Thursday, September 6, 2018

Homestay Experiences

Homestay can be a rewarding experience for international visitors and students going overseas, BUT you have to find the right place with the right people. In this listening activtity, ask yourself if this is a place you would like to stay. Enjoy a few laughs:

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Living Up to Expectations

As I have worked with many students and people around the world, one common emotion I often see is the desperate desire to be valued and seen for whom they really are.

At times, students comment that they are trying to live up to the expectations of family and friends who live so far away, yet these people seem so unaware of the personal struggles these students face: homesickness, the challenge of learning a language at the pace their family might expect, cultural isolation, the overwhelming fear if they aren't able to progress fast enough to get into a university program.

As a result, these students may question their self-worth, as if that depended upon someone else to give that to them. (Seeking external approval and validation is a common response when you feel your self-worth hinges on the judgements of others.)

Some students deeply struggle in learning a language despite the fact that they spend countless hours studying, while others seem naturally wired to learn without effort. The fear that their parents will erroneously assume that they are lazy or not being serious can consume their thoughts and add to the unneeded burden of feeling that they aren’t enough.

My hope is that as teachers, friends, fellow students, and neighbors, we learn to understand these fears. Never dismiss them. A true friend is one that sits with you in your discomfort and listens, without the need or inclination to give you advice. People just want to be heard, and from that small act of listening, greater courage and self-compassion and self-worth can blossom, grow, and thrive.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Being Real

All too often, and because of the fear of appearing inadequate, we run around pretending to be someone we were never meant to be. Embracing our true selves can be the key to greater inner peace.
In this conversation on my site, we see a classic example of this in which I play the role of a guy who is afraid to be authentic and hides behind an image of what he wants to be.
Enjoy. I think the guy eventually figures this out:

Monday, August 20, 2018

Personal Growth

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” - Oliver Wendell Homes
Coming home on the train after a good day with new students from across the globe. They are eager to learn and expand their understanding of the world as they learn English. They come from so many interesting places: Japan, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia, the Ukraine, Mexico, Canada, Chad, and the list goes on.

Once they begin to discover so much more about the cultures around them, they see this new knowledge as the gateway to a more expansive worldview and deeper human connections.

At the moment when we assume that we have the world figured out, the potential for growth wanes and fossilizes. Elasticity of thought dissipates.

However, every time I walk into the classroom, I try to be humble enough to see that I could on the verge of new discoveries.

I relish in that feeling.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Danger of Stereotyping

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”
- Robertson Davies, author
As human beings, we tend to think that we are rational creatures who see the world the way it really is, but what we don’t realize is that we often unconsciously seek out information that tends to confirm our current views, and we often dismiss information that disconfirms our long-held perspectives.
This is true of so many facets of our lives, and we often are unaware of the fact that we do this. We convince ourselves that we give all information a fair and equal treatment, but we generally don’t because analyzing information takes more cognitive work, and the fear of being wrong and of having to set aside past views can at times be paralyzing. You would think it would be liberating to learn more, but our current perspectives may have been so much a part of our identify that letting go can be deeply uncomfortable.
As a result, we tend to see only what our mind is prepared to see.
Where I see this play out in my work is the fact that students often hold certain stereotypes about people from other cultures, and unfortunately at times, don’t seek out new information to debunk views that aren’t accurate.
As a result, students sometimes feel uncomfortable, disappointed, or hurt when other people claim this or that about their country that only misrepresents its people. Broad sweeping statements like, “Yeah, I know that people in your country ________.” You can fill in the blank. I’ve even seen students deeply hurt over characterizations that aren’t true.
And rather than limiting my comment to just international students, this thinking error plagues all of us—-teachers, organizations—-and people like Randall.
All this said, I have also seen relationships built when people come together because they were ready to listen and learn with open minds and hearts.
So the next time you are absolutely, 249% sure that your view represents reality, stop and ask yourself if you have analyzed all relevant information before arriving at your ironclad conclusion. Chances are you haven’t.
Have you ever seen such examples in your own life? Feel free to share.

