The Teaching of English as a Foreign Language in Brazilian Public Schools

As you know I’ve been teaching private students, mostly one on one for over 25 years so I can’t say I’ve been in touch with what goes on in classrooms all over Brazil. Last time I taught English as a regular subject at school was back in 1986, so do your math, because I can’t. I’m an English teacher after all.

So I decided to talk (via Twitter) to a dear friend and fellow teacher, Iara Will, who teaches at state public schools in São Paulo. Here’s what she had to say:

Do you use technology in your classes?

Iara Will
Iara Will

“Well…at my school in Sorocaba (Humberto de Campos) we have an IT room with 12 computers working.

But my classes have around 30 students… a tight room with broken air conditioning…, so I use computers in class only when a few students show up. The São Paulo state government has an online English Course program open to public school students who even receive a conclusion certificate. The online course presents everyday situations, videos and exercises even allowing for some interactivity. The course goes up to the Intermediate Level.

In class I allow them to use their cellphones, although it’s forbidden by law.

Reason: we have no dictionaries at the school’s library.  So.. they look up words online.
I try to give them activities that don’t have an easily found answer online, I encourage memorization and I make up many activities.

From the textbooks I only use some texts for reading comprehension.

I also use songs some old and some brand new ones.

I’ve learned that English is more of a decorative subject than really Language Arts. It’s just a complement not a real subject.

I cannot hold back any student. Don’t tell it to my dear students (it’s state secret. LOL)

By the way no one fails any subject nowadays at our schools. But even so, I make my opinion heard at school board and council,  especially in disciplinary matters, because I’m one of the few who listens to the students.

My workload is low so I have some free time. Most teachers survive teaching at least 32 classes a week. It would be writing 18 class reports for English alone.  Many teachers teach 54 classes a week. I don’t know how???!!!!

What sort of activities do you use with students?

Reading Activities with current issues from texts I find online or from the textbook.

I use songs and films subtitled in English when I know they’ve seen it 20 times, like Finding Nemo. I give them a handout to fill in the blanks and other activities varying according to their grade.

They love it, if I may say so.

I take my own tv, speakers,  I have to make my own copies.

The school says they have everything I need, until I really need something.

So…

Some students ask if they may go to the restroom in English, even during other classes, just to be funny, or to be the first to go.

We have more writing activities than conversation. It’s only 2 classes a week, I try hard to follow a program.

2 classes of 45 minutes each?

40 minutes.

Wow! Such a short time. How do you divide the time in class? Roll call? Homework? Do you have any warm up activities?

They answer Roll Call in English –  Hi, hello, present, I’m here or here. I use up to 10 minutes just for roll call.

When they return from the restroom they have to say “excuse me”

For warm-up I can use an object, a quiz or a previous activity.

They don’t have homework 😦

Interesting!!!

Sometimes we talk about special holidays, such as Thanksgiving – we have a little party – they bring some foodstuff, name it in English.

Occasionally we even pray in English taking advantage of some special celebrations.

There are cameras in the classrooms. I cannot induce them to anything.

And do the cameras work?

Yes, vice-principals, mediators and school inspectors constantly monitor them

What do your students think of studying English?

It’s hard, cool, boring, Now that I can understand it I like it… things I’ve heard this year.

What’s their social-economic status?

Many of them live in slums. I earn a little more because the school is located in areas of risk.

 

Thank you so much, Iara for sharing with us this wonderful experience as a caring teacher. chamada-publica-escolar-no-es-comeca-com-rematricula-e-transferencia_620_

First word of 2016: Empathy

This time of the year comes loaded with written or spoken lists of resolutions, best quotes, funniest videos, etc. The dictionary publishers love posting word of the year, decade, or century.

