Guest post 11-3: Sean Banville’s Sayings That Work

I am positively thrilled that my latest guest blogger is the incomparable, slightly eccentric and enormously prolific Sean Banville.

Anyone in the ELT world who is not familiar with Sean’s amazing website should go there immediately. Sean has solved the problem that dogs all ELT teachers – how to turn current news stories into useful language teaching material. He writes lesson plans based on breaking news events. Not only that, he publishes them within hours – no, within MINUTES – of the news story breaking.

You can bet your bottom dollar that, should Colonel Gaddafi fall from power, Sean will have a 20-page lesson plan ready before Muammar’s plane lands in Caracas.

Sean Banville and close friend...

Sayings that work

There are many sayings that we learn, come across, are told, etc, throughout our life, starting from when we are children. I never really gave them much thought when I was younger. I never really got too excited about whether a stitch in time saved nine, two or nothing. I was equally indifferent to whether a miss was as good as a mile, a metre or an inch. I always thought these adages, maxims, proverbs, etc. were simply stuff from books that people said to each other in situations when they couldn’t think of something interesting to say.

This was until I set about creating the first of my ten websites (OK – one’s a blog). Suddenly, every time I came across a saying, it was perfect for providing me with confidence to go on when things were going wrong, sometimes horribly wrong. It’s amazing how they have all proven to be so very true.

These quotes and motivational phrases have spurred me on to create ten websites, and then buy the domain names for eighteen more.

I’ll share some of them with you in this guest post for the equally motivating Ken.

Just Do It (Nike)

Even though I can’t slam-dunk, sink a birdie or break the four-minute mile, this is my favourite saying – AND you don’t have to be good at sport to adhere to it. I DID just do it. In early 2004, I had a brainwave about becoming an instant millionaire via a website I would call BreakingNewsEnglish. I gave up a good job in Japan to just do it, and then watched my life savings and hair disappear.

The site made no money. I am not a millionaire. I lost my house and life in Japan and left the country completely broke and almost bald. But…just doing it worked. Five years later, I have ten websites that I hope will keep me just doing something until retirement and beyond. If an idea you think is fantastic ever pops up in your head, Just Do It. Or put your money where your mouth is, take the bull by the horns (because fortune favours the bold) and walk the walk after talking the talk – In for a penny, in for a pound.

You Can Do It (My Dad)

My Dad told me this throughout my younger days. It was great to have his confidence in me when my own in myself was often missing. These words were and are the most important for me in this post.

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way

I knew my website would be a success from the moment the idea came to me. My head instantly flooded with ideas about website design, slogans, lesson plans and marketing. The problem was I had never made a website before and knew nothing about marketing. I bought a “how-to-make-a-website” book and did all of the lessons in it three times each.

The first hurdle was over. There were hundreds more to follow – how to set up a domain name, how to upload a website, how to make an RSS file, what to do when your website disappears….

Some of these gave me major panic attacks. I remember one anxiety-ridden Sunday evening about a month after my site went live when it “disappeared” from the Web. I thought life as I knew it had ended. I woke up in the morning and checked my URL, and there it was. I’ve since learned that whatever problem arises, there is always a way to get over it if you have the will.

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight (Japanese Proverb)

I like this saying. It’s the Japanese equivalent of “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This most applies to my initial attempts at creating my first web pages. Everything looked OK on the design page but then took on Picasso-esque dimensions when I looked at it in a browser. It sometimes took several dozen times to figure out why images didn’t appear where I wanted them or why my 8 x 6cm table was 2cm wide and 20cm deep. The same with my RSS files. It took weeks to find out that an apostrophe in the code of RSS means the whole thing will not appear in your browser, that you must put “'” in place of the apostrophe. Patience is a virtue. Tomorrow is another day. I don’t even notice the falling nowadays. My knees are now nicely hardened and spring me right back up.

A Thousand-Mile Journey Starts With a Single Step (Confucius or Lao Tzu?)

Not sure which one said it, but another favourite of mine. This really does make any project seem so doable no matter how big or daunting it might initially seem.

