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A.R. & Proud

Updated: 2018-03-06T07:59:56.830-08:00




I live in Geneva, Switzerland now. I teach American English pronunciation at the US Mission here. I think it is safe to say that I won't be blogging again for a long time. Thank you for your support and love. I hope you are all happy and healthy.

Photo courtesy of © Genève Tourisme



My husband has joined the Department of State and has been welcomed into the 136th Foreign Service Specialist Class. It begins at the end of January. We will be moving to Virgina soon and around Valentine's Day we will learn where in the world we will be posted. So stay tuned ...

Get Around To It ... Eventually


I know, I know. Not blogging for months is not a good way to keep a blog alive. I've honestly thought about killing it. But with new life changes on the way soon, I may need it more than ever! (No, I'm not pregnant.)

Quick updates:
Still teaching English and loving it!
Still healing from the car accident
Still not back in the pool. Maybe in 2015?!

I'm currently working on an ESL presentation that I am happy to share with the word once it's ready. Stay tuned ...

Get Back In the Pool


I think I'm finally at the point in my physical therapy journey where I can get back in the pool. However, to make sure I don't over do it, I won't bring my goggles and I won't bring my swim cap. But gosh, it will be nice to get back in the water.

It's Always Nice To Be Thanked


At the end of the last semester one of my very sweet students gave me this:

and this:


While all of my students thank me at the end of each class, it did feel nice to get an extra thanks at the end of the semester.

Is there someone you are thankful for? Saying thank you may just make their day.

Get Back To It


Have I really not blogged for two months? Well, time flies when you are having fun. Let's see, since we talked last I have:

* been to Madrid, Spain for a great family vacation
* taught American English pronunciation for 7 hours a week at Clark College for 6 weeks
* got hit by a car while driving my car
* went to numerous doctor's appointments to find out what is now wrong with my shoulder
* learned that a frozen water bottle feels great when held against my painful rotator cuff (shoulder)

I've also read some books, watched way too much TV and spend time outdoors. The English program I followed for class was amazing. I've signed up to teach it again once Clark's summer classes begin. Depending on who shows up, I will start from the beginning or just continue. Either way, it'll be a great experience.

Use It Or Lose It


My Spanish class in high school put together a special year book. Here is my page from it.

I wrote this 22 years ago, and have no idea what it says. I had to look up some of the words in a Spanish dictionary. Why? Because I don't use Spanish every day and therefore I have lost a lot of what I learned. So, when you learn a new language, you'd better use it or you will lose it!

Love Your Butt


March is ... well, was Colon Cancer month here in the United States. The Colon Cancer Foundation was showing a video to promote medical screening. But I see it as a video with 15 different ways to say butt!

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1. booty
2. bottom
3. derriere (French)
4. tuchus
5. bum
6. behind
7. tushy
8. caboose
9. keister
10. rump
11. buns
12. patooty
13. fanny
14. money maker
15. gluteus maximus

Yes, there are many more words to say butt. And yes, there is one that is used quite a lot. (It rhymes with grass.) But it can't be said on certain American television channels, so it was not included.

Say Thank You


I recently send this email to Judy Gilbert, author of Clear Speech and Clear Speech from the Start. And because I love teachable moments, I wanted to post it so you could see an example of an actual email sent from one American to another. We don't know each other, so it is more formal than an email I would write to a friend.

Dear Ms. Gilbert, (I don't know her marital situation, so I am using Ms.)

I have been teaching ESL/EFL for a year. My TESOL certification program did not teach me anything about pronunciation. But I have had many students complain that people couldn't understand them and they didn't know why. I was shocked to learn that the local community college doesn't teach pronunciation. In addition, the TOEFL requires clear pronunciation, but I don't see many resources for learners that include feedback from a native English speaker. So I find myself gravitating towards teaching pronunciation.

I started working on making their pronunciation more clear, and that is going well, but teaching vowels has always confused me. Last night I was at my wit's end. How can I teach all of these vowel sounds to my students if they don't even make sense to me? It just didn't make logical sense.

I eventually came across the prosody speech you did at The New School (on YouTube) and my cloud of gloom lifted. You spoke of everything I have learned or thought in the past year. How important pronunciation is, how native English speakers will give up speaking with a student after a few tries, and how my students can feel isolated because of it. And it explained why the teachers avoid it.

In addition, you gave me a path to move forward. I went to bed excited and renewed. So I wanted to thank you for your speech, it really lifted my spirits.

Thank you,
Lia Hollander


I will let you know if she writes back! But even if she doesn't, it made me happy just to write the email.

Remember Four Things


Here are four things to remember when you are learning English. Or any new skill or task.

1. You are not alone. Ask for help.

2. Practice it every day.

3. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

4. If you fall down, get back up and try again.

You can do it!

Get The Heel Out Of Here!


My sharp eyed readers will notice the pun I used in the blog post title. Yes, normally, the phrase is, "Get the hell out of here!" but in my case, I am talking to high heels. And thus, the pun.

I'm done with high heels. I. will. not. wear. them. any. more. They hurt my back, they hurt my knees and they keep me hobbled. I don't care that they elongate my legs, I don't care that they make me look statuesque. I'm done. D-O-N-E done.

I need to be able to "run" from teaching one English class to another (this term I only have 10 minutes). I want to be able to walk around Spain for more than just 20 minutes without shooting pains up my feet. And I want to feel light, springy and airy. And thus ... no high heels.

But what can I wear instead? What will fit the bill? Introducing an oldy but goody ... Clarks.

I now have the Clarks Hare Sport Flat in Grey (because I'm crazy bold) and the Clark Propose Pixie in Pewter (still crazy).

So the only question that remains is, which pair gets to go to Spain with me?

It's So Hard To Say Goodbye


Wednesday was my last night teaching English at the Cascade Park Public Library in Vancouver, Washington. I had been teaching an evening class each week for the past 9 months. But I had to stop because driving home so late at night was wearing me down. (Don't worry, I just picked up two more day classes at Clark College, so I'll still be busy!)

My time there was priceless. The supervisor at the site, Milton, was eager to share his decades of experience with me, and he let me completely take over. I taught 3/4 of all the classes.

But the biggest surprise during the past 9 months, the thing no one warned me about, was the sadness I would feel when students left. Since I come from a elementary school background, I am used to having students all year long. At Cascade Park, many of the students were just visiting the US. Some were here for a few weeks, and some were here for a few years. It never occurred to me that my students, whom I had bonded with (some for weeks, some for months) would leave me. And because I was so focused on creating interesting and informative lesson plans, I completely forgot to give them my email address so that could keep in touch. So now I just have to wonder how Lucy (Czech Republic) and Ji-Hu (S. Korea) are doing.

So that I don't make this mistake again, I have now added my email address to the bottom of every worksheet I make. This way, if they do want to contact me, they can. But I still get a little sad when their time is up. I'm not sure if that feeling will ever stop.

Be Yourself, No Matter What


I know what people will say when I tell them I am trying to find more clients (students) for my American English Tutoring business. "Oh, you should write a blog just about American English." Right. But I can't do that. I can't show just one part of me (even if it is a subject I talk about all the time) it makes me feel incomplete.

And so, while some of the posts on this blog will be about American English, I will also continue to post about other facets of my life: things that annoy me, books, exercise, Type 1 diabetes, and things that I like.

Perhaps I won't get the hits or page views that I would get if I made a separate blog for American English. Perhaps this is a huge mistake. But I don't care because it just isn't how I work.

Correct Yourself


If you are an advanced American English learner, I highly suggest the book Correct Your English Errors, by Tim Collins. It's a small book, but Mr. Collins has packed a lot of great information into it.

You may need to consult with an English teacher or tutor or an online program to really understand the pronunciation section, but the rest of the book should be easily understood.

I have found it extremely useful, and I think you will too!

Be Shocked


I have been a big fan of the Culture Shock book series, ever since my husband introduced me to it. I've already read the ones about Spain, Germany, and the UAE. But the most interesting one has been the one about the USA. The author, Esther Warning, does a fabulous job of explaining the way that the US and Americans work.

Here are some of the things she wrote:

It does seem that Americans often lack the capacity to enjoy their achievements. We find more satisfaction in acquiring the trappings of the leisure life than in leisure itself. Activity-rather than family or community-gives us our identities, and very few people are able to rest on their laurels.

Our sense of self does not come from being a sister, a brother, or part of the community, but from being a long distance runner or the Vice President of Sales at the office. Thus we must have the latest and best running shoes or a fancy watch to show how important we are. When we meet someone for the first time, after we learn their name, we ask "What do you do?" This isn't true for ever American, but it is for most.

