How’s English teaching changed over the last 30 years?

Wow. A landmark. 30 years of Teaching English and Spanish as foreign languages. And counting. But honestly speaking, English has always taken the lion’s share of my teaching hours.

Out of those years, over 25 have been teaching one on one so I can say a thing or two about changes in language teaching in this segment.

1. Accessibility: when I started teaching cable tv was limited. Students could watch videos of movies in English but subtitled in Portuguese. No radio programs in English…lots of English songs but how could they understand what was being sung? Limited access to lyrics. Now they have all the English speaking world at the touch of a button on their cellphone.

2. Technology – when I started teaching I not even had a cassette player and the school followed their own coursebook without cassettes. If I wanted to play a song I had to take my portable turntable and vinyl record. From cassette – to CDs and we moved up from VHS – to DVD’s and now to streaming and millions of channels on YouTube. Not to mention the hundreds of language learning apps.

3. Pedagogy – teachers were the reference in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary. If the teacher didn’t know it how could a simple student know that word? From teacher-centered the language courses have moved on to a learner-centered approach (at least in speech). Learners can do way more than what their teachers might tell them to do (well, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it).

4. Resources – from coursebooks and the occasional imported magazine or newspaper now we all have Doctor Google. There are loads of apps for students to practice vocabulary, pronunciation, even using AI for actual conversation. They can record themselves and self evaluate their progress.

5. Creativity – that’s changed but still the same if you get my gist – I mean, we teachers have always had to resort to creativity from role playing to imaginary conversations to using tv commercials recorded on a VHS tape as part of our class material.

Despite all the improvements in pedagogy and technology some things still continue wearily unchanged.

Many students still think that a native teacher is better than a teacher who HAD to learn the language as they are doing now. After all, if the teacher says, “come, come, it’s not that difficult”, they can always argue, “not for you”. Still language schools give priority to a teaching candidate who’s spent 2 years washing dishes or cleaning houses abroad over a local language college graduate.

Many students also think grammar should be taught first even though they hate it… so it must be good like the bitter taste of medicine, right? Still controversies over teaching pronunciation and cultural values of the English speaking countries. Even those who defend the teaching of a global English accept the fact that some parameters must be defined, otherwise the English someone is learning in Indonesia might be incomprehensible to someone learning it in Ecuador.

The future will present even more changes, but some things I’m sure will remain the same: the importance of knowledgeable, committed and caring teachers working along students who have developed or discovered their own motivation.

Here’s to 30 more years of teaching!

Cheers,

Mo

REMOTE LEARNING – not for everyone

Remote Learning had been growing over the past 5 years or so in availability and stories abounded about its benefits, advantages and advances. Still, going online for regular school courses or university programs was seen with a dose skepticism and even frowned upon. The feeling was that remote learning was inferior to face to face interactions.

Then, coronavirus happened. The pandemic shut down schools, universities, colleges, churches, offices, shops, bars and restaurants. On a global scale. I had never thought something like that could happen. Other pandemics in the past – even more deadly and devastating – were more localized never shutting down an entire country – let alone dozens of countries simultaneously.

Overnight, remote learning became, not simply a more flexible and cheaper alternative, but the only alternative to millions of students from kindergarten to PhD courses.

Suddenly, teachers and students found themselves scrambling for computers, cameras, wifi connections, and all the fluctuation on signals, computer crashes, small cellphone screens, wifi signals getting unstable depending on the time of day due to congestion, etc.

I had already been teaching online for a few years, FaceTime was simple and reasonably stable – back in 2016 when we were living in Newmarket-on-Fegus in Ireland all my classes were via FaceTime – there were limited resources but the “novelty” also appealed to some students.

Some students manage to be late every single time

2020 is the Year of Zoom – or Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, Google Meet FaceTime or whatever video sharing video conferencing platform you or your company may choose.

Zoom's competitor, Google Meet will be available for free | LABS ...
All sorts of video communication services became part of our vocabulary

Classes work relatively well one on one – less so when you have larger groups (haven’t enjoyed breakout room experience) I prefer a webinar format when dealing with larger groups.

