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.
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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.
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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 Secrets of Learning a New Language

For some people to speak one language is already a challenge. Two languages and some already feel on the top of the mountain. Can you imagine speaking 3, 4 or more languages? Being a polyglot?!

Not everyone needs to speak more than one language but there is no question how useful a second or more languages can be… even for the shiest person who never plans to leave his hometown.

But … how can you achieve that?

Let me cut to the chase or the cheese (as some of my students understand it) and tell you that there is no single way to learn a language. It depends on several factors, especially motivation, time and skills the learner may have. Despite that, there are some good pieces of advice any language learner can use:

1. Start speaking from day one – some methods encourage hours of listening before the student utters his first sound… but my advice is: start mumbling those new sounds as soon as you can. if you have someone to talk to, a teacher, a tutor or your cat, great. If not, no worries, talk to yourself.

Speak even if to yourself from day one

2. Start listening to natives of the language you’re learning – YouTube, internet radio, get familiar with the sounds of the language even if not understanding it.

3. Imitate the sounds – yes… learning a language works wonders on those self conscious people… break down your walls of fear of shame or embarrassment…

4. Start learning the language by reading its grammar

5. Memorize key words of the target language (until you reach 500 key words, for example) use paper or digital flashcards for instance.

6. Find ways to enjoy the learning process. Every learner will have unique ways. Even if you’re a genius, you’ll see there are no shortcuts to language learning. Do something pleasant with the target language EVERY DAY.

7. Be patient.

This short list is not comprehensive and not all items apply to everyone… pick and choose and start learning your dream Language today.

Cheers,

Mo

You don’t need to be in a classroom to learn another language. The world is your classroom

“I hate English. Now teach me.”

“I hate English. Now teach me.” Yes, Virginia those were the exact words a prospective student said when she contacted me to teach her English at her workplace. She works for an international Bank and English is a “requirement” to continue working (or to be promoted) in that institution.

After I recovered from the shock, – people usually may say that they don’t LIKE English – … but HATE?! that’s quite strong. How can you hate a language which is just a tool for communication and can only bring benefits to those who speak it as a foreign language ?

Digging dipper, I found out, Rachel – (not her real name)

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Rachel hates English

had tried many times to learn English using different methods but had always failed. She’d heard about me from other students and thought it would be different.

Faced with the Gargantuan challenge to make Rachel fall in love with the English Language (and not with me – since I’m irresistible) I prepared the first lesson with basic vocabulary and greetings. I do believe in getting the student speaking from the very first class – there are some methods that encourage the silent approach for a certain period of time… just as babies acquire language… well… considering that she is not a baby and if she doesn’t speak English she’ll be speaking and thinking in Portuguese… let us focus on the second language acquisition.

The first few minutes, things seemed to be going fine… she greeted me in English, learned to identify herself, etc… but less than 10 minutes later (she had said she could have classes only for 1 hour once a week) she said in Portuguese – “Ai… eu fico muito ansiosa. Você me deixa nervosa. Eu não consigo entender o que você está dizendo” (woe is me.. I get too anxious. You make me nervous. I can’t understand what you’re saying). Of course I’d said little more than “Good morning, how are you today?” 

So I started to explain to her in Portuguese what was going to happen, and only after that we would try to produce some English to no avail. I used the whiteboard, flashcards, all the bells and whistles I had within reach.

We tried for 2 more weeks, but after she had collapsed again saying she hated English and couldn’t understand a word, I sat down and said to her: “Listen. I’m sorry. I’m not the right teacher for your needs. First you need therapy to learn to deal with all your anxiety (did I say that aloud or just thought about it? 😉 ). So… all my best wishes to you.”

In conclusion, my classes with Rachel were a failure – I lost a student (and a source of income) and she still couldn’t speak English and maybe, I said, maybe, she hated it a little bit more. But, what could I learn from that experience?

