Shakespeare in ELT

This post came about after I saw a tweet by Nathan Hall questioning whether Shakespeare should be used in the ELT environment/context. Nathan tweeted the following:

Unpopular opinion: I think using Shakespeare (original text) to teach English is an unproductive use of time in a general classroom. I am open to hearing counter arguments

The premise – original text – would require the student to have a high English level (C1 or higher) and the energy spent in trying to understand the text would not be “well spent”.

Early on as a learning EFL teacher, I wasn’t able, or didn’t know how to prepare independent lessons – I would use coursebooks – and in the early 90s the best coursebook I came across was the Headway series – honestly, I learned a lot about the English language and culture using Headway Advanced and Unit 2 under the theme of Literature and Literary Genres contained a little bit of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. Could it get any better? I had to carefully prepare my lessons in advance otherwise I wouldn’t be ready to deal with the grammar and vocabulary points presented in the unit.

Back in 1991, I was teaching for a language school in São Paulo and they sent me to teach a group of three ladies at a sports club where they would have their gym, tennis practice, swimming activities and, of course, English lessons. They were nice, intelligent mature women who had already traveled the world, were advanced English learners and had already read and seen a few Shakespeare plays translated and performed in Portuguese. They did not hesitate to read an excerpt of the “7 ages of man” in modern English (not Elizabethan English as some highbrow pedantic educators would like to say) despite the nebulous vocabulary (some of it) for the advanced language learner there was a ton of conversation to be obtained from that short and brief text.

Image result for headway advanced 1996Headway Advanced published in 1991

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A page from the New Headway Advanced 4th Edition 2014

Yes, I totally get the fact that for many students (no matter their linguistic background and location) Shakespeare would be a drag: representing another time and another place far removed from their contemporary world. Well, … tell them to see The Lion King and they’ll be seeing Shakespeare’s ghost there. Yes, the language evolves but today some of Shakespeare’s quotes are still as relevant as back then even within a different context.

Can’t any B1/B2 English learner understand some of these quotes?

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts.”

—Jaques in As You Like It

“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.”

—Escalus in Measure for Measure

 “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

—Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Yes, Shakespeare’s texts are old but the truths those works convey can be adapted to contemporary English by publishers’ Readers, plays can be re-enacted and adapted etc.

Shakespeare map
This map shows all the different locations and countries described in Shakespeare’s plays. He truly belongs to the world. 

My point is: don’t throw the baby with the bathwater. In this day and age, language teaching is still seen as a form of colonialism so the condescending “native teacher” desires the learner to see himself and his values first and only use the language as a literal tool for a very specific purpose. Why shut down the learner from the rest of the world in time and space?

If the learners are Asian should then all the material be Asian related? The same for African or Latino learners? In Brazil why bother teaching them the word “snow” just teach them to say “it’s a scorcher”? That’s the oppression of multiculturalism gone awry when it’s only good if you’re different from me and we have nothing in common and don’t even try to understand me “for I’m marvelous”.

Let the learners dream a Midsummer night’s dream… as teachers we’re supposed to expose them to the world not shelter them from it.

And don’t get me started on the beauty and usefulness of the second person singular – thou/thee. 😜

Is it unproductive to read any Shakespeare in the original text? As a sign of our times: Yes and no. That depends! Who said you can only use the original text? Yes, you may use it, but also adapt it in a myriad of different ways. Dost thou get me?

Mo and Shakespeare.jpg
Mo and his friend, Billy S.

Cheers,

Mo

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Learning through osmosis

Let me cut to the chase and tell you that you can get a disease or infection by contact with a wound or a cut, through blood, saliva and other bodily fluids. You won’t, I repeat, YOU WILL NOT learn another language just by shaking hands with a language teacher or touching the dictionary on the screen of your cellphone, ok? 🙄

Well… as inane as it may sound, that’s how many students approach their decision to learn a second or foreign language. Let me give you an example:

One day, Bratislav* (not his real name) wakes up, stretches out and says to himself:

I need to improve my English (or whatever language he might think is important for him). “I’ll call this teacher who my colleague is having classes with (or should it be “whom”) schedule a start date, settle on payment (hmm, maybe he’ll be so amazed at my brain, he’ll be willing to teach me for free 😋) and I’ll be on my way towards my destiny to conquer the world.”

