Language as a tool

Having joined a family full of nephews (a few) and nieces (lots) I’ve been many a time asked if I could teach them English… my first instinct is to tell them – “I learned it by myself go and do likewise”,  but my soft heart tends to say yes under some conditions:

  1. They’ll do the assigned homework
  2. They won’t act as royal pains

    Big family bigger dreams

The latest niece to join the gang in showing interest to learn English is Maria Eduarda who at 14 had always resisted to the idea of learning English quoting that same old idea of “I not even know portuguese well why should I learn English” or “We speak Portuguese in Brazil” – etc etc, so…

So last week, Eduarda finally gave in, she asked my wife if she could teach her English and basic computer skills.  Quickly I told my wife – try to teach her computer skills using English. That’s what I’ve always encouraged. Using language as a tool to reach different goals not a goal in itself.

Cheers,

Mo

The importance of bilingualism in education and its myths

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a summer conference on bilingual education in São Paulo under the theme: “Education is our passport to the future”. One of the guest speakers, Vinicius Nobre, Academic Manager at Associação Cultura Inglesa, presented a great talk  on the matter of the Future of Language and Bilingual education.img_9338

Nobre initially highlighted some of the myths in learning a second language (English, in his more specific case):

  • you can learn English in 3 months
  • you work for a month at Disney World and you’ll return fluent
  • Only native speakers can properly teach the language
  • You can learn that language only if you travel abroad
  • Living in a monolingual country makes it impossible / or too hard to learn a second language

The list could go on indefinitely but the point about Brazil being a monolingual country and that being a myth – just blew my mind. There are around 210 langimg_9317uages spoken in Brazil  – including  indigenous languages and around 30 languages through immigration from Europe and Asia (not counting those from Africa and Latin America). Studies show that only 5% of Brazilians consider themselves proficient in English. You can see that as an opportunity or a tragedy.

By dispelling those myths, Nobre went on to his next question:

“For decades millions have been invested in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language in Brazil. So why is it so low?”

And I repeat: Why is the foreign language proficiency level in Brazil still so low? Considering that the teaching of English as a Foreign Language has been mandatory in Brazil for all public and private schools since the mid-1970), we could add that this problem happens in many other countries around the world where the teaching of a foreign language is treated as just another school subject).

Instead of being a means to an end, the teaching of a foreign language is seen as an end unto itself. Also, the informality of the profession doesn’t help it at all. Bilingual schools can call themselves so without any regulation from education authorities. They can offer English classes one hour a day or teach many different subjects in English and Portuguese and fall under the same category of “bilingual education”. Teachers can be hired literally off the street or even worse, schoools can hire those who have a teaching degree and are absolutely underqualified.

So, what can be done?

  1. Teachers must learn to take more advantage of our business and make it more relevant;

      2. The teaching of English is a kaleidoscope of subjects – and the study of language    teaching is relatively speaking a very recent discipline;

      3. To learn another language – interaction and the ability to listen to others is essential:  you must learn to listen actively;

      4. The language is not the end but a means of communication;

The language classroom is an environment of high creativity – challenged to be more innovative and more critical.

A good language class will be a means of communication – “I’m not studying English I’m learning to communicate”

Is it possible to change this paradigm?

We are now experiencing an anti-globalization mood – with mediocrity as king – but even in such times as these, or maybe more so, to be able to speak another language will be even more valuable.

Until the first half of the 20th century, language had been pegged to  national identity – it was deeply political. – in some instances to speak another language was considered a betrayal of your country  – this happened in Brazil during World War II when any speakers of German, Italian or Japanese were seen with suspicion and regarded as likely traitors or informers.

Add to that the false belief that all the stress of learning another language could  harm you  and be bad to your mind.
See all those language teachers? They’re a little “weird” wouldn’t you say? They’ve got a screw loose.”

  • Fortunately there is hope. Teachers must become more aware of their role and importance in society:
  •  Socially you are ahead if you speak another language;
  • A teacher won’t have great salaries but he won’t be unemployed;
  • The career of a teacher – is a threatened species – threatened by government policies and dwindling investments in teacher education and infrastructure. Sooner or later they’ll wake up to the reality that teachers are important;
  • And based on so many studies just to know the fact that learning another language wards off mental diseases… in case of doubt you have at least learned a language.

