First word of 2016: Empathy

This time of the year comes loaded with written or spoken lists of resolutions, best quotes, funniest videos, etc. The dictionary publishers love posting word of the year, decade, or century.

Well, for 2016, I’d like to post my first word of the year, which also consists of my resolution: EMPATHY – to learn to be more empathetic along the year.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary presents the following definition:

Simple Definition of empathy

  • : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

I remember the first time I heard the adjective for this word in Portuguese: empático. I must have been 8 or 9 visiting my aunt in Sorocaba and a friend of hers had popped in for an afternoon cup of tea. I don’t recall the context but we were all sitting in the living room, I was listening to the grown-ups talking and I must have said something during the conversation that the lady said to me: “você é muito empático, menino” (you’re very empathetic, boy). I had never heard that word before and unsure of its meaning I just mumbled a “thank you”. I knew the words “sympathetic”, “apathetic” and “pathetic”. Later I asked my parents the meaning of “empathetic” and hearing their explanation I could see myself as being called “pathetic” or even “sympathetic”. But empathy didn’t seem to be something to aim for.empathy 2

Later I came to realize the importance of understanding (at least trying to understand) the reasons why people behaved the way they did and also to try to understand the difficulties that my students had in learning something that seemed as clear as day to me.

 

A few years ago I started learning French in an attempt to understand and remember how my students feel when learning English. And I found out that when learning a language motivation and commitment are key. You can’t expect to learn another language by studying 30 minutes once a week (in the best of times).

As a teacher I must cultivate empathy towards my students thus getting less frustrated and trying to find new ways of teaching by motivating and sharing with them different learning strategies. But the law of cause and effect will still be valid: Little time practicing, little learning. More time practicing, more learning.

So this year I’ll try to wear comfortable shoes but not forget what it means to go barefoot.empathy

Cheers,

Happy New Year

 

Mo

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Could you say that again, please? 15 Podcasts for every learner of English (Updated)

Dear students,

A year ago I listed some of the podcasts I think students should be using to practice their English and language skills. With the ebb and flow of technology  and projects new podcasts have come up with new ideas and new presenters, so here’s an updated list of the podcasts and tested and seen commitment by their producers.

Please, remember:

  1. Download the podcasts you enjoy
  2. LISTEN TO THEM. Dammit!

So… without much ado, here’s my (not comprehensive – but a good start) list of English Learning Podcasts:

1.  6 Minute English podcast – produced by the BBC with 2 hosts always asking some challenging questions found in the news. It always presents some new vocabulary and context for its use.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/general/sixminute/

2. All Ears English podcast – 2 chicks always teaching some cultural and language point in the English spoken in the US. Beware: one of them slurs and speakstoofastasifshecouldntbotherwhethershesunderstoodornot.
http://allearsenglish.com/

3. Aprende Inglés con la Mansión del Inglés – 2 dudes (one from Belfast and another from London) host the show with good humor and focus on a teaching point. Emphasis on Spanish speakers http://www.inglespodcast.com

4. Edward’s ESL Edge – a show devoted to bringing interesting content to #ESL learners

https://www.facebook.com/edwardESLedge/

5. English Across the Pond – it’s an interesting approach for language learners – Dan and Jennifer, UK and US residents teaching English as a second or foreign language in a conversational style including cultural and linguistic differences between the 2 Englishes.

https://www.englishacrossthepond.com

6. English Harmony Podcast – prepared by Robby, a non-native English speaker with tips on how to learn English more effectively.
http://englishharmony.com/english-harmony-podcast/

7. English Experts Podcast – Produced by non-native English speakers focuses on the common needs of Brazilian English learners.
https://archive.org/details/EnglishExperts-Podcast

8. ESL Podcast – The host for the podcast is Dr. Jeff McQuillan, directly from sunny Los Angeles, and he helps read the scripts and provides explanations for them.

https://www.eslpod.com/website/

9. Inglés en la oficina -it’s a podcast series produced in Spain by Sandra and Colby with situations related to the office and work world. https://www.acast.com/inglsenlaoficina/english-podcast-36-problem-pairs

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ingles-en-la-oficina/id1074690749?mt=2

10.  Inglês Online Podcast – a podcast produced and hosted by Ana Luiza Bergamini, a Brazilian now living in London, with tips of idioms and phrasal verbs for Brazilian English learners – intermediate to advanced.