But poor Brat also thinks that he won’t have to do anything to make some progress. No homework. No practice. No class attendance (I kid you not, Virginia).

In 1-1 classes, the client agrees to buy a chunk of time from his teacher, be it 45 minutes, one hour, or whatever. So he must make every effort to use that time as well as possible. Time flies as the saying goes and it slips through our fingers like sand. When the student can’t or won’t have class at the agreed time for whatever reason, he expects the teacher will rebottle that time that has gone away and offer him again. Or at least offer a discount of the total value of the classes.

We as teachers have to look hard into ourselves and ask: why are we teaching? What do we want? How can we achieve our goals and our students’ goals? And sometimes we come across tough choices to be made: should I be punching the head of this or that student who’s more dead than a door nail?

During a year-end evaluation, which I had to sit next to Brat and answer it with him,

– he would not have answered the survey on his own in a million years, he told me he would like to improve his writing. Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. Or not… because he won’t have time to write anything and he doesn’t want to spend 15 minutes in class quietly writing an email, or translating a short text for practice.

So… Brat, I only have one thing left to do: I will terminate you as a “virtual” student and when you sort out what you want and how you will get there then and only then you may call me again. Or not.

I’ll be waiting at the restaurant round the corner with a Chicken Parmigiana plate balancing on my head while watching Jane Fonda work out on YouTube🤪

Cheers,

Mo

Motivating and empowering students

For many years  I’ve been volunteering at an English Bible class in Brazil. Our goal is simple: use English to encourage people to study the Bible.

Every Saturday morning we meet for some 70-80 minutes and sing some gospel songs, pray together, and study the bible. The challenge is that they have a little bible study guide – with daily questions and texts, and the following Saturday we meet to discuss what we learned during the week.  You can check out the lessons here for free: https://absg.adventist.org/archives

But this past weekend I was observing the study guide of one of our class members, he is a quite shy young man – it had been thoroughly studied, underlined and the questions had been read and duly answered. Wow.

I was so happy to see Leandro’s dedication to look up the vocabulary of the texts he was studying not for English’s sake alone, but  because he was enjoying to be studying the Bible while using English as a tool. I do encourage them to do that, but they won’t have their notebooks inspected or not even get a shiny sticker on the page if they do so. They do it because they are excited about the learning process. That’s their own reward.

Happy Growing,

Cheers,

Mo

Inviting 2019 in!

As the days of 2018 run to a close, you can hear some people saying that it’s just another date. It means nothing. My mother used to say that too. As a housewife her whole life she’d say yesterday, today, tomorrow have their same lot of cleaning, washing and cooking.

The Chinese have a different new year date. The Jews too. Islam also follows a different calendar. Googling it up, even the Native indigenous people in South America follow a calendar year which starts on June 21 – the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Ok. I didn’t find anything about Brazilian indigenous tribes but I’m pretty sure if they have a New Year Date it won’t be January 01.

Richard Vaughan, an American teacher in Spain, loves to say that the year would make much better sense if it really started somewhere in September.

In Brazil the year ending in December coincides with the ending of the school year and the beginning of summer so gives a good closure to the cycle of life (at least academically speaking).

Other people decide to fight all resolutions – they’re pointless. So their resolution is to make no resolutions.

Image result for resolutions

I’ll go against the flow and encourage you to make small, feasible resolutions. There is a psychological factor in taking out the old calendar and putting up a new calendar. Get rid of the old, and put on the new.

Image result for 2018 old calendar
Get rid of the old, put on the new

We all had small victories in 2018. Maybe small and big losses, but it is all in the past now. No, no, they won’t fade away as a dream, but they will hurt less in 2019… allow yourself to heal, give yourself time to lick your wounds, to dust off your pride … decide that you will be a better teacher, a better spouse, a better human being… . Yes, I know it won’t happen as magic but you have made up the decision which shows you are willing to grow.

Image result for 2019 new calendar

So, child, go forth, slip, trip over, fall, roll back, love and allow yourself to be loved… but keep moving forward.

Happy 2019.

Cheers,

Mo

Motivating ESL Students

Picture this:

It’s Monday morning.

