For some people to speak one language is already a challenge. Two languages and some already feel on the top of the mountain. Can you imagine speaking 3, 4 or more languages? Being a polyglot?!
Not everyone needs to speak more than one language but there is no question how useful a second or more languages can be… even for the shiest person who never plans to leave his hometown.
But … how can you achieve that?
Let me cut to the chase or the cheese (as some of my students understand it) and tell you that there is no single way to learn a language. It depends on several factors, especially motivation, time and skills the learner may have. Despite that, there are some good pieces of advice any language learner can use:
1. Start speaking from day one – some methods encourage hours of listening before the student utters his first sound… but my advice is: start mumbling those new sounds as soon as you can. if you have someone to talk to, a teacher, a tutor or your cat, great. If not, no worries, talk to yourself.
2. Start listening to natives of the language you’re learning – YouTube, internet radio, get familiar with the sounds of the language even if not understanding it.
3. Imitate the sounds – yes… learning a language works wonders on those self conscious people… break down your walls of fear of shame or embarrassment…
4. Start learning the language by reading its grammar
5. Memorize key words of the target language (until you reach 500 key words, for example) use paper or digital flashcards for instance.
6. Find ways to enjoy the learning process. Every learner will have unique ways. Even if you’re a genius, you’ll see there are no shortcuts to language learning. Do something pleasant with the target language EVERY DAY.
7. Be patient.
This short list is not comprehensive and not all items apply to everyone… pick and choose and start learning your dream Language today.
This post came about after I saw a tweet by Nathan Hall questioning whether Shakespeare should be used in the ELT environment/context. Nathan tweeted the following:
Unpopular opinion: I think using Shakespeare (original text) to teach English is an unproductive use of time in a general #ELT classroom. I am open to hearing counter arguments
The premise – original text – would require the student to have a high English level (C1 or higher) and the energy spent in trying to understand the text would not be “well spent”.
Early on as a learning EFL teacher, I wasn’t able, or didn’t know how to prepare independent lessons – I would use coursebooks – and in the early 90s the best coursebook I came across was the Headway series – honestly, I learned a lot about the English language and culture using Headway Advanced and Unit 2 under the theme of Literature and Literary Genres contained a little bit of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. Could it get any better? I had to carefully prepare my lessons in advance otherwise I wouldn’t be ready to deal with the grammar and vocabulary points presented in the unit.
Back in 1991, I was teaching for a language school in São Paulo and they sent me to teach a group of three ladies at a sports club where they would have their gym, tennis practice, swimming activities and, of course, English lessons. They were nice, intelligent mature women who had already traveled the world, were advanced English learners and had already read and seen a few Shakespeare plays translated and performed in Portuguese. They did not hesitate to read an excerpt of the “7 ages of man” in modern English (not Elizabethan English as some highbrow pedantic educators would like to say) despite the nebulous vocabulary (some of it) for the advanced language learner there was a ton of conversation to be obtained from that short and brief text.
Headway Advanced published in 1991
Yes, I totally get the fact that for many students (no matter their linguistic background and location) Shakespeare would be a drag: representing another time and another place far removed from their contemporary world. Well, … tell them to see The Lion King and they’ll be seeing Shakespeare’s ghost there. Yes, the language evolves but today some of Shakespeare’s quotes are still as relevant as back then even within a different context.
Can’t any B1/B2 English learner understand some of these quotes?
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
—Jaques inAs You Like It
“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.”
—Escalus inMeasure for Measure
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
—Puck inA Midsummer Night’s Dream
Yes, Shakespeare’s texts are old but the truths those works convey can be adapted to contemporary English by publishers’ Readers, plays can be re-enacted and adapted etc.
My point is: don’t throw the baby with the bathwater. In this day and age, language teaching is still seen as a form of colonialism so the condescending “native teacher” desires the learner to see himself and his values first and only use the language as a literal tool for a very specific purpose. Why shut down the learner from the rest of the world in time and space?
If the learners are Asian should then all the material be Asian related? The same for African or Latino learners? In Brazil why bother teaching them the word “snow” just teach them to say “it’s a scorcher”? That’s the oppression of multiculturalism gone awry when it’s only good if you’re different from me and we have nothing in common and don’t even try to understand me “for I’m marvelous”.
Let the learners dream a Midsummer night’s dream… as teachers we’re supposed to expose them to the world not shelter them from it.
And don’t get me started on the beauty and usefulness of the second person singular – thou/thee. 😜
Is it unproductive to read any Shakespeare in the original text? As a sign of our times: Yes and no. That depends! Who said you can only use the original text? Yes, you may use it, but also adapt it in a myriad of different ways. Dost thou get me?
