The Blog Turns One

This week officially marks a year of my blog’s existence and I have to say that it’s been a rewarding and fulfilling experience overall. It started over seventy-five posts ago with my first look into the increasing presence of smartphones in today’s society with “Smartphones: Man’s New Best Friend?” and has continued up through this September with pictures during my recent trip to Guatepe, Antioquia, Colombia.

Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about the writing process especially when it comes to topics like travel and self-development. While my writing and photography skills are still a work in progress, I believe that I am a better writer and photographer than I was a year ago. I have put a lot of time and effort into this blog over the past year and I am thankful to all of the readers, friends, and family who have supported it by reading the articles, leaving comments, and giving me constructive feedback.

I’ve been through some big life changes with moving home and then back to Colombia recently. This blog has changed to become more travel and culture focused since that’s where I am right now in my life but I hope to continue writing about self-development and even ESL topics. I’m quite proud of the work that has gone into this blog and hope that you as the reader have learned a lot or gained something from my writings. So far, I have had a couple of thousand unique visitors from many different countries along with thousands of individual views and that’s very exciting to see.

As this blog enters year two, I am hoping to invest more time and money into the layout and formatting as well as creating more content for the reader. The first year has been very rewarding for me and I hope to continue developing this blog and expanding the readership. As a writer who enjoys hearing constructive comments, feedback, and criticism, I hope that you will leave a comment telling me your thoughts and suggestions about the blog. I am open to any advice as long as its’ respectful and within reason. I will continue to have eight to ten posts per month in 2017 and will highlight more of my experiences of living, working in Colombia as well as some upcoming travels to different parts of South America.

If you’re new to this blog and don’t know much about me or my writings, I have organized an archives section which has the location of all seventy-five of my posts which have occurred in the past year. I also have a ‘Best Of’ Articles page where I highlight the ten blog posts that I like the most when it comes to culture, lifestyle, traveling, music/movies/books, and personal development. You can find the individual links to these ten top posts here: https://benjweinberg.com/best-of-articles/.

I am now one year into my blogging hobby and I am happy with the results so far. I hope that this website will continue to grow in terms of audience and expand in terms of its’ content. I want to say thank you to all the readers and supports of benjweinberg.com and I look forward to keeping in touch with you throughout the rest of the year and into 2017. Please feel free to leave a comment on this particular post if you would like to share your thoughts or express your opinion about the blog so far and where you might like to see it go in the next year. Cheers to the future and here’s hoping to a great 2nd year of this blog!

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English Corner – Conjunctions

This ‘English Corner’ on the subject of conjunctions is a continuation of an ongoing blog post series with a new post every month to help English language learners to better understand the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax in order to better develop their own proficiency. I have over two years of experience of teaching the English language to non-native speakers, both online and in person.

I hope to use these posts to help you, the reader, improve your understanding of English, and also develop your fluency. If you have any questions about this ‘English Corner’ post, please leave a comment and I will answer them to the best of my ability. Any constructive feedback is appreciated and I hope that this will become a popular series of posts within my website. If you enjoy my ‘English Corner’ series, you can also request private English lessons with me through the WordPress message system.

Second only to ‘Prepositions’ in terms of grammatical importance, ‘Conjunctions’ play a vital role in the formation of sentences in the English language. Conjunctions do the important job of connecting words and phrases together to form a complete sentence. Examples of conjunctions include although, and, because, but, etc. Instead of forming simple sentences such as: “I like to play sports”, we can then add on to this sentence by adding the word ‘and’ to create a complete sentence which could be “I like to play sports and hang out with my friends on the weekends.”

Having a good grasp on conjunctions can make writing complete sentences a lot easier and give you the ability to form paragraphs and even entire essays by adhering to the sentence structure by adding a conjunction or two. When it comes to grammar topics like conjunctions, it’s important to be able to remember the correct words that fit into the category and to know when to apply them in your sentence.

