Showing posts with label For Students. Show all posts
Showing posts with label For Students. Show all posts

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Touch Typing: The Benefits of Typing Fast in the Workplace

rapid typing logoI am always amazed at the fact that almost no job interviews, except for ones for secretarial and other administrative positions, include questions about typing speed. Together with those secretarial jobs, countless office jobs still involve sitting at a computer and typing all day, and require a person to work relatively fast.

Yet amazingly, none of the people conducting job interviews for those non-secretarial office jobs deign to ask about how fast you can type, let alone if you can touch type (i.e., use both hands without looking at the keyboard).

This is incredibly strange. It's as if it is somehow crass to ask about such a thing. Yet, if you had two equally skilled candidates with similar experience and education, if one of them was an exceptionally fast typer, and the other wasn't, surely that would be one of those "all other things being equal" factors that could give an advantage to the person who was a fast typer. But it just doesn't happen.

In fact, it would probably be considered odd for someone applying for certain types of jobs to include their typing speed on their résumé, and it would be equally as strange for the organization doing the hiring to ask about it. Which only confirms my belief that people who do the hiring often follow a basic formula and never question how they could make the process better.

The Benefits of Touch Typing

If you don't touch type but have worked in an office environment for years, you have probably convinced yourself that it is a skill you can do just fine without. After all, you are a shining example of someone who gets things done and meets deadlines. You probably type at an impressive speed, having developed your own hybrid of mashing away at the keys with your thick peasant fingers.

Yet, having never touch typed, you cannot fathom what a disservice you are doing yourself by not learning. After making the effort to learn how to touch type, within six months you will type faster than you ever have before. But that is not the biggest benefit! The most important benefit for you is that you will not feel nearly as wiped out after a long day in front of the computer as you did before. The reason is that the act of looking down and up all day is extremely wearing.

While some hybrid mashers have developed an impressive technique, and can occasionally out-speed a slow touch typer, they have to exert an incredible effort to do it. And even those mashers cannot out-speed the slow touch typers in every circumstance. For example, when having to copy something from a hard copy document into a new Word document.

Keyboard mashing chumps who use some kind of hybrid method have convinced themselves that touch typing is some long lost hope they gave up when they didn't take a typing class in high school. By maintaining this mindset, you are depriving yourself of an easily learnable skill that will make you more efficient for how ever many working years you have left.

Learning How To Touch Type

I know, because in one year I went from a keyboard masher to someone who can hit over 60 words a minute (a better measurement is actually characters per minute, of which I usually range from 330 to 400 per minute).

I made the transition after one month: one long grueling month where I devoted every waking free moment to practicing. It was tough, but well worth the benefits that have flowed my way since. Aside from increased speed, and the improved ergonomic and comfort level/sense of well-being after a day in front of the keyboard, there are other benefits as well.

For example, it is simply more professional—you will now be able to blaze away with the best of them. This was one reason that spurred me on to learn in the first place. And, while I mentioned that, except for secretarial and other menial, administrative office jobs, few other office jobs recognize the importance of typing skills, you can mention your speed in interviews as an "all other things being equal" skill that could give you an edge over other candidates.

And how shall you teach yourself to type? Numerous good software programs exist that will help you to get better. I learned using this simple yet effective little free program. Don't get me wrong, you must make the commitment, and it does take a lot of hours, but if you persist, you will get it.

The most difficult part is actually making the transition—moving from the stage where you can type just as fast using the no-look, "touch typing" that you have been practicing, as opposed to the less efficient but more familiar hybrid method that you have been using for countless years. Anyone who has ever learned to play an instrument will know that the muscle memory comes with practice, and when you get it, it's a great feeling!

Good luck!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Average Son-of-a-Bitch Scholarship Fund

In conjunction and association with absolutely no one, Tefl Spin is proud to announce the introduction of the Average Son-of-a-Bitch Scholarship Fund. The ASOBSF is open to prospective students of any age who are considering post-secondary education. However, there are certain attributes and considerations which will give candidates an advantage in deciding whether or not they are awarded the scholarship.

scholarship fundBelow are the criteria which will eliminate certain applications. There are two main categories that detail aspects that may diminish an applicant's chances of success. Essentially, an average son-of-a-bitch should neither be desperate nor exceptional in order to qualify.