I first realized this when I decided on the title of my eBook, “1,000 Ideas and Activities for Language Teachers,” and gulped. I thought it’d take me years. I did my first 10, 15, 20 activities and then soon realized that 20 a day would only take 50 days and then hey presto, you’re done. After that, everything was a numbers game.

I decided to start my ESL Discussions site started with 500 pages, each with 20 questions about different topics – Fifty questions a day for 3 months and hey presto I was done again. The most important thing really is take that first step, no matter how long the journey. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Make your steps regular and, hey presto, you’ve journeyed the thousand miles. Great oaks from little acorns grow.

Every Wall Is A Door (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

How many times have you thought something was impossible to do, then you did it, and then became so confident a whole new world opened up and people thought you were an expert on it? This has happened numerous times while making my websites and teaching using technology. Websites were once a wall for me, now they are doors. The same goes for most technology.

100% Of The Shots You Don’t Take Don’t Go In (Wayne Gretzky)

You never know until you try. Again, it’s a numbers game – the more you try, the more successes you’ll have. A rolling stone gathers no moss, eh? Make hay as the sun shines because as you sow, so shall you reap, and that. No pain, no gain and nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The World Is Your Oyster (Adapted from William Shakespeare)

It took me a long time to realize how true this is. When I was growing up, my world was the small town around me. It was expected I’d go to school and then get a job – any job. No one really told me there was a whole world out there and I could see it all and be whatever I wanted in it.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, my cousin went on a school trip to Egypt. I remember thinking this was unbelievably amazing. I knew I would never, ever be rich enough to go to Egypt. From the age of eleven, I decided to be an accountant because I had heard accountants were rich.

Then I went to university (studied accountancy) and understood the world really was something to explore. Fortunately, I was poor enough to go to Egypt – backpacking on a budget. Went to 46 other countries, too.

I also knew when the idea of BreakingNewsEnglish entered my head that it would take me places, and it has. I’ve even made it onto Ken’s blog  🙂

As a parent, this is all useful experience and knowledge. My nine-year-old son wants to be a marine biologist – He knows he can be the best – I’ve told him. My eight-year-old daughter wants to be a rabbit when she grows up. I’ve told her to start hopping now. I know she’ll hop with the best of them.

Go Confidently In The Direction Of Your Dreams (Henry David Thoreau)

I’ll leave you to reflect on this one. It’s a real goodie, and it works.

About Sean

Sean is webmaster/materials writer of ten different websites including Breaking News, Business English, Listen A, ESL, Famous People and ESL Holiday He started his first site in 2004 after creating news lessons for many years for his students in Japan. Ideas for a further 27 sites soon popped up and eight of these are now online.

Sean started teaching in Japan in 1993. He spent thirteen years there before moving to the UAE to teach at a government college for tertiary education in 2006. He also blogs, tweets and messes around with educational technology. He’s very happy when he’s with his two young children and when Arsenal Football Club win matches.


27 thoughts on “Guest post 11-3: Sean Banville’s Sayings That Work

  1. Hi Sean,

    It´s so uplifting to read these encouraging words! being positive and proactive is a such a rewarding attitude in life!

    My favourite is
    100% Of The Shots You Don’t Take Don’t Go In (Wayne Gretzky) So true!

    So let´s keep on trying!

    1. Thanks Vicky,

      I just searched to see if soccer players are as philosophical as hockey players. Some are:

      “Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how you react to it.”- Mia Hamm

      “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele

      So yes – Let’s keep on trying 🙂

      PS. My fave football quote:
      “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”- Bill Shankly

  2. Sean,

    We are blessed to have someone like you making sure teachers use current events in the classroom! We often don’t think about it but it is such an important aspect of making the world a better place. Without you there would be a big hole otherwise.

    One saying I like and think of in regards to you is …. “You can do a lot, if you don’t know you can’t.” You never ask yourself that question, “Can I.” and so a lot gets done. That speaks to me about what you do….



    1. Hi David,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. They mean a lot coming from someone who does so much in so many ways. One day I’d like to build a teaching and learning community like yours – it’s a fantastic model for others.
      If I added a Part II to my post, I’d have to include “When one teaches, two learn” – by that great philospher David Deubelbeiss 😉

      Best of luck with your new book “We Teach | We Learn”.