Well, for 2016, I’d like to post my first word of the year, which also consists of my resolution: EMPATHY – to learn to be more empathetic along the year.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary presents the following definition:

Simple Definition of empathy

  • : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

I remember the first time I heard the adjective for this word in Portuguese: empático. I must have been 8 or 9 visiting my aunt in Sorocaba and a friend of hers had popped in for an afternoon cup of tea. I don’t recall the context but we were all sitting in the living room, I was listening to the grown-ups talking and I must have said something during the conversation that the lady said to me: “você é muito empático, menino” (you’re very empathetic, boy). I had never heard that word before and unsure of its meaning I just mumbled a “thank you”. I knew the words “sympathetic”, “apathetic” and “pathetic”. Later I asked my parents the meaning of “empathetic” and hearing their explanation I could see myself as being called “pathetic” or even “sympathetic”. But empathy didn’t seem to be something to aim for.empathy 2

Later I came to realize the importance of understanding (at least trying to understand) the reasons why people behaved the way they did and also to try to understand the difficulties that my students had in learning something that seemed as clear as day to me.

 

A few years ago I started learning French in an attempt to understand and remember how my students feel when learning English. And I found out that when learning a language motivation and commitment are key. You can’t expect to learn another language by studying 30 minutes once a week (in the best of times).

As a teacher I must cultivate empathy towards my students thus getting less frustrated and trying to find new ways of teaching by motivating and sharing with them different learning strategies. But the law of cause and effect will still be valid: Little time practicing, little learning. More time practicing, more learning.

So this year I’ll try to wear comfortable shoes but not forget what it means to go barefoot.empathy

Cheers,

Happy New Year

 

Mo

Could you say that again, please? 15 Podcasts for every learner of English (Updated)

Dear students,

A year ago I listed some of the podcasts I think students should be using to practice their English and language skills. With the ebb and flow of technology  and projects new podcasts have come up with new ideas and new presenters, so here’s an updated list of the podcasts and tested and seen commitment by their producers.

Please, remember:

  1. Download the podcasts you enjoy
  2. LISTEN TO THEM. Dammit!

So… without much ado, here’s my (not comprehensive – but a good start) list of English Learning Podcasts:

1.  6 Minute English podcast – produced by the BBC with 2 hosts always asking some challenging questions found in the news. It always presents some new vocabulary and context for its use.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/general/sixminute/

2. All Ears English podcast – 2 chicks always teaching some cultural and language point in the English spoken in the US. Beware: one of them slurs and speakstoofastasifshecouldntbotherwhethershesunderstoodornot.
http://allearsenglish.com/

3. Aprende Inglés con la Mansión del Inglés – 2 dudes (one from Belfast and another from London) host the show with good humor and focus on a teaching point. Emphasis on Spanish speakers http://www.inglespodcast.com

4. Edward’s ESL Edge – a show devoted to bringing interesting content to #ESL learners

https://www.facebook.com/edwardESLedge/

5. English Across the Pond – it’s an interesting approach for language learners – Dan and Jennifer, UK and US residents teaching English as a second or foreign language in a conversational style including cultural and linguistic differences between the 2 Englishes.

https://www.englishacrossthepond.com

6. English Harmony Podcast – prepared by Robby, a non-native English speaker with tips on how to learn English more effectively.
http://englishharmony.com/english-harmony-podcast/

7. English Experts Podcast – Produced by non-native English speakers focuses on the common needs of Brazilian English learners.
https://archive.org/details/EnglishExperts-Podcast

8. ESL Podcast – The host for the podcast is Dr. Jeff McQuillan, directly from sunny Los Angeles, and he helps read the scripts and provides explanations for them.

https://www.eslpod.com/website/

9. Inglés en la oficina -it’s a podcast series produced in Spain by Sandra and Colby with situations related to the office and work world. https://www.acast.com/inglsenlaoficina/english-podcast-36-problem-pairs

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ingles-en-la-oficina/id1074690749?mt=2

10.  Inglês Online Podcast – a podcast produced and hosted by Ana Luiza Bergamini, a Brazilian now living in London, with tips of idioms and phrasal verbs for Brazilian English learners – intermediate to advanced.

