Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Language Teaching in Second Life - A Review

Time for a review of language teaching in Second Life. This post was prompted by a request from someone who wanted to observe a class in SL. This is the best place to ask for a Second Life class observation opportunity: https://lists.secondlife.com/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/educators

As for observing classes, I was very impressed with the observations that I did while undertaking a teacher training course for language educators in Second Life, run by http://www.languagelab.com. They are a serious language school, with a sizable city in Second Life, employing highly trained teachers and teacher trainers and material designers and are doing the most when it comes to really using Second Life well for language teaching. I suggest contacting them - they may not be running another teacher training course for a while, but you could always sign up to take Spanish or Italian and get to observe teachers in action

Avatar Languages is another language school that is also active, but the classes are one-to-one: http://www.avatarlanguages.com - check out their blog for ideas of how you can teach ESL without having land in SL.

Second Life English is another group worth contacting: http://www.secondlifeenglish.com (although I'm not sure how active they'll be during the summer) - the people involved in this, and the English Village island in Second Life were the first people to offer ESL in Second Life and have therefore a lot of experience. They have gone through the usual stages that anyone does when starting to teach ESL in Second Life (i.e. trying to teach in a classroom environment, with a board is usually the first one that goes out the window - it's still surprises me that anyone wants to duplicate this in a world where you can teleport and fly and build or find any scenario you want, but they do - it shows a complete lack of experience with the environment and/or a lack of reflection on what is needed for language learning to take place)

There are others, but most of them do not offer any innovative practice and show signs of trying to jump on the bandwagon without doing any legwork.

Speaking of legwork, if you've just joined it may be worthwhile getting in touch with a more active group of educators. A group of Webheads meet every week to discuss Second Life education and create lesson plans (most are English language educators too). Find out more here: http://slexperiments.pbwiki.com

Finally, if you'd like a good overview of the state of the art re. language education in Second Life, I recommend checking out the archive of the annual SLanguages conference: http://www.slanguages.net/archive.php which was held on the Edunation island (a great place to set as your home base if you want to meet other educators - you'll always find people there you can talk to)

Hope this helps - please feel free to get in touch. I am not directly involved in ESL TEACHING in SL (I spend most of my time working on the British Council's SELF-ACCESS centre for 13-17 year-old language learners in Teen Second Life: http://secondlife4teens.wikispaces.com), but I have been involved in language education in Second Life since 2006 - my avatar name is Baldric Commons

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Digital Play - a new blog


I've started a new blog with a colleague and friend, Kyle Mawer, called Digital Play, which you can find here: http://www.digitalplay.info/blog/



The blog will specialise in collecting news, information and ideas for teachers who want to use computer games and other digital toys to help language learners in and out of class.

This is something that we both have been involved in for several years now, especially in our jobs as teachers of young learners. During this time, we have tried out different ideas of exploiting digital games with young learners of English and teenagers, and have introduced a lot of our colleagues to using these too. The interest has grown and now many of our colleagues turn to lesson plans and worksheets featuring online games when they have a computer room slot.

Of course, we have presented our ideas about using digital games at various conferences and have had articles and ideas published in various places too. The next, natural step seemed to be to set up a blog to help draw the ELT world's attention to what can be done. And so, Digital Play was born.

Hope to see some of you over there sometime.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Interesting Talk on Teaching English in Second Life

Nik Peachey spoke to Dennis Newson about Teaching English in Second Life last night

http://blip.tv/file/2482035

Among other things, he spoke about the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats according to him. Here's a summary of what was talked about:

WEAKNESSES

* lack of established social norms

The talk soon turned into a discussion with different participants agreeing / disagreeing with Nik. Talk mentioned the backchannel of the text chat sometimes interrupting the flow during meetings.

* no eye contact
* gestures and body language makes it difficult

Nik wondered about the effect of the lack of body language, gestures, etc have on students and the Teacher-Student relationship. Participants who have experience teaching online mentioned the fact that the more experience you have teaching online the better: you can pick things up in other ways (tone of voice, etc)

One participant, however, stated evidence has found that some students are more forthcoming because of this. Another mentioned the levels of control that classroom teachers have that do not exist in Second Life. She mentioned that this is similar to teaching high level business students - often teachers have to accept the interruptions that a lot of these (especially one-to-one) classes involve. Interruptions such as mobile calls, etc. Teaching in SL involves a similar degree of relinquishing control.

