Why Teach Pronunciation ? (Or not?)


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Quite often teachers of English as a Foreign Language find themselves between a rock and a hard place concerning teaching pronunciation. If they’re native speakers they hesitate in constantly correcting their students fearing they’ll pass an overbearing image and many times thinking … “well… I can understand them … whatever”. If the teacher is a nonnative speaker of English they might feel insecure about their own pronunciation or even worse… they might not be aware of the proper pronunciation of specific sounds in English which are different from their mother tongue. 60984E2A-14DC-40E6-A3B4-002A9032AABF.jpeg

So… why bother teaching pronunciation?

Students want and need to speak clearly.

Their phonological awareness has an impact on all areas of their language learning besides speaking: reading, writing, vocabulary, etc

But what’s the right pronunciation? What’s a standard accent? British RP? Only 3% of Brits actually speak it. American Midwestern? What about Mississippi or Alabama? How about global English?

That’s why it’s important to know why your students are learning English.

The teacher must then focus on speech comprehension rather  on the student’s accent being good, bad or proper.

How to do it? Teaching pronunciation works best a little during every lesson instead of once a week or whatever frequency students have. C7047EE5-CB8D-4F9B-A70F-BE4A4AA74861.jpeg

“The teacher must”, as Richard Cauldwell  wrote, ‘focus on:

the greenhouse: isolated words.

the garden: mixing and growing words together, linking words.

The jungle: where everything is mixed”

The best way will be to integrate pronunciation with other skills and lots of repetition (practice).

In conclusion, our insecurity about the way we speak can be managed by raising our awareness and practicing to the student’s heart’s content.



N.B – Many thanks to Laura Patsko with her great YouTube videos on the subject of pronunciation – https://youtu.be/yyga6vIAroE


The role of the language teacher in the classroom


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The role of the teacher in the classroom must not be underestimated. So whether you’re still wet behind your ears or have grown prematurely grey due to the many years of teaching, here are some good reminders

  1. Be keen and approachable. Make sure your students know your name. You have an identity. Apologise when necessary.
  2. Avoid too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time). No matter your students’ level they want to be able to speak. A lot of a teacher’s talking time is just lost on the students. It feels very teacher-oriented when one is explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but students still don’t know what’s going on.
  3. Teach the students, not the plan. The teacher must be adaptable and flexible.
  4. Find a balance between allowing students to communicate freely and proper pronunciation correction.
  5. Avoid a deluge of photocopies. It’s very easy to get disorganised. From the very beginning encourage students to create their own book with the copies and a binder.
  6. Don’t expect perfection, and give encouragement. Sometimes the teacher is so eager on perfection that they won’t let students utter anything without it being perfect.
  7. Seek a balance between the grammar, vocab and pronunciation. 


The par excellence teaching approach philosophy today is “student-centered” which is all right and good, but then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. That’s where the teacher fits in.

This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too. teacherprofiles-infographic11

Happy teaching,


Source: Thanks to the notes on teacher observation provided by Luke Thompson. Teacher Luke’s English Podcast https://teacherluke.co.uk/2018/02/16/512-my-experiences-of-not-learning-french-part-2-learning-language-in-a-classroom-vs-learning-on-your-own/


English Language Education in Brazil – An Outlook part 2


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According to the Brazilian Association of Franchising (ABF) between 2% and 4% of Brazilians (in a total population of around 220 million) speak English at some level.

At any given time, it is estimated that roughly 1 million people are studying English in Brazil concentrated in the State of São Paulo, followed by the Southeast Region and South Region.

CNA, a traditional franchiser of language schools claims to have around 420,000 students a year in Brazil.  But 40% of English language students drop out of their courses within 6 months.

It is a promising market. But … :

Why is there such a high evasion rate? Why are there so many people who don’t study English?

The leading answer is that “English is not for me”. Followed by “Spanish is easier.”

We have a culture of immediacy. Combined with poor performance.

