Accent v Pronunciation

This is another question that comes up quite often in the language classroom:

“Teacher, what’s the difference between accent and pronunciation?”

Well… in simple terms, accent is the voice you’ve developed based on where you were born and raised, your parents, family, classmates, etc all played a role in developing your accent in your mother tongue. Anyone has an accent! You realize it every time you move out of your area or comfort zone where most people speak like you.

Don’t even get me started with different British accents – one for every village and town.

Now… pronunciation refers to your intonation – the way you enunciate words and phrases.

I always tell my students that they don’t have to lose their accents – they are many times even considered charming by other speakers…. but they must be careful with their pronunciation so that they can be understood and not break down any communication attempt.

One example is the pronunciation of the letter R /r/ as a consonant sound. Many Brazilian, French and Spanish-speaking students find it hard to pronounce words such as

Rabbit  РRaccoon Рradio Рred РRecipe Рrun etc

many times their default pronunciation with be with an H sound – they’ll say

Habbit – Haccoon – Hadio – Hed – Hecipe – Hun etc

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My role as the teacher is to identify these problem sounds, raise the student’s awareness to it and encourage them to produce the adequate sound.

Speaking another language requires skills which can and must be developed.

So happy practice and keep on speaking.

Cheers,

Mo

 

How to spend a lifetime in teaching? ūü§óūü§Ē

This week I came across an episode of the podcast TEFL Training Institute with the question quoted above where Ross (one of the hosts) interviewed his parents who worked as teachers for a combined total of almost 50 years. And myself? Well, I started at my church’s Sabbath School initially teaching the primary class (kids between 8-12) . I was 15 at the time, so I’ve been involved with teaching for over 35 years. The questions asked on the podcast are relevant to all of us involved in teaching either as volunteers, professionals or both. Here they are:

1. How do you keep yourself motivated? 

Professionally speaking – money is a motivating factor. yeah, yeah… You may say whatever you want but you still need to pay your bills at the end of the month and buy a pair of shoes once in a while. But although money is a very visible factor, it isn’t enough to get you going. I like speaking in different languages, so… I look forward to every opportunity I have to speak in English, Spanish or French. I love watching tv in other languages. I like reading magazines and newspapers from other countries. The students are the same but also different. You’ll have similar difficulties and challenges but their attitude, behaviour, reactions always surprise me. I’m always open to learning new words, getting to use new teaching materials. I wish I could attend more TEFL conferences, but sometimes they end up demotivating me using the same themes ad nauseamIMG_9078, being more of a marketplace where language schools and publishers come to sell their goods instead of teachers discussing their best practices and the future of their industry. Since traveling can be quite expensive I really appreciate when the organisers of those events make them available online on YouTube.

2. How has teacher training changed? 

Sadly enough I haven’t notice great changes in teacher training. You may use a smart screen instead of an overhead projector but still present the same ideas, and interaction activities.

3. What advice do you have to new teachers?

Welcome to this rewarding career. Yes, there will be challenges and you will never become a millionaire from your classes (Some exceptions may apply) but you will be always learning and always growing if not from anything else, from at least being in touch with some wonderful human beings, yes, you’ll also encounter some dreadful, horrid creatures, but they are still, thank goodness, too few and far in between.

Happy teaching and enjoy the journey.

Cheers,

Mo

Freelancing as a Teacher

One of these days my wife and I were talking about two young men close to us in their 20s and how lost they’re feeling regarding their career path. To protect their identity let us call them E. and A.IMG_9316

¬†E. has already worked in IT for big multinationals like Danone and has decided he doesn’t want to work in the corporate world anymore, the pressure, the competitiveness, etc have not been appealing to him, ¬†but he doesn’t know what direction to take. Should he become a freelance teacher, a translator, a missionary? Meanwhile, A. has never worked – only studied and doesn’t know if he would like to follow the path of engineering he chose earlier since he’s never tasted it. So now he’s working as a delivery boy for a small restaurant during the week.

My wife said to me “Now I know how your brother must have felt when you said you were quitting your steady and well-paying job at a national bank to pursue your dream as a teacher” .

But differently from the two young men mentioned above I knew what I wanted AND didn’t want. I didn’t want to spend my days behind a desk. I wanted to be a teacher. And I needed to have an income right away… no daddy to send me monthly allowances.

In my na√Įvet√© I not even knew I could be a freelancing teacher. So, initially I looked for jobs at language schools. But over 20 years ago I saw the possibility of flying solo and earning my living as a freelance teacher. The benefits are:

IMG_9317Positive:

  • you develop your own career path and make more money, not having to give at least 50% of what your students pay to the language school.
  • You choose where and when to work.
  • You can fire those horrible students (it takes courage but your mental sanity is worth it)
  • You can choose when you’re going away on vacation
  • You get immediate feedback and know what works and doesn’t work.

Negative:

  • you must always be prospecting for new students
  • No basic or fringe benefits – no health insurance, paid holidays, sick day leave, paternity leave (you know what I mean), or even no access to the company’s restroom – (yes, it’s true, damned the designers and architects of some corporate buildings which hide away the toilets and the enforcers of condo rules such as “no access to the toilet unless accompanied by your respective student)

But I chose this path and despite its highs and lows I wouldn’t have done it ¬†differently. I’ve been in charge of my professional destiny and I’m sure many other mortals have never been able to breathe outside their gilded cage.

I’m quite often reminded of this Bible verse which has been proven true to me over and over again. Psalm 37:25:

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (King James Version)¬†

My advice to you if you’re considering freelancing – jump into the water and go free, or tread slowly just freelancing a couple of hours a week and no matter where you land it will have been worth the risk.

Cheers and Happy Teaching, IMG_9318

Mo

ūüźĆSnail Technology in Textbooks

I guess the question “does technology belong in the classroom?”¬†has been amply discussed and satisfactorily answered with a resounding YES! (kept some reservations). Both teachers and students have already grasped the idea that they can use technology as a learning tool. Not just the cool new thing.IMG_9271.JPG

So why have publishers been so resistant and slow to adopting e-textbooks? Yesterday a student of mine called my attention again to the outdated status of English coursebooks – which in my humble opinion are the most advanced in terms of volume of sales and global reach. Eduardo has finished his New Headway Elementary 15th edition (just kidding) and is ready to start the Pre-intermediate level. So I volunteered to buy him the book because as a teacher I get a 10% discount from the book distributor here in Brazil, SBS. Well, the coursebook and workbook¬†(16th edition) come with CDs for the student’s home study. Fine. But the first thing Eduardo said was: “Teacher, today’s computer notebooks not even include a Cd drive. Why can’t I just access it online or at least use a memory stick?”

An e-textbook is weightless, has multiple functionalities, can be read anytime, anywhere, allows for interactivity, can bring enhanced tools in audio, video, sound effects, games, quizzes, tests, etc. IMG_9270

So why are e-textbooks so unappealing?

First, the cost. Secondly the quality of the content must be improved. Another huge downside is compatibility. The same e-textbook would have to work perfectly well across a broad range of devices and operating systems. Let’s not forget the DRM – Digital Rights Management which tries to combat piracy.

The publishers allege that there still is an enormous digital divide in the world  Рbroadband and wifi may be restricted or simply nonexistent in many places. Or the power supply may be simply  unreliable and sporadic to keep the electronic devices charged. Software updates also can compromise functionality. Also, an ebook requires at least a computer. The same way that in the past language learners had to use a record/cassette/cd player to take advantage of the resources accompanying their textbooks.

Another contributor to the digital divide is that there are still teachers and students (especially those over 30) who lack the expertise on how to use the technology present in e-textbooks.

I would love to see giant publishers like Oxford University Press, Macmillan, Pearson and others to start introducing e-textbooks at a fair price and high quality which would undoubtedly be great incentives for teachers and students to adopt them.

Don’t hold your breath.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

Why pay a language teacher if I can learn for free?

With the ubiquitous presence of the internet there are tons of resources online for people willing to learn a foreign language to study for free. So why would anyone be willing to pay a teacher for lessons?

There are some people who can really learn on their own – I am one of them. ¬†Regarding how I learned English, I never paid a private teacher or language school. A big factor was money and lack thereof – there simply wasn’t any funding to hire a teacher no matter how low his or her fee. ¬†I compensated that with lots of passion for the language being daily in contact with it by listening to the radio and reading books and magazines. Moreover, some people find it easier to learn a language than others.

But as I developed my career as a teacher I had to attend teaching training courses and programs where I could identify and fix many of my faults and lack of knowledge which had been preventing  my full development.

Here are some reasons why professional help can make the difference in your learning:

  1. A teacher will help you identify your language level and develop strategies to make progress to the next level;
  2. A good teacher (emphasis on good) will equip you with relevant up-to-date material appropriate to your level. A teacher will provide you with quality material and practice. Many online videos and materials are outdated and with a very low quality;
  3. A teacher will highlight some important points you must correct and avoid some mistakes. The teacher will provide a reference for the student on his language intelligibly, pronunciation, vocabulary collocation, etc;
  4. You will be able to find answers to your questions;
  5. Even if you’re dating or married to a native speaker of the language you’re learning quite often they will not be very patient with your learning process. They won’t know how to correct you and even worse they may end up mocking you and dismissing you as a “silly Brazilian“. (Of course, it’s a whole new story if you’re dating your English teacher ūüėú)

To sum it all up, to have a private instructor will be an invaluable tool, but it will not discard your active role in the learning process.img_7652

Happy learning!

Cheers,

Mo

10 Top Tips for Learning English (or any other language)

Every new year comes with many resolutions:

“This year I’ll go on a diet and lose 20 pounds.”

“This year I’ll stop smoking”

“This year I’ll get a boyfriend/girlfriend/ pet”

“This year I’ll learn (…. – fill in the blanks)”.

But the problem with making resolutions is that they don’t tend to stick. They slip away and melt as if under the tropical sun.

But if you follow these steps (not in any necessary order and at least some of them) you will make progress and then you will feel you can continue to learn English (or any other language for that matter)

  1. Watch movies and TV in your target language (the internet makes it accessible) – even if you don’t understand what’s going on¬† you’ll get familiar to the sounds of that language. (I particularly love commercials)
  2. Read a book you know well. Preferably a book you liked reading in your mother tongue. When my wife was learning French she bought a copy of the Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) so she could enjoy the book and learn in her new language.language
  3. Keep a notebook – scribble down new words you learn – especially creating word collocation and usage sections. Revisit the notebook once a week.
  4. Use mnemonic devices. It won’t work for everyone but it does work. When learning about the coordinating conjunctions, for instance, you can use the word FANBOYS to help¬†remember the list. Can you name them? I’m pretty sure you can, because of FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). That is a mnemonic device. Creating a funny¬†mental picture that you’ll remember is another way to use a mnemonic device. The sillier the picture is, the better it will stick in your head.
  5. Listen to podcasts – not only about English learning – but podcasts of other subjects of your interest produced in English or target language.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises. Need I say more?
  7. Be mindful. Notice language. How it’s used. How it sounds.Create a routine, Stick to it.
  8. Read aloud – small texts and paragraphs but that will improve your pronunciation, intonation and fluency.
  9. Test yourself – after a month – review the points you’ve learned and test your progress.
  10. Enjoy your learning

foreign-language-can-be-fascinating-experience-and-gives-clipart-2lr7f9-clipart

Have fun.

 

Cheers,

Mo

Summer Immersion Courses – a fading memory

This morning, around 4am, my eyes popped open and refused to shut again, so with 2 more hours before the alarm clock went off I started reminiscing about a summer immersion program I was invited to participate nearly 20 years ago. When I calculated how long it had been I couldn’t believe my own synapses.

It was January 1997, and I was a partner director at ICS Intercultura – a language assistance firm struggling to make ends meet. A person in charge of the English language program on the campus of a University in S√£o Paulo contacted me – knowing I was an English teacher and said that their language center would be very happy if I would help them in that year’s English Immersion program. It was a 2-week program from 9am to 5pm five days a week where students would attend language lessons and other activities in English.

I jumped at the idea of getting to know their program and they were also going to pay me for teaching in the program.

The first meeting already pulled down my castle of dreams – the director, dr. James – a US born teacher with “light-years” of experience in teaching – thanked me for accepting the invitation and told me I would be working along with another young teacher, Alison (son of another teacher who’d already taught at the language center) in developing extra-class activities and games with the students. imersao

¬† I explained that I would be more comfortable in teaching grammar or reading, for example, but Dr. James was adamant that HE WOULD TEACH THAT. Another teacher would be in charge of writing. Another one, listening and so on and so forth. And the only spot would be for games: meaning – keep the students entertained and happy and we couldn’t find any other sucker to do that so we found you. I had never worked with those kinds of class activities and without any instruction or training I was thrown into the lion’s den for 2-3 hours a day. There were about 15 students at different levels. The challenge was to come up with games, drama, arts, whatever. Fortunately, the other teacher, Alison, had already taught in the previous year and he (yes, Alison is a man’s name in Brazil) could give me some support. The language center had a few books about class activities and games along with some movies on tape and that was our salvation.

My session went on with¬† highs and lows, with increasingly longer coffee breaks, but we made it. At the end of the program we went on a day trip to visit the Museum of Brazil’s Independence in S√£o Paulo – when the students would be exposed to the language with information about the museum, the city , etc given in their target language. Needless to say, the language center made no arrangements for an English-speaking guide and for leaflets or any useful info in English – so the students had a day trip in Portuguese alone. imersao-2

Since then, that university campus no longer has had a summer language immersion program but I can tell you that nothing much has changed in other language immersion programs. Improvisation and let’s-make-do-with-whatever-resources-we-have-on-the-shelf prevail.

Oh, do I need to tell you that after the program the school took quite a while to honor my payment? But that’s a theme for another blog.

My advice to people looking for immersion courses is to choose a subject taught in their target language and travel abroad.

Happy studies,

Mo