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.
Even The Guardian who tries to be balanced in issues other than politics, is adding fire to the game. Look at the headline below:
“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.
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.
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:
- equipment – old cellphones, no computer, no access to broadband, prepaid services (which are way more expensive)
- Wifi – poor or no wifi access
- 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?!
- lack of confidence – I’m not good with gadgets. I don’t know where to start.
- fixed mindset – see some of the excuses above.
- 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.
Happy online teaching.
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.
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.
This morning I was leafing through the Brazilian entrepreneurship magazine Você S/A ( and mind you, it was the paper edition of September 2019) and came across a list of five components for the digital survival of professionals in any industry. They will, most certainly, also apply to language teachers either employed at a school or university or self-employed just like little me.
The five components for the development of digital skills for now and the future as a self-employed professional are as follows (loosely adapted from the infographic in the magazine):
1. Business Vision – understand what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and most importantly, WHY you’re doing it (stress on the WHY as emphasized by my HR expert student Livia S. Sant’ana)
2. Adaptability – Be flexible and curious – always be open to new methods and approaches – use face-to-face classes and online classes. Explore pre-recorded and live sessions, for example.
3. Cultural & Social Understanding – Empathy for what do your clients think they need, learn to listen to them and build bridges. Don’t see others as mere competitors or potential clients – view others as human beings with their own needs and goals.
4. Cooperation – Create a network of colleagues – there will always be those who you can help and also grow with. And let us not deceive ourselves. Colleagues can help you expand your circle of influence.
5. Systemic Thinking – aka in non-Academic circles as Pattern Thinking – it is a simple technique for making sense of challenging situations and developing simple interventions for transforming them.
Like it or not, the more you take charge of your future the better prepared you will be to face it.
Much has been written and said about how technology has revolutionized and will continue to revolutionize the world of education and most especially the language teaching industry.
From the time I used a vinyl record which was upgraded to a cassette tape, then VHS and VCR to CDs and DVDs to online streaming, podcasts and YouTube, the means to expose students to a brave new world seem limitless.
But… how much has it changed for educators? Ok, I remember once I had to carry a portable record player on the bus to share a song with my very first English learners back in 1985/1986. Now I can carry the world in my mobile and so can the students. But what can we do with this amazing new world and how to access all this potential or at least some of it? Where can you find relevant material? How can you use it?
A study involving 240 MA education graduates in the US and Canada revealed that 50% of them received no form of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) training. And 70% were not prepared to teach the language using technology.
Being a teacher in the 21st Century involves much more than having the latest gadget: projectors, intelligent whiteboards, high-speed internet, etc.
Teachers have to keep up with changes in
- Student performance standards
- New teaching approaches
- How to make the most out of educational technology
There is still a huge gap between theory and practice with all the risks and problems that accompany the adoption of new technologies.
Technology today is broadly used for:
- Downloading relevant material
- Word processing
- Different data show /PowerPoint resources
- Voice and video recording
- Even the humble email /text messaging
- Exposure to authentic language
- Dictionary / translation tools
- Language practice using Siri or any other voice-activated personal assistant
- Waze and other apps (Waze is a community-driven GPS and navigational app which can be set to the language the student is learning and needs practice with)
Technology is still rarely used in:
- Mind-mapping, in case you’re wondering what mind mapping is (I had no clue either): According to Wikipedia “mind map is an easy way to brainstorm thoughts organically without worrying about order and structure. It allows you to visually structure your ideas to help with analysis and recall.
- Education blogs; and
- Voice threads (“VoiceThread is a totally web-based application that allows you to place collections of media like images, videos, documents, and presentations at the center of an asynchronous conversation“).
Why is it that most teachers are hesitant to integrate ICT?
Fear! Fear of what? Of losing control. Of making mistakes. Of “breaking” the equipment or program.
So, in addition to having access to technology teachers must be trained in how to best use the technology at their disposal, be offered technical support and troubleshooting solutions.
When given control, good teachers will be excited and curious about adopting the latest technologies.
