TEFL Fullcircle — Preliminary Review

Hey, friends!

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working through an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. Why would I do that when I already have years of teaching and tutoring experience? Well, as I often tell my daughter, one can always, always, always learn more about something.

Why get certified in TEFL?

For a while I’ve been considering teaching online; it’s becoming more and more common, and my husband taught guitar to a young learner through Skype for the better part of two years. I’m part of a few online teaching groups on Facebook and there are quite a few companies based in China and various other countries.

From what I read, some of these companies would happily accept me as a teacher because of my experience and degree, but some want the “piece of paper,” as in a TEFL certification. I’ve even considered getting a master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), but due to work and family obligations I haven’t found a suitable program.

The other issue is expense and time investment. Based on my current job and family situation I’m very unlikely to pursue teaching English full-time in the near future. If I move back to Japan or something else changes significantly, that will change my thinking and I may then go for a master’s. In addition, having a master’s won’t really increase the income potential much (or at all) over what it is for me now, so I don’t want to spend many thousands of dollars and a couple years of my life without much return on investment. For now, I just want to open up more opportunities to teach online.

The world of TEFL certification is pretty unregulated. From what I can find, there aren’t true international standards for what a teaching program must include. There are many accreditation boards that approve of courses based on their own sets of standards, but even when it comes to these, you have to do your research and evaluate.

There are a couple big names for a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults — are you sick of the acronyms yet?), which is usually an in-person four-week program costing around a couple thousand dollars. Again, the cost and time investment don’t fit my needs, especially since CELTA programs focus on teaching adults while many of the online English teaching companies focus on teaching children.

Also, CELTA programs are intended for people without a degree and without experience — you can take a CELTA course at age 18 and with only a high school education if you want to. That limits one’s options for teaching since many countries require a degree to get a work visa, but there are still some options depending on one’s citizenship — for example, EU citizens can teach in other EU countries without needing a visa. I’ve read there are also some Asian countries that don’t require a degree; Japan is NOT among them, at least if you need a work visa.

So what fits my needs? Online and inexpensive, that’s what. Of course there’s no shortage of online courses, but their content, quality and prices vary wildly.  I asked around in the Facebook teaching groups and didn’t get many good answers. Since I was already busy enough with various activities, I kept waiting for just the right thing.

Enter: TEFL Fullcircle!

Where did I hear about this course? To be honest, I’m not completely sure. I think it was one of the Facebook groups, but it was a few months ago so it could be elsewhere. I do notice, however, that TEFL Fullcircle‘s accrediting body, ACCREDITAT, also accredits another TEFL course taken by one of my friends who has taught ESL classes in various venues. Why didn’t I take the same one my friend took? Well, TEFL Fullcircle seems to have a permanent deal going on Groupon, so I only paid $39 for the 160-hour course. The course my friend took was about $150 or so — still very inexpensive compared to many courses out there, by the way. The Groupon reviews are good (it was my first time using Groupon, believe it or not), the accreditation seems legit, and if worse comes to worst I could dispute the charge, right?

So, how’s it been going? I started in December and I’m on Module 13 out of 26. The first 120 hours of instruction cover general TEFL concepts. There’s an evaluation (which I haven’t gotten to yet, so will describe in a future post when I do) and then you can download your certificate. There’s an additional 40-hour Teaching English to Young Learners course with its own evaluation and certificate. Here’s what the dashboard looks like once you’ve validated your Groupon purchase and logged in to the site:

The good:

  • The material presented is similar to what I studied in college in a few foreign language pedagogy courses I took.
  • Many traditional and historical language teaching methods are explained with their respective pros and cons.
  • This course pounds home the “PPP technique” which consists of “Presentation, Practice, Production” — a solid approach for planning lessons that will be effective for a wide variety of learners.
  • The emotional need of students to feel safe expressing themselves in a new language is emphasized, that not every tiny mistake needs to be corrected at every moment, especially mistakes not germane to the material being presented in the lesson.
  • The writing style of the course is friendly, authoritative, and professional. At times the author writes in the first person; he or she clearly enjoys teaching and enjoys experiencing other cultures through teaching in various countries.
  • The site and individual pages have pleasant pictures and diagrams sprinkled in.
  • Many additional links to various TEFL websites are provided as a source of further research.
  • The most important points, such as lesson structure or the PPP technique, are repeated multiple times. This could be put into the “bad” column as well, depending on your perspective, but assuming you need confidence and don’t have much experience to fall back on, repetition is a good way to make sure you learn it!
  • Another point that could be good or bad is that unless you have no experience or knowledge of teaching or English grammar at all, I seriously doubt this course will take 160 hours to finish. To me it’s been almost all review, so I’ve been flying through most of it. That’s good for me because I want to finish and get to the next course in my plans for this year.
  • There are many short quizzes to check your understanding of the material throughout the course which block you from progressing to the next module until you score at least… 83%, I think? Most of the quizzes are very easy multiple-choice questions, but a few of the. You can retake the quizzes until you pass, but most of the questions are simple if you read the information and use common sense.
  • The course comes with a downloadable grammar guide and activity guide. I haven’t read these yet but I’ll assume they’re decent for now. I’ll let you know if I change my mind.

The bad:

  • For a course that emphasizes a multifaceted, multimedia approach to teaching, this course provides almost none of that to us students trying to learn how to teach! I haven’t accessed all the outside links provided, but in the course itself so far there are no videos or sound recordings showing a teacher interacting with a class and implementing the techniques described. It’s pretty much an ebook with quizzes here and there and a couple projects at the end.
  • Most of the quiz questions are very simple and intuitive if you read the material, but some are not very relevant. A few of the quizzes consist of matching questions with many possible answers and not much difference between the possible answers, so you may get wrong answers for no good reason. That’s not very good quiz writing when the answers are so ambivalent.
  • Rarely, in my opinion, a statement may be debatable and you may get a question wrong because of that. Look at the following screenshot of an answer I got wrong:

Am I crazy for thinking this is simply wrong? I must have missed that statement when reading the module because when I went back to look at the material and retake the quiz, the statement was right there: “Receptive skills require interpretation and a response.” I marked that as false on the quiz because I don’t think it’s a correct statement. Sure, receptive skills require interpretation (in one’s own mind, at the very least) to be of any use. But response? No, not necessarily at all. I admit to talking back to TV and radio shows at times, but most of the time I simply listen and understand — no response needed or even possible. In a conversation, certainly, you need to interpret and respond in order to continue the interaction, but plenty of people learn a language in order to consume media in that language. If I were in an actual classroom, this would be a topic I would definitely bring up to the teacher for clarification.

  • This is subjective again, but if you are not self-motivated, this course is not for you! Sure, it’s nice to make progress through the modules and pass the little quizzes, and I look forward to learning what I can learn and getting the certificate, but if you need the motivation of set class times and live interaction, do not pass go, do not pay $39, look into other options. This is a feature of all self-guided online courses, but worth mentioning. You have six months to complete the course or you can pay a small fee to extend the time. If you chip away at it, six months should be plenty of time to complete it, but it’s all on you.
  • Once you get past the general theory modules and the lesson planning modules, they get pretty repetitive — at least in what I’ve done so far. Again, depending on your depth of experience and previous pedagogical education, this may be a positive to you. To me, it gets old. I don’t need to see the PPP technique applied individually to planning a lesson on listening, reading, speaking, and writing when I understand the technique and pretty much all they’ve done is change out one word for the next and included new outside links. It seems like filler. They do add some specific ideas for each area, which is good, but I don’t need the same lesson plan repeated over and over and over.
  • Unlike some hybrid online/live classes, there is no opportunity to practice the techniques with real students. This is a negative of all online-only classes, but how negative it is depends on your experience, your goals, and why you want the certification. Some schools only accept certifications that have a certain number of live practicum hours, but others won’t care as long as you have the cert and prove you can do the job. Some will accept volunteer teaching hours in lieu of supervised practice classes. You need to know what you want to do with the cert when you’re done. Of course, you will pay much more for certifications that include supervised practice hours.
  • There are definitely typos here and there, and even a couple mistakes in the examples of verb tenses. I didn’t take screenshots because I was focused on just getting through that module (most are short enough but that one was a slog), but just be aware. If you’re not strong in grammar, take the time to access outside resources.
  • The typos aren’t horrible, but they occur regularly enough that I don’t think the materials were proofread by a professional. At least not a good one, for sure. I’d be happy to do the job for you, TEFL Fullcircle creator! Just send me an email. It would make the course feel much more professional, especially for a course on, you know, teaching English.

The ugly:

I really only have one serious complaint about the course so far, and that is the layout of the website itself. The modules are laid out in a way that you have to remember exactly where you were in the course because each time you do a quiz (which is often), you can’t simply continue to the next part. You have to go back to your dashboard and into the TEFL course (because the site offers several other courses), back into the correct module, and then the correct section of the module. Inexplicably, each module is split up into a seemingly random number of sections, and while you can hit a “next” button within each section, once you finish that section you’re forced to go all the way back into the module.

I don’t know why the modules are set up like this, but it’s rather annoying to have to remember I was on Module 8, Section 3, just to continue the course. I should be able to click “next, next, next” until I get to the part where I have to do a project. Furthermore, after a certain amount of time, the site logs you out and you have to log back in. I have my username and password saved so it’s not a big deal in itself, but combined with having to find the correct module constantly, it gets tedious and distracts from the course material.

Do I recommend the course so far?

If you can overlook the negatives I listed, sure, I recommend TEFL Fullcircle. I’ll be updating as I progress through the course and especially when it’s time to do projects and get the certificates.

The caveat is that I recommend the course at the discounted price. The full price listed on the site is 199 pounds, and at THAT price I would have much higher expectations as far as wanting video demonstrations, better and more in-depth quizzes, less filler, and especially a better website layout.

I do feel I’ve learned a few new ideas and reviewed a lot of useful theories and techniques, most of which easily transfer to teaching languages other than English as well. If you have no prior experience in TEFL, you have the potential to learn a lot and gain confidence. If you’re a visual learner (one of the topics presented in the course!) you will do fine reading all the modules, but if you’re the type who needs to hear the material and see it demonstrated in real time, this is not for you.

More updates are to come when I’m further into the course!

I’m Back and Ready to Kick Butt in 2018!

Happy New Year, friends!

Yes, I’m finally back. Our trip to Japan was incredible, and I do plan to post about it soon, but for now I want to jump into the “fresh new year full of possibilities” Zeitgeist and resume blogging.

The blog has been quiet, but my life has not! I went to Japan after a twelve-year absence, took a trip home to Michigan and Ohio with a side road trip to Tennessee, continued volunteering, moved again (the photo above is the view from our new home), and continued to think, “I really need to get back to blogging!” pretty much every day. Well, here I am!

I’ve also been doing a lot of reflecting on my goals for my work, my family, and my life in general. Going back to Japan after twelve years reignited my motivation to master Japanese. To be honest, I really haven’t improved my Japanese skills in all that time, I don’t think; in fact, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot because I haven’t kept myself immersed in the language. Even on the short trip we took, so much came back to me. I especially realized this when we visited my former host parents and お母さん (Okaasan – “Mother”) mentioned getting out the おつまみ (otsumami – “snacks”) for us to share. If you had asked me one minute prior to that what the word for “snacks” was, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, even though I knew I’d known it when I lived in Japan. Suddenly it was back in my brain, hopefully to stay!

I desperately want to live in Japan again, but until that opportunity comes, there’s no better time in history to be able to enjoy and learn through Japanese media, which are more available than ever thanks to the internet. In addition, we currently live in the Bay Area of California, a land replete with Japanese markets and bookstores (at least compared to where I’m from!) where I can easily procure Japanese books, food products, and free regional magazines in Japanese, not to mention a decent number of local Japanese people with whom I could speak in person. I really have no excuse to stay in my upper-intermediate rut. Being able to function in Japanese is not good enough — I want to be awesome at it!

With that goal in mind, I’ve joined a kanji-learning site called WaniKani (not a paid endorsement — I wish!). In fact, I’m about to pull the trigger on joining the lifetime membership to the site while their annual sale is still on. Only the first three (out of 60) levels are free, and I’ll soon be finishing the third level. Obviously I like it enough to pay a couple hundred dollars for lifetime.

Out of the 300 or so kanji and vocabulary words I’ve unlocked so far, I already knew almost all of them already (this site teaches kanji in a slightly different order than other books I’ve used), but I’m taking the long view here. Even if it takes me six months or longer to get to mostly-new content, if I know 2000+ kanji and thousands more words in a couple years, it’s worth it! I’ve had many books and found many websites, yet I haven’t been motivated because the goal seems too large. WaniKani’s teaching methods (to be discussed in detail in future posts) and gamification have me motivated to finish it all, while the other books and sites have not. I’ve been in a rut for too long and I think this is my key to being able to pass the JLPT N1 in two or three years.

When I tutor Japanese, I realize how much knowledge I have that I take for granted, and I certainly have a lot to offer beginner and low-intermediate students. I’ve gleaned a ton from all my studies and living and working in Japan, but I haven’t had the motivation to push myself to that higher level. Having the goal of finishing WaniKani will get me there. I’ll be writing much more about this process as I go.

To switch gears, I’m also working on an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, “just to have the piece of paper” as I’m known to say. I’ll be writing about my progress with that as well. I’m already through 11 modules out of 27 or so. It’s supposed to be a 160-hour course, but with my prior experience and knowledge, I think it’ll take me much less time.

Finally, I’m strongly considering becoming certified as a Spanish medical interpreter. I’ll go into detail about how and why in future posts.

As you can see, I have plenty of goals on my plate, long- and short-term, and I plan to use the blog to keep myself accountable and share my experiences for anyone who may be interested in similar pursuits. In addition, I’m always open to tutoring English, Spanish, and Japanese, online or in person.

I hope your 2018 is starting off well, and that you’re just as excited about what’s in store for your year!


¡Prospero año nuevo! Espero que logren sus deseos este año y que 2018 sea un gran éxito para todos.

I Think I’m Learning Japanese: Thoughts From Our Japan Trip

Hey everyone! Thomas here. Lee and I have been meaning to write more posts, but we had a big trip to Japan last month, and between planning for that, and recovery (we tend to take vacations where you need vacations from the vacation, hah!), we’ve been just chilling here.

For myself, I don’t have a huge post to make really, but I just wanted to share my experiences having learned a tiny bit of Japanese, then going to Japan, and what I plan to do with it! So here goes.

What my knowledge was, before the trip:

I “sort of” knew most hiragana, but I didn’t really know much katakana, and only the tiniest bit of Kanji. Super limited! I think I read one shinkansen (bullet train) sign once. Yay!

Speaking and comprehending:

Limited to what I would call “tourist Japanese.” Introducing myself and so forth. I did know how to say I liked something, so proved useful.

How this played out on the trip:

It was the opposite of what you’d expect. You’d think that my very limited Japanese would be of most help in short, common situations day-to-day, while our time spent with Lee’s Japanese friends in deeper, longer conversation would basically eliminate me from the conversational mix! In reality, the opposite was true. When we would walk around Tokyo, Niigata, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima (the cities we visited, all lovely!), you need to know how to say and understand something *immediately.* So I would clam up, and let Lee do the work here (who is far, far more advanced than I).

However, when we visited Lee’s friends, I could sit back and just listen, and I was able to pick out various things. At minimum, I could discern the general topics of conversations, which was nice (this, I think, was the result of studying enough of the language to at least have a since of its rhythm and flow; in other words, my ear was somewhat tuned to it). It also gave me the opportunity to speak the few sentences and thoughts that I could: basically, whenever the conversation moved to a place where I had a thought I could express, I said something (probably much to everyone’s amusement). Usually I was expressing things like “I like bean paste,” which is “watashi wa an suki desu.” Or, to write this properly: 私は好きです。

Mostly, though, I was really inspired. I just loved visiting Japan! I could feel my love of the country blossom in particular when we were in Osaka, which I have decided is my favorite Japanese city. Osaka is every bit the glowing, modern metropolis, but it has a slightly gritty, down to earth feeling, which I like! This is also reflected in the people, who have a reputation of being more gregarious and fun loving.

So because of this, I have decided on a mid-term goal: To study for and pass the JLPT N5, which is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. N5 is the easiest level, but it would not be a trivial accomplishment. It would represent a sort of “bare minimum” to get by as a non-native speaker of Japanese, which might sound easy, but we’re talking something like 800 words of vocabulary here (which sounds scary until you realize simple things like “1” (ichi) count in this).

The test is in December, but I still have a lot of work to do! I’ll keep everyone updated on my progress here.


Language Links

Hello everyone! Here’s some more interesting links to check out.

High school language learners show off skills.

Via WFPL.org.

Dance instructors put a new spin on learning language (and math).

Via Philly.com.

What languages should a child learn?

Via USNews.com. The real answer here is “what they are interested in,” in my opinion.

Computer programs teach themselves a language to talk to one another.

Via Recode.net. Can’t help it, I have to share some nerdy stuff sometimes :).

That’s it for now! I hope you all have a great week!

I Think I’m Learning Japanese, Part III: Kanji!

みんな おはよう! That’s “Minna ohayou,” or, “Good morning everyone!”

I’m back with another progress report on my Japanese self-study.

I’ve gotten just about all of the hiragana memorized, but I’m lagging on the katakana, so I have to get on that! My verbal Japanese is coming along nicely. I’m able to introduce myself pretty easily now, say where I’m from, and ask simple questions. It’s all very, very basic stuff, but it feels great and I have confidence I’m on the right path this time, versus the many false starts I have had.

So that brings another topic. One that is very intimidating. Kanji.

Unlike hiragana and katakana, which are really just alphabets like ours, kanji is a pictorial system borrowed from the Chinese that represents ideas and sounds with pictures. There are, I think, two things that make kanji appear intimidating: how bizarre it looks, at first, and the sheer amount of them.

I work in the video game industry, and I have sometimes assisted in language localization on some projects. When converting to Japanese, one of the technical challenges faced by developers is a font may have something like 5000 kanji characters in the font, yet the actual Japanese language has tens of thousands of kanji. While many of these are out-of-use characters from the past, not all of them are, and invariably the translators we hire choose one that isn’t actually in the font! When this happens, the computer renders a plane square or some other “error” character, telling us there is a problem.

So when studying Japanese as a beginner, kanji seems horrifying. However, Lee has a great collection of Japanese learning books at home, and I found a terrific one that has made the process of kanji learning fun! It’s called Read Japanese Today by Len Walsh.

Continue reading

Typo Tuesday, Week 8

Happy Tuesday! Well, by the time most of you read this, it’ll be Wednesday or later because it’s evening here in California. I have a good excuse: I had braces applied today and I had a doctor appointment, on top of the usual work and activities.

Because of that, today’s entry will be short and simple. In fact, I came across these typos while reading a short news article during my daughter’s nap. This article is about a 500 kg woman named Eman Ahmed who was flown to India for weight loss surgery. Here’s a link to the original article.

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Malapropism Monday, Week 7 — Prescribe vs. Proscribe

Happy Monday, friends! For today’s Malapropism Monday I have just a short one — mixing up “prescribe” and “proscribe.” This is one I’ve seen online and in TV closed captioning, and it’s one that spell checkers won’t catch because they’re both real words. The problem is, they have vastly different — almost opposite — meanings.

Continue reading

Language Links

Hey everyone! Back with more links to share. I hope you had a great weekend!

We had a nice weekend here in the ever busy San Francisco Bay Area. One of our favorite stops is Mitsuwa Market, a fun Japanese grocery store with a lot of neat shops nearby. If you are lucky enough to live close to one (it is a small chain, with locations in California, Illinois and New Jersey), they are a delightful combination of groceries, food court style hot meals, books, gifts, and DVDs, all of course Japanese.

However, the Mitsuwa here is VERY POPULAR! We went during the busiest time in the day; next time we’ll come back a little later, when the dinner rush has faded! That didn’t stop me from trying some miso ramen, as well as the kiddo eating her favorite katsu curry!

As we are still new to the area, sometimes I see something that surprises me. Recently, I saw a lizard on the sidewalk! Anyone know what this is?

It was cool… and maybe just a little weird at the same time. Anyway, here are this week’s links, enjoy! -Thomas

Robots creating their own language.

Via the New York Post.

Will Angelina Jolie’s latest movie create interest in the Khmer language?

Via Leaning English.

The difference between translation and localization.

Via Econo Times.

For more effective proofreading, thank backwards.

Via Life Hacker.