Home for the Summer–now what do you do?

The summer is quickly approaching. The break is certainly something to look forward to, but let’s be honest: the pandemic continues and we have already spent a lot of time at home over the last year. Though watching television and playing video games are fun, there are so many things students could and should be doing to get a little variety in their day and to stay healthy.

Of course, this English teacher’s first suggestion is for you to write. That writing does not need to be more essays, though. You could write about what’s going on during this pandemic. What’s going on in the world, in your country, in your city, in your social circle, in your family, and within yourself.

In a podcast last year, author George Saunders asks, “Are you keeping records of the emails and texts you’re getting? The thoughts you’re having? The way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of life?” Students could use their downtime to keep up with such things through writing.

Saunders says, “It’s all important. Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened. Or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us about something crazy that happened in 1960.”

Writing is also a way to make sense of things that are scary, sad, difficult, or boring. In that same podcast, the host Cheryl Strayed says, “Writing is the way I make sense of almost everything in my life.” Through keeping a journal or emailing a friend or family member, young people can both keep “records” and “make sense” of all that is going on and how they are feeling.

But students can also take this time to read. Read something fun. Read something easy. Read blogs, magazines, history books, science articles, anything! Ebooks, digital magazines, and audiobooks are available online. Many books can be found online through sites like Project Gutenberg. Read something your teacher isn’t “making” you read.

Watch documentaries about topics that interest you. Plant some seeds in a pot and leave that pot in a place where you’ll see it often so you can really watch the plants grow. Draw or paint. Have a video call with a friend or group of friends to play a game “together.” Use an online program or a YouTube channel to learn a language.

Exercise. You don’t have to be at a soccer field, gym, or track to exercise. Do some stretches in the morning when you wake up. Do exercises that don’t require a lot of space, like pushups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks. A simple online search will provide you with yoga and martial arts instructors who provide free video lessons.

And, don’t forget to breathe! It’s great to take 3-5 minutes to sit quietly, relax, and breathe. You can do this by sitting in a quiet place with your eyes closed, focusing on each breath you take–in and out. Or search for free guided relaxation videos online.

Whatever you do, though, try hard to get along with those you live with. It’s easy to get irritable and frustrated with people we are with for long periods of time. Try to find your own space, give others their space, respect each other’s needs, and help out wherever you can to create a peaceful living situation.

Tips for traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language

School breaks are a wonderful time to take your children abroad where they can learn about different countries, languages, foods, and sites. And homeschooling allows for an even greater flexibility to travel.

My wife, son, and I had the opportunity to live in South America for two years. This was an experience that I feel was fundamental to our child’srunning view of the world. We have also spent significant time in Mexico. Furthermore, these trips have opened up a variety of writing projects for our son.

However, not knowing the language of a country that you’re visiting is not unusual. Many people love to be in new countries and experience new cultures, and traveling is an invaluable addition to one’s education—but we can’t simply pick up a language in a few weeks or even months. We shouldn’t let these language barriers prevent us from exploring the world around us, though.

So, what should you do when you don’t speak the language of the land? Below are a few tips I came up with while living abroad.

Learn the basics. At least learn how to say hello, please, thank you, excuse me, and goodbye. In Ecuador, for example, you don’t just walk into a store, look around, and leave. You should say “Buenos dias” or “Buenas tardes” (depending on the time of day) when you enter a store. If not, you’re rude. Furthermore, when you leave a small store, it’s important to say, “Gracias,” even if you didn’t buy anything.

As a safety precaution, learn how to say a few distress phrases. Even if you don’t end up needing them, you’ll feel more at ease having words like “help,” “emergency” and “police” in your vocabulary.

I also recommend you learn to ask for bathrooms, food, and drink. These can be important.

Use hand gestures and sounds. Nodding, pointing, and even making movements that represent what you’re saying can be very successful. Of course, gesturing for a bathroom might not be a good idea. So, like I said in number one, learn how to say it.


Bring a notepad. Drawing pictures is a great way to get your point across without having to play Guess-what-I’m-saying-based-on-my-gestures. Also, in Spanish-speaking countries, you could sometimes get away with writing the word in English, first. If you need a hospital, for example, you could communicate by writing the word. When a local sees the word in writing, they’ll know what you need because it’s the same in Spanish. If you say it in English, though, they might not understand you since the pronunciation is different.

Take notes. In that notepad, write down some important words and phrases that you think you might need but haven’t been able to learn. If it’s a short list and you know what’s in it, you’ll be able to find it fast. As a plus, you might learn those important words and phrases just from writing, saying, and repeating them.

Also, in the notepad, you could put the street address where you’re staying. If you get lost or don’t have a ride, you could show a taxi driver the address, with the nearest cross street–even if you don’t know how to pronounce it.

Be patient, stand back and observe. Many questions can be answered without speaking. Before asking, you might see a sign that indicates public bathrooms or a street name that looks familiar.

Use your smartphone. I recommend you use it as you would a pocket dictionary. You can also use a smartphone to translate text in photos, like street signs or menus.

Using a smartphone in some areas might prove to be a bit dangerous, depending on where you’re traveling. In that case, you might consider the old-fashioned method: a paper dictionary.

boatsThen, there’s the ever-frustrating suggestion: Take classes, meet a local, start a conversation. People traveling and living abroad have heard this over and over again. These are great ways to learn the language. However, for those who have tried this approach, you know it’s easier said than done. You don’t just learn it by being in a new country. Learning a new language is hard work and it’s frustrating. But be strong, have patience, learn the essentials, and enjoy the country you’re in.

If you decide you want to learn a new language, you will be taking on a worthy task. You can read more about the benefits of learning a foreign language in an earlier  post: Improve your English Grammar by Learning a Foreign Language.