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

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Are There Any Bad Students?

First and foremost, let’s cut that politically correctness crap that anyone can learn a second language and that there are no bad students. That’s not true. I’ve learned it the hard way.

I’m not talking about those individuals who are pure evil… What I’m just saying is that some people should focus their efforts on something attainable.

Let’s face it: some people are great learners. Others are average. Others suck at that. I was great at History/Geography and sucked at Math. Great at English and sucked at Portuguese literature. That depends on:

Personality

Commitment

Intellect

that is how your brain works. Image result for brain clipart

 

So… what makes a bad student?

1. Has No realistic goals – expects to be speaking and understanding everything in 6 hours/days/weeks.

2. Passively receives information and believes that the teacher will concoct a magic potion that will make them learn – doesn’t know why they’re learning.

3. Waits for the teacher to present interesting things for him to watch, read and listen to (during class time, of course)

4. Never reviews or records any lesson material

5. Displays weak learning skills – won’t take notes but doesn’t hav learns r-e-a-l-l-y slowly, if ever.

6.  Feels Forced to learn

The positive point is that bad learners can be converted into good learners.

First, find out what makes them tick. What motivates them (unless they’re clinically depressed – then advise them to seek medical and psychological care).

Assess their needs and their learning strengths and weaknesses – do they have a good memory? Are they slightly dyslexic? Do they need speech therapy? How’s their hearing?

Empathize

Provide opportunities for success.

Cheers,

Mo

5 tips to learning/practicing a new language

 

Many people complain that they’ve been stuck in the same language level for ages. What to do? Resign and move on?

How about losing weight without dieting and exercise? How about getting hydrated without having to drink any liquids? Or tv zapping using your brainwaves? No remote control necessary. Far fetched? The same goes to learning another language without taking time and effort into the calculation. So here are 5 fail-proof steps that will actually help you learn another language and move up to the next level.

WARNING – these steps may actually help you learn 🤪

  1. Expose yourself to the language – videos, listen to radio programs, leaf through magazines and newspapers in the target language, being in that country or not.
  2. Have language classes – get feedback – some learn by themselves but there is always room for improvement and a teacher or friend fluent in that language may be able to help you.
  3. Use Duolingo or Lingq apps  for practice
  4. Extensive reading – read a lot for fun and understanding. Yes books are still in. Don’t stop to look up every single word you don’t know. Choose a book that might have a vocabulary level a little higher than yours but not too difficult. Even the Bible. Choose a translation that is going to be easier for you.  Allow yourself to read every night/ morning for 15-20 minutes.
  5. a notebook – write down any key words meaningful to you.
Set yourself a goal: 5 words  a day,  for example – set a page per day – make flashcards – make the new vocabulary relevant and present to you – go over them  15 minutes every day – write the translation and the word in context – choose sentences or examples taken from what you heard, read or looked up on Linguee or any other source.
  There you go… ready for the next level.
Cheers,
Mo

The role of the language teacher in the classroom

The role of the teacher in the classroom must not be underestimated. So whether you’re still wet behind your ears or have grown prematurely grey due to the many years of teaching, here are some good reminders

  1. Be keen and approachable. Make sure your students know your name. You have an identity. Apologise when necessary.
  2. Avoid too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time). No matter your students’ level they want to be able to speak. A lot of a teacher’s talking time is just lost on the students. It feels very teacher-oriented when one is explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but students still don’t know what’s going on.
  3. Teach the students, not the plan. The teacher must be adaptable and flexible.
  4. Find a balance between allowing students to communicate freely and proper pronunciation correction.
  5. Avoid a deluge of photocopies. It’s very easy to get disorganised. From the very beginning encourage students to create their own book with the copies and a binder.
  6. Don’t expect perfection, and give encouragement. Sometimes the teacher is so eager on perfection that they won’t let students utter anything without it being perfect.
  7. Seek a balance between the grammar, vocab and pronunciation. 

 

The par excellence teaching approach philosophy today is “student-centered” which is all right and good, but then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. That’s where the teacher fits in.

This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too. teacherprofiles-infographic11

Happy teaching,
Cheers,

Mo

Source: Thanks to the notes on teacher observation provided by Luke Thompson. Teacher Luke’s English Podcast https://teacherluke.co.uk/2018/02/16/512-my-experiences-of-not-learning-french-part-2-learning-language-in-a-classroom-vs-learning-on-your-own/

 

Hey Siri: using technology in language teaching

We have amazing computers disguised as phones and it’s time for the teacher and students to feel smarter than their phones. You can use Siri or other voice assistant apps to practice and even learn a language.

If you have an iPhone, Siri can be your language practice partner. To ask Siri a IMG_9387question, you have to pronounce the English words correctly in order to get an answer, so you get a chance to work on your speaking skills. Through Siri’s answers, you’ll hear proper or standard pronunciation and learn the right ways to respond to certain questions.

You can ask Siri:

what’s the weather today?

