previous suggestion in posts 1 and 2 about joining communities online, you can share your diary if you want to. Being an independent learner does not mean being an isolated learner and finding these groups can be part of the e-learning  process.

A personal experience of sharing a student’s learner diary.

So, I’d like to share a diary with you which was written by my student (face 2 face) after staying here for a week in the summer. I hadn’t actually asked him to do this as part of the learning (although I do often ask my face to face and online e-learners to do this).

The student is a dentist and we  had spent a pretty intensive week on a mix of general English and work on several presentations that he was going to be giving internationally.

When the week was over I realised that I had forgotten to get him to give me an evaluation on the week and some thoughts (which I could publish) on the efficacy of the immersion experience he had spent here in Yorkshire.  However, I felt that we had built a good working relationship and that I could ask him for a sentence or two retrospectively.

Imagine my great surprise when the week after the course I began to receive, via email, instalments of his diary that he had written each evening after the day’s work. I was gobsmacked!

It is an amazing piece of writing, full of life and energy and it really captures the week we shared together. When I asked if I could share this on me site he was delighted! I feel so privileged to have been sent this and I feel even more honoured that I am able to share it with you here.

I have made very few changes (although I did go over it thoroughly with him) as I think it it’s ‘raw’ state it has a great deal of energy that I could only spoil.

This a great learner diary!

Ezio’s Diary

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

I was lucky enough to have others share their experiences in blogs and videos too. Here is a collection of their reflections and another way that students can share their learning experiences with a wider audience.

More reflections on learning experiences



Part one of the series – Using blogs to help your writing skills, the how, the why and the what

Part two of the series Getting your voice heard – authentic writing for English language students

 Other posts in writing:

Warning, mistakes cost marks!

7 Deadly sins to avoid in your writing.

7 Great virtues to help you write well in English

May 26, 2010

English language courses in the UK – does the world end at Oxford?

As many of you will know I live in North Yorkshire the most northern part of the biggest county in England. It is also known as ‘God’s own country’, an epithet which is richly deserved for its beauty and diversity as well as its size, but one that was most likely bestowed upon it by the locals!

Whitby - a fishing port on the east coast

Yorkshire is indeed lovely as are the surrounding counties of Northumberland, Durham, Derbyshire, Cheshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Cumbria then on northwards into Scotland… can you see where this is going? There is far more to see and do north of Oxford than there is south of it (I exclude Wales, Devon and Cornwall here as they are equally blighted by the concentration of everything EFL on London!). Then there’s Norfolk and Suffolk and what about the heart of England? So much to see, do and experience and guess what – these natives are friendly and they speak English!  Just look at a map of the UK and see how much is missing off the EFL course map!!

What, you might say, has brought on this frenzy? I am now on a mission! I have, this morning, been speaking to several well-known language schools in the UK about trends in student choice of destination when choosing courses in the UK. I am being told repeatedly that students ONLY want to go to London and the South East of the UK (this would include Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and the Southern sea-side towns). The HAVE to be within easy reach (1 hour or so?) of Heathrow or Gatwick airports. Now my question is – given that the UK is such a very small land mass – are these ONLYs and HAVE TOs coming from the students or from London-centric EFL organisations who think that the M25 is open countryside!

I find it hard to believe that a 2-hour train journey from London  (if indeed Heathrow and Gatwick are the ONLY possible airports to fly to) is such a long way if you are used to countries the size of France, Germany and Spain! Could it be, actually, that nobody is really being given a choice?  Perhaps I’m being paranoid but I do know from friends and colleagues in the EFL industry that there are problems placing all the students wanting to enrol on certain courses in the London area yet other friends and colleagues further north are never given consideration as suitable alternatives.

If you are visiting the UK for the first time, then London is a must see/do. I agree there is so much history and culture

Liverpool - music, art, great history and lively

there. It is relatively easy to get around and it is a 24-hour city which is very exciting. However, I feel strongly that not all students want to go to London, especially if they live in a big city themselves or have already experienced London.  Are these people being given a wide enough choice of UK venues in which to study? I don’t think so and it isn’t because there aren’t any schools or courses, it is more a matter of lack of knowledge (or too much self-interest?).

I have personal experience of lack of knowledge of all points north! I lived in London until 6 years ago. When I returned north to Yorkshire several strange comments were made by our London friends:

  • Why would you want to go there? It’s all dirty, polluted mill towns! (Er, yeah in the 19th century!)
  • Where should we stop over on the way? (Er, it’s only a 4-hour journey by car and 2+ hours by train!)
  • Is the weather very cold? (I’m not even going to answer that one!)
  • Can we stop off in Durham on the way? (only if you go past us and then come back!)

I know these prejudices happen in many countries but the north-south divide UK is alive and well! I will also lay some blame at the feet of the regional tourist boards for not promoting as much as they perhaps should!

A visit to Reeth in the Yorkshire Dales

I have had two students recently who were undeterred by not being able to fly to Heathrow or Gatwick. One flew to Edinburgh and then took the two-hour train journey through some wonderful countryside to our local town (bearing in mind it will take the best part of an hour to get through to the arrivals hall at either of these airports and then another hour or so into London itself!). The second flew to Amsterdam from her native Milan and took the short hop over to our local airport (30 minutes drive away). Neither felt they had come to the back of beyond nor did they feel that the journey was too onerous.

So if you are thinking of taking a course in the UK, come north!

I promise we’ll put the woad away (according to the Romans – people in the north of England used to paint themselves blue with woad to scare away their enemies!) and you’ll find us a very warm, friendly bunch of people!

We have great cities, history in abundance, amazing scenery, and lots of space – no crowded roads, streets or shops!

The challenge:

Turn your back on Heathrow and Gatwick, look to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester or Leeds. Set your feet northwards and give us a try! You won’t regret it!

More reasons to head all-points north!

(to view more great photos like these visit Pictures of England)

You may like these posts too.

Language Immersion

A to Z of effective language practice

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