Vocabulary Learning Strategy – word collocations

I still remember the notebooks with lists of words, nouns, verbs, prepositions that we were told to copy from the blackboard as a strategy for memorization of key vocabulary. Regardless of its old-fashioned style, word lists can still play a useful role in language learning, especially if contextualized.  you can create lists with translated words, with pronunciation keys, by topics, by grammar point, etc.

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traditional vocabulary lists

Last week I was talking to one of my students about the terrible wildfires in California which led me to consider key words related to that manmade or natural disaster:

Fire in California

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word collocation lists

So besides being exposed to new vocabulary the students are shown the possibility of using those words – in this case related to disasters but going beyond that.

Another tip I give my students is to try to memorize a verb with  the corresponding preposition


listen to

talk to

marry to

depend on

focus on

etc…  this way when they have to use that verb they’ll know which preposition would come after that.

Regarding vocabulary, memorization is key, you can’t be speaking “I did that with this” for much long. So get your notebooks out and keep on collocating.

Cheers,

Mo

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The importance of bilingualism in education and its myths

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a summer conference on bilingual education in São Paulo under the theme: “Education is our passport to the future”. One of the guest speakers, Vinicius Nobre, Academic Manager at Associação Cultura Inglesa, presented a great talk  on the matter of the Future of Language and Bilingual education.img_9338

Nobre initially highlighted some of the myths in learning a second language (English, in his more specific case):

  • you can learn English in 3 months
  • you work for a month at Disney World and you’ll return fluent
  • Only native speakers can properly teach the language
  • You can learn that language only if you travel abroad
  • Living in a monolingual country makes it impossible / or too hard to learn a second language

The list could go on indefinitely but the point about Brazil being a monolingual country and that being a myth – just blew my mind. There are around 210 langimg_9317uages spoken in Brazil  – including  indigenous languages and around 30 languages through immigration from Europe and Asia (not counting those from Africa and Latin America). Studies show that only 5% of Brazilians consider themselves proficient in English. You can see that as an opportunity or a tragedy.

By dispelling those myths, Nobre went on to his next question:

“For decades millions have been invested in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language in Brazil. So why is it so low?”

And I repeat: Why is the foreign language proficiency level in Brazil still so low? Considering that the teaching of English as a Foreign Language has been mandatory in Brazil for all public and private schools since the mid-1970), we could add that this problem happens in many other countries around the world where the teaching of a foreign language is treated as just another school subject).

Instead of being a means to an end, the teaching of a foreign language is seen as an end unto itself. Also, the informality of the profession doesn’t help it at all. Bilingual schools can call themselves so without any regulation from education authorities. They can offer English classes one hour a day or teach many different subjects in English and Portuguese and fall under the same category of “bilingual education”. Teachers can be hired literally off the street or even worse, schoools can hire those who have a teaching degree and are absolutely underqualified.

So, what can be done?

  1. Teachers must learn to take more advantage of our business and make it more relevant;

      2. The teaching of English is a kaleidoscope of subjects – and the study of language    teaching is relatively speaking a very recent discipline;

      3. To learn another language – interaction and the ability to listen to others is essential:  you must learn to listen actively;

      4. The language is not the end but a means of communication;

The language classroom is an environment of high creativity – challenged to be more innovative and more critical.

A good language class will be a means of communication – “I’m not studying English I’m learning to communicate”

Is it possible to change this paradigm?

We are now experiencing an anti-globalization mood – with mediocrity as king – but even in such times as these, or maybe more so, to be able to speak another language will be even more valuable.

Until the first half of the 20th century, language had been pegged to  national identity – it was deeply political. – in some instances to speak another language was considered a betrayal of your country  – this happened in Brazil during World War II when any speakers of German, Italian or Japanese were seen with suspicion and regarded as likely traitors or informers.

Add to that the false belief that all the stress of learning another language could  harm you  and be bad to your mind.
See all those language teachers? They’re a little “weird” wouldn’t you say? They’ve got a screw loose.”

  • Fortunately there is hope. Teachers must become more aware of their role and importance in society:
  •  Socially you are ahead if you speak another language;
  • A teacher won’t have great salaries but he won’t be unemployed;
  • The career of a teacher – is a threatened species – threatened by government policies and dwindling investments in teacher education and infrastructure. Sooner or later they’ll wake up to the reality that teachers are important;
  • And based on so many studies just to know the fact that learning another language wards off mental diseases… in case of doubt you have at least learned a language.

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    On the theme of being bilingual or multilingual: “All of us are multi-local, multi-layered. To begin our conversations with an acknowledgment of this complexity brings us closer together. Not further apart.” Taiye Aseli

And NO! I won’t apologize for having taken the time and effort to learn another language.