An applicant who is lacking the funds to put him or herself through school will be disqualified. This state of affairs could be due to the individual coming from a family that never had a pot to piss in, parents who were alcoholics, drug users etc., etc. Or it may simply have arisen from poor choices on the part of the soon-to-be student.

This will especially apply to mature students heading back to school for re-training. If you are in this situation and, at the age of 30, 35, 40 or older, are still living from cheque to cheque and suffer from a sense of entitlement and a bizarre inability to live within your means, you will promptly be eliminated from the running.

If you or your family has ever had the misfortune of experiencing a house fire around the Christmas holidays and then been featured in the local newspaper, your application has just been incinerated.

Similarly, if you have ever, through your own fault or a combination of events conspiring against you, been drawn into a destructive lifestyle and then overcome the odds and set yourself straight, your submission will be rendered invalid. This applies regardless of whether you lived out this experience in relative anonymity or, as in the example above, had your melodrama depicted in the press as a triumph over tragedy.

This is in keeping with the profile of the average son-of-a-bitch who has simply never strayed from the straight and narrow and subsequently never been praised for overcoming a moronic lifestyle.

The average-son-of-a-bitch has always pondered the litany of such stories that are routinely written about in the local rags and wondered how these sad clowns come to the attention of the newspapers. Do they phone in and proudly announce that their decision to make something of themselves warrants coverage? Maybe there is a database categorized into different tragedies or addictions, with the cause of the hour rammed full of suitable subjects.

In short, anyone who has suffered a debilitating malady, lapped up handouts from the day they were old enough to recognize the market for helplessness, is confused about their orientation (directionally or otherwise) is part of any deviant sexual niche that will inevitably be celebrated within the coming years, will not be considered for the Average Son-of-a-Bitch Scholarship Fund.

Tefl Spin in no way considers any of those who don't qualify as less deserving. They simply don't fall within the boundaries of this particular scholarship and, in fact, have numerous other opportunities to help them on their way.


Just as any of the aspects listed in the Desperate section will eliminate you from contention, the same applies in the Exceptional category.

Extreme accomplishments of any form will result in your name being removed from the list of candidates. This covers both academic and extracurricular activities. If you have ever been officially recognized as the best in anything in your city, state, province or country, you will not be awarded this scholarship. Also, if while growing up your family engaged in fund raising activities to pay for jaunts half-way round the world to climb mountains or slay dangerous animals, you will not be considered.

If your free time was never eaten up by a part-time job and was instead devoted to various charities and causes, this will remove you from further consideration. In a world where a well-rounded resume is necessary for entrance to the elite world of high paying jobs and breath-taking accomplishments, Tefl Spin would never suggest that such endeavors are anything but completely altruistic. But once again, it doesn’t rank you as an average son-of-a-bitch.

As an average son-of-a-bitch, you have always kept your head down, taken care of business and never entertained the possibility of turning to others for help. When the merest hint of financial difficulties appears far off on the horizon, you regulate your behaviour and take all steps necessary to avoid problems. Regardless, you've always saved a good portion of your income in anticipation of the inevitable screw-ups that arise in life.

At the same time, you've always marveled at the worthless pukes who go about life as if they're owed something, confident that others will clean up their mess. You, of course, have never accepted a cent of direct social assistance, never taken out a loan and never hit up friends for money. In fact, you no doubt have enough savings to pay for any studies you are considering and probably wouldn't even contemplate getting your snout up to the trough.

However, if you fit the profile detailed above, we urge you to make the effort. The Average Son-of-a-Bitch Scholarship Fund will relieve some of the financial pressure while giving us the opportunity to pay tribute to the great silent majority of the unrecognized average sons-of-bitches of the world!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Li Yang and Crazy English

Most people in the English language teaching game have heard about Crazy English at some point. Started by Chinese entrepreneur Li Yang, Crazy English is the brand he has created to market his high-octane method of teaching English.

