Travel English

One of these days, a fellow teacher, Paschoal,  who’s starting his solo  career in ESL teaching, asked me if it was ok to accept some students who don’t REALLY want to learn English but just be handed the most basic phrases for a trip to the U.S. The students want only to learn what to say when checking into a hotel, or going to a restaurant, or at the airport, or when shopping (a Favorite for all Brazilian tourists).

Paschoal said he felt extremely uncomfortable taking on students who didn’t want to be students. They wanted to be travellers, or for a narrower concept, ” Touristers”.

Not everyone wants to learn a second language and if they are willing to learn some basic phrases just to get by, why not? Maybe after their travel experience they will change their mind, if not, at least, they will have expanded a little their horizons. Hopefully!

So, Paschoal, go ahead and teach them situations at a restaurant , for example. Roleplay dialogues such as:

Waiter (speaking 100mph): hello, my name is zzzzz, I’ll zzzz. are you zzzzzzz or do you need zzzzz? Can I zzzzz?

student: uhhhhhh, Yes. image

Got my gist?

So, be ethical and tell them the importance of properly studying English as a second language and let them know they’ll be getting what they’re paying for…

Cheers,

Mo

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Preparation makes all the difference

Last Saturday at Sabbath School I was not in charge of teaching the lesson so I had the opportunity to “observe” another teacher’s presentation.

I’ve seen Teacher G on bad and good days. On bad days, he’s arrived late, or started off by apologizing for not having prepared the presentation (because he’d forgotten or hadn’t had time), but I will have to say last Saturday it was a great day for him. Like me, Teacher G is not a native English speaker, actually first he was a Math teacher but for reasons I’m not familiar with he decided to become a language teacher.

My piece of advice:

When you’re presenting something to 60 – 80 people you’d better prepare ahead.

The title of his lesson was “What you get is not what you see”  dealing with perception and reality. Teacher G took great advantage of his powerpoint presentation, choosing images to assist him in conveying the idea.

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What you get is not what you see – perception vs reality
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Which one is out? – a plane crash – an earthquake – a car crash – a swimming pool

If you have already prepared a PPT presentation you are quite aware it is not an easy task. It’s not just “throw in” a few paragraphs of your talk and that’s it.

1. Introduction:

Teacher G used images from a movie – Shallow Hal (which students had seen and could identify with).

2. Teaser

By showing 3 similar “disaster pictures” and one luxury swimming pool he led students to choose the easiest answer – thus emphasizing  – perception over reality – all the pictures were actually related to deaths – with the swimming pool leading in the number of casualties in a year.

3. Delivery

4. Conclusion – and practical application

In 25 minutes, the teacher was able to present a great talk on the opportunIMG_2823ities we have to develop critical thinking, not to judge a book based on its cover, not to be prevented from doing things because of “prejudgment”. And all of that in a highly heterogeneous group of people in terms of age, education and language fluency.

All of that supported by his preparation. He didn’t walk in rushing fearing he was late, carefully selected images and number of slides.

His preparation made all the difference.

Cheers

Mo

The olden days – effort vs technology

I’ve been a Language teacher from the time of the record and cassette players (1985 to be precise). I remember when teaching an adult class at night (my first EFL group ever) I wanted to share with them this gospel ballad – Reach out – you can listen to the original recording on Yoututoca discosbe http://youtu.be/BSqAbVtHf2Y – I only had the record and the school had no record player, so I carried a “portable record player” by bus to school and played the song  with students busy  filling in the blanks. My students really loved the song and it gave the lesson a more vibrant pace and rhythm. Generating entertainment, in a way.

Since then I’ve tried to embrace technology in the classroom – the cassette player was replaced by the CD player, the VCR by the DVD player, the CD player by the iPod and the iPod succeeded by the iPhone and iPad.

Today I can “entertain” my students with videos and songs, I can record them (which they abhor), they can say their teacher is using the latest technology to assist them in learning.

It’s true that students can now independently listen to podcasts and watch videos in their target language but at times I feel that we cannot ignore the centuries-old tradition of translation, grammar explanation, repetition, etc.

I can show my students the picture of a sweetener sachet but they still will call it “sweety or false sugar”. I can play them a children’s song but they will still be saying “many childrens” or “many childs”.

I can show them a picture or video of a supermarket checkout counter with a 20 or leitemsorlessss items sign and they will still be saying “I have fewer work today”. “I drove less kilometers last week”.

My point is that technology is a tool to assist us in opening the students’ minds to whatever we’re trying to teach but people are NOT technology – they still have the same basic needs as 6000 years ago and some teaching methods used ages ago should be revisited and adapted to today’s world. Learning DOES take effort and time.

One point that must be emphasized is that no pill has been developed for an effortless silhouette_of_climber_original_900English learning process. No escalators or elevators to help you reach the top of the hill. You may have state-of-the-art mountain climbing gear but it won’t replace your arms, legs, lungs and brain in the slow climbing process towards Language Fluency.

Enjoy the journey.

Cheers

Mo

NFL in the Tropics

Yes, Virginia, everybody, it seems, was talking about the Super Bowl 49 (those Xs and Ls confuse me – XLIX). I’ve never been into sports in general, sometimes I think the players score a “SHUTDOWN” instead of a “TOUCHDOWN”. What did I tell you?

But for my English classes I MUST at least know what the Super Bowl is, where it’s being played and which teams are participating.

It’s a great class warm-up activity having students Q&A about the championship. Over the past 5 to 10 years, the interest in the NFL has grown exponentially here in Brazil, with both ladies (a few) and gents (majority) buying the jerseys of their favorite teams, footballs and any other imaginable gear.

Well, listen, a teacher’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to pique his students’ interest. We use the statistics to practice numbers and TV commentaries to practice their listening.

