Can anyone learn a foreign language online and free? Yes, you can!
“Wait a minute”, you might say … are you telling me I can learn any language online? For real? Yes, you can.
But …. of course, there had to be a BUT! The internet is full of free pages to learn a foreign language, but not all are reliable, either because they don’t offer a program structured to your level, or because the method presented doesn’t suit your learning personality. Moreover, online learning is not the ideal medium for everyone, let alone those who are not disciplined and organised.
As a teacher, of course I stand for classes with a teacher. That’s the best choice. But not always the feasible one.
How can you learn at home?
Firstly, find a way of motivating and organising yourself. Tell others what you’re doin; that should keep your accountable, at least initially. Secondly, set up a list of resources for your learning process.
Google up easy reading texts in your target language. Read a paragraph of a news story. A fairy tale. A piece of the transcript of an interview of a politician, artist, footballer or any other you might fancy and find interesting. Check the pronunciation, the vocabulary.
YouTube has tons of videos in your target language, not necessarily about learning the language. But clips of news or documentaries are great starting points.
Focus on listening to news and documentaries that have a clearer speech. Podcasts are a great source of listening material that you can download and listen to anywhere, anytime.
This requires some courage. Dare to speak. Skype provides a language exchange forum for you to connect with people around the world.
You see? As I told you before, free online language learning is posssible but no magical solution. You’ll have to apply yourself to it regularly, especially if your goal is to learn “fast”.
5 tips to learning/practicing a new language
Many people complain that they’ve been stuck in the same language level for ages. What to do? Resign and move on?
How about losing weight without dieting and exercise? How about getting hydrated without having to drink any liquids? Or tv zapping using your brainwaves? No remote control necessary. Far fetched? The same goes to learning another language without taking time and effort into the calculation. So here are 5 fail-proof steps that will actually help you learn another language and move up to the next level.
WARNING – these steps may actually help you learn 🤪
Expose yourself to the language – videos, listen to radio programs, leaf through magazines and newspapers in the target language, being in that country or not.
Have language classes – get feedback – some learn by themselves but there is always room for improvement and a teacher or friend fluent in that language may be able to help you.
Use Duolingo or Lingq apps for practice
Extensive reading – read a lot for fun and understanding. Yes books are still in. Don’t stop to look up every single word you don’t know. Choose a book that might have a vocabulary level a little higher than yours but not too difficult. Even the Bible. Choose a translation that is going to be easier for you. Allow yourself to read every night/ morning for 15-20 minutes.
a notebook – write down any key words meaningful to you.
Motivation – a mini-immersion concept
Locus of control -how you relate to events in your life
Self-efficacy- Determining how you can perform – performance outcomes and vicarious experience
Practice makes perfect, but …
Since the late 1980s language drilling has been looked down upon as being bad. They’d say its mechanical, boring and irrelevant for the students. Students aren’t automatons to be repeating meaningless sentences or vocabulary.
And it’s true that too much of a thing (even if a good thing) can be its own death. But as the old saying goes “don’t throw the baby with the bathwater”. Language drills have their very good value: by repetition they can help students identify their questions and problem areas while leading them towards specific language goals and targets, therefore, drilling can help students focus.
In the not so distant past, language labs were the rage. All the “respectable” language schools had their laboratories with those sessions inserted in their lesson grid where students would be sent to a stuffy room (no air conditioning then) and they’d spend 40-50 minutes listening and repeating to an outdated audio recording, while a teacher dozed off (sorry, listened in and monitored the students).
With the ubiquitous presence of smartphones now students have a language school and lab in their hands but their needs are still the same, including the need to practice.
Spaced repetition – reviewing words over a sequence of days will work wonders on vocabulary retention, concentration, and patience.
Practice makes perfect, but only if you practice in the right way.
“How you practice and what you do matters more than how long you practice”, Jeremy Harmer has said more than once.
If you get your heart involved you will get better chances of learning.
Drilling should be genuinely communicative, psychologically authentic, focused, and follow a regular pattern.
Why Teach Pronunciation ? (Or not?)
Quite often teachers of English as a Foreign Language find themselves between a rock and a hard place concerning teaching pronunciation. If they’re native speakers they hesitate in constantly correcting their students fearing they’ll pass an overbearing image and many times thinking … “well… I can understand them … whatever”. If the teacher is a nonnative speaker of English they might feel insecure about their own pronunciation or even worse… they might not be aware of the proper pronunciation of specific sounds in English which are different from their mother tongue.