The New Yorker has an extensive piece on Li Yang and Crazy English in their current online edition. It details Li's background, the methods he uses, some of the resistance he has encountered and the controversy he has created:

"Last fall, Li’s blog site posted photographs from a middle-school lecture in Inner Mongolia. One picture showed hundreds of students on their hands and knees, kowtowing. Bowing one’s head to the ground is, in China, a potent symbol reserved mainly for honoring the dead. It was once required of visitors to the Emperor, and during the Cultural Revolution it was used as a tool of humiliation against those who were accused of committing political crimes.

The response to the photographs was swift. A columnist in the state-run China Daily pronounced Li a 'demagogue,' and his lectures 'like cult meetings.' 'Cult' is a dangerous word in a country that affixed that label to the spiritual group Falun Gong nearly a decade ago and has been rounding up its followers ever since."
Many so-called language experts question whether his techniques truly help people acquire English language skills. They may have a point but what they are possibly overlooking is the fact that a teacher should also motivate their students to learn as opposed to only offering instruction during the few hours they meet every week.

Li emphasizes a mantra-like recital of English as a way to learn. The exaggerated volume and the kind of "out of yourself" trance that develops seems to at least push some students towards practicing and putting in the hours necessary to learn. Not only that, but simply the sense many of Li's followers have that they are part of something special--i.e. his movement--spurs many on to greater heights as well.

I probably have more of an affinity for Li than many other EFL teachers. In my own language learning experience, I have engaged in some rote learning methods and out-loud repetition as a way to retain as many words and phrases as possible in a short amount of time. I find that this method, together with pacing back and forth in a decent sized room, works for me. It's kind of difficult to do this in the classroom in Thailand though I do mention it to my students in the hopes they may do some similar practice in combination with other study methods.

And I have also seen the effect that whipping a class into a frenzy can have. Everyone is in a heightened state and they leave with a positive feeling and walk into class the following week with a smile on their faces and a sense of expectation.

But Li is far more than an English teacher. In his 5,000 student plus, evangelical-like mass rallies/English lessons, he pushes the audience to challenge themselves and the accepted way of doing things.

An article well worth checking out.

Monday, April 7, 2008

10 Ways to Improve Your Writing

"How to improve your writing" lists have been done nearly to death but that's not going to stop me from shamelessly offering up another entry in what has long since become a blog-post genre of its own.

No doubt many of these suggestions have been provided before in various books and on different websites. However, I am certain that here they are expressed with new twists and added details. I hope that this list will be a valuable guide for those looking for advice and motivation to become better writers.

open book1. Read books about writing

At first glance, you may think any time taken away from actually getting words down on paper is self-defeating. However, at least some reading can help you improve your ability to write.

I'm always amazed at the number of people who self-identify as writers but claim never to have read any books on how to write. In what other profession or trade would people admit to never studying up on their craft or trying to learn from those with proven success? It's almost as if there's a stigma attached to admitting that you have indeed sought out information on how to improve your writing skills.

On the other hand, it's important not to immediately adopt all the recommendations made by writing gurus. You may pick up only one or two tidbits each time you read one of these books. Together with likely being energized about your own approach and desire to get back to the keyboard, those handful of ideas are worth the time invested.

guitar player clip art2. Don't only focus on the mechanics

I always like to use the guitar playing analogy when discussing this point. Many novice guitar players devote a disproportionate amount of time towards developing their fret board skills (usually the left hand) while neglecting their strumming or plucking hand. Rhythm comes from strumming or plucking and is hugely important in determining those who have a future playing the instrument.

Perhaps it's the initial struggle to train your left hand to mash down the correct strings and the incorrect assumption that the strumming is easy by comparison that leads to this unequal distribution of practice. Acquiring rhythm can be an evasive skill that requires as much or more attention than getting the individual notes or chords correct.