Speak away,

Cheers,

Mo

Education is a process. Not a commodity

Working as a self-employed teacher, I have the freedom that other job positions do not offer, but also lack all sorts of protections and guarantees that a school – even if lame – is required to provide.

Being my own boss means that I always have to negotiate fees and rates, teaching methods, class frequency, class load and homework directly with the student and on some rare occasions with the parent (if a minor) or the HR of a company (this latter case only happens once in a blue moon).

There’s no shame in being up front about the costs and how many classes there will be per month and the need for cancellation or postponement of classes and in the case of the absence for whatever reason of the teacher or student, how those missed classes should be made up for. Yes usually the contract – either verbal or written – is on a month to month basis.

Occasionally you’ll hear the analogy that the worker “prostitutes” himself for his salary, meaning they do things they don’t want to do because of their job. I can’t agree with that assumption for all cases.

The worker is worthy of his wages.

As the self-labelled weblogger Putney Debater wrote:

“In other words, education is not a commodity like a bar of chocolate or a cafe latte, which is physically consumed till there’s nothing left. Nor is it like a motor car or a washing machine, which are durable but eventually break down and have to be replaced, since an education is never replaced but only added to, extended and renovated (‘life-long learning’ anyone?). Perhaps it’s a bit like a book in constituting a store of knowledge, but it isn’t a physical object and doesn’t create a second-hand market, although it seems to be something you can cash in on, because it’s supposed to guarantee you a better income. However, education also goes on domestically and informally, and you can also pass on bits of it for free without depriving yourself of what you’ve passed on. (The early rabbis thought of it as like the flame of a candle.) The teacher is someone who gets paid for doing this, but they’re not selling an object, they are performing what Adam Smith called a service.” https://putneydebater.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/why-education-is-not-a-commodity-2/

However, occasionally, students will think that they are buying a meal, or soap, or any other product when hiring a teacher. They ignore that education IS a process and not just a commodity they may use on and off. In the case of learning a language there is also the need for regular practice. There is one case of a student who wants to have a 1-hour class a month – because he’s still having classes with another teacher (who had missed several classes and owed him the respective hours). Weird but I can understand it for a short-term process and especially in this time of skinny cows.

Let me share with you an anecdote that may illustrate the case. I charge the number of hours a student will have in the month and they pay accordingly. For example, he’ll have 1-hour class a week, a month has 4 weeks, he’ll pay for 4 weeks. I don’t like this system “pay per class”. However, in October student A (not his real name 😜) paid for 2 classes  only because I would be on vacation for 2 weeks – (yes, Virginia, students don’t pay for the teacher’s holidays). But he couldn’t attend one class because he was leaving on vacation. No problem. He could have this class credited to him in November. But he went away on vacation and on his return he decided that he would return to classes only in December. Ok. … Then he decided to return only in January. But as he has that class credit (that he has paid for, mind you) he wants to have that one hour of English sometime in December.

Why? What good will he have in his learning process? What benefit is to be obtained by that stand-alone class, except listening to my melodious voice? Why not have an additional class in January? Well, … he has paid for that class so he WANTS TO have it.

Not to mention that the student is always complaining about financial problems and that the classes aren’t cheap. So I decided to refund him for that class (US$45). Period. Good riddance! (Wait! Did I say that aloud?) The way he is he might even want to ask for a refund adjusted for inflation on that amount. But I think he is not that crazy. 😜

Talking about learning as a process, many students start having classes and then after one or two months go away on vacation, then they can’t have classes because of the yearend holidays, then there’s carnival… cutting a long story short – they suspend classes for 2 to 3 months in a row, and when they return they want to continue from where they stopped. Helloooo… even a car if left unattended for too long can show problems when the owner tries to use it again.  In other words, they are back to where they started… and then after 2, 3, 5 years of classes they start to complain saying they must be too stupid,* because they’re not making progress (*translation: their teacher can’t be any good or he’s just incompetent).

How would you have dealt differently in that situation?
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Connecting with students

img_6967We were in class last week and my student, Rodrigo, a very keen elementary level student started yawning. Aware that his action could be misinterpreted by his teacher – ME – he quickly interjected – “sorry teacher, I’m yawning not because the class is boring. Just because I’m relaxed. In the beginning of the curse (COURSE – I corrected his pronunciation, chuckles) I was very anxious every time I came to class”.

So after a few months, we had turned a corner in our relationship. I was no longer the big, bad teacher ready to correct his every mistake and to taunt him if he made repetitive mistakes. He realized I was there to help him. To facilitate his connection with the language.

