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would be sent to a stuffy room (no air conditioning then) and they’d spend 40-50 minutes listening and repeating to an outdated audio recording, while a teacher dozed off (sorry, listened in and monitored the students).

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,





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 –

The role of the language teacher in the classroom

The role of the teacher in the classroom must not be underestimated. So whether you’re still wet behind your ears or have grown prematurely grey due to the many years of teaching, here are some good reminders

  1. Be keen and approachable. Make sure your students know your name. You have an identity. Apologise when necessary.
  2. Avoid too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time). No matter your students’ level they want to be able to speak. A lot of a teacher’s talking time is just lost on the students. It feels very teacher-oriented when one is explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but students still don’t know what’s going on.
  3. Teach the students, not the plan. The teacher must be adaptable and flexible.
  4. Find a balance between allowing students to communicate freely and proper pronunciation correction.
  5. Avoid a deluge of photocopies. It’s very easy to get disorganised. From the very beginning encourage students to create their own book with the copies and a binder.
  6. Don’t expect perfection, and give encouragement. Sometimes the teacher is so eager on perfection that they won’t let students utter anything without it being perfect.
  7. Seek a balance between the grammar, vocab and pronunciation. 


The par excellence teaching approach philosophy today is “student-centered” which is all right and good, but then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. That’s where the teacher fits in.

This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too. teacherprofiles-infographic11

Happy teaching,


Source: Thanks to the notes on teacher observation provided by Luke Thompson. Teacher Luke’s English Podcast


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




A different approach to listening

Many English language students find listening comprehension a daunting task, even those more outgoing and who manage to communicate their ideas, despite poor pronunciation and grammar, find it daunting to understand native speakers of English.

Students say that they can more easily understand other foreigners speaking English. Well… in a world where English is increasingly the lingua franca and most English speakers today use it as a second language, that is not so bad. But it’s understandable their frustration when trying to understand what somebody in the US, Canada, the UK or New Zealand is telling them.

Why is it that when they hear  fɵˈɡɛɾəˌbæʊɾɨ they feel they might as well be listening Chinese or Martian? But when they read – “forget about it” they totally get the idea and message?

Firstly, listening comprehension is a skill which can be acquired.

For decades, English Language Teaching manuals have been presenting the following steps:

Before listening:

A. Set the scene – look at the pictures if available

B. Get students excited about what they’re going to listen to.

C. Pre-teach any key words and new vocabulary

D. Ask them some pre-questions to focus onto during their listening

E. Repeat the previous steps.

That approach has been tested millions of times and with some success, otherwise it wouldn’t  have been around for so long. However, students still often get frustrated because they couldn’t understand part of it or even most of it. What should we do as teachers? 88DD1CA3-0539-4ED1-BF4F-6851EBC86F33


We must help students decode the sounds they will hear – practice the linking and Schwa sounds that so often block their comprehension.

They’ll try to hear “dwa challenge” not “do a challenge” – “lookintwit” not “look into it” – “igwout” not “I go out”  “dijeet yet” not “did you eat yet?”

By practicing those “micro-listening” skills and sounds they will be better prepared to understand the spoken word, even if not able to spell it out.

Happy listening,



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.

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

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.



Parla Usted English? The blended approach

English is a flexible, malleable language. It is constantly changing, maybe even faster than other languages due to the huge influence it has worldwide in addition to the different cultures and languages immigrating into English-speaking countries.

In my case I feel passionate about the English language, the sounds, the complex yet simple grammar. How many books do I have about the English language? Most definitely over 22 – just about the English language – I’m not counting grammar or literature books.

Now many people learn English through their gaming addictions.

As an ESL/ EFL teacher, I try to encourage my students to enjoy the language learning process…. don’t see it as an end in itself but rather as a means towards an end.

One point of contention is that some students want to learn grammar while others just hate the sound of the word.

Grammar apple
Grammar can be presented in an attractive and practical way

Since the inception of the communicative approach, the main trend in teaching grammar has been as an integrated part of the lesson. When teaching the simple past for instance – regular verbs  – many false beginners have already seen them but never learned the proper pronunciation.

They will be fated to fail when trying to say these verbs for instance.



So the best approach is to integrate grammar into the other skills, they’ll learn the grammar but also the listening and speaking part of the language .

Defenders of teaching grammar as a stand alone part of the class is that it would get lost in the noise of other points – it’ll be explicit teaching. Many times the proper grammar has never been acquired because it’s never been noticed.

So a blending of the two approaches would bring the best of the results. That’s I would call the Blended Approach.

Blending approaches in language teaching yields the best results