The word ‘And’ is the most popular conjunction because it can be used for three different functions. Not only can it connect words but clauses as well as phrases. ‘And’ is also used to describe more than one person in a sentence by grouping them together such as “Tim and Tina went to the movies together last time. In addition to the word ‘and’, other popular conjunctions that are commonly used to connect sentences are ‘although, since, but, unless, or, yet, so, etc.’

Contrary to popular belief, conjunctions can be used in the beginning of a sentence rather than just in the heart of a sentence. For example: “Although he was tired from working late, James still decided to go out for a drink with his friends.” A conjunction is a part of speech that can also be more than one word. Examples of conjunctions that make up more than one word include ‘so that, in order to, as long as, etc.’ By clearing up the confusion and misleading information regarding conjunctions, beginner students of English will better be able to handle this important grammar subject.

part-speech-nounb
Conjunctions: Successfully joining words and phrases together in order to form complete sentences.”

Learners of the English language often forget that conjunctions can be divided into two categories: coordinating and subordinating conjunctions.

Coordinating conjunctions are known for connecting two parts of a sentence or phrase together to form a complete sentence. This first type of conjunctions is usually used in the middle of a sentence and is supposed to connect words and clauses together along with two parts of a sentence.

An example of a sentence where a coordinating conjunction would be used could be “John picked up Tim after his soccer practice in the park and then they went to the movies together.” There are many different coordinating conjunctions but the most popular ones are ‘and, but, for, or, so, yet.’

Subordinating conjunctions have a more specific purpose than their coordinating counterparts. The main purpose of subordinating conjunctions is to join the dependent clause of a sentence to its’ independent clause to form a complete sentence. The main clause is also known as the independent clause and the conjunction is placed in between the two clauses in order to create the grammatical structure of the sentence.

For example, a sentence with a subordinating conjunction would look like “I had to study hard last night because we have an important English test today. Some examples of subordinating conjunctions include ‘although, because, since, unless.’ It’s important to remember that a subordinating conjunction will always come at the beginning of the subordinate clause, which could either be before or after the main clause. This means that there is some flexibility when it comes to inserting your subordinate conjunction in that it can come in either the beginning or middle of a sentence.

Lastly, in addition to conjunctions that are subordinate or coordinate and are one word usually, there are other types of conjunctions that can be a few words in all when forming a sentence. These two other types of conjunctions are known as compound or correlative.

Compound conjunctions often end in the words ‘that’ or ‘as’ and some examples of these conjunctions include: ‘as long as’, ‘provided that’, ‘because of that’, ‘in order to.’ Remember that a compound conjunction does not always end in ‘as’ or ‘that’ but it’s usually true in most instances. For example, a sentence with a compound conjunction would be like; “You can eat ice cream later as long as you eat your vegetables first.”

Correlative conjunctions are often made up of pairs of two corresponding words such as ‘neither…nor’, ‘either…or’, ‘both…and’, which serve to balance the sentence and the two clauses. For example, you could write a sentence like “We could either go to Spain or Italy for vacation this summer.” When using correlative conjunctions, remember that there needs to be two words that relate to each other in the overall meaning.

Like our previous topic of ‘Prepositions’, learning about ‘Conjunctions’ will help a beginner in English to gain confidence in developing both grammar and vocabulary. Both of these topics are important to review and go over with a student in order for them to correctly form a sentence by adhering to the necessary structure.

By knowing about the different types of conjunctions, some key examples, and their varied uses, students of English reading this post will gain a better understanding of this vital grammar topic. If you have any questions or comments about this ‘English Corner’ post, please feel free to write me a message. In the mean time, good luck with your continuing studies of the English language! I promise that there will be a new post next month focusing on another key topic.

Return to Colombia

bilingueprogram
“Yes, there are quite a lot of us in our group of teaching fellows for Colombia Bilingue. Pretty cool.”

After my first experience of living and working in Colombia was cut short rather unceremoniously, I decided not to give up on volunteering here as an English teacher and worked hard over the past three and a half months to return to this beautiful and lively country. After going through visa, medical, flights, and other forms of tedious paperwork all over again, I remained committed to what brought me to Colombia in the first place; a chance to improve the English proficiency of my students and to inspire them to look at the world a bit differently than before.