Loneliness is very common. Many people live by themselves and a great many spend nearly every evening alone. Telephones, televisions, and computers ease the isolation, but a sense of belonging to a group is largely absent.
Many people also suffer from a sense of failure. No success is good enough. Not everybody can reach the top, and those who don't blame themselves.

So, if you are coming to the United States in the future, or just want to learn a little more about what Americans are like, I highly recommend this book.

Note: Although the author is American, the publisher is British, so the book is written in British English. It
was a little annoying to this American reader, but I got over it.

Contribute something


The Internet is littered with sites about teaching American English. I look around it and go from annoyed to livid. I want to fix it, but how? The Internet does not need more videos about speaking English, random blurbs about idiomatic phrases, or vocabulary lists. There are too many already.

My skill, my talent, is bringing order to chaos. That is what I do with my English students. I identify what they need help with, and I lead them step by step on a path of knowledge.

My Achilles' heel, my soft spot, is that I want to help everyone.

The disorder and randomness on the Internet drives me crazy. How is anyone supposed to learn English in all this mess?

I have a serious issue with English language sites claiming they teach English when what they teach is wrong. I understand that some students can't afford a private teacher, and so for them, this may be their only option. But this is a terrible option. I want to teach the world proper American English, but I can't afford to do it for free. This is driving me crazy.

So, what should I do?
1. Ignore all the English teaching websites and just focus on my students.
2. Wage war against the bad English sites?
3. Go crazy because I can't help everyone?
4. ????

If you have another idea, I'd love to hear it!

Knowledge Costs Money


IMPROVINGIf you want to do something well, you usually need to pay an expert. For example, if my car is broken, I don't bring it to the kid down the street that likes cars, I bring it to a trained mechanic. If my stomach hurts, I don't go to the lady on my street that makes good soup, I go to the doctor.It's the same thing for learning a language. If I really want to improve my Spanish, paying for lessons with a teacher trained in teaching Spanish will get me much farther than studying Spanish vocabulary words on the Internet.LEARNING ENGLISHThe Internet is filled with sites where you can learn English. Some are good, some are horrible and some are down right frustrating. One site I saw mixes teachers from England, the United States, and Canada all in one place. Spoken and written English are very different for these three countries, and I don't believe they should all be taught at once.Another site I saw was claiming (and charging money for) to teach English words, but one of the words they taught was actually Turkish. This is wrong on so many levels. There seem to be many English language learning sites that are scams, and they frustrate me so much, because they are taking advantage of people (my friends, my students) who are just trying to learn English.WHAT TO DO?If you want to improve your English, I highly suggest getting a personal teacher or tutor. You need someone that can help you when you are having issues, that can tailor your lesson plans to your interests or what you need help on. There are some fine computer programs out there for learning English, but without an actual live person helping you, they fall short.FINDING AN ENGLISH TEACHER OR TUTOROK, you've decided that you really want to improve your English, you will dedicate your time and some of your money to make this happen. But how do you find a good teacher?Here are ten questions you should ask:1. Do you have a special certification for teaching English as a second language?The only good answer is yes. They should have a CELTA, a TEFL, a TESOL, or a MA TESOL. People debate about which certification is best, but I think the fact that someone did any special training at all is a good sign. 2. How long have you been teaching English? A good answer is six months or more. This way you know they are actually interested in doing this.3. Where are your students usually from?A good answer would be either from a mix of countries, or from the one you are from. If a teacher has only taught students from Spain and you are from Iraq, it might be a problem.4. What will we do during a lesson?A good teacher will be organized and can prepare documents for you to review together. You want him or her to tell you what a class will be like. If he or she says, "Oh, we'll just talk." or "We'll see." that is a bad sign.5. Can I have a free trial lesson?The answer you want to hear is yes. This is a good way for you to see if you two get along.6. What is your cancellation policy?You want a reasonable policy. For example, if they want you to pay for 10 lessons up front and won't refund your money if you cancel, this is a very bad sign.7. Is this your full time job or just a hobby?If this is not their actual job, or they are not very passionate about it, I would not choose them as a teacher.8. What do you do in your free time?You want to hear that they read. Reading is the #1 way to build vocabulary and building vocabulary is the #1 way to improve your English. The more vocabulary they know, the more they can teach you.9. Do you speak any foreign languages?They don't need to speak your language but a teacher who knows what it is like to be [...]

