Traveling

So hey, I’ve been in Sri Lanka for about a month now, and I’ll be staying for another month before traveling to the next country. You can follow all of this on my new site: http://thelowlander.org/ and I encourage you to do so, because I will be updating it more frequently than this site, and it has a lot more photos.

I’ve been staying mainly in Kosgoda for the first few weeks where I did volunteer work, with trips mostly taking place during the weekends. The volunteer work was with turtles, but you can see it as more of a holiday since most of the people who come here are gap year people. The work is not hard. And even though one might argue that cleaning the turtles and turtle tanks is dirty, it is still pretty light labor.

But now my time in Kosgoda has ended, and I’ve moved down south to a place called Weligama, where there is a big project about handicapped people. This project is so vast it makes the turtle project I was at previously pale in comparison. Not that it is any less luxurious, far from it, but there is just soo much more serious work to be done here. Stuff actually needs to be build and maintained here.

And that’s where Blender came in the second day I was here: They had previously built a tea nursery/plantage, but they used wooden poles, and woven ropes, which rot away very quickly around here. Which means the tea also rots/gets eaten by bugs, etc… So they asked me if I can weld one out of metal pipes. I can weld a little, so I said yes. But it turned out they did have the plans in their head, but not yet in paper. So to visualize it for myself, and to more easily calculate the lengths we’d be needing, I quickly drew up something in blender. The thing isn’t build yet, and I wonder how well it will go. The main idea is that the tea nursery is on flat ground, but the actual nursery is on an uneven slope. I’ll also be welding material I’ve never welded before, but hey I’m curious how it will turn out.

Here are some images. The blender drawing, and the photos of the current tea nursery:

Won't win any beauty awards, but it gets the idea across.

Welcome to Hellabeem.

The old tea nursery.

Final TEFL certificate

Last weekend I went to the Hague, to attend a workshop for the only TEFL module I didn’t have yet, the 20 Hour Classroom TEFL Course AKA weekend TEFL.
There were approximately 17 people attending, minus the teacher. It was a fun and creative experience.

The people all had very different backgrounds, and different reasons to go abroad. For a number of them, this was the fact that they had a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife in another country. This is, let’s just be honest, one of the main reasons for people to travel. It’s never about where you go, or just about the culture, it’s always about the people you meet that make something worthwhile doing or not. Another reason is that you genuinely want to experience other cultures and their way of life. Maybe because you are bored back home, or because you really want to get as much as you want out of life. But then again, what is it that defines culture? It all comes down to people again. When I was in Sri Lanka I met some of the friendliest people I know, and I also met some of the most vile people I’d rather not know. I also met a lot of cool people in Bulgaria, which is a reason I want to go back there, to meet more of them :).

So, let’s get back to the actual course, what exactly was it about?
Basically, we had to learn, or show we had the awareness of the basic concepts of language teaching.
We had to show an understanding of basic English grammar. This is something non-native speakers actually excel at. Native speakers have a lot more trouble with their own grammar. We had one assignment that had us match up cards that held sentences with cards that held grammatical structures. We solved it very quickly. Our teacher told us that native speakers really struggle with this. They asked: “Do we really need to learn this?” And our native speaking teacher told them: “Yes you do, because dutch people (non-native speakers) can do this in a heartbeat.” English may be our second language, but there is something about the way in which we are taught, that makes us remember these things better. If you have your native language, you tend to take all these rules and structures for granted. They come easily to you. But if it isn’t, you have to put in more effort to learn it, and it sticks in your mind better.

We were given a few language classes in a foreign language that none of us knew (Swedish), so we could better understand what we should, and shouldn’t do. The first lesson focussed on having us pronounce words, and sentences. We could speak the sentence at the end of the lesson, but nobody had any clue about its meaning. Then, we had another lesson with a few of the same words, but put into context with a flash card or a drawing. That way, it was much easier to remember both the word and idea or structure behind it. We were presented with a lesson with a cuddly toy, to say simple things like “hello”, “good/well done” and goodbye” in swedish.

