Reflections on Language Learning – 3 steps to break the language barrier

Every new year many people make a resolution to learn a foreign language moved by guilt for not succeeding at that in the previous year or just in search for the cure of their hangover (or other more respectable reasons). You, dear reader, may fill in the blanks.

Many go to the language-learning sections at their local bookstore (yes, there are still some of those left around)  in search for the book with a mixture of miraculous and magical strategies to enable them to speak English, French, Spanish or Mandarin overnight.

By the following week many will realize that no matter how many books and language courses they buy on CD, DVD or online they will sit around gathering dust in a darker corner of their homes and offices before the end of the month.

Those failed attempts can be fixed or prevented, though.

How?  Speaking and listening is the keyimg_7544

Surround yourself with LIVING language material:  Listening resources play a major part of learning – be they videos, or radio, or podcasts.

Even without understanding – it’s passive learning – it will help you identify the “music” of your target language. But it will take time.

Let me tell you the example of my “niece-in-law”, Ingrid. As many Brazilians she basically knows the verb to be (present tense) in English. However, after her first child was born 2 months ago she decided that she would help her boy learn English and she would do whatever necessary in the process. I’d advised her to play children’s stories in English for the baby to get familiar with the sounds of the English language and she started listening to them as well. I believe that exclusive audio sources would be better than the TV with so many visual distractions. Conclusion: 2 months later she’s speaking some English with great fluency and her ears have become better trained to identify the sounds and reproduce them. And her 2-month-old baby, João Paulo, is already crying in English – no more “buááá” but “waaaahhhhh” – Just kidding, sort of).

Another strong point is that Ingrid is not afraid of trying to speak and now she is moving towards a pre-intermediate level, without having opened a “language course book”.

So to get your feet wet in your target language remembers:

1. When listening – echo practice – repeat phrases and words you hear, mimic them / parrot them. Be a “fool” on purpose.

2. Establish a regular time to practice – Saturday morning when making coffee and preparing your breakfast, laundry, or whatever. If you have to go shopping make your shopping list in English / play with language / mess around in a creative way. Explore the language. Try to listen to authentic material at least 5 times a week.

Different folks different strokes

3. How would you answer to the questions / interact / comment to what you’re listening whether a podcast, or radio, or YouTube?  Talk to yourself in your target language – create an inner monologue

Other people learn best when they’re reading, but that’s a theme for another blog post. 

Special thanks to Luke’s English Podcast – episode 407 – Reflections on Language Learning http://teacherluke.co.uk/2016/12/07/407-reflections-on-language-learning-working-as-a-translator-interview-with-kristina-from-russia-winner-of-the-lep-anecdote-competition-2016/

Happy New Year and Happy Language Learning in 2017

Cheers,

Mo

10 Top Tips for Learning English (or any other language)

Every new year comes with many resolutions:

“This year I’ll go on a diet and lose 20 pounds.”

“This year I’ll stop smoking”

“This year I’ll get a boyfriend/girlfriend/ pet”

“This year I’ll learn (…. – fill in the blanks)”.

But the problem with making resolutions is that they don’t tend to stick. They slip away and melt as if under the tropical sun.

But if you follow these steps (not in any necessary order and at least some of them) you will make progress and then you will feel you can continue to learn English (or any other language for that matter)

  1. Watch movies and TV in your target language (the internet makes it accessible) – even if you don’t understand what’s going on  you’ll get familiar to the sounds of that language. (I particularly love commercials)
  2. Read a book you know well. Preferably a book you liked reading in your mother tongue. When my wife was learning French she bought a copy of the Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) so she could enjoy the book and learn in her new language.language
  3. Keep a notebook – scribble down new words you learn – especially creating word collocation and usage sections. Revisit the notebook once a week.
  4. Use mnemonic devices. It won’t work for everyone but it does work. When learning about the coordinating conjunctions, for instance, you can use the word FANBOYS to help remember the list. Can you name them? I’m pretty sure you can, because of FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). That is a mnemonic device. Creating a funny mental picture that you’ll remember is another way to use a mnemonic device. The sillier the picture is, the better it will stick in your head.
  5. Listen to podcasts – not only about English learning – but podcasts of other subjects of your interest produced in English or target language.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises. Need I say more?
  7. Be mindful. Notice language. How it’s used. How it sounds.Create a routine, Stick to it.
  8. Read aloud – small texts and paragraphs but that will improve your pronunciation, intonation and fluency.
  9. Test yourself – after a month – review the points you’ve learned and test your progress.
  10. Enjoy your learning

foreign-language-can-be-fascinating-experience-and-gives-clipart-2lr7f9-clipart

Have fun.