Understanding Others

If you want to hear a powerful message about broadening your understanding of other people and cultures, you may very well find this lecture very thought-provoking and life changing:
“The danger of a single story. Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice -- and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”
http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

Self-Study Guide - esl-lab.com

For many teachers and students, school is just around the corner. If you are looking for specific listening activities to plan your teaching/learning, take a look at my self-study guide which organizes my listening activities by topic:

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Being Wrong and Learning From It

I think it can be useful to remember that we may spend our whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find in the end that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. And no one wants to be wrong.
However, being open to examining our own life's map sometimes takes courage, especially when our former conclusions don't hold up against new information.
For example, I often see my own students struggle to recast new images of other cultural groups from a distance, but when students from different countries begin to interact together on a closer level, they begin to deeply examine their former beliefs about one another. Apprehension and fear are replaced by kindness and understanding, and a deeper gratitude for others flourishes.
There can be concern for those who close their eyes and still cling to the top of the wrong ladder, so secure in absolutes. However, the richest relationships that I cherish have had been with those who are doing the best they can, and when I have found myself climbing up the wrong ladder, they are patient enough to redirect me. Sometimes, we need to shed intellectual hubris and certainly to find our way.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Improving Your Listening Skills

"When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it's like giving them emotional oxygen." -- Stephen Covey
At times as human beings, we are unfortunately more involved in business of correcting others than we are in deeply peering into their world of struggle and discomfort, seeing their perspectives, and validating their experiences. I think we tend to do this because we are often so sure that our worldview mirrors reality, and the worldview of others is somehow lacking.
One of my favorite books in called the Invisible Gorrilla by Simons and Chabris, two distinguished research and cognitive psychologists who explored who whole field of inattentional blindness and how we often don't see the world the way it really is.
So how does this related to my own field of language learning and intercultural studies?
The more my students explore, and at times, embrace new perspectives about fellow students from different countries, the more they can see that there is not just one "correct" way of doing things. They then demonstrate a greater capacity to shower generosity, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness in so many new ways. Simply said, this new understanding expands their vision of others and has a rippling effect across cultural boundaries.
In the end, everyone is enriched because of this new learning.

Security Systems

Sometimes, you hear stories in the news about totally laughable bank robberies where things don't go as planned. This conversation just might be one of them. I had a great time planning and recording this conversation for my site: Enjoy:

Mail service

When I ask students how many of them have sent a letter by regular mail recently, I often get blank stares. It seems that almost no one does that these days when services like email, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are so prevelant.
That said, regular mail service has survived in different ways. In this video, I talk about the mail service in my area:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Uncertainty and the Joys of Life

One of the most invigerating and exciting parts of my day is when I enter a classroom with students from around the world.

Part of this excitement comes from knowng that I can open up my mind and embrace new perspectives and worldviews that had been previously unknown to me: ways of thinking, ways of relating to the world, ways of saying hello, ways to connecting with other human beings that I didn't know existed. Rubbing shoulders with international shoulders exposes me to new mental frameworks and knowledge to grow.

It also opens up new windows where I can begin to see that the worldviews I previously held could be wrong.

As human beings, we tend to value certainty, especially in the way we think and believe because it seems to provide security from the unknown. It's comfortable.

In the past, I felt secure in embracing certaintiy in cases, for example, when I traveled overseas and lectured on different teaching methodologies or perspectives on understanding other cultures. No one wants to be wrong, so clinging to what we know appears to be the safest way to proceed forward. And who wants to be inadequate in front of an audience where you are expected to be the expert on things?

Unfortunately, certainty can fall short in providing a framework from which to tackle and understand new things, and in some cases, certainty doesn't provide us with the mental tools to accept our wrongness and move forward and seek new ways of understanding the world.

Over time, I have learned that I by showing some humility and shedding some pride, my knowledge of the world just keeps opening up. I enjoy some uncertainty because it forces me to embrace the mysteries around me. I really am enjoying the ride.

