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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 courseat 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.
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.
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.
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.
We must be aware and mindful of its presence and stand up against it when it rears its ugly face. Racism sucks.
*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.
Now over 70 days into my Quarantine – (since March 17) – what can I say? With the announcement that within the next two weeks some of the restrictions will /may /might (choose one or all three) be lifted or at least there could begin an easing out of the quarantine, some people are starting to think about their mid- to long-term plans.
Considering that I had already been teaching f2f lessons at home prior to the Quarantine measures “enforced” in São Paulo where I’m based – I already had an office – simple but convenient and comfortable – the only inconvenience is that my back is to the window – so the camera faces the window (gotta keep window and blinds closed) Feel free to suggest a different layout for my desk in my office.
Before the pandemic I had to get up to answer the door, other times I would go out and teach somewhere else. Now I stay in front of a screen – time goes by faster and more slowly at the same time (hard to explain it) – you feel more tired – you have no distractions or too many distractions. See what I mean?
A great risk while working with your computer is that you can be distracted or look for distractions even with the best of intentions. For example, a student mentions a song – I immediately go to YouTube and look up the song (with lyrics, of course) to use during the class. This multitasking may sound cool or imply how efficient I am, but actually it causes distractions, and energy spent on something that could have waited.
Never ignore the importance of drinking water (hydration is king), and stretching every 60 minutes of so. Don’t deceive yourself that teaching classes sequentially back to back will do you good. They won’t. Allow breaks between classes so you can breathe, exercise (even if going to the bathroom) and stand up – to bring more oxygen to your brain.
Business in the pandemic
This week alone, two new people looked me up to ask about classes – one has already seen my work and decided to start classes as of next Monday. The other one is a 19-year-old 1st semester International Affairs college student – daughter of a former student of mine – I remember him, but not that he had once been my student – guess I’m growing old. Considering that for two months not even the phone had rung with prospective students – 2 calls in one week show resumption (hopefully) of business.
Braz-Tesol has been making available a wide range of webinars which are a boon to teachers everywhere offering a great lifeline and bringing a sense that things are starting to happen again. Check out their YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/
“2020 looks like it will be a great year” – or so I thought back on January 01 – unaware that the world would grind to a halt and be turned upside down.
New year, new students signing up on the professional level and 25th year wedding anniversary celebration scheduled for April with a lovely reception scheduled to take place by a lake shore with over 1 year bookings and preparations.
Well, … Covid-19 happened.
Right after Carnival (of course, nothing should get in the way of the beer, drugs and sex event) we learned that the virus was here brought by a traveler returning from Italy – or so that’s how it was officially labeled. Today, June 01, there are half a million Brazilians infected with the coronavirus, and 30,000 Covid-19 related deaths.
In early March we found out they were starting to restrict access to some office buildings – including where I used to teach some of my business students.
March 16 – I told wife, “I’ve just cancelled my classes for the day – let us go take a walk on the beach before it’s too late”. Lovely. A sunny Monday on the beach.
The following day we knew quarantine was coming and since March 17 we’ve been in Quarantine. No malls, no schools, no churches, no coffee shops, no restaurants, no museums, no parks – even if totally in the open air – that reminded me of last year’s closures of many parks in the city of São Paulo because of yellow fever mosquitoes. Confusing information:
Don’t wear masks. Wear masks. Don’t drive. Drive. Stay indoors. Go outdoors. Hydroxychloriquine. No hydroxychloroquine.
One constant was the advice to stay home and leave it only if you’re part of the “essential workers” in-crowd. Of course, education and entertainment are not part of that crowd. But that’s fodder for another blog post.
Well, everybody thinks I’m doing fine financially because I’ve migrated my f2f classes to online.
Easy there with your assumptions. I already had a few students having classes exclusively online but 80% of them were face to face students.
When I told them of the “temporary” migration, some 70% agreed and started having classes right away, or at least were willing to try the online classes.
