Reflections on Language Learning – 3 steps to break the language barrier

Every new year many people make a resolution to learn a foreign language moved by guilt for not succeeding at that in the previous year or just in search for the cure of their hangover (or other more respectable reasons). You, dear reader, may fill in the blanks.

Many go to the language-learning sections at their local bookstore (yes, there are still some of those left around)  in search for the book with a mixture of miraculous and magical strategies to enable them to speak English, French, Spanish or Mandarin overnight.

By the following week many will realize that no matter how many books and language courses they buy on CD, DVD or online they will sit around gathering dust in a darker corner of their homes and offices before the end of the month.

Those failed attempts can be fixed or prevented, though.

How?  Speaking and listening is the keyimg_7544

Surround yourself with LIVING language material:  Listening resources play a major part of learning – be they videos, or radio, or podcasts.

Even without understanding – it’s passive learning – it will help you identify the “music” of your target language. But it will take time.

Let me tell you the example of my “niece-in-law”, Ingrid. As many Brazilians she basically knows the verb to be (present tense) in English. However, after her first child was born 2 months ago she decided that she would help her boy learn English and she would do whatever necessary in the process. I’d advised her to play children’s stories in English for the baby to get familiar with the sounds of the English language and she started listening to them as well. I believe that exclusive audio sources would be better than the TV with so many visual distractions. Conclusion: 2 months later she’s speaking some English with great fluency and her ears have become better trained to identify the sounds and reproduce them. And her 2-month-old baby, João Paulo, is already crying in English – no more “buááá” but “waaaahhhhh” – Just kidding, sort of).

Another strong point is that Ingrid is not afraid of trying to speak and now she is moving towards a pre-intermediate level, without having opened a “language course book”.

So to get your feet wet in your target language remembers:

1. When listening – echo practice – repeat phrases and words you hear, mimic them / parrot them. Be a “fool” on purpose.

2. Establish a regular time to practice – Saturday morning when making coffee and preparing your breakfast, laundry, or whatever. If you have to go shopping make your shopping list in English / play with language / mess around in a creative way. Explore the language. Try to listen to authentic material at least 5 times a week.

Different folks different strokes

3. How would you answer to the questions / interact / comment to what you’re listening whether a podcast, or radio, or YouTube?  Talk to yourself in your target language – create an inner monologue

Other people learn best when they’re reading, but that’s a theme for another blog post. 

Special thanks to Luke’s English Podcast – episode 407 – Reflections on Language Learning http://teacherluke.co.uk/2016/12/07/407-reflections-on-language-learning-working-as-a-translator-interview-with-kristina-from-russia-winner-of-the-lep-anecdote-competition-2016/

Happy New Year and Happy Language Learning in 2017

Cheers,

Mo

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10 Top Tips for Learning English (or any other language)

Every new year comes with many resolutions:

“This year I’ll go on a diet and lose 20 pounds.”

“This year I’ll stop smoking”

“This year I’ll get a boyfriend/girlfriend/ pet”

“This year I’ll learn (…. – fill in the blanks)”.

But the problem with making resolutions is that they don’t tend to stick. They slip away and melt as if under the tropical sun.

But if you follow these steps (not in any necessary order and at least some of them) you will make progress and then you will feel you can continue to learn English (or any other language for that matter)

  1. Watch movies and TV in your target language (the internet makes it accessible) – even if you don’t understand what’s going on  you’ll get familiar to the sounds of that language. (I particularly love commercials)
  2. Read a book you know well. Preferably a book you liked reading in your mother tongue. When my wife was learning French she bought a copy of the Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) so she could enjoy the book and learn in her new language.language
  3. Keep a notebook – scribble down new words you learn – especially creating word collocation and usage sections. Revisit the notebook once a week.
  4. Use mnemonic devices. It won’t work for everyone but it does work. When learning about the coordinating conjunctions, for instance, you can use the word FANBOYS to help remember the list. Can you name them? I’m pretty sure you can, because of FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). That is a mnemonic device. Creating a funny mental picture that you’ll remember is another way to use a mnemonic device. The sillier the picture is, the better it will stick in your head.
  5. Listen to podcasts – not only about English learning – but podcasts of other subjects of your interest produced in English or target language.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises. Need I say more?
  7. Be mindful. Notice language. How it’s used. How it sounds.Create a routine, Stick to it.
  8. Read aloud – small texts and paragraphs but that will improve your pronunciation, intonation and fluency.
  9. Test yourself – after a month – review the points you’ve learned and test your progress.
  10. Enjoy your learning

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Have fun.

