August 25, 2014

Sentence Diagramming

Many years ago, back when I was in elementary school, diagramming sentences was a basic staple of every English or writing class.

The idea is actually quite simple...

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Posted by mmorf at 12:18 AM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2014

How Well Do You Know English?

Learning and using English can be tricky. Here is a short quiz to test how well you...

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Posted by mmorf at 12:32 AM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2014

Have An Accent?

I have to admit that accents have always been a mystery to me. I live on the West Coast of North America where most of us have what is called a 'flat' accent.

Supposedly news anchors of national news broadcasting stations spend time here to...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:21 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2014

What Makes A Word Offensive?

Using slang or derogatory words as an individual is one thing, but when a public organization, like a sports team, makes a public statement by their name...

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March 14, 2014

Don't Use These Phrases!

I urge my students to avoid cliche's and slogans in their writing. But some phrases are even worse than...

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February 21, 2014

Most Common English Grammar Errors

We all know that the English language has many tricky areas.. From inconsistent spelling rules to slang...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2014

50th Anniversary Of The Beatles

It's quite rare for young people to take notice of the 50th anniversary of anything, let alone the debut of a musical group. But, love them or hate them, the Beatles are not your usual...

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Posted by mmorf at 09:52 PM | Comments (1)

February 04, 2014

OMG! The Web Has A Style Guide?

Everybody uses words, characters and acronyms on the internet, but do we agree at all about how to use or spell...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2013

If You Want To Live A Long Time - Write For Children

Writing is good mental exercise, but did you know that people who write for children generally....

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Posted by mmorf at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2013

What Makes A Langage Difficult To Learn?

Learning a new language, to put it mildly, is a challenge. Some languages are inherently more difficult than others - but that depends on...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2013

Telling Good Stories

Everybody seems to love a good story. Not everyone, unfortunately, can tell a good story.

Every story has a captivating opening, a few memorable details and...

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Posted by mmorf at 09:48 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2013

Does Learning A New Language Make Us A New Person?

Deeply immersing ourselves in a new language is a challenge, but does it even make us a different person?

Does absorbing a new language change the way we think and...

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Posted by mmorf at 09:08 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2013

What makes Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream speech' so good?

I teach public speaking occasionally. Writing and speaking are parallel, but distinct skills and practices.

Some people are naturally better, or just find these two areas of expression easier than others.

But writing and speaking are both...

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Posted by mmorf at 07:10 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2013

If Shakespeare Wrote Star Wars

I tell my students that audience and purpose help define a writing style. This is true, but it also true that some writers - or eras - have their own clearly defined and recognizable style.

Shakespeare (or at least his style) is readily recognized, but what if Shakespeare had written a contemporary screenplay?

Take a look here and tell me...

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Posted by mmorf at 07:58 PM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2013

Evaporating And Dying Words - Snollygoster

Words emerge and words are neglected until they quietly disappear from our language. But have you ever thought about who might do that or how...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2013

American Englishes

Every user of English, and perhaps every language, speaks a variant, or subspecies of the language. British English, it could be argued, is more formal and American English is more casual if not...

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June 27, 2013

Verb Tenses

Verb tenses in any languages can be confusing. In English, as one might imagine...

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June 20, 2013

Saving The Rare And Fragile Languages

As much as I love the English language, and the idea of an essentially global, nearly universal language certainly has its appeal - and its utilitarian advantages - the seemingly unstoppable force of a globally shared language also largely means...

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June 15, 2013

Words That Last

Every word has its own roots, its specific, particular route that it takes from emergence, common use and acceptance and finally, sometimes....

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June 11, 2013

USA Word Maps: Who Says What Where

I’ll be the first to admit that I am a total language nerd. I find language to be the most revealing cultural artifact that any of us use. And we all use language in our own way, but, at exactly the same time, we expect others, even complete strangers...

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May 15, 2013

Could Texting Save Endangered Languages?

I, and many others, have written about the threat that texting holds for many languages, but could texting actually be saving some rare and endangered languages?

Some people say so, I know it seems unlikely, but...

