I’m Jaime Miller. I made this video to share the story of how I moved to Turkey. In it, I discuss my experience of being ignored because of my accent, and how that impacted the way I teach online TOEFL iBT lessons.
Quick Fact List
I know it can be challenging and I really appreciate that you found me and you are here watching
The purpose of making this video, this particular video is to share a little bit about my background, how I got where I am, why I care about teaching TOEFL iBT and just to give you some more information about myself and why I like helping people like you to escape from the nightmare of studying for TOEFL iBT so you can move on with your life. That’s my goal.
I think it’s important for you to know that I’ve always looked for challenging situations and areas where I can grow. So, I rarely chose the easy path in my life.
In 2008, after I graduated from university in Portland, Oregon, I moved to Turkey. So, I was 22 years old. I didn’t know anyone in Turkey, I didn’t know any Turkish … oh well… I knew three words actually, I knew apple, fork and jump (elma, çatal, atlamak).
Now if you are watching this you have probably travelled and you probably can imagine that knowing those three words (apple, fork, jump) in any language is not particularly useful, but I didn’t know that when I got there. I didn’t please or thank you or where is the bank or where is the bathroom or anything like that …um…
So you can imagine that it was pretty overwhelming for me in the beginning. I mean I really had no idea what I was getting myself to but I was so excited about the adventure and it seemed like it was a really great idea.
And my goal from the very beginning had always been to learn Turkish. I really really wanted to learn Turkish…and I thought… you know.. I was going to teach English… and I really just had no idea what it was going to be like.
So, the school where I was working had some secretaries in the front office and one of them was this really wonderful young woman and her name was Nehir. And she invited me out to dinner one night with her friends and I was so excited, because I was like, “Cool! I’m going to experience like local culture and I’m going to have some friends.”
You know… that was my idea. And I got to dinner at this restaurant with them.
And a few minutes I was the interesting point of the conversation and her friends were asking me questions in English and they were really polite about everything. And then slowly, their energy for speaking English with me decreased interested in me faded and started having more and more of their own conversation as a group in Turkish.
So the ratio of like English to Turkish, you know, slowly like shifted. Suddenly I felt that I was in this environment where… it was almost like I had been thrown into this ocean of language.
I was sitting there in this restaurant listening to a guy tell a joke to this group and everybody was listening to him at the table so I knew that I needed to listen to him, too. And it was that moment in the story where everybody is paying attention to the speaker and they all waiting you can like feel that tension is building and he is getting to the important part of the story where, like, the joke is coming the punchline is coming and I could feel everybody in the group getting ready for his moment… like, they were going to laugh.
He was telling a joke and they faces were more and more excited waiting to figure out what was going to happen.
And finally the punchline came and everybody laughed and I had this moment of like pure panic because I understood nothing… like nothing. I felt like I was drowning these waves of language and I had to choose whether or not to laugh — except then everybody would know that I was laughing but I didn’t understand because I couldn’t speak and obviously didn’t understand the questions that they had asked me in Turkish so I couldn’t really fake it.
So do I laugh? Do I pretend like I understand? Or do I just sit there, with, like that sick look on my face that I had?
And that night I came home and I cried for a really long time because that was one the most difficult experiences I had ever had so far. I realized that I knew nothing… like I really knew nothing.
And it was super painful but I came out of the experience a week later and I was very serious about learning Turkish. I was going to learn Turkish. Now my teaching schedule at the school where I was was pretty busy, so it wasn’t easy for me to go and take private lessons anywhere because my work schedule was so incompatible with studying.
So the result of that was I spent a lot of time at home by myself studying on my own, using my dictionary and phrase books and textbooks for Turkish that I bought. I was really really determined to learn Turkish and to learn how to speak it.
And now, the thing is, I am a perfectionist. I hate making mistakes I do not like being embarrassed and I really had to let go of my pride because the way that I used to learn languages when I was in high school and when I was in college was this super safe environment in a classroom, where it was totally artificial.
And here I was in a real world trying to learn a language without the support of a classroom. And it was bad, people, it was super tough. I made so many ridiculous mistakes. I can’t even tell you how many times said something just insane in Turkish and people laughed at me and I would go home and cry and get a little tougher and stronger and I would come back next day.
But the fact is that my journey with learning Turkish from a baby’s level to having an intermediate level of conversational Turkish a few years later, it all really changed and impacted me and the way that I teach.
Because I got laughed at so many times I don’t laugh at my students.
Because I felt, like so overwhelmed and things were really difficult I understand how to breakdown a situation for a student to help them be able to learn.
And so, that experience that I had with learning Turkish has been really critical for me in my own journey as a teacher, as a TOEFL teacher.
And I had experiences also like later after left Izmir and I moved to Istanbul .. somewhere in year 2 or 3 or something like that …
I got to the point where I really knew my way around Istanbul and knew my neighborhood really well. I worked very hard to blend in. So, you know, now maybe I look American because I am, but at that time I had a Turkish haircut and I had Turkish clothes and everything was Turkish. And I really worked hard to blend in. So there were a few times on the street when I was walking and somebody (in a city of 15 million) someone would stop and ask directions:
“Did I know where the post office was?” or “Did I know where the mall was?” or something like that. And I knew the answers to these questions.
And when I tried to give directions to the person who asked me, I made a little grammar mistake or I had the wrong accent or pronunciation on certain things.
Usually what happened is that people would say: “Oh! You are a foreigner! … Yabancı sınız…. Pardon!…” You know, “Sorry…”
And they would walk away and it was so frustrating to me, because I was like “Guys, I know. I might be a foreigner but I know the answer, I know how to help you with that.”
And it was super frustrating. And I know that experience that I’m having is like nothing in comparison to your struggle with your professional knowledge that you have about your career (pharmacy, physical therapy, nursing, teaching whatever that is). You are an expert in your area and I’m just using an example of giving directions.
But I know what it feels like when people don’t respect you and they don’t believe you just because you’ve got an accent.
And, so those personal experiences that I had also kind of informed the way I work with students.
Anyway… back to the Turkey thing… So when I moved to Istanbul I was working for a lot of different schools. I taught English to kids (not my favorite thing), business executives at some of Istanbul’s most prestigious companies. And that was great, you know. I always loved teaching, but I wasn’t really satisfied. So, I started working for myself. In 2010, I specialized just in TOEFL iBT lessons. I started making my website, well, my first website (that was a long time ago) and I started making videos for a YouTube channel and started teaching students online. And then I created my first program, which you can still buy Right Notes. It’s one of my online courses.
Now, locally in Turkey, I had some students that needed to take TOEFL iBT. There, often, a score of 80 with like a Speaking score of 20 was totally acceptable. That was usually enough to get into a university there. Even though I was in that local context, because I was teaching online, I got connected to this totally different network of pharmacists and physical therapists and professionals in America who need totally different scores.
You know probably — a Speaking score of 24 -26 or a Writing score of at least 24. That was way higher than the needs my local students had. I had to figure out everything.
Now it’s really important for you to know this — that there is no training program for how to teach TOEFL iBT. And I hate to tell you this , because there are so many industries that you are in: pharmacy and health care. They are very regulated — but the industry of English as a Second Language and test preparation, has no regulation. So anybody can teach, anybody can say that they are a TOEFL teacher, anybody can open a TOEFL school, anybody can offer TOEFL lessons.
So when I decided in 2010 that I want to start doing this I was able to do that. But I had no knowledge at that point, I mean I was, you know, figuring out everything. I had to discover what it meant to get a Speaking score of 26 or a Writing score of 24 and I had to do it the hard way (through data collection) because none of my peers was teaching the way that I was. And the training programs that I had done for teaching English didn’t help me with this kind of thing
So, it took years for me to collect enough data on the students so I could understand major patterns, like what are the identifiable characteristics of a Speaking score of 26 or what are those characteristics for a Writing score of 24. And, I figured it out. I know that. But It took a really long time. I learned that through determination and continuing to teach students.
So, eventually, in 2013 and 2014, I released two other programs, two other online courses that you can study with from my website. So, for TOEFL Writing, I created the 24+ Writing Tutorial and then for the Speaking section, I created the Advanced Speaking Guide for TOEFL Scores of 26+.
Now, I used my experience of teaching private lessons to students from, like, over 30 different language groups to create the pronunciation lists and things like that. And so, both of those programs were based on a lot of experience in classes with students.
And I always just kept teaching. Like, while I was creating my programs, after I created those programs, I always taught because I loved that interaction of meeting a student online, helping them accomplish something and having that human connection through a digital environment.
So after I left Turkey, I travelled around for a couple years, and because I was teaching online, it was possible for me to float around, teach digitally not really have a permanent home, but keep helping people.
I settled back in California in January, 2017 and now I’ve opened a physical school here. But during all that time, I’ve always continued teaching for TOEFL iBT. This is my job It’s been the job that has sustained since 2010.
I’m the kind of person that just doesn’t stop creating things. I’m always making things better. I’m always trying to improve on what I have done before. And so, the newest version of my private lessons and the way that I teach is called The ESA Method. You might have seen it on another part of the website. The ESA Method is my course for private students.
I know there are pharmacists and physical therapists out there who sometimes take the TOEFL iBT test 10, 15, 20, maybe even 30 (God forbid) 30 times. Sometimes it happens.
I know people who moved to another state to try to get away from their licensing requirements where they originally lived. I know that people’s marriages suffer, health suffers. People get sick because of TOEFL iBT because there is so much pressure and there is so much stress. I even know someone who wondered if God was trying to tell him a message to change careers and stop being a pharmacist and to do something different, because he just couldn’t break past a 24 (despite the fact the he took the exam enough times so he could buy a car with the money from test registration).
So I know that it can be really stressful and I want you to know that I believe that you can improve — even if you have really struggled before and even if you have gotten stuck.
You need to stop hoping – that’s really important – you need to stop hoping that you get lucky, or that you can just cram before the test with a few hours of practice and that is going to be enough.
You also need to stop listening to bad advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Sometimes when I see the stuff that happens in Facebook groups where one (healthcare) professional is giving advice to another professional, I cringe because those people are very knowledgeable about their industry, but their industry is not test preparation, it’s not learning. It’s not destabilizing of fixing fossilized errors with accent or grammar or vocabulary that people sometimes have for years.
You need to study in the right conditions. Because when you have the right conditions that allows the breakthrough and the transformation to happen.
You also need a methodical approach so you can’t make a mistake with the way that you’re studying.
I hope that you’ll check out my success stories and learn more about me, my private lessons and my approach, The ESA Method. If you feel like I can help you, I really hope that you reach out. Send me an application. At the bottom of the page about the ESA method, there is an application to work with me. It would be awesome to meet you.