Category Archives: ESL

“menstruate = The blood red day”

For those keeping track, you’re probably still on the edges of your seats in anticipation of Ayutthaya, Part 2. Well, get comfortable, because my busy ass is busy. Time consumption and promised posts aside, my blog would be bereft if left without irregular posts about my students. I’m a farang because I’m an ajarn, after all.

Earlier, I addressed how I felt about teaching university students. To use a vocabulary word from the third fourth of the semester, I was—and still am, I think—a little anxious about the whole bestowing-knowledge thing. If there’s one person who perpetually lives in a cloud of brain fart that stifles the nostrils of edification, it’s this guy.

Thankfully, a lot of my students have yet to catch a whiff. In fact, my English 2 academic class melted my heart last week when half of them cornered me after class and said, “Teacher, you teach English 3 and 4? We want you for all Englishes!” They persisted even after I assured them that I’m significantly harder as the levels progress. That, readers, was a good afternoon. (In fact, it was my birthday.)

English 2 has been the most revelatory of my classes. Their English proficiency is the lowest of all of my classes, so the insight they give me into how Thai students perceive and construe English has been invaluable. They also bust their asses for me—at least most of the time. As opposed to my conversation classes, which meet only once a week, I see my English 2 students three times a week, which has permitted me to watch both them and myself develop as the semester has progressed.

But enough sappy, I’m-a-rewarded-teacher stuff. It’s time for the meat of this post, which are, rather, memorable trimmings from my first semester here.

I think that idioms and expressions are a crucial aspect of any language; understanding the inner workings of the semiotic structures of anything is an invaluable procedure that any serious language user—native or not—should pursue with appropriate levels of rigor. Also, it’s just fun to explain ‘to kill a bottle’ and ‘to play the field’ to 19- and 20-year-old English-language learners.

To get some creative juices flowing, I had my students invent their own expressions in English after playing a Jeopardy-style game introducing the concept. I asked for an expression or idiom, its part of speech, an explanation of its usage(s), and a sample sentence. Below are five of the better ones (unedited), where ‘better’ means the spectrum of what ‘better’ means.

1) big face (adj.): it means to show off

ex: The old woman has a big face when she merits in the temple because there are so many people.

—Poor people cannot use it.

—Rich people can use it.


2) Milk spill = the chest of woman.

When you see another woman’s chest             example: when the women wear the jerkin [jersey/ tank top, I later learned] and they are not be careful enough then the other people will see their chest easily

I heard the boy beside me talk about her milk spill. that sit opposite me.


3) Beam without collumn [sic] (n.)

— Meaning. Beam and collumn is a thing that is need to come together. And it can’t missing each other. So beam without collumn is like. When you missing something that is very important.

Situation – when you go or do something. But you forgot a something which is very important.

Example – That fisherman look like Beam without column. He forgot a rod.


4) Pick a flower – take a leak.

During a driving, when a woman want a toilet but cannot find. She’ll go to the glass [grass] inside [beside?] the road for take a leak. Her act is like she is picking flowers.

Example – While I’m driving, I saw Malee’s picking flowers inside road.


5) menstruate = The blood red day

ex. The blood red day is coming then I feel upset.

This idiom should use with the women because only women will have the menstrual period and the menstruation is red and all women will get upset so then the women have a menstruation we called the blood red day as women menstruate.

This last expression stunned me, and in an absolutely great way. Before she handed it in, the student asked me if this was a good answer. I told her it was excellent. Fine, it’s not an idiom and probably only slightly a metaphorically grey expression, but fuck, who cares? I loved her candor, enthusiasm, and originality. Besides, for 3.75% percent of a grade—the assignment was to fulfill their Special Project grade—I’ll happily give her credit for her gusto, even if she did miss the various intricacies and shades that go into an idiom. Fucking whatever. Way to go, student.

Tonight is a dinner out and a very reluctant good-bye: one of the first people I met here—a vet who took was always ready with friendly guidance—is off to America before a jaunt in Australia, which itself is a prelude to India. She will, quite obviously, be goddamn missed.

Here's to you.

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Posted by on September 12, 2011 in ESL, Thailand


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I’m a Teacher at a University (insert laugh here)

My first plan for this entry was to include a long post about my day of shopping at three of the many malls in the area, but that seems a bit disrespectful to my loyal followers; you guys don’t want to read about the Starbucks on every floor of Central World. So I’m gonna keep the shopping nonsense to a minimum before jumping into my (surprisingly terrific) first week as an ESL teacher.

Luckily, there’s an American guy here who has a firm grasp on the area’s transit system as well as above-passable Thai. He was our tour guide for mall day and he exposed our group of five to the full spectrum of mass transit around Bangkok,

A view of the traffic we missed thanks to the BTS

from the shoddy, unnumbered green buses “that go places” to the BTS, Bangkok’s clean and efficient sky-rail system that gives a nice tour of the city’s mind-boggling traffic. I finally picked up a phone—a Nokia 1280 reminiscent of 1998—for THB 750, or $24.40. I also ate some tremendous Japanese food and have had a craving for soba ever since.

