The Secrets of Learning a New Language

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.

Speak even if to yourself from day one

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.

Cheers,

Mo

You don’t need to be in a classroom to learn another language. The world is your classroom
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A Christmas Ad Lesson Plan

A. Before you watch the video:

1. Can you remember any Christmas commercial? What made it special or memorable?

BBC One Christmas ad: heartwarming tale or lousy depiction of working mothers?

B. AFTER YOU WATCH THE VIDEO:

1. What was/were the objective(s) of this commercial?

2. who did you see in the opening scene? What time of the day do you think it is?

3. What is the woman doing? Who is she?

4. What is the teenager doing?

5. Who did he text to? What did he write?

6. What is the key message of the tv commercial?

7. What positive and/or negative aspects could you identifica from the story?

Key words:

Rush out

Disconsolate

Arcade game

Dusk

A funfair / a fairground / an amusement park

Candy floss / cotton candy

EMOTIONAL BBC CHRISTMAS ADVERT FREEZES TIME SO MOTHER AND SON CAN BE TOGETHER

There are three hard truths in this advert:

Families need money

Women need recognizing as reliable workers

Vulnerability of boys

C. Fill in the blanks with words from the vocabulary:

1. Go on the rides you haven’t gone on yet and you have spent your time wisely at the ________________.

2. At $199.99 I wouldn’t ____________________ and buy one, however.

3. That species of bird usually flies back home at _______________

4. We could not see an end and it was so ______________________.

5. Life is like ______________, spun of hopes and dreams

“You still coming tonight, Mum?” She says, “Don’t know love. If I’ve got time,”

Key:

Fill in the blanks with words from the vocabulary:

1. Go on the rides you haven’t gone on yet and you have spent your time wisely at thefunfair!

2. At $199.99 I wouldn’t rush out and buy one, however.

3. That species of bird usually flies back home at dusk.

4. We could not see an end and it was so disconsolate.

5. Life is like candyfloss, spun of hopes and dreams

Surviving a meeting in a foreign language

Last week I brought a student to tears. Well, actually, I just happened to be in the same room, and you know what women are like. Wait, wait, y’all supporters of the #MeToo movement (moi aussi/ me too) … women are more emotionally intelligent than men and they know that tears clear the soul. But my point is: My student was so nervous about attending a meeting in English the following week that her vulnerability spilled over in her tears.

One thing she must remember is that a charming and intelligent woman can go monosyllabic during a meeting in English.

Native speakers must remember they may not be seeing all of a person because they are afraid they look ridiculous when speaking English. “I’ve seen people lose a job because of this issue. It’s a real problem.”

So I told my intermediate student to make the effort to speak English clearly. That’s it.

PREPARATION

Secondly, she had to prepare. Practice in front of a mirror, look up words and their pronunciation that might come up during the meeting.

Thirdly, I told her to have a glass of wine 🍷, yes I did. Why? Because if that would help her loosen up and relax that would be a plus. Yoga and other relaxation techniques also help.

In other words, her main concern was not the content of the meeting, not even the language barrier, but the fact that SHE would have to speak in English.

People hate meetings that waste time. Use these tips to be a time saver, not a time stealer.
  1. Research the attendees. … 
  2. Determine clear objectives. … 
  3. Plan a suggested agenda. … 
  4. Consider any obstacles. … 
  5. Remove any roadblocks. … 
  6. Decide on desirable outcomes. … 
  7. Think about follow-up activities.
I’ll let you know later how the meeting did go.
Cheers,
Mo

You don’t understand…Accent Reduction

This week I was watching a lecture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkQ7lwEWeGA) by a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Center for Teaching Excellence (not Evolution  as I had tried to guess by the abbreviation CTE) and for more than 90 minutes she talked about one thing that grabbed my attention:

Accent Reduction, which is bound to ruffle some feathers – there are those in favor and those against, while claiming that the accent reduction approach humiliates language learners or makes them feel less than second class citizens, while companies just want toaccent reduction 2 make money out of their easy prey.

But … Language learners quite often want to reduce their foreignness by trying to speak more like American or British or whatever local language is predominant in their area. Reasons can range from feeling more like one of us, instead of an outsider; being better understood in the workplace,  etc.

