Teaching in the 21st Century – Part 1

Quite often when we think about anything related to the 21st Century, including teaching, we think of the use of technology, gadgets and the internet. We feel we must have Smart boards, tablets, online classes, video sharing, social media, and the list goes on and on. But what every teacher must remember is that his main working material consists of brains inside living organisms labeled as learners, students or pupils.

I’ve just finished studying a book published back in 1997 but with ideas still relevant today for every language teaching professional: Psychology for the Language Teacher (CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS) by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden.

Professional Development: Psychology for Language Teachers

Undoubtedly some advances and finds have taken place in psychology and the human science of teaching and pedagogy over the past 20 plus years, but some things never change and must be remembered, reviewed and implemented. Sooner or later we will stop referencing to “21st century” and just say ” Teaching”.

The book presented 10 key points on Language Teaching, this first part of my post will work on the first three items:

1. There’s a difference between learning and education.

Learning: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.

these children experienced difficulties in learning”

Education: the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.

“a new system of public education”

A quick look at these first definitions present a great distinction between both processes, which intersect in many areas … both involve receiving knowledge or instruction, but a key distinction is that learning involves the development of skills through experience.

Joi Ito beautifully summed it up: “Education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do for yourself

Here it is graphically represented:

Now that we have the distinction we can move to the second point.

2. Learners learn WHAT is meaningful to them.

I can try ad nauseam to inculcate in my students the state capitals of the US, the beautiful wording of the Declaration of Independence, the Scottish Calvinist values, etc… but they will not profit from that if they don’t see a purpose or meaning in that. I always ask my students at the beginning of their course about their goals, current activities, hobbies and dreams so that the lessons may be geared towards intrinsic motivation resulting in effective learning. I’m not saying that students
who live in the favelas in Rio should only be taught vocabulary about getting water from a well or snorting glue… (yes, yes, it’s just an example, don’t get up in arms about it) They must learn based on their reality and context but also from that point the teacher can and must build a path where learners will be introduced to a better way and a broader world.

3. Learners learn IN WAYS that are meaningful to them.

I love reading but if my student is interested in speaking “only” I must adapt the course so that any reading they do is impregnated with the spoken language – it can be an interview, a novel rich in dialogue, even part of a play … as long it’s language relevant and appropriate to their level. If they like movies, or sports, let them search and learn about what interests them. Here again Language is a tool not an end unto itself.

Writing is really important for learners to process and review their language acquisition but instead of asking them to write a 500-600 word essay (unless they’re preparing for an exam where such activity is required), why not have them write a business related email? Or even a text message including abbreviations, emojis and shortcuts?

Please, bear in mind that my students are adults who have already gone through their academic process and now need English or Spanish mostly for employment purposes and career advancement opportunities. Actual Fluency in English will be a plus for any CV or Résumé in a non-English speaking nation. The point is that it must be true not just wishful thinking; hence the person’s awareness that they are no longer “students”, but “learners”

Cheers. Happy learning.

Mo

The Secrets of Learning a New Language

For some people to speak one language is already a challenge. Two languages and some already feel on the top of the mountain. Can you imagine speaking 3, 4 or more languages? Being a polyglot?!

Not everyone needs to speak more than one language but there is no question how useful a second or more languages can be… even for the shiest person who never plans to leave his hometown.

But … how can you achieve that?

Let me cut to the chase or the cheese (as some of my students understand it) and tell you that there is no single way to learn a language. It depends on several factors, especially motivation, time and skills the learner may have. Despite that, there are some good pieces of advice any language learner can use:

1. Start speaking from day one – some methods encourage hours of listening before the student utters his first sound… but my advice is: start mumbling those new sounds as soon as you can. if you have someone to talk to, a teacher, a tutor or your cat, great. If not, no worries, talk to yourself.

Speak even if to yourself from day one

2. Start listening to natives of the language you’re learning – YouTube, internet radio, get familiar with the sounds of the language even if not understanding it.

3. Imitate the sounds – yes… learning a language works wonders on those self conscious people… break down your walls of fear of shame or embarrassment…

4. Start learning the language by reading its grammar

5. Memorize key words of the target language (until you reach 500 key words, for example) use paper or digital flashcards for instance.

6. Find ways to enjoy the learning process. Every learner will have unique ways. Even if you’re a genius, you’ll see there are no shortcuts to language learning. Do something pleasant with the target language EVERY DAY.

7. Be patient.

This short list is not comprehensive and not all items apply to everyone… pick and choose and start learning your dream Language today.

Cheers,

Mo

You don’t need to be in a classroom to learn another language. The world is your classroom

Summer Immersion Courses – a fading memory

This morning, around 4am, my eyes popped open and refused to shut again, so with 2 more hours before the alarm clock went off I started reminiscing about a summer immersion program I was invited to participate nearly 20 years ago. When I calculated how long it had been I couldn’t believe my own synapses.

It was January 1997, and I was a partner director at ICS Intercultura – a language assistance firm struggling to make ends meet. A person in charge of the English language program on the campus of a University in São Paulo contacted me – knowing I was an English teacher and said that their language center would be very happy if I would help them in that year’s English Immersion program. It was a 2-week program from 9am to 5pm five days a week where students would attend language lessons and other activities in English.