Similarly, many new writers focus too much on putting together crisp, flawless sentences while failing to address other issues like how to create suspense, flesh out characters and develop a theme. While all those concepts are usually associated with fiction writing, they can also be utilized in non-fiction as well. There are of course other organizational elements important when tackling non-fiction too.

Have you ever noticed that the most popular novelists are not necessarily the best when it comes to creating impressive sentences free of clichés? It often doesn't matter because they have mastered the art of moving the narrative forward and creating characters that readers really care about.

So, how do you actually improve in these elusive areas? The first point in this list will help you (read books that address topics such as narrative, character etc.) As will simply being aware of them and recognizing patterns in what you read and write.

3. Don't self-censor

Self-censorship is one of the biggest killers when it comes to destroying desire and motivation. If you are your own worst critic and bash your own ideas to the ground before you've even played with them on paper and hammered out a few pages, then you will find the writing game a very tough one to play.

Eliminate that sneering little voice inside your head that pounces on story ideas and instead let everything flow with the knowledge that you have created something out of nothing before and you can do it again.

artist easel clip art4. Practice the art of extrapolation

This is closely related to number three. Making connections between wildly disparate things, concepts and people is important if you want to write original stories or articles. This skill will also ensure that you are never short on topics. If you constantly find yourself saying "I don't know what to write about!" bash your head against a brick wall a few times or direct your ambitions elsewhere.

Being able to successfully extrapolate comes from constantly writing. Have no fear that you will empty your trick bag too soon or run out of ideas. Quite simply, writing begets more and more writing. As you write more, ideas will multiply and topics will rise up in your mind and it will become easier.

fog5. Don't get lost in the fog

Despite the fact that I ranted earlier about rhythm and organization over mechanics, there are, of course, times when you should take a hard look at the sentences you are putting together.

One important thing to consider when writing is sentence length. This can be especially helpful for writers submitting feature stories to newspapers or magazines. Many of them will only publish articles that adhere to a fairly standard style of writing. One aspect of any publication standard that is easy to emulate is sentence length.

The Fog Index is a readability formula that helps you to determine, to a degree, what kind of audience a specific magazine targets based on the average sentence length and number of three syllable or more words that appear in their articles. You can submit a passage here to determine the fog index of any writing sample.

In turn, you can more easily shape your writing to suit the standards of the magazine or newspaper in which you hope to be published.

6. Don't be scared to sacrifice your baby

Or at least an occasional arm or leg. This may be somewhat hard to reconcile with the point about not self-censoring. However, this comes after you have the words on paper and are moving into the all important self-editing and rewriting stages.

You struggled for weeks or months on an article or book and you are quite satisfied with yourself because of all the time you've invested and the fact that your mother says it's a masterpiece. Most importantly, it's complete. Not a small achievement considering some of the angst you went through.

But now you have to have the guts to go back through what you have written with a critical eye and slash out the excess. You may come across your most treasured and loved sentence. It may be unique and well-crafted; poetry contained within a single line of masterful prose. But if it doesn't fit within the style of the piece or otherwise fails to contribute to what you are trying to accomplish, slice it out. File it away to use at another more appropriate time.

Go over your words and tighten things up. And then do it again. Make the sentences as lean and taut as possible. At some point, of course, you have to accept that no more changes can be made (except by the lunatic editor who is going to wreak havoc on what you have so carefully written.)

7. Defy supposed truisms

Learn all the long-standing rules and formulas for writing, and then when necessary, defy them. If you follow all the chestnuts about what is acceptable and what isn't and cram your words into the nice confines of all the tried and true conventions, you just may increase the likelihood that your writing is more readable, accessible and entertaining to the average person. And the odds of getting published may go up.

But if rules were never broken, no one would start sentences with conjunctions or end them with prepositions (see previous sentence.)

For every ten writers who follow the rule about "show, don't tell," there is one who telegraphed the thoughts and actions of his characters and somehow made it work. For every 30 fiction writers who eliminate as many adverbs as possible, there are some who don't and their work doesn't suffer for it.

The point is, everyone is unique to some degree and there simply may be aspects of your writing that make it work but go against a supposed "rule."