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Posted by mmorf at 09:34 PM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2013

Do Words Keep The Same Meaning Over Thousands Of Years?

Do some words stay in circulation for thousands of years? Even many thousands of years? Some of those who study language...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:14 PM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2013

How Do We Talk?

Who of us even considers how we speak? We all should, because as well know, on some level at least, how we say something is at least as important as...

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April 15, 2013

More On Code-Switching

Code switching is a term to describe how we shift our tone, vocabulary and grammar when we...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2013

Icky And Odd Words

Are there some words that you find confusing? Annoying? Distasteful?

Yes, there are some words that we just don't like, or we may not like...

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March 05, 2013

What Makes An Irreplaceable Teacher?

We've all had good teachers. But would we agree about what...

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February 28, 2013

Words And Phrases - Old And New

New words and phrases emerge all the time in our language, and thanks to popular culture and its constant revisiting of historical eras, we see words used (or misused) in their original historical settings.

Shows like Downton Abbey and movies like...

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February 03, 2013

Tell Your Story

As a first writing assignment, I usually assign a narrative essay. A narrative essay is...

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January 25, 2013

More Grammar Rules That Aren't

There are two basic approaches to grammar: Prescriptive; how a language should be used and Descriptive, which describes how a language is actually used. With that dynamic tension in mind, here are some rules to, at least, keep in mind as you use...

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Posted by mmorf at 08:22 PM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2013

Smash Fear - And Learn Anything

Learning a new language - in fact learning anything new can be an overwhelming challenge.

It's very odd isn't it? Children learn extraordinarily difficult and complex things, like language and learning to walk, while adults struggle to...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:07 PM | Comments (1)

January 10, 2013

Top Words Of 2012

I know 2012 is over, but what a year! And it certainly left us with some memorable words - and even several...

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December 31, 2012

YOLO, Fiscal Cliff And Other Annoying Words

Some words seem to be useful and even appreciated forever. Others become annoying almost immediately. Some are tied to particular events or personalities, and that may lead to...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2012

Is English Changing Because Of The Web?

It's hard for us to even imagine life before the internet. The Web has changed everything about how we spend out time, shop and...

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Posted by mmorf at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2012

Play It Again, Sam

We all use words and see and hear them used by others continually. But that doesn't mean we always understand either the intended meaning or even the words.

When I was a lot younger,I had a friend who, it seemed to me...

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November 25, 2012

What's your sign (language)?

I love words. Words on paper, words spoken, performance art involving words and even...

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November 20, 2012

Hungry Birds

Most of us humans like to imagine that we are the only animals who use language. Whales certainly communicate, but I don't think anyone would make the argument that they use words, but...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2012

Boys, Girls And Language

For about a year I taught at Beijing Foreign Studies University ( in Beijing, People's Republic of China. I hadn't really thought of it before, but the vast majority of my students were female. This was strange enough in any context...

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Posted by mmorf at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2012

Spelling And Punctuation

Spelling in English can be tricky. Most words are spelled (mostly) by how they sound, but....

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Posted by mmorf at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2012

Contradictory Words

In my introductory English classes I talk about homonyms (words with the same pronunciation but different meaning, like bare and bear), synonyms (words with very similar meanings, like cool and chill) and...

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October 21, 2012

Where New Words Come From - Romnesia

Love them or hate them, political seasons change much more than...

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October 17, 2012

Political Train Wrecks

I don't know about British English, but in American English we have a term 'like watching a train wreck' to describe something that is horrible or disastrous but...

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Posted by mmorf at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2012

Politics - Truth & Lies

Political lies, distortions and betrayals have been with us since the dawn of recorded history. From the time of the Caesars to today's headlines, it is a continuing challenge to...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2012


Everybody says the wrong thing sometimes. When politicians or celebrities do it, we call it a gaffe.

Fortunately for most of us, what we say or write is...

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August 28, 2012

Words and Numbers

Ever wonder how our language defines how we think about the world? Every language is distinct and shows its particular...

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Posted by mmorf at 09:54 PM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2012

Does This Language make Me Look Fat?

