Category Archives: #teachenglish

Unos días en Guadalajara

I will always be amazed at how you can fly on a plane for just a few hours and land in a completely different world. Sometimes it feels like everything is different – different people, different language, different customs, different food, different interests, different houses, different streets and traffic laws, different vehicles, different money, and much more. But of course, deep down all of us people are pretty much the same in that we want to be happy, healthy, wealthy, safe, and loved.

I’m staying in a very dated condo that I believe has 3 bedrooms and one space converted to a 4th bedroom. Normally, mom and dad (about 70 years old) live here with their near 40 something year-old daughter, but they recently made space for the son (and eldest) to live here temporarily with his wife, 5 year-old boy, and one month-old daughter. And oh, there are also two wiener dogs in the house as well as one big German Shepherd who (thankfully) is only in the house briefly when he is escorted through to the street in front to go for a walk. When the daughter’s boyfriend visits, that makes 9 of us plus 3 dogs, and honestly living with all these bodies has been an adjustment for me. I don’t really want to be a hermit and hide out in my room, but I do that often to have some peace. Fortunately, everyone is very nice.

Not only have I explored the immediate area extensively, but I have also taken several trips on public transportation into the center of town to visit the main market, cathedral, another church, money changers, some language schools, a university, the wealthy touristy area, etc. And yesterday on my way home, I went on a long and inadvertant adventure out to the far reaches of the city. Let me tell you about my long adventure.

Figuring out the bus system is usually one of the toughest tasks when travelling, and I still have not found a printed or online system map for Guadalajara to help me. But even with a map in hand, many of the streets are not marked with street signs, so you have to rely on landmarks to find your way around. In fact, knowing the names of streets is not very common here. I cannot tell you how many times that I have walked up to someone on the job, and asked them to confirm what street we were on, only to have them tell me they had no clue what street it was. I’ve often thought, “You work here and you don’t know what street this is?!” But alas, this is very common and so I just keep asking until I find someone who knows where the heck we are (or at least what street we are on). I any case, yesterday I got off on the bus too soon, and after exploring that area for awhile, I caught what I thought was the same bus number heading in the same direction as the bus I had exited. As it turns out, I was wrong. This new bus kept going … and going … and going … and each time I thought we were at the end of the city and could go no further, it turned down another alley and found another pothole-filled semi-dirt road to continue down. Finally, after at least half an hour, me and the few remaining riders got to the very end of the road (or dirt pack), and the bus driver stopped the bus, opened the doors, turned off the engine, and started to exit the bus. Not knowing what to say, I just blurted out, “Eso es todo?” (That is all?). To which he replied with a smirk and a nod … and then he left. He’s not the first bus driver I’ve had in Latin America who took me somewhere that I did not necessarily want to go … in fact, some of them get a kick out of delivering you lost. But just as many other bus drivers are sincerely helpful and try to help the lost gringo find his way. Fortunately, there were about 4 other buses in this same place, and I correctly assumed that one of them would eventually start a journey back to the center of town. As soon as I heard an engine start, I jumped on the bus and presented my bus fare, and he took my pesos with the same smirk and nod as the previous bus driver. So I tried to at least endear myself to him somewhat by saying, “Estoy perdido” (I’m lost), but leaving the dirt-pack-road-bus-station-with-the-hole-in-the-wall-office/café, he just had to use his cell phone to call his buddy (perhaps the other bus driver) to have a big laugh over (presumably) me and my predicament. Oh well, when you’re new in town in a foreign land, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and be willing to be the butt of jokes. I’ve learned that taking offense can only make matters worse … and besides, it’s all an adventure that you can find ways to enjoy and use to your advantage. As I see it, I got me a 14 peso (76 cent) complete tour all the way to the far west side of Guadalajara and back!

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Deseos e Intención

Hay cosas que no debes hacer,
Y que no quieres hacer.

No tienes que hacer nada,
De lo que no quieres hacer.

No obstante.

Hay cosas que puedes hacer,
Aunque antes no lo creía.

Puedes hacer lo que quieres hacer,
Y no hay nada ni nadie que puedes detenerte.


Tus deseos son tuyos,
Y ellos forman tu propósito divino en la vida.

Tus deseos junto con la intención de verlos,
Son todo necesitas para volar como águila.

Deseos e intención pueden llevarte al cielo.

What do you live for?

