Wrong motivation in language learning

why-peopleIs there such a thing as a wrong reason to learn a language? Why do people decide to learn a second language?

Some of the reasons I’ve heard are listed below (please feel free to add any other reasons not mentioned):

  • to travel abroad on holiday / business
  • to get a better job or improve job opportunities
  • to study abroad
  • they like the sound and /or the looks of that language
  • they love the country /culture / food where that language is spoken
  • religious reasons (biblical Greek/Hebrew/ Latin)
  • to find a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • to get in touch with their roots
  • because it’s an academic requirement
  • to ward off memory loss
  • to show off / impress others

I heard on the podcast Eye on Italy episode 17 (here’s the link – http://www.eyeonitaly.com/podcast/episode-17-italian-i-still-love-you/ ) an interview with Dianne Hales who wrote the book – La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language (http://www.becomingitalian.com/labella.php) and one of the negative criticisms  she heard came from her friends who questioned her choice to study Italian as “why choose such a useless language to learn?” The argument being if you’re going through all this trouble to speak another language, at least learn a more useful language such as French, or Spanish, or German, or Mandarin. Please define usefulness in love.

So…, my answer to the question – is there a wrong reason to learn a language? YES AND NO.

There can be weak (or lame) reasons. What do I mean? To learn another language you will have to work up the following ingredients:

MOTIVATION

DETERMINATION

PERSEVERANCE

PROGRESS (NO MATTER AT WHAT PACE)

Now, if your reasons don’t live up to the ingredients above you will be bound to fail. Therefore, wrong reasons.

But, if you’re willing to keep on following those four ingredients – the reason or reasons will be right.

So, roll up your sleeves and dig in whatever language you want and for whatever reasons that make you tick.

No matter what others say, another language will give you a new vision of the world.

Happy learning,

Mo

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Google Images in language teaching

Yes, I know it’s a cliché but it has lots of truth to me: a picture’s worth a thousand words. When teaching English, Spanish or French  quite often students come across words that even if not abstract, they’re hard for them to grasp the meaning by just looking up the word in the dictionary, unless it’s a bilingual dictionary.

Let’s consider for example the word “groom”. The student asks the meaimg_6627ning of the word and passively receives the information.

The teacher:” well, … you know when you get married the woman is the bride and the man is the groom or bridegroom”.img_6628

By telling the student to look up in google images he will be actively learning the word and visualizing it, without even having to think about the word in L1.

Take the word “STAMINA”, for instance, which Trump said Hillary Clinton doesn’t have ( or the looks). Many Brazilian students get the sound of the word but not the meaning.

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By just showing a picture of someone running, the teacher tells students that that person has stamina and asks them to guess the meaning. Chances are they will say, power, energy, and bingo got the word without having even translated the word into L1.

The word “GAP” – which can be abstract but can also be easily visualized and understood based on the pictures and context. In the past I used to doodle on paper trying to convey the image, but it wouldn’t solve the student’s passivity. Now having the student look it up makes them an active agent in their learning.gap

You may say, “that’s exactly what students do when using a dictionary” – yes, but… the trick is that by using a monolingual dictionary often times they can’t understand the definition or there are too many definitions to go through. In a bilingual dictionary they will be still focusing on L1 memory and will most likely forget the L2 corresponding word.

Larissa Albano in her blog summarized the use of pictures beautifully using the acrostic PICTURE (https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-english-language-teachers-use-pictures-class):

Predict

Interact

Create

Talk

Understand

Reflect

Enact

As you can see, an image can be much more than the definition of an object, feeling or action, but it can also be incorporated into the lesson plan.

Of course, the teacher won’t have to follow all these steps for every single word the student can’t understand, but the latter will be in charge of his own vocabulary learning.

Happy pictures,

Cheers,

Mo

Study Abroad, Revisited

Last week my god-daughter messaged me on Facebook:

Hi, dad! How are you?
 I’m thinking about traveling next year to an English-speaking country to study English. 
So… I need to get ready.
Do you think it’s a good idea to travel through a travel agency such as CVC or exchange program?