* Groupwork/Pairwork problems

Participants mentioned that groupwork is possible but other activities such as mingling activities do not work. Using different parcels or sending students to different areas makes groupwork possible. Nik mentioned that in particular, organisations that set up their SL schools like their RL schools have more problems than other types of language teaching organisations in SL.

Another participant said that many professionals involved in distance learning now agree that distance learning is often more labour intensive than RL teaching and that the ideal group size would be around ten people.

Monitoring student groups in Second Life is difficult according to Nik. And the idea of working with smaller groups means it is more difficult to make teaching languages in SL economically viable.

* Autonomous language learning opportunities limited

There are lots of opportunities online for autonomous language learning but they are few and far between in SL. Participants stated that SL should be used for what it is good for, and there's no point trying to use Second Life to do everything when there are bettwer ways of doing certain things elsewhere online.

Second Life, according to one participant is an example of disruptive technology. Development in SL is definitely catching up though.

* Ability to handle text

SL is a graphics delivery system and its ability to deliver motivating text is still a challenge. If you compare notecards to typical worksheets and handouts there are limitations (no formatting, they do not behave consistently, they don't look very good). Placing text in SL on the wall etc. is still not satisfactory.

STRENGTHS

* SL is a good social platform

Nik thinks that SL regulars get strangely attached to their avatars. This attachment is something that puts SL on a different level from 2D Web. He also mentioned that if he has met someone in SL, he feels he has met them "on a deeper level" than those he has only talked to on Skype or exchanged emails with.

The 3D aspect of SL is very important. SL provides a feeling of sociability

* Space ownership

It is easy to develop an identification of ownership of space. You can't build same kind of attachment / sense of ownership to a Moodle space, for example.

The discussion then moved onto using virtual worlds with teens and pre-teens

Nik suggests providing space for students - it will motivate them more if they can take ownership of the space and will provide a stronger pull to keep them interested as 'virtual residents' .

OPPORTUNITIES

* Language Exchange

Sites such as livemocha, italki, and other language exchange sites work well and he believes that this could be done much better than it is in Second Life, with people helping each other to learn a language.

One participant mentioned this is an extension of tandem learning and pairing students up can work very well and offers great potential .

One of the problems for students find is not being able to find someone. Enabling students to find others to help them, to get feedback, etc offers great potential.

* Authentic tasks and projects


Nik thinks that SL offers a more authentic experience than learning in a classroom environment, which is very synthetic. SL hasa much more genuine correlation to the way languages are generally learned.

For example, there are real businesses in SL - there are real activities going on. If language teaching can tap into this, the real things that are happening, then this can provide a very authentic experience for students.

* Extra-curricular activities such as chat groups, drama groups, etc

There is a great opportunity to do this in SL and work on projects such as machinima / theatre in order to motivate students to use language in a real way.

* Playing/Creation of Video Games

Nik thinks SL is a playground and believes that SL can offer a great place where games can be created and played, motivating students through SL's visual strengths.

Many classroom activities do not work very well in SL. They lead to groups of students standing around in circles reading notecards. He believes the environment is so visually strong that we need to be able to use it, to create large spaces with motivating games. This will take serious groups of people with serious SL skills to be able to do this.

One participant mentions the common misconception of people thinking of SL as a game. This is good because it is attractive to students who like games. But it's also bad because teachers generally think of SL as a game and don't take it seriously.

Discussion moved onto Marc Prensky and the use of games in teaching and to another virtual world, There. Nik mentioned that he was impressed by this virtual world.

Strong motivations in computer games (mastering tasks, preserving life, evading enemies, etc) are lacking in SL. People will do things over and over again in order to get to the next stage of a game. This is one of the strengths of gaming that could be built into learning.

THREATS

* Reliability

We are never really sure that SL is going to work when we go there. This makes it difficult if you are offering a commercial product and students cannot get into SL for example.