Is teaching online similar or different from face to face lessons? Yes! Of course the body language is different, the physical energy is missing but on the other hand the same content can be used both ways – different approaches at times, but… with the same goals.
However, 30% of my clients said they were not interested in having online classes. The lessons wouldn’t be the same, so they said. One elderly learner said she wouldn’t know how to connect with Zoom and was not willing to try to learn. Another student – a highly respected economist at an International Bank – said he doesn’t like that “sort of class” – without even trying – and he would rather wait for the end of the quarantine.
Another Student had a 30% cut in her pay, so in order to keep her on I agreed to a 50% cut. Another was so stressed dealing with her work that she decided to take some time off since she wouldn’t find any time to have lessons (in normal times she already didn’t have time – always feeling tired and stressed). Student A still had 2 classes that he had paid in advance so he made sure to have those lessons online and then, Hasta la vista, baby. Take care of yourself.
I’m used to losing students who have a family emergency or lose their jobs – that happens, life throws you lemons while you’re not even looking… but I still felt a little hurt when the students who claimed they loved my classes were so quick to drop me off at the first corner.
But, thank God I still kept some of my students- the well hasn’t dried up totally. Yet. (Touch wood). But my income has been down by 30% so far this year. Tightening belt ? yes.
All my life I’ve gotten students by word of mouth and observation. By that I mean every time I walked into a company, people were watching me. They saw that X, or Z were having classes with a private teacher and they would ask for references and my phone/email contact.
Now, I am clueless about how to get students online. Yes, I’m visible on Twitter and Instagram and YouTube – but I can’t compete with teachers charging peanuts for the “same” class I charge premium. Of course my students know I’m an excellent and knowledgeable teacher, highly qualified and experienced both in Brazil and abroad. But how will I convey that online? One way to do that is by specializing in a segment or segments -beyond “business English” – such as Exam preparation, writing etc.
Reflecting on the rush for people to continue with work, studies, meetings, happy hour encounters, etc on zoom, Skype and any other video conferencing platform I came to the conclusion we risk overusing that technology to our own loss.
Even The Guardian who tries to be balanced in issues other than politics, is adding fire to the game. Look at the headline below:
“If you need to go for a walk… why not wander around a video game?” Nothing left to the imagination or, gulp, to actual physical activity. But that would be subject for another post.
My point is that we risk missing out on the development of a great skill – especially if we’re teaching language learners: listening. Back in the 1990s we already could see the lack of time and mobility some students were facing to attend face to face classes. So I started teaching English lessons over the phone – “Phone Classes” – with great levels of success and student satisfaction. They ranged from 15 to 30 minutes a session which could be repeated 2 or 3 times along the week.
As a teacher of English and Spanish for nearly 30 years I can tell you that listening is one of the hardest part of language learning. Yes, they need to build confidence when speaking or writing and reading – they’re all important – but when it comes to listening especially if living in a country where L2 (second of foreign language) is not ubiquitous…
Yes, their hearing may be even better than mine but we can’t overlook the fact that many are so busy speaking or looking at “bells and whistles” that they can’t really focus on listening what others are telling them.
Yes, you may argue that there are tons of movies and TV shows to watch, internet radio is here to stay, yada yada yada (since we’re talking about sitcoms) but the default language exposure will be the learners’ L1 (mother tongue) – they may even watch a video in English but with Portuguese subtitles – “I just wanted to decompress, teacher Mo” – “I needed a break so I listened to songs but didn’t any pay attention to the lyrics”, they would say. And to add insult to injury video lessons are having the same problem. Entertainment instead of Education.
The teacher may present the best data show software in the market but progress will be slow even if entertainment is high.
Phone classes (no eyes necessary) – a couple of students of mine have stuck to the system and benefited from it – helps learners develop and enhance their listening skills – they have to really understand what somebody is telling them with no body language.
Of course, I can pre-teach them the vocabulary, tell them to research the topic we will be discussing online and even send them a sample interview, dialogue, for example. But when on the phone they won’t be focused on the teacher’s hair or makeup or PJs but on the sound the teacher is producing.