A language learner can feel that a clearer accent  might help people to better understand him. You don’t need to be ashamed of speaking with an accent as long as it doesn’t get in the way of being understood. Sergey may be a very proud Russian  man and speak with a “wery” shtrong accent. Question: will it prevent people from understanding him? Or will people just see that suspicious-looking Russian man and not hear what he has to say? accent reduction

Silvia is a proud Brazilian who loves finishing every word with a “y”  sound – I thinky we shouldy talky more abouty culturey” – but when that charming accent gets in the way of being understood or getting things done she would be wise to try to reduce her Brazilian voice and raise her American voice.

So students must be coached by their teachers to improve their pronunciation, intonation, rhythm in order to achieve better understanding and intelligibility.

But why do students have poor pronunciation?

  1. It’s usually never taught – as the student gets used to understanding what the teacher says, the teacher can  also get used to the students’ linguistic somersaults and not even realize pronunciation / accent problems.
  2. students need to learn to listen to different sounds – th/s/t  b- v   Z-S etc before producing them. Sounds which might not even exist in their L1.
  3. pronunciation requires not only knowledge but skill – which means loads of practice.
  4. English spelling causes confusion – being literate can interfere with your hearing. I’ve corrected many students so many times for their mispronunciation of words because the words they read tend to sound “different” from the way they’re spelled. – example:
    en·tre·pre·neur

    / ˌäntrəprəˈnər/

    lis·ten
    /ˈlis(ə)n/

So what factors will influence their success?

  1. Motivation and concern for good pronunciation
  2. Exposure – amount of time spent in practice. Tons of listening and speaking – in that order. Quality, not just quantity, is important.
  3. Learner’s natural ability – some students tend to get a better pronunciation than others – however, hard work will get them far.
  4. Sense of identity. The fact they are speaking more American, British, or whatever other accent will not destroy their own self.

So keep your ears pricked and your mouths moving.

Cheers,

Mo

Chunking and Pausing

chunkingMany students focus their language learning on memorizing vocabulary. The  most committed ones usually write down the noun, or verb, or idiom mentioned by the teacher in class as if that would be the solution to all their problems. Well, even if that were true, those words would be soon forgotten behind other lists and pages in the student’s notebook never to be seen again. 

But there’s an approach that can be used in class and by students on their own. Fluency and vocabulary memory can be greatly improved by students using CHUNKING AND PAUSING – techniques for effective speaking:

Even intelligibility and clarity improves much more when students focus on volume, pace and chunking instead of only on pronunciation. 

  1. Collocations – strong tea 

                            – heavy traffic /heavy rain 

                             – the national soccer team

2. Idioms – to get cold  feet

Against all odds / 

 

3. Phrasal verbs

put up a great fight / 

put up with your boss

4. a whole sentence / clause

Thousands took to the streets –

 

The Teacher must help students to:

recognize chunks and 

practice their use

 

Pauses and chunks package information for the listener. Speakers divide speech into ‘chunks’, which may be single words or groups of words to communicate a thought or idea, or to focus on information the speaker thinks is important.

Without the use of pausing and chunking, it is  hard for listeners to follow your meaning and they may be overwhelmed with too much information.

Look at these examples. Try reading both of them out loud. Which one do you think a listener would understand better?

Contextualization: 

Sample 1

Does it really matter whether people speak with an accent as long as they can be easily understood many people now believe that in an increasingly globalized world we should accept variations in pronunciation that is accent. however there’s no point in speaking with an accent if people can’t understand you is there?

Sample 2

Does it really matter /

whether people speak with an accent /

as long as they can be easily understood?//

Many people now believe /

that in an increasingly globalized world /

we should accept variations in pronunciation /

that is / accent. //

However /

there’s no point in speaking with an accent /

if people can’t understand you /

is there?//

Speech chunks and pauses are marked with a slash / or // for a longer pause.

http://www.uts.edu.au/current-students/support/helps/self-help-resources/pronunciation/pausing-and-chunking

Source: University of Technology Sydney 

But chunking is only one rung on the language learning ladder. All that vocabulary must be firmly grounded on basic but solid grammar structure. vocabulary notebook

Cheers and good speaking,

Mo

The Marshmallow Challenge

Earlier this year at the National Conference for Teachers of English in San Jose, Costa Rica,  I could attend several workshops and plenary sessions regarding English learning in the 21st century.

The very first workshop was presented by Jair Felix with a hands-on approach:

The teachers’ challenge was to build the highest frame using uncooked spaghetti, string, tape and topping it with a marshmallow. Right from the start most teachers sat on the floor and started discussing ways and ideas on how to build the tallest structure. And the biggest challenge was resisting the urge to eat the marshmallow.marshmallow

The marshmallow challenge was inspired by a  TED talk by Peter Skillman. (You may watch the YouTube edition following this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p5sBzMtB3Q)

Teachers were then challenged on how they could help their students find inspiration.