One of the participants mentioned the threat of:-

* Griefers

Being interrupted by people during a class can be a problem. One way round this, according to a participant is to locate the classroom on a sky platform.

The key is to teach people how to deal with this when it happens. A griefing incident can be turned into a strength if the griefer can be engaged in conversation by students, etc.

The discussion branched off after this...

Nik mentioned that using a female avatar brought him more attention on There - he got approached a lot more.

One participant expressed that she loved the feeling of playfulness that SL gives her. She mentioned getting involved in activities that she wouldn't do in RL.

The discussion came to an end with Nik mentioning the resistance that someone had in their organisation to using Second Life. He believes that there are so many changes that have happened to teaching and education through technology in the last 5 years. The average teacher now has a huge amount of pressure to learn new skills and to step in front of their students and to use these skills. It is a great challenge for teachers and lots will need to take it slowly. Nik believes the best way to introduce SL to other teachers is to make it part of their professional practice first, before it can ever be part of their classroom practice. Teachers then will feel more comfortable about using it with students.

Nik then mentioned that the whole nature of the way we communicate is changing because of technology, and what we teach and the way that we teach it should reflect this. If our students want to use these tools, then they'll need help. Just as students needed help with writing a letter, then some will need help communicating in places such as Second Life.

One participant mentioned that SL would benefit a good intermediate learner best.

Nik said that for students who have a gaming background find SL much easier to use and understand.

All-in-all a very stimulating discussion.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Paper vs Digital ELT materials

There is currently a debate going on in the IATEFL Young Learner SIG Yahoo Group about the the pros and cons of publishing digital ELT materials/resources as compared to paper-based ones (i.e. books).

I have been reading the posts on this thread with a great deal of interest, and can't help thinking that those defending the paper model echo what many in the music industry were saying about digital downloading when the first effective model (Napster) came on the scene. There was a time some years ago when the music industry had a real chance to utilise the emerging technology to provide a new business model for the industry. Instead, they chose to ignore the change implied by the new technology. As we all know now, this has led to widespread adoption of illegal file-sharing and huge losses by record companies all over the globe. Despite efforts to stop this (DRM, court cases, legal file-sharing through iTunes, etc), most people feel the battle has been lost and musicians are starting to realise that the money has to come from elsewhere.

What has this to do with ELT? It's tempting to think that books are different, that we will always want to hold the physical objects in our hands, to own and collect them as objects? This is true of our generation maybe, but what of the next? The current generation is fast becoming used to a different model, where access to information (video via Youtube, digital music streamed through programmes such as www.spotify.com, etc.)

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference wortks have been the first books to suffer (like it or not, Wikipedia is fast overtaking the Encyclopedia Britanica as a source of information - the pros of Wikipedia far outstrip the cons: in the 21st Century, our sources of information need to be up-to-the-minute and dynamic).

What about the other arguments for paper-based material? Reading on a screen is not sustainable? You can't take it with you on the train? Devices such as Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iPod Touch and the iPhone have changed that. I no longer buy a daily newspaper - I download the news from the BBC and El Pais to my iPod in the morning and read that on the metro.

What about the parts of the world where the Internet does not reach? The signs are that this will change in many of these areas. The Internet probably won't come via PCs, but will instead be available via mobile phones (did you know that most mobiles are in the developing world?), which are becoming ubiquitous in most parts of the world.

As we have seen (most recently in a heated exchange on Twitter between a wide variety of ELT professionals), there is a demand for digital copies of resource books and textbooks. The ELT publishers have yet to cater to this demand. The danger is that unless something is done, then what awaits them is what happened to the music industry re. digital downloading.

In fact, it's already happening. There has recently been a proliferation of websites and blogs offering illegal copies of most ELT textbooks and resource books. These are generally scanned copies of the books advertised by the sites as 'free ESL books to download.' The website authors claim they are providing a service to people, "freeing information", etc. but look carefully and you'll see the sites are generally full of advertising, so their aim is to make money by illegally copying and distributing the books. I am not providing any examples of sites as I really don't want to encourage this sort of activity. Of course, the publishers act against these websites when they are found (it is common for authors to report them to the publisher), but I fear they are fighting a losing battle if legal downloading of digital copies of ELT books is not going to be offered.

