The olden days – effort vs technology

I’ve been a Language teacher from the time of the record and cassette players (1985 to be precise). I remember when teaching an adult class at night (my first EFL group ever) I wanted to share with them this gospel ballad – Reach out – you can listen to the original recording on Yoututoca discosbe http://youtu.be/BSqAbVtHf2Y – I only had the record and the school had no record player, so I carried a “portable record player” by bus to school and played the song  with students busy  filling in the blanks. My students really loved the song and it gave the lesson a more vibrant pace and rhythm. Generating entertainment, in a way.

Since then I’ve tried to embrace technology in the classroom – the cassette player was replaced by the CD player, the VCR by the DVD player, the CD player by the iPod and the iPod succeeded by the iPhone and iPad.

Today I can “entertain” my students with videos and songs, I can record them (which they abhor), they can say their teacher is using the latest technology to assist them in learning.

It’s true that students can now independently listen to podcasts and watch videos in their target language but at times I feel that we cannot ignore the centuries-old tradition of translation, grammar explanation, repetition, etc.

I can show my students the picture of a sweetener sachet but they still will call it “sweety or false sugar”. I can play them a children’s song but they will still be saying “many childrens” or “many childs”.

I can show them a picture or video of a supermarket checkout counter with a 20 or leitemsorlessss items sign and they will still be saying “I have fewer work today”. “I drove less kilometers last week”.

My point is that technology is a tool to assist us in opening the students’ minds to whatever we’re trying to teach but people are NOT technology – they still have the same basic needs as 6000 years ago and some teaching methods used ages ago should be revisited and adapted to today’s world. Learning DOES take effort and time.

One point that must be emphasized is that no pill has been developed for an effortless silhouette_of_climber_original_900English learning process. No escalators or elevators to help you reach the top of the hill. You may have state-of-the-art mountain climbing gear but it won’t replace your arms, legs, lungs and brain in the slow climbing process towards Language Fluency.

Enjoy the journey.

Cheers

Mo

NFL in the Tropics

Yes, Virginia, everybody, it seems, was talking about the Super Bowl 49 (those Xs and Ls confuse me – XLIX). I’ve never been into sports in general, sometimes I think the players score a “SHUTDOWN” instead of a “TOUCHDOWN”. What did I tell you?

But for my English classes I MUST at least know what the Super Bowl is, where it’s being played and which teams are participating.

It’s a great class warm-up activity having students Q&A about the championship. Over the past 5 to 10 years, the interest in the NFL has grown exponentially here in Brazil, with both ladies (a few) and gents (majority) buying the jerseys of their favorite teams, footballs and any other imaginable gear.

Well, listen, a teacher’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to pique his students’ interest. We use the statistics to practice numbers and TV commentaries to practice their listening.

So if that’s what it takes for them to learn verbs such as: pulling for, rooting for, cheering, supporting, etc. and use them in correct sentences… Wow. That’s made my day.

We can also see sports terms used in business or everyday life. A simple list can be found here but the teacher can get the students together and make their own lists – gridiron, Hail Mary, game plan, jerseys, etc: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/common-football-terms-to-know.html

NFL

In the past I would mostly complain about this cultural fad imported by the local bourgeoisie and would grunt comments such as “why don’t we import respect for property, a fast legal system, less corrupt police, work ethics, etc…” But now I must say that Doris Day was right when she sang “Que será, será”. “Whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, que será, será”.  So… let’s take advantage of this passion and learn some English along the way. If I succeed in getting them to improve the pronunciation of some names and positions, I’ll say it’s been worth it.

Touchdown!

Mo

Present not so Perfect

A feature of the English language that many Brazilian students find hard to use is the Present Perfect Tense – students usually grasp the concept: it uses the auxiliary HAVE or HAS and the main verb in the PAST PARTICIPLE. In Brazilian Portuguese, this tense can be used but most of the time we use  either the simple past or the simple present to refer to a situation. Examples: Faz tempo que ele mora aqui. “He’s lived here for a long time”. Ele saiu agorinha mesmo. “He’s just left.” So, in order to get them used to the new tense I have them practice it in Affirmative, Interrogative and Negative Sentences Example: I have been a teacher since 1986. Have I been a teacher since 1971? I haven’t been a teacher since 1971. Usually the students grasp the idea of duration – since 1989 / for 26 years, etc. Something that started in the past and comes to the present. Something that’s not over yet,present-perfect or that’s been finished recently. Let’s say that’s the basic usage of the Present Perfect. So we explain that usually with key words like since, for, yet, Present Perfect will be used. Is it a prescription? Yes. Does it work? Theoretically, yes. The students do the exercises fine. But when they’re in open conversation they drop these pearls: “I didn’t have a vacation, yet” or “I didn’t went to Poland, yet”. Bear in mind I’m talking about Advanced Students. Despite the bad rep grammar drills have nowadays, until someone comes up with a US$ 30,000 language pill, there will always be the necessity to practice until your Present is Perfect.

