A TALE OF TWO STUDENTS

I’ve been a teacher for nearly 30 years so if there’s anything I can tell you with some authority is this: Every student is different.

Yes, some of the mistakes will be the same, some of the old jokes too, but regarding personality and traits of character they will be as different as the colors of the rainbow.

One thing we always are reminded of as teachers as to have empathy for our students. And we learn to respect and love them as our students. Unfortunately quite often it is a one way street with some of them.

Now, let me tell you about two students in particular – let’s call them Gilberto and Manuel (not their real names).

Gilberto is a very hard working student and has been with me for some years climbing from B1 to C1 level and in the process developing his skills and confidence in using English as a foreign language. He tries to do all his homework and despite the fact he has classes only once a week (60 minutes) his progress is quite visible. We’ve covered two advanced business books: Market Leader – (a quite good book but it got dated quickly) and Intelligent Business – (not a very intelligent book, by the way, really poorly edited including even some typos).

Gilberto sees the teacher as a simple provider of input without any relevant feelings. I must be available to reschedule his cancelled classes. He refuses to pay for the times he goes on vacation or for any missed class. Every payment he makes it sound as if he would be doing me a favor. Mind you, he likes me – otherwise he would have stopped years ago – but I’m simply a language source to him. Gilberto expects the teacher to be flexible and change class day and time on a whim, sometimes morning, other times afternoon or evening.

[An update] But he also showed professional politeness and empathy – he needed a 5 day grace period to pay for his classes and he first asked me earlier in the month if it would be ok, and if I had any objections to let him know and he’d find another way to pay on time. Of course, I agreed to the 5 day delay.

education online student boy using computer course virtual 2658780 Vector  Art at Vecteezy
The teacher is more than just a source of information

Manuel has also been with me for some years – highly committed and focused – rarely did his homework though, with the exception of some texts for translation. We’ve never used a course book – he’s C1 – he likes to read – so he is often reading all sorts of business, science and philosophy books. Manuel also sees the teacher as a provider of input but this past week he showed he sees me as a professional who can be given appreciation through a day off or some additional pay. He has a problem of “forgetting” to pay me (every month) but to offset that he always pays an additional amount (some R$ 50 extra to cover for any inconveniences caused by the payment delay). On the other hand, Manuel apologizes when he can’t make it to his scheduled class and if I have no other available time he understands and moves on.

[An update] But regarding payment, Manuel never pays on time and always “forgets” it… sometimes he pays over 1 month late … and every time I bring it up he says “Oh I will pay you right after our class tonight” – and it never happens. To be fair, he usually throws in an additional R$ 50 for the delay… but that’s not the agreement.

DISTANCE LEARNING CLIP ART in 2021 | Distance learning, Gym games for kids,  Teacher cartoon
When pricked teachers also bleed

Now paraphrasing what Shakespeare so skillfully wrote in the Merchant of Venice -“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”. – (Act III, scene I).” Yes, teachers and students need a real and respectful relationship even if separated by a screen.

Happy teachings,

Mo

TEACHERS WANTED! Must they be Native?!

I’ve been a teacher of English and Spanish for over 25 years and I’ve never let the fact of my nationality or birthplace affect my professional performance. Never believed that anyone could be a teacher – it’s way more than skills, it’s a calling. Born in Brazil,, born at home because I wanted to be close to momma (lol), my mother tongue is Portuguese with a Paulista accent and proud of that. As anyone should be proud of their heritage.

Proud of being Brazilian!
Proud to be a Brazilian teacher

My first contact with English was at school when I was 11 years old and as English was replacing French and Latin as the foreign languages taught at public schools I was fortunate enough to have an amazing teacher (whose name I’ve forgotten, I think it was Maria Cecilia, but not sure) who gave us a great basic structure of the English language in the 9 months she taught us. We’d copy her texts from the blackboard, we would repeat what she said, we would try to memorize verbs and their conjugation. No visual or audio resources. Remember it was a public school in Piqueri, a low income middle class neighborhood in São Paulo, Brazil. Yes, some of my classmates had parents who were doctors, lawyers, teachers and housewives. Some had money – even a telephone and a car. Not my family’s case either way). Others came from the shacks in the “Buraco Quente (Hot Hole)” favela near our school (that already in the early 70s).

Public schools used to be aggregators bringing together people from all social classes, even shantytowns.

Yes, Still today I don’t know every single word of the English language or I may mispronounce some words. So do native speakers.

Teaching a foreign or second language is more than just your mommy singing lullabies to you in that language when you were born.