 

Cheers,

Mo

How to study for the TOEFL in 3 “easy steps”

The Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is the most widely respected English-language test in the world, recognized by thousands of colleges, universities and agencies in more than 130 countries, including Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the United States. Wherever you want to study, the TOEFL test can help you get there, that is, it is a pre-requirement for academic entry in most English-speaking countries.

My advice on how to prepare for the test is:

  1. Learn the test –  become familiar with it. get lots of samples online and practice, practice, practice – this is how you will learn about the test’s format, strategy, timing. Experience is king – and it’s true – by studying previous TOEFL tests you’ll be conquering years in weeks or months.
  2. Strategy – go to YouTube and listen to different people who have taken their test.
  3. Skills – the test is not just about grammar – identify your weakest skills and attack them. Usually listening comprehension is poor especially for people not living in an English-speaking country – there are 1000s of radio stations online to practice with in addition to podcasts. Also speaking can be a problem. A simple but effective practice is to get interviews of actors, politicians and read them aloud until you feel comfortable. Many times video interviews also have a transcript or closed caption – use them as tools to develop your intonation and pronunciation.

For more information go to their official website: https://www.ets.org/toefl

toefl

My Journey to “Teacherpreneur”

This week, Patrice Palmer asked me on Twitter if I was a “teacherpreneur” and if I would be interested in answering an interview. To start off the conversation I wasn’t even sure what she meant by that but a quick Google search showed me the following definition:

“The teacherpreneur merges the image of the innovative classroom teacher with the risk-taking and entrepreneurial leadership that we commonly associate with those who create their own place in the professional world.

Teacherpreneurs are, first and foremost, imaginative teachers. They have created a classroom culture of creativity and reflection. They think beyond the classroom in terms of how to make lessons meaningful, and in so doing, might see a need elsewhere in school that their innovation can address.” (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/era-of-teacherpreneur-heather-wolpert-gawron)

So … I guess I’m a “teacherpreneur” after all. Thanks, Patrice for teaching me one more thing this year. my-journey-from-teacher-to-teacherpreneur-2-1-500x281

Here’s my interview:

Teacherpreneur: Moacir Sena (aka Mo the Americanoid)

Can you start off by telling us where you teach?

I’ve been teaching English and Spanish at banks, law firms and other industries. (99% of the time it’s been one-on-one basis) and the students usually came from managerial positions up to the CEO). I’d say 60-70% of the students have been upper-intermediate to advanced (B2-C1+)

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching since 1986 – started teaching at a small language school near where I lived and from then on I moved to other language schools until starting my solo career back in 1998.

Can you describe a typical teaching day?

In the past I’d have classes early in the morning -7:30-9am / break / 12-2pm/ break/ 6-8pm (with the occasional class starting at 9-10:30pm) During those windows I’d work on translations.

Considering that I am wholeheartedly a morning person, now I’ve managed to keep my mornings pretty busy – (7:30 to 11am) and (12pm-3pm). The odd student at 4pm. I try to close shop at 3pm. NO evening classes in the last 5-6 years. Hooray. 80% of my students have in-company lessons. 20% come to my home office.

What do you do in your spare time to relax?  

As a man, I watch tv – often not paying much attention to what’s going on. But I love reading and taking long walks in the park in the late afternoon.

You took on the tremendous task of starting a solo career…

I decided to fly solo after having been a partner at a language school here in São Paulo, having to deal with teacher training, teacher and student prospecting, keeping the financial balance of the firm, making money but never seeing it. To keep good teachers you many times had to sacrifice your own pay. To keep good corporate clients many times you had to cut them a discount. So we came to a crossroads – either we would move to larger facilities with more classrooms etc., or shut down. My partner at the time was not interested in expanding so we decided to follow our own path. Being my “own company” I know where to invest, how to manage and control client satisfaction and teaching quality.  And make more money than when I “owned a company”.

How do I get my students /clients you may ask? Word of mouth – 100% guaranteed.