I jumped at the idea of getting to know their program and they were also going to pay me for teaching in the program.

The first meeting already pulled down my castle of dreams – the director, dr. James – a US born teacher with “light-years” of experience in teaching – thanked me for accepting the invitation and told me I would be working along with another young teacher, Alison (son of another teacher who’d already taught at the language center) in developing extra-class activities and games with the students. imersao

  I explained that I would be more comfortable in teaching grammar or reading, for example, but Dr. James was adamant that HE WOULD TEACH THAT. Another teacher would be in charge of writing. Another one, listening and so on and so forth. And the only spot would be for games: meaning – keep the students entertained and happy and we couldn’t find any other sucker to do that so we found you. I had never worked with those kinds of class activities and without any instruction or training I was thrown into the lion’s den for 2-3 hours a day. There were about 15 students at different levels. The challenge was to come up with games, drama, arts, whatever. Fortunately, the other teacher, Alison, had already taught in the previous year and he (yes, Alison is a man’s name in Brazil) could give me some support. The language center had a few books about class activities and games along with some movies on tape and that was our salvation.

My session went on with  highs and lows, with increasingly longer coffee breaks, but we made it. At the end of the program we went on a day trip to visit the Museum of Brazil’s Independence in São Paulo – when the students would be exposed to the language with information about the museum, the city , etc given in their target language. Needless to say, the language center made no arrangements for an English-speaking guide and for leaflets or any useful info in English – so the students had a day trip in Portuguese alone. imersao-2

Since then, that university campus no longer has had a summer language immersion program but I can tell you that nothing much has changed in other language immersion programs. Improvisation and let’s-make-do-with-whatever-resources-we-have-on-the-shelf prevail.

Oh, do I need to tell you that after the program the school took quite a while to honor my payment? But that’s a theme for another blog.

My advice to people looking for immersion courses is to choose a subject taught in their target language and travel abroad.

Happy studies,

Mo

Study abroad at home: International Schools and bilingual education

Last week my wife and I met up with Paddy, an Irish lawyer who’s being transferred with his family – wife, a 3-year old boy and a five-month-old baby girl – to São Paulo, Brazil. Bear in mind they live on a farm in county Clare, Ireland with a population of maybe 18 (just kidding) and now they’re preparing to settle in one of the largest metropolises in the world. Liz is a stay-at-home mom but she thinks that it will be good for her 3-year-old to be exposed to some preschool education while in São Paulo.

So I started researching some of the international schools (with international certification) and bilingual schools (locally based). How could I do that in a more scientific manner? By asking my students where their children and grandchildren go to school.

Among the international schools, the leading one in name recognition among my students is St. Paul’s (www.stpauls.br) – no question it has highly qualified teachers and staff, but it carries a very elitist air with the “crème de la crème” of São Paulo’s well-to-do families vying for a place. Prospective students are submitted to an academic and psychological evaluation before being accepted despite the costly monthly and annual fees, driving especially the nouveau riche up the wall when they realize that money can’t buy everything, especially “tradition”.escola-bilingue

I never had the opportunity to attend a bilingual school but I had a very dear friend, Deborah, who  attended St. Paul’s. Her father was a Brazilian nuclear scientist who had spent some time in the UK and when he returned to São Paulo he wanted to give his children a bilingual education. Deborah’s English was perfect with a slight British standard accent and she could easily switch from L1 to L2. She became a psychologist but during her school years she earned money teaching English as a foreign language. But as it happens with any learned skills, after she stopped teaching and using English on a regular basis her vocabulary started to become more limited with tons of grammar and words stored up in a corner of her brain which would light up again and start shedding the spider webs when necessity arose. Deborah would say that the second best thing about studying at an international school was the network of friends and acquaintances she built along the year (which at times would be a curse as well- but that’s another story for a future blog).

Two other international schools (maybe lesser known just because they are newer institutions but which carry similar quality without the elitist bias) are  St Francis College (www.stfrancis.com.br) and British College Brazil (www.britishcollegebrazil.org).
I’m not quite sure why they both chose the word College considering that they are schools and not colleges – faculdades.But it also relates to the Brazilian term “Colégio” – which refers to a primary and/or secondary education school. Or maybe those institutions are already keeping an eye on their future tertiary education.

As per bilingual education focused on preschoolers – children as young as 14 months to 6 years old, my students whose children or grandchildren attend bilingual schools would recommend the following:escola bilingue

Wings to Fly (www.wingstofly.com.br)
Global Me (www.globalme.com.br)
See-Saw (www.see-saw.com.br)

They vary in size and location, but from what I could observe they follow a carefully planned curriculum to immerse children in a second language (usually English) while not ignoring Portuguese (the children’s mother tongue).

One factor that grasped my attention is that while the international schools can resort to hiring staff abroad, the local schools can’t afford all those costs and their hardest challenge is to find qualified bilingual labor.

Over the past 10 years the number of bilingual schools has mushroomed in São Paulo and other capital cities trying to meet a need that desperate parents have: give their children an edge for their future.

escola bilingue org