Quite often when we think about anything related to the 21st Century, including teaching, we think of the use of technology, gadgets and the internet. We feel we must have Smart boards, tablets, online classes, video sharing, social media, and the list goes on and on. But what every teacher must remember is that his main working material consists of brains inside living organisms labeled as learners, students or pupils.
I’ve just finished studying a book published back in 1997 but with ideas still relevant today for every language teaching professional: Psychology for the Language Teacher (CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS) by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden.
Undoubtedly some advances and finds have taken place in psychology and the human science of teaching and pedagogy over the past 20 plus years, but some things never change and must be remembered, reviewed and implemented. Sooner or later we will stop referencing to “21st century” and just say ” Teaching”.
The book presented 10 key points on Language Teaching, this first part of my post will work on the first three items:
1. There’s a difference between learning and education.
Learning: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.
“these children experienced difficulties in learning”
Education: the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.
“a new system of public education”
A quick look at these first definitions present a great distinction between both processes, which intersect in many areas … both involve receiving knowledge or instruction, but a key distinction is that learning involves the development of skills through experience.
Joi Ito beautifully summed it up: “Education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do for yourself”
Here it is graphically represented:
Now that we have the distinction we can move to the second point.
2. Learners learn WHAT is meaningful to them.
I can try ad nauseam to inculcate in my students the state capitals of the US, the beautiful wording of the Declaration of Independence, the Scottish Calvinist values, etc… but they will not profit from that if they don’t see a purpose or meaning in that. I always ask my students at the beginning of their course about their goals, current activities, hobbies and dreams so that the lessons may be geared towards intrinsic motivation resulting in effective learning. I’m not saying that students
who live in the favelas in Rio should only be taught vocabulary about getting water from a well or snorting glue… (yes, yes, it’s just an example, don’t get up in arms about it) They must learn based on their reality and context but also from that point the teacher can and must build a path where learners will be introduced to a better way and a broader world.
3. Learners learn IN WAYS that are meaningful to them.
I love reading but if my student is interested in speaking “only” I must adapt the course so that any reading they do is impregnated with the spoken language – it can be an interview, a novel rich in dialogue, even part of a play … as long it’s language relevant and appropriate to their level. If they like movies, or sports, let them search and learn about what interests them. Here again Language is a tool not an end unto itself.
Writing is really important for learners to process and review their language acquisition but instead of asking them to write a 500-600 word essay (unless they’re preparing for an exam where such activity is required), why not have them write a business related email? Or even a text message including abbreviations, emojis and shortcuts?
Please, bear in mind that my students are adults who have already gone through their academic process and now need English or Spanish mostly for employment purposes and career advancement opportunities. Actual Fluency in English will be a plus for any CV or Résumé in a non-English speaking nation. The point is that it must be true not just wishful thinking; hence the person’s awareness that they are no longer “students”, but “learners”
Cheers. Happy learning.
We live in a world of increasingly faster changes. Jobs that existed a few years ago are no longer around … although in Brazil and other developing countries the change may take a little longer but it will come.
Yes, in most developed countries, gas stations haven’t had attendants for years, only a cashier. Buses have no conductors to get payment and give change. Elevators don’t need a lever operator to open and close doors on the right floor… .
Many jobs have been made extinct and others need to change and adapt.
In Brazil due to a wrongly defined protective labor market, large metropolitan areas like São Paulo still have conductors – “cobradores” working on buses. They have been protected by their unions and other interests for years, but they know their days are numbered. Some will qualify to become bus drivers, others will have to find their own ways to get by.
How about teachers? When talking about public school teachers – they might self implode into extinction due to misguided public policies and lack of incentives to renew and empower younger professionals. Technology may provide some relief to the poor qualification of teachers and lack of resources.
How about language teachers? Based on our ability to adapt to different We and forms of literacy we must be continually improving. What?
- Orality – speaking and listening
- Reading and writing
- Linguistic and grammatical knowledge
- Psychological and pedagogical skills
I’m not talking only about academic development, which has its value but about the teacher taking charge of his or her own growth. not being afraid of experimenting with new methods and tools. This continuous growth will feed into his or her motivation in a vibrant virtuous cycle.
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.
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.
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.
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. What 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?
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
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 ?
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.
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