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.
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.
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.
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 committed 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.
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.
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, my student Alice arrived all upset because she’d been stuck in traffic for nearly two hours and had missed 90% of her class. But despite all the rush she brought up a very pertinent question:
She asked: “How can I improve my listening?”
She’s just returned from a week’s vacation in New York City and told me she had not had any significant listening problems – of course most of the time she’d been meeting up with fellow Brazilian friends and speaking Portuguese – but when she is watching her favorite TV series – Homeland or Scandal, for example, she misses much of what they say. Even the subtitles are too fast. So, how can she improve her listening to better understand native natural speech?
Firstly, in some cases, the dialogues in TV series are not THAT natural. A quick search on the speech speed used in TV series brought me this info:
*Fans of writer-producer Shonda Rhimes are already used to the blazing speed with which her characters must deliver their lines, but her prime time dramas “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” have nothing on “Scandal” when it comes to the sheer volume of words spoken per second.
Just ask lead actress Kerry Washington.
“In some ways I feel like doing David Mamet on Broadway was the perfect training for doing television with Shonda Rhimes, because they’re two immensely talented, prolific writers who value the English language, who require a real commitment to language,” she says. “Their work is so athletic – in film and in television. The physical requirements are so great.”
Asked why she demands that her “Scandal” cast rapid-fire their lines, Rhimes said the approach serves several purposes.
“Part of ‘Scandal’s’ pace was born of me not wanting actors to linger in the moments, in the sense of it’s a world in which everyone is really incredibly busy, and there’s no time to feel your feelings,” said Rhimes. “So part of it was that. Part of it was that I wrote a pilot that was, like, 75 pages long.”
Her co-producer Betsy Beers says: “It’s funny how much you can get in if you talk really, really fast.”
Adds co-star Columbus Short: “The amazing thing about this show is really, speaking that fast in the dialogue, it’s remarkable how the emotion hasn’t gotten lost.”
So how could my students improve their listening comprehension?
It’s an easy-peasy answer: by listening lots and lots of English.
I notice in my own self-taught French lessons – I’m on a pre-intermediate level in Voltaire’s language – when I listen to tv shows, news, series and/or podcasts in French on a more regular basis, let us say, Monday through Friday for at least 15 minutes – my listening improves for the next time I’ll be listening to something in that language.
So my advice pearls would be:
Make listening a fun daily habit – no point in torturing yourself listening to things you find boring. Documentaries have a slower paced narration but if you don’t like watching them try a cartoon, a soap, a movie, whatever appeals to you.
Take advantage of “convenient” moments. Stuck in traffic? what’s the point in listening to the traffic reporter hovering over your head saying that there is a huge traffic congestion. Listen to your new target language.
Listen to native English speakers (or any other native speakers of the language you want to learn). Use podcasts – tonnes of different ideas and interests. Try Online radio.
Listen to non-native English speakers. Yes, that’s right. In today’s world you’ll come across people from around the around using English to communicate. That’s what you need, isn’t it?
Since you are so excited about developing your listening skills please find below some more podcasts developed with the English language learner in mind
1. 6 Minute English podcast – produced by the BBC with 2 hosts always asking some challenging question found in the news
2. All Ears English podcast – 2 chicks always teaching some cultural and language point in the English spoken in the US. Beware: one of them slurs and speakstoofastasifshecouldntbotherwhethershesunderstoodornot. http://allearsenglish.com/
3. Aprende Inglés con la Mansión del Inglés – 2 dudes (one from Belfast and another from London) host the show with good humor and focus on a teaching point. Emphasis on Spanish speakers http://www.inglespodcast.com
4. Business English Q&A – US-born Ryan now living and working in Germany develops a great series of interviews with successful English language learners from different parts of the world trying to discover the common traits, tips and techniques to assist in learning a foreign language more effectively.