How’s traffic now?

Set an alarm / Set a timer 

Send an email to … / call …

You can also have some fun with Siri’s pre-loaded messages such as

When is the world going to end?

will you marry me?

can you teach English?

I’m fed up.

Just dictating a word if Siri gets your pronunciation correctly.

You can also say:

Spell “charge”

show me images of a “porcupine”

Although technology is extremely helpful when you’re learning English, real-world, human interaction also matters, but no question Siri can have more of a say in your language adventure.

Cheers,

Mo

How to spend a lifetime in teaching? 🤗🤔

This week I came across an episode of the podcast TEFL Training Institute with the question quoted above where Ross (one of the hosts) interviewed his parents who worked as teachers for a combined total of almost 50 years. And myself? Well, I started at my church’s Sabbath School initially teaching the primary class (kids between 8-12) . I was 15 at the time, so I’ve been involved with teaching for over 35 years. The questions asked on the podcast are relevant to all of us involved in teaching either as volunteers, professionals or both. Here they are:

1. How do you keep yourself motivated? 

Professionally speaking – money is a motivating factor. yeah, yeah… You may say whatever you want but you still need to pay your bills at the end of the month and buy a pair of shoes once in a while. But although money is a very visible factor, it isn’t enough to get you going. I like speaking in different languages, so… I look forward to every opportunity I have to speak in English, Spanish or French. I love watching tv in other languages. I like reading magazines and newspapers from other countries. The students are the same but also different. You’ll have similar difficulties and challenges but their attitude, behaviour, reactions always surprise me. I’m always open to learning new words, getting to use new teaching materials. I wish I could attend more TEFL conferences, but sometimes they end up demotivating me using the same themes ad nauseamIMG_9078, being more of a marketplace where language schools and publishers come to sell their goods instead of teachers discussing their best practices and the future of their industry. Since traveling can be quite expensive I really appreciate when the organisers of those events make them available online on YouTube.

2. How has teacher training changed? 

Sadly enough I haven’t notice great changes in teacher training. You may use a smart screen instead of an overhead projector but still present the same ideas, and interaction activities.

3. What advice do you have to new teachers?

Welcome to this rewarding career. Yes, there will be challenges and you will never become a millionaire from your classes (Some exceptions may apply) but you will be always learning and always growing if not from anything else, from at least being in touch with some wonderful human beings, yes, you’ll also encounter some dreadful, horrid creatures, but they are still, thank goodness, too few and far in between.

Happy teaching and enjoy the journey.

Cheers,

Mo

Freelancing as a Teacher

One of these days my wife and I were talking about two young men close to us in their 20s and how lost they’re feeling regarding their career path. To protect their identity let us call them E. and A.IMG_9316

 E. has already worked in IT for big multinationals like Danone and has decided he doesn’t want to work in the corporate world anymore, the pressure, the competitiveness, etc have not been appealing to him,  but he doesn’t know what direction to take. Should he become a freelance teacher, a translator, a missionary? Meanwhile, A. has never worked – only studied and doesn’t know if he would like to follow the path of engineering he chose earlier since he’s never tasted it. So now he’s working as a delivery boy for a small restaurant during the week.

My wife said to me “Now I know how your brother must have felt when you said you were quitting your steady and well-paying job at a national bank to pursue your dream as a teacher” .

But differently from the two young men mentioned above I knew what I wanted AND didn’t want. I didn’t want to spend my days behind a desk. I wanted to be a teacher. And I needed to have an income right away… no daddy to send me monthly allowances.

In my naïveté I not even knew I could be a freelancing teacher. So, initially I looked for jobs at language schools. But over 20 years ago I saw the possibility of flying solo and earning my living as a freelance teacher. The benefits are:

IMG_9317Positive:

  • you develop your own career path and make more money, not having to give at least 50% of what your students pay to the language school.
  • You choose where and when to work.
  • You can fire those horrible students (it takes courage but your mental sanity is worth it)
  • You can choose when you’re going away on vacation
  • You get immediate feedback and know what works and doesn’t work.

Negative:

  • you must always be prospecting for new students
  • No basic or fringe benefits – no health insurance, paid holidays, sick day leave, paternity leave (you know what I mean), or even no access to the company’s restroom – (yes, it’s true, damned the designers and architects of some corporate buildings which hide away the toilets and the enforcers of condo rules such as “no access to the toilet unless accompanied by your respective student)

But I chose this path and despite its highs and lows I wouldn’t have done it  differently. I’ve been in charge of my professional destiny and I’m sure many other mortals have never been able to breathe outside their gilded cage.

I’m quite often reminded of this Bible verse which has been proven true to me over and over again. Psalm 37:25:

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (King James Version) 

My advice to you if you’re considering freelancing – jump into the water and go free, or tread slowly just freelancing a couple of hours a week and no matter where you land it will have been worth the risk.

Cheers and Happy Teaching, IMG_9318

Mo