Right. Cheerful head back on!

Today I am channelling Worzel Gummidge. I am taking off my Grumpy Head and putting back on my Cheerful Head. Last night’s post started out beautifully then dissolved into misery! Gah!

I’m not going to write about how my daughter sobbed because her team lost at SkittleBall (no, I don’t know what it is either) or about the fact that I stayed in ALL DAY for a delivery from Viking that apparently tried to deliver to us and apparently found us ‘closed’. NO! I am going to write about a delicate balance – teacher talk vs student talk.

It is a constant worry to me that I do too much teacher talk in my lessons. I worry about my students copying me rather than learning from me. I worry about filling up too much time with telling them what to do vs listening to them experimenting. So here are my tips:

1. Practice CONCISE introductions. Always ask for a brief verbal progress report at the start of the lesson from the student in case you can incorporate any areas they are struggling with immediately. Then watch the clock as you introduce the topic for the lesson. No more than 5 minutes per hour for an intro, maximum. It will take practice but it is worth it! Sometimes I only speak for 2 minutes at the start of a lesson now!
2. Set a task immediately after the introduction that is teacher led but student demonstrated. For example, I ask for breathing and warm up exercises – I give the instruction but they do the work. This is between 5 and 10 minutes depending on the student’s needs.

3. Then do a task where you both demonstrate the skill and compliment your student when they get it right. Gently guide them where they need to develop the work and praise them when they get it right. In my lessons this is usually focussed vowel and consonant work. It sometimes takes up to 15 minutes for this section, even longer with some students.

4. Then move into an editing role. Give the task, listen to their version and edit. Show which bits need cropping / changing / lengthening and get them to try again. I usually spend about 10 minutes on this.

5. Then take a step back. Set a task and just listen. I use poetry and  short passages (both fiction and non-fiction) and highlight as they read. Afterwards go through why you highlighted certain passages / words. 5 minutes-ish.

6. My penultimate task is to let the students speak freely on a given topic, for a fixed period of time. Afterwards I give feedback on pronunciation and intonation, as well as speed and volume. 5 minutes-ish.

7. Finally they read an extended piece, either from a novel or a newspaper. Again, I highlight while they are reading and go through the highlights afterwards. By this point they almost certainly recognise why I highlighted before I say the reason. About 5 minutes.

So, one way I avoid too much teacher talk is that PRECISE introduction. This inspires me for the rest of the lesson to try to avoid chatting / waffle if I can. I make the tasks achievable and enjoyable, I ditch resources that don’t work straightaway. Remember although we are there to impart knowledge, we won’t know what level their understanding is if we just blah blah blah at them. It’s a two way thing, tutoring. I learn from them what they need to know next, they learn those skills from me, hopefully!

So – a MUCH more positive blog! HURRAH! And it’s the weekend! Hubby will arrive home with chips soon and we will all be able to relax.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend too 🙂


England in the Springtime

I adore England in the Springtime. I especially adore it here in East Anglia where there is a great mix of arable and livestock farming, so I drive past fields of rapeseed, cows, sheep (& lambs of course), wheat, corn, whatever they are growing. And the hedgerows – the hedgerows are bursting with life. Cow parsley and hawthorn and blackthorn and lilac and bluebells and harebells and the odd rogue bulb that someone has guerilla planted or has just ‘appeared’. The grass is long, luscious and thick, the trees have that luminous green in their leaves that painters often puzzle over capturing. My favourite painting of Spring is in my house. My father-in-law painted it and it’s perfect. The light dapples on the floor of the woods and the sky is that precious light blue we get in the Spring.

Things in England are not so happy. My facebook newsfeed is full of people utterly bemused at how a political party who achieved 30% of the vote can rule the country… a few people gathered to peacefully protest and they were treated appallingly by the Police, creating fights and arresting people who had done absolutely nothing. So actually being English is tainted… a bitter taste is left in our mouths.

So, will I have a job in a couple of years time? If people haven’t been affected by the swathing cuts yet, they will be soon. Will people have disposal income to spend on lessons to help them speak more clearly? Will employers still pay for their employees to receive tuition to gain confidence and ability in public speaking? To begin worrying about your future before there’s even a problem is a bit odd, isn’t it?