8. Coin new words

Remember, everything in life, and especially in writing, is made up! Take liberties. Create words out of thin air and casually insert them into your writing. Who knows, you may one day be credited with introducing a new word into the English language.

9. Analyze your own writing

In doing so, you will identify little tricks and patterns that may be all your own. Take pride in these techniques, use them to good effect and give them a name.

dynamite clip art10. Blow up absurd ideas like "I'll only write when I'm inspired."

No list such as this would be complete without some variation that drives home the importance of actually putting in the hours. There is no single other factor that destroys ambitions of wannabe writers more than lack of production.

There's nothing wrong with telling people that you are a writer. Just be prepared after you answer in the affirmative to the question "Are you serious about it?" for someone to come back with:

"If you were serious, you wouldn't be sitting here talking to me..."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tips for Choosing an English Teacher

Many students see one-on-one learning as the most effective though potentially most intimidating setting in which to improve their English skills. The fear may result from a number of different factors. There is a belief (very often correct) that a personal tutor will charge a premium rate and there is some angst associated with being in a highly focused situation alone with a foreign teacher.

professor black boardSimilarly, many English language teachers may avoid the lone student challenge for a few reasons. Lack of experience in such situations, fear of canceled classes and uncertainty over what rates to charge all make group classes a more comfortable proposition for many teachers.

Here are some tips for students thinking of paying for individual lessons as an option to improve their English language skills.

1. Sit down and chat with a few different teachers before you make your choice. Most private tutors will want to talk with you before they enter into an agreement as well. They can get a feel for your level and what areas you need to improve. You can ask questions about approach and get a sense of whether you feel comfortable with their style.

2. Make your choice based on the individual teacher, not the school he or she is associated with. This even applies if you are learning on the language school’s premises. While the school may require instructors to use a specific method or set of materials for one-on-one classes, the person you are spending the time with is more important in determining how successful you will be.

3. Ask yourself what your English language learning goals are. Be as detailed as possible. Write down your ideas and bring the list to the introductory meetings. Be prepared to ask potential instructors how they will help you achieve your aims.

question mark4. After you have decided on a teacher, discuss the possibility of undergoing a trial period—perhaps two or three weeks—after which you can make a longer commitment. While the initial meeting will help you select someone appropriate, it may only be after a few actual lessons that you feel satisfied with continuing. Don’t be embarrassed to inform your teacher that you would like to consider other options.

5. Consider the amount of time involved in making a real effort to see progress. It’s a good possibility you will pay more for a private tutor than you would for group lessons. Meeting once or twice a week with the teacher isn’t going to result in real advancements unless you put in some effort outside the classroom.

6. If at all possible, make it clear to your teacher that you would like some support outside of the hours that you meet. This could simply be in the form of e-mails sent during the week in which you seek clarification on something you are studying or just as a way to practice your writing skills.

7. Engage in some enjoyable activities outside the classroom in which you are required to use English. This could be watching movies (without subtitles!) or listening to English language programs on the radio or online. You could also form a group with other learners with similar goals and agree to meet once a week during which time you are only permitted to speak English.

8. Have reasonable expectations. Don’t set unrealistic goals that aren’t in line with the amount of time you are spending. Language acquisition is an ongoing process and different students may progress at different speeds. Of course, rapid improvement is possible. It all depends on how much time you are able to invest.

one-on-one lesson9. As the weeks pass, be willing to alter the structure of the lessons and be flexible about what you hope to achieve. You may find that certain aspects of your weekly meetings are more effective than others. All teachers appreciate feedback and are more than happy to accommodate the wishes of their students. You might discover that a very casual, conversation based approach is more suited to your liking or you might want grammar points explained in detail.

10. Whatever teacher you choose or plan you agree upon, make sure that you have some fun and are satisfied that the lessons are worth your time and money. The increased attention and the fact that each lesson is tailored for your needs and requests almost ensure that your level of learning will be greater than in other settings.

If you put in the effort and are actively engaged, you will probably find that your instructor will thank you for helping him to learn a thing or two about the whole process as well.