Over the last 6 years or so I’ve dabbled in YouTube – posting video lessons using English and the Bible – ESL with Mo the Americanoid –

Here’s a sample: Episode 104: ESL with Mo the Americanoid: 6 Tips for Teachers One on One Classes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrOUmGofIso

Here’s the link to the playlist:  (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyyx8yztcz879R6iSGDLpIMfCBQWcj08Z)

Initially the videos were based on a book called ENGLISH LESSONS FROM THE BIBLE (BOOK OF MARK) by Glenda Reece. After a few episodes I felt more comfortable to develop my own material and content expanding to  interviewing some English learners and teachers and presenting some Teaching tips.

Other social media I’m involved in…?

Intensely involved with Twitter – its immediacy and reach are amazing, even though I’ve learned that Twitter is not as much used in Brazil as in Europe and North America. I always follow #ELT #TEFL #ESL #TESOL threads. But I’m not very keen on Tweet Chats – I find them hard to follow live and to try to read a later compilation of the tweets is quite boring and many times senseless. Depending on the editing you’ll read 20 “hello this is…” tweets before getting any real content.

Are you working on any other projects at the moment?

Also writing a blog – www.americanoidblog.com – An English Language Lover’s Teaching Adventures and other ramblings.

A dream I have is to produce a language learning program for the radio or TV. But still don’t know how to get there. Still beginning the process.

What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?

  • Public speaking – if you can face an audience of rambunctious children or bored teenagers you can face the world.
  • To adapt to different audiences and needs
  • To be flexible and also know when to draw the line (sometimes ;-)

 

What advice would you give to teachers who are considering to go solo or start a language school?

To be self-employed can be a scary experience but also empowering. You feel the world on your shoulders knowing that you will have to provide for everything – from your health insurance to managing your pay so you can afford any sort of  vacations – (no paid vacations or holidays). But it’s liberating: you can set your workday schedule (within certain limits) and explore the world (either literally or in your own town or neighborhood).

To those dreaming of opening a language school or franchise – remember you will be less and less of a teacher and more and more of an entrepreneur. So think carefully before you jump into the abyss.

All in all, the important thing is to do it with passion and remember that the world is not found in your bellybutton.

Cheers,

Mo

teacherpreneur

Education is a process. Not a commodity

Working as a self-employed teacher, I have the freedom that other job positions do not offer, but also lack all sorts of protections and guarantees that a school – even if lame – is required to provide.

Being my own boss means that I always have to negotiate fees and rates, teaching methods, class frequency, class load and homework directly with the student and on some rare occasions with the parent (if a minor) or the HR of a company (this latter case only happens once in a blue moon).

There’s no shame in being up front about the costs and how many classes there will be per month and the need for cancellation or postponement of classes and in the case of the absence for whatever reason of the teacher or student, how those missed classes should be made up for. Yes usually the contract – either verbal or written – is on a month to month basis.

Occasionally you’ll hear the analogy that the worker “prostitutes” himself for his salary, meaning they do things they don’t want to do because of their job. I can’t agree with that assumption for all cases.

The worker is worthy of his wages.

As the self-labelled weblogger Putney Debater wrote:

“In other words, education is not a commodity like a bar of chocolate or a cafe latte, which is physically consumed till there’s nothing left. Nor is it like a motor car or a washing machine, which are durable but eventually break down and have to be replaced, since an education is never replaced but only added to, extended and renovated (‘life-long learning’ anyone?). Perhaps it’s a bit like a book in constituting a store of knowledge, but it isn’t a physical object and doesn’t create a second-hand market, although it seems to be something you can cash in on, because it’s supposed to guarantee you a better income. However, education also goes on domestically and informally, and you can also pass on bits of it for free without depriving yourself of what you’ve passed on. (The early rabbis thought of it as like the flame of a candle.) The teacher is someone who gets paid for doing this, but they’re not selling an object, they are performing what Adam Smith called a service.” https://putneydebater.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/why-education-is-not-a-commodity-2/

However, occasionally, students will think that they are buying a meal, or soap, or any other product when hiring a teacher. They ignore that education IS a process and not just a commodity they may use on and off. In the case of learning a language there is also the need for regular practice. There is one case of a student who wants to have a 1-hour class a month – because he’s still having classes with another teacher (who had missed several classes and owed him the respective hours). Weird but I can understand it for a short-term process and especially in this time of skinny cows.

