Wednesday, 26 May 2010


We spent our 24 May long weekend in Madagascar's only Relais & Chateau hotel - Anjajavy - L'Hotel
The pluses:
- You eat breakfast while watching lemurs swing from tree to tree.  The kids watch the lemurs in amazement.
- The weather during the winter season is perfect: not too hot and not cold at all.  The ocean water is warm.
- You get to stay in a palisander bungalow with two floors, so the kids get their own room upstairs.
- The restaurant meals are 4-star quality and there is fresh fish every day.  Both Bambina and Bambino gobbled up their fish at each meal. 
- The beach is stunning and you can do pretty much any water activity you want (but you have to pay extra for water skiing).  The Bambina has turned into a real diver and spent most of the time with her mask on.

Some minuses:

- The mosquito net had holes in the top of it, and there was a captive mosquito inside our nets on each of the
three nights we were there.
- Resorts are a relatively new thing in Madagascar - too new for things like kids' clubs or even a fully developed spa.  And the political crisis in Madagascar means that hotel owners won't be making any big capital investments in their hotels anytime soon. 
- Like all Relais & Chateau hotels, Anjajavy is expensive.
- You need a private plane to get there.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Any TEFL teachers out there?

Since January, I've been teaching English in our home to French and Malagasy people. I've also been teaching English to a group of grade 10 students at the Lycée Français here in Tananarive.

This is the first time I've tried teaching since I obtained my Certificate for English Language Teaching to Adults from Cambridge University (CELTA) at International House in Rome, back in 2008 (I got pregnant after that and no one would hire me, and then I had the baby and we moved to Madagascar, so it took me a while to get back into teaching).

Some observations:

1. ) I try to use the communicative approach but students really resist this method. They want me to stand up in front of the class and just talk and explain to them. They don't want to try to speak the language themselves. I find it especially a challenge to use this approach when students share a common language (usually French, in my students' case) because as soon as you tell them to talk about something in pairs or to the class, they start off in their common language! Grrrr.  What's more, since they know that I speak French, they often will try to speak to me in French instead of trying to say it in English.  Grrr.

2.) The teenagers at the lycée have a decent to good speaking level.  In many cases, their English is better than their parents' English. Now, I am dealing with the more advanced students but nonetheless I am impressed when I think back to my level of French back in grade 10.  One of my students has read the Twilight series three times, in English. 

On the other hand, their written English is not so good. Their regular English teachers also use the communicative approach for teaching, so maybe the poor writing skills is evidence that this approach is good for learning to speak but not for learning to write.

3.) The present perfect tense is perhaps the hardest grammatical concept in English to learn.  Even my teenagers at the lycée don't seem to fully "get it" and I am becoming persuaded that unless you have grown up with English or have moved to an English-speaking country for good (see, I've just used it twice, no make that three times!), you will never fully "get it" as a non-native speaker (unless you're Spanish-speaking, 'cause apparently Spanish has the same thing).   

Actually, there is one thing harder than understanding the present perfect - undertanding when to use the present perfect tense (e.g. I've gone) and when to use the present perfect continuous (e.g., I've been going).  It might seem obvious to you as a native speaker but to a non-native speaker who hasn't been immersed in English and who is learning the concept as part of an English lesson, this is tedious and complicated stuff.

4. ) I'm not in the right market. I have been trained to teach adults. In fact, adults don't care too much about their level of English anymore. But they really really really care about their kids being able to speak English fluently. I've been asked again and again and again to start a class for kids but the thing is,

  • teaching children is not the same as teaching adults, and I haven't been trained to teach kids;
  • teaching children would mean that I would have to give lessons when those children, and therefore my children, are not in school, meaning when my own daughter was home and I had things to do with her; and
  • I honestly don't think that language lessons are that much use to a child under seven years of age. As small children have minds of sponges, they get much more from the immersion approach, not the lesson approach, and the immersion approach requires more than one or two hours per weeks with a "teacher" for the child to get anything out of it.  Proof: Dutch people my age speak pretty good English, yet they only started learning it formally when they were around eleven or twelve years of age.  Their advantage comes not from taking lessons when they were only five years old but rather from watching television shows and movies in their original language version (no dubbing!).
But I will be the first to admit that I could make much more money out of teaching English if I taught children!

Any other TEFL teachers out there?  I would love to hear what you think and how your experiences compare with mine.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Christmas in May

It's poinsetta season here in Madagascar.  This photo was taken at a birthday party yesterday in the backyard where the party was taking place.  These trees are blooming everywhere here, though.  The Malagasy are very surprised when I tell them that for us, the poinsetta is a Christmas plant.
The Bambina shows no amazement whatsoever at these kinds of plants.  I think she's become to used to it all. 

Monday, 3 May 2010

Organic, homeopathic products, dirt cheap?

Do you like to buy beauty products that don't contain parabens, phenoxethanol or other nasty stuff?  Do you find that these products can sometimes be expensive?  What if I told you that you could get all natural, organic beauty products for dirt cheap

I've recently discovered Homeopharma.  Homeopharma is a Malagasy company that specializes in homeopathic medicines as well as organic body care products.  And now they are exporting, at least to Europe.  I don't think their products have hit North American or Asian shores just yet.  I have just bought their children's shampoo (see photo at left).  The shampoo contains no preservatives.  The ingredients are mostly plants, although there is some sodium laureth sulfate in it.

I do have a couple of concerns with their products.  The labelling is not top.  Their website says that all their products have been certified as organic by Ecocert, yet the Ecocert label is absent from their beauty products' packaging.  The list of ingredients on the children's shampoo that I bought includes "parfum" (fragrance), with no indication that this fragrance is natural rather than a synthetic one containing phthalates, a harmful chemical known to disrupt the body's endoctrine system.  The label on the product does say "produit 100% naturel" (100% natural product), yet this cannot be true given that at least one of the ingredients is sodium laureth sulfate, a synthetic chemical.

Needless to say, this company needs a little more sophistication.  But it's an interesting start and their products are cheap!  The shampoo cost the equivalent of US$ 3.50.  The homeopathic medicines (a smattering of which you can see in the photo) cost about the equivalent of US$1 each.  That's here in Madagascar - the prices are probably a bit higher in Europe.