  1. A Teacher can inspire but can’t change a student’s heart/mind
  2. Different methods /approaches/resources sometimes fall short.
  3. Years of experience mean nothing when student isn’t willing to learn
  4. Some people can’t and won’t learn a second language (reasons will vary) but the main reason will be “MOTIVATION!”
  5. Students like Rachel are rare.

Happy teachings, 🙂

Mo

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Corpus Linguistics for Language Teachers

This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Prof. Simone Vieira  Resende at the 19th Summer Vacations Conference in São Paulo. The general theme of the 2-day conference was: The Teaching of Languages in today’s world: contexts and goals.

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After some technical problems with the video recording session, Professor Resende welcomed the attendees and teased us by offering to sell a language immediacy pill. Image result for language pillWhat students want for their New Year’s Resolution regarding language learning is to take a pill and after the first session, be fluent in whatever language they want to study.

So… here’s a sort of a pill:

What is Corpus Linguistics?Image result for corpus linguistics

Corpus linguistics – takes off from the language – actual languages – and concentrates the ingredients (formula) into a palatable series of examples within contexts.

Corpus Linguistics allows for:

Choice of words you want to use 

Collecting and analysis of corpus 

 

Corpora – authentic data as they are – without manipulation to adapt the language Image result for language register

Standardising of language / padronização linguística

Contextualization  x register – where ? who ? when ?

Occurrence x Co-occurrence x Recurrence  – how often does it appear in the text ?

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Prescriptivist x descriptivist ? The corpus may be descriptivist – by just revealing how words are used – but also it can be prescripvist by defining which words are best used in what context.

“I’m interested … in…”  – also the corpus shows that the best preposition in this case is “IN” not WITH or ON or AT, for instance. Image result for interested dictionary

 

Use of concordance –  leading to a conclusion

You should go. – inferring from examples

 

“When the economy improves all the boats start rising up…

all rise in court movie scenes “

 

Developing corpora in song lyrics

Webster’s the making of dictionaries prof.john Whitlam

BYU list of corpora developer corpus.byu.edu/corpora.asp

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Are There Any Bad Students?

First and foremost, let’s cut that politically correctness crap that anyone can learn a second language and that there are no bad students. That’s not true. I’ve learned it the hard way.

I’m not talking about those individuals who are pure evil… What I’m just saying is that some people should focus their efforts on something attainable.

Let’s face it: some people are great learners. Others are average. Others suck at that. I was great at History/Geography and sucked at Math. Great at English and sucked at Portuguese literature. That depends on:

Personality

Commitment

Intellect

that is how your brain works. Image result for brain clipart

 

So… what makes a bad student?

1. Has No realistic goals – expects to be speaking and understanding everything in 6 hours/days/weeks.

2. Passively receives information and believes that the teacher will concoct a magic potion that will make them learn – doesn’t know why they’re learning.

3. Waits for the teacher to present interesting things for him to watch, read and listen to (during class time, of course)

4. Never reviews or records any lesson material

5. Displays weak learning skills – won’t take notes but doesn’t hav learns r-e-a-l-l-y slowly, if ever.

6.  Feels Forced to learn

The positive point is that bad learners can be converted into good learners.

First, find out what makes them tick. What motivates them (unless they’re clinically depressed – then advise them to seek medical and psychological care).

Assess their needs and their learning strengths and weaknesses – do they have a good memory? Are they slightly dyslexic? Do they need speech therapy? How’s their hearing?

Empathize

Provide opportunities for success.

Cheers,

Mo

Motivating ESL Students

Picture this:

It’s Monday morning.

First class at 7:30am.

Student A had an intense weekend, traveled, returned home late Sunday night and Monday morning he has to be ready for his class first thing in the morning. The teacher walks in and starts talking in English … the student who’s been speaking Portuguese all week hears the sounds but can’t make heads or tails of what’s being said past “how are you?”

Next, while correcting homework the teacher sees the student still having trouble expressing basic sentences – and can’t remember basic vocabulary he’s already seen before.

