Learning a language on your own

This week I received the following question from one of our Sabbath School podcast listeners:
“I’d like to know if reading  books in English (reading a lot) will enable me to learn the language?”
“I can’t afford a language school/course. My English level is very good. I can understand about 80% of what I read. But I find it hard to speak and write. Would it be possible for me to reach a higher level by reading and listening only? Your Sabbath School podcast (Believes Unasp Sabbath School Podcast  – https://player.fm/series/2424793) has been a great gateway for me. I’m loving the audio practice! It’s been helping me a lot.” Jefferson F.
Image result for learn a language reading
Hello Jefferson, your question is pretty fair – can anyone learn English (or any other language) just from reading? My first answer: That depends
Of course, there are many people who have learned the classical languages – Greek and Latin or Hebrew and Arabic from just reading texts.
Image result for classical languages
Can you learn a language by yourself? Yes, depending on your will, time and natural skills.
But the learning process can be more comprehensive (and more fun) if you incorporate all four skills:
Reading and Listening are receptive skills while Writing and Speaking are predominantly productive skills. Of course, if your goal is to understand or translate sacred texts, for instance, that’s where your efforts and focus should be. But…
You can and should (as much as possible) develop your “proactive skills”: speaking and writing.
Most definitely today there are millions of opportunities to practice your listening in your target language (literally). You can listen to many podcasts and documentaries, interviews, etc. Reading opportunities are basically infinite online… or at least they would last you all your mortal life and then some.
Now, in ‘modern languages’ one important challenge is to be able to communicate – either through speaking or writing – and you can practice that by finding people who are also learning or are native speakers of your target language. Email them. WhatsApp them, Facebook them.
Let’s say in the worst case scenario you have no one to practice with – start reading aloud and training your speech, pronunciation, listening to your own voice how you can improve your intonation, linking words, etc. Record yourself (even if you hate the sound of your voice – tough it up!).
Regarding the fact you can’t afford a language course, there are many courses offered in Brazil by public universities (state and federal institutions) which offer some language courses for Specific Purposes at zero or low cost. Google them up. And make YouTube one of your teachers.
Image result for ingles instrumental usRelated image

 

So… Finally, I’m answering your question with a resounding YES! Yes, You can learn English (or any other language all by yourself).
Now if you would like to have a language expert, enabler, facilitator, provider of positive feedback… feel free to contact me. Your investment will be worth your while.
Cheers,
Mo

The Seven Deadly Sins of Language Learning

Image result for seven  good habits  clipartMany people around the world are interested in learning a second or foreign language, be it English, Spanish, French or any of the 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. It would do good to any of us to try to avoid these 7 Bad Language Learning Habits That Turn People Off.Image result for seven deadly sins of language learning

Speaker and author Julian Treasure gave a popular TED Talk in 2014 that explained how anyone can speak effectively, whether in a conversation or in front of a crowd.

Here are the bad habits you need to avoid if you want to learn another language, loosely adapted from Treasure’s “seven deadly sins of speaking”:

 1. Worrying about what others will think and say

If you worry that other speakers will be judging you and that they always speak better than you and more fluently and effortlessly,  that will only hold you back.

2. Setting unrealistic goals

“In 3 months I’ll be speaking the Queen’s English” – Well… that will depend on what queen you’re talking about.

3. Being negative

“I’ve been learning ___________ (fill in the blank with any language) for X years and I can’t get above a pre-intermediate level conversation. My listening sucks. I’ll never speak like my friend/ enemy/ boss, spouse, etc.”

4. Complaining

Complaining easily becomes a habit, and before you know it, you’ll be known as the person who complains about the weather, the news, work, and about the language you’re learning. It’s what Treasure calls “viral misery.

Guess what happens if you keep saying: “This exercise is boring… it’s too difficult … it’s too easy, why do I have to learn this grammar point? … “

Some people have a “blame-thrower,” Treasure says, putting the blame on anybody and anything except themselves. “I don’t have anyone to practice my language with”. “I don’t have time; I have 2 wives and 1 child to provide for”; etc

6. Not using the language you’re learning

It’s a waste of time and energy to only spend 45 minutes a week in touch with the language you’re learning. You have to find ways to listen, read, write, speak (even if only to yourself) in your target language outside the classroom environment, be it physical or virtual.

