Nativism revisited

Last Saturday we invited a new friend for lunch at home. Ivonne arrived from Bolivia back in February where she had been an English teacher and aesthetics consultant (sic) and had a dream to move to Brazil, where she would have more opportunities.

When she arrived she soon started voluntarily teaching English to a group of senior citizens at an NGO. “The experience was interesting”, she said.”But people don’t value things offered for free”. The students’ attendance was terrible and when they did come they wanted to chitchat and not really “study English”.

I warned Ivonne that getting paying English students in Brazil would be difficult in her case because despite her 5 years of English studies with US missionaries in Bolivia, she still had a very thick Spanish accent, including the infamous “Jew” when she means to say “you“.

She said, “Ay, Moacir, I need a job fast”. I told her she could apply at language institutes and private schools to be a teacher of Spanish as soon as she had her transcripts registered in Brazil. But any teaching at a language academy would take time for training. In the meantime she is selling honey sachets door to door.

But what Ivonne said about language teachers startled me:

“Ay, Moacir, Jew speak like an American and jew’re tall and white” – (anyone is tall to her since her height is less than 150cm /4ft) – I won’t get a teaching job here.” “In Bolivia I always wanted to have only native teachers for me. That’s how jew learn. Jew ask them a question they know the answer. A Brazilian or Bolivian teacher won’t know how to respond”.

“The same thing goes to teaching Spanish,” she went on. “Los brasileños think that Spanish is easy but when they start to see the grammar and the verb tenses they go crazy.”

I tried to reason with her “Come on, Ivonne. I’m not a native speaker of English, but I’m an excellent teacher, as you know (to hell with self deprecation)”. She nodded in deep admiration. “And for over 25 years I’ve been teaching English to high executives and people who’ve travelled around the world and it has never been a disqualifying point. I’ve also taught in Canada, the US and Ireland and it’s never been a problem. Yes, it’s true a native speaker may know more phrasal verbs but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to explain to you how to use them. He’ll pronounce a word his way which can be very different between US and British English, for example. More than once have I seen a native speaker not know how to pronounce a word or what it meant. And in addition to that, if the gringo doesn’t know the local language, he won’t understand why you find it so difficult to say girl, or world, whirlwind”. “Actually, many (not all) native teachers abroad have their own agenda and baggage: either they want to convert somebody, or see the world, or escape from their own world.” Believe you me, I’ve seen some native teachers (mostly from Oceania) that didn’t have a loose screw, they had lost that screw a long time ago. What makes a good teacher will be based on 3 very solid foundations:

1. Language knowledge (yes, you can’t teach English or French or Arabic if you don’t speak that language either), learning one’s own or adoptive language is an ongoing process; but that knowledge must be supported by

2. skills (natural and learned) – how many times have you attended a lecture or lesson by a renowned Professor who knows everything about, let’s say, quantum physics but he can’t teach it?

3. Finally, a good to great teacher will be empathetic. He will try to understand and seek for ways to best transmit his subject.”

Ivonne carefully considered all I’d told her, clapped her hands and cheerfully exclaimed:

Jew don’t need to be a native to teach English. Now I got it. I’ll start applying to be a teacher of Portuguese!”

Sigh.

Good luck, Ivonne,

Cheers,

Mo

“Teach me the Present Perfect or I’ll die”

Ok, maybe he didn’t ask me with THOSE EXACT WORDS, but you get the gist. I decided to give a present to a friend of mine who was on vacation but wouldn’t be able to travel. I was feeling like a Genie and the magic lamp and offered him 3 wishes regarding English learning. I said I’d teach him 3 lessons for free and asked him what he would he like to study or review.

Right off the bat he said:

The present perfect, Mo. I don’t know how to use it.”

Students all over the world suffer from this grammatitis infection when they’re exposed to English as a school subject where they have to learn grammar points and vocabulary to pass exams. Period. Not to communicate.

