Tuesday, 14 August 2012

BREAKING BADLY

Contrary to a common misconception, TEFL has not finally got the better of me and forced me into an early retirement consisting of crafts, art therapy and medication in an institutionalised environment, life has been tossing me hither and thither with almost reckless abandon. The upshot being, I'm back, and this time I mean it.

Back from Campinas, which turned out to be a costly move on so many fronts, but now firmly ensconced in a rather fetching house with a big yard, a generous barbecue area, electric lighting and running water.

Again, it's election time, and our new neighbour is one of the chosen ones who drives around town with wedding disco speakers tied to the roof of his car urging us all to vote for his candidate - luckily, I can't vote being a foreigner, so a) I can safely ignore him, and b) no one can blame me when it all goes tits up.

A woman called today to do a pre-election survey. One of the questions was, "Is there any candidate you look at and think, "No way"? I mumbled that, no, I didn't really have anything against any of them.

What I wanted to say in the real world was, "Yes, that gibbering little chump Mendes, who, when he isn't gibbering, is wearing the grin of a man who's just won a particularly closely contested farting competition."

But alas I didn't, meaning that the opinion poll results are now irreversibly skewed, so it's anybody's election.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING

Judging by the quantity of Police Statements I am translating at the moment, Northern Ireland is not a good place to be if you're Portuguese.

But the more nationals from that country that get beaten up, fail to repay debts, steal each others' electrical equipment and have their windows smashed by gangs of hooded youths, the better for business as far as I'm concerned.

The tragedies of globalisation - and they say crime doesn't pay...

Monday, 19 December 2011

AN ECONOMIC MIRACLE

Brazil is, we are told, currently experiencing something of an economic miracle, finally making progress towards fulfilling the massive potential it has always harboured. Economist speak feverishly about all kinds of economic indicators that make little sense in the lives of ordinary people, and the country is held up as a beacon of hope in an increasingly grave global economic meltdown.

Various companies have wasted no time in jumping on the bandwagon, notably Johnny Walker, whose TV ad, "Keep Walking, Brazil" depicts Sugar Loaf Mountain rising into the form of a giant, to the disbelief of onlooking cariocas. "The giant is no longer sleeping", the caption reads at the end of the spot, which may sell a few more cases of whisky, but is about as detached from reality as it is possible to be without employing psychtropic drugs for those at the bottom of the food chain - such as TEFLers.

In many ways, TEFL is a perfect capitalist model. Charge students as much as you can get away with, pay teachers as little as you can get away with, and sit back and admire your burgeoning bank balance. Those entrepreneurs who started language schools in Britain in the sixties are largely, if not millionaires, certainly very comfortably off. And with qualifications to become an EFL teacher basically amounting to a certificate completed in a month and a minimum fluency in the English language, there is no shortage of eligible candidates to form the academic staff of these illustrious academies of learning, a fact which of course forces down wages due to the laws of supply and demand.

Venture abroad, and things are even more laughable. Most language school owners in Brazil, for example, are franchisees, many of whom have not the faintest grasp of the language they are meant to be offering. Drawn in by promises of untold riches, they take the language school model to the extreme, showing little concern for results (which are often indiscernible, as discussed previously) except those of a financial order.

The experience of a Brazilian friend of mine illustrates this point perfectly. Eager to earn a little extra cash, and having lived in Australia and taught English over a number of years, he approached a language school in a neighbouring town with a view to picking up a few classes. The owner, a thankless shyster as it turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, met his enquiries with enthusiasm. "Come and participate in our two-day training course," he enthused, "so you can learn about our unique methodology." My friend asked the obvious question of how much he could expect to receive per hour. "Don't worry about that now," the owner insisted, "we can iron out the details after you've done the training." In other words, my friend was forced to do the training to find out his salary - reluctantly, he agreed, taking two days unpaid leave from his regular job to listen to 9 to 5 claptrap, twice.

Much waffling and stalling later, the owner revealed the hourly rate, as if he were announcing the winner of the latest series of Strictly. Only this time there was no ticker tape or delerious studio audience. "I can give you my maximum rate (for experienced teachers only) of eight reais per hour", the tightwad intoned gravely.