 

Cheers,

Mo

My Journey to “Teacherpreneur”

This week, Patrice Palmer asked me on Twitter if I was a “teacherpreneur” and if I would be interested in answering an interview. To start off the conversation I wasn’t even sure what she meant by that but a quick Google search showed me the following definition:

“The teacherpreneur merges the image of the innovative classroom teacher with the risk-taking and entrepreneurial leadership that we commonly associate with those who create their own place in the professional world.

Teacherpreneurs are, first and foremost, imaginative teachers. They have created a classroom culture of creativity and reflection. They think beyond the classroom in terms of how to make lessons meaningful, and in so doing, might see a need elsewhere in school that their innovation can address.” (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/era-of-teacherpreneur-heather-wolpert-gawron)

So … I guess I’m a “teacherpreneur” after all. Thanks, Patrice for teaching me one more thing this year. my-journey-from-teacher-to-teacherpreneur-2-1-500x281

Here’s my interview:

Teacherpreneur: Moacir Sena (aka Mo the Americanoid)

Can you start off by telling us where you teach?

I’ve been teaching English and Spanish at banks, law firms and other industries. (99% of the time it’s been one-on-one basis) and the students usually came from managerial positions up to the CEO). I’d say 60-70% of the students have been upper-intermediate to advanced (B2-C1+)

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching since 1986 – started teaching at a small language school near where I lived and from then on I moved to other language schools until starting my solo career back in 1998.

Can you describe a typical teaching day?

In the past I’d have classes early in the morning -7:30-9am / break / 12-2pm/ break/ 6-8pm (with the occasional class starting at 9-10:30pm) During those windows I’d work on translations.

Considering that I am wholeheartedly a morning person, now I’ve managed to keep my mornings pretty busy – (7:30 to 11am) and (12pm-3pm). The odd student at 4pm. I try to close shop at 3pm. NO evening classes in the last 5-6 years. Hooray. 80% of my students have in-company lessons. 20% come to my home office.

What do you do in your spare time to relax?  

As a man, I watch tv – often not paying much attention to what’s going on. But I love reading and taking long walks in the park in the late afternoon.

You took on the tremendous task of starting a solo career…

I decided to fly solo after having been a partner at a language school here in São Paulo, having to deal with teacher training, teacher and student prospecting, keeping the financial balance of the firm, making money but never seeing it. To keep good teachers you many times had to sacrifice your own pay. To keep good corporate clients many times you had to cut them a discount. So we came to a crossroads – either we would move to larger facilities with more classrooms etc., or shut down. My partner at the time was not interested in expanding so we decided to follow our own path. Being my “own company” I know where to invest, how to manage and control client satisfaction and teaching quality.  And make more money than when I “owned a company”.

How do I get my students /clients you may ask? Word of mouth – 100% guaranteed.

Over the last 6 years or so I’ve dabbled in YouTube – posting video lessons using English and the Bible – ESL with Mo the Americanoid –

Here’s a sample: Episode 104: ESL with Mo the Americanoid: 6 Tips for Teachers One on One Classes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrOUmGofIso

Here’s the link to the playlist:  (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyyx8yztcz879R6iSGDLpIMfCBQWcj08Z)

Initially the videos were based on a book called ENGLISH LESSONS FROM THE BIBLE (BOOK OF MARK) by Glenda Reece. After a few episodes I felt more comfortable to develop my own material and content expanding to  interviewing some English learners and teachers and presenting some Teaching tips.

Other social media I’m involved in…?

Intensely involved with Twitter – its immediacy and reach are amazing, even though I’ve learned that Twitter is not as much used in Brazil as in Europe and North America. I always follow #ELT #TEFL #ESL #TESOL threads. But I’m not very keen on Tweet Chats – I find them hard to follow live and to try to read a later compilation of the tweets is quite boring and many times senseless. Depending on the editing you’ll read 20 “hello this is…” tweets before getting any real content.

Are you working on any other projects at the moment?

Also writing a blog – www.americanoidblog.com – An English Language Lover’s Teaching Adventures and other ramblings.