http://www.inglesonline.com.br/category/podcast-inglesonline/

11. Inglês Todos os Dias – it’s a podcast produced by an American family based in Brazil.  Tim and Tammy produce weekly short mini-podcasts with expressions and idioms that his students frequently confuse or ask about.

http://www.domineingles.com.br

12. Luke’s English Podcast – produced and hosted by Luke from England – it’s a very good way to expose yourself to British English. But it requires a little patience usually no shorter than 45 minutes.
http://teacherluke.co.uk/

13. Real Life English Podcast – Founded by three young passionate, world traveling, native speaking English teachers, RealLife is a community based learning portal whose mission is to inspire, empower, and connect the world through English, both online and in-person.  Oh Yeah!

http://reallifeglobal.com/radio-podcast/

14. Richard Vaughan Live podcast – controversial Texas-born Richard Vaughan has painstakingly been trying to teach English to Spaniards. His ramblings are quite entertaining. I love the episodes when he loses his temper with some of his on-air students.

http://www.ivoox.com/podcast-richard-vaughan-live_sq_f180769_1.html

15. VOA’s Learning English Podcast –
dating back to their shortwave transmissions even before the Internet, VOA has been my companion with good quality of listening content on American history, words and news.

http://learningenglish.voanews.com/podcast/0.html

podcast

Happy New Year and Happy Listening.

Mo

Could you say that again, please?

I’ve added a few more podcasts to the list to help students survive the hols.

The Americanoid Blog

This morning, my student Alice arrived all upset because she’d been stuck in traffic for nearly two hours and had missed 90% of her class. But despite all the rush she brought up a very pertinent question:

She asked: “How can I improve my listening?”

Could you please repeat that?She’s just returned from a week’s vacation in New York City and told me she had not had any significant listening problems – of course most of the time she’d been meeting up with fellow Brazilian friends and speaking Portuguese – but when she is watching her favorite TV series – Homeland or Scandal, for example, she misses much of what they say. Even the subtitles are too fast. So, how can she improve her listening to better understand native natural speech?

Firstly, in some cases, the dialogues in TV series are not THAT natural. A quick search on the speech speed used in TV…

View original post 875 more words

Christmas in Brazil

The Americanoid Blog

Saundz.com asked me to describe Christmas in Brazil. Where can I start? Brazil is such a vast and diverse country – clichés apart, we could say that different regions celebrate Christmas in their own way. What I can say is that Christmas in Brazil has always been brazil_map_christmas_tree_ornaments-rf43a682d77f340e2a9e1544683de46ab_x7s2y_8byvr_512the family holiday of the year. In the Brazilian North and Northeast regions I’m aware that some century old traditions, with singers and religious processions looking for the baby Jesus on the streets of the village, etc. In Gramado, south Brazil there is a very beautiful Christmas production by the lake with classical soloists and choir. But here in São Paulo, at least in our family everything is very simple.

Traditionally families get together on Christmas eve, those who are religious go to church for the midnight mass and, then eat supper with lots of turkey, couscous (a Brazilian interpretation can be ceiafound…

View original post 518 more words

An ESL Fairy Tale: Sir Mo, Slayer of Language Barrier Dragons Part 1

Yes, Virginia, dragons do exist and they appear in many forms and shapes. Let me tell you a true story:

“Many, many years ago in a far, far away land, known as Terra Brasilis, there was a kingdom commanded by two queens . (No Virginia they were not Lovers – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but that’s not part of the story). Queen Val and Queen Rosie  were very talented and hard-working monarchs, doing their best to provide a safe realm for their subjects.

One day, Queen Val said: “Queen Rosie, I see you have a good English teacher, what’s his name again? Ah yes, Sir Mo. I shall have lessons with him as well. After all if some of my subjects can have classes with him I have priority”.

Queen Val had already reached an advanced English level but she insisted on having classes and said:

“I shall have English classes but I shall not use a textbook or do homework. That’s for mortals”.

Sir Mo gulped and stammered: B-b-b-but, queen, I m-m-mean, your Majesty, having a 90-minute class once a week will not be enough. You need to practice outside that time.