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    On the theme of being bilingual or multilingual: “All of us are multi-local, multi-layered. To begin our conversations with an acknowledgment of this complexity brings us closer together. Not further apart.” Taiye Aseli

And NO! I won’t apologize for having taken the time and effort to learn another language.

Speak away,

Cheers,

Mo

My red, white and blue (and black) summer vacation

Yeah, yeah, I know, Virginia. I live in the Southern Hemisphere therefore I should have had winter vacations this July, but considering my wife and I traveled to the US – let’s agree to keep it as a summer vacation.

I’ve succeeded in convincing my sweetheart that I need to recycle my English and inhale some American oxygen every year ( don’t forget I’m an Americanoid) , so we always make an effort and try to travel to America at least once a year.

This time we traveled to Orlando, Florida and Dallas, Texas. In Orlando we met up with our “stepfamily” – Liz and Ray, their 15-year-

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From Left to right: Jared, Honey, Mo, Ma Helen, Liz, and Ray

old son, Jared, and the matriarch, Helen. We spent two intense days and although I had some idea about visiting a theme park – namely Universal Studios – we actually ended up visiting only The Holy Land Experience, which was quite surprising.

 

 

 

IMG_3250At the entrance you just see a bunch of fake rocks and buildings but once inside the staff and the people attending generate a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. There are no “rides”, just some exhibition areas where you can see, for example, a life-size replica of the tabernacle in the desert, the Via Dolorosa (way cleaner and brighter than the real thing, I dare say), the Lord’s supper where you partake of the bread and the wine with Jesus himself (well, OK, every Jesus is an ordained minister – but it’s still a moving experience). You can visit a sort of wax museum where you can see scenes of Jesus’ life: birth, ministry, Garden of Gethsemane, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension).

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The Temple of Herod

The highest point was the series of dramatizations taking place at the auditorium of he Church of the Nations. Stories about the four women who had a life-changing encounter with Jesus; the crucifixion; a modern-day parable about Angels, the moments of praise and worship all designed to successfully move you to tears. And I must say they powerfully succeeded with us. The day ends with a musical show of the fountains. I had

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The Via Dolorosa – way brighter and cleaner than the real thing

thought the experience would take us 2-3 hours, but we spent the whole day there and were the last guests to leave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We flew to Dallas and despite the toasty, roasty temperatures we had a wonderful 4th of July weekend there. With a patriotic concert of Larnelle Harris, barbecue at sister-in-law’s home and a fantastic fireworks display at the Dallas Athletic Club. We returned to Brazil on the 5th of July and I was very saddened by the news of the sniper killing and wounding police officers in Dallas.

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Thinking allowed after the latest crises in America

In Orlando we had the opportunity to visit the memorial for the victims of the Pulse nightclub and every time the subject came up people would be extremely touched and saddened by that ignominious attack. But one thing that called my attention was that some people (let’s assume they were unaware of that) made some comments that bordered on racism such as:

“I don’t know why we bought a home in Apopka. There are too many black people in the area. At least, we bought it on the white side.” (Come again, ma?)

In Dallas, we stayed at the Comfort Suites in the northern part of the city because people had warned us the south side was too violent and dangerous (should I have heard “too many black people”?), but our hotel would lock its doors after 9 pm, because it’s not a very safe area. Hmmm… .

We went to the Larnelle Harris concert at the First Baptist church in Lewisville – and considering that Larnelle is a wonderful African-American gospel singer – his was the only dark face we could see in the whole church – sadly still confirming the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement who once said “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” And apparently little has changed.

It still boggles my mind that the organization of my dear Seventh-Day Adventist Church – still maintains separate conferences for whites and African-Americans.

On a brighter note, we had the privilege to meet our nephew’s husband for the first time. And YES, he is gay and black. Does it mean that he will have to die twice?

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from left to right: me, my wife, our nephew Alex and his husband, Aaron

From what I understand he didn’t choose to be gay or black but I can choose to accept them and love them despite the differences. I cannot control the hatred and prejudice that permeate our world but I can choose how to deal with people’s differences.

That’s it.

Cheers,

Mo

Golden Birthday Boy

On a warm summer night, December 09, 1965, a baby boy was born. Hopefully bringing joy to his parents, family, friends, and students.