Been a 1 on 1 teacher for over 20 years. When I tell people I am a language teacher, they usually ask what school I work for. Then I tell them I’m self employed.
Their reaction varies from ” Wow… oh to be your own boss. That’s a dream for many people”; to “oh… you can’t hold a steady job, can ya?”
There are pros and cons… as in every other professional choice.
1. You control your life.
You can choose your activities. For example you decide when you’ll go on vacation, avoid high season and having more flexibility with all bookings. You save for your future.
2. You get to choose your hours
You establish your working hours – some 8 years ago I decided I wasn’t going to teach after 6pm. A student said I was lazy ( half jokingly half seriously). And I haven’t looked back since. Yes, my income is smaller but my peace of mind and lack of stress not having to face the chaotic traffic in São Paulo during the rush hour more than compensate for that.
3. You get to work with people you like
You can pick and choose your students, in some ways…. I’ve already fibbed saying I didn’t have any available time because I knew that student would be a pain in the neck. There is nothing worse than having a student who doesn’t know what he is doing and why he is doing it. It saps the teacher’s energy, after trying for one or two months you have to break up with him or her, either face to face or via WhatsApp. The latter is better! Just say to the student: “it’s not you. It’s me.”😜 Of course you will lose income by dropping or turning down students.
4. You can make a stand
you lose income by dropping or turning down students, but … A few months ago, two prospective students approached me saying they wanted to have classes together… 2 for the price of one: always trying to cut corners and pay less. I interviewed them and found out that their motivation and language levels were different. It wouldn’t work. Most likely one of them would be absent most of the time. In practice, they would take turns attending class. I would have to repeat the same lesson. Or even worse, teach 2 people separately and get paid for one. No way, Jose. Go waste some other teacher’s time.
5. You can follow your passion
In my case it’s teaching, not correcting and grading hundreds of papers and tests. Or even worse dealing with school politics and red tape.
Self employment is not for everyone. You see that even in the pros you will have a possible money loss phase or a period of financial instability. You will lack any professional support from a company (in case you were working for a decent school – few and far in between). No labor benefits. No health insurance. No sick pay. Zilch. You earn more for your time and spend more but it is liberating. You take charge of your professional life.
Let me cut to the chase and tell you that you can get a disease or infection by contact with a wound or a cut, through blood, saliva and other bodily fluids. You won’t, I repeat, YOU WILL NOT learn another language just by shaking hands with a language teacher or touching the dictionary on the screen of your cellphone, ok? 🙄
Well… as inane as it may sound, that’s how many students approach their decision to learn a second or foreign language. Let me give you an example:
One day, Bratislav* (not his real name) wakes up, stretches out and says to himself:
“I need to improve my English (or whatever language he might think is important for him). “I’ll call this teacher who my colleague is having classes with (or should it be “whom”) schedule a start date, settle on payment (hmm, maybe he’ll be so amazed at my brain, he’ll be willing to teach me for free 😋) and I’ll be on my way towards my destiny to conquer the world.”
But poor Brat also thinks that he won’t have to do anything to make some progress. No homework. No practice. No class attendance (I kid you not, Virginia).
In 1-1 classes, the client agrees to buy a chunk of time from his teacher, be it 45 minutes, one hour, or whatever. So he must make every effort to use that time as well as possible. Time flies as the saying goes and it slips through our fingers like sand. When the student can’t or won’t have class at the agreed time for whatever reason, he expects the teacher will rebottle that time that has gone away and offer him again. Or at least offer a discount of the total value of the classes.
We as teachers have to look hard into ourselves and ask: why are we teaching? What do we want? How can we achieve our goals and our students’ goals? And sometimes we come across tough choices to be made: should I be punching the head of this or that student who’s more dead than a door nail?
During a year-end evaluation, which I had to sit next to Brat and answer it with him,
– he would not have answered the survey on his own in a million years, he told me he would like to improve his writing. Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. Or not… because he won’t have time to write anything and he doesn’t want to spend 15 minutes in class quietly writing an email, or translating a short text for practice.
So… Brat, I only have one thing left to do: I will terminate you as a “virtual” student and when you sort out what you want and how you will get there then and only then you may call me again. Or not.
I’ll be waiting at the restaurant round the corner with a Chicken Parmigiana plate balancing on my head while watching Jane Fonda work out on YouTube🤪
For many years I’ve been volunteering at an English Bible class in Brazil. Our goal is simple: use English to encourage people to study the Bible.
