RACISM* IN THE ELT INDUSTRY

You don’t need to be a genius to know that prejudice exists everywhere you find people gathered together.

The English Language Teaching industry wouldn’t be different. After all, it’s made up of people from all nations and races.

Do teachers (not necessarily language teachers) suffer from prejudice and racism?

Yes, since forever… You don’t need to go far -just watch the trailer of my favorite classic film – To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier.

To Sir, with Love

But in this blog I’m not going to be talking about national or linguistic prejudices as in “he’s not a native speaker” or “I don’t like his accent”. The smelly goat in the room is about racism and skin color.

Back in the day (1990s) when I was a partner in a language school in São Paulo, we hired teachers to provide private business lessons at different multinational companies – one pre-requisite was “English native-like fluency” (hey, it was the roaring ’90s, don’t judge me)- no color stipulation.

We had some Brazilian, American, British, Swedish, Nigerian, South African and even a Tasmanian teacher (a loose cannon for sure – some day remind me to talk about him) – most of them were white, mostly in their 20s or early 30s, but not exclusively. I remember Charlotte, who I thought was an old lady back then(now I think she must have been probably in her 50s or early 60s).

I remember in special, Kendra, who was a great teacher, students loved her and not because or despite of the fact she was black. She was an exchange student between her US university and São Paulo University (USP). She was pursuing a degree in linguistics and she took on several classes with us.

We also had a Brit teacher – mixed race and nationality – mother Brazilian, father English – had been born in London and had decided to try his life in Brazil. He was a good teacher, can’t remember his background, but we could see he didn’t want to be a teacher for long. Either he would become a partner or he would jump off ship, which he did.

Never did a student call us saying “I don’t want teacher A, B or C because he or she is black”. NEVER. Sometimes there were misfits due to teaching approach, some of the foreign teachers, the famous backpackers, were not reliable with time and class preparation, etc.

Did our clients get surprised to see a black teacher waiting for them in the room? I’m sure some of them did. Talk about stereotypes – “my English teacher (any gender) is tall, slander, blue-eyed and has perfect teeth”.

Now I know that Brazilian black teachers are few and far between, especially in the self-employed segment. Why? Racism? Lack of economic and education opportunities? A combination of it all?

All I can say is that during my school (Uni) years one of my best friends (and classmates) was black. She had also had more exposure to English than I had at the time and her economic situation was also better than mine, a white boy. Go figure.

Yes, racism exists and we must fight it, but it shows itself quite often in subtle ways, as if hiding behind the skin tone of a person.

Skin Tone Color Palette
Skin tone palette

We must be aware and mindful of its presence and stand up against it when it rears its ugly face. Racism sucks.

Cheers,

Mo

*DISCLAIMER: all the statements here are my own and may not reflect the reality of every single living creature on the face of the earth.

Surviving Covid-19: life as a self-employed teacher – Part 1

“2020 looks like it will be a great year” – or so I thought back on January 01 – unaware that the world would grind to a halt and be turned upside down.

New year, new students signing up on the professional level and 25th year wedding anniversary celebration scheduled for April with a lovely reception scheduled to take place by a lake shore with over 1 year bookings and preparations.

Well, … Covid-19 happened.

Right after Carnival (of course, nothing should get in the way of the beer, drugs and sex event) we learned that the virus was here brought by a traveler returning from Italy – or so that’s how it was officially labeled. Today, June 01, there are half a million Brazilians infected with the coronavirus, and 30,000 Covid-19 related deaths.

Covidzilla’s attack brought great devastation to the world’s society and economy.

In early March we found out they were starting to restrict access to some office buildings – including where I used to teach some of my business students.

March 16 – I told wife, “I’ve just cancelled my classes for the day – let us go take a walk on the beach before it’s too late”. Lovely. A sunny Monday on the beach.

The following day we knew quarantine was coming and since March 17 we’ve been in Quarantine. No malls, no schools, no churches, no coffee shops, no restaurants, no museums, no parks – even if totally in the open air – that reminded me of last year’s closures of many parks in the city of São Paulo because of yellow fever mosquitoes. Confusing information:

Don’t wear masks. Wear masks. Don’t drive. Drive. Stay indoors. Go outdoors. Hydroxychloriquine. No hydroxychloroquine.

One constant was the advice to stay home and leave it only if you’re part of the “essential workers” in-crowd. Of course, education and entertainment are not part of that crowd. But that’s fodder for another blog post.

Well, everybody thinks I’m doing fine financially because I’ve migrated my f2f classes to online.

Easy there with your assumptions. I already had a few students having classes exclusively online but 80% of them were face to face students.

When I told them of the “temporary” migration, some 70% agreed and started having classes right away, or at least were willing to try the online classes.

Is teaching online similar or different from face to face lessons? Yes! Of course the body language is different, the physical energy is missing but on the other hand the same content can be used both ways – different approaches at times, but… with the same goals.