Needless to say,  many things have happened over the past half century. Things that as a little boy in Brazil I would not even have dared to dream. But God has been good all the time.

Now –  50 years old – 32 of which, working as a language teacher. Yes, I’ve been a program director, teacher trainer, etc, but never forsook the calling to be a teacher with all the simplicity and complexity that career choice entails.

Time to stop and ponder what I would have done differently and I can confidently say, nothing, both professionally and personally.  I consider myself extremely happy or blessed (yes, now I don’t have to  be afraid to say that word) and grateful for the many blessings the good Lord has poured down on me.

Retire? As long as I have breath and mental and physical conditions I intend to continue sharing a little of the experience of learning a language with whomever is willing to work with me. IMG_4917.JPG

What lies ahead? Only the good Lord knows but he’s promised each one of us that “his plans are to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

I don’t see myself getting a red convertible in a middle age crisis.  Streaking across a football field?  Well…, maybe, but whatever comes my way, may the Lord help me to appreciate each day as a unique gift. IMG_9738.JPG

As John Lennon wisely said:

“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.”

Cheers and Happy New Year,

Mo

 

 

5 Tips to Survive Life with a Road Warrior Queen

Yesterday I came across Reginald Chan’s blog called 10 Tips to Survive Life with a Road Warrior (see the link here https://t.co/mzwn95okAx) and it exactly reflected my experience these days.

I am not married to a Road Warrior woman road warrior

but to a “Warrioress” (oh the sexism of a language) or a Warrior Princess or Queen.

Traditionally, men were the ones who had jobs or at least the most demanding and exciting jobs – traveling and meeting people from other parts of the world, speaking other languages, making more money, etc.

In the 21st century, that stereotype, although still strongly represented, has been busted by intelligent, beautiful and powerful women. One of them being my Sweetheart.

For many years I had the privilege to accompany her when she had to travel on business – Germany, France, Portugal, Mexico, Panama, Spain, and the list goes on and on …) but over the last two years I’ve grown tired of traveling – all the airport hassle, the seemingly endless hours on a plane, have made all that travel glamour (if it ever existed) lose its luster at least for me. Let’s not forget the fact that we added Luther, our lovely black cat, to our family in 2014, and somebody has got to mind the cat. And I’ll do it with pleasure.

But work continues to take my sweetheart away – one week to Mexico, the other to the Bahamas, the other to Chile, Argentina… and now the farthest so far: Singapore.

And I told my wife, “well, you gotta go, right? – so go at full blast!”

Can a relationship not only survive but thrive long-distance? My answer from the rooftops is: YES!!!

Here are my tips  to survive life with a Road Warrior Queen (or King)

  1. Pray with her and on her behalf – we first met at an English bible class – so God has always been huge in our lives – first and last – the old cliché “a couple who prays together stays together” has been proven true.
  2. Show interest in her work/destination – go online read about the places she’ll be visiting, talk to her about what will be happening.
  3. Listen – you don’t have to come up with quotable quotes or great pieces of advice – listen to what she has to say.
  4. Life goes on – she is on the other side of the world but this side of the world is still turning – keep your life going, don’t isolate yourself from the world. You are one entity/ one team/ one partnership but 2 individuals.
  5. Make use of Technology – Thanks to technology you still can talk or even see each other – use WhatsApp or FaceTime, Skype, etc – carefully set aside some time to do it. Jet lag will take its toll but a few minutes together will comIMG_7112pensate for that.Traveling takes its toll – they need our support and encouragement

There! five points like the five fingers of one hand. Hope these ideas can help you, they have most definitely helped me.

Cheers,

Mo

Welcome to the Family

The old cliche never seems to lose its power – Blood is thicker than coffee, or water, or wine, or whatever suits your liking, but the meaning is quickly understood. Family/blood ties trump it all.

This was last brought to my attention by my 9-year old nephew (on my wife’s side) when talking about a “family-only issue”  he proclaimed: “Michael (his aunt’s fiancé) is not invited because he’s not part of the family”. Back in January I was the target of this “not-one of us” approach and it still stings.

It’s amazing how this “cosa nostra” feeling permeates the psyche of many people. One of my students planned a trip with her siblings to Italy and loved every single moment and experience with them (all in their 40s and 50s). All spouses were politely excluded because their additions to the family represented only appendices that may come and go. Family stays forever.