I like to start my English classes with a warm-up exercise that will get my students thinking and speaking in English. Once they are warmed up, I transition into the lesson(s) of the day. Most of the time I warm up the language center in their mind with simple exercises such as, “Give me the name of a country that begins with the letter S … that begins with the letter L” … etc. Or, I might ask each student to spell a different word. Or, we might practice verb tenses that we have learned, for example we might practice the past tenses by telling everyone what we did yesterday.

But one day I decided to get philosophical on my students with the question,“What do you live for?” Several people said similar things such as “family,” “travel,” “God,“ “music,” and even “to learn English.” (I have some devoted students, eh?). As for myself, I had not thought about what I might say until the last person had spoken and everyone was staring at me waiting for my response. I thought for a moment, and then told them that I live for learning about human potential and for discovering how to live life to the fullest.

I’ve heard it said that we use only a small percentage of our potential … I am not sure how you measure that, but it sure seems to me that extraordinary things can manifest through each of us.

I love the entire genre that is variously known as self-development, personal growth, self-help, etc. Here in the Spanish- speaking world this genre is called auto-desarollo, auto-ayuda, etc. I cannot get enough of it, and since I don’t read books that often, I am usually taking this content in by listening to audiobooks, podcasts, and other audio resources on the iPods that I have with me. I even consider my Spanish educational resources to be part of this genre since they are helping me to develop personally, and helping me to live life more fully by enabling me to experience more profoundly the Spanish-speaking world. I don’t believe everything that I hear and read, because this genre is like any other genre in that some of the authors may not have the highest motives or could simply be mistaken, such as a financial advisor and author with a fancy title who is selling a lot of books with questionable if not dangerous financial advice. Each of us has to pick and choose what resonates with us.

I am listening to an audiobook right now that is one of the most extraordinary audiobooks that I have ever heard, it is by Anita Moorjani and is entitled, “Dying to Be Me.” Anita had what is known as a Near Death Experience (NDE), and in her book she shares how it has impacted her perspective and life. If you believe that NDEs are a bunch of bunk and that the thousands of people who claim to have had an NDE are all liars, you obviously would not be interested in this book. As for myself, I open to learning what I can from Anita’s story for a few reasons, one of them being that I too have had spiritual experiences that defy explanation but that have similar elements to what Anita and others have experienced. I’ve already told some people about one such experience, but this is the first time that I will write a little about it. By the way, any number of people throughout human history have experienced the miraculous, the infinite, the eternal, something that is beyond our ability to explain with human language, so while I will share a little about my experience, I will also admit that I cannot explain it like I experienced it.

One day many years ago I was with a friend and saw a vision in front of me. Since it was over 30 years ago, I will do my best to recall and explain what I saw. I was looking into a pathway of light, pure light, bright white light, as if I was looking into a pathway that led to heaven itself. As I gazed into the light I was explaining to my friend what I was seeing, and I was describing both the pathway and the destination. Since it was so surprising and shocking and exciting, unlike anything that I had ever experienced up to that time and even to this present moment, I just kept saying excitedly the same things over and over, such as:

I’m seeing a vision! I’m looking down a path of white light, pure white light … it is love and beauty and truth. I’m telling you! It is a pathway that is white and light and loving and beautiful and true. It leads right to the light!

I don’t recall how long this vision lasted nor how it ended … and who knows, it could have lasted a few minutes or a few hours – they say that at the speed of light, time stands still. In any case, while I was excitedly describing to my friend the vision I was seeing, all he could say to me was, “I don’t understand what you are saying, Keith – you are speaking in a tongue!”

To me a “tongue” is a heavenly language, something that does not apply to any particular religion or spiritual practice. Also, it seems to me that many devotees of various stripes have misused, misunderstood and overused that word “tongue,” so I mention it with some trepidation. For example, one time someone wanted to show me how to pray in a tongue, and they immediately knelt down and on command starting verbalizing a bunch of sounds … perhaps they were in fact practicing a heavenly language because who am I to judge, but my gut tells me that this is not something you can do on command but instead it is something that is given by God at a specific time for a specific purpose. As far as I know, I have not spoken in a heavenly language at any other time in my life.

So after I came out of the vision, I explained to my friend in human language what I had been seeing, similar to how I am explaining it to you now in this blog post. Words will never completely capture it, just like the word “water” can never fully capture the essence that is water, but nonetheless I have done my best to describe my experience. I don’t know why it happened to me at that point in my life, but what I do know is that it gives me a sense of hope and comfort and peace and joy. Moreover, it is similar to the many stories told by those who have had NDEs and by those who have had profound spiritual experiences.