7. Being lazy or a slothImage result for seven deadly sins clipart

see item 6  – you see? – you not even want to refer back to the previous topic (yes, I told you you won’t learn if you don’t invest time and effort).

 

 

 


Image result for tree of learningSo what can you do to enjoy you’re learning journey? 

  1. Start using the little of the language you already know, not worrying what other people will say.
  2. Set realistic goals. Be aware that the you’ll be learning the language for years to come.
  3. Be positive. I’ve been studying this language for X amount of time and I already can … “Today in class I learned x, y, z.” I was watching a movie in my target language and could understand some words here and there”.
  4. Suggest alternate exercises, topics or activities that might be more appealing to you.
  5. Own up to your duties in the language learning process.
  6. Use the language you’re learning as often as possible. If not daily, at least every other day.
  7. Don’t surrender to the sin of laziness. Just do it.

Happy learning,

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

 

Song about Domestic Violence – Lesson Plan

Level: intermediate and higher

Duration: 60 minutes

Teacher’s Preparation Time: just a few minutes

It all started when I was thinking of a song to use with my students today – students love songs, but our music taste can be quite different. But since I am the one planning the lesson and having ALL the work I’ll use a song I like. If they don’t like it… tough! I remembered this great song from the 80s and 90s – “Luka” by Suzanne Vega – I’ve always enjoyed its melody and the serious subject it represents through those strong words and a solid story.

You can introduce the theme:

Write the word “domestic” on the board and hold up the picture of the house. Ask Ss what they think domestic means. Write any appropriate answers on the board.

Then write the word “violence” on the board and hold up the “anti-violence” picture. Ask Ss what they think violence means. Write any appropriate answers on the board. Finally, ask Ss what they think “domestic violence” means. Discuss.

1. What is domestic violence?

2. How is domestic violence revealed? Physically? Psychologically?

My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
I think it’s because I’m clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it’s because I’m crazy
I try not to act too proud
They only hit until you cry
After that you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
Yes, I think I’m okay
I walked into the door again
If you ask that’s what I’ll say
And it’s not your business anyway
I guess I’d like to be alone
With nothing broken, nothing thrown
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am
My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
And they only hit until you cry
After that, you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Suzanne Vega
Luka lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc
The song is available on YouTube here’s one link: http://tiny.cc/fanwfz
Students listen to the song and try to get its gist – with lyrics in hand.
1. What is the song about?
(one of my students asked – “does she live in a dangerous neighborhood?” – as if domestic violence only happened among the poor)
How naive or blind can one be?
2. Who is Luka talking to?
3. What is she trying to explain?
As a teacher you prepare a cloze exercise – to fill the gaps with information, or verbs, or nouns or prepositions.
Example: Students listen and fill in the gaps
My name is Luka,
I live on ______________________
I live _____________ from you
Yes I think you’ve ________________ before
Or Students read, fill in the gaps with the right preposition and then listen to check:
My name is Luka,
I live _________ the second floor
I live upstairs ___________you
Yes I think you’ve seen me _______
For lower levels, students can write their own versions with actual or imagined facts
My name is  Halala
I live in a house 
I live next door
Guess you’ve never seen me before

The song can be followed by a discussion on domestic violence and what we can as individuals and as a society do to put an end to this “silence”

The Minnesota Literacy Council has prepared a whole lesson plan on Domestic violence and it’s free (https://mnliteracy.org/sites/default/files/int_-mlc-_echo_-_domestice_violence_unit.pdf)

  1. Some key vocabulary on this subject:

1. Abuse –
Hitting someone or saying bad things to them is a type of abuse.
2. Abuser –
Suzanna’s dad hurts her. He is the abuser. He makes Suzanna feel pain.
3. Victim –
Suzanna’s dad hurts her. She is the victim. She feels pain because of her dad’s actions.
4. Physical abuse –
Suzanna’s dad hits her. He sometimes chokes her—he puts his hands around her throat
so she can’t breathe. This is called physical abuse.
5. Emotional abuse –
Suzanna’s dad hits her but he also says hurtful things to her. He calls her stupid. This is
name calling. He also says no one will ever love her. This is called emotional abuse.
6. Power and control –
Suzanna’s dad is bigger than she is. He uses his strength and hurtful words to have
power and control over her.

