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“Creativity is intelligence having fun”

Albert Einstein

My Fanciful Muse


Ah, the Internet is a wonderful thing – where would we EFL teachers be without it? An endless source of ideas, materials, information, as well as supplier of a number of ways of keeping in touch with friends and family back home, you can’t help but wonder how TEFLers of the past managed to survive. It has to be said, however, that it’s also full of rubbish. Not to disdain rubbish – it has its uses too. Sometimes, when your brain is fried, a spot of drivel is all it can cope with.

On the other hand, when your brain has merely been lightly sautéed by a day in your EFL class, and you’re finding that the lack of cultural and/or intellectual vitality in your new location is turning you into a latter-day Madame Bovary, it’s nice to beat the ennui with a meander through the Internet maze in search of something more substantial, stimulating, original, or just plain beautiful.


1789 French Room scene blue by E.K. Duncan

1789 French Room scene blue by E.K. Duncan


One such bout of online wandering led to a corner of the digital world belonging to Evelyn Kennedy Duncan. A mixed media artist, Ms Duncan’s blog, “My Fanciful Muse”, is chock-a-block full of images and writings related to her fascination for antique cardboard theatres, vintage paper dolls, digital scrap-booking, and much, much more. The treasure trove of digital objets d’art include the artist’s own creations – sometimes put together digitally, sometimes the old-fashioned way with scissors and glue – producing delightful scenes with a similar sort of charm and fascination that dolls’ houses hold for many a young girl, but with a great deal more sophistication, and a dash of history thrown in for good measure.


Vintage In Vogue


The trend for ‘vintage’ is one which has touched fashion, home furnishings, and even website graphics in a big way over the last decade or so, to the point that the word itself – vintage – has become an over-generalised label for everything and anything non-contemporary. In particular, 1950’s style in graphic art had a bit of a boom a few years back, with every second website, or so it seemed, decked out with beaming housewives in pastel aprons, suited men with brilliantined hair, Cadillacs, ice-cream sundaes and fonts inspired by Fifties advertising and branding. That particular trend seems now to be in decline, however, that will be of little import to Ms Duncan, as her interest is focused on eras quite a bit further back in time and truly worthy of the ‘vintage’ label.


Not Ironic, Just Gorgeous


Whereas the Fifties housewives have to be viewed through an irony filter to be palatable in our post-feminism age, the characters which populate the Edwardian, Victorian, Regency, Georgian, and Rococo miniature worlds of Ms Duncan are so splendid as to transcend the need for irony. Yes, those bustles and corsets must have been hellish to wear, but my feeling is that we’re not really under any pressure to relate to those powdered, starched, whale-boned characters as representatives of fellow human beings, but only to admire them as symbols of exquisite stylisations of humanity, as they pose in their elegant environments, whether those be parlours, ballrooms, theatre stages or on the staircases of palaces.


EKD Steampunk Queen plum

EKD Steampunk Queen plum


Vintage Inspirations


“My Fanciful Muse” isn’t just a visual feast, it is also an inspiration for the manually dexterous and the creatively spirited, as the elements which compose the scenes – empty rooms, windows, stages, furniture, curtains, and, of course, the characters themselves – can be downloaded and used in your own compositions. For the nimble-fingered TEFLer with free-time on their hands, and in need of a creative outlet, sticking to the digital method of composing scenes might be the best option, as the resulting works of art can live quite happily inside your pc, and travel with you wherever you may roam. It has to be said, wherever you do roam, you’re not very likely to come across too many people with the same hobby, which would make it a wonderfully original conversation piece at dinner.


_1786 French Fashion plate 02 (March 1786)5




Of course, you have to be a dab-hand with Photoshop, its free-of-charge, not-so-poor relative, Gimp, or the easiest to master,, if you want to keep it all in the digital realm. However, if you’re not graphically-gifted, and the idea of learning to use a new program makes you want to reach for the smelling salts, there’s always the option of printing out the images, pasting them onto cardboard and assembling them in the non-digital world, much the way the paper theatres were originally intended to be put together, although it could be argued that possessing a few basic skills in a graphics program isn’t completely superfluous for an EFL teacher; if you include a lot of visuals in your home-made teaching materials, being able to make them to measure from scratch, or to adapt preexisting ones to your specific needs, is actually a very useful skill to have.


