A DIFFERENT YEAR IN ELT

AND IN EVERYTHING ELSE... .

Yes, the comic strip in my desk calendar was quite right – considering it was originally created in 2019, that the new year (2020) would be a LOT different from last year.

“Things will be a LOT different from last year” insightful Non Sequitur words

Exactly one year ago we prayed and gave thanks for coming to the end of a year, which hadn’t been easy financially and welcomed the New Year: 2020.
What did I expect? A good year – an even number – representing balance and prosperity (at least in my thoughts and wishes, mind you). But then… Covid-19 happened. The year 2020 became an odd year.

Spending New Year’s Eve at the Arab Christian Fellowship in São Paulo in 2019

In fast succession cities, states, and countries started shutting down – in Brazil (as everything else) we awoke after Carnival in March to the sad news that tropical and happy Brazil hadn’t been spared from the virus, contrary to what our clownish president J. Bolsonaro (a.k.a. Bozo) mockingly had promised would happen.

Companies, retailers, schools of all sorts were told to shut down and self-isolate. Initially social distancing was successful in some parts of Brazil – in March or April – when social distancing or stay at home campaigns reached the adherence of roughly 60% of the population. But as the days went by, and the virus didn’t seem to be THAT lethal, more and more people started wearing their masks under their chin instead of mouth and nose and getting more relaxed about large gatherings and crowds with people staying at home hovering at around 30%..

Back in January I had gloated that wife and I would never spend a Sabbath without going to church and just the thought sickened me to my stomach. Suddenly, in March churches were closed and now nine months later I feel like questioning myself -“why did I really make a point of going to church?”

Our English Sabbath School class went online and there it has been a source of fellowship and joy in the midst of all the bad news taking place.

“This is my Bible” @ English Sabbath School – Believes Unasp

All companies where I used to teach at shut their doors – if not to all employees – most certainly to all “nonessential” service providers – such as language teachers. Another hurtful 2020 keyword: “nonessential”. Are the Arts, Music, Education, physical contact not really essential?

My migration to Zoom was rather smooth – only one “Zoom bomb” incident – by the way, whose fault was it when the moronic teacher posted the meeting’s Zoom ID on Twitter – what was I thinking? (or not thinking? LOL) – I hadn’t used it before, but had already taught using FaceTime and Skype; had to learn some of the resources but at the same time I was reminded that “face time” is more important than all the gimmicks and tricks with PowerPoint or any other gaming gadget. Students need to see the teacher’s face more than a slide or special effects. The teacher must be focused on listening instead of looking at the next button to press or feeling turned on by their own image on the screen (chuckles).

Yes, a couple of students dropped out of classes because they didn’t “enjoy” online classes – (mind you, they not even bothered to try) but some new students joined the roster of my excellent learners and I was able to filter out those who need to find themselves before finding a teacher/tutor.

Hopefully I’ll be able to better use digital coursebooks in the coming year, honestly I didn’t come across any that grabbed my attention – I resigned myself to using PDF files of books I already knew. By the way, publishers will hopefully awake to the fact that learners need more than flashy photos with bells and whistles. Interactivity with the coursebook must involve vocabulary, pronunciation, listening, writing with resources to self record and verify accent and pronunciation; correct and explain grammar errors, etc.

Well, … it’s December 31 and what does the future hold? On a personal note, wife, and I and Luther will be moving to a new home in the countryside sometime in the first half of 2021. New place, new house, new people, new things to discover. I think that’s what the new year should invite us to do: Start 2021 with a purpose – to be different (and better) from who you were in 2020. If I can fulfill this resolution the dividends will be immeasurable.

Happy New Year

Cheers,

Mo

In-Company Teaching in the Age of Covid-19

First I would like to define in-company teaching: teaching of a specific course or program inside a company. It can be fully paid for and sponsored by the company itself. In my case, usually one VP or senior director would get in touch with HR and request English languages courses for himself or someone in their team. Then other VPs or directors would start requesting the same benefit and it would become part of a company’s benefit policies.

English In Company | Canadian Language Institute
Companies need people who can speak English

Other times, the company would allow teaching within its premises but the costs would be paid partly or in full by the students themselves.

Ideally a company would hire a language consultant/language school to assess the language level of the students and set up a language program with frequent evaluations in order to gauge the progress and the return on the investment.

In practical terms, many companies, for different reasons, would start the language teaching program in a more serious way, but gradually they would flex up their controls, and language classes would be considered one more benefit like lunch vouchers, for instance – the company does not want to know how or what the employees use their vouchers for. Are they eating healthily or only eating junk food? Are they selling their vouchers out for cash at a discounted price or passing them on to someone they know?

In order to give students a sense of control, companies would set a time limit. For example, those selected to attend English classes will have, let us say, a 2 year limit for English lessons. After that they would automatically lose their benefit so that another team member could start with classes.

Of course, there have been students who applied themselves and would make progress in their language learning process, I had students who started at intermediate level (B1) and ended up at C1/C2 levels.

But quite often there would be those students who would not take their learning seriously. They wanted the “benefit” but wouldn’t benefit from it. Lots of class cancellations (work-related or not); no commitment to studying outside the classroom; no motivation to have a class but rather a moment to chit chat and shoot the breeze in the midst of their busy schedule.

In-Company Language Classes - Expath
Face to face training inside a company has all but vanished.

