This morning, around 4am, my eyes popped open and refused to shut again, so with 2 more hours before the alarm clock went off I started reminiscing about a summer immersion program I was invited to participate nearly 20 years ago. When I calculated how long it had been I couldn’t believe my own synapses.
It was January 1997, and I was a partner director at ICS Intercultura – a language assistance firm struggling to make ends meet. A person in charge of the English language program on the campus of a University in São Paulo contacted me – knowing I was an English teacher and said that their language center would be very happy if I would help them in that year’s English Immersion program. It was a 2-week program from 9am to 5pm five days a week where students would attend language lessons and other activities in English.
I jumped at the idea of getting to know their program and they were also going to pay me for teaching in the program.
The first meeting already pulled down my castle of dreams – the director, dr. James – a US born teacher with “light-years” of experience in teaching – thanked me for accepting the invitation and told me I would be working along with another young teacher, Alison (son of another teacher who’d already taught at the language center) in developing extra-class activities and games with the students.
I explained that I would be more comfortable in teaching grammar or reading, for example, but Dr. James was adamant that HE WOULD TEACH THAT. Another teacher would be in charge of writing. Another one, listening and so on and so forth. And the only spot would be for games: meaning – keep the students entertained and happy and we couldn’t find any other sucker to do that so we found you. I had never worked with those kinds of class activities and without any instruction or training I was thrown into the lion’s den for 2-3 hours a day. There were about 15 students at different levels. The challenge was to come up with games, drama, arts, whatever. Fortunately, the other teacher, Alison, had already taught in the previous year and he (yes, Alison is a man’s name in Brazil) could give me some support. The language center had a few books about class activities and games along with some movies on tape and that was our salvation.
My session went on with highs and lows, with increasingly longer coffee breaks, but we made it. At the end of the program we went on a day trip to visit the Museum of Brazil’s Independence in São Paulo – when the students would be exposed to the language with information about the museum, the city , etc given in their target language. Needless to say, the language center made no arrangements for an English-speaking guide and for leaflets or any useful info in English – so the students had a day trip in Portuguese alone.
Since then, that university campus no longer has had a summer language immersion program but I can tell you that nothing much has changed in other language immersion programs. Improvisation and let’s-make-do-with-whatever-resources-we-have-on-the-shelf prevail.
Oh, do I need to tell you that after the program the school took quite a while to honor my payment? But that’s a theme for another blog.
My advice to people looking for immersion courses is to choose a subject taught in their target language and travel abroad.
A difficult task is to help students improve their pronunciation not only of words but sentences as well. I’m not talking about accents but how intelligible the student is when speaking. Considering that all my students have smartphones and quite a few use iPhones, a simple activity that they could do by themselves over and over again is asking Siri questions.
Example: Can you tell me where the nearest bank is?
where can I find an Italian restaurant around here/ in this neighbourhood?
What English course do you recommend? ( many students will pronounce it as “curse”) getting hilarious results.
Eat / it – they’ll say: “I love skating – where can I do it?” They’ll say “eat” – and get tips on restaurants.
Chances are Siri won’t understand them at first and it will give crazy results or simply say I don’t understand.
So students will have to learn to enunciate well the words, intonation and not just isolated sounds. Some students resist this idea and won’t do it but those who are willing to give it a try will develop a much better speech, after the initial challenges and frustrations.
Last week a friend contacted me saying that Wisdom, recently arrived from Nigeria was looking for a job as an English teacher. Here’s my piece of advice to him:
“Ok. I’d advise you to pursue teacher training programs in more than one English language school. There are different options to teaching Business, individuals, groups, adults and teenagers. Good language schools will give you some sort of training which may last from a couple of hours to one or two weeks on average up to a month – (depending on the school’s professionalism and desperation to get new teachers). The training will allow you to get familiar with the courses and textbooks and teaching method. Employment will vary from total informality to following all the labor requirements in Brazil. There will be pros and cons in any situation but usually informal employment allows the school to pay the teacher better hourly rates.
These are the main standard language schools in São Paulo:
This school is focused on conversation and the practical use of language. It’s one of the oldest language schools in Brazil with 500 schools around the country. My wife’s first serious contact with the language was in one of their schools and her experience was great.
