This morning I was leafing through the Brazilian entrepreneurship magazine Você S/A ( and mind you, it was the paper edition of September 2019) and came across a list of five components for the digital survival of professionals in any industry. They will, most certainly, also apply to language teachers either employed at a school or university or self-employed just like little me.
The five components for the development of digital skills for now and the future as a self-employed professional are as follows (loosely adapted from the infographic in the magazine):
1. Business Vision – understand what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and most importantly, WHY you’re doing it (stress on the WHY as emphasized by my HR expert student Livia S. Sant’ana)
2. Adaptability – Be flexible and curious – always be open to new methods and approaches – use face-to-face classes and online classes. Explore pre-recorded and live sessions, for example.
3. Cultural & Social Understanding – Empathy for what do your clients think they need, learn to listen to them and build bridges. Don’t see others as mere competitors or potential clients – view others as human beings with their own needs and goals.
4. Cooperation – Create a network of colleagues – there will always be those who you can help and also grow with. And let us not deceive ourselves. Colleagues can help you expand your circle of influence.
5. Systemic Thinking – aka in non-Academic circles as Pattern Thinking – it is a simple technique for making sense of challenging situations and developing simple interventions for transforming them.
Like it or not, the more you take charge of your future the better prepared you will be to face it.
Last Saturday we invited a new friend for lunch at home. Ivonne arrived from Bolivia back in February where she had been an English teacher and aesthetics consultant (sic) and had a dream to move to Brazil, where she would have more opportunities.
When she arrived she soon started voluntarily teaching English to a group of senior citizens at an NGO. “The experience was interesting”, she said.”But people don’t value things offered for free”. The students’ attendance was terrible and when they did come they wanted to chitchat and not really “study English”.
I warned Ivonne that getting paying English students in Brazil would be difficult in her case because despite her 5 years of English studies with US missionaries in Bolivia, she still had a very thick Spanish accent, including the infamous “Jew” when she means to say “you“.
She said, “Ay, Moacir, I need a job fast”. I told her she could apply at language institutes and private schools to be a teacher of Spanish as soon as she had her transcripts registered in Brazil. But any teaching at a language academy would take time for training. In the meantime she is selling honey sachets door to door.
But what Ivonne said about language teachers startled me:
“Ay, Moacir, Jew speak like an American and jew’re tall and white” – (anyone is tall to her since her height is less than 150cm /4ft) – I won’t get a teaching job here.” “In Bolivia I always wanted to have only native teachers for me. That’s how jew learn. Jew ask them a question they know the answer. A Brazilian or Bolivian teacher won’t know how to respond”.
“The same thing goes to teaching Spanish,” she went on. “Los brasileños think that Spanish is easy but when they start to see the grammar and the verb tenses they go crazy.”
I tried to reason with her “Come on, Ivonne. I’m not a native speaker of English, but I’m an excellent teacher, as you know (to hell with self deprecation)”. She nodded in deep admiration. “And for over 25 years I’ve been teaching English to high executives and people who’ve travelled around the world and it has never been a disqualifying point. I’ve also taught in Canada, the US and Ireland and it’s never been a problem. Yes, it’s true a native speaker may know more phrasal verbs but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to explain to you how to use them. He’ll pronounce a word his way which can be very different between US and British English, for example. More than once have I seen a native speaker not know how to pronounce a word or what it meant. And in addition to that, if the gringo doesn’t know the local language, he won’t understand why you find it so difficult to say girl, or world, whirlwind”. “Actually, many (not all) native teachers abroad have their own agenda and baggage: either they want to convert somebody, or see the world, or escape from their own world.” Believe you me, I’ve seen some native teachers (mostly from Oceania) that didn’t have a loose screw, they had lost that screw a long time ago. What makes a good teacher will be based on 3 very solid foundations:
1. Language knowledge (yes, you can’t teach English or French or Arabic if you don’t speak that language either), learning one’s own or adoptive language is an ongoing process; but that knowledge must be supported by
2. skills (natural and learned) – how many times have you attended a lecture or lesson by a renowned Professor who knows everything about, let’s say, quantum physics but he can’t teach it?
3. Finally, a good to great teacher will be empathetic. He will try to understand and seek for ways to best transmit his subject.”
Ivonne carefully considered all I’d told her, clapped her hands and cheerfully exclaimed:
“Jew don’t need to be a native to teach English. Now I got it. I’ll start applying to be a teacher of Portuguese!”
Growing up I often heard people saying: “if work were meant to be pleasant it wouldn’t be called WORK “.
Don’t know the origin of that saying but it’s quite easy to understand it’s meaning. Maybe it is inspired by the biblical curse God placed on man after he ate of the forbidden fruit:
“And to the man he (God) said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it
It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains
By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:17-19 (NLT)
Yes, mankind would have food to eat by the SWEAT of our brow. But despite that curse it does help to choose a job or career about something that you like doing. The curse can even become a blessing.
Working as a language teacher has many positive features: I can “select” my students; I can determine my hourly class rates/pricing; I can develop a curriculum that best fits my students’ needs; I love speaking other languages; etc.
But one of the hardest “bones to chew” refers to Class Cancellations.
One-on-one teaching leads the learner to take the teacher for granted, at their beck and call. So they cancel their classes, try to reschedule the rescheduled classes – I’ve had students who rescheduled three times the same class – and if they don’t effectively have that lesson they demand for a refund or discount. The fact that the student must pay for his class cancellations should serve as a deterrent.
So let me enlighten both teachers and students:
When you agree on a day and time, that time is sacred… both students and teacher have entered into a covenant and will do their utmost to honor it. Now, when there’s a cancellation, can you make that time come back? No? What makes you think that your class time can?! Or thatyou’re paying for 24/7 English? Of course, there are reasons and reasons for a class cancellation. You had to go to the hospital or a funeral? Let’s accommodatethat. You only had that day and time for a doctor’s appointment? Hmmm. Your sister is visiting? Uh, nope. You’re not in the mood? Is it cold outside? Not good excuses. Got it?
I’ve always tried to present very simple rules:
1. Any cancellation must be informed at least 24 hours in advance.
2. Cancellations within less than 24h notices, classes will be charged and not rescheduled.
3. Make up classes will be rescheduled if / when teacher is available (let us say the teacher and student have agreed on four 1-hour classes a month. Student cancels once. Will the student be willing to pay for a 5th hour? Uh huh, I thought so. What makes him expect his teacher should work a fifth hour for free?
Simple. Isn’t it?
Last week I came across this blog post where the teacher even went on suggesting she would record a short video and send it to the student as a “make up class” so that the student wouldn’t feel left behind. She added:
“So here’s my thing and a lot of teachers’: we don’t want students to miss class. We love our job. We spend our time preparing what to do and want students to succeed. It’s not productive from an educational point of view and, at least to me, it means getting paid without doing what I like the most. I want to earn a living teaching, not sitting around. Bearing that in mind, I came up with an excellent alternate solution, which I am now calling “The Substitutive Class”; feel free to rename it.” . https://www.lbenglishteacher.com/blog/substitutive-class“.
We always hear at the beginning of school vacations, either in the beginning or the middle of the year, news stories about Student Exchange Agencies /Agências de Intercambio.
How much of it is news worthy or “sponsored” by the agencies themselves is hard to tell, but there’s no doubt that the interest for STUDY ABROAD programs keeps growing in Brazil, despite or because of the prolonged economic recession and now stagnation since 2015.
By their numbers
In a market worth US$ 1.2 billion, The Brazilian Educational & Language Travel Association (Belta) http://www.belta.org.br/ reports that the interest of people to study abroad for periods between 1 month and 2-3 months was up by 20% in 2018 compared with 2017. It calculates that 365,000 people will be traveling abroad on “intercambio” programs (a 30% increase is forecast for 2019 over 2018).
The vast majority of exchange students traditionally were between 16 and 25 years old, but in recent years there has been a growing interest with people up to 40 years, not excluding those older than that. And 80% of the exchange students are female, according to the study “EXCHANGE TOURISM: PROFILES OF THE PARTICIPANTS, MOTIVES AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE” (https://siaiap32.univali.br/seer/index.php/rtva/article/viewFile/5116/2681)
These short term exchange programs (15 days up to a month) appeal to people who are currently working and will use their vacation days to improve their language skills. They’re using their own vacation time from work (using their own savings or supported by family)
Of course how much the program will cost will depend whether the student will stay with a local family, rent a studio, share a room in the dorm, which country and city/town they’ll be going to, etc) … but it can start at US$ 1,800 a month (including accommodation and the course). Airfare is usually out of the equation.