Grammar can be as dry or as lively as the teacher wishes

So I told David a story about Jesus and how he healed Peter’s mother-in-law from a terrible fever.

We worked with rough sketches to represent Jesus in Capernaum.

Where is Jesus? In the synagogue. Going to peter’s house for lunch.

Where is Peter? In the synagogue. Taking Jesus to his home.

Where’s Peter’s mother-in-law? At home. In bed.

What’s wrong with her? She’s sick. She’s ill. She has a fever.

And now… what has Jesus just done? He has healed her.

With that story I could introduce the grammar point I’m trying to teach (Present Perfect)

When teaching grammar, the first No, No is: don’t teach grammar ( on the other hand … don’t treat grammar as a 4-letter word)

How?

1. Avoid discussing aspects of grammar without a context. A dialogue, a story, even a song can add context.

2. Whenever possible give learners time to discover grammar for themselves. In the story about Jesus, what verbs can you see? How were they used?

3. Use games to teach and reinforce grammar. From hangman to tic-tac-toe , to board races.

4. Give learners time to practice grammar in a meaningful way, guide and supervise their practice.

5. Avoid rule teaching … otherwise, learners will focus on the grammar rules and won’t be able to speak it.

Remember that the goal of learning English is to reach a level of acceptable fluency and learner independence.

Cheers,

Mo

(P.S. – yes, he learned the grammar point but now it’s in his hands to notice it around him and use it).

A Christmas Ad Lesson Plan

A. Before you watch the video:

1. Can you remember any Christmas commercial? What made it special or memorable?

BBC One Christmas ad: heartwarming tale or lousy depiction of working mothers?

B. AFTER YOU WATCH THE VIDEO:

1. What was/were the objective(s) of this commercial?

2. who did you see in the opening scene? What time of the day do you think it is?

3. What is the woman doing? Who is she?

4. What is the teenager doing?

5. Who did he text to? What did he write?

6. What is the key message of the tv commercial?

7. What positive and/or negative aspects could you identifica from the story?

Key words:

Rush out

Disconsolate

Arcade game

Dusk

A funfair / a fairground / an amusement park

Candy floss / cotton candy

EMOTIONAL BBC CHRISTMAS ADVERT FREEZES TIME SO MOTHER AND SON CAN BE TOGETHER

There are three hard truths in this advert:

Families need money

Women need recognizing as reliable workers

Vulnerability of boys

C. Fill in the blanks with words from the vocabulary:

1. Go on the rides you haven’t gone on yet and you have spent your time wisely at the ________________.

2. At $199.99 I wouldn’t ____________________ and buy one, however.

3. That species of bird usually flies back home at _______________

4. We could not see an end and it was so ______________________.

5. Life is like ______________, spun of hopes and dreams

“You still coming tonight, Mum?” She says, “Don’t know love. If I’ve got time,”

Key:

Fill in the blanks with words from the vocabulary:

1. Go on the rides you haven’t gone on yet and you have spent your time wisely at thefunfair!

2. At $199.99 I wouldn’t rush out and buy one, however.

3. That species of bird usually flies back home at dusk.

4. We could not see an end and it was so disconsolate.

5. Life is like candyfloss, spun of hopes and dreams

Online Classes – 5 tips on how to get started teaching

Last week, Juliana got in touch with me via Facebook Messenger with the following request:
“Good evening, teacher Moacir, how’s it goin’? I attended your English Sabbath School Class a few years ago and I have become a teacher at IASP ( a school in the interior of São Paulo state). Someone has asked me about online private classes and since I know you teach classes in this manner, I would like to have some tips from you.
I love English, it’s been my passion since I was a little child and now I would like to work with private classes because I feel like I’m cast in plaster with the teaching methods at schools.
If you could help me I would be immensely thankful!”
Well, how could I say “NO” to someone who is passionate about the language and also willing to teach?image
My reply was:
Hello Juliana, I’m really glad you’re interested in teaching online.
1. The first thing you must do is evaluate the student’s level and encourage constancy and define the platform – Skype / FaceTime? How often will they be having classes? once a week? twice? more? From my experience FaceTime has better voice/ image quality than Skype. The limitation is that both parties must be using Apple products.
2. Class time: 50 – 60 minutes (classes with more than an hour online can become too exhausting and student – and teacher – may lose focus).
3. Price: it will vary depending on your public – usually I charge 10-20% less than my “in-person classes” – since I save on transportation and commute time. How much to charge? It will depend on your market – in Brazil it can vary from R$ 35 to R$ 175 per hour. It would be a good idea to negotiate a fixed monthly package.

4. Develop a curriculum – how long will the classes take for the student to change to a higher level? six months? one year? what materials will be used?

5. Homework – I’ve learned that the best approach regarding homework  (especially with “false” beginners and higher levels) is the flipped class style – the student will do the homework before the online class and then the teacher will correct and make the student practice points still not consolidated. Students from Elementary levels on to Advanced should be encouraged to read articles from magazines and newspapers to develop vocabulary and comprehension. They could be asked to read a news story, for instance, and then present a summary during the online session. Translation from L1 to L2 is always a good practice that students should attempt before their class.
esl teaching online 2
Whew… I hope this will give you some ideas. Any questions, just let me know. May God bless you on this new adventure.

Oh, before I forget, it’s super important to have a reasonable internet connection and sound quality.

Happy Sabbath 🙂

Mo

 

Chunking and Pausing

chunkingMany students focus their language learning on memorizing vocabulary. The  most committed ones usually write down the noun, or verb, or idiom mentioned by the teacher in class as if that would be the solution to all their problems. Well, even if that were true, those words would be soon forgotten behind other lists and pages in the student’s notebook never to be seen again. 

But there’s an approach that can be used in class and by students on their own. Fluency and vocabulary memory can be greatly improved by students using CHUNKING AND PAUSING – techniques for effective speaking:

Even intelligibility and clarity improves much more when students focus on volume, pace and chunking instead of only on pronunciation. 

  1. Collocations – strong tea 

                            – heavy traffic /heavy rain 

                             – the national soccer team

2. Idioms – to get cold  feet

Against all odds / 

 

3. Phrasal verbs

put up a great fight / 

put up with your boss

4. a whole sentence / clause

Thousands took to the streets –

 

The Teacher must help students to:

recognize chunks and 

practice their use

 

Pauses and chunks package information for the listener. Speakers divide speech into ‘chunks’, which may be single words or groups of words to communicate a thought or idea, or to focus on information the speaker thinks is important.

Without the use of pausing and chunking, it is  hard for listeners to follow your meaning and they may be overwhelmed with too much information.

Look at these examples. Try reading both of them out loud. Which one do you think a listener would understand better?

Contextualization: 

Sample 1

Does it really matter whether people speak with an accent as long as they can be easily understood many people now believe that in an increasingly globalized world we should accept variations in pronunciation that is accent. however there’s no point in speaking with an accent if people can’t understand you is there?

Sample 2

Does it really matter /

whether people speak with an accent /

as long as they can be easily understood?//

Many people now believe /

that in an increasingly globalized world /

we should accept variations in pronunciation /

that is / accent. //

However /

there’s no point in speaking with an accent /

if people can’t understand you /

is there?//

Speech chunks and pauses are marked with a slash / or // for a longer pause.

http://www.uts.edu.au/current-students/support/helps/self-help-resources/pronunciation/pausing-and-chunking

Source: University of Technology Sydney 

But chunking is only one rung on the language learning ladder. All that vocabulary must be firmly grounded on basic but solid grammar structure. vocabulary notebook

Cheers and good speaking,

Mo

What Do EFL Students Want?