I have arrived here again in early July to accept the role of ‘English Teaching Fellow’ with the Heart for Change program and Volunteers Colombia organizations with the additional support of the Colombian Ministry of Education. I was extremely excited to hear that I had been accepted to this program in mid-April of 2016. Since then, I’ve worked diligently to prepare myself for the responsibilities and duties expected of me during these next six months to a year.

I’m quite proud to be among 240 English Teaching fellows who have come from over 30 countries around the world to be apart of this mission. It’s truly inspiring to meet and see other teachers come from nations like Iceland, Iran, Kenya, Serbia, and elsewhere with the goal of making Colombia a bilingual nation. This effort to improve the English language proficiency level of Colombia’s students is a massive undertaking and a worldwide effort. I am glad to once again play a small role as an ESL teacher in making Colombia more proficient in the English language.

After arriving in Bogota, the capitol of Colombia, the other 240 fellows and I underwent a week of intensive teacher training in order to prepare us for the job that lies ahead. While the topics that we went over were mostly review for me given my past experiences, I was grateful for the refresher and was impressed by the job done by the UNICA (Institucion Universitaria Colombiano Americana) in helping prepare us for the program’s start.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to explore much of Colombia’s capitol city of Bogota but I was able to walk around and check out the historic district along with the Plaza de Bolivar. In addition, I was able to dance some Salsa, eat some delicious Ajiaco soup at La Puerta Falsa (highly recommend), and practice Spanish again with the locals. Hopefully, I will be able to return to Bogota soon because there is a lot to do there and it’s a bustling metropolis on the same level as New York City and Mexico City.

What someone would notice immediately about Bogota is the unpredictability of its’ climate and it’s weather patterns. It could be sunny and warm in the early afternoon, completely cloudy an hour later, and then rainy and cold in the evening. If a direct comparison can be made with a U.S. city, the weather of Bogota would most closely resemble Seattle for better or worse.

Bogota is tucked in close to the Andes which allows visitors an excellent view of nearby towering, green mountains that jut out beyond the modern array of skyscrapers and office buildings. Bogota, like other Colombian cities, are urban oasis’s surrounded by rivers, mountains, and tropical jungles. Thankfully, from what I have noticed, there is a healthy balance here between nature and civilization, which is lacking in other places.

After having finished the initial paperwork, received my certificate from UNICA, and flown on to Medellin where I’ll be working full-time as a co-teacher in a public school starting next week, I am happy to close a past chapter in my life and open up a new one which has a positive, optimistic outlook. The first six months of 2016 were tough for me personally but I’ve put the past behind me and am ready for what comes next.

I look forward to finishing the work that I started back in January 2016 here in Colombia and hope to do some good work for my new students for the next six months or more. It’s been a wild ride with ups and downs, but I’m happy to continue riding the rollercoaster and seeing where I end up. For now, I’m fortunate to be back here in Colombia and won’t let this second chance go to waste. Todos Por Un Nuevo Pais!

English Corner – Prepositions

The ‘English Corner’ will be a new blog post series from me with a new post every month to help English language learners to better understand the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax in order to better develop their own proficiency. I have over two years of experience of teaching the English language to non-native speakers, both online and in person. I hope to use these posts to help you, the reader, improve your understanding of English, and also develop your fluency.

If you have any questions about this ‘English Corner’ post, please leave a comment and I will answer them to the best of my ability. Any constructive feedback is appreciated and I hope that this will become a popular series of posts within my website. If you enjoy my ‘English Corner’ series, you can also request private English lessons with me through the WordPress message system.

One of the biggest struggles that new learners of the English language will encounter during their studies is mastering the grammatical concept of the ‘Preposition.’ The most common issue that a lot of my ESL students have come across is how to better understand and memorize the grammar rules of the ‘Preposition.’

