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!

Learning Japanese with TokyoTreat!

こんにちは!Konnichiwa! What’s up, my 友達 (tomodachi — friends)? I’ve been meaning to start posts like today’s for a long time, but life has been quite busy. I’m getting it done today, though!

I wanted to share a method I’ve used for a long time to study languages: reading product packaging! I’m sure that doesn’t sound exciting, but especially once you get beyond the very beginning stages of language learning, deciphering packaging can be a very useful way to learn common vocabulary and grammar.

Before we go any further, if you’re studying Japanese, you really have to learn the two phonetic syllabaries — ひらがな hiragana and カタカナkatakana. There’s just no getting around it. Learning how Japanese is written is by far the best way to get your pronunciation and listening comprehension on point, in addition to the obvious reading and writing skills.

Japanese is not that hard to pronounce most of the time, but if you’re trying to use ローマ字 roomaji (“Roman characters” — or good ol’ English letters) to learn Japanese pronunciation, you’ll likely end up with a very strong accent at best, or at worst, you’ll be incomprehensible to native speakers. Learning the kana (the collective term for hiragana and katakana) will go a long way in keeping your pronunciation on track.

Chinese characters used in Japanese — 漢字 kanji — are also extremely important, but they can be learned over a much longer period of time, and as needed. Kana, however, should be learned as soon as possible once you’ve decided to study Japanese. It will take a few hours, probably, but they’re hours well spent.

When I was learning kana I used old-school flashcards made of paper! Nowadays, of course, there are tons of apps, computer programs, books, whatever you prefer. My co-contributor here, Thomas Typo, will likely make a post about the methods he’s currently using to study beginner-level Japanese, but I know you can easily find support for your preferred method.

I’m going into all this because if you want to study Japanese with product packaging, you really need to know kana at a minimum. Of course, being able to look up kanji you don’t know is also necessary, but if you don’t know kana, even a lot of Japanese dictionaries will be far less useful to you. Just learn ’em!

Now, I currently live in the Bay Area of California where we are blessed with several Japanese grocery stores and even two Japantowns! I’ve been loving that aspect of living here! But what if you don’t have easy access to Japanese products? Well, that’s where TokyoTreat can help. There are other similar subscription crates out there but this is the one I’ve tried and I’m happy with it so far. I wrote an introductory post about it here. I admit that I’m behind in even opening the boxes beyond January because I want to review each one at least a little bit in order and give each one the attention it deserves. That’s obsessive of me, I know. I’ll get to the new ones!

I wanted to share some bits I noticed from the January box.

The main words on the above package are chenjikoora shuwaboo sofutokyandi. The first and third words are very easy to understand — “change cola” and “soft candy,” very simple if you know English and can read katakana. The biggest word, written in big rainbow katakana, was one I didn’t know. I know that bou (pronounced with a long “o” sound — reminder that you need to learn kana so you won’t pronounce things as in English!) means “stick” and that part is self-explanatory since it’s a stick of candy. But what about shuwa?

The little blue dialog bubble next to the blue squid gives a clue. It says shuwashuwa paudaa. All right, some kind of powder. But I didn’t know what shuwashuwa meant. I went to one of my favorite Japanese dictionaries, Jisho.org, and looked it up. Success! It means “bubbliness (of a carbonated drink); sound of bubbles (of a carbonated drink); fluffiness (of a cake, souffle or whipped cream).

This candy is basically a stick of taffy (orange flavor and lemon flavor, as the red and orange bubbles say) with powder inside. The idea is that when you chew the taffy and it mixes with the powder, the whole shebang turns into cola flavor in your mouth! Personally, I’m not a fan of cola flavor in general — I’m a rare American who never drinks pop — and I’m not the biggest fan of lemon or orange flavors, either. So while I agree that the taste does change to resemble cola, I wasn’t a fan of this particular candy, just because of the flavors.

But even though I didn’t love this candy, I learned a new word! Japanese has tons of onomatopoeic words, and I know very few of them. This candy was not bubbly or fluffy as shuwashuwa would suggest, but I think they gave it that description because it’s supposed to remind you of the bubbly taste of cola.

I’ll mention one other small part of this package, the bit that is next to the brown squid. It says orenji + remon issho ni tabero to coora!? That explains the main draw of this candy, that if you add the orange and lemon flavors together with the powder, it makes cola. This little phrase reinforces that if you want to say something is together, you say issho ni — it reminds you that the particle ni is what goes with issho. It’s also an example of the construction of verb + to = result. If you eat the orange and lemon flavors, the result is a cola flavor.

Well, I’ll end here for this post, but I have lots of other TokyoTreat snacks to comment on! I want to make this a regular feature. Your Japanese level will determine how useful these posts are to you, but I hope that you can learn something from even the simplest package, as I did here. 読んでくれてありがとう!また今度いっしょに読んで勉強しましょうね。Thanks for reading! Next time let’s read and learn some more together, all right?



Malapropism Monday, Week 5

It’s Monday again! Exciting, right? For today’s Malapropism Monday I’d like to bring up yet another writing and speech pattern that bugs me! I know you’re dying to find out about it.

Today’s topic is the use of “try and ____” vs. “try to ____.” Did you know that these are not interchangeable? People often say “try and ____” when they should say “try to ____.” Or, at least in my opinion, they should…

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Daily Audio Bible — iPhone App Review

If you’re like me, you don’t have enough hours in the day to get done all the things you wish you could do. Does that sound familiar?

One thing that’s important to me is increasing my knowledge of the Bible. Don’t worry; this is not a proselytizing post! But it is a post about another resource for practicing languages if you’re open to learning more about the Bible, even if just to study it as literature.

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Malapropism Monday, Week 4 — Compliment vs. Complement

It’s Monday again! You know what that means, right? I still have some malapropisms left on my list, so I’ll continue with this series a while longer.

Today I wanted to focus on the use and misuse of “compliment” and “complement.” This is a pair of words that people mix up all the time, in my experience. In fact, I mentioned it in my recent post on TokyoTreat snack subscription boxes. Here’s a screenshot from their (overall enjoyable and well-done) magazine that comes in the box:

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TokyoTreat Box — January 2017 Edition!

こんばんは! That’s konbanwa or “good evening” to those of you who can’t read Japanese. Well, in Japan it’s the morning now, but here in California it’s the evening, so I’m going with it.

Today I’m starting a series that I hope to continue a long time. You’ve probably seen or heard about all kinds of monthly subscription boxes where you sign up to receive a box of products chosen for you to fit a particular theme. I’ve seen them for makeup, baby items, toys, various hobby items, and of course all kinds of niche foods.

I lived in Japan for 3 years total and I’ve always appreciated Japanese snacks and treats. Of course, Japan is famous for healthy food, but when the Japanese do something, they tend to go all out and produce a great product no matter what it is. Snacks are no exception! Japanese goodies are cute, creative, with lovely (and easy-to-open) packaging, and generally less sweet than their American counterparts.

One day I was wasting time on Facebook and came across an ad for a subscription box called TokyoTreat. Their website looked attractive and their products looked tasty, with a good mix of familiar and new-to-me cookies, candies and chips. I decided to order a six-month subscription of the regular size to try it out. I paid about $140 up front for six months’ worth, which includes a small discount compared to subscribing a month at a time.

A few weeks later, this is what I got in the mail:

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