The Terrace Pau

This blog is about teaching and learning English

Writing for a purpose….. March 22, 2013

Writing is one of the key skills in learning a language, and often teachers have to really motivate students to get them to write in a meaningful and satisfying way. In the next few blog entries, I’m going to post pieces of excellent writing by some of our students of English which demonstrate what can be achieved. I have kept correction to the minimum to improve meaning without interfering too much with the original text.

Welcome to Madrid!!!

I’m going to try to do a little guide about “What you can do in Madrid in three days…”. It’s only a guide because the best it’s walking in the city and let yourself be surprised…



A good plan for Sunday could be getting up and going to the Rastro. El Rastro is one of the most famous flea market in Madrid. And then, you can do one of the most popular tradition in Madrid on Sunday which is “tomar el aperitivo”, it means “go to the bars and have beer or wine with a tapa”, for example around la Latina… And after, the best is to take a siesta…

In your case, I recommend you when you arrive at your apartment in Madrid (C/Santa Isabel (A)) don’t be lazy and you take advantage of Sunday afternoon walking in the city


 …A good option could be walking in Lavapies (B)


Lavapies (B) is one of the most picturesque “villages” (neighborhoods) in Madrid.

In the Middle Ages it was the Arab and Jewish neighborhood outside the city walls.

This neighborhood was made fashionable in the 80s by artists and young people. Then began a renovation process that continues today. Nowadays, it’s an up-and-coming neighborhood.

Currently, Lavapiés is a very popular and charismatic. Many immigrants live here. Besides its bohemian character is the multicultural neighborhood of Madrid.

In Lavapies there are a lot of bars and cafes, very affordable restaurants with ethnic cuisines like Indian, Pakistani, Cuban or Argentina. There are also many shops typical of many countries ..You can even see the celebration of the Chinese New Year or Ramadan.

Walking around its streets and enjoying its atmosphere is the best thing you can do there.



After, you can continue with your walk going to La Latina (C)


La Latina is one of the neighborhoods of Madrid that has best preserved its tradition and appearance, and today boasts of its vintage and atmosphere. It’s one of the quintessential areas for tapas and drinks.

La Latina neighborhood is in the Central District which bounded to the north by Segovia Street, west on Bailen street, on the East Toledo Street and finally to the South by Plaza de la Cebada (Barley Square) and Carrera de San Francisco

The streets of the neighborhood still remember the various trades that settled in the neighborhood: tinsmiths, cutlers, blacksmiths, locksmiths … As in Lavapies, the names of the streets and buildings are steeped in Madrid’s history.

The nineteenth century brought the decline of the local palaces and demolition of them.




2nd trip down ESOL lane March 7, 2013

Filed under: Language Training — The Terrace Pau @ 8:20 pm

What happened to this blog? Our apologies, after our first two blogs we opened our Casa Rural business and suddenly this  virtually took over all else in our lives, and the thought of keeping up a regular blog went out the window. Now we have time to breathe and we promise to try and keep this blog alive.

Apologies over – here is the second part of my experiences completing a full time CELTA course at International House. The pressure we were going to have to endure over this one month course became apparent in the first two days. Day one we were told that we would need to prepare a 20 minute teaching session to be carried out the next day. This was a bomb shell as I had never done a teaching session let alone one where I was to be observed not only by one of my lecturers but also some of my peers. I mean, I thought that was what I was here to learn -how to put a teaching session together not be thrown to the lions withing 48 hours. Apparently not; this was how they did it – sink or swim. If you were lucky they might provide you with a couple of arm bands.

Our main group was divided up into four smaller tutorial groups. Mine consisted of two young Americans, soon to be married, one Tunisian women, a young Brit and me the oldest by far but that didn’t seem to matter. Our first teaching session would be held the next day so preparation had to start immediately. I’m not exactly a shrinking violet but this was different. I was completely out of my comfort zone. I had one big advantage, I had a wife who had been doing this for a number of years so at least she could vet my first attempt. I prepared everything for the next day but was not expecting to be given our first assignment to be handed out with a four day completion date. The teaching practice session began with an introduction to our class. There were almost 18 students coming from all parts of the world. They knew we were practising on them and for this they paid very little to attend. My time came and went very quickly, much quicker than I had expected but in this short time I knew I loved it – being in the limelight that is! Whether I was any good as a teacher I would soon find out.