1786 French Mens Fashion - 1 (Dec 1786) 4




If you do decide to invest some time in learning to use Photoshop, The Gimp or, the good news is that, although it’s true that the Internet is full of people trying to get you to sign up for paying services, to buy commodities, spam you and sell your personal data for profit, there’s also an impressive number of good souls who create and offer free tutorials, many of which on video, to accompany the eager learner through step-by-step lessons on just about any skill you can imagine. I always get the impression that those involved in IT and digital graphics and art are particularly generous with their time and talents, and Ms Duncan is no exception. Not only does her blog offer a variety of tutorials on how to create similar objets d’art, she also graciously answers queries and clears up perplexities, and, most generously of all, offers the images on her website, whether sourced by her or painstakingly created by her, for free download, with the only proviso being to include an attribution and a link if her images are used on your website or blog.



On Dit - The Latest Gossip by EKDuncan

On Dit – The Latest Gossip by EKDuncan


For the arty-farty among us, digital artistry is an awfully convenient option when the TEFL lifestyle can keep you on the move, travelling as light as possible, for years on end, and certainly one to explore if the urge to get creative ever grabs you.

As you can see from the images on this page – included with the kind permission of Ms Duncan (see here for terms of use) – her Regency theatres, Rococo ladies, and Gothic paper dolls are truly charming, and her blog – overflowing with hundreds more images – an obvious labour of love and dedication. Here’s hoping that you get inspired to go looking for your own digital art niche, and for a way to express all that pent-up creativity.

And if you’re not at all arty-farty, but just love vintage, then you’re going to enjoy going for a wander through the pages of “My Fanciful Muse” just for the sheer pleasure of it. Click on the loveseat below to see for yourself.






“Rewards and punishment is the lowest form of education.”




So, there you have it – David Cameron, the British Prime minister, has come up with a very cunning plan to enforce the integration of ethnic minorities in the UK (perhaps it’s just me, but enforcing integration, in my mind at least, sounds about as effective as obliging people to have fun). The idea in question consists in ‘encouraging’ (his choice of verb) the process of integration by ESL testing the spouses of immigrants to the UK two and a half years after their arrival in the country, and if they haven’t shown signs of improvement during this period of time, well, it looks like the idea as it stands at the moment is to ask them to leave again.




It has to be said, the threat of deportation certainly would encourage you to brush up your language skills – especially if your spouse and children weren’t being asked to pack their cases. I told you it was a cunning plan – it makes your threat of not handing out a chocolatey treat look very ineffectual indeed.

ESL testing threat 3

The plan has just been rolled out, so it remains to be seen whether the women (this proposal is aimed primarily at Muslim women who, according to Cameron, do not get a chance to pick up the language ‘naturally’ through daily contact with English speakers because of social isolation) who fail the test will indeed have their children torn from their arms, and be frog-marched to the airport – I have my doubts, frankly.




There is much which could be said of such a policy, not least of all regarding the stereotyping of all Muslim women as oppressed, however, even from a purely professional point of view of those actually involved in EFL and ESL, it is rather perplexing. The experienced EFL or ESL teacher, had he or she had a chance to have a chat with Mr Cameron before announcing such a decision, would probably have asked him several rather reasonable questions, and perhaps pointed out a series of potential flaws in the idea, such as the following:

A budget of £20 million has been allocated to supply English classes to these women. The women in question, however, number 190,000. While £20 million sounds like a huge sum of money, it only works out at just over £100 per person, or, put another way, assuming that the women can be grouped together in classes of 20 (geography could play a huge part in this, as the women presumably live over the entire national territory), and are offered one class a week over the two-year period, it comes out at just under £21 an hour to cover all costs. Text books and/or other materials will obviously be required, leaving what for the teacher before tax? Maybe £19 or thereabouts – before tax? Or perhaps even less?




One lesson a week is barely sufficient to make good progress, especially in a class of 20, but with that kind of budget, you cannot possibly offer smaller classes, or twice weekly encounters, because, although EFL and ESL teachers are cheap (apparently), we’re not that cheap.

So, with classes being held once a week, and in groups of 20, what kind of progress would it be reasonable to expect and to test for? Consider that the teachers will be facing the challenge of teaching individuals of different nationalities, different social backgrounds, different levels of education, not necessarily possessing the same first language, different levels of literacy in their own language, who may or may not wish to be there, and who may or may not have the full support of their families.

esl testing threat 2

Keeping in mind the limitations of budget, is it to be assumed that courses for different initial levels of ability will not be offered, but that everyone, whether they know not one single word of English, or whether they already possess a few basic notions, will be placed in the same class?