Car Repairs

Our daughter called us the other day to let us know that she was having car trouble. Something was leaking. Hmmm. When your main job is teaching English and when you barely know how to change a tire, diagnosing car problems is like flying to the moon: beyond your skill. Fortunately, we were able to get the car to a mechanic. When you have such problems, I hope to find a good mechanic, but NOT like this one 

http://www.esl-lab.com/repairs/repairsrd1.htm

Amazing Pets

When you think of lovable and intelligent pets, what animals come to mind? Well, watch this video. It might just change your mind about some things:

Monday, June 4, 2018

Growing Vegetables - esl-lab.com

Spending some relaxing moments in our garden. The lettuce, onions, peppers, sunflowers, and Japanese cucumbers are doing well. A peaceful feeling to see things grow and thrive.
Watch this video to practice your English and watch me work in our garden:

Sunday, June 3, 2018

New Garden Video - esl-lab.com

EXCITING NEWS! My daughter, Aubrey, has created her first video activity on my site. Of course, she has been a regular voice on my site for 20 years, but she wanted to share her own ideas with you. Please give it a try and share your comments about it here.
She is thinking about doing more. What do you think? What topics would you like to hear discuss? What questions do you have for her about school, work, daily life, and even things about me? Please share:

Looking Back at Old Videos

When I started my Web site 20 years ago (even before Facebook existed), I never thought I would still be developing new content and reintroducing old videos that I had created before.
As I was looking over one video on gardening from around 2000, I found this one that I originally had on my site, but I retired it because it was made in an older format, RealMedia. However, I decided to convert the file to MP4, and I have brought it back.
Yes, the video quality is poor based on today's standards, but it is a fun topic, and it is interesting to see how video has changed. Enjoy. It features my wife, Shirley, and my brother, Jeff.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Empathy and Understanding

What is often the case in life is that we are so unaware of how unaware we are about so many things, especially to the feelings and experiences of others. One typical example is when we might say to someone, "I know how you feel" when they are going through a difficult time of loss, sickness, betrayal, suffering, depression, or divorce.
Unfortunately, such a trite and shallow statement is often meant to spare our discomfort because we often don't know how to validate the struggles of others. The fact is that it is impossible to know how others feel; no situation is truly comparable to another. Rather than using competing sympathies such as these, it is much better to openly acknowledge that we are at a loss as to what to say. By recognizing our limitations, it can lead to more authentic and genuine conversations and relationships.
With this in mind, I created this conversation in which a husband (played by me) is completely unaware on how his poor communication style is affecting his relationship with his wife. What have been your experiences on this topic?

Monday, April 2, 2018

Why Run?

I am often asked why I "enjoy" doing long-distance running events, and the answer comes down to learning how to push through physical and emotional barriers and build greater resilience to difficult things. That said, I think we all desire to be a little stronger, even if it means just being able to get out of be in the morning and greet the new day. Every effort, no matter the distance, is a feat deeply worthy of respect and congratulations.
What is pretty amazing about such running events is the overwhelming feeling of support among runners, no matter if your first or last.
In thinking of mutual support and difficult experiences, I created this listening activity. Give it a try:

Friday, March 30, 2018

Presentation on Death and Grief

I gave a presentation on death and grief in Chicago yesterday, and I heard many personal stories of resilience and courage.
My thoughts were specifically geared toward helping people become more trauma and grief informed in the way in which we interact with others who have experienced loss, specifically the death of family and friends, but other attendees brought up trauma due to divorce, unemployment, violence, and abuse.
Whatever the case, my thoughts centered on deeply validating pain and loss, and avoiding the tendency to interject competing sympathies in such discussions ("Oh, your mom died? My mom died last year, so I know how you feel.")
The reality is that we really don't know how people feel, even though we might suggest that we do. Each person's experience is so unique, and it is impossible to know the depths of their experiences. All we can do is to sit with others in their discomfort and pain and validate their stories.
I created this listening activity for English students to become aware of possible language they can use in such situations:

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Remembering Our Son

Today is our son's birthday. Joshua Scott Davis.
He would have been 26 years old today.
He died six years ago.
That said, my fondest memories don't surround his passing, but rather the profoundness of his life. I certainly embrace and accept all the struggle that was a part of his being, but I also don't let that be the definition of his life either. I simply long to show a greater depth of compassion in any small way, for that is the defining richness of what it means to be human.
Thanks, Josh.
Your grateful and loving father.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Finishing an Ultramarathon

