How to improve your listening (when learning another language)

How to improve your listening

The Americanoid Blog

Whenever I’m talking to a prospective student, he or she says:listen

“My listening is not as good as it should be”, or  “I just can’t understand what’s being said”. “Give me the text of what’s being said and I’ll understand everything.”

Well … life doesn’t come with subtitles so, … what should you do if you want to improve your listening skills in the language you’re trying to learn?

Here are 3 simple steps – which if followed will most certainly help you out:

  1. Listen everyday – and I mean it. It’s way easier said than done. Especially if you’re not living in the country where your second language is spoken, you will have to go an extra mile to listen to it. A little and often will work wonders. You may ask how much is a little – well it will depend on your time availability. But I’d say…

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Parla Usted English? The blended approach

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English is a flexible, malleable language. It is constantly changing, maybe even faster than other languages due to the huge influence it has worldwide in addition to the different cultures and languages immigrating into English-speaking countries.

In my case I feel passionate about the English language, the sounds, the complex yet simple grammar. How many books do I have about the English language? Most definitely over 22 – just about the English language – I’m not counting grammar or literature books.

Now many people learn English through their gaming addictions.

As an ESL/ EFL teacher, I try to encourage my students to enjoy the language learning process…. don’t see it as an end in itself but rather as a means towards an end.

One point of contention is that some students want to learn grammar while others just hate the sound of the word.

Grammar apple
Grammar can be presented in an attractive and practical way

Since the inception of the communicative approach, the main trend in teaching grammar has been as an integrated part of the lesson. When teaching the simple past for instance – regular verbs  – many false beginners have already seen them but never learned the proper pronunciation.

They will be fated to fail when trying to say these verbs for instance.

ASKED

PHONED

So the best approach is to integrate grammar into the other skills, they’ll learn the grammar but also the listening and speaking part of the language .

Defenders of teaching grammar as a stand alone part of the class is that it would get lost in the noise of other points – it’ll be explicit teaching. Many times the proper grammar has never been acquired because it’s never been noticed.

So a blending of the two approaches would bring the best of the results. That’s I would call the Blended Approach.

blender
Blending approaches in language teaching yields the best results

Cheers,

Mo

 

Why Brazilians – or Japanese, Koreans, Spaniards, Etc – don’t speak English properly

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Ask anybody from Santiago to Shanghai and they’ll answer the same: English is a global language and very important to learn.

So … why is it that after decades of public efforts in several countries to teach students English  as a Foreign Language  success can be so limited and even negligible?

Let’s use Brazil as a reference but (it most certainly applies to many other countries in Latin America, Asia or Europe).

in Brazil (almost) everybody in public and private schools studies English as a foreign language – there are around 57 million students in primary and secondary education but a very little percentage can claim to have a remedial level of English. Why is that?

1. English is taught as another subject not a tool – lack of proper speaking skills and pronunciation and accent reduction in both teachers and students make them embarrassed and afraid of speaking the language.

2. Out-of-dated English course programmes with focus on grammar and rote memorisation. Asking primary and secondary students I could observe that over 60% of those questioned don’t like to study English, but over 80% replied that it would be nice to have an English aptitude level for university entrance exams and / or traveling abroad. IMG_9708

3. The sheer dimension of the country and the prevalence of a monolingual society with lack of incentives towards learning a second language. Brazilians in practical terms miss academic and professional opportunities in other countries because they can’t use English properly.

This scenario will only change if and when foreign language teaching becomes a tool towards a goal and not an end in itself, and the teachers on the front become multipliers of language learning and not barriers.

Keep on learning,

Cheers,

Mo

 

Eavesdropping – a great source of language and ideas

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This past week a student of mine was in New York City and told me he’s discovered the joys of eavesdropping. He said he’s enjoying the musicality of the natives minding their own business while he listens in.

A few weeks ago the same happened to me in Portuguese. I was enjoying my coffee and slice of orange Chocottone at Casa Bauducco when I overheard two men talking about the use of English for travel and for business.IMG_9498

They were saying: “when you’re traveling on holiday you use English just to ask ‘how much?’ ‘Where?’  Etc your needs and objectives are different from professional or academic purposes.”

But when you have to use English to transmit and explain your work, or the challenges of attending a conference or just keeping the language alive.

They went on to say: “When you want to take a course in English you need to be able not only to understand a lecture but to take notes, to write your own reports and to express your own points of view.”