First class at 7:30am.

Student A had an intense weekend, traveled, returned home late Sunday night and Monday morning he has to be ready for his class first thing in the morning. The teacher walks in and starts talking in English … the student who’s been speaking Portuguese all week hears the sounds but can’t make heads or tails of what’s being said past “how are you?”

Next, while correcting homework the teacher sees the student still having trouble expressing basic sentences – and can’t remember basic vocabulary he’s already seen before.

He can’t remember how to say in English:

Classe média (middle class)

Saudade (to be missing someone)

Poucas casas (a few houses)

Move on to the following student B – she is shown a 10 minute Ted Talk video on global population growth – and then says she’d fallen asleep half way through the clip.

Then student C waltz in. He has just had lunch and didn’t sleep very well last night… guess what happened?

So lessons to be learned:

1. Review, review, review! Grammar points and vocabulary.

2. Break video sessions into smaller chunks. Ask comprehension questions to help student remain focused.

3. Bring very strong black coffee in a thermos.

Cheers,

Mo

How much correction should language students receive?

Correcting another human being is something that can’t be programmed into a computer or robot. It requires the sensitivity and sensibility of a teacher who, through experience, trial and error, will know when to correct his or her students.
When the student tries to speak in a language they’re learning, the teacher must make them aware that they will be making mistakes. Actually, they SHOULD be making mistakes.
You should be making mistakes – if you stay only in your comfort zone you’re not making progress. Don’t be afraid to speak.”
How much do you want people to correct you?
It depends on your level – depends on the kind of interaction you’re having. If the student needs their new language only for vacation purposes the demands will be QUITE different from the needs they have to make business presentations, attend meetings, negotiate on the phone. 5CFECD88-F493-41BE-BFE6-61D698CCB577
The teacher must point out mistakes that might impede their understanding. Some key mistakes should be pointed out immediately to make students aware of their importance.
Example:
Student: “ Yesterday night I seed a film in tv. It’s about a napkin.”
Ok, teachers, what would you do now?  Correct the verb tense, the preposition, right away? How about the mysterious show about napkins?
Again you have to consider the student at a pre-intermediate level. He knows the simple past tense and has already learned the past of the verb to see.
Teacher: “oh, so LAST night you…. (expecting student to self correct and remember and say “saw”). But was the film about paper napkins?”
Student: “No. when robbers take a person and ask money.”
Teacher: “Oh, it was about a KIDNAPPING. A person was TAKEN. Tell me more.” 
Other mistakes should be duly noted and at the end of the session presented as feedback and students encouraged to write them down. The next class it would be essential for the teacher the review those points again so that students are ready to move on. Two classes later repeat review. One month later present the mistakes and have students correct them.
When the student gains more confidence the teacher  will start correcting meanings and nuances – what better word / preposition to use / beyond just communication impediment.
The key is to reach a balance between accuracy and communication always being kind is way better than being right.
Cheers,
Mo
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Developing digital competence in ELT

“As teachers, we are bombarded with the urge to use the latest, shiny technology,  we must keep our fingers on the pulse of technology.” Steve Taylor-Knowles

In other words, we must know how to use technology – not a choice anymore, but we need to know how to apply the necessary criteria to choose what to adopt or discard.

Teachers are a very complex sort of animal. On the one hand, we are open-minded and willing to learn. On the other hand, we’re afraid of change, including new technologies, feeling burdened by having to learn a new tool, which might result in more work, more time requirements,  more tasks and chores.

Our real challenge is to go digital.

laptop technology ipad tablet
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. Digital course management

Teachers have to get familiar with different learning management systems (LSM).

We can build data on students. What’s been done? What scores? What new plans or strategies?

2. Course Content Delivery

Resources: digital content allows for more material than what would be possible in a physical context. Both teacher and students can and should use their mobile phones as great learning tools.

3. Digital Competence

Literacy – today (August 06, 2018), the Brazilian Newspaper O Estado de São Paulo published a poll informing that 3 out of 10 Brazilians are functionally illiterate. Now, how many teachers are  functionally  digitally illiterate today?

So… dear teachers, embrace technology and start learning.

box business celebrate celebration
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Cheers,

Mo