So… why bother teaching pronunciation?
Students want and need to speak clearly.
Their phonological awareness has an impact on all areas of their language learning besides speaking: reading, writing, vocabulary, etc
But what’s the right pronunciation? What’s a standard accent? British RP? Only 3% of Brits actually speak it. American Midwestern? What about Mississippi or Alabama? How about global English?
That’s why it’s important to know why your students are learning English.
The teacher must then focus on speech comprehension rather on the student’s accent being good, bad or proper.
How to do it? Teaching pronunciation works best a little during every lesson instead of once a week or whatever frequency students have.
“The teacher must”, as Richard Cauldwell wrote, ‘focus on:
the greenhouse: isolated words.
the garden: mixing and growing words together, linking words.
The jungle: where everything is mixed”
The best way will be to integrate pronunciation with other skills and lots of repetition (practice).
In conclusion, our insecurity about the way we speak can be managed by raising our awareness and practicing to the student’s heart’s content.
N.B – Many thanks to Laura Patsko with her great YouTube videos on the subject of pronunciation – https://youtu.be/yyga6vIAroE
The role of the language teacher in the classroom
The role of the teacher in the classroom must not be underestimated. So whether you’re still wet behind your ears or have grown prematurely grey due to the many years of teaching, here are some good reminders
- Be keen and approachable. Make sure your students know your name. You have an identity. Apologise when necessary.
- Avoid too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time). No matter your students’ level they want to be able to speak. A lot of a teacher’s talking time is just lost on the students. It feels very teacher-oriented when one is explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but students still don’t know what’s going on.
- Teach the students, not the plan. The teacher must be adaptable and flexible.
- Find a balance between allowing students to communicate freely and proper pronunciation correction.
- Avoid a deluge of photocopies. It’s very easy to get disorganised. From the very beginning encourage students to create their own book with the copies and a binder.
- Don’t expect perfection, and give encouragement. Sometimes the teacher is so eager on perfection that they won’t let students utter anything without it being perfect.
- Seek a balance between the grammar, vocab and pronunciation.
The par excellence teaching approach philosophy today is “student-centered” which is all right and good, but then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. That’s where the teacher fits in.
This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too.
Source: Thanks to the notes on teacher observation provided by Luke Thompson. Teacher Luke’s English Podcast https://teacherluke.co.uk/2018/02/16/512-my-experiences-of-not-learning-french-part-2-learning-language-in-a-classroom-vs-learning-on-your-own/
English Language Education in Brazil – An Outlook part 2
According to the Brazilian Association of Franchising (ABF) between 2% and 4% of Brazilians (in a total population of around 220 million) speak English at some level.
At any given time, it is estimated that roughly 1 million people are studying English in Brazil concentrated in the State of São Paulo, followed by the Southeast Region and South Region.
CNA, a traditional franchiser of language schools claims to have around 420,000 students a year in Brazil. But 40% of English language students drop out of their courses within 6 months.
It is a promising market. But … :
Why is there such a high evasion rate? Why are there so many people who don’t study English?
The leading answer is that “English is not for me”. Followed by “Spanish is easier.”
We have a culture of immediacy. Combined with poor performance.
Why do students quit? Most common reasons:
1. No money
2. No time
(However, it may be argued that there is a “save face” attitude. What the students might be actually saying is: what you’re offering actually isn’t worth what I thought it was)
How do students prefer to study languages?
The overwhelming majority of language students (72%) prefer having classes in groups, attending the lessons in a school.
Again, statistics may vary but, it is estimated that 6% within a universe of 40 million Brazilians (200,000) prefer to have private lessons with a private tutor.
5% are enrolled in language teaching programs sponsored by NGOs or religious organisations, such as the English Sabbath School class which teaches the bible in English. You may check their work on Facebook – www.facebook.com/BelievesUnasp
Distance learning, also known as e-learning or online learning (EAD in Portuguese) is a promising segment (still in its infancy at 9%) but there are no reliable figures on the number of students studying English via Skype, FaceTime or using international language platforms or apps such as Global English, Duolingo and iTalki.
Worth remembering that the industrial /digital logic does not yield great results in the Education segment (even if called Industry) – we’re still human beings who learn at different paces and manners.
What does the future of Education look like?
The trend is to use an adaptive learning process with a hybrid use of different resources and technologies, combining both physical and digital presences.
