A TEACHER’S DREAM (literally)

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Last night as I was sleeping…

“Last night as I was sleeping I had a dream so fair…” – wait a minute, those are the words to a New Jerusalem hymn… but seriously, last night I dreamed that I was a teacher/ coordinator (already promoting myself) at a large language center in São Paulo.

The school was having problems in particular with a student, Joelson (I asked his name in the dream) who had finished the last stage and in order to receive his course completion certificate he would have to take an exam. The problem was that although Joelson had reached an advanced English level he got very nervous with tests and he refused to take the test but he still demanded his certificate. The school director asked me to talk to him and try to convince him to take the test.

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“If life is a punishment, one should wish for an end; if life is a test, one should wish it to be short”

Joelson said: “Every time I take a test I get too nervous and I get everything wrong and fail.” “You’re talking to me, you can see my English is good now, why can’t the school just give me a certificate? I paid all the fees and did all the tasks in and outside of class”. “My teachers can certify that my English is excellent.”

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“Good tests can help teachers determine how their students are performing and identify the areas in which their students need assistance. Like an X-ray, however, tests can diagnose, but they cannot cure”.
Randi Weingarten

Then I went to talk to the headmaster and told him what Joelson had said, and that I agreed with him. I added: “In my 30 plus years teaching experience I’ve never seen a person get a job because they handed in an English Language proficiency certificate – first, they will be interviewed or tested in the language. If they have a paper certificate is immaterial. And I’m talking about both national and multinational corporations. So give him the certificate without him taking the test. It has no legal value anyway”.

I know… each country’s culture and policies will vary, but to get a job in Brazil, employers are more interested in real-life skills from their candidates than their English certificate. Listen, I’m not talking about University degrees.

Of course, international universities require a TOEFL or IELTS certificate to get the process going and sieve through the numbers of applicants but it is well known that many certificate holders were well-groomed at taking tests and evading tricky questions, but when they start their university courses abroad they need to be enrolled in ESL classes (even before the lectures begin).

So my dream is that people may actually learn English in the coming year, not just for a paper certificate, but to be ready to skydive into new adventures in the world.

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Happy Dreams,

Cheers,

Mo

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🐌Snail Technology in Textbooks

I guess the question “does technology belong in the classroom?” has been amply discussed and satisfactorily answered with a resounding YES! (kept some reservations). Both teachers and students have already grasped the idea that they can use technology as a learning tool. Not just the cool new thing.IMG_9271.JPG

So why have publishers been so resistant and slow to adopting e-textbooks? Yesterday a student of mine called my attention again to the outdated status of English coursebooks – which in my humble opinion are the most advanced in terms of volume of sales and global reach. Eduardo has finished his New Headway Elementary 15th edition (just kidding) and is ready to start the Pre-intermediate level. So I volunteered to buy him the book because as a teacher I get a 10% discount from the book distributor here in Brazil, SBS. Well, the coursebook and workbook (16th edition) come with CDs for the student’s home study. Fine. But the first thing Eduardo said was: “Teacher, today’s computer notebooks not even include a Cd drive. Why can’t I just access it online or at least use a memory stick?”

An e-textbook is weightless, has multiple functionalities, can be read anytime, anywhere, allows for interactivity, can bring enhanced tools in audio, video, sound effects, games, quizzes, tests, etc. IMG_9270

So why are e-textbooks so unappealing?

First, the cost. Secondly the quality of the content must be improved. Another huge downside is compatibility. The same e-textbook would have to work perfectly well across a broad range of devices and operating systems. Let’s not forget the DRM – Digital Rights Management which tries to combat piracy.

The publishers allege that there still is an enormous digital divide in the world  – broadband and wifi may be restricted or simply nonexistent in many places. Or the power supply may be simply  unreliable and sporadic to keep the electronic devices charged. Software updates also can compromise functionality. Also, an ebook requires at least a computer. The same way that in the past language learners had to use a record/cassette/cd player to take advantage of the resources accompanying their textbooks.

Another contributor to the digital divide is that there are still teachers and students (especially those over 30) who lack the expertise on how to use the technology present in e-textbooks.

I would love to see giant publishers like Oxford University Press, Macmillan, Pearson and others to start introducing e-textbooks at a fair price and high quality which would undoubtedly be great incentives for teachers and students to adopt them.

Don’t hold your breath.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

Writing a Glossary

A student of mine, who is very keen on learning and has a strong motivation and passion for reading and encountering new vocabulary, has started his own glossary. Here are some tips that might be useful to any language learner.

PURPOSE: why create a glossary if you can go online or use even a paper dictionary? A glossary will provide a one-stop place for students to go to in order to check and review new vocabulary. Moreover, it’s more meaningful – the student has created HIS or HER own glossary. It will also allow access of information in the future.

WHAT TO INCLUDE: you can divide your glossary by subjects – verbs, nouns related to technology, finance, communication, presentations, etc. It becomes much more than a glossary.

USING THE GLOSSARY:  you can revisit the glossary in case you get stuck on a certain word or concept. A way to quiz yourself before an upcoming test, for instance.

MAKING THE GLOSSARY: you can use a traditional notebook or index cards. Write definitions and pronunciation. IMG_9267

When possible add also the pronunciation of the word – either the phonetic spelling or just the way you hear it.

 

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Add context to the words – include examples of word collocation. Use pictures and visuals when possible – words that go together “like a horse and carriage”:

Examples of word collocation:

to feel free
to come prepared
to save time
to find a replacement
to make progress
to do the washing up

Please feel free to take a seat and enjoy the show.
Make sure to come prepared for the test tomorrow.
You’ll save time if you turn off your smart phone and concentrate on the lesson.
We need to find a replacement for Jim as soon as possible.
We’re making progress on the project at work.
I’ll do the washing up and you can put Johnny to bed.