I saw it would cost about  R$ 4000. Do you think it’s a good price?

 I was thinking about traveling to England, do you think it’s a good place?
Do you know of any site that might guide me in this search process?
Thank you!!!!
Kisses.
 
Evelyn
 My reply was as follows:
studyabroadbanner
Hello darling.
It’s always a great idea to travel abroad to study, but my suggestion for those who are upper-intermediate or advanced would be to take an open summer course in whatever subject they would like. Instead of just studying English you could study arts, history, photography, endless options in English.
Why? Language schools – as any other business – are focused on profit (nothing wrong with that) but they will be hard pressed to place students at different levels together. In addition to that, your class will most likely have other Brazilians which will be an additional temptation to speak Portuguese. If you’re lucky your classmates will all be Chinese or Korean, so at least, you’ll have to use English to communicate with them.
Another negative point about going abroad just to “study English” – you will be paying your costs in US dollars or Euros or Pounds for content that you could have in Brazil through an intensive immersion course.
Regarding the destination, England is lovely but you will have your costs in pounds (with a still more unfavorable exchange rate than the US $)  which is a disadvantage. Good options would be Canada, USA or even South Africa. Ireland would be a good option but again: too many Brazilians “studying” English in Dublin. Moreover, the Irish accent is lovely but peculiar to that country – so maybe not the best option for a first time abroad.
Again, make sure to get references from other students who’ve been to the school  where you’re considering to study. I know there are schools that have poorly trained teachers with a high turnover while other schools are barefaced scams, many times cancelling the classes (for any imaginable reason) when you get to your destination and of course, you may forget any hopes of a refund.
I’d recommend cities like Pittsburgh, Portland – Oregon or Maine) or San Diego in the US or Calgary, Edmonton in Canada. Also check the weather conditions for the time of year you’re planning to go.
A good site to start your study-abroad research is http://www.studyabroad.com
In Brazil, check with the Student Travel Bureau http://m.stb.com.br/home

May the Lord bless you and your plans and dreams.

Love you,

Dad

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

Online Classes – 5 tips on how to get started teaching

Last week, Juliana got in touch with me via Facebook Messenger with the following request:
“Good evening, teacher Moacir, how’s it goin’? I attended your English Sabbath School Class a few years ago and I have become a teacher at IASP ( a school in the interior of São Paulo state). Someone has asked me about online private classes and since I know you teach classes in this manner, I would like to have some tips from you.
I love English, it’s been my passion since I was a little child and now I would like to work with private classes because I feel like I’m cast in plaster with the teaching methods at schools.
If you could help me I would be immensely thankful!”
Well, how could I say “NO” to someone who is passionate about the language and also willing to teach?image
My reply was:
Hello Juliana, I’m really glad you’re interested in teaching online.
1. The first thing you must do is evaluate the student’s level and encourage constancy and define the platform – Skype / FaceTime? How often will they be having classes? once a week? twice? more? From my experience FaceTime has better voice/ image quality than Skype. The limitation is that both parties must be using Apple products.
2. Class time: 50 – 60 minutes (classes with more than an hour online can become too exhausting and student – and teacher – may lose focus).
3. Price: it will vary depending on your public – usually I charge 10-20% less than my “in-person classes” – since I save on transportation and commute time. How much to charge? It will depend on your market – in Brazil it can vary from R$ 35 to R$ 175 per hour. It would be a good idea to negotiate a fixed monthly package.

4. Develop a curriculum – how long will the classes take for the student to change to a higher level? six months? one year? what materials will be used?

5. Homework – I’ve learned that the best approach regarding homework  (especially with “false” beginners and higher levels) is the flipped class style – the student will do the homework before the online class and then the teacher will correct and make the student practice points still not consolidated. Students from Elementary levels on to Advanced should be encouraged to read articles from magazines and newspapers to develop vocabulary and comprehension. They could be asked to read a news story, for instance, and then present a summary during the online session. Translation from L1 to L2 is always a good practice that students should attempt before their class.
esl teaching online 2
Whew… I hope this will give you some ideas. Any questions, just let me know. May God bless you on this new adventure.