Let me share with you an anecdote that may illustrate the case. I charge the number of hours a student will have in the month and they pay accordingly. For example, he’ll have 1-hour class a week, a month has 4 weeks, he’ll pay for 4 weeks. I don’t like this system “pay per class”. However, in October student A (not his real name 😜) paid for 2 classes  only because I would be on vacation for 2 weeks – (yes, Virginia, students don’t pay for the teacher’s holidays). But he couldn’t attend one class because he was leaving on vacation. No problem. He could have this class credited to him in November. But he went away on vacation and on his return he decided that he would return to classes only in December. Ok. … Then he decided to return only in January. But as he has that class credit (that he has paid for, mind you) he wants to have that one hour of English sometime in December.

Why? What good will he have in his learning process? What benefit is to be obtained by that stand-alone class, except listening to my melodious voice? Why not have an additional class in January? Well, … he has paid for that class so he WANTS TO have it.

Not to mention that the student is always complaining about financial problems and that the classes aren’t cheap. So I decided to refund him for that class (US$45). Period. Good riddance! (Wait! Did I say that aloud?) The way he is he might even want to ask for a refund adjusted for inflation on that amount. But I think he is not that crazy. 😜

Talking about learning as a process, many students start having classes and then after one or two months go away on vacation, then they can’t have classes because of the yearend holidays, then there’s carnival… cutting a long story short – they suspend classes for 2 to 3 months in a row, and when they return they want to continue from where they stopped. Helloooo… even a car if left unattended for too long can show problems when the owner tries to use it again.  In other words, they are back to where they started… and then after 2, 3, 5 years of classes they start to complain saying they must be too stupid,* because they’re not making progress (*translation: their teacher can’t be any good or he’s just incompetent).

How would you have dealt differently in that situation?
img_7260

7 Steps when learning a foreign language

foreign-language

Quite often when people ask me “what is the fastest way to learn English or Spanish or any other foreign language?” I tell them that the best way would be to date and marry a speaker of that language.

Jokes apart, there are actually no shortcuts to learning a new language, but it helps to have clear objectives and discipline.

  1. Motivation – why do you want to learn English, or French or Spanish or Russian? Is it because you want to get better job opportunities? To travel on vacation? Because you want to read Tolstoy in the original? Whatever your motivation, it doesn’t need to be monolithic. It can expand and include other factors.
  2. Language Level – determine your language level – and be aware that the higher it is the slower your progress will be (or at least feel like that). It takes time and effort to break that “intermediate plateau”
  3. Goal – language learning can be infinite – you’ll always be learning something new but it does not necessarily mean you’ll have to hire a teacher for life. Take charge of your learning.
  4. Routine – develop language contact habits – no rush, but regularity. Remember the old proverb: “Slow and steady wins the race”. You can’t win a marathon race by sprinting all the time. You don’t need to be practicing the language for hours at a time: 10 minutes a day will work wonders.
  5. Diversity – Diversify your study methods and your exposure to the language – read books, magazines, newspapers online, watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts, change the language of your cellphone, listen to online radio in the language you’re studying. Sometimes I change my students’ cellphone language without them knowing it.
  6. Overcome your fears and shyness – beat that fear of playing the fool. Do you think your accent or vocabulary are still limited? So what? At least you’re trying. Usually the only ones who will look down on you are other learners who are not paradigms of language skills, either.
  7. Find people to practice – even if you don’t live near people who speak your L2 you’ll certainly have the opportunity to meet people online – via Facebook for example. Also large cities usually have communities – big or small who use that language. Visit their restaurants, or shops. If there are places of worship in English or Spanish, for example, near where you live, contact them and they will be mostly welcome.

Fluency in another language is challenging but it is not limited to a chosen few. The key is in following the steps above over and over again.

Happy studies,

Mo

Where to teach in São Paulo?

