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.

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Phonetic Chart
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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.

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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.

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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.

Real Virtual Teaching?

Can students really learn online?

Very few students do reach an A (Advanced) English level. Many reach an I (Intermediate) level and most never pass the M (Messy) English level. By using a combination of realt-ime classes and prerecorded videos, students can practice and strengthen points that would challenge the patience of any teacher, but that requires discipline. Most students are not gifted with “self-study” skills, therefore, the presence of a teacher motivator is key to their development and progress.blended-learning

I teach students both online and face-to-face. Those who started online via FaceTime or Skype enjoy the classes and have no complaints about the flexibility and activities. Those students whom I teach face-to-face are rather resistant to online classes, finding it hard to focus. Psychologically it seems it’s not a real class to them if they can’t smell the teacher’s “sweet perfume”. I do notice that online classes do seem to demand more concentration from students than traditional F2F classes which last 90 minutes  and had to be shortened to 60 minutes for online usage. Students get tired more quickly while looking at a screen. One of the great benefits of online teaching is flexibility. Since I have to travel quite often, my journeys won’t affect my students’ learning process. Now, prerecorded online classes do seem a reinforcement of a regular class, not really replacing the presence – either physically or virtually, of a teacher.

Thanksgiving at Sabbath School

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Eduardo telling the missionary report from Belize

Yesterday we had our Thanksgiving Celebration at our English Sabbath School. The Sabbath School Class did not have any “stars” playing or singing but we had a fantastic program with members doing their best to give thanks to the Lord for the blessings this year. Even Eduardo who speaks at a pre-intermediate level managed to tell the missionary story from Belize and used the multimedia to complement his words. He checked out word pronunciation and meanings. He stuttered a little when pronouncing long words such as “baptism” or “baptized” but did a great job and by speaking he is building up confidence.

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Mo teaching the Sabbath School Lesson for this week: The Lawgiver and Judge.
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At the Gratitude Tree
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Music is the universal language of the heart.

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Today is “Black Fast”!

After spending two weeks in Ireland we’re back to the warm temperatures of São Paulo and to the commercial fever of Black Friday. Interestingly enough, the Atlantic Magazine reported that Black Friday is losing its appeal with more and more shoppers adhering to CyberMonday or any other day of the week going online.

For years, the Black Friday phenomenon had been known in Brazil. But it was something that happened there, in the States, up  North: A 75-inch TV for $100, an iPhone 6 for $ 85, a Lacoste polo shirt for $ 6, etc. But in recent years, shop-owners around the country have adhered to the “Big Sale”, “50% Off” event.

What calls my attention is the adoption of the English term, Black Friday – most Brazilians, Portuguese speakers are unaware of the meaning of the words just maybe daring to guess their meaning. So, as I walked this afternoon into the corner cake shop to buy a delicious and indulgent pudding cake which costs R$ 25, today the attendant cheerfully announced their “Black Fast” promotion: pudding cake for R$ 15. I couldn’t help but smile and the attendant said: well, at the slum where I live we call it “liquidação” so I really don’t know the right way to say it in English.

Yesterday, Americans around the world celebrated Thanksgiving  immersed in myths, traditions, good and bad memories, with mostly families in the center.

Tomorrow, Saturday, we will be celebrating our Thanksgiving at our English Sabbath School Class. We’ll have real turkey, fake turkey (Gluterkey (c), stuffing, gravy, corn on the cob, yes, Virginia, our Thanksgiving has corn on the cob, and of course, Apple Pie and ice cream.Turkey IMG_0555 IMG_0556 extrablackfriday

But most importantly, I’m so grateful to the Lord for the many opportunities and experiences he’s given me and pray that I may be useful to Him.

Cheers,

Mo

Tests are Opportunities not Punishment

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End-of-Course Test – New English File Advanced

Usually students dread tests. They whimper, they cry, they threaten, they pass out, anything goes in order to escape from a test. For no small reason.

Early on they’re conditioned to fear tests, either they pass with high marks or else. Failure is not an option.

In my whole teaching career I would say that probably only 5% of students know how to deal with a test, which aims to show them what they know and point out areas in grammar, vocabulary speaking, listening, reading, writing, they need to improve.

My Student C is in the 5% crowd. Actually I’d say she is unique among my students, because not only she enjoyed taking the test, but rather, asked for more tests.

She did quite well in the End-of-Course Test obtaining a 90% success rate. Her grammar was excellent and reading skills as well despite the fact she does not enjoy reading books.