It’s nearly impossible to memorize all of the ‘Prepositions’ and their specific uses in English. I find that it’s best to examine certain examples where the individual preposition is being used in the sentence and for what context does it most apply fittingly. It’s important to remember that a preposition is considered to be a part-of-speech that comes before a noun type of phrase and connects it to another part of the sentence. The name of ‘Preposition’ can be broken down into pre-position which gives us a good hint that this part-of-speech needs to be placed before the noun. There are different types of noun phrases such as the noun phrase (the short boy), the noun (meat), the pronoun (us), and the ‘gerund or before the verb in –ing form’ (dancing).

The most common prepositions are on, in, to, for, with, by, and. There are numerous other prepositions and for a full list of them, I highly recommend going to this link: https://www.englishclub.com/grammar/prepositions-list.htm

There are three types of relationships that the preposition has with the rest of the sentence. They are relationships in time, in space, and of a certain method.

For some examples of prepositions in these three different relationships, let’s look at the following sentences:

  • The soccer ball is on the floor. (relationship in space)

Note: The physical location of the soccer ball is located on the floor. ‘On’ is a good example of a preposition that is used to demonstrate the relationship in space between itself and the noun.

  • You will meet him in October to discuss the business deal. (relationship in time)

Note: When it comes to date / time / place, a preposition like in is perfect for highlighting the relationship of time when it comes to a noun like ‘October.’ For months, days, weeks, and other words for time, it’s important to use the correct preposition to express this relationship.

  • I sent the wedding invite to you by postal mail. (relationship of method)

Note: When describing a method with a preposition, using by is the most popular and the most useful. Whether its’ mailing a package, or writing a reply to your boss, this kind of preposition will come in handy especially when it comes to connecting the gerund (verb + ing) to the part of speech.

There are several kinds of relationships that are expressed with the help of prepositions but the most common relate to space, time, and method.

Prepositions can either be one word (after, in, by, etc.) or a couple of words, which makes them more complex in their overall nature. (according to, despite that, because of, etc.)

Prepositions will usually come in the middle of a sentence to connect two parts of a whole sentence. However, there are exceptions and sometimes they will appear at the beginning or end of a sentence.

Examples:

Which person did you talk to?

To which person did you talk?

____________________________________________

Another important distinction between prepositions is related to whether they involve place or time.

Prepositions of place describe the relation of an object or thing to another object or thing in terms of space.

This chart below provided by http://www.englishclub.com explains this phenomenon along with a list of corresponding prepositions of place:

prepositions-of-place

Here are some example sentences for preposition of place:

  • My dinner plate is on the table.
  • The boy hid under his bed.
  • He stood in front of the door.
  • The bird flew above the crowd.
  • He looked over his assembled troops on the battlefield.

Prepositions of time usually involve prepositions like at, in, on, by, etc. We use at to describe a specific time or date. We use in to highlight months, years, decades, and long periods of time. The last preposition of on is the most specific and deals with days of the week, and dates in time. By is the least common preposition of time but can be used to express important due dates when it comes to days and weeks.

Here are some example sentences for preposition of time:

  • I have a salsa class at 8 pm tonight.
  • In September, I started my new job.
  • We ended our job strike on Tuesday because our demands were met.
  • You need to finish this project by next week.
  • We will be back from our vacation by Friday night at 11 PM.

This chart below from http://www.englishlearnsite.com is very useful in giving us more examples on how to use these prepositions of time in the correct manner without getting frustrated.

prepositions-of-time

Prepositions are an important grammatical concept to master in order to become fluent in the English language. I hope this first ‘English Corner’ session was helpful to you as a reader of my website. Remember that a preposition is always followed by a noun, and never by a verb. Prepositions usually appear in the middle of a sentence but sometimes at the beginning or end too. Placing your prepositions before the ‘noun’ and after the subject/verb will help you greatly with regards to your English grammar.

I hope you enjoyed this first edition of ‘English Corner’ and I look forward to sharing another topic with all of my visitors again soon.

A New Adventure Awaits

peace_corps
U.S. Peace Corps in Colombia – I’m excited to serve and ready for this journey to begin.

