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Tag: Videos

The most popular piece I’ve written on this site over the past few was about Teaching English Online. I wrote it while I was hanging out with a bunch of digital nomads in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2015. A lot of them didn’t really have any savings or real plans but were inspired by the writings of Tim Ferriss and Pieter Levels and wanted to find a way to make it happen.

So many people teaching online

Chiang Mai is a very inexpensive place to live, it has decent and improving internet services and it’s safe considering the level of economic development. However, it has oddly rigid rules for foreign English teachers, including a number of filters that range from useless to harmful (e.g. TEFL certifications). As a result, teaching online is a particularly nice option for DNs in Thailand.

Most people teach for companies local to China or on tutoring platforms like Verblingor Italki. I noticed some other teachers doing group classes on their own sites and a few who were even more ambitious and were selling courses or memberships. Probably due to the fact that I used to manage an English teaching school in Taiwan, a lot of acquaintances were asking me about teaching in SE Asia or teaching online. So I wrote the blog post linked at the top.

Writing a whole book on online language teaching

With no special amount of promotion, the article was getting a couple hundred visits per day and generated literally hundreds of comments, ranging from “please elaborate” to “Hi! {my entire life story}, what do you advise?” to people directly asking or offering jobs.

Given that response and the fact that I really did have a lot more ideas to share, I wrote a 43 page ebook aimed at the more ambitious and more entrepreneurial segment of teachers since I used to be a member of that group and understand it better.

I priced the book fairly high, at $49, both to prevent a flood of emails I’d feel obligated to answer and because anyone who was able to raise their rates on Italki by even $1 per hour based on what they learned would earn back multiple times what they spent on the book in a single month and of course those building their own courses or membership sites would have an even more attractive ROI.

Feedback was narrow and deep

I did not expect what happened next. Only a small number of people bought my book but among the small number of readers, there are now some people earning more from their online courses than I’ve ever earned from anything online ever.

This is was doubly weird for me given how I’ve basically been living as frugally as I did as a 20 year-old while struggling to build a more mission-driven online business. If I had put the same effort into literally following my own blueprint, I’d have an ample income with which to fund my start-up.

That was really something to think about. The other thing is, in the process of building and rebuilding various incarnations of my language learning platform, I’ve developed a great deal of familiarity with a niche and growing web framework and programming language. The market value of such knowledge to learners is clear given the healthy market for web developers and the continual learning the job requires.

A public experiment

I decided to give it a shot. I’m teaching a computer language rather than a human one but other than that I’m following the plan in the book… following the plan I wrote, as strange as it is. I also decided to to it in public so whoever bought the book can see how it goes and learn from the process. Curious onlookers who have never even heard of the English teaching book can too, if they want! Here are the details:

  • I’m teaching the Elixir programming language
  • The main channel for building an audience is YouTube, not a blog
  • There’s a website for it, but mostly it just links to the videos
  • Some content will be premium
  • At least half the content I make will be free
  • I’ve intentionally avoided “cheating” by using my existing audience

On that last point, I really want this experiment to be useful for people who don’t already have an audience from writing online for a decade. I hate it when I read a write up from some well known author who makes a video course or some other product and then talks as if the success they had in it was due to their strategy rather than their gigantic following. My following isn’t that large but still, it’s a whole lot easier to grow an audience for a new project up from 50 instead of up from zero.

So… I started the new channel three and a half weeks ago, published daily videos and slogged painfully from only having myself as a subscriber to 14 subscribers at the end of week 2 to over 50 subscribers in the past week. Now the channel is getting more views per day than the ToshuoVids channel is, so this blog post will give the new channel a boost, but not nearly enough to ruin the nature of the experiment.

I’ll be sharing more on my strategy and progress on the channel.  The entire process of building the site is even recorded in YouTube videos.

But I probably won’t be sharing too much more about on here, except to the extent that it would be interesting or useful to English teachers and/or general internet friends wondering what I’m up to.

Do you know when “s” sounds in words are spelled with a single “s” instead of a double “s”? I explain the three basic guidelines that will get you the right spelling for the vast majority of English words.

Have a look at these words:
haste, pass, messy, harness, nest, jester, lost, loss, send, post

Can you figure out how to tell whether a word (you haven’t learned before) is spelled with one “s” or two?

I also expand a bit on the “l vs ll” phonics pattern from before. Finally, I give examples of the kinds of words my former students could spell after practicing the patterns from Phonics Fridays 1 through 5, and what kinds of expectations I had for them. My students were mostly elementary school aged native Mandarin speakers.

This time, I go over the various “R sounds”, both syllables starting with Rs (e.g. rad, red, rib, rob, rub), and vowel + R combinations (e.g. bar, bare, fern, fear, fir, fire, ore, oar, cur, cure). For most non-Native English speakers, the North American R is very difficult to pronounce. I talk break it down and go over some phonics patterns that many native speakers, including myself before moving to Asia, miss.

I hope this is useful for your classes. A world with more second language English speakers who can pronounce my name would be great!

Have you wondered why some words such as “hill” are spelled with a double l, while others such as “hail” use a single l? This Phonics Friday covers the “-l vs -ll” spelling pattern.