http://www.inglesonline.com.br/category/podcast-inglesonline/

11. Inglês Todos os Dias – it’s a podcast produced by an American family based in Brazil.  Tim and Tammy produce weekly short mini-podcasts with expressions and idioms that his students frequently confuse or ask about.

http://www.domineingles.com.br

12. Luke’s English Podcast – produced and hosted by Luke from England – it’s a very good way to expose yourself to British English. But it requires a little patience usually no shorter than 45 minutes.
http://teacherluke.co.uk/

13. Real Life English Podcast – Founded by three young passionate, world traveling, native speaking English teachers, RealLife is a community based learning portal whose mission is to inspire, empower, and connect the world through English, both online and in-person.  Oh Yeah!

http://reallifeglobal.com/radio-podcast/

14. Richard Vaughan Live podcast – controversial Texas-born Richard Vaughan has painstakingly been trying to teach English to Spaniards. His ramblings are quite entertaining. I love the episodes when he loses his temper with some of his on-air students.

http://www.ivoox.com/podcast-richard-vaughan-live_sq_f180769_1.html

15. VOA’s Learning English Podcast –
dating back to their shortwave transmissions even before the Internet, VOA has been my companion with good quality of listening content on American history, words and news.

http://learningenglish.voanews.com/podcast/0.html

podcast

Happy New Year and Happy Listening.

Mo

Speak and Grow Fluent

I’d say most of my English Language students are upper intermediate or advanced which would lead us to believe that they are comfortable enough to speak using their Second Language.

However, living in a gigantic monolingual country as Brazil, and not working in a

Living on a monolingual island

company that requires international contacts, language learners can find themselves stranded on a single-language island or continent (Portuguese).

Today one of these students – whose class lasts only 90 minutes once a week  – when she doesn’t cancel or must finish earlier – became frustrated when trying to say something in English and blurted out in Portuguese – “tá ficando cada vez mais difícil falar inglês” (it’s becoming increasingly harder for me to speak English). Didn’t she know any of those words or the necessary grammar to say that? Yes, she knew all the words and the structure but CHOSE the easiest way – spitting it out in her mother tongue.

Dear students, I’ve got news for you. If you don’t practice your target language you will NEVER feel comfortable using it. No matter what academic level you’ve reached. And here comes my point:

My student in question likes to play tennis – 2 or 3 times a week – how about English? Once a week, sometimes. I rest my case.

So how can you feel more comfortable speaking in English?

  1. No one to talk to? Talk to yourself. I’m sure you do that in your mother tongue. Do it in English or whatever language you are learning.
  2. Read aloud a paragraph or a page. Everyday. It can be a transcript, an interview, a news story, a cake recipe… . It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re listening and producing sounds in your target language.
  3. To speak you must learn to listen. Focus on a poem, a song, etc and listen to it. Then read it aloud. YouTube has thousands of videos with poems and songs+lyrics for you to practice.
  4. Look for opportunities to use your target language. Can’t travel abroad? Look for a friend or co-worker who’s also learning and practice with them. Look for a place where that language is spoken. For example, São Paulo has a few English language religious services – visit them – it’s a FREE and enriching exspeaking-in-tongues__mediumperience. My favorite English Bible class website (www.believes.com.br) meets every Saturday in the morning. Also Calvary International Church is a great diverse and inclusive community (www.calvary.org.br) and Sampa Community Church (http://sampacommunity.com/1/

Now my students will be saying: “Come on, teacher. I’m too busy. I don’t have time for all that. It takes too much effort.”

Congratulations. You’ve got my point.speaking in tongues

Cheers and happy conversations,

Mo

5 Tips to Survive Life with a Road Warrior Queen

Yesterday I came across Reginald Chan’s blog called 10 Tips to Survive Life with a Road Warrior (see the link here https://t.co/mzwn95okAx) and it exactly reflected my experience these days.

I am not married to a Road Warrior woman road warrior

but to a “Warrioress” (oh the sexism of a language) or a Warrior Princess or Queen.

Traditionally, men were the ones who had jobs or at least the most demanding and exciting jobs – traveling and meeting people from other parts of the world, speaking other languages, making more money, etc.