What’s the problem? The marshmallow

What skills are important for this challenge?

Teamwork
Negotiating
Listening
Planning
Communication
Role taking
Patience
Collaboration

Some of the conclusions:

  • Children usually have the best performance in this task losing only to architects and engineers
  •  Their minds haven’t been screwed up by notions and the world.
  • High stakes negatively impact the result.
  • The art of prototyping – how to learn from mistakes?
  • Learning takes place when there’s critical analysis of the input. You’re not expected to be perfect as a student. There’s always room for failure.
  • Diversity in the classroom

Incentives + Skills = success ✔️
Incentives + Low skills # success ✖️

“Teaching is a contact sport because we’re always dealing with other people.”

screen-shot-2012-06-24-at-9-55-48-pm

Cheers,

Mo

 

Teachers Daring to Join the Change

I have just returned from four wonderful days in beautiful Costa Rica. The multitude of things one can do there is amazing – Costa Rica’s strikingly diverse terrain — lush forests, wildlife reserves, and tropical beaches — offers a little something for every traveler. Beach-lovers staying along the Pacific Coast can enjoy a palm-fringed coastline for sun and surf. Nature-seekers staying in the Northern Plains or along the Caribbean coast should pay a visit to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca before venturing inland to zip line above Monteverde’s Cloud Rainforest and hike Arenal Volcano. Whether you seek sun, nature or adventure, there’s much to discover in this paradise. IMG_9535

So which of the above took me there?  None. The reason that brought me to lovely Costa Rica was The National Conference for Teachers of English http://www.nctecostarica.or.cr/ – which gathered English teachers from all over the country and speakers from the US, Canada, Mexico and even from Brazil.

OK, I must confess I played truant one afternoon and went sightseeing at the Volcán Poás – up in the Costa Rican Alps. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the crater though, since it is quite regularly covered in heavy fog, but I could most definitely smell it – sulfur and other intriguing aromas. IMG_9428

Who would have “thunk” that a Brazilian Teacher of English would be invited to participate in such an honorable event. Talk about breaking paradigms and stereotypes. “Native Speakers of English” never have and never will have exclusive rights to the teaching of their language, especially when it is to speakers of other languages.

I was invited via twitter by Jonathan Acuña, the program’s organizer, (may God bless technology)  and the theme – Dare to Join the Change – really challenged me to embrace the opportunity and say “Why not?”

First of all, I’d like to congratulate the organizers – I’ve had my share of TESOL conferences and some of them – dare I say it – were rather poorly organized and structured. NCTE Costa Rica did a wonderful job in getting together different speakers and workshops spread all around the “Centro Cultural Costarricence Norteamericano” – with every classroom having support personnel and dedicated staff. Loved it.

I had been warned of the Tico Time issue (which is not exclusive to Costa Rica, by all means), when things tend to follow their “own time” and tardiness is expected and sometimes even embraced. Not this time. Sessions started sharply on time – save some technological glitches. The plenaries also started punctually as scheduled.

The workshops tended to focus on English Learning in the 21st Century: diversity in the classroom, Fluent x Accurate spoken English, natural learning  and so much more. (Stay tuned for coming blogs on particular issues discussed in the conference).

My workshop was titled: “Dogme never fear, Technology is here” followed by the subtitle “How can media and dogme work together”  and was based on the premise that the simplicity in methodology and movement preached by Dogme in ELT can be enriched and empowered via the use of technology (including social media). The key is to reach a balance between effective language reception and production and unplugged learning. You may see my power point presentation following this link:  https://onedrive.live.com/embed?cid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07&resid=5FB2C8AB8B478B07%21835&authkey=ABRDhO-mHMCqr58&em=2

During the training session, the attendees were wonderful – all teachers highly Tech Monstercommitted to growth and improvement. One thing that was pretty common during the workshop was the fact that most teachers still resist to the use of social media. Technology can be really scary if you don’t know what to do with it. And less than 10% (at least in my workshop) were on LinkedIn. I urged them to create their own LinkedIn profile immediately because it is their professional digital card to their careers.IMG_9447

That’s just a brief insight of what happened on 3 days of intense and powerful collaboration. The conference was tuanis (“too nice” in Costa Rican slang).

My advice? Next time you hear about a teachers’ conference dare to join the change.

Never fear.

Cheers,

Mo