This first session was not assessed. It was just for the lecturers to find out how well or not we could perform the task. We all got a pass in my group but the one thing that stuck in my mind from this feedback was that I should not forget that I was there to teach English not applying for a role with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Next time I would tone it down – a little.

Something else became apparent at the beginning of our second week. If we didn’t pass our written assignments we would have to rewrite it and still have to hand in our next assignment on time. This would really hit hard when at one point I had two rewrites and a new one to finish over a three day period as well as preparing the almost daily teaching sessions. The pressure was really building up a head of steam. The main issue now was getting enough sleep to complete the course before exhaustion set in.


Experiencing the heat! – A trip down ESOL lane June 7, 2012

Filed under: Language Training — The Terrace Pau @ 4:42 pm

It’s just a year ago since I embarked on an ESOL training course in Central London. It’s a good time to reflect and perhaps come to some conclusions as to whether or not it was a life changing moment.
Actually the life changing part is of no doubt, but not because of the course alone. It was everything else that my wife and I were setting out to achieve. This plan involved selling our house in London, moving to another country and setting up a new business there. But I digress from what I originally set out to do, which was to examine one year on the highs and lows of taking on a teaching course and hopefully make it interesting enough for others to read. It might also help others looking to do a similar course in the future.
The decision to do the course was an easy one to make as it was part of a long term plan that my wife and I had been discussing for at least two years. The company I had been working for for many years agreed, very decently, to pay for my course as part of my severance package. So cost was not an issue, the main thing was where should I do it? Here I took time to research the market and I would advise everyone else to do the same. It was obvious that living on the outskirts of London, it would be the first place to start the search.
In my quest to find the best course I spoke to Language Schools, teachers who had qualified themselves and also read a number of articles on the subject. What rose head and shoulders above the rest was International House in Covent Garden. This does a one month intensive Cambridge CELTA course which seemed to tick all the boxes.
Having chosen the course and the venue, the next thing is to pay the money to join – WRONG! The next bit was the interview to see whether they would accept me onto the programme. And what an interview; I wasn’t over confident but I had done all the reading that was expected of me so I should be OK. My role in my company over the years was as a salesman so I’m no shrinking violet, but my interviewer was going to put me through my paces. As it went on I felt there was a real possibility that I was going to fall at the first hurdle, but no, I was over and into the final straight. However, I just hoped that I would not have to meet my interviewer again. A real personality clash I told myself.
On the first day I met my new fellow students. Two engaged young Americans, a young Polish woman, an Algerian woman and the remaining four including myself were Brits. All of them were really interesting and had a story to tell in their own right. As we sat there waiting for our tutor to arrive I mentioned my nightmare of an interview to my neighbour. Just before I could finish the story our new tutor for the full four weeks came into the room. It was my interviewer and I was too far from the door to be able to escape. The next four weeks however proved that she was a true professional and a very good lead tutor.
I had fulfilled the first part of my plan now all I had to do was to get through the next four weeks without failing. I really had no idea what I had let myself in for. As the days past I realised that all the other qualifications I had achieved, came nowhere near the intense pressure that I found myself under this time and that included an MBA. I had entered this programme with one idea in my head – it was a means to an end. But it became much more than that. In the next instalment I’ll look at how the pressure increases with every day that passes.


An English immersion course in Spain? April 25, 2012

Filed under: Language Training — The Terrace Pau @ 2:52 pm

Most people will think it’s a strange idea to do an English immersion course in a country where English is not the first language. Traditionally, English-speaking countries such as the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been the favourites. The obvious reason is because the student of English has constant linguistic and cultural ‘exposure’ during his/her stay in that country; being able to read signs and notices, interact with service providers (shop assistants, waiters, transport officials, etc.) and benefit from the media in the target language – English. This is, of course, in addition to the tremendous benefit of being able to speak and interact with the professionals: the language trainers during and outside the formal lessons and learn about how people live.