Family members only, please
Family members only, please

Maybe because my family was not very united and a little bit atomically disperse, I never shared this feeling of “only family cardholders allowed”. I’ve always felt ready to embrace people from other families, and even wished, heaven forbid, to belong to some other families when growing up. Who hasn’t?

This extends to some nationalistic feelings. Once you’ve been made a citizen of a country with all the same rights as any person born in that country before the law, you may still find yourself stigmatized by someone who claims that only true red, white and blue American-born people are real Americans. This would extend to any number of countries or flag colors.

But it brings me to the Language learning issue of the day: native speakers of English (or any other language for that matter) like to bask in the fact that they were blessed with a mother tongue that no foreigner will ever be able to perfectly replicate.

Whether that feeling is real, or just perceived as real, is not the heart of the matter. Foreigners who need to learn that new language for a thousand different reasons and who apply themselves, will, to a certain degree, accomplish their goal. If they will speak it with or without an accent or the most accurate triple phrasal verb is immaterial if they succeed in conveying the message and being heard, understood and respected.

Embrace the outsider.

Cheers,

Mo

The Elephant in the Manger

Well, … the long-awaited, dreaded, expected Christmas has come and it’s almost gone; already getting ready for 2015. This late afternoon while I’m listening to Christmas carols on Ireland’s RTE1 http://www.rte.ie/radio1 I’m taking a quick balance of this year’s Christmas in Brazil for our families of course. Oh by the way, this morning we listened to a great African Christmas song on RTE1 – you gotta check it out on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pY_7RBn00Es

Well, Christmas eve started off even better than I expected – this year, my brother and sister-in-law decided to join her family in her sister’s home – so there were just the 4 of us – silence and opportunity to talk despite the continuous mumble of the TV (always on – see previous blog on Christmas). The latest news was that a burglar or burglars had climbed up their upstairs front window last Sunday afternoon – while everybody was gathered downstairs, my brother lives in a 2-story house. But thank God neither the burglars came downstairs nor the family went upstairs while they were stealing with their filthy hairy hands any fake or real jewellery, watches, notebook and anything else they thought of value.  Unfortunately their traditionally quiet neighborhood in São Paulo’s Ipiranga area has become a magnet to low-burning crime. IMG_1142

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But I had said that Christmas is all about family in Brazil – I should correct myself – Christmas in Brazil is all about FOOD. My sister-in-law had prepared a wonderful Christmas dinner for us. Lovely!

After dinner, we left at around 9.30pm – as scheduled – to go to my mother-in-law’s where my wife’s family would get together around the Elephant in the manger. Yes, let elephant-in-the-room-audialtempartemme explain: one of her brothers, Paul*, has quite often been cheating on Marilou*, his wife – she knows about it, but is always willing to forgive him. Detail, Paul* has never held a steady job so Marilou* has always been their family’s breadwinner.

This time, Paul has said that he has finally found a woman who understands him and he has decided to leave Marilou. Of course, he has not said it outloud, but whispered the idea to one of his sisters. However, Paul* does not have a place to stay IF and WHEN he leaves home, his dad has already told him he can’t check in at his home. So… last night, did I mention it was Christmas eve? – we got to my mother-in-law’s and Marilou* was there with their son, Tiny Mark*. Where was Paul? “Making company to his divorced dad who was alone” – actually, spending time with his new witch with a capital B. And the elephant continued sitting there right in front of the TV. Of course, Brazilians love their soap opera so Marilou* had to push the elephant a little aside so she could watch the latest episode of the 9pm soap. Presents were exchanged and we left at midnight.

Today we went back for lunch – at my mother-in-law’s – who was there among the family? Paul* – cooking a roastbeef and turkey, Marilou* – sitting with a little drool in the corner of her mouth and Tiny Mark – as a “happy family” – and the elephant? As the main decoration on the table, naturally.

Marilou* had prepared a delicious chocolate and coconut pudding for dessert – but my wife and I decided to pass – even though it looked delicious. But one never knows what one can get out of food prepared in anger, tears, grief, desperation, and a tad of madness.

Anyways, we left at 4pm and returned to our peaceful corner.

Hope you had a great holiday. And ready for the New Year’s celebrations?

Cheers,

Mo

*All names have been changed to protect the elephant in the manger