What your quiet students are not telling you (and how you can get them to respond)

People who look for one-on-one language classes are usually talkative by nature. They prefer the exclusive and focused environment the classes allow them to have and enjoy the full hour of “me time”. But once in a blue moon there comes a student who for some reason – convenience, for example, maybe she thinks she can better profit from individual lessons, despite her overbearing shyness. She isn’t wrong, she may be shy but she can control her shyness and develop her language skills. Honestly I wouldn’t recommend a glass of wine at 8 in the morning, to control her shyness. But that might help.

But what is she telling me with her silence?

1. I’m hearing but I’m not listening

2. Please don’t put me on the spot. I don’t want to make the effort to think,

3. Please be patient with me… even if you think I’m not trying my best

4. I need some time before I answer …

5. I don’t care about whatever theme you’ve chosen for today’s lesson.

What can I do?

1. Lighten up the mood

2. Use a puppet … what the heck! she’s an adult but since she still won’t speak at least I can talk to the puppet.

3. Never force them to respond

4. Allow them to be the expert – talk about what gives them passion. Do you have an Instagram account? Share a picture you like there

5. Praise mistakes – because at least they’re trying.

 

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Wrong motivation in language learning

why-peopleIs there such a thing as a wrong reason to learn a language? Why do people decide to learn a second language?

Some of the reasons I’ve heard are listed below (please feel free to add any other reasons not mentioned):

  • to travel abroad on holiday / business
  • to get a better job or improve job opportunities
  • to study abroad
  • they like the sound and /or the looks of that language
  • they love the country /culture / food where that language is spoken
  • religious reasons (biblical Greek/Hebrew/ Latin)
  • to find a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • to get in touch with their roots
  • because it’s an academic requirement
  • to ward off memory loss
  • to show off / impress others

I heard on the podcast Eye on Italy episode 17 (here’s the link – http://www.eyeonitaly.com/podcast/episode-17-italian-i-still-love-you/ ) an interview with Dianne Hales who wrote the book – La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language (http://www.becomingitalian.com/labella.php) and one of the negative criticisms  she heard came from her friends who questioned her choice to study Italian as “why choose such a useless language to learn?” The argument being if you’re going through all this trouble to speak another language, at least learn a more useful language such as French, or Spanish, or German, or Mandarin. Please define usefulness in love.

So…, my answer to the question – is there a wrong reason to learn a language? YES AND NO.

There can be weak (or lame) reasons. What do I mean? To learn another language you will have to work up the following ingredients:

MOTIVATION

DETERMINATION

PERSEVERANCE

PROGRESS (NO MATTER AT WHAT PACE)

Now, if your reasons don’t live up to the ingredients above you will be bound to fail. Therefore, wrong reasons.

But, if you’re willing to keep on following those four ingredients – the reason or reasons will be right.

So, roll up your sleeves and dig in whatever language you want and for whatever reasons that make you tick.

No matter what others say, another language will give you a new vision of the world.

Happy learning,

Mo

Google Images in language teaching

Yes, I know it’s a cliché but it has lots of truth to me: a picture’s worth a thousand words. When teaching English, Spanish or French  quite often students come across words that even if not abstract, they’re hard for them to grasp the meaning by just looking up the word in the dictionary, unless it’s a bilingual dictionary.

Let’s consider for example the word “groom”. The student asks the meaimg_6627ning of the word and passively receives the information.

The teacher:” well, … you know when you get married the woman is the bride and the man is the groom or bridegroom”.img_6628

By telling the student to look up in google images he will be actively learning the word and visualizing it, without even having to think about the word in L1.

Take the word “STAMINA”, for instance, which Trump said Hillary Clinton doesn’t have ( or the looks). Many Brazilian students get the sound of the word but not the meaning.

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By just showing a picture of someone running, the teacher tells students that that person has stamina and asks them to guess the meaning. Chances are they will say, power, energy, and bingo got the word without having even translated the word into L1.