However, 30% of my clients said they were not interested in having online classes. The lessons wouldn’t be the same, so they said. One elderly learner said she wouldn’t know how to connect with Zoom and was not willing to try to learn. Another student – a highly respected economist at an International Bank – said he doesn’t like that “sort of class” – without even trying – and he would rather wait for the end of the quarantine.

Another Student had a 30% cut in her pay, so in order to keep her on I agreed to a 50% cut. Another was so stressed dealing with her work that she decided to take some time off since she wouldn’t find any time to have lessons (in normal times she already didn’t have time – always feeling tired and stressed). Student A still had 2 classes that he had paid in advance so he made sure to have those lessons online and then, Hasta la vista, baby. Take care of yourself.

I’m used to losing students who have a family emergency or lose their jobs – that happens, life throws you lemons while you’re not even looking… but I still felt a little hurt when the students who claimed they loved my classes were so quick to drop me off at the first corner.

But, thank God I still kept some of my students- the well hasn’t dried up totally. Yet. (Touch wood). But my income has been down by 30% so far this year. Tightening belt ? yes.

Concern

All my life I’ve gotten students by word of mouth and observation. By that I mean every time I walked into a company, people were watching me. They saw that X, or Z were having classes with a private teacher and they would ask for references and my phone/email contact.

Now, I am clueless about how to get students online. Yes, I’m visible on Twitter and Instagram and YouTube – but I can’t compete with teachers charging peanuts for the “same” class I charge premium. Of course my students know I’m an excellent and knowledgeable teacher, highly qualified and experienced both in Brazil and abroad. But how will I convey that online? One way to do that is by specializing in a segment or segments -beyond “business English” – such as Exam preparation, writing etc.

Great food for thought.

Cheers,

Mo

CONNECTING MINDS – Emotional intelligence of language teachers and learners

What matters most in language education?

  • Is it the latest audio/visual technology?
  • Games? or that loathsome word “gamification”?
  • Classes supported by robust academic research?
  • The latest coursebooks published by the largest international publishers (preferably based in the UK or US)?
  • Native speakers to teach the language?
  • One on one teaching? Group teaching?
  • F2F? or Online?

What matters most in language education: PEOPLE”

Learning takes place where three factors are interconnected: motivation; cognition; emotion.

CREATE THE FUTURE THROUGH CONNECTING MINDS | Binu Peniel
Connecting Minds

Motivation – if learners are not motivated, no matter how many virtual or real somersaults a teacher may do, they won’t get anywhere.

How to Do a Somersault: 10 Steps (with Pictures) - wikiHow
If teacher has not connected with students, there will be no point in doing somersaults for them

Cognition – Google’s dictionary defines it as “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.” there must be a transfer of knowledge and understanding between Teacher and learners – actually, this process is a 2-way street – it’s not a passive experience – both learners and teacher will be developing and growing in understanding each other.

Emotion – Teacher and learner must have a positive feeling regarding their relationship. Students should “fall in love” with their teacher – nothing sexual, take it easy. But they must be infected by the teacher’s passion and enthusiasm. If the teacher approaches the subject with a jaded attitude – it will not result in any excitement on the learners’ part.

Rita Pierson once said on a TED Talk: “People don’t learn from people they don’t like.” She went on to say that psychologically wise language teachers will do 3 things:

  1. develop relationships
  2. focus on positivity and growth
  3. nurture their own professional development and well-being.

There you have it… starting point towards developing a healthier relationship between teachers and learners.

Cheers,

Mo

Os 10 mandamentos de reuniões (ou aulas) com o Zoom

Zoom Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock Achei interessante o desafio: Agora que todo mundo está no Zoom:
Os 10 mandamentos de reuniões com o Zoom
1. Não gritarás no microfone;
2. Silenciarás o microfone até o momento em que precisares falar;
3. Não ficarás mastigando comida ou chiclete diante da câmera durante a reunião;
4. Não ficarás repetindo a mesma pergunta “se estão ouvindo-te”. O ícone do teu microfone serve para te informar;
5. Não utilizarás o microfone do teu computador, mas sim o aparelho de headset para evitar os ecos do inimigo;
6. Colocarás tua câmera à altura dos teus olhos. Tuas narinas não precisam ser inspecionadas;
7. Desligarás o video antes de ausentar-te de diante da câmera;
8. Não participarás da reunião sem estares vestindo a parte da baixo das tuas roupas;
9. Não ignorarás tua postura para melhor concentração, sentado é melhor do que deitado;
10. Não marcarás reunião desnecessária, ou sem preparo de uma agenda.
É isso.
Cheers,
Mo

Lose the Video. Focus on the Audio

Reflecting on the rush for people to continue with work, studies, meetings, happy hour encounters, etc  on zoom, Skype and any other video conferencing platform I came to the conclusion we risk overusing that technology to our own loss.SS _04.04-5.jpg

Even The Guardian who tries to be balanced in issues other than politics, is adding fire to the game. Look at the headline below: video game

 

“If you need to go for a walk… why not wander around a video game?”  Nothing left to the imagination or, gulp, to actual physical activity. But that would be subject for another post.