I simply love the cartoon below and the myriad of variations of the text. But it leads me to try to find some answers to this ever-present question.

what we want

WHAT DO STUDENTS WANT? 

Find below some of the answers my own students have given me in recent months:

“A tough teacher”

“A demanding teacher”

“A patient teacher”

“A kind teacher”

“A teacher who teaches me English”

“I don’t like English so I want a teacher who’ll make me like English”

“My worst grade in High School was 7. The subject? English, of course” 

“Never needed it.”

“Read for gist and presto”

“I can understand what I hear or read by Deduction and logic”

“I want to speak and understand in one year”

“I want perfection in my writing and speech”

“I want to speak proper English not the ‘patois’ my father uses” 

“I don’t know exactly”.  

And the list could go on and on. 

Students’ wants can be endless but their needs – as far as language learning applies are simple:

They need a teacher who loves the language

who knows what he’s teaching

Who can motivate and create opportunities for students to grow

If students really want to learn, they will have to dedicate time, effort and money, how much they invest (especially time and effort) will determine the return they’ll have on e investment.

what I want 2

As regards to perfection, no one can expect it in a language that has regular and irregular verbs and tons of exceptions to any rule. Beauty yes, perfection just a pie in the sky. So be realistic, optimistic or even pessimistic but leave perfectionist in the closet.

Keep on growing.
Cheers,
Mo

TOEFL OR BUST

How can you measure the level of communication skills a person has? Can they write? Can they read and interpret a text? Can they understand what they’re told to do? Can they express their thoughts in a clear and objective way? Well… that’s a tough task in your mother tongue. Imagine in a second or third language.

I’ve never been much of a supporter of language exams conveying the idea that Language is just one more school subject in which you must have high scores. And it feels like it’s just one more scheme for publishers to milk money off potential victims. toefl guideYou and I know that language is much more than 101 points on TOEFL (out of 120), for example. But the reality is that there is a need for more objective and fast assessment tools for specific purposes; and exams still are the tool du jour to do that.

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. Today the TOEFL iBT (internet-Based Test) is the most used tool to measure the student’s  ability to use and understand English at the university level in North America. And it evaluates how well they combine their listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks. TOEFL-test

So… when a former student, Vitoria,  contacted me and asked me for some classes to prepare for the TOEFL I was a little hesitant and tried to come up with excuses not to take her on. I said that I like to teach real-life communication not preparatory tips and schemes to reach a high score in a test; I didn’t have an open slot for a new student; I only teach from home; Etc. But how can a teacher say No to a student? Answer me that if you can.

I took the TOEFL back in 1987/88, not yesterday you could say, a time when no computers were used (yes, Dinosaurs also have feelings) – you would receive a booklet with the questions and an answer sheet and be interviewed by a real teacher. Maybe a little more nerve wrecking than just recording yourself.

As in all exams, the goal is to narrow as much as possible the scoring criteria, so even if you come up with a question such as “What’s the meaning of life” – the examiner will be looking for very specific content.

In Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, summarizing is a highly valued skill and connecting the dots in order to answer what has been asked.

A key point is: Make sure TO ANSWER THE QUESTION.keep-calm-and-pass-the-toefl-2

In the Writing Section the student will be judged based on their development, organization and language use.

In the Speaking Section, the students will be analyzed based on their:

Delivery  – clear, fluid, pronunciation, intonation, pace

Language Use – grammar and vocabulary – apparently raters love some connecting words and phrases such as:

  • because
  • so
  • after that
  • on the other hand (which is a very good phrase and requires attention because many students still say “IN the other hand/way/side”)
  • I want to mention
  • what this means is

Topic Development – fully answered, clearly expressed, connected ideas.

What this means is…

  • don’t speak too quickly
  • time yourself when you practice
  • listen carefully
  • summarize the opinions.

So…  my best piece of advice for my students is: practice, practice, practice. Make the language your constant companion. And shine on.toefl 1

Cheers,

Mo