  3. I think the technical word is “Wow”. What an amazingly useful site ( and what a great introduction to Sean. I guess I must be one of the few people here who hadn’t heard of you, Sean. I don’t get out much – far too busy putting out fires at home.

    Loved your sayings, loved your site (immediately found a lesson about shopping trolley bacteria which will be great for our supermarket students – the lesson I mean; not the bacteria), and am, in brief, very excited to have discovered you today.

    Oh, and thanks, Ken, for putting Sean on my map 🙂

    1. Hi Mike.
      I uploaded a lesson a few years ago about the condition ‘QWERTY tummy’ – illnesses from dirty keyboards. The day after I introduced it in my class, my students had bought disinfected keyboard wipes. Lo and behold, the white wipes were filthy after the students had finished. They looked horrified. You never know what your students might do the next time they go shopping 🙂
      Best wishes to you.

  4. I love this post!
    Thank you very much, Sean. I think, the purpose of any saying or proverb or anything like that is to serve us in the time of need. Just like mantras – Just do it! You can repeat it to yourself until you believe it. And, yes, then it really helps and encourages you on your way. It’s all about thinking (and of course, everything is easier and more achievable when the thinikng is positive). It is said that when you are upset you should force yourself to smile and your mood improves…it’s working (is there a saying for that too??)! Though, I am not sure if it’s because of the smiling or the fact that you look like a fool in that moment :-).
    Anyway, it’s always nice to have one or two sayings you know really work.

    “You are not fully dressed until you wear a smile” – talking about smile, here is the one I like.

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Vladka,
      Thank you for your comment. I love your “not fully dressed” quote – wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all remembered that? I don’t know of any sayings regarding forcing a smile when you’re feeling down. I do know you use fewer muscles to smile than to frown – perhaps that means we are physiologically made to smile???

      Now off to research ‘smile’ motivational phrases 🙂

  5. Sean,
    You are a diamond! Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Your articles are brilliantly inspiring for my students and me. Long may you shine!

  6. Hi Sean and Ken,

    Great words of wisdom, Sean. I’ve just returned from Carnival break and reading these inspirational quotes will certainly help me get through the day. 🙂

    I loved the anecdote you share in the very first quote (Just do it). An idea is worth a lot more than we can imagine. Ideas are what move us. They get us going through the hardships of life. I’m fortunate to also have had those moments, as the one I’ve been living for 5 years now, as a school owner, and long before that when I started a Drama Club in the school I used to work at – oh, isn’t life full of coincidences? I actually started the drama club after attending Ken’s workshop in São Paulo in 2000. I didn’t know squat about theatre – still don’t know much – but the idea of making it work made it a success.

    The other gem I liked reading was R.W. Emerson’s, as it reminded me of one of my favourite essays: Self-reliance.

    Thank you once again for sharing this, Sean! Congrats on the great guest bloggers, Ken! 🙂

    Cheers from Brazil,


  7. Note from the blogmeister:

    I’d just like to say that I have read this post dozens of times since I received it from Sean, while I was editing it, processing it, posting it and now that it’s here.

    The more you read it, the more uplifting and inspiring it becomes!

    Thanks, Sean. If you didn’t exist, someone would have to invent you. 😛

  8. I learned about, became a regular visitor (and user) of Sean’s fantastic and resourceful sites a long time ago. I could never imagine I would one day “virtually” meet and interact with him, and dare I say become a friend? 😉

    Ýour ability to create lessons that encompass many aspects of the language while using current topics, interesting discussion issues, for a wide range of linguistic levels is unbeatable. And you share that with everyone.

    And now I have a new reason to thank you: what an inspiring post! The sayings on their own would be inspiring, but the way you combined them with your story and what each mean/meant for you on your professional/personal life take it a step up.

    Thank you Sean, for sharing this too :-). And thank you Ken for making this possible!


    1. Thanks Ceci – Of course we’re friends 🙂 One of the greatest things about doing my sites is the number of fab people I’ve met and befriended along the way. It’s been quite humbling tweeting with and meeting educators I’ve long respected.
      I’m sure we will meet one day. I think you agreed to come to Japan one day – not sure if that’ll be before or after I mosey along to Recife.