So if that’s what it takes for them to learn verbs such as: pulling for, rooting for, cheering, supporting, etc. and use them in correct sentences… Wow. That’s made my day.

We can also see sports terms used in business or everyday life. A simple list can be found here but the teacher can get the students together and make their own lists – gridiron, Hail Mary, game plan, jerseys, etc: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/common-football-terms-to-know.html

NFL

In the past I would mostly complain about this cultural fad imported by the local bourgeoisie and would grunt comments such as “why don’t we import respect for property, a fast legal system, less corrupt police, work ethics, etc…” But now I must say that Doris Day was right when she sang “Que será, será”. “Whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, que será, será”.  So… let’s take advantage of this passion and learn some English along the way. If I succeed in getting them to improve the pronunciation of some names and positions, I’ll say it’s been worth it.

Touchdown!

Mo

Setting our priorities straight

Reading today’s Estadão newspaper, Eliane Catanhêde wrote in her column  that our President instead of going to rub shoulders with Global Leaders in Davos, chose to go the “31st inauguration” of Bolivia’s patron saint, aka President, Evo Morales. Catanhêde emphasized that the ceremony was no news and it was neither the first nor the last time Morales was being inaugurated as president of that neighborly country.

That led me to think of our priorities and allegiances when learning a language. To learn a second language living in the country where it’s spoken ubiquitously is already a great challenge but to learn it as a Foreign Language requires even more commitment and dedication. You have to go the extra mile many times.

I always encourage my students to listen to internet radio, watch the news, read books or newspaper articles or blogs in whatever subject they like but in the language they’re studying.

And, naturally, attend classes.

This morning, student AC once again, stood me up. She said she was stuck in traffic. she has a 60-minute class, I waited for her for 70 – SEVENTY MINUTES- and she hadn’t arrived yet. Note: it’s not the first time it happens.

Once a wise (although a little horny) Caribbean gentleman told me: “Whatever you really want to do, you will find the Time and the Money to do it”. In other words, setting our priorities straight.

So now when interviewing new students I’ll add to my protest chant:who_are_we_women_what_do_we_want-179258

What do we need? To learn English.

What do we really want? (fill in the blanks).

Cheers,

Mo

Present not so Perfect

A feature of the English language that many Brazilian students find hard to use is the Present Perfect Tense – students usually grasp the concept: it uses the auxiliary HAVE or HAS and the main verb in the PAST PARTICIPLE. In Brazilian Portuguese, this tense can be used but most of the time we use  either the simple past or the simple present to refer to a situation. Examples: Faz tempo que ele mora aqui. “He’s lived here for a long time”. Ele saiu agorinha mesmo. “He’s just left.” So, in order to get them used to the new tense I have them practice it in Affirmative, Interrogative and Negative Sentences Example: I have been a teacher since 1986. Have I been a teacher since 1971? I haven’t been a teacher since 1971. Usually the students grasp the idea of duration – since 1989 / for 26 years, etc. Something that started in the past and comes to the present. Something that’s not over yet,present-perfect or that’s been finished recently. Let’s say that’s the basic usage of the Present Perfect. So we explain that usually with key words like since, for, yet, Present Perfect will be used. Is it a prescription? Yes. Does it work? Theoretically, yes. The students do the exercises fine. But when they’re in open conversation they drop these pearls: “I didn’t have a vacation, yet” or “I didn’t went to Poland, yet”. Bear in mind I’m talking about Advanced Students. Despite the bad rep grammar drills have nowadays, until someone comes up with a US$ 30,000 language pill, there will always be the necessity to practice until your Present is Perfect.

Lost and Found in Translation

This morning while I was listening to Richard Vaughan’s Podcast recorded in Madrid, Spain (http://www.ivoox.com/podcast-richard-vaughan-live_sq_f180769_1.html),  he mentioned an incident decades ago at a company where he was teaching. He was having lunch with a fellow American and when that “Puritan” American saw that every table had a bottle of “Agua Sin Gas” – chapitas-tapas-corona-sin-uso-agua-de-mesa-con-y-sin-gas-13606-MLA75273278_3475-Ohe was in shock at the level of sinfulness in a Catholic country. Yes, Virginia; you know “agua sin gas” simply means “still water” not the opposite of “holy water”. Another teacher started his lesson asking his students very tongue in cheek: “Today we’re going to be talking about Great Tits. Do you know what tits are? And one Spanish student shyly translated: “tetas”. After all laughed the teacher explained that he was going to be talking about birds and GreatTit002vocabulary related. In the UK many people know lots of birds species- it’s a national pastime, while most people in Iberian countries, for example, know very few bird species.

Translation activities in class were swept under the carpet for many years in favor of total immersion in Language 2. However, the knowledge the student has of their own mother tongue and culture can and should be used to help them tread around the traps of the language they’re now learning.

A simple exercise that I enjoy giving my students is getting them a hFound_in_Translationeadline and first paragraph of the day’s newspaper in their language and ask them to tell me the gist of the story in English. Then they’ll try to translate the sentence. Finally they will write it down (it could be assigned as homework if they ever had to do it).

I remember years ago a teacher of French (of course he HAD to be French) told my wife that a foreigner would NEVER learn to write as a native speaker. That statement is open to interpretation since many people can’t write well in their OWN languages. But I raise another point: does the average learner of a second language need to write like a native speaker or simply be able to write in a clear and objective way?

That leads us to what happened in France this week – all my students saw, heard and read something about the cowardly terrorist attacks in Paris and other areas. So many words came up for translation – Muslim, Censorship, Threat, Grey Area, etc.

As we could see this week some things never get lost in translation.

#JeSuisCharlie

Mo