In just one week from now, I will begin my training to become a Volunteer for the United States Peace Corps in Colombia starting in mid-January of 2016. For my three months of training, I will be living in a town called Santo Tomas, which is about 45 minutes outside of Barranquilla. For my work and living situation, after I’m sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I will be located in a site close to the Atlantic Coast of Colombia close to the cities of either Barranquilla, Santa Marta, or Cartagena. The school where I will be teaching and the community that I will be living in has not been announced yet due to the fact that I haven’t completed my training yet.

This will not be my first time living overseas for an extended period of time. Previously, I lived in Istanbul, Turkey last year as an ESL teacher at a private high school. I also studied for a semester at Bogazici University in Istanbul as well when I was in college. My first overseas living experience occurred when I was 16 years old in Costa Rica where I studied Spanish for a summer there in a language homestay program. I have become quite comfortable with adjusting to a new lifestyle and territory by now. However, it still may take me a few months to adapt to the new culture and hot climate.

My family and my friends have been very supportive of my decision over the past year and a half to pursue service in the U.S. Peace Corps. It’s not easy to be away from your family and friends for a long period of time but they all know about the good work that I will be doing in Colombia. They understand the importance of volunteering and serving. I would not be where I am today without the support of my father, mother, and my brother especially. They have been great to me throughout the whole application and selection process.

My main project while serving in Colombia will be developing, and improving upon the ‘Teaching English for Livelihoods’ program. I hope to work with local Colombian teachers to advance the English curriculum and materials that they are using to teach the students. I believe that with hard work and effort, we can make real progress in creating an effective way of teaching English and improving the English proficiency levels of the Colombian students. I also would like to expand upon tutoring and after-school programs related to English learning and making sure that the students see learning English as fun and useful to them.

I look forward to being apart of a new school and a new community. I am excited to explore my surroundings and to learn about the Colombian culture and their customs. I will be very happy to work with my Colombian colleagues as well at the school and hope that I can make a real difference in improving the English level of the students that I hope to help during my service. I want to immerse myself in becoming fluent in Spanish, learning the local dances, and tasting the Colombian cuisine as well.

My motivation to join Peace Corps was because of a number of different factors. I had a desire to volunteer and serve a purpose greater than myself. I felt that I could contribute a lot to the Peace Corps’ Education sector given my previous background and experiences as an ESL teacher. I wanted to explore a new country and a new culture as well. Spanish was the first foreign language that I learned as well so I hope to use this exciting opportunity to become fluent and to connect more easily with the locals in my community. It was also important to me to volunteer and contribute to the wider world in some way. I hope I can be an example to other Americans who want to be part of something bigger than themselves but are not sure where to begin.

When I leave Colombia, I want to leave behind a school and community that is better off than it was before I arrived. My main goal is to help the local teachers to develop an effective English language curriculum that will last for many years after I depart them. I hope to foster better relations between Americans and Colombians through my actions and my relationships that I hope to build between our two peoples.

I wish to help as many students as possible with their English language skills whether its through tutoring, after-school programs, etc. so that they can become bilingual and have a brighter future. Above all else, I would like to make new, lasting friendships and to be considered an honorary member of their community by the time I leave.

I leave in less than a week and I’m excited to begin and complete my training over the next three months. All I have left is the final packing of my bags and I’m off to Miami for the staging event!

There will be a change of focus for my blog from this point forward as I will focus on writing about my experiences and adventures living in Colombia. I hope to write about the cuisine, customs, culture, and food of my adopted country for the next 27 months. I hope that you will follow me on this exciting journey. Thank you very much for your continuing viewership and support. (Muchas Gracias y Saludos para todos! Vamonos!)

A Short Guide to Teaching English Overseas

Teach English Abroad! I promise that you won’t regret it.
Teach English Abroad! I promise that you won’t regret it.

 This past year, I had my first teaching English as a foreign language overseas experience. I would like to give my loyal readers some insight into what it was like and I can also give you some tips/advice that I could have used when I first signed up to teach English in a foreign country.