As much as I love language, I am always mystified by its reach into our lives. Language is far more than the 'tags' we put on things. Perhaps our language defines - or at least impacts - us in ways we never would...

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Posted by mmorf at 12:03 PM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2012

"Home Run!", "Touch Down" And Other American Sports Idioms

Americans love idioms - especially sports idioms. If you are attempting to learn - or teach American English, you have to master...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:52 PM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2012

Infeasible Or Unfeasible? How Do We Address Others?

There are at least two sets of categories of English. One set is the almost parallel pair of Englishes we call American and British. There is also the set of linguistic distinctions between...

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Posted by mmorf at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2012

Expressing Ourselves

Maybe our brains aren't the ideal language creating organs many of us imagine them to be...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:27 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2012

A Few More Words About Writing

There's something about putting words down, whether on paper or by keyboard...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:21 PM | Comments (0)

June 08, 2012

Want To Make Up Your Own Word?

Ever run into a situation where you want to describe something but the word doesn't exist? It's not that you can't...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2012

What Makes A Good Blog?

My basic job, in a variety of settings, has been the teaching of writing. I teach writing, and I write. It's an interesting set of disciplines. I see teaching as my attempt to sum up the best...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2012

Hungry For English?

Learning a language might seem endlessly complicated. And it probably is. There are all kinds of cultural and historical references that have accumulated into the language we are attempting to learn, and...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2012

English: Blame the Saxons, And The Vikings, And The French...

Yes, the English language is confusing, has inconsistent spelling rules, ever-changing vocabulary and...

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Posted by mmorf at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2012

Just Say No (Or Not)

There are many ways of saying "no" in English. And the word "no" is used in many ways that...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:27 PM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2012

Use That Word Correctly!

Pronunciation is the first thing anyone hears as we speak. Our vocabulary might be great, and our grammar might be impeccable...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2012

Are You Melliloquent? Flexiloquent?

Do you like words? How about rarely used or forgotten words? Or how about short words you can use in Scrabble or...

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Posted by mmorf at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2012

Is A Picture Worth Only A Thousand Words?

There's an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what are thousands of pictures worth? We all take - and keep pictures because of what they...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2012

Are You A Lousy Writer?

Are you a lousy writer? There are many attributes of a not-so-good writer.

I think it's mostly laziness but...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:01 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2012

What's A Yankee?

Learning a language is tough enough, but when meanings change over time and locale, it can be a strange experience to...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:31 PM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2012

Is The English Language Dying?

What do you think of this statement?

"Linguists estimate that about 2,500 of the world's 6,000 languages are "endangered." One of them is mine: 20th century North American Standard English."

Just when you think you have English all figured out...

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Posted by mmorf at 07:22 PM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2012

An Unexpected Source of Linguistic Richness

Learning the vocabulary and grammar of any language is difficult enough. If you then add variables like tones, accents and regional pronunciations, you have enough...

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Posted by mmorf at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2012

Some Grammar Rules That Aren't

Language is as frustrating as it is fascinating. Some rules make sense all the time, and some make sense sometimes. Some rules might seem arbitrary and with some rules, an alert reader can see why this rule might be essential or made...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:05 PM | Comments (1)

February 03, 2012

Do You Have A Dominant Impression?

A dominant impression is another way of saying topic sentence in the context of writing. I define topic sentence as the...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:02 PM | Comments (2)

January 25, 2012

Favorite Words?

We all use words continually as we speak or write. It can be a useful exercise to...

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Posted by mmorf at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2011

Good-Bye 2011

For most of the world (except those who follow the Chinese calendar) we are coming to the end of 2011 and...

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October 20, 2011

Word Portraits

The most vivid and memorable writing is writing that appeals to the...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:18 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2011

Of Books And E-Books

I'm a reader. It doesn't matter where I see words, I read on paper, online and pretty much anywhere I see ideas...

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Posted by mmorf at 11:50 AM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2010

You May Say That I'm A Dreamer But I'm Not The Only One

The whole idea of a world language is rather odd, don't you think?

I love the whole idea of people from every culture and language group being able to....