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

Prêt-à-porter lessons rock

new-years-resolutions

The New Year is finally here and getting old by the second. Preparing my first set of lessons for this coming week. The Idealistic Teacher (or dreamer) will make a resolution to prepare individual lessons customized to every single student. The Awful Teacher will teach whatever the textbook he has been told to use presents. The Realistic Teacher will create some lessons but will also take advantage of the abundance of material available online and adapt to his or her students’ needs. Ready-to-use lessons are a real blessing for every busy and tired teacher.

Take for example the lesson on New Year’s Resolutions from BreakingNewsEnglish.com (http://breakingnewsenglish.com/). The lessons always present excellent material for my classes. And they’re always free. Ok, sometimes students complain the audio recording is a little flat and monotonous but for this price… . As I said yesterday to another student – I was giving away some 200 CDs I’d had in my car which I don’t use any more thanks to bluetooth. (Spring cleaning fever in the middle of summer, go figure). And I told the students – feel free to get as many CDs as you wish. Then a student came up to me and asked – “but is it music or lessons? what sort of music? Will I like the songs?” I turned to him and replied: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. No CDs for you”. I instantly became a CD Nazi. Doh.

For this lesson on New Year’s Resolution I’d start with the picture above (a picture’s worth 1000 words) as a warmer:

Do you have any resolutions for the new year? Then I could share with the students a list of the top new year’s resolutions for 2015. What’s the point in making resolutions? From previous years students are 50/50 – yes / no to resolutions.

Even though the lesson contains 26 pages I usually only print pages 4 and 7 (let’s be environmentally aware) and I can give them the listening activity from Breaking News English as a dictation (I can use the British or American/Canadian recording) and also have students fill in the gaps.

Comprehension Questions or True & False are also great tools to make students speak. Of course when a sentence is false – they must explain why.

Synonym Match is a good vocabulary practice and the Phrase Match is great for matching sentences that make sentence even if they’re not the same as in the original text.

To wrap up I give students some answers about the text and have them ask me the question. It’s my favorite exercise – because questions are a big challenge to most students. They forget word order, auxiliaries, etc. I call this exercise “Yes, No, Maybe so”, I tell them “45%” for example and they have to come up with a question based on the text. Some samples of what they would ask:

How much per cent of people make a New Year’s Resolution? There we have a good opportunity to clarify the difference between HOW MUCH and HOW MANY, for instance.

What I think is missing in the Breaking News English activities is a grammar point, if necessary I can quickly develop some activity related to the text, be it verb tenses, prepositions, phrasal verbs, etc.

As a final activity, if time allows, I can ask them questions on the matter studied and their own opinion. There. Now the teacher has a well-rounded lesson plan that will last at least 60 to 90 minutes and which mostly took him the time just to read the article. (Of course, some teachers will go to class without even having done that. Don’t get me started).

How about me? Will I make New Year’s Resolutions?

Well… I’ll try to be less anxious or afraid of new challenges or opportunities. Secondly, I’ll try not to lose my temper when I have to correct my students for the 10th time within a 10-minute frame.

Cheers and Teach Well,

Mo

Between the Old and the New

This time of the year usually leaves us with a taste of expectation. Christmas is gone and the New Year is not here yet. Classes are out. Many restaurants are closed. Beaches are crowded (we’re talking about December in Brazil, after all) and you find yourself wondering what to do. Prepare classes? Check. Prepare schedule? Check. Grocery shopping? Check. This morning the supermarket was empty, by the way, there were more members of the staff than actual shoppers. Believe you me. That’s not usual in the multiple anthills that form Streesão Paulo.

Last night we had a severe thunderstorm with strong winds – about 100km an hour.  Consequence:  more than 200 trees toppled in the city (a record) and more than 30 traffic lights down and out. Even Ibirapuera Park was closed today because of the after-storm cleanup.

This afternoon, my Student R emailed me checking if she could resume classes in the second week of January – I asked her if bie-57302_-_back_to_school_metallic_fringeMondays at 8am would be good for her and she said “Yes, that would be fine”. Now notice that her classes will be at her office. Previously she had classes at home and she managed to be late for classes and oversleep. Can you believe she’ll make it in time at her office? Let’s just hope this New Year’s Resolution will stick.

I whatsapped  my student A to confirm whether she’d resume classes Friday January 2nd or the following week. Her literal reply: “Nop (sic)! I’d like to schedule for next week – give me a brake (sic)!!!zzzzz” Sure, darling, with the English level you’ve got now you have all the time in the world.

Considering that all, but one, are upper intermediate or higher, usually for my first class in the new year I like to give them some article from the Economist or another newspaper about resolutions in order to explore vocabulary and encourage students to make their own resolutions regarding their language learning progress.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know most resolutions don’t stick but one can hope, right?