How things will turn out is difficult to say, but you can look at trends and predict. We are currently experiencing the death of the newspaper (http://www.newspaperdeathwatch.com/ - talk to any newspaper journalist and you'll hear the same thing). As mentioned before, the emergence of new reader-friendly devices and increase in Internet mean that the demand for digital downloads will increase whether you like it or not.

Although I am a book-lover and know I will continue to buy and read books for the rest of my life (I am also writing one!), I do think that the shift from paper to digital materials in ELT is inevitable.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

To Blog or not to Blog?

Why blog? Getting started - my experience

Recently, I've been thinking about blogging and why people do it. I've been encouraged by the nomination for an award I mentioned in my last post, and by Karenne Sylvester's call for entries to the blog carnival she has organised to help newbie EFL bloggers.

So, what makes someone sit down and write something and publish it on the Internet for all to see? In particular what makes an EFL teacher do this. The main reasons I suppose are self-expression, to communicate with other teachers, to share ideas, reflect on practice. Of course there's also the teacher who wants to try it out because you want your learners to blog and you don't think you should ask them to do something that you wouldn't do or haven't tried . That's why I started.

Let me start with some statistics - I've been blogging at http://blog-efl.blogspot.com for six years (since July 9th 2003), have written 553 posts so far and over 60,000 words.

My first post was directed at a group of teenage learners I was teaching in a summer school in Barcelona. I wanted to try out a new global community my school had set up for learners and had managed to get a daily computer room slot. Then, at the last minute, I was told that my students wouldn't be getting accounts in time, so I needed a backup plan. I remembered that a friend of mine had invited me to set up something called a blog six months previously - I'd joined and written one post and then not returned. But, I had seen that it was a quick and easy way of publishing on the Web and wondered if I could do this with my learners.

I jumped in and all of the learners in the two classes I was teaching se up blogs and started writing about themselves and reading what the learners in the other class had written - their curiosity was provoked, and although few of them wrote much, they were motivated enough to want to write and to read what the others had written, sharing their interests, and asking questions by leaving comments on the other learners' blogs.

I also started using the blog I'd set up to reflect upon the experience rather than write to the learners, as illustrated by the second post I wrote. By the end of the course, I was convinced that this was something that I should look into more, even though the learners had become a little bored with blogging during the course and I decided to do something else (you can read about this here if you like).

Getting Interested in blogging

I spent time after the course finding more out about blogging. At the time, there was little written about blogging and only a handful of EFL teachers were using blogs. One of them was Teresa Almeida D'Eca's Let's Blog. Teresa is a teacher based in Portugal - I'd been introduced to her through my colleague, Nik Peachey (who funnily enough has only recently started blogging himself) and was very impressed with her blog. So much so, I wrote a review of it on my blog.

I started learning a lot from the other educational bloggers out there about how best to use them. Aaron Campbell's article on Weblogging in ESL was very influential and there were tips from other bloggers about how best to encourage participation, and whether or not to correct.

You can tell from the amount I was writing to the blog (48 posts in August 2003!) just how enthusiastic I was getting. In fact this figure only shows a small part of it - I'd also been put in contact with a teacher in Brazil - Barbara Dieu (or Bee), who had been blogging with her students for some time. I wrote a review of her blog, Bee Online and also started responding to some of her ideas she had.

Sustaining Interest in Blogging

One of the many ideas that Bee had for promoting and sustaining learner interest in blogging was the idea of having a mystery guest on her blog. I was one of the two mystery guests in August 2003, and the results were convincing - the students responded well and wrote loads during this period. Bee said that they were all motivated and asking questions, trying to work out who the mystery guests were between classes, trying to get her to give them clues, etc. And afterwards, the conversations continued as we got to know each other. For me, this was the moment when I realised the power and potetnial of blogging with students. You can read the actual posts here - as a sidenote, I think it's wonderful that all of this still exists - it's been great to revisit this now, so many years afterwards.