Queen Val waved him to be silent and shouted: “SILENCE!”

Sir Mo started preparing his lessons, newspaper articles he thought she’d be interested in, video clips, podcasts, interviews, but it seemed that queen Val was only growing more despondent and bored. She’d yawn and say: “Boring! Next! I don’t like this article! I don’t care about this exercise.”

One day, while Sir Mo drove to her castle, he saw dark and heavy clouds with lightning and thunder surrounding her turret. Sir Mo saw it as an omen.

After summoned to the presence of the queen, Sir Mo apologetically bowed and said – “I’m sorry, your Majesty, but we’ve trying to have classes all this time and I-I-I-I’m afraid I am not the right knight for your language needs. Your Majesty should search for a knight with a different approach to language teaching. You’re spending money on a knighted teacher when you just want to have “conversation”. Why not hire a younger native English speaker buffoon to keep your interest up?”

Suddenly the Queen began to huff and puff, and started to spew fire through her nostrils, and with fierce eyes roared: “If you’re not going to be MY teacher, you will not teach anyone else in my kingdom. From this day on you are banished from my domain”. And with a creepy laughter, she walked out.

TO BE CONTINUEDthe_dragonslayer_by_dawnweaver13-d5nfcvb

A Restaurant Review: Veridiana Jardins

If you love pizza, you won’t be disappointed in São Paulo. There are all sorts of good to great pizzas and prices in every neighborhood. This time of year many São Paulo restaurants close down but if you’re patient you’ll find a good option.

Last night we had scheduled to meet dear friends at Camelo Pizzaria in Itaim but when we got there it was closed, so we called and found out that Veridiana Jardins was open at regular hours.

We’ve been to Veridiana Pizzaria in Jardins many times, one of the reasons: the pizza is usually really good and light. The second reason: It’s just down the street from our 3745596297_6d58320505home. The place is really welcoming, with a lovely front garden and beautiful trees, high ceilings, good lighting, a gorgeous glass floor showing the wine cellar and a grand piano (which needs to be tuned, by the way). Talking about music, last night, a lady pianist was doing her best but the music you play in a noisy environment with 200+ people talking and laughing, must flow and not clash with the surrounding sound. I learned this from our dear pianist friend, Richard O. Kogima. Conclusion: the music was more like a car crash but that’s ok, because we had a table (after a 40 minute wait at the bar) in the front garden, outdoors- fortunately a quieter place.

Despite the wait, the waiter tried to do his best, but the restaurant’s electronic ordering system was freezing all the time. We had to repeat 3 times just what we were drinking. When we ordered the pizzas he asked the kind of crust VERIDIANA_TBF4547we wanted: thin, medium or thick, with or without borders. We wanted to order one pizza with a thin crust and another with a medium crust. The waiter who was rushing to and fro, said he’d already entered “thin crust” and there was no way to change that, otherwise he would have to cancel the entire order which had already taken some 15 minutes and start all over again. so, thin crust it was.

Veridiana prides itself in the originality of its pizzas so no chicken with catupiry cheese, corn with catupiry cheese are on their menu. These 2 are traditional favorites by “Paulistanos”.  They have fried zucchini with ricotta cheese, heart of palm and garlic with tomato sauce (no cheese). You get the gist right?

Last night the pizzas took so long to come and despite the hot weather – they were not hot – lukewarm at best. Honest to God, the heart of palm was hard and their “original” margherita pizza was tasteless.

To get the check was another way of sorrows – no waiter around. We had to hunt the manager inside. When the check finally came it was wrong -in addition to the drinks and pizzas they had charged us for peperroni snacks and beer – which we hadn’t either eaten or drunk.

Finally we asked the waiter why such a lame service – not in those words, of course, and he said half of the staff hadn’t showed up. So there were only 5 waiters to take care of more than 200 PAYING guests.

Would I recommend this pizzeria? Hell, yes. Because of its location and nice ambiance. For the quality of the pizza and service. No.