In the 21st century, that stereotype, although still strongly represented, has been busted by intelligent, beautiful and powerful women. One of them being my Sweetheart.

For many years I had the privilege to accompany her when she had to travel on business – Germany, France, Portugal, Mexico, Panama, Spain, and the list goes on and on …) but over the last two years I’ve grown tired of traveling – all the airport hassle, the seemingly endless hours on a plane, have made all that travel glamour (if it ever existed) lose its luster at least for me. Let’s not forget the fact that we added Luther, our lovely black cat, to our family in 2014, and somebody has got to mind the cat. And I’ll do it with pleasure.

But work continues to take my sweetheart away – one week to Mexico, the other to the Bahamas, the other to Chile, Argentina… and now the farthest so far: Singapore.

And I told my wife, “well, you gotta go, right? – so go at full blast!”

Can a relationship not only survive but thrive long-distance? My answer from the rooftops is: YES!!!

Here are my tips  to survive life with a Road Warrior Queen (or King)

  1. Pray with her and on her behalf – we first met at an English bible class – so God has always been huge in our lives – first and last – the old cliché “a couple who prays together stays together” has been proven true.
  2. Show interest in her work/destination – go online read about the places she’ll be visiting, talk to her about what will be happening.
  3. Listen – you don’t have to come up with quotable quotes or great pieces of advice – listen to what she has to say.
  4. Life goes on – she is on the other side of the world but this side of the world is still turning – keep your life going, don’t isolate yourself from the world. You are one entity/ one team/ one partnership but 2 individuals.
  5. Make use of Technology – Thanks to technology you still can talk or even see each other – use WhatsApp or FaceTime, Skype, etc – carefully set aside some time to do it. Jet lag will take its toll but a few minutes together will comIMG_7112pensate for that.Traveling takes its toll – they need our support and encouragement

There! five points like the five fingers of one hand. Hope these ideas can help you, they have most definitely helped me.

Cheers,

Mo

Welcome to the Family

The old cliche never seems to lose its power – Blood is thicker than coffee, or water, or wine, or whatever suits your liking, but the meaning is quickly understood. Family/blood ties trump it all.

This was last brought to my attention by my 9-year old nephew (on my wife’s side) when talking about a “family-only issue”  he proclaimed: “Michael (his aunt’s fiancé) is not invited because he’s not part of the family”. Back in January I was the target of this “not-one of us” approach and it still stings.

It’s amazing how this “cosa nostra” feeling permeates the psyche of many people. One of my students planned a trip with her siblings to Italy and loved every single moment and experience with them (all in their 40s and 50s). All spouses were politely excluded because their additions to the family represented only appendices that may come and go. Family stays forever.

Family members only, please
Family members only, please

Maybe because my family was not very united and a little bit atomically disperse, I never shared this feeling of “only family cardholders allowed”. I’ve always felt ready to embrace people from other families, and even wished, heaven forbid, to belong to some other families when growing up. Who hasn’t?

This extends to some nationalistic feelings. Once you’ve been made a citizen of a country with all the same rights as any person born in that country before the law, you may still find yourself stigmatized by someone who claims that only true red, white and blue American-born people are real Americans. This would extend to any number of countries or flag colors.

But it brings me to the Language learning issue of the day: native speakers of English (or any other language for that matter) like to bask in the fact that they were blessed with a mother tongue that no foreigner will ever be able to perfectly replicate.

Whether that feeling is real, or just perceived as real, is not the heart of the matter. Foreigners who need to learn that new language for a thousand different reasons and who apply themselves, will, to a certain degree, accomplish their goal. If they will speak it with or without an accent or the most accurate triple phrasal verb is immaterial if they succeed in conveying the message and being heard, understood and respected.

Embrace the outsider.

Cheers,

Mo

Could you say that again, please?

This morning, my student Alice arrived all upset because she’d been stuck in traffic for nearly two hours and had missed 90% of her class. But despite all the rush she brought up a very pertinent question:

She asked: “How can I improve my listening?”

Could you please repeat that?She’s just returned from a week’s vacation in New York City and told me she had not had any significant listening problems – of course most of the time she’d been meeting up with fellow Brazilian friends and speaking Portuguese – but when she is watching her favorite TV series – Homeland or Scandal, for example, she misses much of what they say. Even the subtitles are too fast. So, how can she improve her listening to better understand native natural speech?