I went on to run my own blogging experiments with classes that year and several years afterwards. Some of them were successful, others not so much. I kept in touch with both Teresa and Bee. They introduced me to the wonderful Community of Practice, the Webheads in Action, and to lots of other educators around the world. I co-moderated a series of online workshops about blogging with Bee and Aaron Campbell through the TESOL Electronic Village Online. Eventually, though, I found my interests turning more towards podcasting and then to social networking and games and virtual worlds. However, I still believe blogging is a great tool to use with students, and although my own blogging output has diminished recently, I can see how valuable it is for teachers' reflective practice and for sharing ideas and building community. Especially now, that it has started to be used by mainstream EFL teachers rather than just those who are interested in technology. This for me, is the key, and the main reason why I am interested in blogging regularly again.

Blogger's Block

So, what about the so-called blogger's block? Looking back at my blog entries, I can see that I have a lot of unpublished drafts. Posts that I started and didn't finish. And then I remember times when I wanted to write something and didn't. I think the most important thing is to be involved in the blogosphere. If you read other blogs (and nowadays take part in the conversations that are constantly happening in Twitter and Facebook, as well as on mailing lists, etc.), then you'll never be short of ideas for blog posts. Of course, the other thing to remember is that blogging is all about contributing - and no matter what you think, everyone has a unique voice and a relevant point-of-view - you can always add something interesting to the conversation. Just, as Karenne recently encouraged me to to on Facebook, jump in and do it - don't think too much about it.

I think it's also important not to feel overwhelmed - there is so much out there, you'll never be able to keep up with everything that's going on, vever be able to read all the blogs, etc, that you'd like to. Choose a few people to read regularly that you find interesting and then from time to time, let yourself be led by links from their blogs (or by serendipity) to other people. Be sure to contribute to other people's blogs by writing comments - it's very important for bloggers to feel that there's somebody out there reading what we are writing (otherwise, why write it, right?) - tools like clustrmaps are very important to a blogger to see that they have an audience (I prefer this visual demonstration of audience more than looking at a counter or at stats - I have also noticed that it impresses students more too)

Setting goals can be important to keep up interest too. apart from the goals you may set up with students (a good one is to always relate what you are doing in class to the blog and vice-versa), if you blog for other teachers or for yourself, then you might want to use the blog:-

  • for reflective practice (write what you think about how a particular class went)
  • as a repository for a future teaching e-portfolio
  • to sound out ideas that you may want to follow up in an article or a conference presentation / INSETT session
  • simply keep a record of your time as a teacher
Finally...

Most of all, treat blogging as something you do for fun that can also help your professional development and you should be able to continue, happy in the knowledge that what you are doing is of value.


Monday, July 13, 2009

BLOG-EFL nominated as one of the 100 Best Blogs (Language Technology)


Are awards important for bloggers? The reason I ask is because I recently found out I've been nominated for one (from Anna, whose excellent blog about her experiences in Second Life has also been nominated).

The Top 100 Language Blogs 2009 Awards have been organised by LexioPhiles and there are four categories: Language Learning, Language Teaching, Language Technology and Language Professionals.

I was surprised to hear that I'd been nominated, because I haven't been blogging here much recently (much of what I used to use my blog for has been taken over by Twitter or Facebook or Delicous).

Surprised and also chuffed. And then I wondered why. Thinking about it, I realised I'd been wanting to get back into blogging, but needed a good reason for doing so. Browsing the other nominated blogs (for me - this is the most important reason for such awards - you can find out about bloggers you weren't previously aware of, or people you haven't looked at in a while), I started to realise just how much wonderful stuff was being written by so many. I know now should start making blogging a priority again, and wonder why I'd stopped doing so for so long.



Hello again, Blogosphere! I'm back! And Thank you, Lexiophiles for giving me a reason to start blogging again.

Friday, May 08, 2009

SLanguages 2009

This year's SLanguages conference promises to be the best ever - it starts later today at 20.00 Central European time and continues for the next 24 hours.