Why do students quit? Most common reasons:

1. No money

2. No time

(However, it may be argued that there is a “save face” attitude. What the students might be  actually saying is: what you’re offering actually isn’t worth what I thought it was)

How do students prefer to study languages?

The overwhelming majority of language students (72%) prefer having classes in groups, attending the lessons in a school.

Again, statistics may vary but, it is estimated that 6% within a universe of 40 million Brazilians (200,000) prefer to have private lessons with a private tutor.

5% are enrolled in language teaching programs sponsored by NGOs or religious organisations, such as the English Sabbath School class which teaches the bible in English. You may check their work on Facebook – www.facebook.com/BelievesUnasp 

Distance learning, also known as e-learning or online learning (EAD in Portuguese)  is a promising segment (still in its infancy at 9%) but there are no reliable figures on the number of students studying English via Skype, FaceTime or using international language platforms or apps such as Global English, Duolingo and iTalki.


25% of Brazilians prefer to study alone. 75% prefer to study in groups.

Worth remembering that the industrial /digital  logic does not yield great results in the Education segment (even if called Industry) – we’re still human beings who learn at different paces and manners.

What does the future of Education look like?

The trend is to use an adaptive learning process with a hybrid use of different resources and technologies, combining both physical and digital presences. IMG_1314

The Education professionals, aka teachers, must seek the continuous development of their soft skills: interpersonal (people) skills. These are much harder to define and evaluate. While hard skills are job-specific, most prospective clients and students are looking for soft skills in their teachers, coaches or tutors. Soft skills include communication skillslistening skills, and empathy, among others.

Also we as language professionals must continue to work towards the development of solid knowledge, posture of dialogue and authority set by example.

Happy teaching and towards a bright future.


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English Language Education in Brazil – An Outlook – Part 1


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Last Monday I attended a talk sponsored by Braz-Tesol (Brazilian Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Marcelo Barros presented a brief but content-loaded overview of the situation of the language teaching outlook in Brazil today.


The language education market in Brazil is extremely fragmented lacking official associations that would really represent the interests of English teachers around the country. Braz-Tesol and state organizations such as Apeoesp (Association of Teachers of São Paulo state schools) or Apliesp (Association of Teachers of English in the State of São Paulo) represent a small percentage of teachers.

The fragmentation of the English language teaching industry:


private schools

state-run school

municipal schools

binational language institutes

independent language schools

self-employed teachers

How do they see each other? As in any market economy, they see each other as competitors, but not only that, the University educators look down on all the other teachers as if they were a lower form of life.  Also teachers working at languages schools or institutes look down on teachers in state or city-run schools, as not even knowing English  themselves and how can they be able to teach it? State-run teachers also see independent language schools as the death knell for the teaching of languages in regular classrooms. Binational language centres as the British Council, Cultura Inglesa or Alumni, also look down on independent language schools as unprepared to teach given that the former emphasise native speakers as teachers and the latter would have to resort to humble Brazilians trying to make a living.

The reality is that English teachers at language schools or self-employed have been imparting knowledge to millions around the country, making up for a huge gap in the education level provided by regular grammar schools at all levels.

The Brazilian Association of Franchising – ABF, estimates that 2-4% of Brazilians speak some English – which creates a significant linguistic elite in a country with around 220 million people.

The Brazilian economic boom decade between 2002 and 2012 also represented a bonanza for language teaching, with a peak in the number of people studying English in Brazil.

It is estimated that today there are little under 1 million people studying English in Brazil. But why do so few people study that language? Why is there such a high dropout rate?

To be continued… .



The autonomous teacher: 5 filters for professional growth and development

A2838466-0483-4400-8B31-9A33219E32F4I’ve been a self-employed teacher for 20 years and can say looking back at my professional history that I’ve made some mistakes, such as,  being too straight-forward with some students, letting students go on and on with their classes without making any commitment to actual improvement.  But also gotten some things right: helping them identify their strong and weak points and providing tools for them to set achievable goals and challenges. Helping them identify language learning as a tool not a 7-headed monster.