Firstly, in some cases, the dialogues in TV series are not THAT natural. A quick search on the speech speed used in TV series brought me this info:

*Fans of writer-producer Shonda Rhimes are already used to the blazing speed with which her characters must deliver their lines, but her prime time dramas “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” have nothing on “Scandal” when it comes to the sheer volume of words spoken per second.

Homeland in fast speech track
Homeland in fast speech track
Am I talking too fast?
Am I talking too fast?

Just ask lead actress Kerry Washington.

“In some ways I feel like doing David Mamet on Broadway was the perfect training for doing television with Shonda Rhimes, because they’re two immensely talented, prolific writers who value the English language, who require a real commitment to language,” she says. “Their work is so athletic – in film and in television. The physical requirements are so great.”

Asked why she demands that her “Scandal” cast rapid-fire their lines, Rhimes said the approach serves several purposes.

“Part of ‘Scandal’s’ pace was born of me not wanting actors to linger in the moments, in the sense of it’s a world in which everyone is really incredibly busy, and there’s no time to feel your feelings,” said Rhimes. “So part of it was that. Part of it was that I wrote a pilot that was, like, 75 pages long.”

Her co-producer Betsy Beers says: “It’s funny how much you can get in if you talk really, really fast.”

 Adds co-star Columbus Short: “The amazing thing about this show is really, speaking that fast in the dialogue, it’s remarkable how the emotion hasn’t gotten lost.”

Read more at http://www.eurweb.com/2012/11/why-is-the-dialogue-so-fast-in-abcs-scandal/#Kta2bugSQKDAuzId.99

So how could my students improve their listening comprehension?

It’s an easy-peasy answer: by listening lots and lots of English.

I notice in my own self-taught French lessons – I’m on a pre-intermediate level in Voltaire’s language – when I listen to tv shows, news, series and/or podcasts in French on a more regular basis, let us say, Monday through Friday for at least 15 minutes – my listening improves for the next time I’ll be listening to something in that language.

So my advice pearls would be:

  1. Make listening a fun daily habit – no point in torturing yourself listening to things you find boring. Documentaries have a slower paced narration but if you don’t like watching them try a cartoon, a soap, a movie, whatever appeals to you.
  2. Take advantage of “convenient” moments. Stuck in traffic? what’s the point in listening to the traffic reporter hovering over your head saying that there is a huge traffic congestion. Listen to your new target language.
  3. Listen to native English speakers (or any other native speakers of the language you want to learn). Use podcasts – tonnes of different ideas and interests. Try Online radio.
  4. Listen to non-native English speakers. Yes, that’s right. In today’s world you’ll come across people from around the around using English to communicate. That’s what you need, isn’t it?

Since you are so excited about developing your listening skills please  find below some more podcasts developed with the English language learner in mind

1.  6 Minute English podcast – produced by the BBC with 2 hosts always asking some challenging question found in the news

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/general/sixminute/

2. All Ears English podcast – 2 chicks always teaching some cultural and language point in the English spoken in the US. Beware: one of them slurs and speakstoofastasifshecouldntbotherwhethershesunderstoodornot.
http://allearsenglish.com/

3. Aprende Inglés con la Mansión del Inglés – 2 dudes (one from Belfast and another from London) host the show with good humor and focus on a teaching point. Emphasis on Spanish speakers http://www.inglespodcast.com

4. Business English Q&A  –
US-born Ryan now living and working in Germany develops a great series of interviews with successful English language learners from different parts of the world trying to discover the common traits, tips and techniques to assist in learning a foreign language more effectively.

http://www.businessenglishqanda.com/

5. English Harmony Podcast – prepared by Robby, a non-native English speaker with tips on how to learn English more effectively.
http://englishharmony.com/english-harmony-podcast/

6. Real Life English podcast – a group of young teachers from the US, Australia and some other beaches I can’t remember they try to encourage students (female students, mostly) to learn and practice English. First produced in Belo Horizonte, Brazil now they’ve spread to Chile. Oh, yeahhh.
http://reallifeeng.libsyn.com/

7. English Experts Podcast – Produced by non-native English speakers focuses on the common needs of Brazilian English learners.
https://archive.org/details/EnglishExperts-Podcast