Improving your Business English

How many times have you felt that your language learning has stagnated or you’re not finding time or ways to stop from sliding back? Yes, language learning is not a precise science and if you love Math or Physics chances are you would hate learning something abstract with tonnes of rules and even more exceptions. But don’t lose heart. There is still hope. First stop considering language learning as one more academic subject. It’s a communication tool. Plain and simple. Here are seven steps to help you move forward in your language learning adventure. It’s no rocket science but it works. Try it.

1. Set specific goals – they can be as simple as learning how to use sentences in the past tense, or using the verb to be in the present (stop saying “you is“) to improving your pronunciation. But small goalposts will help you move ahead.

2. Create linguistic habits – my best time to be learning something is the morning, but you can choose any time you feel more comfortable with reading, listening, writing in your target language. You would like me to say that 15 mins would be enough but actually, until you settle down 5 to 10 minutes will have already passed… so set daily blocks of at least 30 minutes. The longer you practice the faster your progress will be.

3. Believe in yourself – yes, yes, it sounds like an old cliche but it’s true – if you try to learn something already thinking you can’t do it… what will your chances of success actually be?

4. Enjoy the learning experience – choose things you like to focus on… what’s the point in reading an article about something you hate or know nothing about? Do you like songs, for example? Focus on a song you like, try to get the meaning, the key words, pronunciation… of course, there are songs AND SONGS, if you get my gist, some songs are not suitable for language learning… that’ll depend on your common sense. Like movies? Ok, focus on a section to learn the vocabulary, pronunciation, practice telling the story (plot), rehash the dialog, even.

5. Use authentic material – read a book in the original language. Depending on your level you can buy bilingual books (those books with the text in English paralleled by a translation). In Brazil, the Folha publisher launched a whole series of literature classics in a bilingual format.

6. Join a positive learning community – one of the problems we have when learning a foreign language is finding opportunities to practice it. Today with the internet you can find virtual friends literally anywhere in the world – even language partners. Also every large city will have some places where you can practice your target language. For example, in São Paulo there is a weekly bible study class in English open to anyone interested in practicing the English language for one hour and a half and free (Unasp SP at 10:30 am – every Saturday)

7. Ask for feedback – we are always our worst critics – so it’s important to have someone who’ll provide some tips and even raise our awareness regarding some problem areas. I remember back in the 90’s I partnered up with a Canadian friend and asked him to correct me when he felt it was necessary. Most of the time he didn’t have to correct me, just the fact he hadn’t understood what I was saying would alert me to some mispronunciation or wrong vocabulary use.

Happy growth,

Cheers,

Mo

Error Correction & Feedback in Writing

This week one of my students was quite inspired – something one rarely comes across these days-  that I felt inclined to ask him to write a 300-word essay about a weekend trip. He said he would. And he did. I’m quite used to students who would rather have their fingernails pulled than write a short paragraph, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Once he handed in the text I had to consider how to give him constructive feedback and the amount of correction to provide.

When checking ideas on how to correct his essay I came across the following:

“In academic writing, the end product is expected to have:

  • A wide range of vocabulary
  • Correct grammar
  • Meaningful punctuation
  • Accurate spelling
  • Varied sentence structures
  • Unity and coherence in ideas
  • Well-supported and explained major points.”
  • Source: CORRECTING AND GIVING FEEDBACK TO WRITING (bit.ly/31XLsWy)

We all have written papers for some courses to be checked and graded by
our instructors. We know very well that a paper that is returned with red
markings and notes all over is quite discouraging for the writer. Knowing
this, while giving feedback we may, of course, use green pens and put
smiling faces here and there on the paper but still we see the light in the
students’ eye fading.Image result for esl corrected essay

Image result for In academic writing, the end product is expected to have:  A wide range of vocabulary Correct grammar

If our aim is to win the student over instead of discouraging him, we should be looking for ways of giving feedback without losing the student. Otherwise they might think our “pen is pooping blood”.
The most important aspect while giving feedback is adopting a positive
attitude to student writing. While marking mechanically we may not
realize that we are showing the student only their mistakes and negative
points. If the student receives only negative feedback, they may easily be
discouraged from trying to form complex structures and using new
vocabulary.