Noam Chomsky has developed the five filters of the mass media machine but those filters can be adapted to the self-employed career:

1. Ownership – you must own up to your mistakes, also understand that you must charge your students in a fair way while not compromising your source of income. Your rate can’t just be based on the hour you’ll be with him.

2. Advertising – you’re the top model who’ll inspire people to hire you. Looks are not the point. Transparency and motivation are great selling points when it comes to hiring a new teacher.

3. Elite – ordinary citizens can’t hire a private mentor or tutor for longer periods of time. The elite can afford you. But charging a low-income student and a high-income student differently, helps the latter finance of learning program of the former.

4. Flak – you may take some flak if the students fail. It’s part of the territory. Learn to cope with that.

5. Common Enemy – ignorance, laziness, lack of motivation, lack of payment.

Happy teaching,



Education is a process. Not a commodity

Talking about learning as a process, many students start having classes and then after one or two months go away on vacation, then they can’t have classes because of the yearend holidays, then there’s carnival… cutting a long story short – they suspend classes for 2 to 3 months in a row, and when they return they want to continue from where they stopped. Helloooo… even a car if left unattended for too long can show problems when the owner tries to use it again. In other words, they are back to where they started… and then after 2, 3, 5 years of classes they start to complain saying they must be too stupid,* because they’re not making progress (*translation: their teacher can’t be any good or he’s just incompetent).

The Americanoid Blog

Working as a self-employed teacher, I have the freedom that other job positions do not offer, but also lack all sorts of protections and guarantees that a school – even if lame – is required to provide.

Being my own boss means that I always have to negotiate fees and rates, teaching methods, class frequency, class load and homework directly with the student and on some rare occasions with the parent (if a minor) or the HR of a company (this latter case only happens once in a blue moon).

There’s no shame in being up front about the costs and how many classes there will be per month and the need for cancellation or postponement of classes and in the case of the absence for whatever reason of the teacher or student, how those missed classes should be made up for. Yes usually the contract – either verbal or…

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Give and take – the little practiced art of “practicing language”


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That’s a common complaint by language teachers everywhere: after a weekend, long weekend, and heaven forbid, after 20 days of vacation, students return rusty and despondent. Allow 2 to 3 weeks for students to get up to speed, depending on their language class frequency, which in my case, most students have classes only once a week.

So… they return to class, I’m talking about adult students, but the same applies to children, with their ears and tongues hardened by lack of exercise in the target language, even if they’ve done their “assigned homework.”

Bear in mind that our brains also need some rest, and that’s ok. But language-wise, I’m not talking about reviewing grammar rules and prepositions or phrasal verbs, which can bore both teachers and students to death. I’m talkingincorporating language to their routine via give and take.


When learning a language we must be receptors – take Language from different sources. Listen to a podcast, or internet radio, watch a movie or TVs series, read all sorts of texts, etc. Take in as much language as you can…  but, you must also become a  giver.


Start producing the language. Be a transmitter of English or any other language you are learning. How? By trying to speak that language even if to yourself. Another great way to transition from a simple receptor into a transmitter is by taking small pieces of text – books, newspapers, magazines or online, and reading them aloud. Nowadays, there are many text to audio resources which you may use to check your pronunciation. Otherwise just listening to your own voice and working on the sounds you produce will work wonders in your language process.

Happy learning,



A different approach to listening


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Many English language students find listening comprehension a daunting task, even those more outgoing and who manage to communicate their ideas, despite poor pronunciation and grammar, find it daunting to understand native speakers of English.

Students say that they can more easily understand other foreigners speaking English. Well… in a world where English is increasingly the lingua franca and most English speakers today use it as a second language, that is not so bad. But it’s understandable their frustration when trying to understand what somebody in the US, Canada, the UK or New Zealand is telling them.

Why is it that when they hear  fɵˈɡɛɾəˌbæʊɾɨ they feel they might as well be listening Chinese or Martian? But when they read – “forget about it” they totally get the idea and message?