The material mostly included a business English course book. I personally liked Business Class and Market Leader especially Upper-Intermediate and Advanced programs. Intelligent Business is pathetic with typos in almost every unit. Shoddy quality. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I enjoyed using We Mean Business.

We Mean Business: Students' bk.: Elementary Course in Business English |  Amazon.com.br
We Mean Business was my first teaching textbook in Business English – it had short dialogues with photographs of real office scenes where the characters spoke through speech balloons and key vocabulary -I love the cover’s dated Artwork.

Of course, if the teacher had some business experience – he had lived across an office building, for example (just kidding – sort of) he or she would be a plus in the school’s in-company teaching program.

Now with Covid-19 and the Pandemic, in-company teaching has all, but disappeared, at least physically. None of my corporate clients in IT, Manufacturing, Banking or Law Firms are open to service providers. The requirements and expenses of frequently testing their staff wouldn’t warrant additional costs testing teachers as well. I half-heartedly joke with my now online students that “pigs will be flying wearing masks” before I get access to their companies’ facilities. So, online we stay.

Will it prosper online? Will companies prefer local language schools or schools located anywhere cheaper? Will language progress be effectively assessed? Will employees be allowed to have their lessons during their working hours? Will they be held accountable for their learning and the investment the company has placed on them?

Let us wait for the new developments in 2021.

Cheers,

Mo

Using video in the Foreign Language Class

Videos in class are great, right? I mean – if you didn’t plan anything for class – just tell students they’re going to watch a tv series or film and there you go. Ready for your next class. I’m not gonna lie that I’ve seen teachers (including myself) who used a video presentation to breaking up the monotony or the lack of interest the students had, or just to get a respite from having to be the “center” of attention.

Video use in the classroom is a natural technological extension of the blackboard

You may ask me: center of attention? Teachers aren’t supposed to be that. Agreed. But at the end of the day, your presence there draws attention to yourself.

But, no, Virginia – that might even be a side effect but just killing time should not be the main reason for using videos in class.

Videos are a great way for your students to practice their language skills. Having said that a 3 to 5 minute video will have plenty of material for one or even more classes. So scratch that idea of having your students watch a serialized Dr Zhivago for a few weeks.

The trick (you can use these steps with any short film, commercial, interview or Ted Talk)

English Video Lessons: Winning Strategies for the ESL Class
Video is a great tool for learners to develop their four skills.

First, listen to the story – check their comprehension. Ask them to describe what they see: Who is doing what? What do they look like? What objects do you see in the video? Summarize what they are saying.
What is the problem/challenge/idea presented in the video?
Ask your students: “Have you, your family, or friends ever experienced the problem? Describe what happened.
What do you think might be the causes of the problem?
What solutions could a person get on their own? What solutions could people get working together? Would one be better than the other? Why or why not? What was the message?”

There are tons of ways and materials online with full lesson plans and other suggestions, but I hope these pointers will get you started using videos with your learners. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment, so the videos should be at least minimally interesting to your target audience.

Happy watching.

Cheers,

Mo

Racism in my ELT Experience

Racism in Brazil shows its ugly face in some subtle ways – white people like me many times don’t even realize it. I grew up in a white family but at least one of my grandmothers was brown skinned (fruit of white and indigenous relations, I’m told) but she passed when I was seven and I don’t remember her very much. A cousin of mine married a black man back in the 60s and the family despite the initial shock welcomed them (to the best of my knowledge) and they had 3 children – with their own families today. My older brother sometimes would say that black people were lazy or something to that effect, but even he had a very close black friend (who also criticized black people – but that’s another whole story). My wife is light skinned but her father was black and her mother Italian – her siblings are darker than she is – so where does one’s race begin and another’s start? What color is one’s soul?

But talking to one of my students this morning I was made to think about my own experiences as a teacher regarding racism.

My niche market has been for the past 30 years in the business and corporate world, coaching and teaching executives and helping them to brush up their language skills and presentation skills, for example.

In all these years I can’t recall a time I taught a black person, not because of their color, but because of their absence in the corporate world I circulated in. I never had a chance to teach them.

When I had a language consultancy office back in the 90s we hired teachers and translators and 90% of them were white – it’s true but we did have an English black teacher (born in London to Brazilian parents). We also hired two Nigerian teachers and I can’t recall having problems with them due to racism from clients. Sometimes there would be academic or punctuality problems but nothing related to their race, methinks. (Or was the clients’ racism disguised in comments like ” they don’t have a clear accent”, “they’re usually late”, etc).

Now, black or white is a just a matter of skin pigmentation, but the fact that they are not selected to higher positions besides cleaning offices and being the kitchen help is quite disturbing. … Coming to think of it, even the waiters and waitresses working for the boards of directors at different companies and banks tended to be light skinned.

I’m told that in some countries just the fact that a person has one black ancestor (one drop of “black blood”) already makes them black, no matter their skin color. In Brazil that’s not so. Thanks to the miscegenation of races in our country you can find at least “50 shades” of blackness or “negritude”. One can be light-skinned with white facial features and straight hair and their sibling may be darker with curly hair and both although coming from the same social, economic, and educational background, may have had entirely different experiences with racism.

Zero Chillz on Twitter | Different shades of black, Black girl aesthetic,  Black is beautiful
Different shades of black

On a brighter note, people know that money is color blind and Brazilians have been discovering that dark-skinned fellow men and women can also spend money in services and goods.

But we still are far from Martin Luther King Jr’s dream when he declared: “let us judge one another on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin” .

Happy Teachings,

Cheers,

Mo