He can’t remember how to say in English:

Classe média (middle class)

Saudade (to be missing someone)

Poucas casas (a few houses)

Move on to the following student B – she is shown a 10 minute Ted Talk video on global population growth – and then says she’d fallen asleep half way through the clip.

Then student C waltz in. He has just had lunch and didn’t sleep very well last night… guess what happened?

So lessons to be learned:

1. Review, review, review! Grammar points and vocabulary.

2. Break video sessions into smaller chunks. Ask comprehension questions to help student remain focused.

3. Bring very strong black coffee in a thermos.

Cheers,

Mo

How much correction should language students receive?

Correcting another human being is something that can’t be programmed into a computer or robot. It requires the sensitivity and sensibility of a teacher who, through experience, trial and error, will know when to correct his or her students.
When the student tries to speak in a language they’re learning, the teacher must make them aware that they will be making mistakes. Actually, they SHOULD be making mistakes.
You should be making mistakes – if you stay only in your comfort zone you’re not making progress. Don’t be afraid to speak.”
How much do you want people to correct you?
It depends on your level – depends on the kind of interaction you’re having. If the student needs their new language only for vacation purposes the demands will be QUITE different from the needs they have to make business presentations, attend meetings, negotiate on the phone. 5CFECD88-F493-41BE-BFE6-61D698CCB577
The teacher must point out mistakes that might impede their understanding. Some key mistakes should be pointed out immediately to make students aware of their importance.
Example:
Student: “ Yesterday night I seed a film in tv. It’s about a napkin.”
Ok, teachers, what would you do now?  Correct the verb tense, the preposition, right away? How about the mysterious show about napkins?
Again you have to consider the student at a pre-intermediate level. He knows the simple past tense and has already learned the past of the verb to see.
Teacher: “oh, so LAST night you…. (expecting student to self correct and remember and say “saw”). But was the film about paper napkins?”
Student: “No. when robbers take a person and ask money.”
Teacher: “Oh, it was about a KIDNAPPING. A person was TAKEN. Tell me more.” 
Other mistakes should be duly noted and at the end of the session presented as feedback and students encouraged to write them down. The next class it would be essential for the teacher the review those points again so that students are ready to move on. Two classes later repeat review. One month later present the mistakes and have students correct them.
When the student gains more confidence the teacher  will start correcting meanings and nuances – what better word / preposition to use / beyond just communication impediment.
The key is to reach a balance between accuracy and communication always being kind is way better than being right.
Cheers,
Mo
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Practice makes perfect, but …

Since the late 1980s language drilling has been looked down upon as being bad. They’d say its mechanical, boring and irrelevant for the students. Students aren’t automatons to be repeating meaningless sentences or vocabulary.

And it’s true that too much of a thing (even if a good thing) can be its own death. But as the old saying goes “don’t throw the baby with the bathwater”. Language drills have their very good value: by repetition they can help students identify their questions and problem areas while leading them towards specific language goals and targets, therefore, drilling can help students focus.

In the not so distant past, language labs were the rage. All the “respectable” language schools had their laboratories with those sessions inserted in their lesson grid where students would be sent to a stuffy room (no air conditioning then) and they’d spend 40-50 minutes listening and repeating to an outdated audio recording, while a teacher dozed off (sorry, listened in and monitored the students).

idiomas
Language labs could resemble an industrial assembly line but production quality can vary widely

 With the ubiquitous presence of smartphones now students have a language school and lab in their hands but their needs are still the same, including the need to practice.

Spaced repetition – reviewing words over a sequence of days will work wonders on vocabulary retention, concentration, and patience.

Practice makes perfect,  but only if you practice in the right way.

“How you practice and what you do matters more than how long you practice”, Jeremy Harmer has said more than once. drilling

If you get your heart involved you will get better chances of learning.

Drilling should be genuinely communicative, psychologically authentic, focused, and follow a regular pattern.

Happy drills,

Cheers,

Mo

 

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.

Cheers,

Mo

N.B – Many thanks to Laura Patsko with her great YouTube videos on the subject of pronunciation – https://youtu.be/yyga6vIAroE