Sunday, September 11, 2011

What's with the price of avocado?

Ridiculous. 80 pesos a kilo...80 PESOS! I think it's cheaper to get avocado now in Canada where it of course does not grow in the 11 month long permafrost.

Mexicans scream CONSPIRACY! According to the BBC anyway...

Recently, it's felt as if the whole country has been talking about the same thing - and for once it's not football or the latest hit telenovela. Around dinner tables, in street markets and at work, it's the price of avocados that has been on everyone's mind.

From costing a couple of dollars per kilo earlier this year, avocados went on a constant price climb which appeared to know no end - rising all the way up to $5-6 per kilo. I heard of sightings of a kilo of avocados for more than $8.

In a country that takes its food seriously, this was a recipe for disaster.

Soft as butter and slightly sweet, avocado was first grown around 12,000 years ago in the south of Mexico. It's now a delicacy prized the world over.

But the origins of its name are not so elegant. The word avocado comes from "aguacate" in Spanish, which in turn comes from the Nahuatl Mexican native language "ahuacatl", referring to a certain intimate part of the male anatomy. **

In Mexico - where 40% of the world's avocado crop is grown - this fruit is sacrosanct. In fact, Mexicans are estimated to eat up to 8kg of avocado each, every year.

Avocados go with everything: they are a key additive to the delicious tortilla soup, a layer in the Mexican multi-level sandwiches known as tortas and - last but not least - they are the basis of that most famous of Mexican dips - guacamole.

And you don't want to mess with Mexicans and their food. Back in 2007, the rising price of tortillas - the flat-corn bread that is a key source of calories for the poor - sparked a series of protests around the country known as the "tortilla wars". So, with prices through the roof, was I about to witness an "avocado war"?

If I was, I had to find out the reasons for the price hikes. And here I discovered that there is something else aside from food that Mexicans seem to enjoy - urban legends.

Anger brewing

I talked to a security expert who claimed he knew the reason for the spiralling price. The great majority of Mexican avocados come from the state of Michoacan, in the west, a region badly affected by the presence of drug cartels.

The cartels, the expert told me, are expanding into the business of extortion, and are targeting avocado growers. The criminals demand a fee for every kilo that is transported through the dangerous roads of Michoacan, and that fee forced up the final consumer price.

Nonsense, the head of the local avocado producers' association told me. The cause of the price increase is simply a bad harvest.

Carmen, our cleaning lady, had her own conspiracy theory. "I blame the gringos," she told me. "Americans have taken a liking to guacamole, so all our avocados are heading north." Social networks were brimming with comments about how "aguacates" were quickly vanishing from Mexican dinner tables - and the anger seemed to be brewing.

But then, an epiphany. I was sitting in the back of a cab, silently hating Mexico City traffic, when an ad burst on to the radio - from a local supermarket, promoting a kilo of avocados for just over $2. Was it over?

At my local food market, I confirmed it. At most stands, avocados now are around $3 per kilo, and the prices still seem to be falling. But if there's something I learned over the last few months, it's that I can't always be sure that I'll be able to have my avocado - and eat it.

Thankfully, yes, the price has come down. I saw some at the local market for 30 pesos a kilo...still a bit high, but a much more reasonable price.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The TEFL Job Interview - Latin America

Here is an article I had published some years back, about the typical job interview you can expect when coming out of a CELTA or TEFL course and looking for that first job in Latin America.

Congratulations! You just finished your EFL teacher training, those grueling four weeks of sweating over coming up with interesting ideas for classes, of pouring over page after page of theory, of juggling type three conditionals.

Well you're all done. So what’s next? All this time, you've been dreaming about what wonderful new things you'll see and do in Santiago de Chile, in Buenos Aires, in San Miguel de Allende. You've also been worrying about apartments, about plane tickets, about work permits, but the most important event has yet to come: the job interview.

There's still a job interview? Yes, and all that hard work you did is about to pay off. But what will it be like? What will they ask me? Do I have to talk in Spanish?

Don't sweat it. It's probably nothing like what you are expecting. Knowing a little about what a DOS (Director of Studies) looks for in a teacher will help you do well in an interview. First, did you know that most Directors of Studies are from the UK, or the US? Your average DOS started out just like you are – teaching abroad after an initial intensive training course. Even if he or she isn't a native-speaker, it's a job requirement for them to be very good speakers of English, so either way, your interview will be in your own tongue.

You might now think that the next question has something to do with modals, or with communicative approaches, or inductive reasoning. You would be wrong in this case. Invariably, every DOS has the same worry – how long is this person going to commit to my students? This is easily the most difficult part about managing human capital. Too often, the pile of resumes on a director's desk is littered with the same acronyms and objectives. John Doe, CELTA, looking for a summer position, Jane Teacher, TEFL, can stay 8 weeks, and so forth. Most school directors know that it takes time for a teacher to develop a good rapport with students. They also program classes by semester or by level, lasting anywhere from 3 months to a full year. What they don't want to see is a teacher who can't complete a semester or level, since it is quite difficult to rebuild rapport with a new teacher halfway through a student's studies.

