Can anyone learn a language online?

Can anyone learn a foreign language online and free? Yes, you can!

“Wait a minute”, you might say … are you telling me I can learn any language online? For real? Yes, you can.

But …. of course, there had to be a BUT! The internet is full of free pages to learn a foreign language, but not all are reliable, either because they don’t offer a program structured to your level, or because the method presented doesn’t suit your learning personality. Moreover, online learning is not the ideal medium for everyone, let alone those who are not disciplined and organised.

As a teacher, of course I stand for classes with a teacher. That’s the best choice. But not always the feasible one.

How can you learn at home?

Firstly, find a way of motivating and organising yourself. Tell others what you’re doin; that should keep your accountable, at least initially. Secondly, set up a list of resources for your learning process.

1. Reading:

Google up easy reading texts in your target language. Read a paragraph of a news story. A fairy tale. A piece of the transcript of an interview of a politician, artist, footballer or any other you might fancy and find interesting. Check the pronunciation, the vocabulary.

2. Watching

YouTube has tons of videos in your target language, not necessarily about learning the language. But clips of news or documentaries are great starting points.


3. Listening 

Focus on listening to news and documentaries that have a clearer speech.  Podcasts are a great source of listening material that you can download and listen to anywhere, anytime.


4. Speaking

This requires some courage. Dare to speak. Skype provides a language exchange forum for you to connect with people around the world. 353E9122-4E78-498C-A9B5-720CF4C30F01

You see? As I told you before, free online language learning is posssible but no magical solution. You’ll have to apply yourself to it regularly, especially if your goal is to learn “fast”.






Why Teach Pronunciation ? (Or not?)

Quite often teachers of English as a Foreign Language find themselves between a rock and a hard place concerning teaching pronunciation. If they’re native speakers they hesitate in constantly correcting their students fearing they’ll pass an overbearing image and many times thinking … “well… I can understand them … whatever”. If the teacher is a nonnative speaker of English they might feel insecure about their own pronunciation or even worse… they might not be aware of the proper pronunciation of specific sounds in English which are different from their mother tongue. 60984E2A-14DC-40E6-A3B4-002A9032AABF.jpeg

So… why bother teaching pronunciation?

Students want and need to speak clearly.

Their phonological awareness has an impact on all areas of their language learning besides speaking: reading, writing, vocabulary, etc

But what’s the right pronunciation? What’s a standard accent? British RP? Only 3% of Brits actually speak it. American Midwestern? What about Mississippi or Alabama? How about global English?

That’s why it’s important to know why your students are learning English.

The teacher must then focus on speech comprehension rather  on the student’s accent being good, bad or proper.

How to do it? Teaching pronunciation works best a little during every lesson instead of once a week or whatever frequency students have. C7047EE5-CB8D-4F9B-A70F-BE4A4AA74861.jpeg

“The teacher must”, as Richard Cauldwell  wrote, ‘focus on:

the greenhouse: isolated words.

the garden: mixing and growing words together, linking words.

The jungle: where everything is mixed”

The best way will be to integrate pronunciation with other skills and lots of repetition (practice).

In conclusion, our insecurity about the way we speak can be managed by raising our awareness and practicing to the student’s heart’s content.



N.B – Many thanks to Laura Patsko with her great YouTube videos on the subject of pronunciation –

English Language Education in Brazil – An Outlook part 2

According to the Brazilian Association of Franchising (ABF) between 2% and 4% of Brazilians (in a total population of around 220 million) speak English at some level.

At any given time, it is estimated that roughly 1 million people are studying English in Brazil concentrated in the State of São Paulo, followed by the Southeast Region and South Region.

CNA, a traditional franchiser of language schools claims to have around 420,000 students a year in Brazil.  But 40% of English language students drop out of their courses within 6 months.

It is a promising market. But … :

Why is there such a high evasion rate? Why are there so many people who don’t study English?

The leading answer is that “English is not for me”. Followed by “Spanish is easier.”

We have a culture of immediacy. Combined with poor performance.

Why do students quit? Most common reasons:

1. No money

2. No time

(However, it may be argued that there is a “save face” attitude. What the students might be  actually saying is: what you’re offering actually isn’t worth what I thought it was)

How do students prefer to study languages?

The overwhelming majority of language students (72%) prefer having classes in groups, attending the lessons in a school.

Again, statistics may vary but, it is estimated that 6% within a universe of 40 million Brazilians (200,000) prefer to have private lessons with a private tutor.

5% are enrolled in language teaching programs sponsored by NGOs or religious organisations, such as the English Sabbath School class which teaches the bible in English. You may check their work on Facebook – 

Distance learning, also known as e-learning or online learning (EAD in Portuguese)  is a promising segment (still in its infancy at 9%) but there are no reliable figures on the number of students studying English via Skype, FaceTime or using international language platforms or apps such as Global English, Duolingo and iTalki.