Every Saturday morning we meet for some 70-80 minutes and sing some gospel songs, pray together, and study the bible. The challenge is that they have a little bible study guide – with daily questions and texts, and the following Saturday we meet to discuss what we learned during the week. You can check out the lessons here for free: https://absg.adventist.org/archives
But this past weekend I was observing the study guide of one of our class members, he is a quite shy young man – it had been thoroughly studied, underlined and the questions had been read and duly answered. Wow.
I was so happy to see Leandro’s dedication to look up the vocabulary of the texts he was studying not for English’s sake alone, but because he was enjoying to be studying the Bible while using English as a tool. I do encourage them to do that, but they won’t have their notebooks inspected or not even get a shiny sticker on the page if they do so. They do it because they are excited about the learning process. That’s their own reward.
“I hate English. Now teach me.” Yes, Virginia those were the exact words a prospective student said when she contacted me to teach her English at her workplace. She works for an international Bank and English is a “requirement” to continue working (or to be promoted) in that institution.
After I recovered from the shock, – people usually may say that they don’t LIKEEnglish – … but HATE?! that’s quite strong. How can you hate a language which is just a tool for communication and can only bring benefits to those who speak it as a foreign language ?
Digging dipper, I found out, Rachel – (not her real name)
had tried many times to learn English using different methods but had always failed. She’d heard about me from other students and thought it would be different.
Faced with the Gargantuan challenge to make Rachel fall in love with the English Language (and not with me – since I’m irresistible) I prepared the first lesson with basic vocabulary and greetings. I do believe in getting the student speaking from the very first class – there are some methods that encourage the silent approach for a certain period of time… just as babies acquire language… well… considering that she is not a baby and if she doesn’t speak English she’ll be speaking and thinking in Portuguese… let us focus on the second language acquisition.
The first few minutes, things seemed to be going fine… she greeted me in English, learned to identify herself, etc… but less than 10 minutes later (she had said she could have classes only for 1 hour once a week) she said in Portuguese – “Ai… eu fico muito ansiosa. Você me deixa nervosa. Eu não consigo entender o que você está dizendo” (woe is me.. I get too anxious. You make me nervous. I can’t understand what you’re saying). Of course I’d said little more than “Good morning, how are you today?”
So I started to explain to her in Portuguese what was going to happen, and only after that we would try to produce some English to no avail. I used the whiteboard, flashcards, all the bells and whistles I had within reach.
We tried for 2 more weeks, but after she had collapsed again saying she hated English and couldn’t understand a word, I sat down and said to her: “Listen. I’m sorry. I’m not the right teacher for your needs. First you need therapy to learn to deal with all your anxiety (did I say that aloud or just thought about it? 😉 ). So… all my best wishes to you.”
In conclusion, my classes with Rachel were a failure – I lost a student (and a source of income) and she still couldn’t speak English and maybe, I said, maybe, she hated it a little bit more. But, what could I learn from that experience?
A Teacher can inspire but can’t change a student’s heart/mind
Different methods /approaches/resources sometimes fall short.
Years of experience mean nothing when student isn’t willing to learn
Some people can’t and won’t learn a second language (reasons will vary) but the main reason will be “MOTIVATION!”
This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Prof. Simone Vieira Resende at the 19th Summer Vacations Conference in São Paulo. The general theme of the 2-day conference was: The Teaching of Languages in today’s world: contexts and goals.
After some technical problems with the video recording session, Professor Resende welcomed the attendees and teased us by offering to sell a language immediacy pill. What students want for their New Year’s Resolution regarding language learning is to take a pill and after the first session, be fluent in whatever language they want to study.
So… here’s a sort of a pill:
What is Corpus Linguistics?
Corpus linguistics – takes off from the language – actual languages – and concentrates the ingredients (formula) into a palatable series of examples within contexts.
Corpus Linguistics allows for:
Choice of words you want to use
Collecting and analysis of corpus
Corpora – authentic data as they are – without manipulation to adapt the language
Standardising of language / padronização linguística
Contextualization x register – where ? who ? when ?
Occurrence x Co-occurrence x Recurrence – how often does it appear in the text ?
Prescriptivist x descriptivist ? The corpus may be descriptivist – by just revealing how words are used – but also it can be prescripvist by defining which words are best used in what context.
“I’m interested … in…” – also the corpus shows that the best preposition in this case is “IN” not WITH or ON or AT, for instance.
Use of concordance – leading to a conclusion
You should go. – inferring from examples
“When the economy improves all the boats start rising up…
all rise in court movie scenes “
Developing corpora in song lyrics
Webster’s the making of dictionaries prof.john Whitlam