Afterwards we make our way to MBK, which is like an outdoor bazaar crammed into seven-story mall. I need to head back there soon to pick up some cheap DVDs and computer programs, like Adobe’s Acrobat Suite for THB 250. MBK is definitely something to see; it’s jammed full of people and its stores fit an impressive amount of crap into their small spaces. There’s half a floor dedicated to cell phones and, if I had to venture a guess based on no research at all, I’d say there are more cell phones being sold in that mall than there are active ones in some major American cities.

Excitement picked up on the way back to campus, when our taxi driver almost fell asleep at the wheel. To keep him awake, I kept screaming and talking loudly. At one point, I saw his eyes shut for almost 1.5 seconds. I was tempted to slap him on the back of his head. I’m not even kind of joking a little bit at all.

The uglist bedding ever.

As soon as the cab pulled up to the dorms, we hopped into the school-sponsored van heading to Tesco Lotus, or Thailand’s version of Target. I picked up some essentials, like silverware, laundry detergent, hangers, and the ugliest bedding ever.

At the end of the day, I celebrated with a can of Diet Coke. I love the soda anyway, but I also love products that announce themselves, like the can below.

No, stupid, it's not a bottle. Can't you read?

Mall Day, Thursday, was pretty exhausting by the end. Things improved on Friday, though, when a friend and I checked out the local fruit market, as we were (and still are) craving fresh foods. Market is probably a misleading term, as it’s more a collection of tables in a muddy clearing that get occupied by various vendors. Regardless of what it’s called, it was a life saver. Although the thing seemed to be winding down,  we still managed to pick up some mangoes and a delicious kiwi smoothie.

The local fruit market.

They taste like you think they would.

While there, I also nabbed some chicken feet, which I guess prompts further explanation and confession of my dietary habits beyond the last post. I was a vegetarian in the States, but now I’m a pescatarian who won’t be too annoyed if I eat animal stock, which is ubiquitous here. I also figured I’d eat some offal and nasty bits, but I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep that luxury; the chicken feet weren’t—surprise; surprise—anything to write home about (but something to write on a blog about, apparently).

Shopping days transitioned into orientation days, which involved two eight-hour sessions over two days, Saturday and Sunday, to teach us what we needed to know to be ESL teachers, crash-course stylee.

And people lament the American school system.

Despite its whirlwind nature, the orientations left me feeling prepared enough for, at least, the beginning of the semester. Thankfully, I’m also not a typically nervous person. Consequently, Monday—the first day of class—wasn’t too daunting; in fact, I was a little excited.

But then Monday sucked.

Out of my three classes on Monday, two went pretty damn poorly. One class got the wrong syllabus—which were poorly marked—so I had to wing the explanation for grading and standards in the class. After that SNAFU came a class that, for professional reasons, I’ll remain vague about. Let’s just say it could have been much, much better.

Once the first day wrapped up, I was pretty damn discouraged. I spent the rest of the day bitching to any sympathetic ear that didn’t mind being bent. The balloon was popped; I had temptations of Chipotle and American TV playing on my mind.

But then the rest of the week kicked ass.

My students are either awesome or quiet, a blessed mix for a new teacher. Moreover, almost all of my sections are at the school’s highest level of English classes, meaning I get (mostly) the best English speakers. They’re funny, observant, personable, witty, hard working, and respectful. Thanks to my students, the classes had flow, which isn’t something I’d ever thought I’d achieve.

The kids bought onto the class from the outset, even after my boring setup. The first class involved a general outline of the course, class rules, and an interview process that culminated in telling the class what you learned about your partner. Of course, I tried to spice things up with little asides and humorous spins on rules. One of my lame schticks went “I’m from Philadelphia. Do you know Will Smith? He’s from Philadelphia too. He tried to blow up a toilet with a firecracker when he went to the same high school as my younger brother.”

(Just in case you were wondering, I was right: blowing up toilets is globally funny.)

During the post-interview presentations, most of the kids simply and dryly went through their explanations of their partners. A select few, though, showed remarkable confidence and embraced the chance to perform—and speak English—in front of the class. A pair of girls in their third year broke into a song and dance for a couple seconds without thinking twice. Later, a pair of fabulously gay guys talked about how much they both like soccer—not the game, but the players—and that one wants to “get into businessmen—businessmen” when he graduates. Confidence and a pun? The kid’s a winner. He got 1,000 points for effort that day. Of course, not all of my classes were through-the-roof tremendous, but they were enough to put a smile on my face at the end of the day.

I still have some anxiety, though, about the remaining weeks. For one, all but one of my classes focus on speaking and listening and seem to be a bit more off the cuff and open for improvisation and organic organization. The remaining class, though, is reliant upon silent reading, writing, and grammar lessons; it’s more obviously academically rigorous than the conversation classes. The academic one meets three times a week; the others only meet once. I’m constantly concerned that the kids in the one will lose focus and glaze over when I teach them about conditionals and past continuous because, hell, I glaze over. I want to hear these kids speak more, but that isn’t the point of the class. I guess it’s a matter of hitting and recognizing my stride, so we’ll see how it goes. Regardless, I’m a teacher at a university, which seems a little silly, if not a little cool.

In other news, the Phillies need to start winning again.

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Posted by on June 5, 2011 in ESL, Thailand


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