Waiting is hard

Yes, yes, I know… I could say that again… Waiting is HARD. “We twiddle our thumbs, we shuffle our feet, we stifle our yawns, we heave long sighs, we fret inwardly in frustration”.

That’s how a language learner feels… progress is slow. So instead of just moaning, we teachers must encourage our students to actively be in charge of their linguistic progress.

Are they on social media? Great. Encourage them to access accounts on Twitter, or instagram or Facebook …. using the language they’re learning.

As a teacher I know I must help my students develop a positive relationship with the language they’re learning. I must show them the value of that language, increase their interest in the learning process. Stress the relevance of they’re doing and failure is not an option. Signify to them what is done in the language they pursue and what they can do if they commit themselves to learning.

My students are my greatest asset, so I won’t treat them as morons (isn’t it a great new year’s resolution?) They’re my partners not only by paying for their lessons but also by allowing me my professional and personal development with and through them.

May the new year help us all take off to new heights.

Cheers,

Mo

 

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A TEACHER’S DREAM (literally)

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Last night as I was sleeping…

“Last night as I was sleeping I had a dream so fair…” – wait a minute, those are the words to a New Jerusalem hymn… but seriously, last night I dreamed that I was a teacher/ coordinator (already promoting myself) at a large language center in São Paulo.

The school was having problems in particular with a student, Joelson (I asked his name in the dream) who had finished the last stage and in order to receive his course completion certificate he would have to take an exam. The problem was that although Joelson had reached an advanced English level he got very nervous with tests and he refused to take the test but he still demanded his certificate. The school director asked me to talk to him and try to convince him to take the test.

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“If life is a punishment, one should wish for an end; if life is a test, one should wish it to be short”

Joelson said: “Every time I take a test I get too nervous and I get everything wrong and fail.” “You’re talking to me, you can see my English is good now, why can’t the school just give me a certificate? I paid all the fees and did all the tasks in and outside of class”. “My teachers can certify that my English is excellent.”

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“Good tests can help teachers determine how their students are performing and identify the areas in which their students need assistance. Like an X-ray, however, tests can diagnose, but they cannot cure”.
Randi Weingarten

Then I went to talk to the headmaster and told him what Joelson had said, and that I agreed with him. I added: “In my 30 plus years teaching experience I’ve never seen a person get a job because they handed in an English Language proficiency certificate – first, they will be interviewed or tested in the language. If they have a paper certificate is immaterial. And I’m talking about both national and multinational corporations. So give him the certificate without him taking the test. It has no legal value anyway”.

I know… each country’s culture and policies will vary, but to get a job in Brazil, employers are more interested in real-life skills from their candidates than their English certificate. Listen, I’m not talking about University degrees.

Of course, international universities require a TOEFL or IELTS certificate to get the process going and sieve through the numbers of applicants but it is well known that many certificate holders were well-groomed at taking tests and evading tricky questions, but when they start their university courses abroad they need to be enrolled in ESL classes (even before the lectures begin).

So my dream is that people may actually learn English in the coming year, not just for a paper certificate, but to be ready to skydive into new adventures in the world.

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Happy Dreams,

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

Accent v Pronunciation

This is another question that comes up quite often in the language classroom:

“Teacher, what’s the difference between accent and pronunciation?”

Well… in simple terms, accent is the voice you’ve developed based on where you were born and raised, your parents, family, classmates, etc all played a role in developing your accent in your mother tongue. Anyone has an accent! You realize it every time you move out of your area or comfort zone where most people speak like you.

Don’t even get me started with different British accents – one for every village and town.

Now… pronunciation refers to your intonation – the way you enunciate words and phrases.

I always tell my students that they don’t have to lose their accents – they are many times even considered charming by other speakers…. but they must be careful with their pronunciation so that they can be understood and not break down any communication attempt.

One example is the pronunciation of the letter R /r/ as a consonant sound. Many Brazilian, French and Spanish-speaking students find it hard to pronounce words such as

Rabbit  – Raccoon – radio – red – Recipe – run etc

many times their default pronunciation with be with an H sound – they’ll say

Habbit – Haccoon – Hadio – Hed – Hecipe – Hun etc

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My role as the teacher is to identify these problem sounds, raise the student’s awareness to it and encourage them to produce the adequate sound.

Speaking another language requires skills which can and must be developed.

So happy practice and keep on speaking.

Cheers,

Mo

 

🐌Snail Technology in Textbooks

I guess the question “does technology belong in the classroom?” has been amply discussed and satisfactorily answered with a resounding YES! (kept some reservations). Both teachers and students have already grasped the idea that they can use technology as a learning tool. Not just the cool new thing.IMG_9271.JPG

So why have publishers been so resistant and slow to adopting e-textbooks? Yesterday a student of mine called my attention again to the outdated status of English coursebooks – which in my humble opinion are the most advanced in terms of volume of sales and global reach. Eduardo has finished his New Headway Elementary 15th edition (just kidding) and is ready to start the Pre-intermediate level. So I volunteered to buy him the book because as a teacher I get a 10% discount from the book distributor here in Brazil, SBS. Well, the coursebook and workbook (16th edition) come with CDs for the student’s home study. Fine. But the first thing Eduardo said was: “Teacher, today’s computer notebooks not even include a Cd drive. Why can’t I just access it online or at least use a memory stick?”

