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Interview with EnglishNut.com

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Are you nuts about learning English? Not yet? Then you should read this interview with Therese Farmer, owner and President of Englishnut.com

Therese, could you please tell our readers how many language you speak?

I speak English and Norwegain fluently. Apart from that I know some German as I took it at school, but must admit it''s getting quite rusty. My Japanese is improving, but I wish it were better! (I take 2-hour private Japanese conversation lessons every 2 weeks).

So, could you please give us some more background on your linguistic skills — why do speak English and Norwegian fluently? What is your mother tongue?

My father is English and my mother is Norwegian. As I spent most of my childhood in Norway, my Norwegian skills were probably superior then, but since the age of 17 I''ve been using English as a first language so now I think my English might be better or at least just as good. I use English to communicate with my family in England and Norwegian with my family in Norway.

Very interesting. And where do you live now?

I live in Akasaka, Tokyo now. I''ve been living in Tokyo for about 2.5 years. Before that I lived in Norway, LA, London and NY.

So why did you move to Japan? What do you do there?

Well, before coming here I was working in the IP industry; based in NY, but I did a fair amount of international business a well. I had some friends who were in the same area of business in Tokyo and they invited me to join them in a new business venture. I decided I needed a change and some new challenges, so off I went! My partners and I started our company here in Tokyo about two years ago, mainly focusing on IP in the beginning, but now we''re also involved in real estate and business consulting. Then I must admit that I kind of stumbled across English teaching, but I really enjoy it as it gives me an opportunity to learn more about Japanese people and their culture and many of my students have been taking my lessons so long it really feels like we''re old friends. I know it sounds like I take on a lot, but to me diversity and new challenges are very important aspects of my work.

I take it IP stands for «Intellectual Property»?

No, sorry I should have clarified. IP (Internet Protocol) telephony, i.e. communication software and hardware that enables voice transmission over the Internet.

So, could you please describe your typical working day in Tokyo?

I usually go to my office around 9 or 10 am to deal with tenants, consulting work etc. What time I leave depends on whether or not I have any classes that night; if I do I usually leave around 6 PM, but if I don''t I might stay quite late. The evenings I have classes I take the subway to back to Akasaka and teach 2-3 students before calling it a day. After I finish with my students I usually do some work on my pc at home: checking emails, researching the real estate market etc. So, normally I''m quite busy, but some evenings I take time out to meet friends, go swimming or work on my poetry!

Therese, you really seem to use your time very effectively. How do you manage to prepare for your English classes?

I usually take some time out to prepare for classes the evening before by making copies, homework etc., and then I take a few minutes again before I leave for my classes. I always keep an individual log for each of my students with what we do at each class and the homework I give them + comments or special requests from the students.

You are also running your own ESL website called «Englishnut». Could you please tell us more about it? When did you start it and why?

I decided to make www.englishnut.com earlier this year so that new students would have an opportunity to learn more about me, my classes and read some comments written by other students, and existing students would be able to use it as a source of learning by using the resources section I made as well as other recommended sites. In addition to that I added «services», which describes various kinds of services I provide to Japanese companies and individuals, including proofreading, writing and business consulting.
Apart from the comments in Japanese by my students on the first page, the site is bilingual (English and Japanese) so that Japanese visitors who don''t have very strong English skills may completely understand. I decided to have both English and Japanese on all of the pages instead of a separate site for the individual languages, as I know many students like to read the text in English and then read it in Japanese to make sure they''ve understood everything.

Did you create the Japanese version of your site yourself or do you have somebody who assists see you with the language? Also, where did you learn HTML and other skills required to build and maintain a website?

No, unfortunately my Japanese isn''t good enough so I had to use a translator for the site. I built the site myself using Microsoft Frontpage, Photoshop and HTML. Like most things in life, I''ve basically taught myself how to use a computer and those programs.

How did you come up with the name «Englishnut« — does it imply that the users of your site «are nuts about learning English»?

Well, when I was trying to come up with a domain name I tried several, but all the common and popular ones were already registered... so I gave it some more thought and came up with Englishnut — me being the one who''s nuts about English, but of course I hope my students feel the same way too!

I assume most «Englishnuts» come from Japan? What other countries do you get users from?

Yes, most users are Japanese as I have a sponsored listing account with Google Japan, but of course I welcome users from all countries! I promote my site through search engines and the occasional ad in local media. At the moment I don''t generate additional revenue though the site, but I welcome offers from other sites/companies wishing to advertise.

Could you please eleborate on your sponsored listing with Google Japan? How exactly does it work?

I use a service provided by a company which enables me to have my site''s link come up on the top of a web page if a user of a major search engine in Japan (the most popular is Google) performs a search using certain key-words, e.g. «English teacher», «Private English lesson» etc.

There are some parts of your website I find particularly useful and interesting: Your «Rescources». How long did take you to create that section and do you intent to add even more free materials to it?

Some of the resources were things I''d made for my students prior to creating the web site, including the list of British and American Expressions and the Abbreviations and Acronym list. «Tips for learning English quicker» is new and so is the list of «Common Expressions», which I wrote while I was visiting my grandmother in England earlier this year. I''ll probably add some more resources in the future to encourage and help my students and other users.

What do you think about English language exams like the TOEFL or the TOEIC? How important are they to your students?

I think English proficiency tests such as TOEFL and TOEIC are necessary as they provide a standard to measure a persons English level, for example when English skills are required for a job etc. Here in Japan, TOEIC is by far the most widely accepted standard used by most companies and therefore many Japanese learners of English wish to achieve a certain TOEIC score to be eligible for certain jobs or promotions.

However, I also feel that the TOEIC doesn''t always give a completely accurate picture of a person''s proficiency as it doesn''t test the person''s ability to formulate clear, logical sentences and articulate themselves well. Most Japanese people study English as a second language for years throughout school, and even though many of them have fairly good reading and writing skills, unfortunately they often have very poor oral skills. To solve this, a teacher needs to work with each student on common problems such as the difference in pronunciation between «l» and «r» and «v» and «b», but more importantly, encourage the students to feel comfortable when speaking English and build their confidence.

Fear of failure is, I think, the biggest obstacle for learners of English to overcome. It''s better to try with the risk of making a mistake than being so scared of making a mistake that you never even try. Or to quote William Arthur Ward: «The greatest failure is the failure to try.»

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Next:ESL Cafe: Interview with Stewart Tunnicliff

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