It takes hard work, constant studying, and passion for the subject matter.

I’m not saying native speakers cannot be great language teachers, but it’s undeniable that a teacher who also went through the process of learning that language can not only empathize but also provide strategies for their students.

Of course many people who don’t know better still think that a language teacher is not a professional but a person born in a place where English, French, German is spoken, period. Wanna learn Portuguese? Don’t look for a professional teacher, get a Brazilian or Portuguese national to teach you. If you get your lessons for free or almost free, even better. Yes, Virginia I’m being sarcastic.

The market wants the market gets

The list above from LinkedIn shows the priority that many language schools have – they not even bother to say “native-like” teacher – why? Because that’s what their clients are demanding. It’s a reality, not a myth, Virginia. Certifications, professional history or experience are often not necessary. And let’s not get started in cases that I witnessed when the school would pay MORE for the native teacher than the local indigenous educators.

teachers wanted – Harmony Science Academy – Carrollton
Teachers wanted… must be native speakers?

I’ve seen cases that students asked for that “tall, blue-eyed man to be their teacher because he looked native. “But hey, he’s Swedish not from an English speaking country“. Students would say: “close enough!

Also I’ve witnessed cases when a Black British person would be turned down as a teacher because he didn’t have the “qualifications” – I think you get my gist.

Prejudice is alive and well in different manifestations of the human heart and it’s no surprise it is so present in a humanistic career as language teaching.

Patient prejudice toward nurses - American Nurse
Prejudice is alive and well

What can be done?

The British Council, yes, the British Council well known for their neutrality, right? published the following back in 2014:

“If you start questioning these practices (preferring native teachers), you are likely to hear one or all of the following excuses:

1. Students prefer NESTs
2. Students need NESTs to learn ‘good’ English
3. Students need NESTs to understand ‘the culture’
4. NESTs are better for public relations

They go on: ” So why does this obsession with ‘nativeness’ refuse to go away? Because for years the English language teaching (ELT) industry told students that only NESTs could teach them ‘good’ English, that NESTs were the panacea for all their language ills. But let’s be blunt and have the courage to acknowledge that the industry encouraged a falsehood which many of us chose to turn a blind eye to while others assumed they could do nothing. I feel this needs to change”.

“The good news is that positive changes are already taking place. TESOL France has issued a public letter condemning the discrimination of NNESTs. Some of the most renowned ELT professionals such as Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury, as well as organisations such as the British Council Teaching English team have already expressed their strong support for the TEFL Equity Advocates  campaign I started, which fights for equal professional opportunities for native and non–native teachers.”

And I make theirs my words: “And you can help bring about the change too in numerous ways that were outlined here. So stand up, speak out and join the movement.

(Source: https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/native-english-speaking-teachers-always-right-choice)

Cheers,

Mo

How’s English teaching changed over the last 30 years?

Wow. A landmark. 30 years of Teaching English and Spanish as foreign languages. And counting. But honestly speaking, English has always taken the lion’s share of my teaching hours.

Out of those years, over 25 have been teaching one on one so I can say a thing or two about changes in language teaching in this segment.

1. Accessibility: when I started teaching cable tv was limited. Students could watch videos of movies in English but subtitled in Portuguese. No radio programs in English…lots of English songs but how could they understand what was being sung? Limited access to lyrics. Now they have all the English speaking world at the touch of a button on their cellphone.

2. Technology – when I started teaching I not even had a cassette player and the school followed their own coursebook without cassettes. If I wanted to play a song I had to take my portable turntable and vinyl record. From cassette – to CDs and we moved up from VHS – to DVD’s and now to streaming and millions of channels on YouTube. Not to mention the hundreds of language learning apps.

3. Pedagogy – teachers were the reference in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary. If the teacher didn’t know it how could a simple student know that word? From teacher-centered the language courses have moved on to a learner-centered approach (at least in speech). Learners can do way more than what their teachers might tell them to do (well, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it).

4. Resources – from coursebooks and the occasional imported magazine or newspaper now we all have Doctor Google. There are loads of apps for students to practice vocabulary, pronunciation, even using AI for actual conversation. They can record themselves and self evaluate their progress.

5. Creativity – that’s changed but still the same if you get my gist – I mean, we teachers have always had to resort to creativity from role playing to imaginary conversations to using tv commercials recorded on a VHS tape as part of our class material.

Despite all the improvements in pedagogy and technology some things still continue wearily unchanged.

Many students still think that a native teacher is better than a teacher who HAD to learn the language as they are doing now. After all, if the teacher says, “come, come, it’s not that difficult”, they can always argue, “not for you”. Still language schools give priority to a teaching candidate who’s spent 2 years washing dishes or cleaning houses abroad over a local language college graduate.

