Things I love

  • ~Louis
  • ~Family&Friends
  • ~IceCream
  • ~MyKindle
  • ~CoffeeBreaks
  • ~Sparkles
  • ~Knitwear
  • ~Vanilla
  • ~AllThingsLUSH~
  • GossipGirlxoxo~
  • Chips&Ketchup~

29 November 2012

Weekly Wishlist

Ugh could the weather GET any worse?! (yes) Here are a few treats to lighten up the mood :)* Hand and cuticle saver - Hemp hand cream. This is worth the money. Plus, the Body Shop always have offers going on in store or on-line, especially if you sign up to their newsletter. 
* I love having dresses that I can wear with flats, boots, heels, cardis, tights and different waist belts. I find that they're always handy for the days that you're not feeling particularly inspired. This Oasis butterfly dress is just adorable and the print isn't too overpowering. 

* If you are staying at home, then check out Accessorize's unbelievably adorable range of slippers and boots. Watching TV can still be fashionable ;) My favourites? This raccoon ballerina and these fluffy boots. because it's a bit gloomy outside doesn't mean you have to be. Adding a bit (or lots!) of sparkle to your nails will instantly cheer you up. Topshop's nail polish collection just gets better and better! 

I scoured my favourite brands' websites for any interesting knitwear but found nothing worth noting! That will be my challenge for the week ahead. 

Till next week!  


27 November 2012

It's Sushi Time!

A couple of weeks ago, I was informed of a sushi place here in Amman that offers all you can eat sushi on Tuesdays and Fridays. A visit was necessary, considering how much I missed the sushi buffet spots in North London*.

I had made reservations for the evening, and so decided to spend some of the afternoon at Taj Mall. It's the upmarket mall in Amman, and has brands ranging from Claire's Accessories to Burberry.

Off to the food court to get some fried chicken (of course) and people watching. Then next to Kanafandi, which has *the best* konafa in Amman, in my opinion. Crispy pastry covering a layer of warm, stringy cheese, drenched in syrup, washed down with a cup of Turkish coffee. A perfect treat for a rainy Friday afternoon. 

As I hadn't been to the mall before, I was curious to browse some of the shops (H&M obvi). Foreign clothes are expensive over here. For example, a top that would cost £5 in the UK might cost up to twice as much. I'm hoping this will act as a deterrent to my excessive shopping addiction! 

There was still time to kill, especially after all that konafa, so into a cab and over to the nearby DVD store to stalk up on Mad Men. 

The time for sushi finally arrived. The restaurant is called The Lettuce and The Fish in Abdoun. The buffet menu was a little limited, comprising mainly maki rolls and a few sushi "cones". On this occasion I chose a few items from the menu, including salmon sashimi. An order of fried duck wontons and edamame for the table too. All in all, I thought the food was good. The salmon was delicious and fresh and the cone I ordered had meat throughout, which was a nice surprise. It was a bit on the pricey side, but that was to be expected considering how rare fish is served in restaurants. 

I think next time I'll go for the buffet as it'll be slightly better value, but that sashimi was totally worth it! Here are a couple of pictures of the food-filled day! 


*if you live near or around North London, two places I would recommend for sushi are Sushi Mania in Edgware and Sushi Bento in Southgate. Enjoy! 

16 November 2012

Rainy Memories

On Sunday, rain clouds covered Amman's sky, and I woke up to see the grey sheet usually seen by residents of Sunny England.

When it rains in the Middle East, there's a certain romance about it. The air smells of dew, the roads become patent black, the lights in the houses twinkle against the slate sky. It's all very beautiful looking out from your third floor window whilst having a cup of coffee.

Anyway, on this particular rainy Sunday, I was due to go to work and so sipping a cup of Nescafé wrapped in a shawl with my toes in fluffy slippers was not gonna happen. The thing is, several weeks ago, Louis and I had tried to buy some umbrellas from Carrefour, only to be told that they wouldn't be available till the end of October. Then we kind of forgot because the weather has been kinda lovely...sorry western world.

Of course, our forgetfulness would come back to haunt us. I could hear the rain pounding away at our windows whist getting ready for work. Lucky for me, the rain had pretty much subsided by the time I left the house and I was planning to get a cab at the bottom of the hill.

I stood there for ten minutes, wrapped in my scarf, trying to signal a cab. No luck. You'd think they'd take advantage of the thousands of pedestrians who don't have cars. I started walking and kept trying but there were no free cabs on my side of the road. Typical. By this time a drizzle had started. My pretty straight hair was getting wet (yes, this is literally what goes through my mind). I decided to just walk to work, considering I was half way there.

I got to work wet and sweaty. Nice. But all this got me thinking about London's rainy days.

It's much easier battling the rain with an umbrella. Leading on to my next point, umbrellas are not a rare commodity in the UK. Plus, having a Starbucks/Costa/Pret on every corner definitely helps. And wearing leather boots and 120 denier tights (without the dodgy stares) is also a pro...

But then I thought of that horrible wind that always, always breaks your umbrella. And the real possibility of getting poked in the eye by your fellow commuter on an overcrowded pavement. And the wet floors you have to negotiate if you enter any shops. And the fact that your bag/shoes will get wet no matter the diameter of your brolly. And the worst of them all, the stuffy humidity you get when tens of wet people and their baggage enter the polluted tube stations and cram into the train cars. Ugh.

So I decided, although it was an uncomfortable experience on Sunday, I am not as resentful at the rain because, well, we've had clear, crisp days since then. And the sun shines at least once a day. And I've managed to buy an umbrella in case the constant rain does start up.


14 November 2012

Diaries of a Teacher

Last week, I finished my first month of teaching, marked by the final exam for the level I was entrusted with (lower-intermediate). My heart swelled with pride as I handed them (almost all of them) their certificates. 

I wanted to take some time to reflect on the course and note down my observations, in the hope that I would learn from the experience. 


* I was anxious about how much wisdom I'd impart but I saw my students' vocabulary, grammar and conversation skills grow :) 

* I really enjoyed teaching, which is great validation for my decision to go into it! 

* My colleagues were very helpful when I needed guidance on  how to teach tricky grammar points such as the Present Perfect. 


* All my students spoke Arabic, more specifically, Jordanian. This meant that when a student asked me a question, like "what does X mean?" their colleague would translate it for them in Arabic. Although this was helpful sometimes, most times I preferred explaining the words in English and let the students see if they can understand it.

* The chairs in the classroom were fixed to each other in rows, which meant I couldn't rearrange the seating for group activities.

* The students could be critical of each other. For example, when reading aloud in class, if one student mispronounced a word other students would sigh or impatiently correct him/her. I think this may be a cultural thing - perhaps students were more direct in their approach.

* A few students' English was lower than the others and I just didn't know how to bring them up to speed without slowing down the class. This was a challenge for me as I wasn't sure how to effectively manage differing levels in the same classroom.

What I will continue doing in my next course(s): 

* Speak English only in the classroom. I can really tell that the students benefitted from this, and within a couple of weeks I was able to slightly increase my speaking speed without "losing" my students.

What I want to change/adapt: 

* I did not have any interactive and fun "warmer" activities at the start of the lessons. Part of it was the fear that my students would not want to take part and part of it was that I wasn't sure how much to deviate from the book. Also, some students prefer not to be too friendly to the opposite sex, again, a cultural thing I need to keep in mind.

* I would like to find an activity that develops the students' language. During lessons I asked students to read aloud but recently (re)discovered that this does nothing for language development.

* I'd like to incorporate the phonetics (IPA) chart into my pronunciation exercises 
(you can see one here). Although it looks like a foreign language, the chart is very effective when used correctly, as it illustrates the sounds of letters rather than what they look. This can be helpful with tricky letters such as "c", which can have an "s" sound or a "k" sound. 

* I feel that students are used to having the teacher "tell" them what they need to know, but I need to ensure that I am eliciting as much as possible from them and using concept checking questions to check understanding and progress. 

This month:

I have just started teaching a Basic level class, in which the students have no or very little previous knowledge of English. 

I have also been assigned the lower-intermediate level again, so I am excited about having a chance to put into practice the points above. 

Reflections on both coming soon - watch this space!


07 November 2012


Have you ever let your emotions come to the surface while working? A couple nights ago, I am ashamed to say, I experienced frustration at my students and I just feel awful thinking about it *cringe*.

I teach two classes at the moment: a TOEFL preparation class and a lower-intermediate English language class. TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language, and it is usually taken by those who want to enroll in an English speaking University, those seeking an English based degree, those who want to work in an English speaking environment (usually in the West) or those who are entering local universities that require a more fluent level of English.

At the centre I work at, students are not allowed to register for the TOEFL preparation class unless they have completed approximately 8 levels of English. This is necessary, since the TOEFL is aimed at fluent speakers with some ability to command the language.

It's my first time teaching TOEFL and I have 3 students. Two of them informed me that they have finished up to level 6 and the other other told me she has reached level 2 (I'm not sure why she was able to register for the class).

I've been teaching them for about 3 weeks and everyday I dread the class. Being a teacher, you get a buzz or a high when you teach a class and the students leave with more knowledge than they came in with. Or when you see the lights above their heads light up. With my TOEFL class, I feel I'm stuck in a vicious cycle and I'm not able to come out of it. I try to explain things to them but usually end up telling them the answer - not the ideal teaching method.

So on Monday we were discussing the difference uses of a noun. This is a tricky topic and one I would not have thought about were it not in the book. Let me give you an example, the word "music" can be made a noun person by changing it to "musician". The word "mile" can be made into a noun thing by changing it to "mileage". Now, I don't remember learning this at school in this manner. What little memory I do have of learning words tells me that I learned them through dictionaries and through what I was doing at school or conversations with people.

So like I said, a particularly tricky grammar point. I point the students to the Appendix at the end of the book, which has some exercises about how to change words to noun persons and noun things using specific suffixes. Then I tell them we'll work out the first example in our book together. The sentence reads:

"In the evening he relaxes in front of the fire and writes long poets."

Poets is circled in the book because it is incorrect. So I ask my students (there were only 2 that day), what is incorrect about this sentence? 

And they just don't know. 

So I ask, what do poets write? 

And they are like.......pottery? 

I'm like, close, but it's a different word. 

And then one of them says to me "well I'm not sure what poet means, is it a person or a thing?" 

I'm like (!) it's a person. So what does a poet write? 

No response. 

So I'm like, a poet writes poems. 


Ok, let's try some other exercises. 

"He had several critics to offer about the new play."

So, is this sentence correct or incorrect? 


Well, what's a critic? 

And one of them says to me "I don't know, what is it?" 

And I'm like, where are your dictionaries? 

Blank stares.

I've been asking you for three weeks to bring your dictionaries to class, I've asked about 10 times, tomorrow, if you don't bring your dictionaries, we won't have a class 

Deer caught in headlights...on of them says "I have a dictionary on my phone.." 

Excellent, bring it it out. 


We eventually work out (ie I tell them) that critics needs to be changed to criticisms. And by this time I am showing my frustration at them, and they are just getting more and more wound up (really, really bad for a student since it causes them to lose confidence and the ability to retain information). I've spent 3 weeks mainly giving vocabulary and grammar lessons, when this was a class meant to be for students who have more than the basic level of English and just want to learn test taking skills. Furthermore, I expect that they would be more serious about this exam considering they are all trying to register for Masters courses.

Anyway. We look at the next sentence:

"The company hired a statistic to prepare marketing studies for the new product".

I ask, correct or incorrect sentence?



The company hired...

...why is that incorrect?

Blink prepare...[is incorrect]..?


What does hired mean?

I'm not telling you. I feel like I'm telling off my children.

The student with the dictionary finds the definition and we eventually finish the examples I had set (we have more luck with sentences that have act which should be changed to actor and music which should be changed to musical).

The more frustrated I became, the more impatient. And instead of teaching, like I am trained to, I was repeating myself over and over, WILLING them to understand. Ineffective and incorrect. I felt terrible.

After the class one of the students apologised saying "I am so sorry, today I felt I was stupid" and I was like "no, you are not stupid, I am just frustrated that I have been asking for dictionaries in class but no one brings them in."

I felt even more terrible. You shouldn't have a student apologise to you after class. I knew I had failed them. My job was to teach them and all I'd done was cause tension and stress in the class.

I went to seek the advice of another, more experienced, colleague, to ask about how I can teach my students to recognise how to change words correctly. 

And he calmly (which further made me feel guilty) told me that their vocabulary is limited. He said I, as teacher, need to model the examples, and start with simple words, like compose = composer = composition. And that sometimes (for example in the case of jumping from critics to criticisms) I will just have to tell them to memorise the word. He said "you probably just memorised it, you don't remember how you learned it"; and it was true. And when I explained that they weren't bringing their dictionaries, he said, always comment on the positive, so if someone brought a dictionary, comment on that, not the negative.

All of this made sense to me. And made me wonder why could I not have shown that understanding and compassion in class :(


03 November 2012

A Book that is Shut is but a Block*

*Thomas Fuller

A couple of days ago, one of my students told me that he thinks English is very important because it's needed in industries such as business, economics and finance. He told me that he tried looking for a book on finance in Arabic and couldn't find one. He could find a small chapter or an excerpt, but no books. He told me that he looked in the large libraries in Dubai and Egypt without any luck.

It got me thinking about reading/literacy in general in the Arab world. So I decided to ask my friend Google how many libraries are there in the Middle East. Surprise, surprise, there was no straight forward figure. I thought, maybe this was because the Middle East is a large area and no one had compiled a definitive figure. So I asked Google, how many libraries in the UAE. Again, no definite figure, though I found a few articles giving general information about libraries in the UAE. Seeing that this information was not readily available I chose not to search further (that would defy the object of the search).

Anyway, when I was searching for a figure for libraries in the Middle East, I came across the OCLC website.

It had figures on libraries, librarians etc for most countries. Since I could not search for the Middle East as a region, I added up the statistics for Total Libraries and Total Users for the following countries: Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Oman & Yemen.

Using the OCLC's database, these are the figures I came up with:

  • 46,462 libraries
  • 11,959,136 library users

Then I searched for libraries in the UK on the OCLC website and found these statistics:

  • 8,437 libraries
  • 38,432,469 library users

(I also did a general search on Google for the number of UK libraries and found a figure quite easily)

Now I don't know how accurate this database is, and I don't know if or how it takes into account variants such as population density, GDP, distance to closest library, frequency of use of the library and gaps in information (for example, Yemen was recorded to have zero library users). Either way, I thought that the figures gave us an indication on how libraries are a non-essential part of Arab life. 

This made me sad. I personally love to read. I don't read as much as others do nor do I claim to remember much of the books I've read, but I'm always looking for my next book and love my Kindle. I'm not sure if my love of reading is a personal trait, something passed on or taught by parents, or due to my school having a decent library. I guess it's a mixture of all three. Plus, my friends at school were readers too, so that helped because we were constantly recommending books to each other.

My Dad used to read all the time. He used to buy Time and Newsweek magazines every week, was subscribed to National Geographic magazine for over a decade and would read at least two daily newspapers. My Mom likes reading newspapers too, as well as magazines. My brothers however aren't avid readers in the sense that I never saw them with their heads buried in books. They are more into current events and watching news programs though, whereas I'm not. I guess for me reading was a form of escape and a way to unwind. 

Living in the UK was perfect for this hobby as bookstores constantly had 3 for 2 offers and monthly best seller lists. There was a plethora of public libraries to choose from, all for free. There were advertisements everywhere for new releases and wherever you looked, someone would be reading something or another. 

This, unfortunately, is not the case in the Arab Sana'a and Amman in any case. I have seen about five bookstores in Amman, though honestly, at no time did I see someone buying a book. I can't say that I've seen anyone reading a book at a cafe while enjoying a coffee or while waiting for their food to arrive. I have not seen a single Kindle being sold in Amman (I haven't looked very hard, admittedly) nor any advertisements on TV for it.

A bit of research shows that Kindle does not support Arabic text. Readers can transfer Arabic pdfs to their Kindle and read them that way but this is restrictive and doesn't allow you to benefit from features such as the built-in dictionary. I found a website that has Arabic "e-books" for children, but all it contained were children's books that had been scanned onto a computer. Another article here shows that there are Arabic e-reader apps for some Apple products and some Android tablets. To me this indicates that people in the Middle East are more interested in gadgets than reading.

I don't know why Arabs are uninterested in reading. Could it be because people have no time to "waste" waiting for buses/tubes/trams etc? Do people just generally spend more time being social? I know it's not just about libraries and books. The internet is amazing, and education through that is also valuable. But I'm just not sure how many people go online and read something new - I know I'm guilty of not doing that often enough. 

The real problem is how can reading become an integral part of Arab life?

 ~While writing this post I fondly remembered books I've read through my life...Dr. Seuss, Charlie Brown, the Box Car Chikdren, Roald Dahl's stories, R. L. Stine & Christopher Pike. Danielle Steele (& a bunch of other romance writers), the classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird. And I randomly remembered that my favourite part in Disney's Beauty & the Beast was when the Beast unveiled the library he renovated for Belle. Oh how I dreamt of having a library like that! 
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