Oh, before I forget, it’s super important to have a reasonable internet connection and sound quality.

Happy Sabbath 🙂

Mo

 

Reading in the EFL environment

A couple of weeks ago, a nearly advanced (upper-intermediate) student of mine was all excited because he had bought a book in English at the bookstore at the Santos Dumont airport in Rio. He paid more than US$ 40 for the paperback, which costs about US$ 11 at bookstores outside the airport – but the rip-off schemes at airports will be left to another blog. What his purchase showed was his commitment to developing his language skills such as vocabulary and writing through reading. The book he chose was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Now he wasn’t sure it had been a wise choice since he had already tripped over the vocabulary in the introduction page: The_Girl_On_The_Train_(US_cover_2015)

“She’s buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn. …”

And down under the stones goes my student’s confidence. His natural reaction was: “gee! if I can’t understand the first sentence of the introduction, imagine what trying to read this book will be like”. The following class he came to me with the book showing me the ungrateful text and saying: “I don’t know what a birch tree is! What is a cairn? I think I made a mistake buying this book. It’s too difficult for me.”image

After telling him I didn’t know (or remember) what a cairn was, we looked that up together on google using the entry “cairn meaning” and then Google images to visualize it. As regarding the birch tree it was enough to know (at least, at that point) that it was a tree [period].

I encouraged him by saying “it’s not a textbook or a study book he should underline or research different ideas or terms. As a novel, the first approach should be to enjoy it. Start getting used to the flow of the language, the plot, the characters and not to feel guilty if he decided to stop reading it”.

Together we reviewed a generally accepted how-to reading checklist:

  1. Previewing – what’s the story about? what do you think happened/ will happen?
  2. Contextualizing – where? when? who?
  3. Visualizing – picture the scene
  4. Asking and answering questions
  5. Summarizing – can you tell what has happened so far?
  6. Skimming – getting the main ideas
  7. Scanning – looking for some specific idea or piece of information

Of course, each student will have different needs and reading habits. Graded books can be an excellent source of pleasure and information, but he rightly tried to dip into deeper waters.

Good reading,

 

Cheers

 

Mo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncertainty will certainly come (and 5 ways to deal with it)

 

There are those days when you feel a little bit unsure of what to do, where to go… . And I’m not even talking about going to the doctor and undergoing medical tests,  things that I dread just based on the fear that some bad diagnosis will happen. Well, traditionally men don’t like going to the doctor because they feel they can’t get sick as they’re the breadwinners of the family, the strong sex, etc. in this day and age? Come on! Men don’t like going to the doctor, at least in my case, because we’re afraid they’ll find out something horrible and you start feeling all the symptoms before you even have the diagnosis. Talk about reasoning with your unreasonable mind. But I digress…

Uncertainty comes to teaching as well, more so when you’re self-employed. You know the drill: no student, no pay. And it’s not like when you’re working for a company / school and they will provide you with the students and if they’re generous enough they’ll give you some training and teaching material such as textbooks. They’re also required by law (at least in Brazil) to give you paid holidays and a 13th annual salary (a sort of Christmas bonus) in addition to contributions to your government’s social security pension fund. image

My wife and friends quite often remind me of how lucky I am because I don’t have a boss, which is true (although in some ways my students ARE my bosses). But the solo teaching career requires some constant care such as:

1. Attention to trends in teaching, textbooks

2. Attendance to teachers’ conferences and seminars

3. Prospecting for new students while at the same time keeping the back door shut in order to keep your current students.

4. Self-motivation – you can’t slack off and stop preparing lessons, or stop showing up on time.

5. Billing is never the most pleasurable of activities but necessary. On the other hand, there are always a few smart asses who “always forget” to pay their teacher in the time agreed and you must kindly ask them if there was any problem with their payment because you couldn’t locate their deposit in your bank statement.

Hey, life is uncertain by nature, so what I must do is to continue doing what I enjoy and  enjoy what I have to do. image

Happy teaching.

Cheers,

Mo