Many students also think grammar should be taught first even though they hate it… so it must be good like the bitter taste of medicine, right? Still controversies over teaching pronunciation and cultural values of the English speaking countries. Even those who defend the teaching of a global English accept the fact that some parameters must be defined, otherwise the English someone is learning in Indonesia might be incomprehensible to someone learning it in Ecuador.

The future will present even more changes, but some things I’m sure will remain the same: the importance of knowledgeable, committed and caring teachers working along students who have developed or discovered their own motivation.

Here’s to 30 more years of teaching!

Cheers,

Mo

LEARN ENGLISH (OR ANY OTHER LANGUAGE) IN 2020

Last week I came across a video on YouTube where Christian (from http://www.canguroenglish.com/) talked about resolutions for students to effectively learn English in 2020.

He listed nine reasons that could beautifully sum up steps that would open the door towards learning and I decided to create step by step posters of his tips:

Tip #1: Practice actively – don’t just sit passively in front of your computer watching YouTube videos. Read, speak, write, repeat. F827E6F9-50B0-482F-94CA-D0646AA6B321

Tip #2: Don’t believe the lies – You can’t learn English in 90 days or while you’re sleeping. It requires time, effort, commitment. persistence. IMG_7445

Tip #3 – Have realistic expectations – don’t expect to be making phone calls or understanding Shakespeare after 2 classes. IMG_7447

Tip # 4 – Grammar is important – understand about verb tenses and modal verbs, for example. But it corresponds to only a tiny part of the language and your communication skills.

IMG_7448

Tip # 5: Forget about exams – yes, Universities will require exams but if your goal is just to get a passing score, you will be missing out on the opportunity of actually learning the language – you’d be better off then just focusing on the tricks of exam’s questions and timing. IMG_7469Tip # 6 – Stop trying to sound like a Native – some people have lived for 30, 40 even 50 years in an English speaking country and have NEVER lost their accent – which has not held them back from enjoying their adoptive country to the full. Embrace your voice and accent, that’s part of your identity. IMG_7470Tip # 7 Mistakes are Learning – yes, you say you’re a Virgo and a perfectionist – I don’t care, and most other people don’t either. You will make mistakes and learn from them. Instead of just kicking yourself, pay attention to the mistake and try to avoid repeating it again and again and again. Move on to the next one. IMG_7471Tip # 8: Use your English to do things – watch TV, read, travel, do whatever you would do in your mother tongue, start experimenting with the language you’re learning. IMG_7472Tip # 9 Have Fun – it’s impossible to have fun every single moment – but enjoy the ride – if you enjoy the journey, your destination will feel even sweeter. IMG_7473Happy learning in 2020!

Cheers,

Mo

Native teachers – busting a myth

Last weekend we were celebrating my birthday at the home of a dear couple, Mari and David, who even surprised me with a deliciously personalized Black Forest Cake. They were so excited to have that cake made especially for me and quickly apologized saying that the cake maker had mislabeled it with “Congratulations” instead of “Happy Birthday”.

Black Forest Cake
Happy Birthday Teacher

We had a wonderful time together and talked about nothing and 1001 things. At one point, my wife ask Mari about her English classes.

Mari works in marketing and customer service for an international company and needs to improve her language skills so that she can participate in global conference calls and presentations.

The last time we had talked about it, Mari had told us she was having online classes with a “native” teacher and that she found it hard to study and focus but she was feeling she was making some progress.

This time, she said, “now I am having face-to-face classes at a language school near my office, after work. But… my teacher is ‘NATIVE’ “.

My astute wife shot back right away: “why are you saying he’s ‘native’? What difference would it make if  he wasn’t native?

Mari stood there (or sat there as I remember) with her mouth hanging open searching for good reasons. She realized I’m an English teacher and I am not “native”. So she said, “Yes, Mo, but you are native-like”.

Agreed, my English is amazing (may modesty take a hike for awhile), but what makes me a great language teacher (there I go again) is not simply the fact that I can speak English and can lead some people to believe I am an American, or Australian, or Canadian, or Irish etc… depending on the nationality of the students trying to guess where I am from.