A dream I have is to produce a language learning program for the radio or TV. But still don’t know how to get there. Still beginning the process.

What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?

  • Public speaking – if you can face an audience of rambunctious children or bored teenagers you can face the world.
  • To adapt to different audiences and needs
  • To be flexible and also know when to draw the line (sometimes ;-)

 

What advice would you give to teachers who are considering to go solo or start a language school?

To be self-employed can be a scary experience but also empowering. You feel the world on your shoulders knowing that you will have to provide for everything – from your health insurance to managing your pay so you can afford any sort of  vacations – (no paid vacations or holidays). But it’s liberating: you can set your workday schedule (within certain limits) and explore the world (either literally or in your own town or neighborhood).

To those dreaming of opening a language school or franchise – remember you will be less and less of a teacher and more and more of an entrepreneur. So think carefully before you jump into the abyss.

All in all, the important thing is to do it with passion and remember that the world is not found in your bellybutton.

Cheers,

Mo

teacherpreneur

Summer Reading

This weekend I received a text message from my student that made my day – he was asking for book recommendations in English so he can practice his reading  and expand vocabulary.

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Of course as a teacher I must recommend books that may appeal to the student’s language level and interests. Classics? Fiction? Nonfiction? And within each of those three categories we can find a plethora of material to choose from.

The process:

Reading 30 minutes or more every day

Language level: comfortable but also a little difficult (challenging but not discouraging)

medium: whether digital (electronic) or paper – immaterial. But one advantage of the e-book is the easy access to a dictionary (which can also be distracting if the reader stops at every line)

Some of my reading recommendations: (no necessary order just as they popped up in my mind)

Here are some of my suggestions:

Young adults:

1. Tangerine by Edward Bloor- a young man learning to adapt to a new environment and go against the crowd.

2. Whirligig  by Paul Fleischman- a young man coming of age on a healing pilgrimage from Washington State to California, Florida, and Maine, describing the many lives set into new motion –

Adults: – Fiction

1. Animal Farm – George Orwell – a perennial good read where all animals are equal but some are more equal

2. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury – impossible imagine a world without books or freedom of the press?

Adults – Nonfiction

1. Hunger of MemoryThe education of Richard Rodriguez

2. Stones in schoolsPromoting peace with education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson

Classics

1. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

3. The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens’s funniest novel

Happy Reading

Mo

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Reading in the EFL environment

A couple of weeks ago, a nearly advanced (upper-intermediate) student of mine was all excited because he had bought a book in English at the bookstore at the Santos Dumont airport in Rio. He paid more than US$ 40 for the paperback, which costs about US$ 11 at bookstores outside the airport – but the rip-off schemes at airports will be left to another blog. What his purchase showed was his commitment to developing his language skills such as vocabulary and writing through reading. The book he chose was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Now he wasn’t sure it had been a wise choice since he had already tripped over the vocabulary in the introduction page: The_Girl_On_The_Train_(US_cover_2015)

“She’s buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn. …”

And down under the stones goes my student’s confidence. His natural reaction was: “gee! if I can’t understand the first sentence of the introduction, imagine what trying to read this book will be like”. The following class he came to me with the book showing me the ungrateful text and saying: “I don’t know what a birch tree is! What is a cairn? I think I made a mistake buying this book. It’s too difficult for me.”image

After telling him I didn’t know (or remember) what a cairn was, we looked that up together on google using the entry “cairn meaning” and then Google images to visualize it. As regarding the birch tree it was enough to know (at least, at that point) that it was a tree [period].

I encouraged him by saying “it’s not a textbook or a study book he should underline or research different ideas or terms. As a novel, the first approach should be to enjoy it. Start getting used to the flow of the language, the plot, the characters and not to feel guilty if he decided to stop reading it”.

Together we reviewed a generally accepted how-to reading checklist:

  1. Previewing – what’s the story about? what do you think happened/ will happen?
  2. Contextualizing – where? when? who?
  3. Visualizing – picture the scene
  4. Asking and answering questions
  5. Summarizing – can you tell what has happened so far?
  6. Skimming – getting the main ideas
  7. Scanning – looking for some specific idea or piece of information

Of course, each student will have different needs and reading habits. Graded books can be an excellent source of pleasure and information, but he rightly tried to dip into deeper waters.

Good reading,

 

Cheers

 

Mo