 First of all, there’s a lot of different options when it comes to getting your teaching certificate. I would recommend taking either an online TEFL/TESOL course which would take about ten to twelve weeks and cost between $1,000-$1,500. If you want to go full-time and get it done quicker, you can most likely take an in-class course for about forty hours a week and be finished in about a month or so but it will cost you closer to $2,000.

I got my TEFL/TESOL certificate through the International TEFL Academy which is a great organization and you can find out more information about them through a simple Google search. I’ve had friends of mine sign up for a course both online and in-person and it paid off for them with real, good-paying jobs.

 Now, don’t be fooled because there are some organizations out there that are not legitimate and will try to rip you off. Between my Bachelor’s degree and my TEFL/TESOL certificate, I was good to go though and ready to apply to schools around the world. Be ready to work hard and do a decent amount of homework, and in-class training in order to achieve your TEFL certificate. It’s really easy to get good grades in your course as long as you put the effort and hard work in to earn your qualification. I believe the CELTA certificate is more advanced and could lead to more opportunities but I’m not sure how big of a difference it makes really.

 For example, if you’re an English teacher who is interested in teaching in Spain, the program that is sponsored by the Spanish government is a great option if you would like to teach English in Europe. Honestly though, besides Spain and Italy, not many Western European countries are going to pay you very well to teach English. If I were you, dear reader, I would look into Poland, Czech Republic, and/or Hungary if you’re feeling more adventurous.

There’s also Latin America, Southeast Asia, and other Eastern European countries but they don’t really pay too high if that is your main concern. China, Japan, and the Middle East are the biggest payouts even if you have just a TEFL Certificate and a Bachelor’s degree but the cultural differences are large and the living standards vary from country to country. I can’t tell you where to teach but if you do your research and talk to others about their experiences, you may have a better idea of where you want to go. It depends on your lifestyle and your cultural preferences.

 I chose to teach over the past year in Istanbul, Turkey because I was already familiar with the country and culture due to a previous experience living here a few years ago for my studies. I knew the language and the locals relatively well and I got a really good job offer to come here. Some schools will pay for your living accommodations which can help you in terms of saving money and being able to travel around Europe and elsewhere. Please make sure that you research about the school’s reputation and try to interview with them in person or through Skype before signing any paperwork/contracts. Be sure to look over the whole contract before signing on legally to a school for a year or more.

 There have been many young people who have been screwed over in the past because they did not read the fine print. Always make sure to know what you’re getting into in terms of salary, work permit, visa help, accommodations, etc. I was pretty happy with the choice I made although there were hiccups and missteps along the way. I had competing offers to work in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and elsewhere but I am content with where I chose to go. Lastly, eight weeks of paid vacation a year is a really good deal compared to most jobs out there on the market internationally.

 There are downsides to this lifestyle though in that the working culture can be quite different than you are used to and things often are done at a slower pace than Americans / Westerners are used to. Upper management at some schools can be frustrating to deal with at times and will have different work policies than the ones you’re used to in your native country.

Teaching English is a job like any other and it can be quite stressful and to teach children, you will need to develop patience and a lot of understanding. It’s not entirely a vacation from the real world as some folks make it out to be. I worked 40–45 hours a week and had to prepare lesson plans and help create exams. However, I had a great experience in getting a deeper understanding of Turkish culture, meeting new people, making new friendships, traveling when I could to different countries, and becoming a more mature and confident person. I lived comfortably on my local salary and I had free enough time where I could go out and socialize with my friends.

 For someone in their early 20’s, I think it’s a great thing to do and you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the world around you. Just do your research, think about what country fits you best, learn the language, and reap the benefits. It’s not easy moving and living in another country. It’s not for everyone too but if you’re adventurous and want to explore new places, I highly recommend it to all of you reading.

 If you have any other questions about teaching English as a foreign language, please feel free to message me or reply to this post. For more resources on getting a TEFL/TESOL certificate or finding a teaching English job, I would go to these websites, some of which I mentioned to you already above:

http://www.internationalteflacademy.com
http://www.tefl.com/
http://eslcafe.com/
https://www.teachaway.com/
http://www.tfchina.org/en/index.aspx
http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listing…road.shtml

Happy Hunting!