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

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10 Top Tips for Learning English (or any other language)

Every new year comes with many resolutions:

“This year I’ll go on a diet and lose 20 pounds.”

“This year I’ll stop smoking”

“This year I’ll get a boyfriend/girlfriend/ pet”

“This year I’ll learn (…. – fill in the blanks)”.

But the problem with making resolutions is that they don’t tend to stick. They slip away and melt as if under the tropical sun.

But if you follow these steps (not in any necessary order and at least some of them) you will make progress and then you will feel you can continue to learn English (or any other language for that matter)

  1. Watch movies and TV in your target language (the internet makes it accessible) – even if you don’t understand what’s going on  you’ll get familiar to the sounds of that language. (I particularly love commercials)
  2. Read a book you know well. Preferably a book you liked reading in your mother tongue. When my wife was learning French she bought a copy of the Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) so she could enjoy the book and learn in her new language.language
  3. Keep a notebook – scribble down new words you learn – especially creating word collocation and usage sections. Revisit the notebook once a week.
  4. Use mnemonic devices. It won’t work for everyone but it does work. When learning about the coordinating conjunctions, for instance, you can use the word FANBOYS to help remember the list. Can you name them? I’m pretty sure you can, because of FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). That is a mnemonic device. Creating a funny mental picture that you’ll remember is another way to use a mnemonic device. The sillier the picture is, the better it will stick in your head.
  5. Listen to podcasts – not only about English learning – but podcasts of other subjects of your interest produced in English or target language.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises. Need I say more?
  7. Be mindful. Notice language. How it’s used. How it sounds.Create a routine, Stick to it.
  8. Read aloud – small texts and paragraphs but that will improve your pronunciation, intonation and fluency.
  9. Test yourself – after a month – review the points you’ve learned and test your progress.
  10. Enjoy your learning

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Have fun.

 

Cheers,

Mo

Summer Reading

This weekend I received a text message from my student that made my day – he was asking for book recommendations in English so he can practice his reading  and expand vocabulary.

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Of course as a teacher I must recommend books that may appeal to the student’s language level and interests. Classics? Fiction? Nonfiction? And within each of those three categories we can find a plethora of material to choose from.

The process:

Reading 30 minutes or more every day

Language level: comfortable but also a little difficult (challenging but not discouraging)

medium: whether digital (electronic) or paper – immaterial. But one advantage of the e-book is the easy access to a dictionary (which can also be distracting if the reader stops at every line)

Some of my reading recommendations: (no necessary order just as they popped up in my mind)

Here are some of my suggestions:

Young adults:

1. Tangerine by Edward Bloor- a young man learning to adapt to a new environment and go against the crowd.

2. Whirligig  by Paul Fleischman- a young man coming of age on a healing pilgrimage from Washington State to California, Florida, and Maine, describing the many lives set into new motion –

Adults: – Fiction

1. Animal Farm – George Orwell – a perennial good read where all animals are equal but some are more equal

2. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury – impossible imagine a world without books or freedom of the press?

Adults – Nonfiction

1. Hunger of MemoryThe education of Richard Rodriguez

2. Stones in schoolsPromoting peace with education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson

Classics

1. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

3. The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens’s funniest novel

Happy Reading

Mo

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Headway Elementary – 4th edition: a book review

I have been a fan of the Headway series since 1991 when I started teaching privateheadway advanced students in São Paulo, Brazil, and that was the book assigned me by the school I was working for at the time  (where I would become a partner a few years later). It was the Headway Advanced first edition (Oxford University Press), I believe. I was amazed at how advanced the book really was. Even native speakers would encounter vocabulary challenges in it.

Since then I have used the New Headway series and the American Headway (which is mostly an adaptation of the UK edition with more of a north American vocabulary and audio, which is a great strategy used by the publishers while meeting a demand).

Usually US publishers do not invest much in textbooks for ESL/EFL learners while the UK is always introducing new titles. Considering the demand especially in Latin America and Asia for US-based language materials, nothing better than produce the same book with minor changes for all markets.

Also the new editions tend to add just minor changes – enough to justify the need for a new book by both teacher and students and also force the teacher to discard the older book as “obsolete”. This year I was planning on using the 3rd edition which I already owned, but unsurprisingly, it was not not to be found by the students at the bookstores. Only the “new and improved” 4th edition. Talk about marketing strategies. There goes the teacher having to purchase all the set – workbook, teacher’s book and student’s book plus the CDs and DVDs. Nice, ain’t it?

The latest edition I have in my hands is the New Headway Elementary 4th edition (2011) by Liz and John Soars (the authors of the original edition). When compared to the New Headway Elementary 3rd edition (2000) – the changes were not that significant – the audio has new recordings and the texts are also new.. . but the grammar syllabus and vocabulary for instance are quite similar, even considering the way the thematic content is distributed in the units. headway1_450

A big change I’ve observed is that the 4th Edition is way too heavy on content – the books still have long units (around 8 pages each) – 12 units in the 4th edition compared with 14 units in the 3rd edition – against other trends for shorter units observed in other textbooks where each section consists of 2 pages (New English File, for example).

Let’s consider unit 7: Dates to remember – the syllabus includes

  1. Past Simple (2)
  2. Questions and Negatives
  3. Time Expressions
  4. Adverbs (regular and irregular)
  5. Special Occasions

The load of content feels like crushing against the learner’s skull. Too much vocabulary and grammar to be absorbed in a few hours. Much better would be to have shorter units and introduce each point gradually, while revisiting points previously learned.

Would I still recommend Headway to other students and teachers? Yes, if the teacher can decode and adapt the textbook to the student’s needs.

As a coursebook it would be a really big challenge to have effective teaching in a classroom with 25 or 30 students.

By the way, I am impressed by the fact that the publishers haven’t still embraced the e-book format (fear of piracy? cost?). But it would make the life of teachers and students much easier. Imagine: For one elementary student I have to carry the teacher’s book, workbook and coursebook. On a day when I’m teaching different levels how many pounds/kilos of books am I supposed to be carrying? Hellooo.

 But that’s a topic for another blog.

Happy teaching,

Cheers,

Mo