6. Real Life English podcast – a group of young teachers from the US, Australia and some other beaches I can’t remember they try to encourage students (female students, mostly) to learn and practice English. First produced in Belo Horizonte, Brazil now they’ve spread to Chile. Oh, yeahhh. http://reallifeeng.libsyn.com/
9. Luke’s English Podcast – produced and hosted by Luke from England – it’s a very good way to expose yourself to British English. But it requires a little patience usually no shorter than 45 minutes. http://teacherluke.co.uk/
10. Richard Vaughan Live podcast – controversial Texas-born Richard Vaughan has painstakingly been trying to teach English to Spaniards. His ramblings are quite entertaining. I love the episodes when he loses his temper with some of his on-air students.
11. VOA’s Learning English Podcast – dating back to their shortwave transmissions even before the Internet, VOA has been my companion with good quality of listening content on American history, words and news.
I constantly insist with my students that learning a language shouldn’t be their goal – their raison d’être. They study English or French or Spanish because they hope to use it when traveling, or for professional and personal development, for instance.
Today I’ve been reminded of Alice – a great, hardworking student in her professional life but who refuses to review or practice anything taught in class.
Alice loves to talk and her professional vocabulary is quite good since she is involved in billing international clients and can write quite well, having a good grammar domain. But she’s got a limited vocabulary when outside her professional jargon.
Her favorite question is: “How can I say ___X____ in English?”
One day, in a 20 minute interval, she asked the following list in Portuguese:
“Teacher…, How can I say…
7. sangue frio
9. não pisque!
13. estar acordado
14. fábrica de dinheiro
17. tenho o costume
18. sou banana
Knowing that so many words would be gone with the wind as soon as she had walked out of the room, I decided to play a game with her. Instead of being her
human super dictionary faster than google translator, I wrote down the list on a sheet of paper and gave it to her. I told her: “Remember that words must be used in context, so look up the translations of the words but check the meaning in English to see if they fit the context you want to place them in. By looking them up and writing them down you’ll be able to remember them in the future.”
She agreed and left – this was in March – now June 2015 (at least we’re in the same year) she hasn’t done the so-called “homework”. I’ve challenged her a few times but she says she doesn’t like to be pressured. She is hard pressed enough doing her job.
So, for our next class we are going to sit down (or stand up – if based on the latest studies on how standing up is better to your health) and go over the list and see how much she remembers and can use in context.
Having upgraded my iPhone 5s to an iPhone 6, I was afraid I’d lost all my files including all my list of podcasts -but, God bless the iCloud team. Everything was backed up and recoverable.
But after procrastinating for a few weeks I’ve finally come round to listing the podcasts which might be interesting to all ESL/EFL teachers and students as well.
1. KKLC ELT Podcast there are only 5 episodes available dating back to 2013 but still relevant dealing with learning styles or language and technology. http://www.kkcl.org.uk/category/podcast/
2. Masters of Tesol – Andrew Bailey introduces tough topics on language teaching – the latest episode tries to show how to teach English intonation. https://mastersoftesol.wordpress.com/category/podcast/
3. The History of English podcast an in-depth study on the origins of the English language dating back to when everybody spoke Latin – http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/
4. Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing- always useful tips to help students http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl
5. TEFLology – three self-appointed Teflologists discussing TEFL – discussing all TEFL issues and news plus interviews on different TEFL themes. http://teflology.libsyn.com/
6. Edgycation – two funny teachers discussing all things ESL/EFL – unfortunately the series ended in 2013 – but most of the topics discussed are still relevant today. http://edgycation.org/
7. ESL Teacher Talk – great podcast series for ESL teachers – ended in 2010 but still great talk and input on all things ESL. http://www.eslteachertalk.com/
There you have it… hours of great teacher training material within your reach.
Hope you enjoy these podcasts. Although some are no longer produced they are not gone.
Ok, I confess. I just wanted to share with you guys that I’ve got a brand new iPhone 6 as a wedding anniversary gift from my Sweeheart – woohoo – but these podcasts are quite useful and will provide you with many hours of information and education.
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…