Posted in Spanish learners

Lost in Translation


The other day, my Spanish ‘suegra’ starting talking to me about one of her favourite musical called ‘Sonrisas y Lagrimas’ (smiles and tears). I hadn’t heard of the film but she insisted that it was a Hollywood classic. Finally, she started to hum a tune from the movie and it became clear that she was talking about:‘The Sound of Music.’ crying-smiley-thumb12030139

As well as dubbing films into Spanish, the Spanish film distributors also feel the need to modify or completely change the titles of movies. Here are a few, translate them into English and then see if you can work out the original English titles

(Feel free to comment and I’ll reveal the answers in my next post)

question mark

1. Casarse esta en Griego

2. Milagros inesperados

3. Mi pobre Angleito

4. Experto en Diversion

5.  Secreto en la Montana

6. Que paso ayer

7. Vaselina

8. Muertos de risa

9. Amor y Desafio

10. Perdidos en Tokio

Watching movies is an excellent way to learn a language. Cinema is primarily a visual medium: we can understand much of what is happening by focusing on the moving images and the facial expressions and gestures of the actors.

This leaves us with plenty of cognitive energy to deal with interpreting what is being said……

brain thinking

In Spain these days, our students have easy access to English listening material just by choosing to watch films in their original language.

However, many of my Spanish students don’t do that, claiming it to be too difficult. I always mention they have a range of options:

Watching a film in Spanish with English subtitles  will help them compare and analyse lexical and structural similarities and differences in English and Spanish with a focus on the written form

Watching a film in English with Spanish subtitles will help them compare and analyse lexical and structural similarities and differences in English and Spanish with a focus on the spoken form

Watching a film in English with English subtitles will help them compare and analyse the written and spoken forms of individual words, phrases and grammatical structures in English

Watching a film in English with no subtitles will help them deal with listening in real time when the listener has little choice but to interpret the utterances of the speaker based on their understanding of the context and situation, their reading of the paralinguistic clues being offered, and their functional knowledge of linguistic forms being used.

So, next time a student tells you that watching movies in the original language is too difficult, why not discuss this range of options with them? Mention that they can turn subtitles on and off and switch languages throughout the film depending on their cognitive energy levels.

Use the analogy of training for a marathon: at the beginning, people do lots of walking and brief bursts of runing but the ratio changes as running becomes habitual until finally they don’t need to walk to finish the race.


By training themselves to watch films in English, our students will progressively improve their listening skills and before long they will be able to understand individual scenes and eventually entire films with little or no recourse to Spanish subtitles.

Don’t forget to guess the titles of the original films. Some of them are as ridiculous as the American version of Abre los Ojos. What does Vanilla Sky mean anyway?

Posted in All about TEFL (Courses and Finding work)

5 things to do before starting your TEFL course

So, you’ve been accepted onto a TEFL course. How are you feeling?

  • Relaxed because you are a fluent English speaker with a good educational background.
  • Perhaps you feel a little trepidation as one of your friends took the course and said it was one of the toughest months of her life.
  • Maybe you’re worried that you’re not going to ‘cut the mustard’, ‘hack it’, ‘pass muster’.

TEFL courses are tough. We try to squeeze 5 weeks worth of input into a 4-week time period. Not our fault as it’s just the way the market has evolved. What can help is doing a bit of preparation before the course starts.

Here are 5 things you should do to prepare for a TEFL course:

In at number 5, read a book or two, some articles even, about TEFL. You’ll experience what it’s all about on your course but a little background reading won’t hurt. Remember that “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”  The Jeremy Harmer book shown above is a great primer and includes a DVD with real-life scenes from a classroom. A cheaper and shorter alternative is from the Teach Yourself stable of guides.

Jeremy Harmer. How to Teach English. Pearson Longman.

David Riddell. Teach Yourself: Teach English as a Foreign Language.

