Nativism revisited

Last Saturday we invited a new friend for lunch at home. Ivonne arrived from Bolivia back in February where she had been an English teacher and aesthetics consultant (sic) and had a dream to move to Brazil, where she would have more opportunities.

When she arrived she soon started voluntarily teaching English to a group of senior citizens at an NGO. “The experience was interesting”, she said.”But people don’t value things offered for free”. The students’ attendance was terrible and when they did come they wanted to chitchat and not really “study English”.

I warned Ivonne that getting paying English students in Brazil would be difficult in her case because despite her 5 years of English studies with US missionaries in Bolivia, she still had a very thick Spanish accent, including the infamous “Jew” when she means to say “you“.

She said, “Ay, Moacir, I need a job fast”. I told her she could apply at language institutes and private schools to be a teacher of Spanish as soon as she had her transcripts registered in Brazil. But any teaching at a language academy would take time for training. In the meantime she is selling honey sachets door to door.

But what Ivonne said about language teachers startled me:

“Ay, Moacir, Jew speak like an American and jew’re tall and white” – (anyone is tall to her since her height is less than 150cm /4ft) – I won’t get a teaching job here.” “In Bolivia I always wanted to have only native teachers for me. That’s how jew learn. Jew ask them a question they know the answer. A Brazilian or Bolivian teacher won’t know how to respond”.

“The same thing goes to teaching Spanish,” she went on. “Los brasileños think that Spanish is easy but when they start to see the grammar and the verb tenses they go crazy.”

I tried to reason with her “Come on, Ivonne. I’m not a native speaker of English, but I’m an excellent teacher, as you know (to hell with self deprecation)”. She nodded in deep admiration. “And for over 25 years I’ve been teaching English to high executives and people who’ve travelled around the world and it has never been a disqualifying point. I’ve also taught in Canada, the US and Ireland and it’s never been a problem. Yes, it’s true a native speaker may know more phrasal verbs but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to explain to you how to use them. He’ll pronounce a word his way which can be very different between US and British English, for example. More than once have I seen a native speaker not know how to pronounce a word or what it meant. And in addition to that, if the gringo doesn’t know the local language, he won’t understand why you find it so difficult to say girl, or world, whirlwind”. “Actually, many (not all) native teachers abroad have their own agenda and baggage: either they want to convert somebody, or see the world, or escape from their own world.” Believe you me, I’ve seen some native teachers (mostly from Oceania) that didn’t have a loose screw, they had lost that screw a long time ago. What makes a good teacher will be based on 3 very solid foundations:

1. Language knowledge (yes, you can’t teach English or French or Arabic if you don’t speak that language either), learning one’s own or adoptive language is an ongoing process; but that knowledge must be supported by

2. skills (natural and learned) – how many times have you attended a lecture or lesson by a renowned Professor who knows everything about, let’s say, quantum physics but he can’t teach it?

3. Finally, a good to great teacher will be empathetic. He will try to understand and seek for ways to best transmit his subject.”

Ivonne carefully considered all I’d told her, clapped her hands and cheerfully exclaimed:

Jew don’t need to be a native to teach English. Now I got it. I’ll start applying to be a teacher of Portuguese!”

Sigh.

Good luck, Ivonne,

Cheers,

Mo

Immersion Course – the Return

Today, one of my students, Isabella, returned after a 2-month-long trip to the US – one month she spent studying English at Kaplan International English School in Chicago and one month traveling across the US – a few days in Seattle, then on to San Francisco and ending her tour in Miami, Fl. “The best city by far was Chicago. It’s vibrant, culturally diverse with amazing restaurants, museums and great music”, she said. Image result for chicago skyline

Well, she had been very anxious about her arrival at the airport and customs and immigration. We practiced what she should say if questioned by the immigration officer, what might happen and she said it all went smoothly. The only drawback was that she arrived at O’Hare’s Terminal 5 and she had to go to Terminal 1 to catch the metro rail to downtown Chicago. The access information was a little difficult and it was a little bit of a hassle for her to get to the other terminal. From downtown she used an Uber driver to take her to her niece’s apartment at the University of Chicago on the South Side. Image result for chicago terminal 1 subway

She told me it was a bus commute of around 25 minutes from where she was staying with her niece to the language school downtown. She could observe the wide diversity of people and nationalities and after one week the regular passengers were already greeting her. And sometimes she would call an Uber Pool so she could meet other passengers and try to practice her English. Image result for bus downtown university of chicago

At the school she was assessed as an A2 student and placed in a classroom with some 15 students from the Arab Emirates, South Korea, China, and Colombia. Her first teacher was a nice man but who spoke way too fast and when she asked for some explanation about a point in the lesson he would not give her an answer. After one week she asked for another teacher – this time it was an Englishman (yes, I know, an Englishman in Chicago – great version for Sting’s song – An Englishman in New York) and he spoke more clearly and pausedly.  Her teacher referred her to listen to Ted Talks and watch episodes of “Friends”. Image result for kaplan school  chicago male teacher

The biggest issue”,  Isabella went on, “that I had with the school was the lack of a good language laboratory”.