From the coursebook:
When we teach our non-native students new language, we do it this way:

  1. Meaning Teach or show the meaning through context or story.
  2. Pronunciation Teach or drill the pronunciation until our students can say it naturally.
  3. Form Teach or show the way it is written

It makes complete sense to teach a language structure in this way:

  1. What does it mean? (Meaning)
  2. What does it sound like? (Pronunciation)
  3. What does it look like? (Form)

It does make sense, doesn’t it?
We were shown how versatile the game “find someone who” is.
We had to create a few lesson plans, and teach them to the rest of the students. This part was a lot of fun. Put a little role play into it, present the grammar structure somewhere during the lesson, but don’t make that the main target of the lesson. Don’t focuss on the actual structure. The desired outcome is that students can communicate with the structure. There are countries where English is taught in such a way that students understand English grammar close to perfection, and they can write English flawlessly. But put them in a situation where they have to use their English knowledge to have a real conversation, and they get stuck. Because they don’t know how. This is the difference between knowing a structure, and knowing how to put it to use in a real life situation.

We were shown (also mentioned in the rest of the TEFL course, but it is important, so it never hurts to mention it again) that it is better to elicit the meaning of something from a student, than to just explain it. You can use concept questions to make sure that students understand what you are trying to teach them.

Something else about pronunciation: I read somewhere on the internet, that a lot of schools want their teachers to speak as close to native English as possible, to have no accent whatsoever. There are some important overlooked aspects to that:

  • I’m not so certain there is one universal version of English. Not only is there a difference between American and British English, but there are a lot of accents in english as well, and English people with one accent can have difficulty understanding English people with another accent, apparently. When the English queen Elizabeth 2nd had her coronation, it was going to be broadcast on television. For the first time in history, there was a need for a version of English that all people could understand. A standard English (I haven’t researched this enough to be certain, I heard it, and did a quick search on the internet, there are a number of wikipedia pages about this).
  • I read on the internet that if students get taught English in their own accent, it becomes a lot easier for them to understand the structure, and communicate with it. To me, this makes sense, I haven’t traveled that much, but I found in a few countries that if you twist your accent to the way the local population speaks english, it becomes a lot easier for them to understand you. Indian people for instance are very good at speaking english, but a lot of us western people don’t see this because of their accent. While their level of understanding of the language is quite high. As an example, our teacher mimicked a french girl who wanted to take english classes. We (the students) had to assess her level. We all placed her much lower than she was, from elementary to intermediate. But she was actually at the level of advanced. Our teacher told us that this is a mistake almost everyone makes. Because of her intonation and pronunciation, we misjudged her, but her usage of english structures was pretty much flawless.

Not to say that it is bad to teach English with a more native pronunciation, but students learn to communicate more easily if you teach them with their own accent. And having an accent doesn’t make you less skilled as an English speaker.

There is loads more, but that is what the course is for. Either way, it was a very fun and at the same time productive weekend.

On another note, (switching to 3D artist mode), I read on the blenderartists forum about people who were wondering when or if Zbrush Zspheres would make it into blender. I figured if you create an armature, and use bones in envelope display mode, you could at least emulate how this looks. You can’t use this to automatically create automatic (heh, funny) geometry to work with, not that I’m aware of anyway, but it does help to quickly come up with a nice proportioned character. You could even pose it if you set up the base skeleton in a clear way. It is not a lot of work to go from there and create a lowpoly cage to start sculpting, similar to Zbrush. You could give this mesh an armature modifier with automatic weighting, and you’re good to go in different poses as well.
It is only a small test, but maybe some people like this approach… And I can use the extra character to try my new rig. People build 3D character models in various ways, this is an approach (sculpt from a mesh with very simple topology) that I have not done before, so it’s a good thing to try out. I want my rig to work on a lot of different characters.

Quick prototyping of different characters

Building a simple character mesh cage based on the rig's envelopes

Long post, I’m out… 🙂
See you later/Довиждане

Michael/Майкъл

Call for donations: Vajira Sri Rehabilitation Children’s home

Ayubowan (hello),
I mentioned in the previous posts that I had been to Sri Lanka to teach English at the Vajira Sri Rehabilitation Children’s home.
What I haven’t mentioned yet, is that this school runs on donations and volunteers, and that they are short on both. But money is a rather pressing issue.

So basically this is a call for donations.