I'm excited to be speaking several times, first as part of the AVALON project, a European Union funded initiative, with 26 partners in 8 European countries. AVALON stands for Access to Virtual Learning live ONline, and our goal is to explore the potential for scenario-based language learning. This (tonight and then again tomorrow morning - see schedule for details) will be the first time we've spoken about it in public together - looking forward to it.

I'm also speaking as part of the panel discussion plenary on language teacher training in Second Life, with Nergiz Kern, Nick Noakes and Dennis Newson, although I think Dennis can't make it after all. We'll be talking about our experience organising the TESOL Electronic Village Online session on Virtual Worlds & Language Learning. The social network, http://evovwll.ning.com, that was set up for the EVO session has now just under 3000 members, and the discussions and meetings have been continuing, even though the actual EVO session finished back in February.

Finally, on Saturday I'll be talking about the Virtual Tourism CLIL course I organised earlier this year in Second Life. I'll mention how it went, include references to what the students thought about it (collected here), and finish off by taking people on a short tour of some of the places the students had to visit.

If you're interested in innovative ways of language learning and teaching , be sure to check out the SLanguages conference - hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

IATEFL double whammy: Milan & Cardiff

I count myself among the lucky few who are going to attend in-person both of the upcoming events hosted by http://www.iatefl.org/ and the http://www.britishcouncil.org.

IATEFL 43rd Annual Conference - Cardiff

Cardiff Online

Starting on 31st March and running until 4th April, the 43rd annual IATEFL conference promises to be the best yet. The range and quality of the speakers at the IATEFL conference always poses a challenge when you're flipping through the programme deciding who to go to hear speak, although little does it matter, as rarely, in my experience are you disappointed.

The great news for those who can't be there in person is you'll be able to get more than a flavour of the conference by registering at IATEFL Cardiff Online: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2009/

Last year, there were 1600 participants at the conference and 5000 participating online. This year promises to be even better, with far more activity going on online to bring those not at the conference closer to the action.

Apart from the live broadcasts of the plenaries and video and audio recordings of some of the other sessions, wifi access at the conference means some participants in sessions will be live blogging or twittering (using http://www.twitter.com) to keep people in the loop. Should be a very special event indeed.

IATEFL YL SIG & LT SIG Conference - Milan 

But, the week before this, there's another very special event in the form of a joint Young Learner SIG (Special Interest Group) and Learning Technologies SIG conference in Milan (March 23rd-25th) examining 'Innovations in Teaching Children and Teenagers'. If you can make it and are interested in attending, there is still time to register here:  http://www.britishcouncil.org/italy-english-milan-teacher-training-aggiornamento-insegnanti-inglese-milano.htm

This event promises to be a real treat for anyone who teaches young learners, and there are three strands to the conference, which are CLIL (Content & Language Integrated Learning), Learning Technologies and  Testing & Assessment. 

Although there won't be as much online activity at this event, there will be some, and I have agreed to try my best to keep people informed by blogging here. I'll also be twittering at http://www.twitter.com/grahamstanley - hope that some of you at least can join us for the educational journey!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Seven Things You Probably Don't Know About Me

Happy New Year everyone.


I'm not even going to say that one of my New Year's resolutions is to start blogging regularly again, as I think I said that last year (and it didn't work out - probably because I was so busy elsewhere). This year, however...well, this year it'll be a different story...

So, wondering how to start the year off, I was going to post more resolutions, but Lindsay Clandfield asked me if I'd write six New Year Web 2 Resolutions for his blog, so I needed something else.

Then I found I'd been tagged by Gavin Dudeney for the ‘Seven Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me’ , which will make a perfect start to the year.

Here are the rules:
  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog
  • Share 7 facts about yourself in the post - some random, some weird
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged

Well, here goes nothing...

1. Before becoming a teacher, I worked in London for a number of architectural and design companies, starting off in document control/data management and moving onto administration / office management. This is where I started using computers, and I remember well the green on black screens of the first IBM PCs (I'm still sure it's the reason why everyone working there started wearing glasses) while working at SOM back in 1986. When I first started there, there were five employees. Three years later, when I left, the London practice had grown to well over 350 during the construction boom that saw the practice being mainly involved in the building of Broadgate and Canary Wharf.