My calculations were based on the assumption that one lesson per week would be offered, over the two-year period, for a total of 104 hours (anything more and it slashes the available budget per hour to unworkable levels) – however, 104 hours is very little for, say, a native Urdu speaker. For native English speakers to learn Urdu to the US Foreign Service Institute’s level 3, they calculate that 1,100 hours are needed. I’m going to assume that the inverse – a native Urdu speaker learning English – requires the same amount of time, and, although the FSI level 3 corresponds to a professional proficiency level, which is more than what would be required here, I can’t help feeling that approximately ten times less the number of hours would be a lot less time than is actually required to get any sort of worthwhile result. It’s (apparently) a well-known fact that teaching English as a foreign or second language is easy – but it’s not that easy.

What kind of assessment will be carried out? Will all skills be tested? Speaking, listening, reading and writing? If they are, isn’t there the risk that, with the Damocles sword of repatriation hanging over everybody’s head, the teacher is going to teach very much to the test? I know I would, however, I would also be very aware that by doing so, although I might be upping their chances of staying with their families, I’d probably be reducing the utility of the course, and therefore the core aim – helping them to integrate through improved social English language skills – might well be compromised.

Will the cost of the assessment of 190,000 individuals at the end of the two years be taken from the £20 million the budget? If it is, that will bring down the hourly pay of the teacher even further.

esl testing threat 01

Finally, what would occur if the teachers employed in this scheme were not of an entirely homogenized nature – that is, what if some of them were not as good at their jobs as others? When you have so much riding on the outcome – not quite life or death, but to a mother about to be forcibly separated from her offspring, it might seem almost as bad as that – what recourse would they have, if any, if they felt that their poor results hadn’t depended entirely on their own lack of effort or ability?




As an EFL teacher, I always like to think of my lessons as a series of pleasant, sometimes even social encounters, with, at worst, the passing of an exam as the final objective, but ideally, with the satisfaction of being able to communicate with fellow human beings as the real result. I don’t know about you, but I’m not at all sure I like the idea of the teaching of English being used in the way in which this scheme would foresee.



Two-year ban for those leaving Oman companies will be enforced


Possible problems afoot for individuals already working or planning to work in Oman; until now an non-objection letter (NOC) from a previous employer would ensure an employee’s right to work for a new Omani company. Now it seems, according to Omani national newspapers, that the Royal Oman Police will no longer permit company-to-company moves, unless the original employer is willing to lose an expatriate visa from its quota. Otherwise, leaving an employer will now translate into a two-year ban from employment in the Gulf country, basically rendering an NOC worthless.

For those intending to go and teach in Oman, this would mean that, should the job not turn out to be all you had hoped, job-hunting alternative positions within the country would be pointless, and you would be forced to look elsewhere.

For those already teaching in Oman, at the moment it would appear that even if you have completed your contract, you will not be exempt from the two-year ban.

In the past, if an employer granted an NOC, the worker could go on to pastures new within the country immediately. This will no longer be permitted, and the rule looks likely to include EFL teachers this time round, who, along with other professionals, have usually found themselves on the lenient side of employment ban legislation in Oman.

The only way of knowing exactly how this will pan out in practical terms is to keep an eye on EFL/ESL forums for reports from those affected first by the renewed strictness in applying the law, but it’s reasonable to assume not many employers will be willing or even able to contemplate losing a visa from their quota.





“Children have one kind of silliness, as you know, and grown-ups have another kind.”

C.S. Lewis

“And TEFLers have the sort that often borders on hysteria.”

  • –


Humour and the TEFL Lifestyle

Well, to be accurate, the TEFL lifestyle didn’t suddenly become silly – it has always had elements which were daft to the point of surreal – expectations which include teaching classes of really mixed ability groups (with some students who don’t even know how to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in English and others who, embarrassingly, speak it better than you do), organising ‘workshops’ for a hoard of hyper-active kiddos without so much as a finger puppet in the way of materials, and – true story this one – teaching literature in a department which has no actual books whatsoever. Yeah, you gotta laugh.

A Healthy Dose of Daftness

So, no excuses and no justifications for a little corner of the site dedicated to a bit of nonsense. Money may make the world go round, but a dose of daftness can keep you sane. Well, semi-sane, at least.

