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Why I struggled at school (a very personal topic)

in The Doing English Blog

This is a very personal topic.

And not something I’ve shared with many people.

But a topic that I think is worth sharing because of a number of people reading my daily emails will ‘get it’.

You may be one of them (and I’ve just had a conversation with someone about this, which is why it’s top of mind).

Or you might not get it at all… which is also fine.

When I was a kid people said I was, well, “A bit thick.”

See, first I wasn’t good at classes.

I understood the lessons fine but found it hard to pay attention. I’d always be staring out the window or thinking about totally different things. I lived in a day-dream.

Another thing I wasn’t good at was break time.

It’s not that I didn’t have friends.

I did.

Some very good friends, in fact.

But this is how I’ve always been ー I spend all my time with a very, very small group of very, very good friends. And not want to get involved with other people.

See, I always found big groups hard.

I can’t stand too many people talking all at once. They’d all be laughing and joking, but I’d totally lose the plot. You’ll either understand this metaphor or you won’t… but the only way I can describe it is that my focus is like a delicate glass ball. If you’re talking to me, everything’s fine. But if someone else talks over you the glass ball shatters and I can’t bring the pieces back together.

I also had a lot of trouble telling if people were joking or being serious (I still do with people I don’t know well). I’d freeze and simply not be able to find words (yes, I still do this too, but unless I’m talking with close friendsーwhich is much easierーI tend to lead the conversation and keep everything under my control). Occasionally I’d laugh when someone wasn’t joking (something which gotten me into trouble when I was a kid… but that’s a story for another day).

I’ve also never been able to pick up on hints or when, say, a girl likes me (or guy ー when you’re as good looking as I am it happens). My ex-girlfriend used to get really pissed off because apparently, some other girl was always flirting with me. Everybody knew she was doing it. Apart from me. I was totally oblivious.

I’m talking in the past tense, but the reality is…

… I still often don’t get this stuff.

If you wanted to sleep with me, well, you’d have to be pretty damn explicit otherwise I simply won’t notice.

All this is only something I’ve really come to understand over the last six or seven months, though still not completely. I score very high on tests for ADHD and Aspergers (the two are NOT exclusive) though lean more to the former category. I should point out that haven’t had a formal diagnosis (yet). But I’ve talked to a couple of people who are experts and they came to exactly the same conclusion as me (enough so that I’m 99% sure).


As I said, you’ll either get this…

… or you won’t.

The new podcast still hasn’t been approved on iTunes (so, er, stay tuned).

But you can (and should) click here and add yourself the Priority Notification List for the next run of MEFA:



P.S. You know what?

For a long time I DID think I was thick.



But then one day I realised that I couldn’t be.

I never performed well in school, but that wasn’t because I didn’t understand the content. I just wasn’t good at school. I grasp complex topics in an instant and see patterns where other people only see chaos (which I why when I got into language research all those years ago I took to complexity theory like a duck to water). This skill helped me pass the highest level of the Japanese proficiency exam in just 18 months (something people said was impossible) and finish said masters in less than half the time the course was supposed to take.

It also makes me an astounding coach…

… because patterns in your behaviour that most people would never notice and blindingly obvious to me.

Not that I’m taking on new coaching clients right now.



DEWJ66 | What my kids HATE about Ireland

in The Doing English Blog

Ever lived in a foreign country?

What took you the longest to get used to?

In Ireland right now, it’s the light.

The winters are dark and the days short.

In the summer, it’s the opposite.

Yesterday the clocks changed to summer time, and with it a sudden increase in the length of out days. So it’s still light outside when the kids go to bed at 8 pm.

And this IS NOT going down well.

The kids’ve never had to go to bed when it’s still light out. And understandably they’re finding it a bit odd, and don’t want to do it. In fact, they HATE having to go to bed when it’s light out.

The light does change in Japan…

But only a little.

An hour or two either way?

Not much, though.

Well, they’re going to have to get used to it ‘cos no amount of complaining is going to stop the light. Or get me to change their bedtime.

This is the same for language, of course. Learning to speak a foreign language is about more than memorising words and expressions. You’ve got to get used to the fundamental differences in the way people think and behave in the language. Just because you’re used to going to bed when it’s dark at home, doesn’t mean you can do the same here.

Or to put it another way…

Just because something is true in yours, DOES NOT mean it will be the same in English.

In a sense, then, learning to speak a language is actually learning to THINK in a language.

MEFA, of course, accounts for this.

Not on the course?

And you can (and should) get yourself on the Priority Notification List for next time here:



DEWJ65 – The Secret Sauce to my English Improvement Method

in The Doing English Blog

This morning we start the second run of my Accelerator course.

I won’t lie.

MEFA is a bit “weird” for an English improvement course.

And Week 1 is especially weird. The first time I ran the MEF Accelerator course, I actually debated whether or not to even include it.

I knew I should.

But I worried people might get confused.

You see, the topic of Week 1 has got nothing to do with English. Or even really language learning. Actually… it’s more of a science lesson than anything else.

BUT it’s also the secret sauce to my English improvement methods.

The reason the rest of the programme works so well.

As Kyoko and Deniz both said:

“It has changed my fundamental attitude towards language learning”

Keeping the unusual topic in Week 1 was definitely the right thing to do (while you’ll know if you were on the first. MEFA has been my most successful course to date. My most enjoyable too, I’d say.

If you’re on the second run of the course, see you at 11 am Ireland time for the first session (the recording will be sent out shortly after).

If you’re not on the course, sucks to be you.

You can (and should) get yourself on the Priority Notification List for when the course next opens.


P.S. If you are already on MEFA…

Nothing is broken. I used to re-write my daily emails for course members. In an attempt to save time and streamline my work (I’ve got a PhD thesis to write) I’m now sending the same emails to everyone.