      Thank you Ceci (as always) for your kind words.

  9. I echo all of the nice comments above. It’s nice to get a motivational quote series to start off the day. 🙂

    The thousand mile quote is Lao Tzu, and just for fun, here’s the chinese version: 千里之行始于足下. It has a four character, four character rhythm as is typical of such monumental proverbs.

    Interesting too because Lao Tzu left the “world” or society, by simply walking away into the mountains. This is a favorite of mine too because it brings us down to earth and to the present, making any challenge just another second of our precious time here.

    Thanks for the great post. Cheers, Brad

    1. Thanks Mila – Just turned to a different channel and there’s a replay of Barcelona vs Arsenal. Not sure how much I can watch. And Man Utd vs Arsenal is on live in just over an hour. Gulp!

  10. The best thing about replying to the comments on this post is that they are there for me to be replied to. When the idea of making websites came into my head, I knew it would take me places – St.Tropez, Bora Bora, Swiss bank vaults… BUT……………. much, much more exciting for me and with far less potential to get sunburn is that I made it here – to Ken’s Blog. Forget St. Tropez’s overcrowded beaches and over-priced ice-creams, PAH! to the long plane trip to French Polynesia and BIG YAWN to the tedium of waiting for bank vaults to open in Geneva, I’m, no less, at “Ken Wilson’s Blog”. On reflection and in all honesty, a far, far nicer place to be.

    Thank you Ken for inviting me. I was positively thrilled to be invited to post.

    Thank you too for your generous and typically and trademark humorous introduction.

    My decision to create lessons based on breaking news has proven extremely fruitful because of you and the other simply fantastic educators I’ve met online and in person since pressing “Upload this site” button in November 2004.
    I will reply to each of you kind enough to comment on my post and thank those who RTd my tweet with kind words on Twitter.

    It’s been quite a day.

    My heartfelt thoughts, prayers, sympathies, condolences and every other positive, comforting and positive energy I can send are with the people of Japan. I was in the middle of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. I saw many things that still bring tears to my eyes – more so looking at the television pictures of the tsunamis wiping away villages and their people – just too utterly sad.

    Japan’s people are admirably resilient, together and ready to rebuild and rebound. I saw that in the days and weeks after the Kobe quake hit.

    I had to smile at BBC reports of people walking home after transport links had stopped, and waiting at the red ‘don’t walk’ sign at traffic lights, even though the roads were deserted. That’s Japan.

    I can’t wait to go back to Japan in January. The 13 years I spent there before the UAE weren’t enough.

    God bless Japan and her people.

    1. Sean,

      I’ve just arrived in Guangzhou, southern China, and am watching reports of the Japanese earthquake on CNN. I wasn’t even aware that anything had happened. I share your wishes to all Japanese people and especially those with friends and family in the devastated area.


  11. Sean, 2 words for the moment..Ken’s blog. Noticed events in Japan today more because of you. We’re powerless & powerful. May we all help and share as often as possible. One day I’ll be in Bora-bora because of it.

    thks to Ken for creating his v alternative Blog!

  12. Hi Sean!

    Thank you so so much for this post and for all that you do for education, teachers (I use and promote your material at school with all my heart!) and people in need with EduCharity.

    I will not tire of repeating how much you helped me those (seemingly endless) months at the end of 2009 until May 2010, when I was going through rough times – I will never forget your message about hoping that “the silver lining would get bigger”. I do not know how to thank you for that. I truly hope to meet you in person one day.

    This is a blogpost I will surely print out and hang somewhere visibly in my home!

    I wish you all the best and thank you for everything you do!

    Ken, thank you so much for having Sean on the blog.

    Kindest regards,

    1. Hi Vicky,
      Thank you. You do so much for others in our PLN and I’m sure beyond – you deserve your bigger silver lining. I hope it turns golden and then platinum, finally to be encrusted with diamonds, emeralds and rubies:-)
      I know we’ll meet one day. Too small a world not to. I look forward to that.
      Best wishes to you.

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