Lazy English Bad


Like most Americans, if I am lazy, I make lots of mistakes when I write. But since I am teaching English as a second/foreign language to students, I have to be careful. In addition, I need to explain concepts to my students, not just tell them, "Because I said so." So I need to really understand a concept before attempting to teach it.

But one of the problems of paying close attention to grammar, is that now I see errors everywhere: on the peanut butter jar (Why is the word refrigerated in the "Please open after Refrigerating." note capitalized? It shouldn't be.), in the doctor's office ("That sign should say in not at."), almost everywhere I look.

This focus on grammar also makes me second guess my own English. I am constantly checking the dictionary to make sure I've got the right pronunciation, the right definition and the right spelling. This makes me a great and thorough teacher, but it also makes me feel like the ...

And I've never really been a fan. So, can I help my students without being that annoying know-it-all that constantly corrects everyone's grammar? I think so. Well, that is until I figure out comma usage (my Achilles heel), then all bets are off.

Learn From Your Mistakes


Many of my ESL or EFL students are very hard on themselves. They get upset that their English isn't perfect. So while I am happy to teach them the difference between /p/ and /b/ and point out that they aren't using articles (a, an, the) or help them learn new vocabulary words, I think one of the most important things I can teach them is to not stress out about speaking English perfectly. Because even native English speakers make mistakes ALL THE TIME! But the difference is, we don't take it personally.

When I was mispronouncing the word quinoa as [qua-no-ah] my neighbor corrected me, and now I say it correctly, [keen-wah]. I was sure that pilates was pronounced [pie-lates] until an instructor told me it was [pi-lah-teez]. I read a lot, so I come across new words all the time. I just look them up in the dictionary, learn the pronunciation and meaning and move on.

Sometimes I can't even understand other native English speakers. They may talk too fast, or mumble, or turn their head as they are talking. Sometimes I can't even understand my husband, because he is too quiet or doesn't clearly speak his words. These are all common issues, and none of them should be taken personally.

So with my students, I share my own experiences (mistakes?), and teach them coping skills. And I try very hard to teach them to let go of the stress of wanting to be perfect, to instead focus on how far they have already come, but it doesn't always work.

So, I guess I will just keep telling them about all the mistakes I make, because laughing together is always a lot of fun.

Add Some Fun To Your Lessons


One of the most valuable tools I have in my English teaching arsenal is my tablet. If I've prepared a lesson plan on fruits & vegetables but then a student asks what a giraffe looks like, rather than trying to act it out (Yes, I've tried this. It didn't work.) I can pull it up on my tablet and the student understands instantly.

If I want to reinforce the spelling and pronunciation of new vocabulary words we can look at paper flashcards all day long. But playing a game of hangman, doing a wordsearch, or using Quizlet flashcards on the tablet takes it to a whole different level.

And if a student needs a break? Yes, they can sit quietly ... or they can play Turkey Smash or some other silly game.

But tablets are expensive and can be cumbersome to take around with you. So I decided on the highly rated, Hisense Sero 7 Pro, it was $130 at Walmart, and at 7 inches can be used by 1-3 students at a time. I'm really glad I bought it, I think it adds a lot to my English lessons.

You Don't Always Have To Reinvent The Wheel


I currently teach two English Conversation Circles classes a week. That means I am responsible for two lesson plans a week. And since the classes are different levels, and since I hadn't found a book or coursework that I liked 100%, I have been basically writing two unique lesson plans a week for the past 6 months. (So that's why she is hardly blogging.) Most of the lesson plans have been a hoot to teach, and I doubt my students would have learned these things anywhere else, so it was totally worth it.

Here are some of the things I've taught:

* All about the Portland Timbers Soccer team (including the official team schedule)
* The prep school in the US that was selling T-Shirts that said, WTF (We're The Falcons), and the uproar it caused.
* How Dolce & Gabana created a perfume marketed for babies
* One about bullying that used Pixar's For The Birds, short.

And while it has been an extremely creative 6 months, I am a little tired. Enter my savior ...

The Oxford Picture Dictionary

and its best friend

The Oxford Picture Dictionary Low Beginner Workbook.