Over the past two days, I posted a couple pictures on Facebook of me and the mountains, but I was somewhat vague on what I was doing.
To be honest, I was participating in a 100-mile (160 kilometer) running/hiking race on a place called Antelope Island, and I didn't want to report anything until I actually crossed the finish line.
Well . . . I did finish, and although I ended near the back of the pack, what matters to me most is that I got it done. Such races are called ultramarathons, and I enjoy them for the emotional and physical challenge they present.
Here are some of the observations I made about my experience:
1, Remember that your ability to finish simply hasn't be the result of your own efforts - Family, friends, and race volunteers have often supported you in your preparation, and you need to give them so much credit for believing that you can do hard things.
2. Keep in mind that people show extraordinary kindness in the most needed moments - In this specific event at mile 70, a total stranger at an aid station volunteered to walk/run with me for the next 30 miles if that would help me finish. For me, that would have been hours and hours of support. And although I graciously said that I would like to complete the race on my own, just knowing that strangers are often willing to help in moments of great difficulty are signs of true greatness and our humanity.
3. Never count anyone out of the race (of life) just because they are having a down moment or their style/pace of running is different from your own - Sometimes, we unfortunately rush to quick judgments or conclusions based only on what we can momentarily observe. I have been in too many races where I have passed a runner who was struggling to only have that same person fly by me with renewed energy 10 miles later. Shedding a little of our certainly can allow us to be more open to new ideas and ways of thinking.
4. Focus on the moment, not on the distance - If I go into a race thinking the amount of distance I still need to go, this thought can almost paralyze you ("Oh, I still have 95 miles to go!"). Rather, just focus on the present moment, and your ability to run or walk at all. Be grateful that you are alive, and you just might be able to see past your own difficulties and notice another runner nearby who is in need of some encouragement..
5. Take care of the small things in your life - Every twenty miles, I washed my feet and put on a fresh pair of socks. This might not seem like a big deal, but unless you do something like this, people often end up with terrible blisters on their feet which can force them to drop from a race. The same thing applies to daily care. Good habits can lead to a happy life.
6. Be grateful for each moment of life, which is never measured in distance of miles, but in courage in the moment - For some people, the hardest thing in life is just getting out of bed due to illness or physical limitations. Those challenges often far exceed our own.
I wish you all great courage in your own "races" of life.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Being Honest

Being honest is important in any relationship: in business, with friends, in a marriage, and with strangers. Unfortunatel, all too often, we tell an unreliable story to look good. In this conversation with my daughter, we play the roles off members at a health club, and the man tries to impress the woman. Give it a try:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Listening Favorites - esl-lab.com

I'm often asked what has kept me involved in developing my listening Web site for the past 20 years. Well, I certainly wasn't expecting much back then; I had no idea on how the Internet would explode into what it is now. That said, much of my thoughts on listening activities have remained the same: i've always wanted to make them interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking, including the use of children's voices.
So, take a look at this page: a list of my all-time favorite listening activities. Tell me which one is your favorite, too:

Alcohol Addiction

There are times in our lives when we need to speak up, be honest, and share what we feel even when the message might not be well received. Many of my conversations on my site are humorous, but some deal with tough topics like addiction. In this conversation, my wife and I play the roles of a man who is struggling with alcohol addiction, and his sister is trying to get him to wake up to the realities of his problem. A hard, but important topic to discuss.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Being a Perfect Friend

Everyone can be a perfect friend, perfect spouse, a perfect grandparent, and a perfect parent in hindsight . . . because we become more aware of what we could have or should have done with the passage of time. Yet, I have found that dwelling on past mistakes only limits our ability to move forward because we allow ourselves to remain tethered or bound to the old us.
One of my favorite books is called The Gifts of Imperfect by Brené Brown, in which she discusses how our imperfections can lead to greater vulnerability, growth, and self-worth. Definately a good read.
This book has also helped me try to develop more meaningful connections with others, including my children. In this video, I talk about the basic lessons of parenting that I have slowly learned over the years. Feel free to share your thoughts on this:

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Visiting Thailand

During the last part of January, my wife and I visited three cities in Thailand, in part as I presented at different meetings of English teachers from around the world. Perhaps the best part of the trip was meeting so many kind and gracious people who took the time to share with us the love o Thai culture. Here is a short video on some of our experiences:

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sleeping Problems

From time to time, I have students that tend to fall asleep in class, but I realize there are many causes for this. At times, students are struggling with homesickness and can't get
their families of their minds; on other occasions, they are still adjusting to life in a new country. Yet, other times, students are just staying up to late with friends.
Listen to this conversation, my daughter and I play the role of a brother and sister. Give it a try: