Online Classes and Coronavirus

Here we are, March 2020 – Only 3 months into the year. Back on January 01 I said to myself: “2020, what a beautiful number. This year promises to bring optimism, economic recovery in Brazil (we have been limping since the recession started in 2016), new ideas, 25 years of Wedding Anniversaries, etc”.

Now it seems that most of the world has been brought down to their knees by a virus. It started in China, but quickly spread to other countries until it was officially labeled a “pandemic” by the WHO. Now Italy is shut down. Many countries are considering to follow suit while all others are encouraging telecommuting and online learning.

Companies and workers will be trying to follow those recommendations, even though many working parents would rather leave home for the peace of their offices. Online classes for younger people – how would they work? would they be pre-recorded or live sessions? A blend of both? Who would make sure that learners are following with their studies? How different would be the learning environment without its social aspect? Would video chats replace face to face interaction?

There seem to be more questions than answers before this new normal sets in… will a “quarantine” take place whenever a new virus appears?

I have been teaching online for years, initially because I traveled a lot accompanying my wife on her business trips and it was wonderful to enjoy such flexibility, to be able to continue classes initially by phone (we are talking here mid- to late 1990s) and then via video chat. FaceTime (it doesn’t usually work very well), Skype and Zoom (my favorite platform) allow my students to prepare for the upcoming classes by practicing listening, vocabulary, grammar exercises (talk about the flipped class concept) and it doesn’t require much technology, you don’t need special VR goggles and sound effects. Even if you have a piece of paper or a mini whiteboard, that will be enough for you to interact with your student. Duration of the lessons varies according to student needs and cash availability (hey, it matters), so it can range from 30-minute to 90-minute sessions.

online
You can teach online using simple resources and low technology (pants are optional) 

What could ensure a better flow of the classes? Preparation (by both teacher and learner). It’s a class – not a free chat session (which incidentally may occur) but a structured session with warm-up, review, speaking time, listening time, objectives, etc will yield better results.

Now I’m considering developing a language learning app for Brazilians – including pre-recorded videos with a teacher (me, who else?) and drills on grammar, vocabulary, social skills, etc. Initially it would be a general English app and later expand to a Business English context.

At the end of the day, crises must not be the end of the world. Let us think up of new possibilities. Any suggestions or recommendations?

Happy online teaching.

Cheers,

Mo img_4775teacher 3

LEARN ENGLISH (OR ANY OTHER LANGUAGE) IN 2020

Last week I came across a video on YouTube where Christian (from http://www.canguroenglish.com/) talked about resolutions for students to effectively learn English in 2020.

He listed nine reasons that could beautifully sum up steps that would open the door towards learning and I decided to create step by step posters of his tips:

Tip #1: Practice actively – don’t just sit passively in front of your computer watching YouTube videos. Read, speak, write, repeat. F827E6F9-50B0-482F-94CA-D0646AA6B321

Tip #2: Don’t believe the lies – You can’t learn English in 90 days or while you’re sleeping. It requires time, effort, commitment. persistence. IMG_7445

Tip #3 – Have realistic expectations – don’t expect to be making phone calls or understanding Shakespeare after 2 classes. IMG_7447

Tip # 4 – Grammar is important – understand about verb tenses and modal verbs, for example. But it corresponds to only a tiny part of the language and your communication skills.

IMG_7448

Tip # 5: Forget about exams – yes, Universities will require exams but if your goal is just to get a passing score, you will be missing out on the opportunity of actually learning the language – you’d be better off then just focusing on the tricks of exam’s questions and timing. IMG_7469Tip # 6 – Stop trying to sound like a Native – some people have lived for 30, 40 even 50 years in an English speaking country and have NEVER lost their accent – which has not held them back from enjoying their adoptive country to the full. Embrace your voice and accent, that’s part of your identity. IMG_7470Tip # 7 Mistakes are Learning – yes, you say you’re a Virgo and a perfectionist – I don’t care, and most other people don’t either. You will make mistakes and learn from them. Instead of just kicking yourself, pay attention to the mistake and try to avoid repeating it again and again and again. Move on to the next one. IMG_7471Tip # 8: Use your English to do things – watch TV, read, travel, do whatever you would do in your mother tongue, start experimenting with the language you’re learning. IMG_7472Tip # 9 Have Fun – it’s impossible to have fun every single moment – but enjoy the ride – if you enjoy the journey, your destination will feel even sweeter. IMG_7473Happy learning in 2020!

Cheers,

Mo

Native teachers – busting a myth

Last weekend we were celebrating my birthday at the home of a dear couple, Mari and David, who even surprised me with a deliciously personalized Black Forest Cake. They were so excited to have that cake made especially for me and quickly apologized saying that the cake maker had mislabeled it with “Congratulations” instead of “Happy Birthday”.

Black Forest Cake
Happy Birthday Teacher

We had a wonderful time together and talked about nothing and 1001 things. At one point, my wife ask Mari about her English classes.

Mari works in marketing and customer service for an international company and needs to improve her language skills so that she can participate in global conference calls and presentations.

The last time we had talked about it, Mari had told us she was having online classes with a “native” teacher and that she found it hard to study and focus but she was feeling she was making some progress.

This time, she said, “now I am having face-to-face classes at a language school near my office, after work. But… my teacher is ‘NATIVE’ “.

My astute wife shot back right away: “why are you saying he’s ‘native’? What difference would it make if  he wasn’t native?

Mari stood there (or sat there as I remember) with her mouth hanging open searching for good reasons. She realized I’m an English teacher and I am not “native”. So she said, “Yes, Mo, but you are native-like”.

Agreed, my English is amazing (may modesty take a hike for awhile), but what makes me a great language teacher (there I go again) is not simply the fact that I can speak English and can lead some people to believe I am an American, or Australian, or Canadian, or Irish etc… depending on the nationality of the students trying to guess where I am from.

I am a great teacher because:

  1. I am knowledgeable /an expert in the subject I’m teaching.
  2. I know how to convey information in a simple, brief and clear way.
  3. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be trying to speak another language: Empathy.
  4. I am patient.
  5. I motivate, correct, exhort, encourage learners to aim to a higher level with my own passion for the language learning process.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a post written by Justin Murray (a ‘native’ teacher of English) on the English Experts website:

“[…] Another advantage about native speakers is that their students generally feel more motivated to speak in English in class. The fact that the teacher is from an English speaking country and not the country of the students generally works as an unconscious trigger for the student to speak the language. This may have nothing to do with the teacher’s proficiency or teaching ability.”

“The final advantage, which is the most popular, is that a native born teacher will teach or transmit much better pronunciation. This is for sure an advantage, but what a lot of people don’t know is that it’s difficult for beginners and lower intermediate students take advantage of this. In my opinion, upper intermediate and advanced students will benefit a lot more.” https://www.englishexperts.com.br/are-native-english-speakers-really-better-teachers/Image result for native teacher

Having read the quote above, I risk repeating myself:

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what planet your teacher is from, what will matter is the learner’s commitment, focus and effort (time, money, skills) to learn and improve their language skills. If having a native teacher makes you feel better, knock yourself out. But that doesn’t mean you’ll learn any faster or better.

The teacher, either Native, Native-like, or Martian will be just a facilitator and provider of resources.

Happy teaching and happy learning,

Mo

(The cake was amazing, by the way)

Learning a language on your own

This week I received the following question from one of our Sabbath School podcast listeners:
“I’d like to know if reading  books in English (reading a lot) will enable me to learn the language?”
“I can’t afford a language school/course. My English level is very good. I can understand about 80% of what I read. But I find it hard to speak and write. Would it be possible for me to reach a higher level by reading and listening only? Your Sabbath School podcast (Believes Unasp Sabbath School Podcast  – https://player.fm/series/2424793) has been a great gateway for me. I’m loving the audio practice! It’s been helping me a lot.” Jefferson F.
Image result for learn a language reading
Hello Jefferson, your question is pretty fair – can anyone learn English (or any other language) just from reading? My first answer: That depends
Of course, there are many people who have learned the classical languages – Greek and Latin or Hebrew and Arabic from just reading texts.
Image result for classical languages
Can you learn a language by yourself? Yes, depending on your will, time and natural skills.
But the learning process can be more comprehensive (and more fun) if you incorporate all four skills:
Reading and Listening are receptive skills while Writing and Speaking are predominantly productive skills. Of course, if your goal is to understand or translate sacred texts, for instance, that’s where your efforts and focus should be. But…
You can and should (as much as possible) develop your “proactive skills”: speaking and writing.
Most definitely today there are millions of opportunities to practice your listening in your target language (literally). You can listen to many podcasts and documentaries, interviews, etc. Reading opportunities are basically infinite online… or at least they would last you all your mortal life and then some.
Now, in ‘modern languages’ one important challenge is to be able to communicate – either through speaking or writing – and you can practice that by finding people who are also learning or are native speakers of your target language. Email them. WhatsApp them, Facebook them.
Let’s say in the worst case scenario you have no one to practice with – start reading aloud and training your speech, pronunciation, listening to your own voice how you can improve your intonation, linking words, etc. Record yourself (even if you hate the sound of your voice – tough it up!).
Regarding the fact you can’t afford a language course, there are many courses offered in Brazil by public universities (state and federal institutions) which offer some language courses for Specific Purposes at zero or low cost. Google them up. And make YouTube one of your teachers.
Image result for ingles instrumental usRelated image

 

So… Finally, I’m answering your question with a resounding YES! Yes, You can learn English (or any other language all by yourself).
Now if you would like to have a language expert, enabler, facilitator, provider of positive feedback… feel free to contact me. Your investment will be worth your while.
Cheers,
Mo

The Seven Deadly Sins of Language Learning

Image result for seven  good habits  clipartMany people around the world are interested in learning a second or foreign language, be it English, Spanish, French or any of the 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. It would do good to any of us to try to avoid these 7 Bad Language Learning Habits That Turn People Off.Image result for seven deadly sins of language learning

Speaker and author Julian Treasure gave a popular TED Talk in 2014 that explained how anyone can speak effectively, whether in a conversation or in front of a crowd.

Here are the bad habits you need to avoid if you want to learn another language, loosely adapted from Treasure’s “seven deadly sins of speaking”:

 1. Worrying about what others will think and say

If you worry that other speakers will be judging you and that they always speak better than you and more fluently and effortlessly,  that will only hold you back.

2. Setting unrealistic goals

“In 3 months I’ll be speaking the Queen’s English” – Well… that will depend on what queen you’re talking about.

3. Being negative

“I’ve been learning ___________ (fill in the blank with any language) for X years and I can’t get above a pre-intermediate level conversation. My listening sucks. I’ll never speak like my friend/ enemy/ boss, spouse, etc.”

4. Complaining

Complaining easily becomes a habit, and before you know it, you’ll be known as the person who complains about the weather, the news, work, and about the language you’re learning. It’s what Treasure calls “viral misery.

Guess what happens if you keep saying: “This exercise is boring… it’s too difficult … it’s too easy, why do I have to learn this grammar point? … “

Some people have a “blame-thrower,” Treasure says, putting the blame on anybody and anything except themselves. “I don’t have anyone to practice my language with”. “I don’t have time; I have 2 wives and 1 child to provide for”; etc

6. Not using the language you’re learning

It’s a waste of time and energy to only spend 45 minutes a week in touch with the language you’re learning. You have to find ways to listen, read, write, speak (even if only to yourself) in your target language outside the classroom environment, be it physical or virtual.

7. Being lazy or a slothImage result for seven deadly sins clipart

see item 6  – you see? – you not even want to refer back to the previous topic (yes, I told you you won’t learn if you don’t invest time and effort).

 

 

 


Image result for tree of learningSo what can you do to enjoy you’re learning journey? 

  1. Start using the little of the language you already know, not worrying what other people will say.
  2. Set realistic goals. Be aware that the you’ll be learning the language for years to come.
  3. Be positive. I’ve been studying this language for X amount of time and I already can … “Today in class I learned x, y, z.” I was watching a movie in my target language and could understand some words here and there”.
  4. Suggest alternate exercises, topics or activities that might be more appealing to you.
  5. Own up to your duties in the language learning process.
  6. Use the language you’re learning as often as possible. If not daily, at least every other day.
  7. Don’t surrender to the sin of laziness. Just do it.

Happy learning,

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

 

Error Correction & Feedback in Writing

This week one of my students was quite inspired – something one rarely comes across these days-  that I felt inclined to ask him to write a 300-word essay about a weekend trip. He said he would. And he did. I’m quite used to students who would rather have their fingernails pulled than write a short paragraph, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Once he handed in the text I had to consider how to give him constructive feedback and the amount of correction to provide.

When checking ideas on how to correct his essay I came across the following:

“In academic writing, the end product is expected to have:

  • A wide range of vocabulary
  • Correct grammar
  • Meaningful punctuation
  • Accurate spelling
  • Varied sentence structures
  • Unity and coherence in ideas
  • Well-supported and explained major points.”
  • Source: CORRECTING AND GIVING FEEDBACK TO WRITING (bit.ly/31XLsWy)

We all have written papers for some courses to be checked and graded by
our instructors. We know very well that a paper that is returned with red
markings and notes all over is quite discouraging for the writer. Knowing
this, while giving feedback we may, of course, use green pens and put
smiling faces here and there on the paper but still we see the light in the
students’ eye fading.Image result for esl corrected essay

Image result for In academic writing, the end product is expected to have:  A wide range of vocabulary Correct grammar

If our aim is to win the student over instead of discouraging him, we should be looking for ways of giving feedback without losing the student. Otherwise they might think our “pen is pooping blood”.
The most important aspect while giving feedback is adopting a positive
attitude to student writing. While marking mechanically we may not
realize that we are showing the student only their mistakes and negative
points. If the student receives only negative feedback, they may easily be
discouraged from trying to form complex structures and using new
vocabulary.

These are a few  examples of error codes from the more “sophisticated” writing rules to basic Tense, Spelling and Word Order. Image result for writing correction codes eslImage result for writing correction codes eslImage result for writing correction codes esl

The trick is to find a balance between correcting “every single mistake” and “keeping the thought flow and meaning”, without discouraging the student.

A starting point is emphasizing the importance of spacing of lines, choice of font (if typing). If you feel that red ink is too shocking choose a softer color such as green or blue. Write the code next to the error but make sure the student has the code keys – any comments the teacher writes should be brief and clear aiming to provide positive feedback.

Not all students will write for a living or even for work. Many will use an instant messaging system such as WhatsApp or the odd email.  However, feedback sessions can be a beneficial experience for the student IF the teacher shows the learner’s strong points as well as the importance of clarity and accuracy.

Happy writing,

Cheers,

Mo

Nativism revisited

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!”

Sigh.

Good luck, Ivonne,

Cheers,

Mo