It was here that I worked with Mark Dytham, who then won an architectural competition and moved to Japan, setting up his now prestigious company. Years later, I came across his name again as co-creator of the pecha kucha presentation format, which subsequently I've used both with students, at the 2007 ETP Live conference and at the second pecha kucha night in Barcelona. Pecha Kucha is becoming a popular ELT conference event, thanks to Lindsay Clandfield, who has started a special pecha kucha ELT site to help promote this fun experience. I'm happy to say I'll be part of the pecha kucha event to be held at the IATEFL conference in Cardiff in April 2009.

2. The most embarrassing moment of my childhood was when I played Aladdin in the school play (I must have been aged 7 or so) - I was dressed in a splendid oriental costume, complete with make-up and a fabulous Chinese hat with attached ponytail. At the end of the rehearsal performance in front of the entire school, I took a bow and my hat fell off. Everyone in the audience burst into laughter. I think that is the reason I never considered a career on the stage.

In later years, my most embarrassing moment was probably when, as a new player of a company softball team, a gorgeous girl suggested we go for lunch together. I turned up the next day with the whole softball team in tow, thinking that was what she'd suggested. At the end of lunch, she came up to me and said "Hey! That was nice, but maybe the next time we could have lunch just you and me."

3. My most famous private student was Spain's 2002 Eurovision candidate, Rosa Lopez (Rosa de España) , who I was introduced to by a friend of a friend. She had been catapulted to fame as the people's favourite in the first edition of Operación Triunfo (OT), the music reality show.

I met her after the show and after Eurovision. It seemed then that she was the most famous person in Spain - there wasn't a magazine or a newspaper that didn't feature her on the front cover. Everytime you turned on the TV she was there, and the paparazzi staked out her flat waiting on her every move. Her management's idea was to rework what they saw as an uncut diamond into a dazzling gem, and among other things, this included extensive dental work, daily gym workouts (she was the only OT candidate who was over-weight), elocution lessons and English classes!

Before I could start, her brothers and bodyguards had to give me the once over (presumably to make sure I wasn't a journalist in disguise) then I went up to her flat in Barcelona to start. The first couple of days went well. She was almost a total beginner, which is difficult to find in Barcelona these days. And this, despite the fact that she had sung in English during the TV programme. Later I was to find out that she had learned the words phonetically. This was one thing in her favour - she had an excellent ear for music and sounds.

A very kind and sociable person, each class, before we started, she insisted on making us breakfast (usually a turkey salad sandwich and coffee). Once we started, I found that she was easily distracted and getting her to turn off the TV during class was a trial. I tried to reach her with music, and brought in Delaney & Bonnie's 'Superstar' to listen to in class. She loved it, and asked to borrow the CD. At one point, the word 'something' came up, and she started to sing the George Harrisson song (which she had learned phonetically) , belting it out as we sat at the table. I was blown away, both by how well she could sing, and also the fact that she remembered all of the lyrics without being able to speak much English. Shortly after we started, Rosa mentioned she now had an English teacher called Graham when she was interviewed on TV and in the magazine Que Me Dices - the first and probably the last time I'll be featured in a gossip magazine.

Unfortunately, things weren't working out for Rosa in Barcelona, and the pressure soon got too much for her - she had some kind of breakdown and returned to Granada in the South of Spain. We'd made little progress - cancelled classes, others that were spent with her in tears, unable to speak any English. Once, she told me that the moment she decided that she wanted to learn English was when she was at a party in New York. Introduced to her idol, Whitney Houston, she realised she couldn't say a thing to her, not even "I love your songs" - a missed opportunity that she didn't want to let happen again. However, there was just too much going on in her life. The last time I saw her, I turned up for class and she was in the middle of a photo-shoot in her apartment. She was sorry, but she would have to cancel. A week later, she was back at home suffering a crisis.

Fortunately, she's back on track now, and seems to be doing well, despite the fact that many people in Spain thought she'd end up giving it all up and going back to her family. Good on her. I sometimes wonder if she's managed to learn any more English.