How to connect with your students:

1. Acknowledge them

2. Establish boundaries

3. Develop a healthy but professional relationship with them

Nowadays when we think of connections we always think of going online, which is good in its proper time and place. But teachers must be willing to connect with their students on a more personal level. I’m not saying that you must be best friends with all your students or any of them for that matter. But you must be willing to lend an ear and be sensitive to their difficulties when learning a foreign language.

The challenge is to walk that fine line between being empathetic or apathetic and “going the whole 10 yards” – I’m saying 10 yards because I can’t emphasize enough how wrong it is to hear that a teacher has been making out with a student – (regardless of their age or gender). The same can happen with one’s doctor or therapist. Or with the supermarket checkout clerk, but does it make it right and professional?

I know some cases of teachers who have even married their former students (one at a time, mind you; wink, wink) but they developed their relationship (to the best of my knowledge) after they had terminated their teacher-student relationship. And that still is a grey area.

So by all my means, do connect with your students but always remember where you’re coming from and where you’re going. And never think you’re above all that and it would never happen to you. Keep yourself accountable and grow.

Cheers,

Mo

My red, white and blue (and black) summer vacation

Yeah, yeah, I know, Virginia. I live in the Southern Hemisphere therefore I should have had winter vacations this July, but considering my wife and I traveled to the US – let’s agree to keep it as a summer vacation.

I’ve succeeded in convincing my sweetheart that I need to recycle my English and inhale some American oxygen every year ( don’t forget I’m an Americanoid) , so we always make an effort and try to travel to America at least once a year.

This time we traveled to Orlando, Florida and Dallas, Texas. In Orlando we met up with our “stepfamily” – Liz and Ray, their 15-year-

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From Left to right: Jared, Honey, Mo, Ma Helen, Liz, and Ray

old son, Jared, and the matriarch, Helen. We spent two intense days and although I had some idea about visiting a theme park – namely Universal Studios – we actually ended up visiting only The Holy Land Experience, which was quite surprising.

 

 

 

IMG_3250At the entrance you just see a bunch of fake rocks and buildings but once inside the staff and the people attending generate a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. There are no “rides”, just some exhibition areas where you can see, for example, a life-size replica of the tabernacle in the desert, the Via Dolorosa (way cleaner and brighter than the real thing, I dare say), the Lord’s supper where you partake of the bread and the wine with Jesus himself (well, OK, every Jesus is an ordained minister – but it’s still a moving experience). You can visit a sort of wax museum where you can see scenes of Jesus’ life: birth, ministry, Garden of Gethsemane, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension).

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The Temple of Herod

The highest point was the series of dramatizations taking place at the auditorium of he Church of the Nations. Stories about the four women who had a life-changing encounter with Jesus; the crucifixion; a modern-day parable about Angels, the moments of praise and worship all designed to successfully move you to tears. And I must say they powerfully succeeded with us. The day ends with a musical show of the fountains. I had

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The Via Dolorosa – way brighter and cleaner than the real thing

thought the experience would take us 2-3 hours, but we spent the whole day there and were the last guests to leave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We flew to Dallas and despite the toasty, roasty temperatures we had a wonderful 4th of July weekend there. With a patriotic concert of Larnelle Harris, barbecue at sister-in-law’s home and a fantastic fireworks display at the Dallas Athletic Club. We returned to Brazil on the 5th of July and I was very saddened by the news of the sniper killing and wounding police officers in Dallas.

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Thinking allowed after the latest crises in America

In Orlando we had the opportunity to visit the memorial for the victims of the Pulse nightclub and every time the subject came up people would be extremely touched and saddened by that ignominious attack. But one thing that called my attention was that some people (let’s assume they were unaware of that) made some comments that bordered on racism such as:

“I don’t know why we bought a home in Apopka. There are too many black people in the area. At least, we bought it on the white side.” (Come again, ma?)

In Dallas, we stayed at the Comfort Suites in the northern part of the city because people had warned us the south side was too violent and dangerous (should I have heard “too many black people”?), but our hotel would lock its doors after 9 pm, because it’s not a very safe area. Hmmm… .

We went to the Larnelle Harris concert at the First Baptist church in Lewisville – and considering that Larnelle is a wonderful African-American gospel singer – his was the only dark face we could see in the whole church – sadly still confirming the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement who once said “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” And apparently little has changed.

It still boggles my mind that the organization of my dear Seventh-Day Adventist Church – still maintains separate conferences for whites and African-Americans.

On a brighter note, we had the privilege to meet our nephew’s husband for the first time. And YES, he is gay and black. Does it mean that he will have to die twice?