The idea of the immersion method of learning a language is not a new one, but the practical application of this theory is; the first programmes started maybe fifteen years ago. Since that time, the language industry has really expanded. It’s now quite usual to find other, not immediately obvious countries such as Malta, India, Jamaica offering immersion courses to an international clientele. Similarly, many European countries such as France and Spain are offering English immersion courses to home and neighbouring clients.

Before we look at the reasons for this shift in the market, let’s examine the types of immersion courses available. Here, I will refer primarily to the UK and Spanish markets as they are the ones I’m familiar with. In the UK, an English immersion course generally means the student stays in the home of the teacher(s) and receives all his/her lessons with that teacher who will also be the host. All meals are taken together with the teacher and family (sometimes with the children of the family but often without, as they will have left home). Teachers are ‘autonomous’ or self-employed, but are quality-controlled by the language schools, such as Regent Homestay and Intuition Languages. We worked for ten years for these schools until 2011, and it was highly effective and successful, for the students and for us, the teachers. Sometimes, students prefer the independence of hotel accommodation, and are able to choose an ‘intensive’ course based at the language school.

In countries where English is not the first language, an immersion course is often organised differently. Courses are run by language institutions in large hotels or guesthouses at various times of the year. Students gather in groups for some lessons and social activities but can also choose to have 1:1 lessons. They are generally, but not exclusively, mono-lingual (all Spanish or all French-speaking, etc.) Included in the learning activity are team-building exercises and group discussions. Often, the teachers will have volunteer native English speakers facilitating the groups, or students are allocated a volunteer for language practice. These courses are usually one or two weeks, giving the students plenty of opportunity to practise their English with a wide variety of people with different accents.

More recently, there’s been another type of English immersion starting up in non-English speaking countries, which is like a ‘homestay immersion English’ combining leisure and training. For example, there’s a farm in France that’s run by English teachers who will offer lessons and a farm experience. Or there’s a casa rural in Burgos, Spain where the English teacher can go caving and trekking with his students. This combination of learning and leisure is one of the reasons for the shift in the language market, away from the more traditional destinations.

Another reason is the cost: time +money. Travelling to another country always costs more and takes longer; and for a short weekend or one week course, the student needs to have some time to adjust to his/her new surroundings, and by choosing a course in an area close by, travelling time is reduced. There are always the unexpected costs – unpredictable exchange rates, higher public transport fares (like the London Underground!), travel insurance, general cost of living in a foreign country.

A further, but sometimes unexpected, reason for the increasing popularity in home country immersion English courses is the real opportunity for interaction with native speakers. Cities such as London have become extremely multi-cultural over the years. This has added a richness and diversity for Londoners as a whole; and we loved the atmosphere of London when we lived there. However, for the language student who is looking for conversations in English with members of the public, this could be a frustrating experience. Also, as in all large cities, people are constantly busy and in a hurry; giving time to a learner of English to ask or answer a question might be difficult. As we discovered from our students, learning a language intensively is extremely tiring. We often advised students that 4 hours of 1:1 is equal to a full day at the office, and more….! The idea of doing some sightseeing after lessons might be a nice idea but not in reality.

For anyone who’s thinking of doing an English immersion course, it will be an excellent investment and money well-spent, so think of the following and choose wisely:

  • If you want to experience the life and atmosphere of another country that’s not your own, go abroad
  • If you want to combine your language learning with an opportunity to visit the sights and tourist attractions of that country, go abroad
  • If you have chosen a very intensive course, maybe a small town or rural setting would be more suitable
  • If you want to save time and money, but have the same successful outcome, do a course in your own country
  • If you want to focus on improving your language skills and spend time with other native speakers, it doesn’t matter where you are
  • If you want to spend time with your family during the holidays and be stress-free, but you need to improve your English, choose a homestay English immersion in your own country
  • In reality, you will probably interact mostly with your host(s)/teacher(s)

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