The word “GAP” – which can be abstract but can also be easily visualized and understood based on the pictures and context. In the past I used to doodle on paper trying to convey the image, but it wouldn’t solve the student’s passivity. Now having the student look it up makes them an active agent in their learning.gap

You may say, “that’s exactly what students do when using a dictionary” – yes, but… the trick is that by using a monolingual dictionary often times they can’t understand the definition or there are too many definitions to go through. In a bilingual dictionary they will be still focusing on L1 memory and will most likely forget the L2 corresponding word.

Larissa Albano in her blog summarized the use of pictures beautifully using the acrostic PICTURE (https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-english-language-teachers-use-pictures-class):

Predict

Interact

Create

Talk

Understand

Reflect

Enact

As you can see, an image can be much more than the definition of an object, feeling or action, but it can also be incorporated into the lesson plan.

Of course, the teacher won’t have to follow all these steps for every single word the student can’t understand, but the latter will be in charge of his own vocabulary learning.

Happy pictures,

Cheers,

Mo

Headway Elementary – 4th edition: a book review

I have been a fan of the Headway series since 1991 when I started teaching privateheadway advanced students in São Paulo, Brazil, and that was the book assigned me by the school I was working for at the time  (where I would become a partner a few years later). It was the Headway Advanced first edition (Oxford University Press), I believe. I was amazed at how advanced the book really was. Even native speakers would encounter vocabulary challenges in it.

Since then I have used the New Headway series and the American Headway (which is mostly an adaptation of the UK edition with more of a north American vocabulary and audio, which is a great strategy used by the publishers while meeting a demand).

Usually US publishers do not invest much in textbooks for ESL/EFL learners while the UK is always introducing new titles. Considering the demand especially in Latin America and Asia for US-based language materials, nothing better than produce the same book with minor changes for all markets.

Also the new editions tend to add just minor changes – enough to justify the need for a new book by both teacher and students and also force the teacher to discard the older book as “obsolete”. This year I was planning on using the 3rd edition which I already owned, but unsurprisingly, it was not not to be found by the students at the bookstores. Only the “new and improved” 4th edition. Talk about marketing strategies. There goes the teacher having to purchase all the set – workbook, teacher’s book and student’s book plus the CDs and DVDs. Nice, ain’t it?

The latest edition I have in my hands is the New Headway Elementary 4th edition (2011) by Liz and John Soars (the authors of the original edition). When compared to the New Headway Elementary 3rd edition (2000) – the changes were not that significant – the audio has new recordings and the texts are also new.. . but the grammar syllabus and vocabulary for instance are quite similar, even considering the way the thematic content is distributed in the units. headway1_450

A big change I’ve observed is that the 4th Edition is way too heavy on content – the books still have long units (around 8 pages each) – 12 units in the 4th edition compared with 14 units in the 3rd edition – against other trends for shorter units observed in other textbooks where each section consists of 2 pages (New English File, for example).

Let’s consider unit 7: Dates to remember – the syllabus includes

  1. Past Simple (2)
  2. Questions and Negatives
  3. Time Expressions
  4. Adverbs (regular and irregular)
  5. Special Occasions

The load of content feels like crushing against the learner’s skull. Too much vocabulary and grammar to be absorbed in a few hours. Much better would be to have shorter units and introduce each point gradually, while revisiting points previously learned.

Would I still recommend Headway to other students and teachers? Yes, if the teacher can decode and adapt the textbook to the student’s needs.

As a coursebook it would be a really big challenge to have effective teaching in a classroom with 25 or 30 students.

By the way, I am impressed by the fact that the publishers haven’t still embraced the e-book format (fear of piracy? cost?). But it would make the life of teachers and students much easier. Imagine: For one elementary student I have to carry the teacher’s book, workbook and coursebook. On a day when I’m teaching different levels how many pounds/kilos of books am I supposed to be carrying? Hellooo.

 But that’s a topic for another blog.