Founded in 1961 sponsored by the US Government to develop language and educational programs between Brazil and the US. Responsible for the TOEFL and TOEIC certifications among others. This institution is really dear to my heart because it gave me my Translator and Interpreter Certificate.
The EducationUSA Fair, annually organized by Alumni with the participation of over 80 US universities.
It is among the oldest and most traditional schools in Brazil with 1,200 schools around the country. The courses are divided by ages, both face-to-face or online, including international certifications, business and university preparatory exams (vestibular). Yázigi focuses on both grammar and communication.
Very traditional and respected institution focused on British English through the British Council, considered by many as one of the best English courses around. Classes both online and on site, including international student exchange programs.
Founded in São Paulo in 1987.
Founded by Richard Fisk in 1950 using its own method
The school focuses on adults and especially those who need to learn English quickly.
It is the official examination center of the Cambridge English Language Assessment
Preparatory for TOEFL among other courses.
Check out this school based on conversation classes located near you at Centro Empresarial SP – they always need native teachers
Yes, I know it’s a cliché but it has lots of truth to me: a picture’s worth a thousand words. When teaching English, Spanish or French quite often students come across words that even if not abstract, they’re hard for them to grasp the meaning by just looking up the word in the dictionary, unless it’s a bilingual dictionary.
Let’s consider for example the word “groom”. The student asks the meaning of the word and passively receives the information.
The teacher:” well, … you know when you get married the woman is the bride and the man is the groom or bridegroom”.
By telling the student to look up in google images he will be actively learning the word and visualizing it, without even having to think about the word in L1.
Take the word “STAMINA”, for instance, which Trump said Hillary Clinton doesn’t have ( or the looks). Many Brazilian students get the sound of the word but not the meaning.
By just showing a picture of someone running, the teacher tells students that that person has stamina and asks them to guess the meaning. Chances are they will say, power, energy, and bingo got the word without having even translated the word into L1.
The word “GAP” – which can be abstract but can also be easily visualized and understood based on the pictures and context. In the past I used to doodle on paper trying to convey the image, but it wouldn’t solve the student’s passivity. Now having the student look it up makes them an active agent in their learning.
You may say, “that’s exactly what students do when using a dictionary” – yes, but… the trick is that by using a monolingual dictionaryoften times they can’t understand the definition or there are too many definitions to go through. In a bilingual dictionarythey will be still focusing on L1 memory and will most likely forget the L2 corresponding word.
As a long-standing reader of the Economist, I’ve encouraged my students to read this magazine (even though the publishers insist on calling it a newspaper). The quality of the text and the “high-brow” language have always been its benchmark. But the strengths of the Economist can also be its weaknesses.
When presented with a text the teacher will present the first description and the students will always feel the second:
In-depth texts = too long texts
Carefully chosen vocabulary = too difficult vocabulary
A sober text = very few pictures
But the challenge students face will be rewarded by being exposed to excellent writing (and when using the app they can also listen to the news stories).
When using authentic material I always try to employ all 4 main skills
(not necessarily in this order)
The possibilities to explore the text are huge but, please note that I won’t try to milk this cow until it’s bone dry. The activities are suggestions and I don’t see why keep on beating on a dead cow. Please forgive the pun (I’m not referring to the impeached President – heaven forbid).
So what did I do with this article?
Brazil has acquired some unique distinctions. For example, in Soccer? (students talk that it’s the only country to have won the football World Cup five times)
In natural resources? (students may talk about the country with the largest rainforest, etc)
And now, what is another distinction? (2 presidents impeached in 20 years)
a. Scanning for main ideas: What do you understand from the title and subtitle?
b.Read the first paragraph – what differences does the article present between Brazil’s 2 impeachments?
c. What lessons can be learned from the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff?
3. LISTENING –
students may listen to the whole text or the first and last paragraphs, for example. Have students read a few sentences out loud. Check vocabulary and pronunciation.
4. WRITING –
it can be as simple as writing sentences using keywords previously highlighted in the text to writing an essay defining in their own words the pros and cons of the current political and economic scenarios in Brazil.