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November 24, 2010

OK, OK, Revenge Of The OK Corral

One of those puzzles about language is where words come from and how they spread. By most measures, the word "OK" (if you can even call it a word) is by far the most....

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October 08, 2010

"You May Say That I'm A Dreamer" John Lennon

If there was ever an anthem for our times - or perhaps for our earth - could a better suggestion be....

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September 22, 2010

You Are What You ...Read?

Several years ago I had a beginning Asian ESL student whose vocabulary and pronunciation were excellent. I had assumed that she was far along in her language studies.

I was stunned when I found that she was just beginning her English studies. She was further along - and far more confident than students with years more study behind them. How did she do it?

Her secret was beautiful in its simplicity...

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September 12, 2010

How do YOU Learn?

Ever wonder how you picked up your native language? You know, the pronunciations, grammar and vocabulary you just absorbed from those around you when you were a little kid?

Ever wonder why we just absorb a language at one stage in life....

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August 09, 2010

Misheard Song Lyrics - 'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

I like to use songs and music to teach English. Movement and rhythm add to the learning experience. Sometimes however, the words can be a little hard...

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February 07, 2010

Got A Story to Tell? Here's a writing Contest

It doesn't take long, in a foreign country, for a traveler to encounter (or create) ridiculous, impossible and even life changing events.
Don't forget them - share them!

Yes, share these experiences with friends and family, but don't forget to share your experiences with the world...

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December 03, 2009

What Were You Born To Do?

What were you born to do? It's an interesting question and one worthy of personal - or group- exploration. I found a website that helps individuals or groups...

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August 07, 2009

What'd I Say? Slang and Informal English

In informal conversation, English, especially American English, holds endless, sometimes dangerous and occasionally contradictory hazards for...

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July 30, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green - Or Even Keeping Track Of What "Green" Might Mean

"It's Not Easy Being Green" was originally from the children's television series "Sesame Street". It was a phrase used by Kermit the frog as bemoaned the various indignities frogs (like all living creatures) must...

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June 16, 2009

What's Your Ideal International Job?

Is there a particular place you'd like to live? Is there some specific attribute that you'd like to experience - or share....

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March 29, 2009

Who Is The Real Foreigner?

So who's the real foreigner?

Have you ever noticed that in just about any ESL context, someone is the foreigner?

Whether the teacher or the student, someone....

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Posted by mmorf at 08:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 25, 2009

Finding Your Voice


Most students of other languages lack confidence in public speaking of the new language. Shyness is a major barrier to making a language your own.

In essence, the main principle is practice, practice, practice.

But what is a safe and practical way to to do this?

Thanks to the internet there are . . .

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December 11, 2005

Teaching ESL WITHOUT An Employer

ESL at Joes.jpg

"Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell and advertise." ~Ted Turner

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December 09, 2005

Workplace Issues - The Problem with Private ESL Classes

"They're called lessons because they lessen from day to day." ~Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland

How are your private lessons going this semester? I hope that they’re not anything like mine! Speaking of which, the topic of this entry is private ESL classes. I have talked to many ESL teachers about this topic, and it’s surprising to see how quickly the conversation can become heated. It seems that everyone has a strong opinion about whether or not a teacher can make a decent living giving them.

In the places I've taught ESL, salaries aren’t necessarily known to be top rate. After trying to live on the school’s salary, I eventually decided . . .

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December 01, 2005

Workplace Issues - What Do You Do About Missed ESL Classes?

"The joys of meeting pay the pags of absence / Else who could bear it?" ~ Nicholas Rowe

Dear Readers,

Private lesson no-shows

Has this ever happened to you? You spent an hour preparing for a private class, then rush to get to it on time. You set up your props or whatever you will be using, then sit back and wait for your students to arrive. Ten minutes later, you're still waiting, but you have faith. After all, they've been late before. Twenty minutes later, you begin to get that "feeling," but decide to stick it out. Forty minutes later, which is exactly twenty minutes before the class is scheduled to end, you begin to pack up to go home.

If you work in a school, you may be silently cheering your luck. (Extra time to goof off!) But if this happens in a private class, you have . . .

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