8. ESL Podcast – The host for the podcast is Dr. Jeff McQuillan, directly from sunny Los Angeles, and he helps read the scripts and provides explanations for them.

https://www.eslpod.com/website/

9. Luke’s English Podcast – produced and hosted by Luke from England – it’s a very good way to expose yourself to British English. But it requires a little patience usually no shorter than 45 minutes.
http://teacherluke.co.uk/

10. Richard Vaughan Live podcast – controversial Texas-born Richard Vaughan has painstakingly been trying to teach English to Spaniards. His ramblings are quite entertaining. I love the episodes when he loses his temper with some of his on-air students.

http://www.ivoox.com/podcast-richard-vaughan-live_sq_f180769_1.html

11. VOA’s Learning English Podcast –
dating back to their shortwave transmissions even before the Internet, VOA has been my companion with good quality of listening content on American history, words and news.

http://learningenglish.voanews.com/podcast/0.html

 

Phew, I think that will keep you busy until next year.

I’m sure this will help you out. And if you feel you still need to improve your listening comprehension repeat steps 1-3 as many times as necessary.

Cheers and happy listening.

Mo

Can one learn a Foreign Language at a regular school?

Can a student learn a Foreign Language (usually English and/or Spanish) attending classes at a regular school in Brazil? This question has surfaced lately here in this country and many reasons lead to a capital “NO, STUDENTS ATTENDING REGULAR SCHOOLS IN BRAZIL CAN’T AND WON’T LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE”.

Some of the reasons are:

“Classes are too heterogeneous.”

“There are up to 50 students in a classroom. Impossible to teach a language.”

“Teachers are underqualified and unprepared to teach.”

“A regular school has more important goals than teaching a foreign language.”

“Teachers don’t care.”

“Students lack motivation and/or clear objectives.”

“The textbooks are not ___________. (multiple choice) 

a) adequate

b) in sufficient number

c) up-to-date

d) interesting

e) all of the above

“Students cannot fail English classes. They are automatically approved to the next grade.”

“English or Spanish taught as foreign languages have been devalued as school subjects. Not as important as Maths, History or Portuguese.”

“It’s impossible to teach a foreign language using the students’ mother tongue 90% of the time.”

English teaching in Brazilian public schools
English teaching in Brazilian public schools
ENglish Textbook for secondary public schools in Brazil
English Textbook for secondary public schools in Brazil

Phew! The list is long. Should I continue? But I guess you get the gist.

The situation is so bad that some Brazilian congressmen have raised their voices proposing the end of the teaching of foreign languages at public schools due to their failure in reaching any positive results.

Well, let me tell you of my own experience growing up in Brazil and attending public schools from 1st grade to university.

Back in 1976 I was in 5th grade and according to the Ministry of Education, that would be the year for me to start learning a foreign language. Unfortunately, there were few foreign language teachers, and my school didn’t have an English teacher that year. In 6th grade we finally got an English teacher – we would have classes twice a week (each lasting 45 minutes). The teacher very wisely chose not to use a textbook – everything was based on copying from the blackboard and/or dictation. I must say that it was my best contact with English for the next 3 years. In 1978 we moved house and school, in the 7th and 8th grades the new teacher (new to me) used the same basic textbook that her students in 5th grade were using. Needless to say, I had learned more without a textbook. My wife, at roughly the same time – also studying at a state-run school, had her first contact with French (they had no English teachers available, either) but she says that much of the foundation of French grammar she learned in that first year. Both she and myself learned way more than the verb to be or “être”.

The goal and the expectations back then were different from today. Now the emphasis is on oral communication. Back then, we had to learn the grammar and to be able read and write for academic purposes.

But the key factor was that we were lucky to have as our very first foreign language models, teachers who cared, who were motivated and who had a teaching method imperfect as it might have been.

Could I speak English when I started high school? With the exception of isolated words, no, I couldn’t. But I was able to read and interpret basic texts which qualified me to proceed with my studies at university.

Can one learn a Foreign Language at a regular school?

Yes, if both teacher and students reach a consensus on their goals and motivation. And if the Ministry of Education reestablishes the teaching of foreign languages as a relevant discipline and not just one more public policy that looks good on paper but is void of any relevance in real life.

Cheers,

Mo