Teaching English online - what you need to know

Great article here from Mark Wilbur.

The White Nosed Princess and the 7 Short Men

I am teaching 12 year old Nancy. Today's reading text is called Plants Myths. I ask Nancy to tell me what a 'myth' is.

There is a pause and then a moment later, my phone pings. It is a message in Chinese from Nancy. I copy and paste it into Google Translate.


'Ok, that's great, Nancy,' I say. 'But can you give me an example of what a 'myth' is? Do you know any myths?'

She thinks for a bit and then her face brightens.

'There is a beautiful, white nosed Princess with yellow hair. She very beautiful. She live in a palace. The other woman of her father hate her because she so beautiful and her nose so white. So she send her to live in a forest with seven short men. And then one day, she come to give her apple and White Nose Princess fall sick. Then handsome prince come to find her and marry her and take her to his palace.'

Nancy smiles a big smile. 'I want live in palace,' she tells me.


Rock music and the Chinese

Today my first student is 12 year old Sunny. It is a speaking lesson and the subject she has chosen to talk about is rock music.

'Do you like rock music?' I ask.

'No, it is too noisy. My neighbours always play loud rock or punk music late at night. So noisy!'

'What music do you like to listen to then?'

'I prefer classical music,' says 12 year old Sunny. 'Especially Beethoven. When I listen to classical music it makes me feel calm and happy.'

'How about your neighbours then? How do you think they feel when they listen to loud rock or punk music?'

'I don't know. But I think it is noisy. It sounds like they are trapped in their houses or they are decorating.'

'Why do they listen to it then?'

'Because nowadays Chinese people think they need to listen to fighting music because they work all day.'

'Doesn't the music stop them from sleeping at night then?'

'They don't sleep at night. They sleep in the morning'.


Cultural differences

On the bus from Ban Phe to Bangkok. Two hours into the journey, in the middle of nowhere, there is a loud bang. The tyre has just blown. After getting out to check that it is the tyre, the driver continues on his way accompanied by more banging noises. A few miles on, he stops at a garage. The bus stops again and the driver gets out.

Not a word has been spoken to his passengers. No estimated repair time or even what's wrong. If this were the UK, it would have gone something like this:

Coach driver: 'Ok folks, unfortunately it seems that we've got a burst tyre. We will be endeavouring to change it at the next service station so I'm going to drive you all on a damaged wheel for the next few miles. I'm not sure how long it's going to take to fix it but I will keep you updated'.

All the passengers: 'Oh no! I don't believe it! This is terrible!'

Cue lots of worried phone calls being made and disapproving Facebook statuses.

Here, everybody starts eating snacks.

Resting at an old ruined temple

Teaching Online

Three months on from my last post and I find myself rather unexpectedly still in Thailand. I am not however in heavenly Phuket but in the sweltering heat of Bangkok in the hot season. When I look around and take stock of my daily life and surroundings, I am not, however, disappointed. There are many things pleasing to the eye and soothing to the soul.
I live in a luxury apartment by the river, complete with infinity swimming pool and outdoor jacuzzi. There is a large, air conditioned gym with the glass walls facing out onto the river so that while you exercise you can watch the big black river barges, loaded up to the limit with sand, being towed slowly past by a tiny wooden tug boat. Just up the road is a Villa supermarket that stocks every kind of imported food you could want. Down the road is a local market that stocks everything local you could want.

To help support myself in this artificial but nevertheless agreeable oasis, I am teaching English online to Chinese kids. See? I don't even need to step outside this oasis. No sweaty commutes in the notorious Bangkok traffic for yours truly. I teach one to one via skype or QQ Messenger – a Chinese version of Whatsapp that supports video chat but refuses to send or receive photos. The money is less than half of what I get for teaching face to face in England but then the monthly rent for my condo is exactly half of what I would pay for living in a room in a shared house in Plymouth.

My students range from three year olds to business men in their forties. Mostly though, they are kids between five and thirteen. My first student today is an eight year old boy called Leo. He has booked a twenty-five minute lesson with me and has already uploaded a pdf file of what he wants to study. Today is his first time with me and he has opted to study via skype.
Ten minutes before the class is due to start, I send him a friend request on skype. He does not respond. Two minutes before the class I send him a message in that hope that he will see it despite not having accepted my friend request. Still nothing. I am typing a message to the help desk of the Chinese teaching company to inform them when my smartphone starts beeping. It is a video chat request from someone called Leo.