You see, I’ve created a folder for holidays in my computer with subfolders for the different holidays of the year.  Under the New Year heading I can find listening activities from Voice of America or BBC, such as the use of calendars, resolutions for the physical exercise challenged, New Year’s Celebrations around the world, crossword puzzles with New Year’s related vocabulary. As for grammar, I often lead my students to Future Tense practice – going to / will/ Present Continuous, etc. A good activity that can be used as a warmer to get students talking is this one:

Future Tense
There are many ways to talk about the future. Here are some patterns that you can use. Write two sentences after each pattern.

I’m going to ~
I’m going to visit my Grandmother on the weekend.
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________

I’ve decided to~
I’ve decided to buy a new computer.
I intend to~
I intend to move to Ireland.
I’m planning to ~
I’m planning on getting a part-time job.
I’m thinking of ~ ing.
I’m thinking of learning Japanese .
I might ~
I might go fishing.

future2

A cartoon is always a good icebreaker as well – the teacher may also erase the text and have students come up with their own captions. Then you may show them the original version.

You see… tons of things to do before the year comes to an end.

Cheers,

Mo

Christmas in Brazil

Saundz.com asked me to describe Christmas in Brazil. Where can I start? Brazil is such a vast and diverse country – clichés apart, we could say that different regions celebrate Christmas in their own way. What I can say is that Christmas in Brazil has always been brazil_map_christmas_tree_ornaments-rf43a682d77f340e2a9e1544683de46ab_x7s2y_8byvr_512the family holiday of the year. In the Brazilian North and Northeast regions I’m aware that some centuries-old traditions, with singers and religious processions looking for the baby Jesus on the streets of the village, etc. In Gramado, southern Brazil, there is a very beautiful Christmas production by the lake with classical soloists and choir.

But here in São Paulo, at least in our family everything is very simple.

Traditionally families get together on Christmas eve, those who are religious go to church for the midnight mass and, then eat supper with lots of turkey, couscous (a Brazilian interpretation can be ceiafound here – http://authenticbraziliancuisine.blogspot.com.br/2011/07/cuscuz-brazilian-interpretations-of.html), rice with vegetables or raisins, salpicão de frango (cold chicken salad – for a quick recipe see http://www.food.com/recipe/salpic-o-de-frango-brazilian-cold-chicken-salad-456992 ). My mother used to love to prepare ONLY for Christmas and New Year’s – what we called pickles  (pronounced

picpicleskreys),and consisting of boiled hot dogs, cucumber, carrots, turnips and some cauliflower buds – they’re tough to stick with a toothpick.

For dessert we can have coconut and pineapple cake, prune pudding, condensed milk pudding, and other attractions that won’t disappoint any sweet tooth.manjar-coco-calda-ameixa

Since I don’t drink any alcohol, my Christmas consists of fruit juice – watermelon and ginger is my latest favorite. Ok, ok, I confess: I might go crazy and have 2 glasses of Coke. melancia

Traditionally, my wife and I go first to my brother’s home where we usually plan to get there around sunset (around 7:30pm). A secret Santa would be ideal, but considering that we see each other twice in a good year, we’d better buy  a little something for everyone – my nephew and niece are grownups now but not very talkative but that’s ok. Sometimes if I try really hard I manage to hear my nephew and niece mumble something that can be construed as “Merry Christmas” or “Hare Krishna” – whatever might suit their mood. We sit down to eat and by 9.30pm we’re leaving to go to my mother-in-law’s home in another part of town, where there will be the grandchildren… now great-grandchildren – who will bring some innocence and joy to the evening. Take the children away, nothing stays. By the way, One thing I can’t understand – at my brother’s and mother-in-law’s the TV is always on during that time – generating some background noise and light – as if they were saying, I’m not that interested in what you’ve got to tell me so let’s watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in silence. Weird!

Around midnight or even before that (if I’m lucky), we wish them all merry Christmas and head home. This year it will be a little different because we have adopted Luther, a black cat, and he will most definitely be waiting for us to return home.

This year, my wife was able to see daddy again after 5 years they’ d grown apart because of alcohol (his not hers) and terrible character (again, his not hers). But God can soften our hearts and this year after his diagnosis of throat cancer, my wife was able to approach her dad again. Believe it or not, that man is no cat but he’s got at least 9 lives. After surviving prostate cancer, bladder cancer, and throat cancer – he’s survived this challenge again and as a present from her heart my Sweetheart took daddy to Rio de Janeiro by plane – first time he visited that city and got on an airplane. The amazing power that God’s love allows us to forgive blows my mind. (Update – unfortunately my wife’s dad, Paulo, passed away on Mother’s Day 2015, talk about irony, may his ashes rest in peace).

So it’s not a bad Christmas at all.

Looking forward to Christmas. (Who am I kidding?)

Ho ho ho,

Mo