My point is that we risk missing out on the development of a great skill – especially if we’re teaching language learners: listening. Back in the 1990s we already could see the lack of time and mobility some students were facing to attend face to face classes. So I started teaching English lessons over the phone – “Phone Classes” – with great levels of success and student satisfaction. They  ranged from 15 to 30 minutes a session which could be repeated 2 or 3 times along the week.

As a teacher of English and Spanish for nearly 30 years I can tell you that listening is one of the hardest part of language learning. Yes, they need to build confidence when speaking or writing and reading – they’re all important – but when it comes to listening especially if living in a country where L2 (second of foreign language) is not ubiquitous…

Yes, their hearing may be even better than mine but we can’t overlook the fact that many are so busy speaking or looking at “bells and whistles” that they can’t really focus on listening what others are telling them.

Yes, you may argue that there are tons of movies and TV shows to watch, internet radio is here to stay, yada yada yada (since we’re talking about sitcoms) but the default language exposure will be the learners’ L1 (mother tongue) – they may even watch a video in English but with Portuguese subtitles – “I just wanted to decompress, teacher Mo” – “I needed a break so I listened to songs but didn’t any pay attention to the lyrics”, they would say. And to add insult to injury video lessons are having the same problem. Entertainment instead of Education.

The teacher may present the best data show software in the market but progress will be slow even if entertainment is high.

Phone classes (no eyes necessary) – a couple of students of mine have stuck to the system and benefited from it – helps learners develop and enhance their listening skills – they have to really understand what somebody is telling them with no body language.

Of course, I can pre-teach them the vocabulary, tell them to research the topic we will be discussing online and even send them a sample interview, dialogue, for example. But when on the phone they won’t be focused on the teacher’s hair or makeup or PJs but on the sound the teacher is producing.

Quite often in my teacher talking time, I say what I imagine could be a new word in the target language (they wouldn’t know, for example, what a “field hospital” is but would for sure have heard about it in their mother tongue these days). So I usually say: “well, I was driving past a field hospital they’re setting up near my home for Covid-19 patients… how do you say “hospital de campanha” in English?” And they will always glibly answer “field hospital” – just to check if they were listening and following what I was saying.

So to sum up, not every class must be visual 100% of the time, learners will greatly benefit from extra listening practice. 62 Interesting Things to Talk About on the Phone | LoveToKnow

Stay Safe,

Mo

 

Online Language Teaching

We are living in unprecedented times … April 2020 – we are going through a virus pandemic that no one (doctors, scientists, politicians, business leaders) cannot guarantee what the world will look like in one month’s time, let alone in one year’s time. At times my imagination travels as if there is a green, noxious miasma outside ready to grab anyone who ventures out.ArtStation - Wandering Above The Sea Of Fog, Etienne Lamoureux

Schools have been suspended, offices and malls closed. People told to stay home and safe. Actually, “Stay Safe” has become the most popular leave-taking expression of the year in English – forget about  “goodbye”,  “farewell”, “see you later”, or even “take care”.

We must stay home and be  distant socially, but not socially isolated – we can communicate with our loved ones online, on the phone, shouting from the window (if they live next door  or in the apartment block across the street).

Teachers worldwide have been told to stay home and start teaching their lessons online – some record their video sessions, others go live using Zoom, Skype or their institution’s choice, while others still have to do both.

But from the get-go, the problems started to arise – of schools and education authorities are not interested in how the teacher will do it… They just MUST do it.

Some frequent problems: 

  1. equipment – old cellphones, no computer, no access to broadband, prepaid services (which are way more expensive)
  2. Wifi – poor or no wifi access
  3. digital skills – many teachers may use their mobile phones for passive consumption of social media, WhatsApp and make the odd phone call. But to upload their lesson plan?!
  4. lack of confidence – I’m not good with gadgets. I don’t know where to start.
  5. fixed mindset – see some of the excuses above.
  6. complexity – come on… some teachers can’t adjust the clocks on their microwave ovens – do you think they’re gonna be willing to learn something new?

That leads me to a quote I read last week – don’t remember the author (too lazy to try to find out) but still true: “teachers don’t like to learn”. 

What’s the solution? No magic bullets but, as teachers we must develop more tolerance for ambiguity, and willingness to learn.

Grow in self-awareness, self-management, and problem-solving.

Our online classes will not likely be ready to be shown on national educational TV programming but they will make the difference to our students.

Keep calm and grow, baby, grow.KEEP CALM AND GROW BABY GROW Poster | liv_sta | Keep Calm-o-Matic

Happy online teaching.

Cheers,

Mo

 

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