I’d say most of my English Language students are upper intermediate or advanced which would lead us to believe that they are comfortable enough to speak using their Second Language.
However, living in a gigantic monolingual country as Brazil, and not working in a
company that requires international contacts, language learners can find themselves stranded on a single-language island or continent (Portuguese).
Today one of these students – whose class lasts only 90 minutes once a week – when she doesn’t cancel or must finish earlier – became frustrated when trying to say something in English and blurted out in Portuguese – “tá ficando cada vez mais difícil falar inglês”(it’s becoming increasingly harder for me to speak English). Didn’t she know any of those words or the necessary grammar to say that? Yes, she knew all the words and the structure but CHOSEthe easiest way – spitting it out in her mother tongue.
Dear students, I’ve got news for you. If you don’t practice your target language you will NEVER feel comfortable using it. No matter what academic level you’ve reached. And here comes my point:
My student in question likes to play tennis – 2 or 3 times a week – how about English? Once a week, sometimes. I rest my case.
So how can you feel more comfortable speaking in English?
No one to talk to? Talk to yourself. I’m sure you do that in your mother tongue. Do it in English or whatever language you are learning.
Read aloud a paragraph or a page. Everyday. It can be a transcript, an interview, a news story, a cake recipe… . It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re listening and producing sounds in your target language.
To speak you must learn to listen. Focus on a poem, a song, etc and listen to it. Then read it aloud. YouTube has thousands of videos with poems and songs+lyrics for you to practice.
Look for opportunities to use your target language. Can’t travel abroad? Look for a friend or co-worker who’s also learning and practice with them. Look for a place where that language is spoken. For example, São Paulo has a few English language religious services – visit them – it’s a FREE and enriching experience. My favorite English Bible class website (www.believes.com.br) meets every Saturday in the morning. Also Calvary International Church is a great diverse and inclusive community (www.calvary.org.br) and Sampa Community Church (http://sampacommunity.com/1/
Now my students will be saying: “Come on, teacher. I’m too busy. I don’t have time for all that. It takes too much effort.”
This morning I received an email from an acquaintance that put my thinking cap to work – here’s a rough translation of what he wrote me:
We met there in the (Sabbath School) class, It's been a long time
since I last showed up in class because I moved to a new neighborhood.
Please, do you remember once u mentioned that you had a friend
who had an English school in New York?
Could you please pass me his contact?
Thanks in advance.
My reply was the following:
“Hello Mario, where have you been?
Listen… it must really be a long time it happened because I cannot even remember I had a friend who owned a school in New York. I’m familiar with Literacy Volunteers of America in Danbury, CT – about an 1 hour by train from Manhattan. I was a teacher and program director there for a year.
Now, are you looking for an English language school for you? Or for your daughter? I wouldn’t recommend New York to someone interested in studying English. There are too many foreigners there and the cost of living is pretty high. Actually, I’d tell you to look for a more “hidden state” such as Wisconsin, Idaho, Oregon, etc, where you would be more likely to be in touch with Americans who speak some sort of English. Danbury could be a choice but there’s a swarm of Brazilians around and you might learn Portuguese with a different accent faster than learn much English (I’m not exaggerating that much).
The best choice would be to take up a cooking class or photography course, for example, in English. From my experience and what I have observed, to study only English in the US (or any other country for that matter) will offer you the same textbooks and material you could access in Brazil and honestly, with many better qualified and certified teachers. And to add insult to injury you would be paying in dollars while your savings are in Brazilian Reais.
An ideal condition would be to take an either professional or just a hobby course in English. I wouldn’t advise people at beginner or intermediate level to go abroad in order to study.
First consolidate your language in your home country and once you’ve reached an Upper-Intermediate /Advanced Level then you’ll be ready to jump into deeper waters. And believe me, you’ll realize how much more you still need to learn (don’t tell anyone, but you can spend the rest of your life studying a language and still have room to grow). It might be tough initially but you would reap better rewards at the end.
Lately I’ve come across lots of discussions on the NEST (Native English Speaking Teacher) versus NNEST (Non-Native English Speaking Teacher). Even this quarter’s issue of the Braz-Tesol Newsletter dedicates most of its pages to articles written by Brazilian teachers (notorious NNESTS) in defense of language teaching not being limited to the place one was born.
Being Brazilian I couldn’t agree more: A good language teacher will have learned the structure of the language and is aware of steps and techniques that will allow learners to overcome hurdles along the way in their language acquisition process.
However, it must be pointed out that many NNESTs also lack enough language skills to teach highly advanced levels, Ilá Coimbra a NNEST wrote that “In the Brazilian context, the general level of our English language teachers is B2 (or intermediate – high intermediate English) far from being enough”; which would justify a language learner’s desire to have lessons with a NEST.
In the English teaching world prejudice against NNESTs or those who look like NNESTs is rampant. Many people would object to hiring a Japanese-American teacher simply because he or she looks “Japanese” no matter the language background they have. In China, Korea, and I’m sure other countries, an African-American teacher will find it hard to overcome prejudice no matter how big their NEST egg is (please, forgive me my pun).
Because of my light skin complexion and light brown eyes, I haven’t suffered – as far as I know – much discrimination as a NNEST. But a case that comes to mind was when I was a Program Director at Literacy Volunteers of America in Danbury, CT. To become a tutor I had to take their Certification Course (a 4-week program and was the only NNEST in a group of about 15 people). After my certification, I was hired as a part-time Program Director/Teacher Trainer/Tutor and I had to interview many prospective students – many of whom had come from Brazil. I knew that they wouldn’t discredit me for being Brazilian but they would immediately start talking to me in Portuguese. In order to encourage them to speak English I’d just say that my name was Mo and proceed with the testing. I taught many of them and always with the condition that they should use English in the classroom. It came to a point when out of a class of 6 students, 4 were from Brazil and sometimes they would talk among themselves in Portuguese. I’d ask them – “what are you talking about?” and they’d say “It’s not for you to understand“. At their graduation – I finally came out – I told them I could understand everything they had said and I actually WAS from Brazil.
They were mortified, but that taught them a lesson about the possibilities in learning a language really well.
So NEST or NNEST? it will depend on the students’ needs and teachers’ skills and qualifications.
One of these days, a fellow teacher, Paschoal, who’s starting his solo career in ESL teaching, asked me if it was ok to accept some students who don’t REALLY want to learn English but just be handed the most basic phrases for a trip to the U.S. The students want only to learn what to say when checking into a hotel, or going to a restaurant, or at the airport, or when shopping (a Favorite for all Brazilian tourists).
Paschoal said he felt extremely uncomfortable taking on students who didn’t want to be students. They wanted to be travellers, or for a narrower concept, ” Touristers”.
Not everyone wants to learn a second language and if they are willing to learn some basic phrases just to get by, why not? Maybe after their travel experience they will change their mind, if not, at least, they will have expanded a little their horizons. Hopefully!
So, Paschoal, go ahead and teach them situations at a restaurant , for example. Roleplay dialogues such as:
Waiter (speaking 100mph): hello, my name is zzzzz, I’ll zzzz. are you zzzzzzz or do you need zzzzz? Can I zzzzz?
student: uhhhhhh, Yes.
Got my gist?
So, be ethical and tell them the importance of properly studying English as a second language and let them know they’ll be getting what they’re paying for…