This week I enrolled in a 15-hour long journalistic podcasting course at a respected higher education institute here in São Paulo. The course had, as everything else, migrated from f2f classes to online classes and I thought it would be a nice experience. Please note the the registration fee and course price were not reduced.

Well … making a long story short, the 5-day sessions lasted only one day for me.

On the first day I was feeling a little awkward about videoconferencing etiquette in a group that I’m not controlling (control freak, who me?) but when I joined the group, there were 3 people having a friendly video chit chat – I didn’t know they were the instructors – I said “good evening” – waited for a few seconds, realized they knew each other as colleagues/friends and decided to close my mike and camera since they had not directed any attention to me. Yes, Virginia, I’m an introvert either f2f or behind a camera. Then I realized that all the other students were also with their cameras and microphones shut.

Skype releases free group calling, check out the full article at ...
What is the videoconferencing etiquette when joining the group?

The course was supposed to start at 7pm and it would be live. Of course, it started at 7:15pm because the instructors thought they had better wait for some eventual “tardy” student (honestly I wasn’t expecting you could manage to be late for a video class – Pollyanna me – one of the students joined the group 1 hour later – no excuses given).

What I thought weird was that only the 3 instructors kept their video and mikes on, all of us were supposed to keep our videos and mikes off due to the instability of the Microsoft Teams software, so they said.

We were 24 people in total.

Now my best part – the 3-hour session with no participation just listening to the instructors alternating on the podcasting industry features and trends – and they were fast and furious in their presentations – with me typing some comments or questions in an attempt to keep focused – but it was exhausting. Endless! After 2 hours they proposed a 5 minute break.

Their biggest mistake was to treat their online session as if it were face to face.

Those 3 hours were gruesome – and I decided that the course, due to its format and time (I’m not a night owl, most definitely) was not for me – and I dropped off – fortunately I’ll be reimbursed 50% of what I had paid.

Can you imagine what it is like to be a public school teacher with 30 or 40 students who should “allegedly” be connecting for their lessons?

Without any training and/or resources?

The chaos in education – brought upon us not exclusively by the pandemic – but made even more desperate in Brazil will bear fruit many years in the future of a whole generation.

Challenging times we’re living in.

Cheers,

Mo

Surviving Covid-19: life as a self-employed teacher – Part 3

And now we have reached our 4th month of the pandemic and half-arsed quarantine by a significant portion of the population in Brazil. Now state orders to wear masks in public places punishable with R$ 500 fines (another half-arsed measure that can’t be enforced by the government).

Still surviving, students hanging in there, but the calls by prospective students have dwindled down. WhatsApp is not dinging with new contacts nor the telephone ringing as often as I’d like.

But last week I was contacted by “Argentino” who was referred to me by a couple of friends (“muy amigos“). Argentino wants to prepare for the TOEFL exam because he wants to go to Loma Linda University and he needs to score 80 points to qualify in English. I don’t remember what health branch he wants to study there. Guess I didn’t have time to ask.

TOEFL ITP inscrições em 22/01 a 11/02/2019 – Pós-Graduação em ...
The secret for exams is taking as many mock tests as you can so you get familiar with the structure, language and requirements it presents.

So far so good. The caveat: he doesn’t want to have online classes – remember, we’re in the middle of the pandemic – and he would be willing to wait one more month to be able to visit me in my office. I said I wasn’t sure when face to face classes would resume and he should start with online classes. Argentino moaned and whimpered a little but agreed.

Honestly I don’t like teaching for preparatory tests – seen that, done that, taught that. Tests are a great money-making cottage industry – no question about it… Fees, books, classes…, but they don’t appeal to me. The last student I prepared for TOEFL scored 88 (after having failed before starting classes with me, of course). The secret for exams is taking as many mock tests as you can so you get familiar with the structure, language and requirements it presents. You can most definitely study on your own. But some people need another person pushing and encouraging them. I get it.