Firstly, listening comprehension is a skill which can be acquired.

For decades, English Language Teaching manuals have been presenting the following steps:

Before listening:

A. Set the scene – look at the pictures if available

B. Get students excited about what they’re going to listen to.

C. Pre-teach any key words and new vocabulary

D. Ask them some pre-questions to focus onto during their listening

E. Repeat the previous steps.

That approach has been tested millions of times and with some success, otherwise it wouldn’t  have been around for so long. However, students still often get frustrated because they couldn’t understand part of it or even most of it. What should we do as teachers? 88DD1CA3-0539-4ED1-BF4F-6851EBC86F33


We must help students decode the sounds they will hear – practice the linking and Schwa sounds that so often block their comprehension.

They’ll try to hear “dwa challenge” not “do a challenge” – “lookintwit” not “look into it” – “igwout” not “I go out”  “dijeet yet” not “did you eat yet?”

By practicing those “micro-listening” skills and sounds they will be better prepared to understand the spoken word, even if not able to spell it out.

Happy listening,



Teaching multilevel classes


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I usually teach students on a one-to-one basis but every Saturday morning I find myself volunteering  in a classroom with 60 to 80 people ranging in ages from 15 to 74 and coming from all walks of life. One common ground is that it’s an English language class to study the Bible and sing worship songs both traditional hymns and more contemporary ones. Talk about diversity. Some students know no English at all whilst others are quite fluent. Most are in between. So … how can I make this class work?

1. Usually I try to get higher level students to help lower levels, be it by providing translation, or modeling pronunciation, etc. Also we try  to divide the class in smaller groups and to have at least a high level student working in a group of 4 or 5.

2. I’ve mentioned above the common denominator and they really try to use their bible knowledge and weekly study to build on new learning steps.

3. Using visual resources  – pictures, realia, a short video, etc,which provide another common ground while higher level students will be able to help others to expand their vocabulary, for example.

4. Every week the students know they’re walking into a “free zone” where they will not be judged or criticized for their language skills or beliefs, thus creating a welcoming environment where they will gradually be willing to take risks and even “play the fool”.

Let me share with you the story of Diego. That tall and lanky young man one day walked into our class, settled in a corner and refused to say a word. The following week we managed to get him to mumble his name. But nothing else. He was shyness personified. We allowed him to come to class and quietly and shyly stick around. We started a little weekly challenge that whoever memorized that week’s key bible verse would get a little reward. Sometimes a cookie, other times a magazine, other times a CD, other times just a handshake,  etc. Then one day, after a few months of unresponsiveness,  to our astonishment, Diego stood up and said the memory text for the week. From then on he never stopped, and now he even prays in public or shares a little missionary story.

Yes, we’re all different but we can help one another grow at their own pace.



What your quiet students are not telling you (and how you can get them to respond)



People who look for one-on-one language classes are usually talkative by nature. They prefer the exclusive and focused environment the classes allow them to have and enjoy the full hour of “me time”. But once in a blue moon there comes a student who for some reason – convenience, for example, maybe she thinks she can better profit from individual lessons, despite her overbearing shyness. She isn’t wrong, she may be shy but she can control her shyness and develop her language skills. Honestly I wouldn’t recommend a glass of wine at 8 in the morning, to control her shyness. But that might help.

But what is she telling me with her silence?

1. I’m hearing but I’m not listening

2. Please don’t put me on the spot. I don’t want to make the effort to think,

3. Please be patient with me… even if you think I’m not trying my best

4. I need some time before I answer …

5. I don’t care about whatever theme you’ve chosen for today’s lesson.

What can I do?

1. Lighten up the mood

2. Use a puppet … what the heck! she’s an adult but since she still won’t speak at least I can talk to the puppet.

3. Never force them to respond

4. Allow them to be the expert – talk about what gives them passion. Do you have an Instagram account? Share a picture you like there

5. Praise mistakes – because at least they’re trying.