25% of Brazilians prefer to study alone. 75% prefer to study in groups.

Worth remembering that the industrial /digital  logic does not yield great results in the Education segment (even if called Industry) – we’re still human beings who learn at different paces and manners.

What does the future of Education look like?

The trend is to use an adaptive learning process with a hybrid use of different resources and technologies, combining both physical and digital presences. IMG_1314

The Education professionals, aka teachers, must seek the continuous development of their soft skills: interpersonal (people) skills. These are much harder to define and evaluate. While hard skills are job-specific, most prospective clients and students are looking for soft skills in their teachers, coaches or tutors. Soft skills include communication skillslistening skills, and empathy, among others.

Also we as language professionals must continue to work towards the development of solid knowledge, posture of dialogue and authority set by example.

Happy teaching and towards a bright future.


Mo img_7260




Give and take – the little practiced art of “practicing language”

That’s a common complaint by language teachers everywhere: after a weekend, long weekend, and heaven forbid, after 20 days of vacation, students return rusty and despondent. Allow 2 to 3 weeks for students to get up to speed, depending on their language class frequency, which in my case, most students have classes only once a week.

So… they return to class, I’m talking about adult students, but the same applies to children, with their ears and tongues hardened by lack of exercise in the target language, even if they’ve done their “assigned homework.”

Bear in mind that our brains also need some rest, and that’s ok. But language-wise, I’m not talking about reviewing grammar rules and prepositions or phrasal verbs, which can bore both teachers and students to death. I’m talkingincorporating language to their routine via give and take.


When learning a language we must be receptors – take Language from different sources. Listen to a podcast, or internet radio, watch a movie or TVs series, read all sorts of texts, etc. Take in as much language as you can…  but, you must also become a  giver.


Start producing the language. Be a transmitter of English or any other language you are learning. How? By trying to speak that language even if to yourself. Another great way to transition from a simple receptor into a transmitter is by taking small pieces of text – books, newspapers, magazines or online, and reading them aloud. Nowadays, there are many text to audio resources which you may use to check your pronunciation. Otherwise just listening to your own voice and working on the sounds you produce will work wonders in your language process.

Happy learning,



Hey Siri: using technology in language teaching

We have amazing computers disguised as phones and it’s time for the teacher and students to feel smarter than their phones. You can use Siri or other voice assistant apps to practice and even learn a language.

If you have an iPhone, Siri can be your language practice partner. To ask Siri a IMG_9387question, you have to pronounce the English words correctly in order to get an answer, so you get a chance to work on your speaking skills. Through Siri’s answers, you’ll hear proper or standard pronunciation and learn the right ways to respond to certain questions.

You can ask Siri:

what’s the weather today?

How’s traffic now?

Set an alarm / Set a timer 

Send an email to … / call …

You can also have some fun with Siri’s pre-loaded messages such as

When is the world going to end?

will you marry me?

can you teach English?

I’m fed up.

Just dictating a word if Siri gets your pronunciation correctly.

You can also say:

Spell “charge”

show me images of a “porcupine”

Although technology is extremely helpful when you’re learning English, real-world, human interaction also matters, but no question Siri can have more of a say in your language adventure.



🐌Snail 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  – broadband 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.





One-to-One Teaching: pros and challenges

For over 25 years I’ve been mostly teaching English or Spanish on an individual basis. Excluding my volunteer work on Saturdays when I teach English and the Bible to a group of around 80 people.  Hmmm… imagine if I charged a little from each of those 80 people… stop it, Mo! Volunteer work is not paid by definition. Don’t be greedy.

So… going back to 1-2-1 teaching … what are the advantages and disadvantages for students and teacher?


  1. Lessons focused on the student’s needs: customization
  2. immediate attention to weak points and questions student may have
  3. choice of time and location for the classes whether online or onsite.
  4. Lack of shyness or embarrassment
  5. greater levels of production and (hopefully) rapid progress

    One-to-One lessons allow mobility and flexibility for teacher and student 


      1. Keep the student motivated;

      2. Deal with class cancellations;

      3. The lessons can be quite intense and tiring. How to maintain the energy?

      4. High expectations need to be managed

      5. Pricing and travel time must be factored in

      6. As in any sort of business negotiation, teacher and student must develop rapport and feel they’re getting value for money.

The dynamics between an individual lesson and a group are quite different but can be extremely rewarding, both depending on the teacher’s full preparation.

Happy teaching,


Useful link: ELT Training: one to one teaching video