Cheers and happy learning,

Mo

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Glossary

 

 

10 Top Tips for Learning English (or any other language)

Every new year comes with many resolutions:

“This year I’ll go on a diet and lose 20 pounds.”

“This year I’ll stop smoking”

“This year I’ll get a boyfriend/girlfriend/ pet”

“This year I’ll learn (…. – fill in the blanks)”.

But the problem with making resolutions is that they don’t tend to stick. They slip away and melt as if under the tropical sun.

But if you follow these steps (not in any necessary order and at least some of them) you will make progress and then you will feel you can continue to learn English (or any other language for that matter)

  1. Watch movies and TV in your target language (the internet makes it accessible) – even if you don’t understand what’s going on  you’ll get familiar to the sounds of that language. (I particularly love commercials)
  2. Read a book you know well. Preferably a book you liked reading in your mother tongue. When my wife was learning French she bought a copy of the Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) so she could enjoy the book and learn in her new language.language
  3. Keep a notebook – scribble down new words you learn – especially creating word collocation and usage sections. Revisit the notebook once a week.
  4. Use mnemonic devices. It won’t work for everyone but it does work. When learning about the coordinating conjunctions, for instance, you can use the word FANBOYS to help remember the list. Can you name them? I’m pretty sure you can, because of FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). That is a mnemonic device. Creating a funny mental picture that you’ll remember is another way to use a mnemonic device. The sillier the picture is, the better it will stick in your head.
  5. Listen to podcasts – not only about English learning – but podcasts of other subjects of your interest produced in English or target language.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises. Need I say more?
  7. Be mindful. Notice language. How it’s used. How it sounds.Create a routine, Stick to it.
  8. Read aloud – small texts and paragraphs but that will improve your pronunciation, intonation and fluency.
  9. Test yourself – after a month – review the points you’ve learned and test your progress.
  10. Enjoy your learning

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Have fun.

 

Cheers,

Mo

How to study for the TOEFL in 3 “easy steps”

The Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is the most widely respected English-language test in the world, recognized by thousands of colleges, universities and agencies in more than 130 countries, including Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the United States. Wherever you want to study, the TOEFL test can help you get there, that is, it is a pre-requirement for academic entry in most English-speaking countries.

My advice on how to prepare for the test is:

  1. Learn the test –  become familiar with it. get lots of samples online and practice, practice, practice – this is how you will learn about the test’s format, strategy, timing. Experience is king – and it’s true – by studying previous TOEFL tests you’ll be conquering years in weeks or months.
  2. Strategy – go to YouTube and listen to different people who have taken their test.
  3. Skills – the test is not just about grammar – identify your weakest skills and attack them. Usually listening comprehension is poor especially for people not living in an English-speaking country – there are 1000s of radio stations online to practice with in addition to podcasts. Also speaking can be a problem. A simple but effective practice is to get interviews of actors, politicians and read them aloud until you feel comfortable. Many times video interviews also have a transcript or closed caption – use them as tools to develop your intonation and pronunciation.

For more information go to their official website: https://www.ets.org/toefl

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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

TOEFL OR BUST

How can you measure the level of communication skills a person has? Can they write? Can they read and interpret a text? Can they understand what they’re told to do? Can they express their thoughts in a clear and objective way? Well… that’s a tough task in your mother tongue. Imagine in a second or third language.

I’ve never been much of a supporter of language exams conveying the idea that Language is just one more school subject in which you must have high scores. And it feels like it’s just one more scheme for publishers to milk money off potential victims. toefl guideYou and I know that language is much more than 101 points on TOEFL (out of 120), for example. But the reality is that there is a need for more objective and fast assessment tools for specific purposes; and exams still are the tool du jour to do that.

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. Today the TOEFL iBT (internet-Based Test) is the most used tool to measure the student’s  ability to use and understand English at the university level in North America. And it evaluates how well they combine their listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks. TOEFL-test

So… when a former student, Vitoria,  contacted me and asked me for some classes to prepare for the TOEFL I was a little hesitant and tried to come up with excuses not to take her on. I said that I like to teach real-life communication not preparatory tips and schemes to reach a high score in a test; I didn’t have an open slot for a new student; I only teach from home; Etc. But how can a teacher say No to a student? Answer me that if you can.

I took the TOEFL back in 1987/88, not yesterday you could say, a time when no computers were used (yes, Dinosaurs also have feelings) – you would receive a booklet with the questions and an answer sheet and be interviewed by a real teacher. Maybe a little more nerve wrecking than just recording yourself.

As in all exams, the goal is to narrow as much as possible the scoring criteria, so even if you come up with a question such as “What’s the meaning of life” – the examiner will be looking for very specific content.

In Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, summarizing is a highly valued skill and connecting the dots in order to answer what has been asked.

A key point is: Make sure TO ANSWER THE QUESTION.keep-calm-and-pass-the-toefl-2

In the Writing Section the student will be judged based on their development, organization and language use.

In the Speaking Section, the students will be analyzed based on their:

Delivery  – clear, fluid, pronunciation, intonation, pace

Language Use – grammar and vocabulary – apparently raters love some connecting words and phrases such as:

  • because
  • so
  • after that
  • on the other hand (which is a very good phrase and requires attention because many students still say “IN the other hand/way/side”)
  • I want to mention
  • what this means is

Topic Development – fully answered, clearly expressed, connected ideas.

What this means is…

  • don’t speak too quickly
  • time yourself when you practice
  • listen carefully
  • summarize the opinions.

So…  my best piece of advice for my students is: practice, practice, practice. Make the language your constant companion. And shine on.toefl 1

Cheers,

Mo