Speak and Grow Fluent

I’d say most of my English Language students are upper intermediate or advanced which would lead us to believe that they are comfortable enough to speak using their Second Language.

However, living in a gigantic monolingual country as Brazil, and not working in a

Living on a monolingual island

company that requires international contacts, language learners can find themselves stranded on a single-language island or continent (Portuguese).

Today one of these students – whose class lasts only 90 minutes once a week  – when she doesn’t cancel or must finish earlier – became frustrated when trying to say something in English and blurted out in Portuguese – “tá ficando cada vez mais difícil falar inglês” (it’s becoming increasingly harder for me to speak English). Didn’t she know any of those words or the necessary grammar to say that? Yes, she knew all the words and the structure but CHOSE the easiest way – spitting it out in her mother tongue.

Dear students, I’ve got news for you. If you don’t practice your target language you will NEVER feel comfortable using it. No matter what academic level you’ve reached. And here comes my point:

My student in question likes to play tennis – 2 or 3 times a week – how about English? Once a week, sometimes. I rest my case.

So how can you feel more comfortable speaking in English?

  1. No one to talk to? Talk to yourself. I’m sure you do that in your mother tongue. Do it in English or whatever language you are learning.
  2. Read aloud a paragraph or a page. Everyday. It can be a transcript, an interview, a news story, a cake recipe… . It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re listening and producing sounds in your target language.
  3. To speak you must learn to listen. Focus on a poem, a song, etc and listen to it. Then read it aloud. YouTube has thousands of videos with poems and songs+lyrics for you to practice.
  4. Look for opportunities to use your target language. Can’t travel abroad? Look for a friend or co-worker who’s also learning and practice with them. Look for a place where that language is spoken. For example, São Paulo has a few English language religious services – visit them – it’s a FREE and enriching exspeaking-in-tongues__mediumperience. My favorite English Bible class website (www.believes.com.br) meets every Saturday in the morning. Also Calvary International Church is a great diverse and inclusive community (www.calvary.org.br) and Sampa Community Church (http://sampacommunity.com/1/

Now my students will be saying: “Come on, teacher. I’m too busy. I don’t have time for all that. It takes too much effort.”

Congratulations. You’ve got my point.speaking in tongues

Cheers and happy conversations,

Mo

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As Focused as a Goldfish

My wife and I were talking about how hard it is to sometimes focus, to concentrate on a specific task.

I find it hard to dive into a book for more than 2 pages – especially if it’s on a Kindle. My wife can’t watch a TV program for more than 15 minutes without channel surfing.

Yesterday I came across a study sponsored by Microsoft stating that our attention span has shortened to 8 seconds from 12 seconds in a little more than a decade and that the typical goldfish can focus an average of 9 SECONDS. (You can read the whole study by clicking the following link: http://advertising.microsoft.com/en/cl/31966/how-does-digital-affect-canadian-attention-spans

The claim is that today’s digital technology with Twitter, emojis et al, make it very hard for us to concentrate.

Imagine when you are a teacher trying to grab the attention of kids or adults for 60 minutes. Many students of mine come to class with not one but 2 mobile phones – and during class those little evil creatures (the phones not the students) keep on vibrating, ringing, dinging, lightening up or doing whatever to get the attention of their owners (should I say servants?)- the students not the phones.

A hot trend nowadays is gamification – aiming to fight this ever-shrinking attention span – making workers or students to adhere to a series of games where they’ll be competing against each other, against time or against themselves. Ok, but is it feasible to be ever introducing new games?  Sooner or later they’ll get tired of that formula and then?

An article by the Medical Daily website presented 3 easy steps (easier said than done) for people to improve their physical and mental ability to concentrate:

1. Drink fluids – nothing more simple – but it’s unbelievable the number of people who don’t drink enough liquid to prevent mild dehydration. Coffee, tea (other than herbal) sodas and alcoholic beverages , even though liquid, cause more liquid loss.

2. Exercise – nothing like a walk around the block if nothing else, to clear up your mind. Yeah, you have a deadline but you’ll be better equipped with a better oxygenated brain.

3. Avoid electronic devices – adding insult to injury – set a timer for you not to touch or look into your smartphone, tablet of notebook (30 minutes of freedom during the day, for example, or switch them off for good at night).

The article ended with a simple question:

“So how many of you got through this article without checking your electronic devices”?

The funny thing is that I read this article with a student who really avoids even taking her cellphone out of her bag but, needless to say, even she failed in the test. During class her phone rang and she had to answer it.

In class the teacher will have to be creative in the activities provided and reduce the time allotted per activity. The challenge will be to keep every activity connected to the previous one so that learning will be continuing spiraling up and not in fits and starts. 8-seconds-attentionCheers and great concentration

Mo

How can I say…?