I press accept and there is a chubby faced little boy with his black hair combed forward like one of the early Beatles smiling out of the screen at me.

'Hello Teacher!' he beams.

'Hello Leo! How are you?'

'I'm fine thank you and you?'

'I'm very well thanks. Do you have your book?'

I go through the lesson with Leo. It is a simple children's book aimed at 7-9 year olds. Leo reads well with good pronunciation and intonation. It is easy for him, he knows all the target vocabulary and can answer the comprehension questions at the end of the chapter. I ask him at the end if he has any questions. He beams happily.

'Yes teacher. What is your KG?'

'My what?'

'Your KG. I would like to know your KG?

A young Chinese woman suddenly leans into the screen. Presumably it is Leo's mother. 'Hello Teacher!' she says in heavily accented English. 'KG. Is that right? What is your KG?'

'Hello Leo's mum. Ummm. Kay what? Can you write it?'

She disappears again and is replaced by Leo. He types something on his keyboard. A moment later it pops up on my screen.


'Oh, my weight! You mean how heavy are you? Or what is your weight?'

'How heavy are you? What is your weigh?' chats Leo.

'Weight! What is your weight?'

'Weight. What is your weight?' repeats Leo dutifully.

'Guess. You have to guess.' I hold up three fingers. 'You have three guesses!'

'One hundred KG!' shouts Leo gleefully.

'One hundred kilos. No, down. Down, down!'

Leo chuckles with delight. 'Eighty kilos!'

'No. Down, down.'

'Sixty kilos!'

'No, up!'


'Very good! Yes, I'm sixty-three kilos.'

He clucks his tongue with concern. 'Oh Teacher! You are very few kilos. Now you can ask me questions.'

'Ok. What are your hobbies?'

'Insects! Studying insects. I love insects!'

'Ok, great. What music do you like to listen to?'

'The Beatles!' shouts Leo joyously. 'Yeah!'

The Beatles? How could an eight year old boy from China where there is no access to Facebook, Google or even Youtube possibly have heard of the Beatles? This was fifty years after their heyday...or was Leo still thinking of insects?

'What's your favourite song?' I asked slyly, thinking that he would say some Chinese pop song or maybe a One Direction song.

'Hey Jude,' said Leo. 'It's my favourite song!'