Quite often in my teacher talking time, I say what I imagine could be a new word in the target language (they wouldn’t know, for example, what a “field hospital” is but would for sure have heard about it in their mother tongue these days). So I usually say: “well, I was driving past a field hospital they’re setting up near my home for Covid-19 patients… how do you say “hospital de campanha” in English?” And they will always glibly answer “field hospital” – just to check if they were listening and following what I was saying.
So to sum up, not every class must be visual 100% of the time, learners will greatly benefit from extra listening practice.
Last weekend we were celebrating my birthday at the home of a dear couple, Mari and David, who even surprised me with a deliciously personalized Black Forest Cake. They were so excited to have that cake made especially for me and quickly apologized saying that the cake maker had mislabeled it with “Congratulations” instead of “Happy Birthday”.
We had a wonderful time together and talked about nothing and 1001 things. At one point, my wife ask Mari about her English classes.
Mari works in marketing and customer service for an international company and needs to improve her language skills so that she can participate in global conference calls and presentations.
The last time we had talked about it, Mari had told us she was having online classes with a “native” teacher and that she found it hard to study and focus but she was feeling she was making some progress.
This time, she said, “now I am having face-to-face classes at a language school near my office, after work. But… my teacher is ‘NATIVE’ “.
My astute wife shot back right away: “why are you saying he’s ‘native’? What difference would it make if he wasn’t native?
Mari stood there (or sat there as I remember) with her mouth hanging open searching for good reasons. She realized I’m an English teacher and I am not “native”. So she said, “Yes, Mo, but you are native-like”.
Agreed, my English is amazing (may modesty take a hike for awhile), but what makes me a great language teacher (there I go again) is not simply the fact that I can speak English and can lead some people to believe I am an American, or Australian, or Canadian, or Irish etc… depending on the nationality of the students trying to guess where I am from.
I am a great teacher because:
I am knowledgeable /an expert in the subject I’m teaching.
I know how to convey information in a simple, brief and clear way.
I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be trying to speak another language: Empathy.
I am patient.
I motivate, correct, exhort, encourage learners to aim to a higher level with my own passion for the language learning process.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a post written by Justin Murray (a ‘native’ teacher of English) on the English Experts website:
“[…] Another advantage about native speakers is that their students generally feel more motivated to speak in English in class. The fact that the teacher is from an English speaking country and not the country of the students generally works as an unconscious trigger for the student to speak the language. This may have nothing to do with the teacher’s proficiency or teaching ability.”
“The final advantage, which is the most popular, is that a native born teacher will teach or transmit much better pronunciation. This is for sure an advantage, but what a lot of people don’t know is that it’s difficult for beginners and lower intermediate students take advantage of this. In my opinion, upper intermediate and advanced students will benefit a lot more.” https://www.englishexperts.com.br/are-native-english-speakers-really-better-teachers/
Having read the quote above, I risk repeating myself:
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what planet your teacher is from, what will matter is the learner’s commitment, focus and effort (time, money, skills) to learn and improve their language skills. If having a native teacher makes you feel better, knock yourself out. But that doesn’t mean you’ll learn any faster or better.
The teacher, either Native, Native-like, or Martian will be just a facilitator and provider of resources.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many 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.
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”:
I’m not pretending it’s an exhaustive list or what I’m saying is rocket science … but it’s a good start. The list doesn’t follow any necessary order of priority, but includes extremely nasty habits that kill the joy of learning any other language:
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.”
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? … “
5. Making excuses
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 sloth
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).
So what can you do to enjoy you’re learning journey?
Start using the little of the language you already know, not worrying what other people will say.
Set realistic goals. Be aware that the you’ll be learning the language for years to come.
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”.
Suggest alternate exercises, topics or activities that might be more appealing to you.
Own up to your duties in the language learning process.
Use the language you’re learning as often as possible. If not daily, at least every other day.
Don’t surrender to the sin of laziness. Just do it.