Can one learn a Foreign Language at a regular school?

Can a student learn a Foreign Language (usually English and/or Spanish) attending classes at a regular school in Brazil? This question has surfaced lately here in this country and many reasons lead to a capital “NO, STUDENTS ATTENDING REGULAR SCHOOLS IN BRAZIL CAN’T AND WON’T LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE”.

Some of the reasons are:

“Classes are too heterogeneous.”

“There are up to 50 students in a classroom. Impossible to teach a language.”

“Teachers are underqualified and unprepared to teach.”

“A regular school has more important goals than teaching a foreign language.”

“Teachers don’t care.”

“Students lack motivation and/or clear objectives.”

“The textbooks are not ___________. (multiple choice) 

a) adequate

b) in sufficient number

c) up-to-date

d) interesting

e) all of the above

“Students cannot fail English classes. They are automatically approved to the next grade.”

“English or Spanish taught as foreign languages have been devalued as school subjects. Not as important as Maths, History or Portuguese.”

“It’s impossible to teach a foreign language using the students’ mother tongue 90% of the time.”

English teaching in Brazilian public schools
English teaching in Brazilian public schools
ENglish Textbook for secondary public schools in Brazil
English Textbook for secondary public schools in Brazil

Phew! The list is long. Should I continue? But I guess you get the gist.

The situation is so bad that some Brazilian congressmen have raised their voices proposing the end of the teaching of foreign languages at public schools due to their failure in reaching any positive results.

Well, let me tell you of my own experience growing up in Brazil and attending public schools from 1st grade to university.

Back in 1976 I was in 5th grade and according to the Ministry of Education, that would be the year for me to start learning a foreign language. Unfortunately, there were few foreign language teachers, and my school didn’t have an English teacher that year. In 6th grade we finally got an English teacher – we would have classes twice a week (each lasting 45 minutes). The teacher very wisely chose not to use a textbook – everything was based on copying from the blackboard and/or dictation. I must say that it was my best contact with English for the next 3 years. In 1978 we moved house and school, in the 7th and 8th grades the new teacher (new to me) used the same basic textbook that her students in 5th grade were using. Needless to say, I had learned more without a textbook. My wife, at roughly the same time – also studying at a state-run school, had her first contact with French (they had no English teachers available, either) but she says that much of the foundation of French grammar she learned in that first year. Both she and myself learned way more than the verb to be or “être”.

The goal and the expectations back then were different from today. Now the emphasis is on oral communication. Back then, we had to learn the grammar and to be able read and write for academic purposes.

But the key factor was that we were lucky to have as our very first foreign language models, teachers who cared, who were motivated and who had a teaching method imperfect as it might have been.

Could I speak English when I started high school? With the exception of isolated words, no, I couldn’t. But I was able to read and interpret basic texts which qualified me to proceed with my studies at university.

Can one learn a Foreign Language at a regular school?

Yes, if both teacher and students reach a consensus on their goals and motivation. And if the Ministry of Education reestablishes the teaching of foreign languages as a relevant discipline and not just one more public policy that looks good on paper but is void of any relevance in real life.

Cheers,

Mo

Study English Abroad. A must?

This morning I received an email from an acquaintance that put my thinking cap to work – here’s a rough translation of what he wrote me:

Dear Moacir,
We met there in the (Sabbath School) class, It's been a long time 
since I last showed up in class because I moved  to a new neighborhood.
Please, do you remember once u mentioned that you had a friend 
who had an English school in New York?
Could you please pass me his contact?
Thanks in advance.

Mario

 My reply was the following:

Where should you go to study English?
Where should you go to study English?
“Hello Mario, where have you been?
Listen… it must really be a long time it happened because I cannot even remember I had a friend who owned a school in New York. I’m familiar with Literacy Volunteers of America in Danbury, CT – about an 1 hour by train from Manhattan. I was a teacher and program director there for a year.
Now, are you looking for an English language school for you? Or for your daughter? I wouldn’t recommend New York to someone interested in studying English.  There are too many foreigners there and the cost of living is pretty high. Actually, I’d tell you to look for a more “hidden state” such as Wisconsin, Idaho, Oregon, etc, where you would be more likely to be in touch with Americans who speak some sort of English. Danbury could be a choice but there’s a swarm of Brazilians around and you might learn Portuguese with a different accent faster than learn much English (I’m not exaggerating that much).
The best choice would be to take up a cooking class or photography course, for example, in English. From my experience and what I have observed, to study only English in the US (or any other country for that matter) will offer you the same textbooks and material you could access in Brazil and honestly, with many better qualified and certified teachers. And to add insult to injury you would be paying in dollars while your savings are in Brazilian Reais.
An ideal condition would be to take an either professional or just a hobby course in English. I wouldn’t advise people at beginner or intermediate level to go abroad in order to study.
First consolidate your language in your home country and once you’ve reached an Upper-Intermediate /Advanced Level then you’ll be ready to jump into deeper waters. And believe me, you’ll realize how much more you still need to learn (don’t tell anyone, but you can spend the rest of your life studying a language and still have room to grow). It might be tough initially but you would reap better rewards at the end.
Any further information, just let me know.
Have a blessed day,
Cheers,
Mo