Reasons to go
The main reasons to go on exchange programs are:
use vacation time (using their own savings or supported by family) boosted by the feeling “I’m sacrificing my vacations for a good cause”.
Have contact with people on the street (sic)
Be exposed to the language on TV and other media (as if it wasn’t possible in this day and age in their own home country)
work opportunities: many people say know someone who was skipped for a promotion, or missed an opportunity to work abroad, or even lost their job because they lacked English.
have fun (not found in the report but most people when asked they’ll say it not as the primary reason – *which I think is the main reason in many cases, though, wink wink).
Rosimar, who is Brazilian, already speaks Italian and Spanish but wants to study English in Canada in September. She says:
“I still find it hard to speak English, I want to improve my language skills so I can catch a taxi or order a meal in a restaurant. I believe the investment is worth it all. I’m going to Canada to improve my English and have fun.”
Where to go
The Brazilian Student Exchange Agencies highlight that over the past 14 years Canada has been the favorite destination for Brazilian students, because of favorable foreign exchange currency rate, standard of living and a country where English is spoken. The next is the US at 23.1%, and far behind come Australia with 9.3%, Ireland 7.6%, the UK and New Zealand at 3.8% ( The British pound foreign exchange rate is a big discouraging factor for Brazilians).
Should you go?
Definitely, go and have fun. Expose yourself to another culture, another language, other worlds. But don’t expect that in 1, 2 or 3 months you’ll be back fluent. It will depend a lot on you but my advice is: study English as much as you can in your home country and then go abroad to practice studying something else or attending conferences in your professional area in English, for example. The results will surprise you.
Ok, maybe he didn’t ask me with THOSE EXACT WORDS, but you get the gist. I decided to give a present to a friend of mine who was on vacation but wouldn’t be able to travel. I was feeling like a Genie and the magic lamp and offered him 3 wishes regarding English learning. I said I’d teach him 3 lessons for free and asked him what he would he like to study or review.
Right off the bat he said:
“The present perfect, Mo. I don’t know how to use it.”
Students all over the world suffer from this grammatitis infection when they’re exposed to English as a school subject where they have to learn grammar points and vocabulary to pass exams. Period. Not to communicate.
So I told David a story about Jesus and how he healed Peter’s mother-in-law from a terrible fever.
We worked with rough sketches to represent Jesus in Capernaum.
Where is Jesus? In the synagogue. Going to peter’s house for lunch.
Where is Peter? In the synagogue. Taking Jesus to his home.
Where’s Peter’s mother-in-law? At home. In bed.
What’s wrong with her? She’s sick. She’s ill. She has a fever.
And now… what has Jesus just done? He has healed her.
With that story I could introduce the grammar point I’m trying to teach (Present Perfect)
When teaching grammar, the first No, No is: don’t teach grammar ( on the other hand … don’t treat grammar as a 4-letter word)
1. Avoid discussing aspects of grammar without a context. A dialogue, a story, even a song can add context.
2. Whenever possible give learners time to discover grammar for themselves. In the story about Jesus, what verbs can you see? How were they used?
3. Use games to teach and reinforce grammar. From hangman to tic-tac-toe , to board races.
4. Give learners time to practice grammar in a meaningful way, guide and supervise their practice.
5. Avoid rule teaching … otherwise, learners will focus on the grammar rules and won’t be able to speak it.
Remember that the goal of learning English is to reach a level of acceptable fluency and learner independence.
(P.S. – yes, he learned the grammar point but now it’s in his hands to notice it around him and use it).