I talk about diphthongs, which are crucial to be aware of when helping students with vowel pronunciation problems. As an example, I go over the dreaded “What’s your name?” pronounced as “Whas your nem?” problem.

Links mentioned in the video:
The Cot-Caught Merger

Do you know when “k” sounds in words are spelled with a “ck” instead of just “k”? If not, make sure to see the end of the video!

I also go back and explain in a bit more detail how I taught phonics to absolute beginner ESL/EFL students. I talk about the basics of an oral spelling quiz, how I graded them and few other odds and ends.

If any of you have had experience using a similar system in the classroom, I’d love to hear your feedback.

It’s possible that TEFL is still what I have the most expertise in and in particular it was my focus on phonics that was quirky, different and actually got real world results for a lot of my former students. This certainly isn’t the easiest system to market to most people who enroll in classes at schools that teach English as a foreign language. I should know since I used to be a partner at one and was responsible for both curriculum development and selling the parents of my students on that curriculum! But after having taught over a thousand students, many from absolute basics, I’m pretty happy with the results.

I’m no longer an English teacher since I’ve moved back to the US, drawn by the lure of the San Francisco bay area tech scene. But maybe there will be some other EFL teachers in Taiwan, China or even Korea, Japan, Latin America or elsewhere that can pick up a few things and some kids can benefit indirectly from me sharing it. It’s an experiment. I’ll try to deliver a short video each week and see how it goes. If they’re of any use, please give me feedback and subscribe to them and/or like them.

In this first video, I explain a little bit about how I did phonics drills and go over the first spelling pattern I taught– long vowel sounds in the middle of a word.

The facebook page for this blog:
The video channel:
(Sorry China-based users. I’m using Youtube, so you’ll need a VPN)

This video is an overview of the educational children’s app market. It’s probably most useful for an indie developer wondering, “What educational app should I make?” I talk about what I’ve seen over the course of the hundreds of EDU apps I’ve downloaded and those I’ve extended as part of my work. Some areas of the market are clearly over saturated and there are gaping holes in others.

For those who don’t have time for a video, my advice is don’t make the same ABC app or arithmetic app everyone else is! Unless you can create clearly more compelling content, you’ll probably get buried. Make something between the ABC level and the storybook level… or a fun math app!

There’s one thing I’ve done a lot of while working at a platform for EDU iPhone/iPad apps and that’s playing educational apps. I’ve played dozens, if not hundreds of games designed to teach children ABCs or basic arithmetic. I’ve flipped through an equally formidable number of storybook apps, including some recreations of my childhood favorites. A lot of the apps have really been disappointing, but a few gems have stood out.

One of my favorites is a math app called Space Math. After it won the SmarTots Quest for the Best educational app contest, I had a chance to help the designer, Reese, add some more features to its newest version. In thing that I found interesting was the contrast between him and many of the other app developers I’ve worked with. While many others were either large companies converting various properties from browser-based flash programs to iOS or business people hiring outsourcers to make a variety of apps, Reese was a one-man hobbyist shop. More interestingly, his full-time job is teaching math to high school students and his app was driven partially by his experiences with some his students arriving to high school with weak foundations in more elementary math. As a former teacher who was drawn to build things to help my students, I find it very easy to empathize with him!

Here is the first version of the screencast I made to help promote his work:

This summer, I managed to get a few videos of a class at my school when they had nearly finished their second semester. It’s a pretty good class in terms of student morale. The read from an extensive reader called The President’s Murderer (OUP Bookworm). As usual for my school, this class meets twice a week for two hours each time, they spent quite a bit of time on phonics and basic grammar drills and had regular homework of an audio-lingual variety. As they progressed, the classes got gradually less intensive and more extensive. Their current level is about the tipping point between the strict, low-level classes and the more relaxed intermediate level classes to come.

First they read from a vocabulary sheet to review words in the book that they haven’t learned yet from the school curriculum:

Then, they take turns reading the chapter the teacher read last week:

After that, the teacher reads another chapter to them, intentionally making a few mistakes they have to correct. He might ask a few comprehension questions, and then it’s on to the next activity. That’s pretty much how all the reading works for the lower level classes. This class had already read Aladdin, Pocahontas and two other readers of the same level as this one, so it wasn’t necessary to interrupt for too many explanations. It would be boring to spend an entire two hours reading, but I think most the kids really look forward to the half hour they spend on it each time.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with this class. Several students quit at the beginning of the semester because their parents thought the basic phonics and grammar we started with was too easy, but those that have continued have done great. That’s including four kids who hadn’t been to an English school before, and who were a bit shaky on the alphabet and struggled with phrases like “sit down”, “stand up” and so on. Everyone has worked hard, and they have all far, far surpassed the starting point of those who thought the class was too easy.

I don’t think I ever saw Joel look so pleased with Taiwan as when we took him to guānghuá shāngchǎng. Oh, the computer goodness!

Unfortunately, our guest had little appreciation for Acer, a local Taiwanese brand. Not even these energetic Acer girls’ pitch about the “super super thin laptop line” had much success in repairing the damage all the crappy desktops they made in the 90’s did to their brand.
Acer girls
Acer girls by Mark on Zooomr

There was one bad-ass touch screen on display that gave him pause though: