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!

Mistakes Are the Best Teachers

A few days ago, I joined the year 2010 (only a few years late!) and made an Instagram account. It’s called, unsurprisingly, leethelinguist.

I made my first post, and what did I notice a few minutes later? A typo! I blame it on my iPhone’s autocorrect! I’d mentioned how my day job was having a technical problem on their end, so I had more time to write posts. Of course, it autocorrected to “there end,” which is something I would instantly notice anywhere! And I did notice it right away but only after I had nervously posted the photo. Before any of my *zillions* of followers could see it and criticize me, I quickly commented on the photo that autocorrect had gotten me!

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Malapropism Monday, Week 3

It’s a bit late here for today’s Malapropism Monday post due to today being Presidents Day — in the AP writing style there is no apostrophe — here in the US.

Today’s malapropism will be a short and quick one, because I’m tired after wrangling a couple of kids through the rain. Speaking of tiredness have you ever seen “weary” written in place of “wary”? I do all the time. People will say things such as, “I’m really weary of the new policies at work — I don’t think they’ll have a positive effect on absenteeism.” It’s not likely that you can be weary of a new policy, right? Weary means tired or fatigued. I suppose it’s possible, but not very likely.

The more apropos word in that situation would be “wary,” which means “watchful, cautious, or alert” according to Dictionary.com. It’s also possible that you could mean to say you’re “leery” of a policy, since leery means “suspicious” and is a synonym of “wary.” You could say I’m weary of seeing this error and wary whenever I see the word “weary,” and I’m leery of the misuse of these words!

Anyway, the reason my post is late today is because my family and I went to San Francisco since we all had the day off of work and school. We’ve only lived in the Bay Area for a few months, so there’s still a lot we haven’t seen here. There was rain all day long, so we didn’t spend as much time outside walking as we would have liked to, but we had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (a family favorite anywhere in the world we can find one) followed by some walking around Pier 39 and a bit of driving tourism.

Here are a few photos from today:

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I Need to Choose a Goal!

There’s a lot I’d like to do with this blog in the future. Something I’d like to use it for is to document my own language studies, with the eventual goals of passing certain exams. My college degree is in Spanish and Japanese, but I’d like to go far beyond what I learned in college. Someday I’d like to go to grad school if I can make it work with all my other responsibilities, but there are other things I can do to show my linguistic qualifications.

In high school, I took the AP Spanish Language exam and became the first person from my high school to earn a score of 5, which is the highest possible. As far as I know, I’m still the only person to have done that in my high school. I was pretty proud of that and I received 5 college credits for it.

Recently I’ve become interested in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or CEFR. You can find more info about it here. As with any test, you can find sample versions on the internet, and when I tried a sample for the Spanish C2 exam (the highest level), I passed it. Of course, that’s no guarantee I’d pass the real thing. So at some point in the future, I’d like to attempt this test and document my studies for it.

Maybe I’ll even attempt to improve my French skills to the point where I could try one of the tests! I think I read French pretty well and I have no problem reading French for my day job or when we visited Paris or when I see it on product packaging, but my other skills are lacking when it comes to French. I’ve come across some resources about French that I’ll blog about eventually.

The CEFR is for European languages, but the standard test for Japanese is the JLPT, the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test. Years ago, when I started studying Japanese, there were four levels of this test, with N1 being the toughest and N4 the easiest. At my university, in order to be able to graduate with a Japanese minor as I did, we had to be able to pass an old sample version of the N3 test, which I did easily.  This was after I did the 9-month work/study program in Japan, but before I participated in the JET Program, which requires a 4-year degree. So I’d had one year of high school Japanese, almost a year of working and studying in Japan, and several college classes to get me to that point.

During JET, I was chosen to study Japanese at the Japan Foundation near Osaka for a short time during summer break. There weren’t very many participants, but many of those in my class were planning on taking the N2 level of the JLPT. I didn’t plan on taking it because I lacked confidence in my kanji skills. Kanji are the Chinese characters used in Japan, for anyone who isn’t familiar with Japanese.

The other issue was that although I was confident I could have passed the N3 test, at the time there was a huge gulf between the N3 test and the N2 test and I didn’t want to bother with N3, only N2. You had to know a ton more kanji and vocabulary to get up to the N2 level. The difference between N4 and N3, or N2 and N1, was much more manageable. Because of this, a few years ago they renumbered the levels and added a level in between the old N3 and N2, so now there are 5 levels with more of an even spread between them.

But if I want to take the time and effort to do the real JLPT exam, I think I’d want to go all the way and go for N1. That’s pretty much the standard for foreigners who want to work in Japan in jobs that aren’t English teaching. Some employers will accept N2, but N1 is the best and it’s what I’d want to go for! Of course, that would require a lot of study and effort, and the fact that I’m not living in Japan anymore would make it that much more challenging. On the plus side, it’s never been easier to access Japanese media (and friends), so I could choose to surround myself with it as much as possible.

We (my husband, our kids, my mom, and I) have bought our plane tickets to go to Japan in April, which we’re really excited about! That makes me want to study Japanese more. But on the other hand, being there for just over a week will not get me ready to take a challenging test. I’m thinking I may study Japanese until the trip so I can enjoy it as much as possible, and then switch to Spanish. I’m much more confident in my ability to pass the C2 Spanish exam on short notice. Once I pass the C2 exam, I can set a longer-term goal of the JLPT. Then… maybe French? Someday?

 

まだ風邪をひいています。Mada kaze wo hiite imasu.

“I still have a cold.” That’s what the above Japanese says. A couple weeks ago my youngest daughter caught a pretty bad cold and the rest of the family fell like dominoes soon after. I was the last one to get sick but it’s been a doozy! Last week I got nothing done and it was only at the prompting of my husband that I got this blog started. Thanks, Honey!

Even though I don’t have the energy to jump in and write a dozen amazing posts, I do want to get into the habit of writing so there will be something here to read!

Me despido por ahora. I’ll take my leave for now.

EFL tips:

“They fell like dominoes.” = “They all got sick (or died — but fortunately no one died in the making of this blog post!).”

“It’s been a doozy!” = “It’s been terrible!”

“Honey” = a nickname many American husbands and wives call each other

The Thoughts of a Language Nerd

Hey, there! Welcome to my blog!

For years I’ve wanted to start a blog but wasn’t sure of the topic. I don’t consider myself enough of an expert in anything to be of value in the saturated blogging world, but I have lots of thoughts about the language I see and hear around me. In college I majored in Spanish and minored in Japanese, but since long before that I’ve been an amateur linguist. I hope you’ll stick around and enjoy various aspects of several languages! Or please at least humor my neurosis about fixing (in my own mind, at least) the typos I see everywhere.