This is the second and final part of my summary of the book – Psychology for Language Teachers (A Social Constructivist Approach) by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden (Cambridge University Press)
“This book examines the field of educational psychology and considers various ways in which a deeper understanding of this discipline can help language teachers. Areas considered in the book include approaches to learning, motivation, the role of the individual, attribution, mediation, the teaching of thinking, the cognitive demands of tasks and the learning environment. The book does not assume previous knowledge of psychology.” (Source: https://www.amazon.com.br/Psychology-Language-Teachers-Constructivist-Approach/dp/0521498805)
One of the axioms presented by the authors is that learners LEARN BETTER if they feel in control of what they’re learning, based on the assumption that learning is closely linked to how people feel about themselves.
The idea is that Teachers must motivate Students and persuade them into learning – first of all, a teacher must learn to listen: Yes, it is absolutely conducive to communication but often forgotten and left in the background. The teacher walks in with their agenda for the day, week, semester and earth and heaven shall pass away but nothing can change it. Sometimes, a change in voice intonation or a contextual misunderstanding could threaten the whole learning session. That shouldn’t be so especially in the language learning environment.
Starting from the premise that teachers are facilitators and mediators with what they do in the classroom will reflect their own beliefs and attitudes, consequently, teachers must show their own interest in the learning process, share their own foibles and mistakes when they were learning that language or the first language the learner speaks. Here we see a great advantage for nonnative teachers of English who can empathize with their learners. Or in the case of English native speakers who have passed through the experience of learning another language.
At the end of the day, the teacher must bring forth independent thinkers and learners who after a period of time in class will be able to fly on their own.
Quite often when we think about anything related to the 21st Century, including teaching, we think of the use of technology, gadgets and the internet. We feel we must have Smart boards, tablets, online classes, video sharing, social media, and the list goes on and on. But what every teacher must remember is that his main working material consists of brains inside living organisms labeled as learners, students or pupils.
I’ve just finished studying a book published back in 1997 but with ideas still relevant today for every language teaching professional: Psychology for the Language Teacher (CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS) by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden.
Undoubtedly some advances and finds have taken place in psychology and the human science of teaching and pedagogy over the past 20 plus years, but some things never change and must be remembered, reviewed and implemented. Sooner or later we will stop referencing to “21st century” and just say ” Teaching”.
The book presented 10 key points on Language Teaching, this first part of my post will work on the first three items:
1. There’s a difference between learning and education.
Learning: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.
“these children experienced difficulties in learning”
Education: the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.
“a new system of public education”
A quick look at these first definitions present a great distinction between both processes, which intersect in many areas … both involve receiving knowledge or instruction, but a key distinction is that learning involves the development of skills through experience.
Joi Ito beautifully summed it up: “Education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do for yourself”
Here it is graphically represented:
Now that we have the distinction we can move to the second point.
2. Learners learn WHAT is meaningful to them.
I can try ad nauseam to inculcate in my students the state capitals of the US, the beautiful wording of the Declaration of Independence, the Scottish Calvinist values, etc… but they will not profit from that if they don’t see a purpose or meaning in that. I always ask my students at the beginning of their course about their goals, current activities, hobbies and dreams so that the lessons may be geared towards intrinsic motivation resulting in effective learning. I’m not saying that students
who live in the favelas in Rio should only be taught vocabulary about getting water from a well or snorting glue… (yes, yes, it’s just an example, don’t get up in arms about it) They must learn based on their reality and context but also from that point the teacher can and must build a path where learners will be introduced to a better way and a broader world.
3. Learners learn IN WAYS that are meaningful to them.
I love reading but if my student is interested in speaking “only” I must adapt the course so that any reading they do is impregnated with the spoken language – it can be an interview, a novel rich in dialogue, even part of a play … as long it’s language relevant and appropriate to their level. If they like movies, or sports, let them search and learn about what interests them. Here again Language is a tool not an end unto itself.
Writing is really important for learners to process and review their language acquisition but instead of asking them to write a 500-600 word essay (unless they’re preparing for an exam where such activity is required), why not have them write a business related email? Or even a text message including abbreviations, emojis and shortcuts?
Please, bear in mind that my students are adults who have already gone through their academic process and now need English or Spanish mostly for employment purposes and career advancement opportunities. Actual Fluency in English will be a plus for any CV or Résumé in a non-English speaking nation. The point is that it must be true not just wishful thinking; hence the person’s awareness that they are no longer “students”, but “learners”