Click on the image above or the link below to hop to a page of memes dedicated to the TEFL lifestyle, some choice excerpts from that classic of English language teaching, “Mastering the Idiosyncrasies of the Syntax, Grammar and Idioms of the English Language By Means Of Illustrated Tales Demonstrating the Functions Thereof for Continentals and Other Persons of the Foreign Persuasion”, and any other nonsense examples of our razor-sharp wit which might occur to us.

Yes, I could do with a smile, and I’ll even settle for a wry one, but if it isn’t even slightly amusing, you’ll be hearing from my lawyers in the morning.




Shinjuku_at_night_in_1930s2“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.”

– Paulo Coelho

Now, isn’t that the truth? And if it isn’t the actual truth, it’s most probably the justification you give your loved ones (and yourself) for wandering the globe year in, year out, in search of TEFL gigs, so, either way, it’s definitely a keeper and possibly worth considering as the quote to add under your digital signature when you write emails to the folks back home.

And, let’s face it – there are times when we get to feel just a little bit smug over our choice of lifestyle. If your provenance is more northerly regions, and you’ve landed a job in hotter climes, then the feel-good moment often arrives when you’re sunning yourself on a sugary-sand beach, whilst it’s pelting down grimy winter rain back home. Need you be reminded that such moments really ought to be accompanied by Instagram and Facebook photographic proof in order to maximize the gloat factor? No, I didn’t think you did.

The Night-Life Beckons

And of course, the fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down; while back home they’re sitting watching Coronation Street, clasping a mug of hot tea to their breasts, and a lousy hot water bottle to look forward to at the end of the evening, you have a balmy evening of exotic entertainment beckoning to you. It’s undeniable – the attractions of a twinkling-in-the-dark foreign city after working hours are multiple, however, it shouldn’t be forgotten that they aren’t entirely without the odd risk to health and wallet.

As a seasoned traveler, you might be tempted to forego the cautious checking and double-checking of your home nation’s foreign office web-site for potential dangers abroad, leaving such caution to the worry-warts who venture nervously abroad for a fortnight once a year. And well you might – after all, you’ve probably been doing the whole globe-trotting malarkey for a long a time, and have managed just fine to stay out of trouble up till now. Add to the equation that teachers are naturally a very sensible bunch, with TEFLers well-known for being particularly judicious, everything I’m about to write probably falls under the heading of ‘bloody obvious’, however, just in case you’re new to the field, or just happen to be that one-in-a-million EFL professionals who does not possess commonsense in industrial quantities, I’m just going to state the bloody obvious.

Let’s start off on a positive note – by day or by night, some of the regions of the planet which your friends and relatives back home might well assume to be very risky, especially these days, are actually safer – in some cases, much safer – than your home town. Concrete example? The UAE was indicated as the nation with the lowest rate of violent crime in the world in the 2014 Social Progress Index, which, even leaving a good bit of a margin for unreported crime, still translates into a place which is far from being riddled with risks. That said, even in the ostensibly safest places on the planet, applying a wee bit of commonsense, especially after dark, is never a bad thing.

Know the Local Culture

Here’s a possible rule of thumb – could you give a half hour talk on the laws, customs and culture, including the religious mores, of your new country? If you can’t, then quite possibly you might not have a total grasp on what will pass as acceptable or even legal behavior. Some tourists spend months swotting up on the do’s and don’ts of the countries they’ll spend barely a few days in; it’s not totally out of place to suggest that, when you arrive in a new country to live and work, spending a little time to form a general idea of how to keep out of trouble before hitting the town isn’t a such a bad idea. Just in case, rather than hitting the town, you ought to be tapping it. Very, very discretely.

Wary Women

There probably isn’t a woman on the planet who hasn’t had it drummed into her since girlhood that the world is a dangerous place, especially after dark, and who consequently doesn’t know the golden rules off by heart: avoid walking close to dark doorways, walk with your keys in one hand and your cell phone in the other, and, safest of all, arrange some sort of buddy system by which a pair or a group of friends keep an eye out for one another, to name but three. All well and good, but if your current social circle in your new country of residence is restricted to the one friendly colleague of your own age-group who you grab lunch with once in a while, the whole buddy system solution might not seem terribly workable.