Khoá học PRE TOEFL
Exams are a great money-making cottage industry – no question about it… Fees, books, classes…,

So Argentino asked about the price – R$ 900 a month (consisting of four 90-minute classes). There the weirdest part: he proposed the following: he wants to study for 10 months – he would pay R$ 13,500 if he passed – and half that if he failed. Again – payment would be only AFTER the 10 months. He sounded very confident about his proposal and how great a business dealer he was for coming up with that offer.

Actually, I was thrown back by it – why was he willing to pay me much more than I was asking? I told him the total would be R$ 9000 – and we could negotiate a discount if he agreed to pay ALL the amount in advance. Or at least pay 50% now and 25% after 5 months and 25% at the end of the course.

His reply was quite evasive – he ignored my suggestion and told me I didn’t need to give an answer right away. I could sleep on it. Well, 5 seconds later I told him that it was not my way of doing business and honestly, I had NO guarantees he would pay me anything at the end of those 10 months. Again, I still don’t get it. Why should I be punished or penalized if he failed his exam?

His answer was even more curious. He asked me if I could recommend another teacher who might be willing to take him up on that challenge, as he called it. Take a hike, pal.

I’m not sure why I felt so offended by Argentino’s proposal. Did I feel demeaned? Did I think “how dare he tell me how much my work is worth”? Is bargaining for a hired service, such as teaching, wrong? Most certainly I didn’t believe he would pay me anything at the end of the course as well.

So, don’t cry for me, Argentino. Hope you pass the exam.

Good luck,

Mo

RACISM* IN THE ELT INDUSTRY

You don’t need to be a genius to know that prejudice exists everywhere you find people gathered together.

The English Language Teaching industry wouldn’t be different. After all, it’s made up of people from all nations and races.

Do teachers (not necessarily language teachers) suffer from prejudice and racism?

Yes, since forever… You don’t need to go far -just watch the trailer of my favorite classic film – To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier.

To Sir, with Love

But in this blog I’m not going to be talking about national or linguistic prejudices as in “he’s not a native speaker” or “I don’t like his accent”. The smelly goat in the room is about racism and skin color.

Back in the day (1990s) when I was a partner in a language school in São Paulo, we hired teachers to provide private business lessons at different multinational companies – one pre-requisite was “English native-like fluency” (hey, it was the roaring ’90s, don’t judge me)- no color stipulation.

We had some Brazilian, American, British, Swedish, Nigerian, South African and even a Tasmanian teacher (a loose cannon for sure – some day remind me to talk about him) – most of them were white, mostly in their 20s or early 30s, but not exclusively. I remember Charlotte, who I thought was an old lady back then(now I think she must have been probably in her 50s or early 60s).

I remember in special, Kendra, who was a great teacher, students loved her and not because or despite of the fact she was black. She was an exchange student between her US university and São Paulo University (USP). She was pursuing a degree in linguistics and she took on several classes with us.

We also had a Brit teacher – mixed race and nationality – mother Brazilian, father English – had been born in London and had decided to try his life in Brazil. He was a good teacher, can’t remember his background, but we could see he didn’t want to be a teacher for long. Either he would become a partner or he would jump off ship, which he did.

Never did a student call us saying “I don’t want teacher A, B or C because he or she is black”. NEVER. Sometimes there were misfits due to teaching approach, some of the foreign teachers, the famous backpackers, were not reliable with time and class preparation, etc.

Did our clients get surprised to see a black teacher waiting for them in the room? I’m sure some of them did. Talk about stereotypes – “my English teacher (any gender) is tall, slander, blue-eyed and has perfect teeth”.

Now I know that Brazilian black teachers are few and far between, especially in the self-employed segment. Why? Racism? Lack of economic and education opportunities? A combination of it all?

All I can say is that during my school (Uni) years one of my best friends (and classmates) was black. She had also had more exposure to English than I had at the time and her economic situation was also better than mine, a white boy. Go figure.

Yes, racism exists and we must fight it, but it shows itself quite often in subtle ways, as if hiding behind the skin tone of a person.