Happy teaching,

Cheers,

Mo

Uncertainty will certainly come (and 5 ways to deal with it)

 

There are those days when you feel a little bit unsure of what to do, where to go… . And I’m not even talking about going to the doctor and undergoing medical tests,  things that I dread just based on the fear that some bad diagnosis will happen. Well, traditionally men don’t like going to the doctor because they feel they can’t get sick as they’re the breadwinners of the family, the strong sex, etc. in this day and age? Come on! Men don’t like going to the doctor, at least in my case, because we’re afraid they’ll find out something horrible and you start feeling all the symptoms before you even have the diagnosis. Talk about reasoning with your unreasonable mind. But I digress…

Uncertainty comes to teaching as well, more so when you’re self-employed. You know the drill: no student, no pay. And it’s not like when you’re working for a company / school and they will provide you with the students and if they’re generous enough they’ll give you some training and teaching material such as textbooks. They’re also required by law (at least in Brazil) to give you paid holidays and a 13th annual salary (a sort of Christmas bonus) in addition to contributions to your government’s social security pension fund. image

My wife and friends quite often remind me of how lucky I am because I don’t have a boss, which is true (although in some ways my students ARE my bosses). But the solo teaching career requires some constant care such as:

1. Attention to trends in teaching, textbooks

2. Attendance to teachers’ conferences and seminars

3. Prospecting for new students while at the same time keeping the back door shut in order to keep your current students.

4. Self-motivation – you can’t slack off and stop preparing lessons, or stop showing up on time.

5. Billing is never the most pleasurable of activities but necessary. On the other hand, there are always a few smart asses who “always forget” to pay their teacher in the time agreed and you must kindly ask them if there was any problem with their payment because you couldn’t locate their deposit in your bank statement.

Hey, life is uncertain by nature, so what I must do is to continue doing what I enjoy and  enjoy what I have to do. image

Happy teaching.

Cheers,

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

You don’t understand…Accent Reduction

This week I was watching a lecture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkQ7lwEWeGA) by a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Center for Teaching Excellence (not Evolution  as I had tried to guess by the abbreviation CTE) and for more than 90 minutes she talked about one thing that grabbed my attention:

Accent Reduction, which is bound to ruffle some feathers – there are those in favor and those against, while claiming that the accent reduction approach humiliates language learners or makes them feel less than second class citizens, while companies just want toaccent reduction 2 make money out of their easy prey.

But … Language learners quite often want to reduce their foreignness by trying to speak more like American or British or whatever local language is predominant in their area. Reasons can range from feeling more like one of us, instead of an outsider; being better understood in the workplace,  etc.

A language learner can feel that a clearer accent  might help people to better understand him. You don’t need to be ashamed of speaking with an accent as long as it doesn’t get in the way of being understood. Sergey may be a very proud Russian  man and speak with a “wery” shtrong accent. Question: will it prevent people from understanding him? Or will people just see that suspicious-looking Russian man and not hear what he has to say? accent reduction

Silvia is a proud Brazilian who loves finishing every word with a “y”  sound – I thinky we shouldy talky more abouty culturey” – but when that charming accent gets in the way of being understood or getting things done she would be wise to try to reduce her Brazilian voice and raise her American voice.

So students must be coached by their teachers to improve their pronunciation, intonation, rhythm in order to achieve better understanding and intelligibility.

But why do students have poor pronunciation?

  1. It’s usually never taught – as the student gets used to understanding what the teacher says, the teacher can  also get used to the students’ linguistic somersaults and not even realize pronunciation / accent problems.
  2. students need to learn to listen to different sounds – th/s/t  b- v   Z-S etc before producing them. Sounds which might not even exist in their L1.
  3. pronunciation requires not only knowledge but skill – which means loads of practice.
  4. English spelling causes confusion – being literate can interfere with your hearing. I’ve corrected many students so many times for their mispronunciation of words because the words they read tend to sound “different” from the way they’re spelled. – example:
    en·tre·pre·neur

    / ˌäntrəprəˈnər/

    lis·ten
    /ˈlis(ə)n/

So what factors will influence their success?

  1. Motivation and concern for good pronunciation
  2. Exposure – amount of time spent in practice. Tons of listening and speaking – in that order. Quality, not just quantity, is important.
  3. Learner’s natural ability – some students tend to get a better pronunciation than others – however, hard work will get them far.
  4. Sense of identity. The fact they are speaking more American, British, or whatever other accent will not destroy their own self.

So keep your ears pricked and your mouths moving.

Cheers,

Mo