Rather than wait for the relationship with the pleasant colleague to bloom into full paint-the-town-together buddy-ship, why not make use of one of the social networking sites for ex-pats, such as Internations or Meet-up, with the precise intention of finding some gal-pals with similar interests? Be pro-active in proposing that you all take a bit of care of one another, by arranging lifts, taking turns being the designated driver, taking turns the being stone-cold sober Responsible One, double-checking safe arrivals, etc.

Taxi Tricks

It really, really is worth asking around for a trusted taxi-driver, tried and tested by those who’ve been there longer than you, and who can be counted on to turn up when he’s supposed to, not to rip you off by grossly inflating the fares (not everywhere in the world do taxis have meters), or by taking you on an unnecessary extended version of your trip which you, with that just-arrived look on your face, did not ask for, drives calmly and carefully in a vehicle which does not have tyres ripe for bursting or an engine ready to conk out on a busy motorway, and, if you’re a woman, can be relied upon to keep his hands to himself. You might have to arrange your own social life around his availability to a small degree, but depending on where you are, the alternatives could be pretty dire.

Drinking and Driving

While we’re on the subject of getting around, it’s worth remembering that the penalties for drunk driving vary from country to country, and in some places are extremely severe, even when the alcohol in the blood is only a teeny bit over the established limit. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that in some countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, residents are expected to be totally dry – even just being caught in possession of a bottle of booze can have horrific consequences. Karl Andree will be spending Christmas at home this year, but a couple of months ago, his situation was looking dreadfully bleak. The 74 year-old spent a year in a Saudi jail, and had a 350-lash public flogging on the horizon until British PM David Cameron managed to intercede on his behalf. Many of the other nations with an alcohol ban are not EFL destinations, so not a concern to your average TEFLer, however, a few are – Kuwait, Brunei, Libya and the Emirate of Sharjah (something to keep in mind if you’re living in the UAE and travelling with alcohol in your car).

Punishments around the world for drunk driving can be very severe, whether the nation in question has outlawed alcohol consumption or not. Consider the following examples:

  • If you don’t manage to obtain the intervention of your Prime Minister or President, you could face 10 years in a Saudi jail. Plus a public flogging. You also get fined several thousand pounds, but I reckon that would be the least of your worries at that point.
  • China has to be one of the biggest TEFLer employers, so huge numbers of colleagues are either working there already or are planning to do so. This country also comes down very heavily on drunk driving, and will mete out life sentences in prison to those injuring others or damaging property through DUI.
  • In France (yes, France!) too you can end up in the clinker. Not less than a year behind bars, plus a fine, plus the withdrawal of your driving license for up to three years.
  • Not a key TEFL hot-spot, by any means, and I can’t honestly say I’ve met someone who has taught there, but there are TEFL jobs on offer, so it’s definitely worth pointing out that El Salvador has the most severe penalties on the planet for DUI – death by firing squad, even when it’s a first offence.

The sensible thing, of course, is to get clear, detailed, up-to-date information from a reliable source regarding the country you’re staying in, focusing in particular on the limits of alcohol permitted by law (if at all) and the potential penalties you risk facing should you get caught breaking those laws, preferably before a drop too many has clouded your capacity to make wise decisions. While you’re at it, it might be worth double-checking what is and isn’t tolerated even when you aren’t behind the steering wheel of a car. Take Dubai, for example – you can get arrested for making a spectacle of yourself in public whilst under the influence.

Girls, Girls, Girls

Gents, this one is for you. Women nowadays tend to be pretty aware of the hazards of not keeping their eye on their drink, but if you’ve landed a teaching post in South East Asia, even though you may be a big, burly bloke, leaving your drink unattended, or just letting yourself go and getting thoroughly tanked up in the wrong company while in search of a bit of R & R, could turn out to be a huge mistake. Who isn’t aware that girls working for night clubs earn their money by convincing you to buy them mind-bogglingly expensive drinks? Well, maybe some tourists – certainly not worldly, well-travelled TEFLers. What you might not know is that in some places, for example, in Thailand, some of the girls are willing to take it one step further, and will spike your drink, get you thoroughly incapacitated and then clean you out. If you don’t fancy coming to several hours (or days!) later, with your cash and credit cards gone, then take advantage of the fact you’re not trying to cram the fun and games into a week’s holiday, but can afford the luxury of taking your time to get to know which areas and clubs should be avoided like the plague.