Now English as a second language has reached almost the same requirements of the mother tongue. It’s not enough to understand what someone is saying, you must also be able to explain what that person said. Not enough to understand a word in the midst of a shower of words… at the end you won’t have the essence of what was said.IMG_9499

so the role of the teacher and the students’ expectations must be constantly revisited so that delivery of what students want and need really takes place.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

Moacir Sena

Assessoria em Idiomas
Language Lessons and Coaching, Translations, Interpreting

 

In Brazil
(11) 98132-8496

 

Language as a tool

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Having joined a family full of nephews (a few) and nieces (lots) I’ve been many a time asked if I could teach them English… my first instinct is to tell them – “I learned it by myself go and do likewise”,  but my soft heart tends to say yes under some conditions:

  1. They’ll do the assigned homework
  2. They won’t act as royal pains

    Big family bigger dreams

The latest niece to join the gang in showing interest to learn English is Maria Eduarda who at 14 had always resisted to the idea of learning English quoting that same old idea of “I not even know portuguese well why should I learn English” or “We speak Portuguese in Brazil” – etc etc, so…

So last week, Eduarda finally gave in, she asked my wife if she could teach her English and basic computer skills.  Quickly I told my wife – try to teach her computer skills using English. That’s what I’ve always encouraged. Using language as a tool to reach different goals not a goal in itself.

Cheers,

Mo

Hey Siri: using technology in language teaching

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We have amazing computers disguised as phones and it’s time for the teacher and students to feel smarter than their phones. You can use Siri or other voice assistant apps to practice and even learn a language.

If you have an iPhone, Siri can be your language practice partner. To ask Siri a IMG_9387question, you have to pronounce the English words correctly in order to get an answer, so you get a chance to work on your speaking skills. Through Siri’s answers, you’ll hear proper or standard pronunciation and learn the right ways to respond to certain questions.

You can ask Siri:

what’s the weather today?

How’s traffic now?

Set an alarm / Set a timer 

Send an email to … / call …

You can also have some fun with Siri’s pre-loaded messages such as

When is the world going to end?

will you marry me?

can you teach English?

I’m fed up.

Just dictating a word if Siri gets your pronunciation correctly.

You can also say:

Spell “charge”

show me images of a “porcupine”

Although technology is extremely helpful when you’re learning English, real-world, human interaction also matters, but no question Siri can have more of a say in your language adventure.

Cheers,

Mo

Accent v Pronunciation

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This is another question that comes up quite often in the language classroom:

“Teacher, what’s the difference between accent and pronunciation?”

Well… in simple terms, accent is the voice you’ve developed based on where you were born and raised, your parents, family, classmates, etc all played a role in developing your accent in your mother tongue. Anyone has an accent! You realize it every time you move out of your area or comfort zone where most people speak like you.

Don’t even get me started with different British accents – one for every village and town.

Now… pronunciation refers to your intonation – the way you enunciate words and phrases.

I always tell my students that they don’t have to lose their accents – they are many times even considered charming by other speakers…. but they must be careful with their pronunciation so that they can be understood and not break down any communication attempt.

One example is the pronunciation of the letter R /r/ as a consonant sound. Many Brazilian, French and Spanish-speaking students find it hard to pronounce words such as

Rabbit  – Raccoon – radio – red – Recipe – run etc

many times their default pronunciation with be with an H sound – they’ll say

Habbit – Haccoon – Hadio – Hed – Hecipe – Hun etc

IMG_9384

My role as the teacher is to identify these problem sounds, raise the student’s awareness to it and encourage them to produce the adequate sound.

Speaking another language requires skills which can and must be developed.

So happy practice and keep on speaking.

Cheers,

Mo

 

How to spend a lifetime in teaching? 🤗🤔

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This week I came across an episode of the podcast TEFL Training Institute with the question quoted above where Ross (one of the hosts) interviewed his parents who worked as teachers for a combined total of almost 50 years. And myself? Well, I started at my church’s Sabbath School initially teaching the primary class (kids between 8-12) . I was 15 at the time, so I’ve been involved with teaching for over 35 years. The questions asked on the podcast are relevant to all of us involved in teaching either as volunteers, professionals or both. Here they are:

1. How do you keep yourself motivated? 

Professionally speaking – money is a motivating factor. yeah, yeah… You may say whatever you want but you still need to pay your bills at the end of the month and buy a pair of shoes once in a while. But although money is a very visible factor, it isn’t enough to get you going. I like speaking in different languages, so… I look forward to every opportunity I have to speak in English, Spanish or French. I love watching tv in other languages. I like reading magazines and newspapers from other countries. The students are the same but also different. You’ll have similar difficulties and challenges but their attitude, behaviour, reactions always surprise me. I’m always open to learning new words, getting to use new teaching materials. I wish I could attend more TEFL conferences, but sometimes they end up demotivating me using the same themes ad nauseamIMG_9078, being more of a marketplace where language schools and publishers come to sell their goods instead of teachers discussing their best practices and the future of their industry. Since traveling can be quite expensive I really appreciate when the organisers of those events make them available online on YouTube.

2. How has teacher training changed? 

Sadly enough I haven’t notice great changes in teacher training. You may use a smart screen instead of an overhead projector but still present the same ideas, and interaction activities.

3. What advice do you have to new teachers?

Welcome to this rewarding career. Yes, there will be challenges and you will never become a millionaire from your classes (Some exceptions may apply) but you will be always learning and always growing if not from anything else, from at least being in touch with some wonderful human beings, yes, you’ll also encounter some dreadful, horrid creatures, but they are still, thank goodness, too few and far in between.

Happy teaching and enjoy the journey.

Cheers,

Mo

Freelancing as a Teacher

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One of these days my wife and I were talking about two young men close to us in their 20s and how lost they’re feeling regarding their career path. To protect their identity let us call them E. and A.IMG_9316

 E. has already worked in IT for big multinationals like Danone and has decided he doesn’t want to work in the corporate world anymore, the pressure, the competitiveness, etc have not been appealing to him,  but he doesn’t know what direction to take. Should he become a freelance teacher, a translator, a missionary? Meanwhile, A. has never worked – only studied and doesn’t know if he would like to follow the path of engineering he chose earlier since he’s never tasted it. So now he’s working as a delivery boy for a small restaurant during the week.

My wife said to me “Now I know how your brother must have felt when you said you were quitting your steady and well-paying job at a national bank to pursue your dream as a teacher” .

But differently from the two young men mentioned above I knew what I wanted AND didn’t want. I didn’t want to spend my days behind a desk. I wanted to be a teacher. And I needed to have an income right away… no daddy to send me monthly allowances.

In my naïveté I not even knew I could be a freelancing teacher. So, initially I looked for jobs at language schools. But over 20 years ago I saw the possibility of flying solo and earning my living as a freelance teacher. The benefits are:

IMG_9317Positive:

  • you develop your own career path and make more money, not having to give at least 50% of what your students pay to the language school.
  • You choose where and when to work.
  • You can fire those horrible students (it takes courage but your mental sanity is worth it)
  • You can choose when you’re going away on vacation
  • You get immediate feedback and know what works and doesn’t work.

Negative:

  • you must always be prospecting for new students
  • No basic or fringe benefits – no health insurance, paid holidays, sick day leave, paternity leave (you know what I mean), or even no access to the company’s restroom – (yes, it’s true, damned the designers and architects of some corporate buildings which hide away the toilets and the enforcers of condo rules such as “no access to the toilet unless accompanied by your respective student)

But I chose this path and despite its highs and lows I wouldn’t have done it  differently. I’ve been in charge of my professional destiny and I’m sure many other mortals have never been able to breathe outside their gilded cage.

I’m quite often reminded of this Bible verse which has been proven true to me over and over again. Psalm 37:25:

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (King James Version) 

My advice to you if you’re considering freelancing – jump into the water and go free, or tread slowly just freelancing a couple of hours a week and no matter where you land it will have been worth the risk.

Cheers and Happy Teaching, IMG_9318

Mo

🐌Snail Technology in Textbooks

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I guess the question “does technology belong in the classroom?” has been amply discussed and satisfactorily answered with a resounding YES! (kept some reservations). Both teachers and students have already grasped the idea that they can use technology as a learning tool. Not just the cool new thing.IMG_9271.JPG

So why have publishers been so resistant and slow to adopting e-textbooks? Yesterday a student of mine called my attention again to the outdated status of English coursebooks – which in my humble opinion are the most advanced in terms of volume of sales and global reach. Eduardo has finished his New Headway Elementary 15th edition (just kidding) and is ready to start the Pre-intermediate level. So I volunteered to buy him the book because as a teacher I get a 10% discount from the book distributor here in Brazil, SBS. Well, the coursebook and workbook (16th edition) come with CDs for the student’s home study. Fine. But the first thing Eduardo said was: “Teacher, today’s computer notebooks not even include a Cd drive. Why can’t I just access it online or at least use a memory stick?”

An e-textbook is weightless, has multiple functionalities, can be read anytime, anywhere, allows for interactivity, can bring enhanced tools in audio, video, sound effects, games, quizzes, tests, etc. IMG_9270

So why are e-textbooks so unappealing?

First, the cost. Secondly the quality of the content must be improved. Another huge downside is compatibility. The same e-textbook would have to work perfectly well across a broad range of devices and operating systems. Let’s not forget the DRM – Digital Rights Management which tries to combat piracy.

The publishers allege that there still is an enormous digital divide in the world  – broadband and wifi may be restricted or simply nonexistent in many places. Or the power supply may be simply  unreliable and sporadic to keep the electronic devices charged. Software updates also can compromise functionality. Also, an ebook requires at least a computer. The same way that in the past language learners had to use a record/cassette/cd player to take advantage of the resources accompanying their textbooks.

Another contributor to the digital divide is that there are still teachers and students (especially those over 30) who lack the expertise on how to use the technology present in e-textbooks.

I would love to see giant publishers like Oxford University Press, Macmillan, Pearson and others to start introducing e-textbooks at a fair price and high quality which would undoubtedly be great incentives for teachers and students to adopt them.

Don’t hold your breath.

Cheers,

Mo