At number 4, find out what a phonemic chart is and familiarise yourself with some of the sounds and symbols in the English language. Why not go to the BBC British Council Teach English website and play around with it:

Straight on to number 3. Brush up on your grammar. Learn what a verb is, a noun, an adjective, a dangling subjunctive participle relative pronoun clause (don’t worry, I made the last one up). You don’t need to become an expert but knowing the basics will mean that you’ll hit the ground running when you start the course.

Michael Swan. Practical English Usage. Oxford University Press.

Martin Parrott. Grammar for English Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press.

Heading down the home straight now.

At number 2, ask the TEFL centre if you can come in and observe a class. If that fails, see if there are any English schools / academies close by and ask if they’ll let you sit in on a class. The most important thing is that you see a teacher and their class in action. The DVD accompanying the Harmer book will help too. You should watch demonstration classes on your course before you teach but the more exposure to the TEFL environment the better.

Finally, at number 1 with a bullet is….have a beer / red wine / coffee / tipple of your choice with some friends before the course. Let your hair down and relax. The course is intensive and you’ll probably have to do assignments and teaching preparation at weekends so partying during the course may knock you off your stride. Besides, once you start the course, you will alienate close friends and family with your endless references to eliciting, correction strategies and, most egregious of all, your constant correction and reformulation of their grammar!!

So, if you are embarking upon a TEFL course sometime soon. Do some preparation and you’ll have time and energy to enjoy it. Good luck.

Posted in All about TEFL (Courses and Finding work), Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

What is TEFL anyway?

What does TEFL stands for?

a) Tax evasion for fraudulent lawyers

b) Talking excitedly to foreign ladies

c) Teaching English as a Foreign Language

If you answered c, you have come to the right site and you probably are a TEFL teacher, a prospective TEFL teacher, or a single male TEFL teacher or prospective single male  TEFL teacher that is frantically googling `Talking excitedly to foreign ladies‘ as it sounds far more exciting!

What about TESOL, CELTA, ESL, EFL etc.?

There is many acronyms and intialisms in the world of English Language Teaching (ELT). Some of them are used in the UK whereas others are used in other English speaking countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. For a detailed discussion of the precise meanings of these terms, I refer you to Mr Wikipedia. Quite frankly though, I wouldn’t bother, it will give you a migraine. For the purposes of this blog, I will generally refer to TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language as opposed to teaching it to native speakers) and ELT (English language teaching).

Well, what is a TEFL course then?

Again, there is some confusion over the precise terms but they all refer to initial training courses which enable adults to become English teachers to non-native speakers. They can be done full-time (4 long and intensive weeks), part-time (over a period of between 3 and 9 months) and can be done F2F (face-to-face in a traditional classroom setting) or online (like distance learning over the Internet) or as a blended course ( a mixture of F2F and online).

What does the course consist of?

Most course combine input sessions (lessons where you learn about the English language and how to teach it), written projects (such as creating a set of classroom materials or planning a course of study for an individual student) and the dreaded Teaching Practice (where you get to practise your teaching skills on local guinea pigs  before being savagely torn apart by your tutors who observe and obsessively note down every minor mistake you make). BEWARE: 100% ONLINE COURSES DO NOT TEACH YOU HOW TO TEACH! In order to learn how to teach, you have to teach – that’s called experiential learning. I love watching movies, reading about movies and watching documentaries about movies. Does that make me the next Martin Scorsese? If you complete the course fulfilling the requirements – all the assignments, tests and your tutor thinks you can teach a class of learners without physically, mentally, emotionally or linguistically scarring them for life – then, and only then on any decent course, you will be given a certificate and let loose in the ELT world.

What can I do with a TEFL certificate?

In the words of a former trainee, an inveterate inventor of malaproprisms,: `With a TEFL certificate in my pocket, the world is my lobster!’ A cursory glance at a website such as : will reveal hundreds of English teaching jobs all around the world. We recommend that you look for work in Spain as there’s a huge demand and, crisis notwithstanding, it’s a great place to live.

Well, there we are. I hope I answered a few questions about TEFL. In future blogs, we’ll be (adopts best David Attenborough voice)  going deeper and deeper into the mysterious TEFL world. Hope you join us..