The importance of bilingualism in education and its myths

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a summer conference on bilingual education in São Paulo under the theme: “Education is our passport to the future”. One of the guest speakers, Vinicius Nobre, Academic Manager at Associação Cultura Inglesa, presented a great talk  on the matter of the Future of Language and Bilingual education.img_9338

Nobre initially highlighted some of the myths in learning a second language (English, in his more specific case):

  • you can learn English in 3 months
  • you work for a month at Disney World and you’ll return fluent
  • Only native speakers can properly teach the language
  • You can learn that language only if you travel abroad
  • Living in a monolingual country makes it impossible / or too hard to learn a second language

The list could go on indefinitely but the point about Brazil being a monolingual country and that being a myth – just blew my mind. There are around 210 langimg_9317uages spoken in Brazil  – including  indigenous languages and around 30 languages through immigration from Europe and Asia (not counting those from Africa and Latin America). Studies show that only 5% of Brazilians consider themselves proficient in English. You can see that as an opportunity or a tragedy.

By dispelling those myths, Nobre went on to his next question:

“For decades millions have been invested in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language in Brazil. So why is it so low?”

And I repeat: Why is the foreign language proficiency level in Brazil still so low? Considering that the teaching of English as a Foreign Language has been mandatory in Brazil for all public and private schools since the mid-1970), we could add that this problem happens in many other countries around the world where the teaching of a foreign language is treated as just another school subject).

Instead of being a means to an end, the teaching of a foreign language is seen as an end unto itself. Also, the informality of the profession doesn’t help it at all. Bilingual schools can call themselves so without any regulation from education authorities. They can offer English classes one hour a day or teach many different subjects in English and Portuguese and fall under the same category of “bilingual education”. Teachers can be hired literally off the street or even worse, schoools can hire those who have a teaching degree and are absolutely underqualified.

So, what can be done?

  1. Teachers must learn to take more advantage of our business and make it more relevant;

      2. The teaching of English is a kaleidoscope of subjects – and the study of language    teaching is relatively speaking a very recent discipline;

      3. To learn another language – interaction and the ability to listen to others is essential:  you must learn to listen actively;

      4. The language is not the end but a means of communication;

The language classroom is an environment of high creativity – challenged to be more innovative and more critical.

A good language class will be a means of communication – “I’m not studying English I’m learning to communicate”

Is it possible to change this paradigm?

We are now experiencing an anti-globalization mood – with mediocrity as king – but even in such times as these, or maybe more so, to be able to speak another language will be even more valuable.

Until the first half of the 20th century, language had been pegged to  national identity – it was deeply political. – in some instances to speak another language was considered a betrayal of your country  – this happened in Brazil during World War II when any speakers of German, Italian or Japanese were seen with suspicion and regarded as likely traitors or informers.

Add to that the false belief that all the stress of learning another language could  harm you  and be bad to your mind.
See all those language teachers? They’re a little “weird” wouldn’t you say? They’ve got a screw loose.”

  • Fortunately there is hope. Teachers must become more aware of their role and importance in society:
  •  Socially you are ahead if you speak another language;
  • A teacher won’t have great salaries but he won’t be unemployed;
  • The career of a teacher – is a threatened species – threatened by government policies and dwindling investments in teacher education and infrastructure. Sooner or later they’ll wake up to the reality that teachers are important;
  • And based on so many studies just to know the fact that learning another language wards off mental diseases… in case of doubt you have at least learned a language.

    img_9323
    On the theme of being bilingual or multilingual: “All of us are multi-local, multi-layered. To begin our conversations with an acknowledgment of this complexity brings us closer together. Not further apart.” Taiye Aseli

And NO! I won’t apologize for having taken the time and effort to learn another language.

Speak away,

Cheers,

Mo

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Do you speak Teacherese?

Who is the language teacher who’s never heard their students say:

“I don’t know why, but I can understand everything my teacher says but when somebody else speaks I can’t understand a word.”

The reason is that teachers develop their own “Teaching English” language – let us call it Teacherese – we simplify our explanation, translate, mime, draw, look up a better explanation/ word definition in a learners’ dictionary – so that students will be able to grasp whatever we’re trying to teach. We tend to speak way more slowly with a clear intonation while also projecting our voice. No wonder students can understand “everything” we say.

The Bible in the Book of James chapter 3 verse 10 implies that our tongue has the power to bless and also the power to curse”. Could it be that in our desire to help our students we end up hampering their language learning skills?

Yes and no. We do help them better understand the language and help students to get a positive and clear example on pronunciation. Teachers could avoid too much of a grammar load – we love saying “that’s an adverbial clause”  and expect students to know what we’re talking about, on the other hand so grammatical terms distinguishing an adverb from an adjective will be quite useful when students need to produce language.

Considering the importance of the teacher, it would be advisable he introduced a segment in his class for “mumble time” when he would speak at a more natural way Or introduce to students other English speakers ( if not in person, at least via audio) where they’d be able to identify and assimilate different sounds and accents. img_7726

So fellow teacher warriors, use your skills to bless and not curse your students.

Shine on.

cheers

Mo

 

Why pay a language teacher if I can learn for free?

With the ubiquitous presence of the internet there are tons of resources online for people willing to learn a foreign language to study for free. So why would anyone be willing to pay a teacher for lessons?

There are some people who can really learn on their own – I am one of them.  Regarding how I learned English, I never paid a private teacher or language school. A big factor was money and lack thereof – there simply wasn’t any funding to hire a teacher no matter how low his or her fee.  I compensated that with lots of passion for the language being daily in contact with it by listening to the radio and reading books and magazines. Moreover, some people find it easier to learn a language than others.

But as I developed my career as a teacher I had to attend teaching training courses and programs where I could identify and fix many of my faults and lack of knowledge which had been preventing  my full development.

Here are some reasons why professional help can make the difference in your learning:

  1. A teacher will help you identify your language level and develop strategies to make progress to the next level;
  2. A good teacher (emphasis on good) will equip you with relevant up-to-date material appropriate to your level. A teacher will provide you with quality material and practice. Many online videos and materials are outdated and with a very low quality;
  3. A teacher will highlight some important points you must correct and avoid some mistakes. The teacher will provide a reference for the student on his language intelligibly, pronunciation, vocabulary collocation, etc;
  4. You will be able to find answers to your questions;
  5. Even if you’re dating or married to a native speaker of the language you’re learning quite often they will not be very patient with your learning process. They won’t know how to correct you and even worse they may end up mocking you and dismissing you as a “silly Brazilian“. (Of course, it’s a whole new story if you’re dating your English teacher 😜)

To sum it all up, to have a private instructor will be an invaluable tool, but it will not discard your active role in the learning process.img_7652

Happy learning!

Cheers,

Mo

Reflections on Language Learning – 3 steps to break the language barrier

Every new year many people make a resolution to learn a foreign language moved by guilt for not succeeding at that in the previous year or just in search for the cure of their hangover (or other more respectable reasons). You, dear reader, may fill in the blanks.

Many go to the language-learning sections at their local bookstore (yes, there are still some of those left around)  in search for the book with a mixture of miraculous and magical strategies to enable them to speak English, French, Spanish or Mandarin overnight.

By the following week many will realize that no matter how many books and language courses they buy on CD, DVD or online they will sit around gathering dust in a darker corner of their homes and offices before the end of the month.

Those failed attempts can be fixed or prevented, though.

How?  Speaking and listening is the keyimg_7544

Surround yourself with LIVING language material:  Listening resources play a major part of learning – be they videos, or radio, or podcasts.

Even without understanding – it’s passive learning – it will help you identify the “music” of your target language. But it will take time.

Let me tell you the example of my “niece-in-law”, Ingrid. As many Brazilians she basically knows the verb to be (present tense) in English. However, after her first child was born 2 months ago she decided that she would help her boy learn English and she would do whatever necessary in the process. I’d advised her to play children’s stories in English for the baby to get familiar with the sounds of the English language and she started listening to them as well. I believe that exclusive audio sources would be better than the TV with so many visual distractions. Conclusion: 2 months later she’s speaking some English with great fluency and her ears have become better trained to identify the sounds and reproduce them. And her 2-month-old baby, João Paulo, is already crying in English – no more “buááá” but “waaaahhhhh” – Just kidding, sort of).

Another strong point is that Ingrid is not afraid of trying to speak and now she is moving towards a pre-intermediate level, without having opened a “language course book”.

So to get your feet wet in your target language remembers:

1. When listening – echo practice – repeat phrases and words you hear, mimic them / parrot them. Be a “fool” on purpose.

2. Establish a regular time to practice – Saturday morning when making coffee and preparing your breakfast, laundry, or whatever. If you have to go shopping make your shopping list in English / play with language / mess around in a creative way. Explore the language. Try to listen to authentic material at least 5 times a week.

Different folks different strokes

3. How would you answer to the questions / interact / comment to what you’re listening whether a podcast, or radio, or YouTube?  Talk to yourself in your target language – create an inner monologue

Other people learn best when they’re reading, but that’s a theme for another blog post. 

Special thanks to Luke’s English Podcast – episode 407 – Reflections on Language Learning http://teacherluke.co.uk/2016/12/07/407-reflections-on-language-learning-working-as-a-translator-interview-with-kristina-from-russia-winner-of-the-lep-anecdote-competition-2016/

Happy New Year and Happy Language Learning in 2017

Cheers,

Mo

Could you say that again, please? 15 Podcasts for every learner of English (Updated)

An updated list of ESL podcasts for English learners

The Americanoid Blog

Dear students,

A year ago I listed some of the podcasts I think students should be using to practice their English and language skills. With the ebb and flow of technology  and projects new podcasts have come up with new ideas and new presenters, so here’s an updated list of the podcasts and tested and seen commitment by their producers.

Please, remember:

  1. Download the podcasts you enjoy
  2. LISTEN TO THEM. Dammit!

1.  6 Minute English podcast – produced by the BBC with 2 hosts always asking some challenging questions found in the news. It always presents some new vocabulary and context for its use.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/general/sixminute/

2. All Ears English podcast – 2 chicks always teaching some cultural and language point in the English spoken in the US. Beware: one of them slurs and speakstoofastasifshecouldntbotherwhethershesunderstoodornot.
http://allearsenglish.com/

3. Aprende Inglés con la Mansión del Inglés – 2 dudes (one from Belfast and…

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