An e-textbook is weightless, has multiple functionalities, can be read anytime, anywhere, allows for interactivity, can bring enhanced tools in audio, video, sound effects, games, quizzes, tests, etc. IMG_9270

So why are e-textbooks so unappealing?

First, the cost. Secondly the quality of the content must be improved. Another huge downside is compatibility. The same e-textbook would have to work perfectly well across a broad range of devices and operating systems. Let’s not forget the DRM – Digital Rights Management which tries to combat piracy.

The publishers allege that there still is an enormous digital divide in the world  – broadband and wifi may be restricted or simply nonexistent in many places. Or the power supply may be simply  unreliable and sporadic to keep the electronic devices charged. Software updates also can compromise functionality. Also, an ebook requires at least a computer. The same way that in the past language learners had to use a record/cassette/cd player to take advantage of the resources accompanying their textbooks.

Another contributor to the digital divide is that there are still teachers and students (especially those over 30) who lack the expertise on how to use the technology present in e-textbooks.

I would love to see giant publishers like Oxford University Press, Macmillan, Pearson and others to start introducing e-textbooks at a fair price and high quality which would undoubtedly be great incentives for teachers and students to adopt them.

Don’t hold your breath.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

Desire to Learn English

This afternoon, my 8th grade niece came home saying that she had received her English coursebook which included an audio CD but she couldn’t understand the instructions or how to use that material.

I said, “Come on, don’t be lazy, that can’t be that hard. Didn’t you pay attention to your teacher explaining how to use it?” But I must confess: it is difficult. The coursebook assumes that students have had 3-4 years of continuous English instruction so they can understand text and oral instructions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The students can’t simply make heads or tails of what they’re supposed to do. To add insult to injury the text is monolingual and just leaves the students hanging in there – sink or swim. coursebook

I’m not just blaming the teachers, who have 30-40 students in a classroom to work with, but I do know many of them are not qualified to teach English as a Foreign Language at all. Some of them not even know how to use the coursebook and no one bothers to explain to their students how to use the CD or to self-study. In some other cases (not just a few – the teacher says to the students: “I’m a teacher of Portuguese and now I’m required to also teach this …. (fill in the blanks) English language”.

Consequence – year after year students finish elementary school and secondary school having learned – hopefully – the verb to be and nothing else.

The government’s initiative to provide quality textbooks is praiseworthy but training on how to use the material is equally essential. That’s the least they can do. I remember my first formal school contact with English was in 6th grade back in 1976. By teacher, very wisely I must say, rejected the use of any textbooks – she developed her own curriculum and used dictations and the blackboard to teach us reading and speaking. I’m telling you this: I learned much more during those 9 months of class than in the next 2 years with another teacher who made us buy the coursebook – which was not bad – we used the same book in the 7th and 8th grade and not even then did we manage to complete the syllabus for the book that was geared to 5th graders.

The problem with the teaching of foreign languages in schools won’t be solved until it ceases being an academic subject and becomes a tool for the teaching of other subjects. My suggestion would be to require more user-friendly textbooks (clear bilingual instructions, transcript of the audio activities) which could be used for self-studying.

Meanwhile, the educational system will continue sending to private language teachers, tutors and language institutes hundreds of thousands of frustrated and scarred students.

My apologies to you, Maria Eduarda – Since I’m sure she can’t understand this in English (Peço-te perdão, Maria Eduarda).

Cheers,

Mo

Summer Reading

This weekend I received a text message from my student that made my day – he was asking for book recommendations in English so he can practice his reading  and expand vocabulary.

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Of course as a teacher I must recommend books that may appeal to the student’s language level and interests. Classics? Fiction? Nonfiction? And within each of those three categories we can find a plethora of material to choose from.

The process:

Reading 30 minutes or more every day

Language level: comfortable but also a little difficult (challenging but not discouraging)

medium: whether digital (electronic) or paper – immaterial. But one advantage of the e-book is the easy access to a dictionary (which can also be distracting if the reader stops at every line)

Some of my reading recommendations: (no necessary order just as they popped up in my mind)

Here are some of my suggestions:

Young adults:

1. Tangerine by Edward Bloor- a young man learning to adapt to a new environment and go against the crowd.

2. Whirligig  by Paul Fleischman- a young man coming of age on a healing pilgrimage from Washington State to California, Florida, and Maine, describing the many lives set into new motion –

Adults: – Fiction

1. Animal Farm – George Orwell – a perennial good read where all animals are equal but some are more equal

2. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury – impossible imagine a world without books or freedom of the press?

Adults – Nonfiction

1. Hunger of MemoryThe education of Richard Rodriguez

2. Stones in schoolsPromoting peace with education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson

Classics

1. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

3. The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens’s funniest novel

Happy Reading

Mo

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