I constantly insist with my students that learning a language shouldn’t be their goal – their raison d’être. They study English or French or Spanish because they hope to use it when traveling, or for professional and personal development, for instance.

Today I’ve been reminded of Alice – a great, hardworking student in her professional life but who refuses to review or practice anything taught in class.

Alice loves to talk and her professional vocabulary is quite good since she is involved in billing international clients and can write quite well, having a good grammar domain. But she’s got a limited vocabulary when outside her professional jargon.

Her favorite question is: “How can I say ___X____ in English?”

One day, in a 20 minute interval, she asked the following list in Portuguese:

Teacher…, How can I say…

1. ócio

2. sovina

3. contestação

4. juventude

5. garra

6 pegadinha

7. sangue frio

8. costurar

9. não pisque!

10. sensível

11. sensato

12. retina

13. estar acordado

14. fábrica de dinheiro

15. medo

16. acompanhante

17. tenho o costume

18. sou banana

19. catarata

20. cicatrizar

21. médico

22. particular

23. meta

24. avental

Knowing that so many words would be gone with the wind as soon as she had walked out of the room, I decided to play a game with her. Instead of being her

Words carried by the wind
Words carried by the wind

human super dictionary faster than google translator, I wrote down the list on a sheet of paper and gave it to her. I told her: “Remember that words must be used in context, so look up the translations of the words but check the meaning in English to see if they fit the context you want to place them in. By looking them up and writing them down you’ll be able to remember them in the future.”

She agreed and left – this was in March – now June 2015 (at least we’re in the same year) she hasn’t done the so-called “homework”. I’ve challenged her a few times but she says she doesn’t like to be pressured. She is hard pressed enough doing her job.

So, for our next class we are going to sit down (or stand up – if based on the latest studies on how standing up is better to your health) and go over the list and see how much she remembers and can use in context.

Keep on trying,

Cheers,

Mo

“You’re just a number”

I’ve been a self-employed teacher for over 20 years and have never looked back. Well, … with the exception of a few times.

Working for yourself, you can “choose” your students and working hours – in a certain way, set your fees and run after Teacher Conferences in order to network (which I rarely do) and get new ideas (which sometimes do come).

Being self-employed one must be constantly updating one’s expertise, getting familiar with latest trends and materials – books, apps, pills, etc.

I’ve always prided myself of my ability – by God’s grace – of never being without a student portfolio – never been unemployed – if you get what I mean.

During all this time one of my main corporate clients has been the Arab Banking Corporation in Brazil – having taught past and present Presidents and a wide array of directors and VPs since 1994.

During this time I’ve been loyal to the bank having translated several of their annual financial reports and enjoyed some perks – had a badge that identified me as an outsourced worker which allowed me access to some areas of the bank. I could also have my parking validated. Well, basically that was all.

Now apparently, Human Resources –  under new management – has decided to wage a war against Language Teachers – alleging that we take up unused meeting rooms during lunch time – that’s when classes take place or after 6pm when most meetings have already ended.

Now they’ve taken my badge away, so every single day I have to identify myself at the reception in the lobby and wait for authorization to go up. They are also requiring that I must wait downstairs for my respective student to come down to “collect” me and if I’m thirsty or need to go “powder my nose” in the gents’, said student should accompany me as well. Adding salt to the wound, if the student is late because of a meeting or any other reason, I must stay downstairs waiting, standing in a seat-free lobby. After all, we can’t tolerate loitering, can we?

So, this is one of the few disadvantages of being a self-employed teacher – I was complaining to my wife and she, the very commonsensical she is, just commented: “That’s the corporate world – you’re just a number”. And after rendering educational services for over 20 years at this fine financial institution I have nothing to show for it – not even a badge.

But I refuse to end this post on a grumpy note – after all these years I’m proud to show many students at that bank who today are fluent and feel comfortable when using English in the toughest business situations.

Cheers,Badge

Mo

7 Podcasts every ESL Teacher needs to know

Having upgraded my iPhone 5s to an iPhone 6, I was afraid I’d lost all my files including all my list of podcasts -but, God bless the iCloud team. Everything was backed up and recoverable.

But after procrastinating for a few weeks I’ve finally come round to listing the podcasts which might be interesting to all ESL/EFL teachers and students as well.