The Education professionals, aka teachers, must seek the continuous development of their soft skills: interpersonal (people) skills. These are much harder to define and evaluate. While hard skills are job-specific, most prospective clients and students are looking for soft skills in their teachers, coaches or tutors. Soft skills include communication skills, listening skills, and empathy, among others.
Also we as language professionals must continue to work towards the development of solid knowledge, posture of dialogue and authority set by example.
Happy teaching and towards a bright future.
English Language Education in Brazil – An Outlook – Part 1
Last Monday I attended a talk sponsored by Braz-Tesol (Brazilian Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Marcelo Barros presented a brief but content-loaded overview of the situation of the language teaching outlook in Brazil today.
The language education market in Brazil is extremely fragmented lacking official associations that would really represent the interests of English teachers around the country. Braz-Tesol and state organizations such as Apeoesp (Association of Teachers of São Paulo state schools) or Apliesp (Association of Teachers of English in the State of São Paulo) represent a small percentage of teachers.
The fragmentation of the English language teaching industry:
binational language institutes
independent language schools
How do they see each other? As in any market economy, they see each other as competitors, but not only that, the University educators look down on all the other teachers as if they were a lower form of life. Also teachers working at languages schools or institutes look down on teachers in state or city-run schools, as not even knowing English themselves and how can they be able to teach it? State-run teachers also see independent language schools as the death knell for the teaching of languages in regular classrooms. Binational language centres as the British Council, Cultura Inglesa or Alumni, also look down on independent language schools as unprepared to teach given that the former emphasise native speakers as teachers and the latter would have to resort to humble Brazilians trying to make a living.
The reality is that English teachers at language schools or self-employed have been imparting knowledge to millions around the country, making up for a huge gap in the education level provided by regular grammar schools at all levels.
The Brazilian Association of Franchising – ABF, estimates that 2-4% of Brazilians speak some English – which creates a significant linguistic elite in a country with around 220 million people.
The Brazilian economic boom decade between 2002 and 2012 also represented a bonanza for language teaching, with a peak in the number of people studying English in Brazil.
It is estimated that today there are little under 1 million people studying English in Brazil. But why do so few people study that language? Why is there such a high dropout rate?
To be continued… .
The autonomous teacher: 5 filters for professional growth and development
I’ve been a self-employed teacher for 20 years and can say looking back at my professional history that I’ve made some mistakes, such as, being too straight-forward with some students, letting students go on and on with their classes without making any commitment to actual improvement. But also gotten some things right: helping them identify their strong and weak points and providing tools for them to set achievable goals and challenges. Helping them identify language learning as a tool not a 7-headed monster.
Noam Chomsky has developed the five filters of the mass media machine but those filters can be adapted to the self-employed career:
1. Ownership – you must own up to your mistakes, also understand that you must charge your students in a fair way while not compromising your source of income. Your rate can’t just be based on the hour you’ll be with him.
2. Advertising – you’re the top model who’ll inspire people to hire you. Looks are not the point. Transparency and motivation are great selling points when it comes to hiring a new teacher.
3. Elite – ordinary citizens can’t hire a private mentor or tutor for longer periods of time. The elite can afford you. But charging a low-income student and a high-income student differently, helps the latter finance of learning program of the former.
4. Flak – you may take some flak if the students fail. It’s part of the territory. Learn to cope with that.
5. Common Enemy – ignorance, laziness, lack of motivation, lack of payment.
Education is a process. Not a commodity
Talking about learning as a process, many students start having classes and then after one or two months go away on vacation, then they can’t have classes because of the yearend holidays, then there’s carnival… cutting a long story short – they suspend classes for 2 to 3 months in a row, and when they return they want to continue from where they stopped. Helloooo… even a car if left unattended for too long can show problems when the owner tries to use it again. In other words, they are back to where they started… and then after 2, 3, 5 years of classes they start to complain saying they must be too stupid,* because they’re not making progress (*translation: their teacher can’t be any good or he’s just incompetent).
Working as a self-employed teacher, I have the freedom that other job positions do not offer, but also lack all sorts of protections and guarantees that a school – even if lame – is required to provide.
Being my own boss means that I always have to negotiate fees and rates, teaching methods, class frequency, class load and homework directly with the student and on some rare occasions with the parent (if a minor) or the HR of a company (this latter case only happens once in a blue moon).
There’s no shame in being up front about the costs and how many classes there will be per month and the need for cancellation or postponement of classes and in the case of the absence for whatever reason of the teacher or student, how those missed classes should be made up for. Yes usually the contract – either verbal or…
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