However, she daily reads the newspaper which I must use to her benefit thus encouraging her to read more news stories in English.

One point I believe greatly helped Student C  is that every class she takes notes of vocabulary or new grammar, reviewing those points during the week and as first activity of each class.

She has taken control of her learning thus seeing a test as an opportunity to see how much she knows and identify where she should focus next.

Cheers,

Mo

Kid’s play

My cousin, Fabiana, has called me if I could teach her 6-year old son, Diego. He is dying to learn English and at his school they won’t teach English before he is 7 because he has not learned to read and write in Portuguese, yet.

I told her Diego should have started learning English when he left the maternity if not sooner. As a baby he could have listened to stories on cd or mp3 in English – 30 minutes a day. Can you imagine how many hours of listening he would have already acquired?

Since English spelling and pronunciation live on different sides of the chasm, both children and adults would do well to develop their listening and speaking skills before reading and writing.

Games, realia, radio, and Tv are loaded with opportunities today for them to practice their listening. Once they have become used to the sounds of English then they will be able to more easily grasp the phonetics and spelling processes.

Until my early 30s the only opportunities to listen to authentic English on the radio was using a shortwave receiver which usually had a bearable reception only at night. Sometimes I had to attached a Brillo pad on the antenna for improved reception. I kid you not. Audiobooks were already available on cassette or cd but they were imported and expensive. Cable TV was in its infancy in Brazil, so forget about programming in the original sound. When they introduced the SAP (Second Audio Program) button on some tv programs I jumped for joy. With the click of a button I could choose between original or dubbed sound.

So today parents can encourage their children to watch, sing, dance, play in English. Learning has never been more fun. playing.jpg

Mondays don’t make me cry

I’m pretty sure that I have a healthy relationship with Mondays nowadays. They don’t make me cry. I don’t dread their coming on Sunday evenings. Actually, I look forward to getting up early ready for work. Of course, I can’t say the same about my Monday students who usually didn’t use their L2 skills during the weekend and start class only thinking of a good hangover cure magic pill.

Student MV is a good example of what I have just said: He is at a beginner level  lacking basic grammar and vocabulary skills. He’s keen on learning. Positive point. Doesn’t do anything outside the 60-minute class in order to learn. NEGATIVE POINT.

Learning will take place if a student is willing to commit his time, money and effort. The proportion could be 15%-5%-80%. The first 2 can vary but if there’s not a strong commitment to work, and work hard, learning will grow slowly, weak and sooner or later will die. Student MV is only with his 5% of the learning process ok, i.e. he punctually pays for his classes, but his knowledge tree will have a stunted growth and most decidedly will not have any leaves, and heaven forbid, any fruit.

He knows some English which, by the way, Starbucks is not helping. He’s seen several times “tall” ref. to a small cup at Starbucks. That’s the mental association he has made: Tall = Small. So if I ask “Is a basketball player usually tall?” He vehemently answers: “No he is not”. Another interesting confusion we came across today was describing some occupations. MV had to see a picture and answer: What does he/she do? When he saw the picture of a singer the only answer that came to his mind: SHOWER. LOL.

Most definitely Mondays don’t make me cry, only if I’m crying and laughing.

Mo Confused words

Time and Language meet on the Sabbath

I was born and raised in Brazil, a predominantly Catholic country, but because my family was Seventh-Day Adventist, my upbringing was Protestant with very clear Anglo-Saxon values. My church’s denomination is fruit of the American religious revival movement, and growing up we would sing the Portuguese versions of well-know 19th Century American hymns: What a Friend we Have in Jesus; I have a Friend so Precious; There shall be showers of blessing; It is well with my soul; Blessed Assurance, and many more. In Bible class, which we called Sabbath School, as little children we would learn about American missionaries risking their lives to bring light to the world, hear about values such as hard work, cleanliness, honesty, self-reliance, distrust of Big Government, etc, reflecting America’s patriotic, civic and religious values that got mixed and blended in the mists of the revolution and development of that nation. We’ve been leading a Sabbath School class in Brazil in English every week for the past 19 years. Although I believe that the seventh day is a day of rest and to cease from work, thus acknowledging God’s provisions for our life, English doesn’t take the day off. Today in Sabbath School we sang “In Christ alone; He is exalted; We are an offering – well-known contemporary songs in today’s English language hymnbooks. We sing, pray study the bible in this language, making students and teachers aware that language is not just a subject to be taught in school but something alive and transformative.IMG_3121 IMG_3130 IMG_3127ative. Mo