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from left to right: me, my wife, our nephew Alex and his husband, Aaron

From what I understand he didn’t choose to be gay or black but I can choose to accept them and love them despite the differences. I cannot control the hatred and prejudice that permeate our world but I can choose how to deal with people’s differences.

That’s it.

Cheers,

Mo

First word of 2016: Empathy

This time of the year comes loaded with written or spoken lists of resolutions, best quotes, funniest videos, etc. The dictionary publishers love posting word of the year, decade, or century.

Well, for 2016, I’d like to post my first word of the year, which also consists of my resolution: EMPATHY – to learn to be more empathetic along the year.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary presents the following definition:

Simple Definition of empathy

  • : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

I remember the first time I heard the adjective for this word in Portuguese: empático. I must have been 8 or 9 visiting my aunt in Sorocaba and a friend of hers had popped in for an afternoon cup of tea. I don’t recall the context but we were all sitting in the living room, I was listening to the grown-ups talking and I must have said something during the conversation that the lady said to me: “você é muito empático, menino” (you’re very empathetic, boy). I had never heard that word before and unsure of its meaning I just mumbled a “thank you”. I knew the words “sympathetic”, “apathetic” and “pathetic”. Later I asked my parents the meaning of “empathetic” and hearing their explanation I could see myself as being called “pathetic” or even “sympathetic”. But empathy didn’t seem to be something to aim for.empathy 2

Later I came to realize the importance of understanding (at least trying to understand) the reasons why people behaved the way they did and also to try to understand the difficulties that my students had in learning something that seemed as clear as day to me.

 

A few years ago I started learning French in an attempt to understand and remember how my students feel when learning English. And I found out that when learning a language motivation and commitment are key. You can’t expect to learn another language by studying 30 minutes once a week (in the best of times).

As a teacher I must cultivate empathy towards my students thus getting less frustrated and trying to find new ways of teaching by motivating and sharing with them different learning strategies. But the law of cause and effect will still be valid: Little time practicing, little learning. More time practicing, more learning.

So this year I’ll try to wear comfortable shoes but not forget what it means to go barefoot.empathy

Cheers,

Happy New Year

 

Mo

5 Tips to Survive Life with a Road Warrior Queen

Yesterday I came across Reginald Chan’s blog called 10 Tips to Survive Life with a Road Warrior (see the link here https://t.co/mzwn95okAx) and it exactly reflected my experience these days.

I am not married to a Road Warrior woman road warrior

but to a “Warrioress” (oh the sexism of a language) or a Warrior Princess or Queen.

Traditionally, men were the ones who had jobs or at least the most demanding and exciting jobs – traveling and meeting people from other parts of the world, speaking other languages, making more money, etc.

In the 21st century, that stereotype, although still strongly represented, has been busted by intelligent, beautiful and powerful women. One of them being my Sweetheart.

For many years I had the privilege to accompany her when she had to travel on business – Germany, France, Portugal, Mexico, Panama, Spain, and the list goes on and on …) but over the last two years I’ve grown tired of traveling – all the airport hassle, the seemingly endless hours on a plane, have made all that travel glamour (if it ever existed) lose its luster at least for me. Let’s not forget the fact that we added Luther, our lovely black cat, to our family in 2014, and somebody has got to mind the cat. And I’ll do it with pleasure.

But work continues to take my sweetheart away – one week to Mexico, the other to the Bahamas, the other to Chile, Argentina… and now the farthest so far: Singapore.

And I told my wife, “well, you gotta go, right? – so go at full blast!”

Can a relationship not only survive but thrive long-distance? My answer from the rooftops is: YES!!!

Here are my tips  to survive life with a Road Warrior Queen (or King)

  1. Pray with her and on her behalf – we first met at an English bible class – so God has always been huge in our lives – first and last – the old cliché “a couple who prays together stays together” has been proven true.
  2. Show interest in her work/destination – go online read about the places she’ll be visiting, talk to her about what will be happening.
  3. Listen – you don’t have to come up with quotable quotes or great pieces of advice – listen to what she has to say.
  4. Life goes on – she is on the other side of the world but this side of the world is still turning – keep your life going, don’t isolate yourself from the world. You are one entity/ one team/ one partnership but 2 individuals.
  5. Make use of Technology – Thanks to technology you still can talk or even see each other – use WhatsApp or FaceTime, Skype, etc – carefully set aside some time to do it. Jet lag will take its toll but a few minutes together will comIMG_7112pensate for that.Traveling takes its toll – they need our support and encouragement

There! five points like the five fingers of one hand. Hope these ideas can help you, they have most definitely helped me.

Cheers,

Mo