Since she was familiar with the language lab concept from her years studying English in Brazil she had been expecting state-of-the-art facilities. She commented: “After 3 hours of classes I thought I would  spend at least 1 hour in a lab listening and recording my speech but it was very small and restricted.” Image result for kaplan school  chicago language lab

“Of course, nothing compares to the experience of being in another country surrounded by the language you’re learning, however, I found out that people were not very patient with me. Many people spoke too fast and when I tried to ask for something, for example, they’d say ‘do you speak Spanish?’ ”  

I asked Isabella if before leaving they’d reassessed her English level at school and she said it was raised to a B1, which she thought was much too soon.

Academically she didn’t have anything more than what she could have had in Brazil. This outcome strengthens my advice: use your time and money to study English in your own home country and then go to an English speaking country for practice, attend a course in photography, art, whatever, in your target language. The return will be much more satisfying.

Cheers,

Mo

Study Abroad – a way of escape?

We always hear at the beginning of school vacations, either in the beginning or the middle of the year, news stories about Student Exchange Agencies /Agências de Intercambio.

How much of it is news worthy or “sponsored” by the agencies themselves is hard to tell, but there’s no doubt that the interest for STUDY ABROAD programs keeps growing in Brazil, despite or because of the prolonged economic recession and now stagnation since 2015.

By their numbers

In a market worth US$ 1.2 billion, The Brazilian Educational & Language Travel Association  (Belta) http://www.belta.org.br/ reports that the interest of people to study abroad for periods between 1 month and 2-3 months was up by 20% in 2018 compared with 2017. It calculates that 365,000 people will be traveling abroad on “intercambio” programs (a 30% increase is forecast for 2019 over 2018).

The vast majority of exchange students traditionally were between 16 and 25 years old, but in recent years there has been a growing interest with people up to 40 years, not excluding those older than that. And 80% of the exchange students are female, according to the study “EXCHANGE TOURISM: PROFILES OF THE PARTICIPANTS, MOTIVES AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE”  (https://siaiap32.univali.br/seer/index.php/rtva/article/viewFile/5116/2681)

These short term exchange programs (15 days up to a month) appeal to people who are currently working and will use their vacation days to improve their language skills. They’re using their own vacation time from work (using their own savings or supported by family)

Intercambio photo 8
A quick search for “study English abroad” you’ll get lots of suggestions including “study English in Portugal”. Huh? 

Costs

Of course how much the program will cost will depend whether the student will stay with a local family, rent a studio, share a room in the dorm, which country and city/town they’ll be going to, etc) … but it can start at US$ 1,800 a month (including accommodation and the course). Airfare is usually out of the equation. Intercambio photo 1

Reasons to go 

The main reasons to go on exchange programs are:

  • use vacation time (using their own savings or supported by family) boosted by the feeling “I’m sacrificing my vacations for a good cause”.
  • Have contact with people on the street (sic)
  • Be exposed to the language on TV and other media (as if it wasn’t possible in this day and age in their own home country)
  • work opportunities: many people say know someone who was skipped for a promotion, or missed an opportunity to work abroad, or even lost their job because they lacked English.
  • have fun (not found in the report but most people when asked they’ll say it not as the primary reason – *which I  think is the main reason in many cases, though, wink wink).

Case study
Intercambio photo 6 Rosimar

Rosimar, who is Brazilian,  already speaks Italian and Spanish but wants to study English in Canada in September. She says:

“I still find it hard to speak English, I want to improve my language skills so I can catch a taxi or order a meal in a restaurant. I believe the investment is worth it all. I’m going to Canada to improve my English and have fun.”

Where to go

The Brazilian Student Exchange Agencies highlight that over the past 14 years Canada has been the favorite destination for Brazilian students, because of favorable foreign exchange currency rate, standard of living and a country where English is spoken. The next is the US at 23.1%, and far behind come Australia with 9.3%, Ireland 7.6%, the UK and New Zealand at 3.8% ( The British pound foreign exchange rate is a big discouraging factor for Brazilians).

Should you go?

Definitely, go and have fun. Expose yourself to another culture, another language, other worlds. But don’t expect that in 1, 2 or 3 months you’ll be back fluent. It will depend a lot on you but my advice is: study English as much as you can in your home country and then go abroad to practice studying something else or attending conferences in your professional area in English, for example. The results will surprise you.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

 

 

Teaching multilevel classes

I usually teach students on a one-to-one basis but every Saturday morning I find myself volunteering  in a classroom with 60 to 80 people ranging in ages from 15 to 74 and coming from all walks of life. One common ground is that it’s an English language class to study the Bible and sing worship songs both traditional hymns and more contemporary ones. Talk about diversity. Some students know no English at all whilst others are quite fluent. Most are in between. So … how can I make this class work?

1. Usually I try to get higher level students to help lower levels, be it by providing translation, or modeling pronunciation, etc. Also we try  to divide the class in smaller groups and to have at least a high level student working in a group of 4 or 5.

