Could you say that again, please?

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?”

Could you please repeat that?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.

Homeland in fast speech track
Homeland in fast speech track
Am I talking too fast?
Am I talking too fast?

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.”

Read more at http://www.eurweb.com/2012/11/why-is-the-dialogue-so-fast-in-abcs-scandal/#Kta2bugSQKDAuzId.99

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/general/sixminute/

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.

http://www.businessenglishqanda.com/

5. English Harmony Podcast – prepared by Robby, a non-native English speaker with tips on how to learn English more effectively.
http://englishharmony.com/english-harmony-podcast/

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/

7. English Experts Podcast – Produced by non-native English speakers focuses on the common needs of Brazilian English learners.
https://archive.org/details/EnglishExperts-Podcast

8. ESL Podcast – The host for the podcast is Dr. Jeff McQuillan, directly from sunny Los Angeles, and he helps read the scripts and provides explanations for them.

https://www.eslpod.com/website/

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.

http://www.ivoox.com/podcast-richard-vaughan-live_sq_f180769_1.html

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.

http://learningenglish.voanews.com/podcast/0.html

 

Phew, I think that will keep you busy until next year.

I’m sure this will help you out. And if you feel you still need to improve your listening comprehension repeat steps 1-3 as many times as necessary.

Cheers and happy listening.

Mo

How can I say…?

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…

1. ócio

2. sovina

3. contestação

4. juventude

5. garra

6 pegadinha

7. sangue frio

8. costurar

9. não pisque!

10. sensível

11. sensato

12. retina

13. estar acordado

14. fábrica de dinheiro

15. medo

16. acompanhante

17. tenho o costume

18. sou banana

19. catarata

20. cicatrizar

21. médico

22. particular

23. meta

24. avental

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

Words carried by the wind
Words carried by the wind

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.

Keep on trying,

Cheers,

Mo

7 Podcasts every ESL Teacher needs to know

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.

Cheers,

Mo

Travel English

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. image

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…

Cheers,

Mo

Lost and Found in Translation

This morning while I was listening to Richard Vaughan’s Podcast recorded in Madrid, Spain (http://www.ivoox.com/podcast-richard-vaughan-live_sq_f180769_1.html),  he mentioned an incident decades ago at a company where he was teaching. He was having lunch with a fellow American and when that “Puritan” American saw that every table had a bottle of “Agua Sin Gas” – chapitas-tapas-corona-sin-uso-agua-de-mesa-con-y-sin-gas-13606-MLA75273278_3475-Ohe was in shock at the level of sinfulness in a Catholic country. Yes, Virginia; you know “agua sin gas” simply means “still water” not the opposite of “holy water”. Another teacher started his lesson asking his students very tongue in cheek: “Today we’re going to be talking about Great Tits. Do you know what tits are? And one Spanish student shyly translated: “tetas”. After all laughed the teacher explained that he was going to be talking about birds and GreatTit002vocabulary related. In the UK many people know lots of birds species- it’s a national pastime, while most people in Iberian countries, for example, know very few bird species.

Translation activities in class were swept under the carpet for many years in favor of total immersion in Language 2. However, the knowledge the student has of their own mother tongue and culture can and should be used to help them tread around the traps of the language they’re now learning.

A simple exercise that I enjoy giving my students is getting them a hFound_in_Translationeadline and first paragraph of the day’s newspaper in their language and ask them to tell me the gist of the story in English. Then they’ll try to translate the sentence. Finally they will write it down (it could be assigned as homework if they ever had to do it).

I remember years ago a teacher of French (of course he HAD to be French) told my wife that a foreigner would NEVER learn to write as a native speaker. That statement is open to interpretation since many people can’t write well in their OWN languages. But I raise another point: does the average learner of a second language need to write like a native speaker or simply be able to write in a clear and objective way?

That leads us to what happened in France this week – all my students saw, heard and read something about the cowardly terrorist attacks in Paris and other areas. So many words came up for translation – Muslim, Censorship, Threat, Grey Area, etc.

As we could see this week some things never get lost in translation.

#JeSuisCharlie

Mo

Teaching Down Memory Lane

Distance and time make the heart grow fonder, they say. And that’s quite true. Today I remembered out of the blue a time back in the late 80s and early 90s, yimagees, not even cellphones were around back then. Which meant that I had to call in the school every day (at the time we didn’t have a landline at home – they were expensive and distributed in a very limited area. You could wait for years until the state phone company – Telesp – installed your phone or buy it on the black market). So I’d go to a pay phone some 4 blocks up my street to make a call and if the school wanted to contact me there was my next door neighbor’s phone who graciously would take down any messages. And if a student cancelled the class some 2 or 3 hours before the set time, I would have wasted my trip to that company. No flowers on the way, huh?

I was teaching for 2 language schools in São Paulo specialized in In-House Teaching. They’d hire a teacher, “train” them for 1 week and place them in different companies – usually multinationals like Unilever, DuPont, etc and the teacher would work with small groups of 4 to 5 people or 1-1 lessons. Little has changed in this industry regarding how teachers are selected – 1st – can you speak English? … 31st – can you teach?image

One of the schools, I can’t remember their name, let’s call it “Hello Brazil”, was located on Vanderlei street in Perdizes, a rather hilly area of São Paulo. Since I didn’t have a car at that time, I can assure you I was in very good shape going up and down those hills.

The school followed the “communicative approach” – a typical mantra in language teaching for the past 30 years – just talk and if possible throw in some grammar points. But with a twist: since teacher turnover was and still is pretty high in the language industry – many people choose teaching because they’re between jobs (if Brazilians), or need to fund their travels (if foreigners)- the school had come up with an interesting method – The students would keep a folder for the teacher in their office and teachers would be assigned to specific students on a daily basis – so that students would not be attached to any single teacher (the reason given was that in that way, students would be exposed to different accents, really?). Of course the system had its holes, some students liked my classes more and demanded I should be their regular teacher. They could tell the difference between a TEACHER and a person who teaches. The teacher at the end of every class would write a brief comment on what had been covered that day so the next teacher would have an idea. Of course, some teachers, need I say that?,  would forget to jot down any input or wrote in a secret code no one could understand.

Sao Paulo was already a gigantic city at that time and the offices of many corporations were based in the southern part of the city. Centro Empresarial de São Paulo – was oimagene of those office complexes located far from the school office or my home. Classes started at 12 noon so in order not to be late I’d make plans to arrive at least 30 minutes early. When the winds were in my favor I could even get there 1 hour earlier but what would I do while waiting? The “ground floor” contains stores and restaurants and some couches where I’d sit for a while and doze off. Security was already an issue back then. I guess it’s always been a biggie in São Paulo, it’s just gotten worse. So they had security guards walking around the corridors and hallways keeping an eye on anything or anyone suspicious. More than once they would wake me up asking if I was feeling ok. I don’t recall any drooling nor nightmare fits in my sleep (which doesn’t exclude their occurrence). The fact is that the guards were instructed not to allow any “loitering” in the premises. Basically you had to keep walking or they’d invite you to leave. At the right time I’d go upstairs to meet the students for their class and immediately vacate the building as soon as classes had finished.

Those days helped me build  and improve my teaching skills which no university would have been able to do.

Cheers and Teach well,

Mo