You can’t really tell from the photo’s, because they do so very well with the very few things they have, but they are very poor, and can use all the help they can get.
A donation doesn’t have to be much, any amount is welcome, they are resourceful and can get far with little.
You can send a donation directly to their bank account (Vajira Sri Rehabilitation Children’s home, “Bank of Ceylon” account nr: 0000227418).
Stuti (thank you)

Report from Sri Lanka…

As was mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been to Sri Lanka recently, to do volunteer work as a teacher in the Vajira Sri Rehabilitation Children’s home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Here’s the story, and pictures, if you click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link:

First day, arriving in Colombo, and staying at the Ranvelli beach resort. Met volunteers for another project further south in Kosgoda.

Ranvelli beach resort

beach near mount Lavinia

Continue reading

Got back from Sri Lanka.

I just got back from Sri Lanka, where I had been teaching english to children in Colombo. Look for a big post with lots of photos soon (sorting out over 600!)

A local friend came to me one day when I just woke up, and was still sleep drunk. He needed help with an essay about creditcards. He was dead serieus and I was like a (sleep)drunk guy.
I told him to grab a piece of paper and write down the first things that came to mind. I did the same, and this is the weird story I came up with:
————————————————————————-
1. Why was the creditcard invented?
2. Who invented the creditcard?
3. When was the creditcard first introduced?
4. How has the creditcard changed the way we live?
5. Why/how did the size of today’s creditcard become standard?

1. Once upon a time, not as long ago as the phrase makes us believe, there was a groovy fellow who didn’t like coinage and paper money. They cramped his style. Coinage was too bulky and inconvenient, and he kept mixing up paper money with toilet paper. Especially after a good night out when he was so drunk he couldn’t tell the difference between a car and a horse. He found out the hard way that horses don’t run on gasoline, and their exhaust gasses have a peculiar fragrance that is much less tolerated than that of the average car.

One day he thought: “Enough of this nonsense! I need something new. Something that doesn’t cramp my style. Something that’s more convenient than conventional money. And something that can be personalised”
And thus, he went to the bank with a small piece of plastic that had a smiley drawn on it. He hold it boldly in front of the clerck and declared: “Let it be known, from this day forth and all eternity, I shall pay my bills with this piece of plastic. And it shall be known as the credit card!”

The clerck picked his nose, ate the booger and said with an empty look in his face: “Whatever you’re trying to sell, I’m not interested. Mata epa.” With the groovy fellow still standing boldy in his victory pose, holding his card up in the air however, the clerck paused for a moment and said: “Hey dude, maybe that’s not a bad idea. Take it up with the big boss man over there.” He pointed at the bank manager.
“Groovy!”, said the groovy fellow. “Peace me breda” the clerck replied.

So the groovy guy took his plastic card and his idea to the bank manager. The bank manager farted, pretended it wasn’t him, then said: “Whatever you’re trying to sell, I’m not interested. Mata epa.”
But as the groovy fellow jumped on the desk and declared this plastic card to be the renaissance of modern times, the bank manager paused and said: “Yeah, sure man, that sounds like a good plan.”

And that is how the creditcard came into existence.

2. The creditcard was invented by a groovy fellow who needed something that wouldn’t cramp his style. I don’t know his name, but hey, who cares, he’s groovy.

3. The creditcard was first introduced when the groovy guy had a need for it.

4. The creditcard has changed the way we handle our money transactions. We no longer need to take physical, real money with us. We use a card that informs our banks whenever a transaction is being made. There is a lot of debate as to when and what culture first started using money. I read in the museum in Colombo that the chinese were believed to be (one of) the first cultures to start using metal money. But now that I have internet again, I’ve seen sources suggesting differently. (Lydians, Phoenicians) Either way, the point is that we’re once again migrating towards a point were physical (metal or printed) money seems to become less and less important.
Another point is, but that doesn’t mean this has anything to do with creditcards, what is also changing is the way we consume. We have less and less need for physical property, as long as we can have access to it when we require it. We don’t buy physical CDs, we buy mp3s from the internet. We don’t buy movies, we rent or stream them. We don’t need to own a car, as long as we can lease one and trade it in for a better one when a new model hits the market.

5. because the groovy guy said so.