As I understand it, God is Light and Love and Truth and Beauty. It follows that the names we use to refer to God are only glimpses of God, regardless of where those names originated. Names like Infinite Self and Source of All do their best to evoke awe, but again are only glimpses. The Spanish word that is most commonly used for God is Dios, which comes from the Latin word Deus, which they think came from the word Deiwos in a language that linguists call the Proto-Indo-European language, which is probably related to the Sanskrit Deva or Devi, which could have been a sound that someone uttered way back when at the moment they experienced what they believed was … God. Obviously, the word or words that we use to describe the One are inadequate, but we all know Who we are talking about. These words all point to the same Light and Love.

So, what do you live for? I could have said that I live for God, which may have sounded holy and impressive, or it could have sounded self-righteous and repulsive. But to me, to say that we live for God is obvious and does not necessarily need to be said. We all live and move and have our being in God … God is the Source from whom we came, the Source that enlivens us now, and the Source to whom we return.

What I’m asking is … What is it that makes you feel most alive? What is it that is uniquely you? What is your divine purpose for being? Or, in the words of Anita who has attempted to express what she saw on the other side — How do you express your magnificence?

We are all beloved in the eyes of You-Know-Who … so go ahead and be that which God has empowered you to be!

4 Requirements for Learning English as an Adult

On Monday, February 8th, we started the English program here in Marinilla, Colombia. About 70 people gathered in the local theater to hear my presentation of the program.

I started by telling the audience that after 4 years of high school French and 1 year of college French, I could speak very little French. Moreover, within a year I forgot everything that I had learned because I never used the language. As a result, I spent the next 30 years believing that I couldn’t learn a second language, although I always wished that I could … meanwhile, I continued to envy and admire people who could speak more than one language.

Then I told my audience of adults that everything changed when I started learning Spanish at the age of 48, and this caught their attention because almost everyone appeared to be younger than 48. I explained that since I learned a second language later in life, that they could too. Moreover, I told them that I have been teaching English for several years, and that I specialize in teaching English to adult native speakers of Spanish. Everyone seemed excited.

Then I explained the following 4 requirements for learning English as an adult:

  • MAKE MISTAKES – You have to be willing to make mistakes. This is very important to the process, and you cannot learn how to speak English without making many mistakes.
  • BELIEVE – You have to believe that you can speak English. But even more than believing that you “can” speak English, you have to believe that you already speak English. Tell everyone, “I speak English.” Visualize yourself speaking English … at some point you’ll stop translating everything in your head and start thinking in English.
  • INVEST TIME – For the next 3 months, you have to spend 2-3 hours every day studying and practicing English. If you don’t have that much time, you have to make time … and to do that, you may have to sacrifice something else in your life (e.g. television, sleep, etc.).
  • WORK – During your 2-3 hours of daily English studies, you have to work. If your mind is not tired after three hours of studies, you are not working.

The first two requirements were well received … the second two requirements, not so much. So I explained to them that I am not a magician that can magically teach them English, and I also told them that there is no magic pill for learning any language. If there were a magic pill, I would take it. As a result, if you want to learn a second language you must be willing to put in the time and effort it takes … coupled of course with belief in yourself and the willingness to make a lot of mistakes.

Fellow volunteer teachers who I have recruited to help me include sixty-something Bob from the U.S. who has been travelling the world for 10 years … Cameron from Holland, and fresh out of high school … Colombian native Emilson, a young guy who is eager to show his fellow Colombians that they can do it … and new recruit, Santiago, another young Colombian who can show the way. Currently we have 4 classes every day Monday through Friday, consisting of both a beginner and intermediate class from 8:00 to 9:00 AM and from 6:00 to 7:00 PM. I am teaching all the “intermediate” students, and the other teachers are teaming up to teach the beginners. Currently we are averaging about 80 students a day, evenly spit between the morning and evening classes. Often several students will linger long after class talking with each other and wanting to learn more, which means that we have to ask them to leave because other groups want to use the rooms and/or the facility is closing.

By the way, since I assumed that most of the people who were at the municipal theater on opening night knew little or no English, I decided to speak in Spanish and without using notes for virtually the entire 40-minute presentation. You, too, can learn to speak another language.