2. I’ve mentioned above the common denominator and they really try to use their bible knowledge and weekly study to build on new learning steps.

3. Using visual resources  – pictures, realia, a short video, etc,which provide another common ground while higher level students will be able to help others to expand their vocabulary, for example.

4. Every week the students know they’re walking into a “free zone” where they will not be judged or criticized for their language skills or beliefs, thus creating a welcoming environment where they will gradually be willing to take risks and even “play the fool”.

Let me share with you the story of Diego. That tall and lanky young man one day walked into our class, settled in a corner and refused to say a word. The following week we managed to get him to mumble his name. But nothing else. He was shyness personified. We allowed him to come to class and quietly and shyly stick around. We started a little weekly challenge that whoever memorized that week’s key bible verse would get a little reward. Sometimes a cookie, other times a magazine, other times a CD, other times just a handshake,  etc. Then one day, after a few months of unresponsiveness,  to our astonishment, Diego stood up and said the memory text for the week. From then on he never stopped, and now he even prays in public or shares a little missionary story.

Yes, we’re all different but we can help one another grow at their own pace.

Cheers,

Mo

How to spend a lifetime in teaching? 🤗🤔

This week I came across an episode of the podcast TEFL Training Institute with the question quoted above where Ross (one of the hosts) interviewed his parents who worked as teachers for a combined total of almost 50 years. And myself? Well, I started at my church’s Sabbath School initially teaching the primary class (kids between 8-12) . I was 15 at the time, so I’ve been involved with teaching for over 35 years. The questions asked on the podcast are relevant to all of us involved in teaching either as volunteers, professionals or both. Here they are:

1. How do you keep yourself motivated? 

Professionally speaking – money is a motivating factor. yeah, yeah… You may say whatever you want but you still need to pay your bills at the end of the month and buy a pair of shoes once in a while. But although money is a very visible factor, it isn’t enough to get you going. I like speaking in different languages, so… I look forward to every opportunity I have to speak in English, Spanish or French. I love watching tv in other languages. I like reading magazines and newspapers from other countries. The students are the same but also different. You’ll have similar difficulties and challenges but their attitude, behaviour, reactions always surprise me. I’m always open to learning new words, getting to use new teaching materials. I wish I could attend more TEFL conferences, but sometimes they end up demotivating me using the same themes ad nauseamIMG_9078, being more of a marketplace where language schools and publishers come to sell their goods instead of teachers discussing their best practices and the future of their industry. Since traveling can be quite expensive I really appreciate when the organisers of those events make them available online on YouTube.

2. How has teacher training changed? 

Sadly enough I haven’t notice great changes in teacher training. You may use a smart screen instead of an overhead projector but still present the same ideas, and interaction activities.

3. What advice do you have to new teachers?

Welcome to this rewarding career. Yes, there will be challenges and you will never become a millionaire from your classes (Some exceptions may apply) but you will be always learning and always growing if not from anything else, from at least being in touch with some wonderful human beings, yes, you’ll also encounter some dreadful, horrid creatures, but they are still, thank goodness, too few and far in between.

Happy teaching and enjoy the journey.

Cheers,

Mo

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.

    img_9323
    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

Wrong motivation in language learning

why-peopleIs there such a thing as a wrong reason to learn a language? Why do people decide to learn a second language?

Some of the reasons I’ve heard are listed below (please feel free to add any other reasons not mentioned):

  • to travel abroad on holiday / business
  • to get a better job or improve job opportunities
  • to study abroad
  • they like the sound and /or the looks of that language
  • they love the country /culture / food where that language is spoken
  • religious reasons (biblical Greek/Hebrew/ Latin)
  • to find a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • to get in touch with their roots
  • because it’s an academic requirement
  • to ward off memory loss
  • to show off / impress others

I heard on the podcast Eye on Italy episode 17 (here’s the link – http://www.eyeonitaly.com/podcast/episode-17-italian-i-still-love-you/ ) an interview with Dianne Hales who wrote the book – La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language (http://www.becomingitalian.com/labella.php) and one of the negative criticisms  she heard came from her friends who questioned her choice to study Italian as “why choose such a useless language to learn?” The argument being if you’re going through all this trouble to speak another language, at least learn a more useful language such as French, or Spanish, or German, or Mandarin. Please define usefulness in love.

So…, my answer to the question – is there a wrong reason to learn a language? YES AND NO.

There can be weak (or lame) reasons. What do I mean? To learn another language you will have to work up the following ingredients:

MOTIVATION

DETERMINATION

PERSEVERANCE

PROGRESS (NO MATTER AT WHAT PACE)

Now, if your reasons don’t live up to the ingredients above you will be bound to fail. Therefore, wrong reasons.

But, if you’re willing to keep on following those four ingredients – the reason or reasons will be right.

So, roll up your sleeves and dig in whatever language you want and for whatever reasons that make you tick.

No matter what others say, another language will give you a new vision of the world.

Happy learning,

Mo