The dictionary is chock full of clearly labelled and categorized pictures, and the workbook has worksheets that go along with these pictures. It has been very helpful for my beginner students, and my advanced students like it too. I always supplement the lessons with other photos of the objects we are talking about, or the items themselves, if portable (dish, plate, napkin, etc.). I also use flashcards, word searches, or hangman (the android app I have on my tablet is especially fun for small groups) to really cement the vocabulary words.

While using these books has cut my prep time per lesson from 3 hours to 1 hour, I'm sure I'll need to do some unique lesson plans again. But for now, I'm just going to focus on the wheel that someone else invented for me. Especially since I may have private students very soon.



Back in May of 2013 I stopped lifting weights. I know this because the last day I charted was May 20th and the chart has a layer of dust on it. Why did I stop? The allergy shots made weight lifting too hard. I couldn't breathe, and it was just too hard to do. So I stopped.

One could argue that all of my swimming is considered strength training, but I wanted more. I missed these workout sessions. So last week I started again. When I told my massage therapist that I had started again, she asked why. Was it to bulk up? Was it to tone? I answered ... because it makes me feel good.

For now, I'm going simple. Not EASY, mind you, just simple. I am following Chalene Johnson's "Sculpt 30 Class "routine from my TurboFire DVD set. (I bought it in 2011 and am still loving it!) I'm also using my red SPRI tubing.

Once I get tired of this routine, I can also try the "Tone 30 Class" and "Bonus Burn Circuit 1" but I'm guessing that by then I'll be back to my notebook of favorite workouts using weights. Either way, I'll continue to be happily sore and growing stronger by the day!

Develop Your Vocabulary


With my beginner ESL students, vocabulary development and pronunciation practice is very important. So I try to come up with ways for them to practice the vocabulary words of the day over and over for about 90 minutes without wanting to poke out my eyes.

So here are some of my tricks:
(I don't usually use all of them in one lesson plan.)

1. Flashcards: I like to put them in a brown paper bag and have the students pull them out. And yes, I get eye rolls from my students when they see the bag out, but they always go along with it. I make them read the cards, spell the words and sometimes even draw a picture.
Print free custom flashcards at Lakeshore Learning.

2. Bingo Cards: Three lessons equals enough vocabulary words for a bingo game!
Print free custom bingo cards at

3. Word Search: Forwards, diagonal, even backwards, students must search for the vocabulary words of the day!
Print free custom word searches at Lakeshore Learning.

4. Hangman: Whether on the whiteboard or using an app, such as Doodle Hangman HD (in 2 player mode, you can enter custom words one at a time), hangman never fails to be fun.

If you have any easy but unique ways to practice vocabulary, please let me know, I'm always looking for more tricks!

Savor The Inspiration


Ah, food. Some of it is fussy, but most of it is delicious. And although I am often content to eat the same thing day after day, sometimes I need something new to fall in love with.

Enter ...

1. Beating The Lunch Box Blues

(Both the book and the blog.) I'm finding the myriad of choices a little overwhelming and lots of the ideas involve buying pre-made stuff, but I look forward to finding some inspiration.

2. Naturally Ella

I literally found this blog about 15 minutes ago, but I've already seen three sweet potato recipes I must make. I look forward to reading more of her posts, when my current dinner isn't about to be ready.

OK, time for ricotta, broccoli, and mushroom quiche!

Keep Getting Your Feet Wet


I have been swimming for a year now, and I've gone through a few rites of passage: the destroyed bathing suit, the scratched goggles, and last night, the exploding swim cap. But I've found a swimsuit I like, the rip in my fins hasn't lengthened, and I know the best lane to have, most of the lifeguards, and how to circle swim if need be.

In this past year I've taught 15 strangers how to breathe properly, seen one rescue by a lifeguard, picked up 15,000 forgotten kick boards from the deck (the lifeguards are not maids), paid a million dollars in quarters for the lockers, did one on camera interview for the local community access channel, and have executed exactly zero flip-turns.

I've also gotten faster, need to breathe less, and use swim paddles (they go on your hands) on a regular basis. And yet, I still have trouble swimming more than 50 yards at once. I watch the veterans swim without stopping for hours on end and 1) it looks impossible and 2) it looks incredibly boring.

So, I've decided to change up my swim routine. Rather than adding yardage (I'm up to 1350 yards now) I am going to focus on speed. It is more fun for me, it gets me out of the pool faster, and it makes me feel better. Since I'm not trying to join any swim teams or win any swimming awards, there really is no reason not to.