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

ANSWER:

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,

Cheers,

Mo

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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.

Cheers,

Mo

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

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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.

 

Vocabulary Learning Strategy – word collocations

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I still remember the notebooks with lists of words, nouns, verbs, prepositions that we were told to copy from the blackboard as a strategy for memorization of key vocabulary. Regardless of its old-fashioned style, word lists can still play a useful role in language learning, especially if contextualized.  you can create lists with translated words, with pronunciation keys, by topics, by grammar point, etc.

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traditional vocabulary lists

Last week I was talking to one of my students about the terrible wildfires in California which led me to consider key words related to that manmade or natural disaster:

Fire in California

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word collocation lists

So besides being exposed to new vocabulary the students are shown the possibility of using those words – in this case related to disasters but going beyond that.

Another tip I give my students is to try to memorize a verb with  the corresponding preposition


listen to

talk to

marry to

depend on

focus on

etc…  this way when they have to use that verb they’ll know which preposition would come after that.

Regarding vocabulary, memorization is key, you can’t be speaking “I did that with this” for much long. So get your notebooks out and keep on collocating.

Cheers,

Mo

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