As regarding vocabulary I’ve chosen 7 words in the text to focus on meaning and use (trying to include their context and word collocation). Why seven, you may ask – because it’s the symbol of perfection (or more accurately, because those were the words I thought worth checking with students in this specific article– choose one). The teacher may decide to highlight fewer or more words (my suggestion no more than 10). Regarding vocabulary, some students lack the practice of reading for gist and consequently try to understand and look up every single word they don’t know or aren’t sure about. Limiting the number of words the teacher will encourage students to do their own word searches on their own and learn to read on a more dynamic and productive pace.
Please find below the text. Have fun and let me know if these ideas helped and other ideas you may have used.
THE IMPEACHMENT COUNTRY
Does the ousting of Dilma Rousseff weaken or strengthen Brazil’s democracy?
AS WELL as its five football World Cup victories and the world’s largest rainforest, Brazil has just acquired another unique distinction. It is the only country to have impeached two presidents in just 24 years. In the first case, that of Fernando Collor, who resigned in 1992 on the brink of being condemned for corruption, impeachment commanded near-universal support, and could be read as a sign of democratic vigour. In the case of Dilma Rousseff, ousted by the Senate by 61 votes to 20 on August 31st, judgments are far more mixed. Even some who did not sympathise with Ms Rousseff think her oustingsulliesdemocracy. They worry that Brazil has devalued impeachment, turning it into a means to dump an unpopular ruler—and, in this case, replace her with her unequally unpopular vice-president, Michel Temer.
Some of the arguments Ms Rousseff deployed in two days of evidence before the Senate were mere propaganda. No, her impeachment was not a coup, of any description. It took place over nine months, in strict accordance with the constitution and supervised by the supreme court, a majority of whose members were nominated by Ms Rousseff or Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, her predecessor and the founding leader of her left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).
The offence Ms Rousseff was accused of—using credits from public banks to swell the budget without the permission of Congress—is a “crime of responsibility” under Brazil’s impeachment law of 1950. But there the difficulties start. Her defenders are right that this charge was a relatively minor, technical matter. The lawyers who filed the impeachment petition hit upon it because there is no evidence that Ms Rousseff was personally corrupt. That is not true of Eduardo Cunha, the former Speaker of the lower house of congress. He accepted the petition, she plausibly claims, as an act of vengeance because she refused to help him evade expulsion over corruption allegations. It is troubling, too, that many of those who voted to oust her are accused of misdeeds. And Mr Temer, a 75-year-old political insider, hardly embodies the regeneration his country’s rotten politics need.
Yet that is not enough to turn the moral tables in Ms Rousseff’s favour: many of the “coup-plotters” had been for a decade allies (and several were ministers) of the president and her predecessor. Their corruption, if proved, is venal and personal. More sinister is that of the PT, which organised a vast kickback scheme centred on Petrobras as part of a “hegemonic project that involved growing control of parliament, of the judges and…of the media”, as Fernando Gabeira, a left-leaning former congressman, wrote in O Globo, a newspaper. Ms Rousseff chaired Petrobras’s board (in 2003-10) and then ruled the country while this scheme flourished. Her claim to know nothing of it, nor that her campaign guru in the election in 2014 was paid with bribe money, smacks of negligence.
On its own, the Petrobras scandal didn’t doom her. When Mr Cunha launched the impeachment last December, most political analysts expected it to fail. The subsequent stampede against the president owed everything to her own incompetence and to public opinion, which was enraged, too, by her catastrophic mishandling of the economy. Above all, she failed to build alliances in Congress, which need not always involve back-scratching. The crisis of governability in Brasília intolerably prolonged the economic slump, undermining some of the social progress made under Lula. It would have been resolved less divisively by Ms Rousseff resigning or by a fresh election. But she refused to step down, and an early election is constitutionally difficult.
So Brazil is where it is. And it offers some lessons. One is that Ms Rousseff has paid the ultimate price for her fiscal irresponsibility (which went far wider than those disputed credits). That ought to be a salutary warning to Latin America’s more spendthrift politicians. Second, Brazilians want to hold their governments to account. Mr Temer will lose all legitimacy if he yields to pressure from his friends to rein in the Petrobras investigation or helps Mr Cunha avoid justice.