4. I've been an extra in a Woody Allen film (Vicki Christina Barcelona) - read more about the experience here. It's now out and I'm on screen for about half a second towards the end, buying flowers for my film-wife behind Rebecca Hall as she's on the phone to Javier Bardem.

Since then, the agency has called a few times asking if I could do more extra work. At first it didn't work out, but I finally got to do more extra work last November - this time it was for Suspicious Minds, a Spanish psychological thriller. I played the manager of a garage and spent three hours signing receipts on film in the middle of the night in an industrial estate in Barcelona. Hmmm, the cinema world isn't as glamorous as people make it out to be. With a bit of luck, though, I'll be on-screen for a second - if things continue at this rate (doubling my on-screen appearances every year), I reckon I could be a star by 2016.

5. Hundreds of hours of my teenage years were spent rolling dice over my parents' dining room table with a group of three friends. We mainly played AD&D and Traveller, and met to do so most Wednesdays (13.00-23.00), Fridays (19.00-23.00) and Saturdays (13.00-23.00) for at least a couple of years. At 24 hours a week, around 50 weeks of the year (allowing for holidays, etc), that makes around 240 hours. Phew! My parents worried that I wasn't going to school discos and classmates spread rumours that we were meeting to perform 'strange experiments'. Strangely enough, that time spent playing role-playing games has paid off creatively, especially as I was usually dungeon-master, mainly involved in creating the story for others to follow, writing and imagining scenarios for the others to follow.

6. While in my twenties, and living in the UK, I was called to do jury service. I spent the best part of a week in the waiting room, then was called to sit on a case. At the first session the judge told us that because of the nature of the crime (armed bank robbery, policeman shot) and the fact that a gang was involved, each juror would be assigned 2 armed bodyguards 24-hours-a-day. So, I went home on the bus with 2 policemen following me and that was the case for the rest of the week-end and week afterwards. At first it was a novelty, and I delighted in turning up at a friend's house and telling them to look out the window. But after a few days of this, it became a real pain - I became self-conscious and everything I did I had to keep in mind that there'd be two coppers following me. I went to a pub to play pool and there they'd be, at a safe distance (I had been told not to approach them) keeping an eye on me. After a week of being followed I was really cheesed off.

On the Friday, some of the jurors asked for permission to go out for lunch. We'd been cooped up all week (so that the bodyguards wouldn't have to be called), and really needed to get out. We were told to go as far away from the Old Bailey as possible, to make it less likely that family members / friends of the accused would bump into us. Four of us (and our 8 bodyguards) went to have lunch in a pub. On return, one of the jurors I was with said that he thought he'd spotted someone from the visitor's gallery in the pub. The judge heard about this and decided to suspend the case. The four of us who'd been to the pub were told that we'd almost been charged with contempt of court (even though we'd had permission) and the front page headlines in the national newspapers turned the court case into a 'gang tries to reach jury' story - I still can't believe the rubbish they wrote about the case...

7. My great unfulfilled ambition is (like so many other people) to write a novel. I wasted a good part of my twenties standing around in pubs boring the pants off the people who were kind (or stupid) enough to listen to my ideas for plots. In my thirties, I stopped talking and actually started writing this rubbish down on paper. Then, I discovered NaNoWriMo, and, as I'd become a blogger, actually started blogging a novel, trying to put down a minimum 60,000 in 30 days. Soon, I discovered I'd actually built up a readership (of four!), which inspired me to continue. After 20,000 words I gave up, unable to persuade my dull and earnest main character to leave his flat. I suppose Sandy's right - I should've injected made it a comedy. Maybe the next time...

Now, in my forties, I find the sum result of these long hours: the last section of a blog post about 'Seven Things You Probably Don't Know About Me'. Still, I have recently been given a new glimmer of hope, after seeing the success a colleague, Adam Dalton, has had with his novel, Necromancer's Gambit. If you like metaphysical fantasy, I can highly recommend it.

And now I'm tagging, Lindsay Clandfield, Bee (Barbara Dieu), Sean (EFLGeek), Nick Noakes, Dennis Newson, Isa F Munn, Language Lab (Grammar Girl)