These are a few  examples of error codes from the more “sophisticated” writing rules to basic Tense, Spelling and Word Order. Image result for writing correction codes eslImage result for writing correction codes eslImage result for writing correction codes esl

The trick is to find a balance between correcting “every single mistake” and “keeping the thought flow and meaning”, without discouraging the student.

A starting point is emphasizing the importance of spacing of lines, choice of font (if typing). If you feel that red ink is too shocking choose a softer color such as green or blue. Write the code next to the error but make sure the student has the code keys – any comments the teacher writes should be brief and clear aiming to provide positive feedback.

Not all students will write for a living or even for work. Many will use an instant messaging system such as WhatsApp or the odd email.  However, feedback sessions can be a beneficial experience for the student IF the teacher shows the learner’s strong points as well as the importance of clarity and accuracy.

Happy writing,

Cheers,

Mo

Five Components for the Development of Digital Skills

Image result for digital ambition

This morning I was leafing through the Brazilian entrepreneurship magazine Você S/A  ( and mind you, it was the paper edition of September 2019) and came across a list of five components for the digital survival of professionals in any industry. They will, most certainly, also apply to language teachers either employed at a school or university or self-employed just like little me.Image result for voce sa setembro 2019 talento digital

The five components for the development of digital skills for now and the future as a self-employed professional are as follows (loosely adapted from the infographic in the magazine):

1. Business Vision – understand what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and most importantly, WHY you’re doing it (stress on the WHY as emphasized by my HR expert student Livia S. Sant’ana)

 

2. Adaptability  – Be flexible and curious – always be open to new methods and approaches – use face-to-face classes and online classes. Explore pre-recorded and live sessions, for example.

3. Cultural & Social Understanding – Empathy for what do your clients think they need, learn to listen to them and build bridges. Don’t see others as mere competitors or potential clients – view others as human beings with their own needs and goals. 

4. Cooperation  – Create a network of colleagues  – there will always be those who you Image result for digital cooperationcan help and also grow with. And let us not deceive ourselves. Colleagues can help you expand your circle of influence.

5. Systemic Thinking – aka in non-Academic circles as Pattern Thinking – it is a simple technique for making sense of challenging situations and developing simple interventions for transforming them.

Like it or not, the more you take charge of your future the better prepared you will be to face it.

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Cheers,

Mo

Is Homework Obsolete?

Very little is talked about  nowadays concerning homework in the Language Teaching environment. Some may say it is something of the past – perhaps gone the way of the Dodo or the dinosaurs? 8506595

Some might argue that homework was just a way to threaten students with, in case they misbehaved – “give’em more homework”. Or maybe it was just a manner to keep them busy instead of idle – the “devil makes work for idle hands”. (Me and my Puritan upbringing).

But while watching a video presentation by Penny Ur (Cambridge University Press – “My top 30 Teaching Tips” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQvFGyD3b78) I was led to remember how important homework can be for the learner as a tool to review, practice and clarify points seen or to be seen during the lesson. Not to mention it is a great source of feedback to the teacher.Related image

Ms Ur presented some key steps when dealing with homework:

  1. Don’t leave homework assignment to the end of the lesson, as if it was an afterthought. Tell students in advance what they’ll have to be doing afterwards.
  2. Define homework by apportioned time rather than quantity. Tell them to see what they can do in 20-30 minutes for example.
  3. Find ways to check homework without wasting half the lesson – that’s a tricky one. Today I spent 30 minutes (out of a 60-minute class) correcting the homework. Instead have students self-check; dictate the answers; check for problematic points; have pair correction; etc.

One key factor that we as teachers and students must always bear in mind is that Homework allows exposure to the language and consequently, it leads to practice and consolidation.

I remember the time I was learning how to play the piano and my teacher would assign me 4 or 5 easy songs to practice for the next lesson. The objective was to get me to practice daily and familiarize myself with the notes, the piano, the tempo, etc.

Yes, I know that some students will never do their homework, others will do it 30 minutes before class (and I’m talking about grownups), but as a teacher I know the value of a well-thought homework assignment and the benefits that it brings.

Cheers,

Mo