I won't bore you with what that equates to in pounds, dollars or euros. Suffice it to say that, at a school of the same franchise, my friend formerly received twelve reais an hour - and that was fully a decade ago, in 2002 - factor in inflation, and it probably represents more than a 50% pay cut.

Truly a miracle of economy.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

GREAT TEFL WASTERS I HAVE KNOWN - JASON

Continuing my occasional series on Great TEFL Wasters, allow me to cast my mind back to Jason, a typically chirpy Londoner I met whilst teaching in Italy. As with most London lads, he fancied himself as a bit of a player, with just fashionably long curly hair and a cocky patter that veritably flowed off the tongue. He was unique in that, during the whole time I knew him, I only ever heard him employ one adjective for a myriad of situations - the brilliantly versatile "unnatural".

When I once pointed out a rather fetching female to him in a nightclub, he whined, "Cor, strike me, that's unnatural, innit?" Another time, I invited him to stop in a bar for a coffee, to which he responded, "Coffee? Nah, I don't drink coffee, mate, it's unnatural, innit, coffee?" His profuse perspiration I'd noted on a not particularly hot day was explained away with, "Yeah, I've always sweated a lot, it's unnatural, innit?" And so it went on.

Unnatural was applied to express size, degree, likes and dislikes, surprise... you name it, it was unnatural in some way. I thought it brilliant - unnaturally so, perhaps. There was an economy in his technique I found truly compelling. Apparently, so did his students, who followed his lead and could be heard describing the rain not as torrential, or heavy, but "unnatural-uh".

One day I met him at the school, and he was looking very sorry for himself. He'd just broken up with his Italian girlfriend. He didn't go into details, but I've often wondered whether he hadn't suggested they do something "unnatural" in the bedroom. Or summat.

I think this may well be his twin brother...


Monday, 8 August 2011

TEFL'S ICY CLAWS

My recent absence may be explained, if not justified, by my having moved to the warmer climes of Campinas, pronounced "Cam-penis", which pleases the 12-year old inside my shorts. Leaving my in-laws peering wild-eyed over the parapet of their own lunacy, bless 'em, we have left them to their lectures and bickering, finally transferring our worldly possessions to a place of our own, a move which has been a modest 9 years at the planning stage. If I'd known that would happen, I'd still be drinking lunchtime pints and eating scampi in the Dorset Soldier in Corfe Mullen of a weekend and trying to get excited about football on a big screen.

Our worldly possessions have been packed, unpacked and carefully arranged, we await the arrival of our new sofa, dining table and chairs and TV stand unit thingy, netting has been strategically placed in front of our eighth-floor balcony and windows to prevent our 1.5-year-old from practising skydiving, though she does seem determined to push at least one item through the gaps in said netting, most recently the TV remote control. If I am deported for reckless endangerment or failing to restrain a child, it won't be for lack of foresight.

The irony of all this is that, as our costs have risen considerably, it appears an imminent return to TEFL is on the cards, but this time, it shall be different. I've calculated that if I can get 4 students to study 2 hours a week at the rate I plan to charge, this should cover our monthly food expenses at least.

Inside our gated compound surrounded by machine gun nests, there are 4 blocks of flats, each boasting 14 floors with 4, 3-bedroom flats on each (a total of 224 flats). If each contains at least 2 adults (no children please, for all that's sacred), that's around 450 potential students - and I just need 4 to think it's sophisticated to have a native-speaking private English teacher and I'm in the black.

Mind you, when I started a school with my friend Bert in Alumínio, I confidently predicted that, if only 1% of the nearby factory workforce of 5,000 wanted English classes, we'd have 50 students right off the bat - we quietly closed one year later having reached a peak student body of 12. But this time it'll be different - from now on, TEFL shall no longer be my master, but my mistress - albeit a fairly overly made-up and coarse one who you probably wouldn't want to take to the Henley Regatta.

More live news on my TEFL comeback as and when it happens! (Distant cheering/sobbing).