Should you be serious and professional or casual and open in the interview? The best answer is simply to be you. The person on the other side of the desk wants to know what you'll be like in front of a group of people - so be that person. An overly serious person may give the impression of having difficulties getting students to open up and communicate in the classroom while someone who comes off as too casual or not serious enough gives the impression of disorganization and sloppiness. The ideal? Don't be afraid to ask questions and make comments on what you see. Be friendly and smile, but stay focused. This is the person the students will see and a DOS simply must be sure that you aren't on either extreme.

What about grammar? The fear that most EFLers have when completing a training course is remembering all those grammar terms and rules. Yes, you need to know them. You are going to teach them after all. Most likely, you'll be asked to write up a demonstration class, or perhaps even deliver one to a few students or other teachers. You may be given a grammar point and asked to develop a class plan around that – introducing the point in context, running a few practice drills using it, then finishing with an output exercise that demonstrates student comprehension.

Know your students. Having knowledge of who your students will be will go a long way. During the job interview, you can win over any DOS by showing great interest in the types of student the school attracts. Aside from the obvious questions as to age groups and proficiency level, ask from where the school draws its students. Are they professionals, university students, exchange students, etc? Getting to know your student shows an interest in people and tells a DOS that you can connect on a personal level with your students, and most importantly, that you are flexible – ready to teach from a variety of platforms.

Sound simple enough? Of course, don't ignore the obvious stuff. Dress smart, be confident, and let this DOS know that you are the right person for the job.

Now, with that out of the way, you can focus on the important stuff. Getting your plane tickets, arranging accommodations, and discovering a new corner of the world. Good luck!

This entry marks my first article contributing to the ESL/EFL Roadshow, a blog ring of ESL/EFL teachers and TEFL teacher trainers around the world. September's project is hosting by Sharon of TEFL Tips fame. Here is the Roadshow roundup that shows Interview Tips as other teaching bloggers see them.

Teacher Get Together Sept. 24th

Several of us are meeting up al centro Mexico City on Saturday, Sept 24th and you're welcome to join us, same place as the last meet up since it was easy for everyone to find.

We'll add the book swap to it this time. If you have some books you're willing to part with, bring them. We frequently end up with piles of books to exchange, everything from paperbacks to EFL texts.

Saturday, September 24th, 4 PM

Restaurante Gante Cafe, corner of Madero and Gante streets al centro. Bellas Artes is the closest metro stop. We'll be on the patio. Feel free to contact me by email if you need better directions.

Google map link

Monday, September 5, 2011

-ed Endings for Spanish Speakers - Pronunciation

A discussion developing over at ELT World on how to get spanish speakers to properly pronounce the varieties of words in English that end in -ed. The three sounds - Ed, /d, and /t are all usually rendered as -Ed, as found in the words ratED, sportED,and dreadED.

The ELT World discussion.

Teresa Lopez begins:

I am preparing some lessons on the different sounds that the -ed ending can produce, but I was wondering if any one knows if there are any rules about when it sounds like ¨t¨, when it sounds like ¨d¨ and when it sounds like ¨ed¨. I have a class of Upper Intermediate students that stuggle with that and aside from going over lots of words and how they are pronounced I can´t come up with anything else. Well, I kind of figured out on my own that the -ed is more pronounced when the word ends in ¨t¨ or ¨d¨ because of the difficulty of the same, or a very similar sound, right together.

NCTBA offers links:

Enjoy, Teresa! And always remember, Google is your friend!

Melee offers:

I'm not sure if its in the links already posted, but I have my students put their hand infront of their mouths and say a verb in it's base form
If they feel a burst of air at the end, they will put a /t/ at the end to make it the past. If they do not feel air on their hand they will put /d/ at the end of the verb. If the verb already end in a t or a d then they will put /Id/ at the end of it. You can use the words voiced and unvoiced if you want, or you can not use them if you think your students aren't interested in the metalanguage. I usually do use them when teaching at the university because I say something like "those of us who study language call this voiced" because my engineering students never seem to realize linguistics is a science, and I think they should.
Either way I always ham it up a bit. Tell them they shouldn't be feeling any spit on their hands just air, getting them to try to put the opposite sound on (its not easy to change from voiced to unvoiced at the end of the word--the whole reason for this in the first place.)

Old English File one has a lesson on this that I really like, about a woman leaving her husband. it uses all regular verbs and is arranged in three collums so the students can notice the sounds. And as an extention it uses the song Yesterday on the premise the husband is singing about his wife who has left him (Now you gone and it looks as if their here to stay...)

See the full discussion at the link above.