Skin Tone Color Palette
Skin tone palette

We must be aware and mindful of its presence and stand up against it when it rears its ugly face. Racism sucks.

Cheers,

Mo

*DISCLAIMER: all the statements here are my own and may not reflect the reality of every single living creature on the face of the earth.

5 Dicas para estudar inglês sozinho / 5 Tips to Self-Study English

Sempre tem gente me perguntando como fazer para estudar inglês ( ou qualquer outro idioma) sem a ajuda de um professor ou tutor.

Self-teaching vs Degree – which is the best route into programming ...
“Aprender sozinho é possível”

É possível? Sim. Eu mesmo aprendi muito do meu inglês estudando sozinho. Também estudei francês sozinho – nunca tive uma aula sequer e atingi o nível intermediário (B1) que é suficiente para os meus objetivos. Posso aprender mais? Sim… mas tenho preguiça. Não me julgue rsrsrs.

Cada pessoa tem suas características, preferências e objetivos mas de forma geral, gostei das dicas que o Denilso de Lima do Inglês na Ponta da Língua relacionou, segue o link: https://www.inglesnapontadalingua.com.br/2016/02/101-dicas-para-aprender-ingles-sozinho.html:

Tudo bem que ele escreveu 80 dicas mas vou me limitar a 5 com as minhas adaptações:

How to Teach Yourself a Language - The Complete Process
“Você cria o seu método”
  1. Vá com calma! Não queira aprender tudo de uma só vez.
  2. Envolva-se com a língua inglesa o máximo que puder.
  3. Arranje tempo para estudar inglês todos os dias.
  4. Ouça inglês – música, documentários, entrevistas, séries, etc.)
  5. Leia um texto curto em voz alta. Verifique o vocabulário, a pronúncia das palavras. Reconte aquele texto em suas próprias palavras. Ouça-se e ouse.

Só isso? Claro que tem muito mais que vc vai descobrir aos poucos. Na verdade, embora eu seja um professor excelente – não posso inculcar em você o que eu sei – vc terá que fazê-lo. O meu trabalho é oferecer oportunidades para vc aprender e orientar, corrigir, incentivar, alertar para o seu desenvolvimento.

O aprendizado de um idioma continua durante a extensão da sua vida – e isso é bom – sempre você vai aprender coisas novas. O que não quer dizer que vc deve ser intermediário para o resto da sua vida mas que vc precisa estar constantemente revendo suas prioridades e motivação.

Happy Learning,

Cheers,

5 Tips to Self-Study English

There are always people asking me how to study English (or any other language) without the help of a teacher or tutor.
Is it possible? Yes. I myself learned a lot of my English by studying alone. I’ve also taught myself French – there was never a single class and I reached the intermediate level (B1) which is sufficient for my goals. Can I learn more? Yes … but I’m lazy. Don’t judge me lol

Each person has their own characteristics, preferences and goals but,in general, I liked the tips that Denilso de Lima do Inglês na Ponta da Língua listed, follow the link: “https://www.inglesnapontadalingua.com.br/2016/02 /101-dicas-para-aprender-ingles-sozinho.html “>

It’s ok that he wrote over 80 tips… but I’ll limit myself to only 5:

  1. Take it easy! Don’t try to learn everything at once.
  2. Engage with the English language as much as you can. 3. Make time to study English every day.
  3. Listen to English – music, documentaries, interviews, series, etc.)
  4. Read a short text aloud. Check the vocabulary, the pronunciation of words. Retell that text in your own words. Listen to yourself and dare.

Only that? Of course there is much more that you will discover little by little. In fact, although I am an excellent teacher – I cannot instill in you what I know – My job is to offer opportunities for you to learn and guide, correct, encourage, alert to your development.
Language learning continues throughout your life – and that’s a good thing – you’ll always learn new things. Which is not to say that you should be an intermediary for the rest of your life but that you need to be constantly reviewing your priorities and motivation.

Happy learning,

Cheers,

Mo