Last week a friend contacted me saying  that Wisdom, recently arrived from Nigeria was looking for a job as an English teacher. Here’s my piece of advice to him:
“Ok. I’d advise you to pursue teacher training programs in more than one English language school. There are different options to teaching Business, individuals, groups, adults and teenagers. Good language schools will give you some sort of training which may last from a couple of hours to one or two weeks on average up to a month – (depending on the school’s professionalism and desperation to get new teachers). The training will allow you to get familiar with the courses and  textbooks and teaching method. Employment will vary from total informality to following all the labor requirements in Brazil. There will be pros and cons in any situation but usually informal employment allows the school to pay the teacher better hourly rates.
These are the main standard language schools in São Paulo:

melhor-escolas-de-ingles-do-brasil

CNA
This school is focused on conversation and the practical use of language. It’s one of the oldest language schools in Brazil with 500 schools around the country. My wife’s first serious contact with the language was in one of their schools and her experience was great.
 Alumni

Founded in 1961 sponsored by the US Government to develop language and educational programs between Brazil and the US. Responsible for the TOEFL and TOEIC certifications among others. This institution is really dear to my heart because it gave me my Translator and Interpreter Certificate.

The EducationUSA Fair, annually organized by Alumni with the participation of over 80 US universities.

Yázigi
It is among the oldest and most traditional schools in Brazil with 1,200 schools around the country. The courses are divided by ages, both face-to-face or online, including international certifications, business and university preparatory exams (vestibular). Yázigi focuses on both grammar and communication.

Cultura Inglesa

Very traditional and respected institution focused on British English through the British Council, considered by many as one of the best English courses around. Classes both online and on site, including international student exchange programs.
CCAA
Wizard
Founded in São Paulo in 1987.
Fisk
Founded by  Richard Fisk in 1950 using its own method
Wise Up
The school focuses on adults and especially those who need to learn English quickly.
Centro Britânico
It is the official examination center of the Cambridge English Language Assessment
Senac SP

Preparatory for  TOEFL among other courses.

MayFair
Check out this school based on conversation classes located near you at Centro Empresarial SP – they always need native teachers
There are many other language schools not listed above  that you can reach out to, but that’s a starting point.”
Good Luck and Happy teaching adventures,
Cheers,
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.

img_6641

img_6637

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

Study Abroad, Revisited

Last week my god-daughter messaged me on Facebook:

Hi, dad! How are you?
 I’m thinking about traveling next year to an English-speaking country to study English. 
So… I need to get ready.
Do you think it’s a good idea to travel through a travel agency such as CVC or exchange program?

I saw it would cost about  R$ 4000. Do you think it’s a good price?

 I was thinking about traveling to England, do you think it’s a good place?
Do you know of any site that might guide me in this search process?
Thank you!!!!
Kisses.
 
Evelyn
 My reply was as follows:
studyabroadbanner
Hello darling.
It’s always a great idea to travel abroad to study, but my suggestion for those who are upper-intermediate or advanced would be to take an open summer course in whatever subject they would like. Instead of just studying English you could study arts, history, photography, endless options in English.
Why? Language schools – as any other business – are focused on profit (nothing wrong with that) but they will be hard pressed to place students at different levels together. In addition to that, your class will most likely have other Brazilians which will be an additional temptation to speak Portuguese. If you’re lucky your classmates will all be Chinese or Korean, so at least, you’ll have to use English to communicate with them.
Another negative point about going abroad just to “study English” – you will be paying your costs in US dollars or Euros or Pounds for content that you could have in Brazil through an intensive immersion course.
Regarding the destination, England is lovely but you will have your costs in pounds (with a still more unfavorable exchange rate than the US $)  which is a disadvantage. Good options would be Canada, USA or even South Africa. Ireland would be a good option but again: too many Brazilians “studying” English in Dublin. Moreover, the Irish accent is lovely but peculiar to that country – so maybe not the best option for a first time abroad.
Again, make sure to get references from other students who’ve been to the school  where you’re considering to study. I know there are schools that have poorly trained teachers with a high turnover while other schools are barefaced scams, many times cancelling the classes (for any imaginable reason) when you get to your destination and of course, you may forget any hopes of a refund.
I’d recommend cities like Pittsburgh, Portland – Oregon or Maine) or San Diego in the US or Calgary, Edmonton in Canada. Also check the weather conditions for the time of year you’re planning to go.
A good site to start your study-abroad research is http://www.studyabroad.com
In Brazil, check with the Student Travel Bureau http://m.stb.com.br/home

May the Lord bless you and your plans and dreams.

Love you,

Dad

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