Heaven and Hell worlds

Travel diary 2015

14th December
I arrived in Bangkok last Wednesday after my stop over flight being unexpectedly upgraded to a Thai airways direct one. I spent a few days getting used to the lovely heat and humidity and holiday pace of life. I met Rosie, an English girl I used to teach with 5 years ago in Krabi. She is now living in Bangkok, working only 3 days a week and earning more than twice what we were earning working full time all those years ago. However, she isn't saving much as she seems to spend her free time meeting up with and having sex with guys that she meets on Tinder – a dating app. Most of these guys are western men because, as she puts it, 'my fanny is really big and stretched now so I need a big penis otherwise I can't feel anything. The best guy was this German boy. He had a huge fat cock and he shoved it right down my throat and my eyes were just streaming. It was amazing. Unfortunately he comes really quick. And the worst were two Italian men I dated. They were a nightmare and tiny penises – who would have thought it?'
    Rosie sighs at the problems of modern dating. 'To be honest, I wouldn't mind dating a few Thai guys – but think I'll have to lose some weight first.'
     Leaving Rosie to sort out her sex life, I fly down to Phuket. It is hot, crowded and frantic but is also clean with perfect beaches. Everywhere I go, tarted up Thai women offer me a massage and fierce dark skinned men offer me a taxi or tuk tuk. I suppose I will have to have one soon. Everywhere are western men from young lads to old wrinkly men living the dream. Cigarettes and beer can be had for less than a pound, women for twenty. The men, young and old, ride about on rented scooters which are also readily available and cheap; semi-naked in just their swimming shorts, their bodies an angry red from too much exposure to the fierce tropical sun.
    Yesterday morning, I awoke early and went to the beach before breakfast. The sun was up but it had not yet attained the characteristic fierce tropical heat and half the beach was still in the shade of the tall palms. I swam out to the limit of the swimming area and then looked around me. It was paradise. The beach was a gentle curve of white sand with swaying palms. The sea was clean and turquoise and just the right temperature. Out at sea was a huge cruise liner, white against the morning sun, its huge windowed side sheer like a cliff. Further in was an antique sailing boat with two masts. Maybe it was a clipper.
    I swam in and decided to go for a run. I ran towards the north end of the beach and then slowed to a walk to admire my surroundings. The beach was even more beautiful here with lush green hills curving off into the distance. A tall, very athletic looking black man ran past me. When he was about 50 yards ahead, he performed a smooth shoulder roll on the sand and then carried on running, seemingly without any check in his forward motion. I have often noticed people doing all kinds of extraordinary things on the beach from extreme yoga poses to backward somersaults.
    I neared the very end of the beach where the white sand gave way to sheer black cliffs. A young woman standing in thigh deep water caught my eye. She was slim and tanned with small breasts and black hair pulled back in a smooth ponytail. She was wearing a black bikini, the bottom half of which was a thong. I could help noticing how extraordinarily beautiful her bottom was.
    'She looks more goddess than human, like a nymph,' I mused to myself as I walked past trying hard not to stare and appear like a pervy satyr. I reached the end of the beach and turned back. As I walked along the waters end, the nymph with the beautiful bottom came out of the water accompanied by another nymph equally beautiful, also dark haired, also in black bikini thong, also heavenly bottomed. They could have been twins, in fact the only difference between the two was that the second nymph had bigger breasts. They passed very close, within touching distance of me.
    I walked on, intensely conscious of the heaven world that I was in, complete with bright sunshine and heavenly nymphs. As a child, this was always how I had imagined heaven must look like. For me, heaven had always been a beach. Ahead, the tall black man was doing extraordinary things on the sand. He had fallen onto his hands as if he was going to do push ups but instead was doing vertical jumps into the air like a frog off his hands and toes. There was a boat anchor with its rope stretching a foot off the sand down to to a long tailed boat and the black man was doing his incredible frog jumps back and forth over the rope.
    This was no ordinary mortal, I realised. This was some lusty young god showing off his physical prowess. The heaven world was complete; the nymphs, the young god and the thoughtful satyr walking through. A middle aged man came running towards me from the opposite direction, his flabby chest bouncing painfully up and down to his ungainly movements, his face twisted in physical and mental agony. Here was a being from the Underworld and I doubt he even noticed the heavenly inhabitants of this place anymore than they noticed him.
    Back at my apartment, I received a message from Rosie via Line messenger. She was down in Krabi for a short break and was just about to visit her ex boyfriend who was now in jail. I wondered what she would make of Thai jails. I had once taught some Thai lawyers in Bangkok several years ago and they had painted a grim picture of what jails were like over here.
    '50 or 60 men crowded into a room no bigger than my office,' said my student Chang. 'No fan or air conditioning. Not enough room for everyone to lie down on the floor to sleep. Have to take it in turns to sleep or sleep standing up. One bucket to shit or piss in, emptied once a day. No showers or place to wash.'
    What would Rosie, a middle class girl from sheltered England, make of this hell hole? Would she still cherish romantic feelings for her ex lover, the violent petty criminal who had rebelled against his rural Muslim upbringing to spend his days and nights drinking, gambling and smoking the illegal yar baa?
    At the end of the day I had my answer in the ecstatic message from Rosie. 'Omg! I love Thailand! I'm sat eating strawberries with the prison guards. I'm feeling really horny. So many dark bad boys with their shaven heads and prison uniforms! Why am I such a freak? I've got a crazy plan to shag the guards and then sneak my bf out of prison. They say I must pay 3 million baht to get him out of jail. God, I'm so wet!'
    Unlike the simpler Christian concept of heaven above us and hell below, Buddhists talk about several different worlds from the lowest hell worlds to the highest heaven. All these various worlds or perhaps levels of experience exist simultaneously so it is perhaps more like 3 people sitting in the same room, each with a TV tuned to a different channel. This day I had seen heaven worlds with nymphs and young gods, I had seen (via my lawyers) hell worlds and now here was my friend Rosie, a bit like in an inverted version of the Bob Dylan song 'Knock, knock, knocking on Hell's door'.