The third lesson is that in Brazil, with its strong parliamentary tradition, no president can govern against Congress. When Ms Rousseff brandishes her 54m votes in the presidential election of 2014 as a defence, she forgets that they were for Mr Temer too, and that the senators have an equally valid democratic mandate. Brazil has thus offered a tutorial in constitutional theory to the likes of Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s dictatorial president. The legacy of a divisive impeachment is not all bad.
Last week my god-daughter messaged me on Facebook:
Hi, dad! How are you?
I’m thinking about traveling next year to an English-speaking country to study English.
So… I need to get ready.
Do you think it’s a good idea to travel through a travel agency such as CVC or exchange program?
I saw it would cost about R$ 4000. Do you think it’s a good price?
I was thinking about traveling to England, do you think it’s a good place?
Do you know of any site that might guide me in this search process?
My reply was as follows:
It’s always a great idea to travel abroad to study, but my suggestion for those who are upper-intermediate or advanced would be to take an open summer course in whatever subject they would like. Instead of just studying English you could study arts, history, photography, endless options in English.
Why? Language schools – as any other business – are focused on profit (nothing wrong with that) but they will be hard pressed to place students at different levels together. In addition to that, your class will most likely have other Brazilians which will be an additional temptation to speak Portuguese. If you’re lucky your classmates will all be Chinese or Korean, so at least, you’ll have to use English to communicate with them.
Another negative point about going abroad just to “study English” – you will be paying your costs in US dollars or Euros or Pounds for content that you could have in Brazil through an intensive immersion course.
Regarding the destination, England is lovely but you will have your costs in pounds (with a still more unfavorable exchange rate than the US $) which is a disadvantage. Good options would be Canada, USA or even South Africa. Ireland would be a good option but again: too many Brazilians “studying” English in Dublin. Moreover, the Irish accent is lovely but peculiar to that country – so maybe not the best option for a first time abroad.
Again, make sure to get references from other students who’ve been to the school where you’re considering to study. I know there are schools that have poorly trained teachers with a high turnover while other schools are barefaced scams, many times cancelling the classes (for any imaginable reason) when you get to your destination and of course, you may forget any hopes of a refund.
I’d recommend cities like Pittsburgh, Portland – Oregon or Maine) or San Diego in the US or Calgary, Edmonton in Canada. Also check the weather conditions for the time of year you’re planning to go.
In Most of the Western World – including developed and developing countries – the career of a teacher is considered worthy of respect, at least theoretically; because in practical terms, teachers are underpaid and overworked most of the time. If you work in the public or private school systems you are always the weakest link between the students and parents and the administrators.
If you are self-employed you must always be running after new clients and professional development. If you teach in companies then you must be subject to their rules and regulations and to the ebb and flow of the mood of human resources.
Mostly, I have been well treated at the companies where I have taught, but now an International Bank (let us call it ABC Bank for illustration purposes) with a new HR management at a new headquarters has declared war on all teachers providing services in their offices. Yes, you are just another service provider delivering the next lunch or package. Yes, the company is doing their employees “a favor” allowing them to have classes on the premises. Of course, you are not supposed to be circulating in the building among the different departments, so you should go just to the floor assigned to you and after meeting with your student to have access to a room. But that’s all understandable. What I can’t understand is the requirement that teachers shouldn’t use the toilet. And if absolutely necessary only when accompanied by the student, since the restrooms are locked away in areas to be accessed only by staff. Now… as a teacher to lack the permission to use the toilet when necessary feels like the last drop.
… here’s my “5 cents worth” of advice:
Dress properly – adjust your clothes to the work environment you’ll be teaching in (err in overdressing not underdressing).
Set the limits – your students are not your best friends or family – be professional and empathetic.
Prepare your lessons – you can’t go far with just “free conversation” lessons.
Keep improving yourself both as a person and as a professional teacher.
There! No matter what be proud of your chosen career. I ain’t no Whitney Houston but I’ll sing it with her: “they can’t take away my DIGNITY. Because the greatest love of all…” yeah, yeah, you got my gist.