I haven’t anything useful or promising to share today. I am enjoying the Springtime and hope you are too.

BOOM! Podcast download hike!


Blimey. It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes ago that I was happy that my podcast had been downloaded 100 times. Now it’s over 150,000 times. That is amazing. It’s pretty humbling too – all of those people around the globe are listening to me and trying to apply what I cram into a few minutes to their every day speaking. I have to aim for useful brevity. I don’t think people will listen to podcasts about elocution for more than 10 minutes so I try and keep it under that, but I could be wrong? What do you think? Click on the photo to find my podcast if you’re curious.

Today I podcasted (is that even a verb?) about Muscular Flexibility. This is a matter close to my heart today as I sit here with sharp pain in my neck and shoulder 😦 I think I know how I did it. Last weekend it was hulling down with rain and it was cold out. I went for a run and listened to the Archers podcast as I ran, which I love listening to. In the background of the story were some workers on the farm, calling out to each other. I became convinced that it wasn’t in my headphones and that I was about to be shot by pheasant shooters, or run over by a tractor. I whipped my head round to check and I think that’s when I hurt myself. Ever since it’s been very sore and painful. I’m alternating between ibuprofen and co-codamol and trying some gentle yoga and physio to try and ease it. The pain is making my jaw and tongue very tense and I am having to consciously relax my entire head at times.

So these exercises are fantastic, duelcheck out this rhyme to practice the difference between /d/ and /dzh/ (the ‘juh’ sound). Try it and make sure the ‘d’ words don’t become ‘j’ sounds.

The most challenging one for me was this one:


I just couldn’t get my tongue and teeth round it this morning! But with practice I got it, much to my relief.

Try them! They’re brilliant!

English English vs American English

I just had a VERY interesting chat with a student who has lived in multiple locations in the Far East when growing up. She said that when her and her colleagues learned English they had teachers with American accents, that schools and universities would pay high fees to American-accented teachers, it was the accent to have. Now, she says, the opposite is true. Schools are increasingly keen for students to learn English with a British accent!

So – what should I do about this? Write to every school in South Korea and see if they would like me to Skype into their lecture halls? Target them to buy my audiobooks? Mind you, I bet the time difference doesn’t work out – when my husband travels to Japan for work, it is so difficult to find a time to chat…

It also ties in with a tweet I retweeted, tweetwhere the effect of Downton Abbey’s popularity in the US is that British voiceover actors have seen an upturn in their popularity! It’s so interesting how accents can be ‘popular’ or fall out of fashion, yet it can take years for someone to completely change their accent. It shouldn’t stop you trying though!

It also

Bank Holiday Comes Six Times A Year….

…days full of enjoyment to which everyone CHEERS!

Thanks Blur. I always sing this on Bank Holiday weekends. Their new album arrived this week and I’ve been happily spinning it on repeat on my turntable. It really, really sounds like Blur. They’ve grown but not changed.

I’ve spoken about confidence a lot with my students this week. Many of them lack the confidence to speak out in public, to change their voice, to add volume to their voice. A lot of the time it comes down to the fact that they worry, in advance, what people will think of their voice. In this day and age everything is under the microscope. Someone will be recording you or videoing you if you do something in public. This will be released to the world and there’s no erasing. I watched a trailer for that new horror film, Unfriended, which taps into a real concern – unwanted publicity. Few of us want to be the next viral video! 

So, to be really confident about our voice we need to practice it. To use it. To experiment with it. I frequently do daft things in my lesson to prove to my students that I will do silly things and not worry about it. I hope to make them laugh and relax and feel free to try new things. One of the Voice Box exercises is to have a conversation in which you only use letters of the alphabet, no words. It feels silly and, frankly, wonderful. The more we use our voices in an unusual way, the more we will relax about using our voice in a usual way. Our voices are wonderful, resonant, amazing things, we can make them higher or lower, squeak or shout. Sure, people will criticise, but even the very best actors and speakers receive criticism. We have to find a way to rise a little above those words and those thoughts.

So, today, this weekend, use your voice. Have a hum, a laaaahhh, a mama mama, sing, swoop, tut, click, whatever you like. Throw your arms open wide and bellow. Enjoy it! Then, when you’re back in the confines of work, remember that freedom and use it. 

Have a truly wonderful weekend!