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.
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 nauseam, 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.
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.
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 languages 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?
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.
And NO! I won’t apologize for having taken the time and effort to learn another language.
Is 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:
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.
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.
Yeah, yeah, I know, Virginia. I live in the Southern Hemisphere therefore I should have had winter vacations this July, but considering my wife and I traveled to the US – let’s agree to keep it as a summer vacation.
I’ve succeeded in convincing my sweetheart that I need to recycle my English and inhale some American oxygen every year ( don’t forget I’m an Americanoid) , so we always make an effort and try to travel to America at least once a year.
This time we traveled to Orlando, Florida and Dallas, Texas. In Orlando we met up with our “stepfamily” – Liz and Ray, their 15-year-
old son, Jared, and the matriarch, Helen. We spent two intense days and although I had some idea about visiting a theme park – namely Universal Studios – we actually ended up visiting only The Holy Land Experience, which was quite surprising.
At the entrance you just see a bunch of fake rocks and buildings but once inside the staff and the people attending generate a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. There are no “rides”, just some exhibition areas where you can see, for example, a life-size replica of the tabernacle in the desert, the Via Dolorosa (way cleaner and brighter than the real thing, I dare say), the Lord’s supper where you partake of the bread and the wine with Jesus himself (well, OK, every Jesus is an ordained minister – but it’s still a moving experience). You can visit a sort of wax museum where you can see scenes of Jesus’ life: birth, ministry, Garden of Gethsemane, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension).
The highest point was the series of dramatizations taking place at the auditorium of he Church of the Nations. Stories about the four women who had a life-changing encounter with Jesus; the crucifixion; a modern-day parable about Angels, the moments of praise and worship all designed to successfully move you to tears. And I must say they powerfully succeeded with us. The day ends with a musical show of the fountains. I had
thought the experience would take us 2-3 hours, but we spent the whole day there and were the last guests to leave.
We flew to Dallas and despite the toasty, roasty temperatures we had a wonderful 4th of July weekend there. With a patriotic concert of Larnelle Harris, barbecue at sister-in-law’s home and a fantastic fireworks display at the Dallas Athletic Club. We returned to Brazil on the 5th of July and I was very saddened by the news of the sniper killing and wounding police officers in Dallas.
Thinking allowed after the latest crises in America
In Orlando we had the opportunity to visit the memorial for the victims of the Pulse nightclub and every time the subject came up people would be extremely touched and saddened by that ignominious attack. But one thing that called my attention was that some people (let’s assume they were unaware of that) made some comments that bordered on racism such as:
“I don’t know why we bought a home in Apopka. There are too many black people in the area. At least, we bought it on the white side.” (Come again, ma?)
In Dallas, we stayed at the Comfort Suites in the northern part of the city because people had warned us the south side was too violent and dangerous (should I have heard “too many black people”?), but our hotel would lock its doors after 9 pm, because it’s not a very safe area. Hmmm… .
We went to the Larnelle Harris concert at the First Baptist church in Lewisville – and considering that Larnelle is a wonderful African-American gospel singer – his was the only dark face we could see in the whole church – sadly still confirming the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement who once said “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” And apparently little has changed.
It still boggles my mind that the organization of my dear Seventh-Day Adventist Church – still maintains separate conferences for whites and African-Americans.
On a brighter note, we had the privilege to meet our nephew’s husband for the first time. And YES, he is gay and black. Does it mean that he will have to die twice?
From what I understand he didn’t choose to be gay or black but I can choose to accept them and love them despite the differences. I cannot control the hatred and prejudice that permeate our world but I can choose how to deal with people’s differences.
I have just returned from four wonderful days in beautiful Costa Rica. The multitude of things one can do there is amazing – Costa Rica’s strikingly diverse terrain — lush forests, wildlife reserves, and tropical beaches — offers a little something for every traveler. Beach-lovers staying along the Pacific Coast can enjoy a palm-fringed coastline for sun and surf. Nature-seekers staying in the Northern Plains or along the Caribbean coast should pay a visit to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca before venturing inland to zip line above Monteverde’s Cloud Rainforest and hike Arenal Volcano. Whether you seek sun, nature or adventure, there’s much to discover in this paradise.
So which of the above took me there? None. The reason that brought me to lovely Costa Rica was The National Conference for Teachers of English http://www.nctecostarica.or.cr/ – which gathered English teachers from all over the country and speakers from the US, Canada, Mexico and even from Brazil.
OK, I must confess I played truant one afternoon and went sightseeing at the Volcán Poás – up in the Costa Rican Alps. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the crater though, since it is quite regularly covered in heavy fog, but I could most definitely smell it – sulfur and other intriguing aromas.
Who would have “thunk” that a Brazilian Teacher of English would be invited to participate in such an honorable event. Talk about breaking paradigms and stereotypes. “Native Speakers of English” never have and never will have exclusive rights to the teaching of their language, especially when it is to speakers of other languages.
I was invited via twitter by Jonathan Acuña, the program’s organizer, (may God bless technology) and the theme – Dare to Join the Change – really challenged me to embrace the opportunity and say “Why not?”
First of all, I’d like to congratulate the organizers – I’ve had my share of TESOL conferences and some of them – dare I say it – were rather poorly organized and structured. NCTE Costa Rica did a wonderful job in getting together different speakers and workshops spread all around the “Centro Cultural Costarricence Norteamericano” – with every classroom having support personnel and dedicated staff. Loved it.
I had been warned of the Tico Time issue (which is not exclusive to Costa Rica, by all means), when things tend to follow their “own time” and tardiness is expected and sometimes even embraced. Not this time. Sessions started sharply on time – save some technological glitches. The plenaries also started punctually as scheduled.
The workshops tended to focus on English Learning in the 21st Century: diversity in the classroom, Fluent x Accurate spoken English, natural learning and so much more. (Stay tuned for coming blogs on particular issues discussed in the conference).
My workshop was titled: “Dogme never fear, Technology is here” followed by the subtitle “How can media and dogme work together” and was based on the premise that the simplicity in methodology and movement preached by Dogme in ELT can be enriched and empowered via the use of technology (including social media). The key is to reach a balance between effective language reception and production and unplugged learning. You may see my power point presentation following this link: https://onedrive.live.com/embed?cid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07&resid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07%21835&authkey=ABRDhO-mHMCqr58&em=2
During the training session, the attendees were wonderful – all teachers highly committed to growth and improvement. One thing that was pretty common during the workshop was the fact that most teachers still resist to the use of social media. Technology can be really scary if you don’t know what to do with it. And less than 10% (at least in my workshop) were on LinkedIn. I urged them to create their own LinkedIn profile immediately because it is their professional digital card to their careers.
That’s just a brief insight of what happened on 3 days of intense and powerful collaboration. The conference was tuanis(“too nice” in Costa Rican slang).
My advice? Next time you hear about a teachers’ conference dare to join the change.