1. KKLC ELT Podcast  there are only 5 episodes available dating back to 2013 but still relevant dealing with learning styles or language and technology.  http://www.kkcl.org.uk/category/podcast/

2. Masters of Tesol – Andrew Bailey introduces tough topics on language teaching – the latest episode tries to show how to teach English intonation. https://mastersoftesol.wordpress.com/category/podcast/

3. The History of English podcast  an in-depth study on the origins of the English language  dating back to when everybody spoke Latin – http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/

4. Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing- always useful tips to help students  http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

5. TEFLology – three self-appointed Teflologists discussing TEFL – discussing all TEFL issues and news plus interviews on different TEFL themes. http://teflology.libsyn.com/

6. Edgycation – two funny teachers discussing all things ESL/EFL – unfortunately the series ended in 2013 – but most of the topics discussed are still relevant today. http://edgycation.org/

7. ESL Teacher Talk – great podcast series for ESL teachers – ended in 2010 but still great talk and input on all things ESL. http://www.eslteachertalk.com/

There you have it… hours of great teacher training material within your reach.

Hope you enjoy these podcasts. Although some are no longer produced they are not gone.

Ok, I confess. I just wanted to share with you guys that I’ve got a brand new iPhone 6 as a wedding anniversary gift from my Sweeheart – woohoo – but these podcasts are quite useful and will provide you with many hours of information and education.

Cheers,

Mo

The olden days – effort vs technology

I’ve been a Language teacher from the time of the record and cassette players (1985 to be precise). I remember when teaching an adult class at night (my first EFL group ever) I wanted to share with them this gospel ballad – Reach out – you can listen to the original recording on Yoututoca discosbe http://youtu.be/BSqAbVtHf2Y – I only had the record and the school had no record player, so I carried a “portable record player” by bus to school and played the song  with students busy  filling in the blanks. My students really loved the song and it gave the lesson a more vibrant pace and rhythm. Generating entertainment, in a way.

Since then I’ve tried to embrace technology in the classroom – the cassette player was replaced by the CD player, the VCR by the DVD player, the CD player by the iPod and the iPod succeeded by the iPhone and iPad.

Today I can “entertain” my students with videos and songs, I can record them (which they abhor), they can say their teacher is using the latest technology to assist them in learning.

It’s true that students can now independently listen to podcasts and watch videos in their target language but at times I feel that we cannot ignore the centuries-old tradition of translation, grammar explanation, repetition, etc.

I can show my students the picture of a sweetener sachet but they still will call it “sweety or false sugar”. I can play them a children’s song but they will still be saying “many childrens” or “many childs”.

I can show them a picture or video of a supermarket checkout counter with a 20 or leitemsorlessss items sign and they will still be saying “I have fewer work today”. “I drove less kilometers last week”.

My point is that technology is a tool to assist us in opening the students’ minds to whatever we’re trying to teach but people are NOT technology – they still have the same basic needs as 6000 years ago and some teaching methods used ages ago should be revisited and adapted to today’s world. Learning DOES take effort and time.

One point that must be emphasized is that no pill has been developed for an effortless silhouette_of_climber_original_900English learning process. No escalators or elevators to help you reach the top of the hill. You may have state-of-the-art mountain climbing gear but it won’t replace your arms, legs, lungs and brain in the slow climbing process towards Language Fluency.

Enjoy the journey.

Cheers

Mo

NFL in the Tropics

Yes, Virginia, everybody, it seems, was talking about the Super Bowl 49 (those Xs and Ls confuse me – XLIX). I’ve never been into sports in general, sometimes I think the players score a “SHUTDOWN” instead of a “TOUCHDOWN”. What did I tell you?

But for my English classes I MUST at least know what the Super Bowl is, where it’s being played and which teams are participating.

It’s a great class warm-up activity having students Q&A about the championship. Over the past 5 to 10 years, the interest in the NFL has grown exponentially here in Brazil, with both ladies (a few) and gents (majority) buying the jerseys of their favorite teams, footballs and any other imaginable gear.

Well, listen, a teacher’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to pique his students’ interest. We use the statistics to practice numbers and TV commentaries to practice their listening.

So if that’s what it takes for them to learn verbs such as: pulling for, rooting for, cheering, supporting, etc. and use them in correct sentences… Wow. That’s made my day.

We can also see sports terms used in business or everyday life. A simple list can be found here but the teacher can get the students together and make their own lists – gridiron, Hail Mary, game plan, jerseys, etc: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/common-football-terms-to-know.html

NFL

In the past I would mostly complain about this cultural fad imported by the local bourgeoisie and would grunt comments such as “why don’t we import respect for property, a fast legal system, less corrupt police, work ethics, etc…” But now I must say that Doris Day was right when she sang “Que será, será”. “Whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, que será, será”.  So… let’s take advantage of this passion and learn some English along the way. If I succeed in getting them to improve the pronunciation of some names and positions, I’ll say it’s been worth it.

Touchdown!

Mo