2 Stars out 5. And I’m trying to be fair. 2489393-2stars

Native-Speakerism

This morning I woke up early as usual – around 5.30 am,  but being Sunday I wanted to enjoy our bed a little longer – therefore decided to listen to some podcasts, the episode of the Teflologists had two interviews conducted at the second international symposium on native-speakerism held at Saga University, Japan. The interviewees were Stephanie Ann Houghton and Enric Llurda about native-speakerism, non-native speakers in language teaching, English as a lingua franca, and intercultural communication. You can find their podcast series clicking on this link: http://teflology.libsyn.com/

As a non-native teacher of English I know of the existence of this so-called “favoritism” or bias towards native English speakers – allegedly they know ALL the idioms and ALL the words of the English language, which they don’t, by the way. They can give in-depth information about the culture of America, the UK, Ireland or wherever they may hail from, which quite often can be narrowed down to their own individual experiences and not as the perfect stereotype of their nation. Fortunately, I’ve never been “discriminated” against based on my nationality. It’s true that to non-English speakers’ ears my accent may lead them to believe I come from somewhere in America or Australia (go figure) as it happened to me with a  group of Chinese students in York, Ontario.

Okay, some students say “I want a teacher with a British accent” – which of the 3,400 different accents found in the British Isles would you prefer? Or they say: “I wanna a teacher with an American accent” – from Alabama, California or Vermont?

Truth be told, nativewhen I was starting my teaching career in the early 1990s working for a language consultancy firm in São Paulo, there were one or two cases when a corporate client would call for English lessons and adamantly request a native speaker, otherwise, no need to bother. The school sent them a Swedish (yes, you read it right)! A Swedish teacher of English – male, tall, blond, blue eyes, and quite fluent in Swedish English. They loved him. He who has eyes, read between the lines.

Native English speakers in developing countries tend to be young, college graduate, jumping into some traveling adventure before settling down. Nothing wrong with that. But quite often they are NOT qualified to be teachers let alone English teachers. The fact one can speak one’s mother tongue doesn’t make one a teacher of that language.

What to look for in a language teacher? Knowledge. Passion. Fluency. Commitment. Reliability. Professionalism (yes such a poorly regarded word). Fair Price. When we consider these points the national origin of the teacher becomes irrelevant.

Cheers,

Mo

Teaching phonetics

After spending a few days in Ireland, my students always show their true feelings. Glad when I’m leaving, sad when I’m returning. That is, after all these years I still haven’t been able to show them that English is not a task but a tool to reach their goals. Well, so be it. LET’S WORK!!!

Some students have a real hard time with pronunciation. At first glance, English spelling is totally irregular, making it impossible to guess or read aloud any text or words if you haven’t heard them before.

phonetic-chart
Phonetic Chart
phonetics
Phonetics exercise

That’s when I try to show them the phonetic chart. Initially the sounds/letters are weird and confusing but by introducing them in little bits: 3 sounds and symbols at a time, they usually manage to grasp at least some of the concepts on pronunciation.

A strategy that does help is having students read words written in phonetic characters. I also show them the chart and dictate a few words and ask them to write them phonetically. Children will get it fast, while adults will see learning the phonetics system as a gargantuan task to a pointless end. They claim: “Why am I going to learn this “alphabet” if I’m not going to see it ever again?”

From my experience young learners must be introduced to phonetics even before learning the alphabet, if not, when adults the barriers will be too big to be overcome.

phonetics_paragraph
Phonetics Paragraph

I’ve already seen some exercises with phonetics paragraphs, but they’re an unnecessary burden on students, just demotivating them to read a simple sentence. I prefer to work on isolated problem words or sounds.

dictionary
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

I show them that Dictionaries, after the entry of a word, present the phonetic pronunciation even if they can just click a button and listen to it.

Phonetics will help students identify the distinct sounds in English from their mother tongue and improve on their pronunciation – not to be able to speak as natives but to be clear and fluent.