I am a great teacher because:

  1. I am knowledgeable /an expert in the subject I’m teaching.
  2. I know how to convey information in a simple, brief and clear way.
  3. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be trying to speak another language: Empathy.
  4. I am patient.
  5. I motivate, correct, exhort, encourage learners to aim to a higher level with my own passion for the language learning process.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a post written by Justin Murray (a ‘native’ teacher of English) on the English Experts website:

“[…] Another advantage about native speakers is that their students generally feel more motivated to speak in English in class. The fact that the teacher is from an English speaking country and not the country of the students generally works as an unconscious trigger for the student to speak the language. This may have nothing to do with the teacher’s proficiency or teaching ability.”

“The final advantage, which is the most popular, is that a native born teacher will teach or transmit much better pronunciation. This is for sure an advantage, but what a lot of people don’t know is that it’s difficult for beginners and lower intermediate students take advantage of this. In my opinion, upper intermediate and advanced students will benefit a lot more.” https://www.englishexperts.com.br/are-native-english-speakers-really-better-teachers/Image result for native teacher

Having read the quote above, I risk repeating myself:

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what planet your teacher is from, what will matter is the learner’s commitment, focus and effort (time, money, skills) to learn and improve their language skills. If having a native teacher makes you feel better, knock yourself out. But that doesn’t mean you’ll learn any faster or better.

The teacher, either Native, Native-like, or Martian will be just a facilitator and provider of resources.

Happy teaching and happy learning,

Mo

(The cake was amazing, by the way)

Learning a language on your own

This week I received the following question from one of our Sabbath School podcast listeners:
“I’d like to know if reading  books in English (reading a lot) will enable me to learn the language?”
“I can’t afford a language school/course. My English level is very good. I can understand about 80% of what I read. But I find it hard to speak and write. Would it be possible for me to reach a higher level by reading and listening only? Your Sabbath School podcast (Believes Unasp Sabbath School Podcast  – https://player.fm/series/2424793) has been a great gateway for me. I’m loving the audio practice! It’s been helping me a lot.” Jefferson F.
Image result for learn a language reading
Hello Jefferson, your question is pretty fair – can anyone learn English (or any other language) just from reading? My first answer: That depends
Of course, there are many people who have learned the classical languages – Greek and Latin or Hebrew and Arabic from just reading texts.
Image result for classical languages
Can you learn a language by yourself? Yes, depending on your will, time and natural skills.
But the learning process can be more comprehensive (and more fun) if you incorporate all four skills:
Reading and Listening are receptive skills while Writing and Speaking are predominantly productive skills. Of course, if your goal is to understand or translate sacred texts, for instance, that’s where your efforts and focus should be. But…
You can and should (as much as possible) develop your “proactive skills”: speaking and writing.
Most definitely today there are millions of opportunities to practice your listening in your target language (literally). You can listen to many podcasts and documentaries, interviews, etc. Reading opportunities are basically infinite online… or at least they would last you all your mortal life and then some.
Now, in ‘modern languages’ one important challenge is to be able to communicate – either through speaking or writing – and you can practice that by finding people who are also learning or are native speakers of your target language. Email them. WhatsApp them, Facebook them.
Let’s say in the worst case scenario you have no one to practice with – start reading aloud and training your speech, pronunciation, listening to your own voice how you can improve your intonation, linking words, etc. Record yourself (even if you hate the sound of your voice – tough it up!).
Regarding the fact you can’t afford a language course, there are many courses offered in Brazil by public universities (state and federal institutions) which offer some language courses for Specific Purposes at zero or low cost. Google them up. And make YouTube one of your teachers.
Image result for ingles instrumental usRelated image

 

So… Finally, I’m answering your question with a resounding YES! Yes, You can learn English (or any other language all by yourself).
Now if you would like to have a language expert, enabler, facilitator, provider of positive feedback… feel free to contact me. Your investment will be worth your while.
Cheers,
Mo

The Seven Deadly Sins of Language Learning

Image result for seven  good habits  clipartMany people around the world are interested in learning a second or foreign language, be it English, Spanish, French or any of the 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. It would do good to any of us to try to avoid these 7 Bad Language Learning Habits That Turn People Off.Image result for seven deadly sins of language learning

Speaker and author Julian Treasure gave a popular TED Talk in 2014 that explained how anyone can speak effectively, whether in a conversation or in front of a crowd.

Here are the bad habits you need to avoid if you want to learn another language, loosely adapted from Treasure’s “seven deadly sins of speaking”:

 1. Worrying about what others will think and say

If you worry that other speakers will be judging you and that they always speak better than you and more fluently and effortlessly,  that will only hold you back.

2. Setting unrealistic goals

“In 3 months I’ll be speaking the Queen’s English” – Well… that will depend on what queen you’re talking about.

3. Being negative

“I’ve been learning ___________ (fill in the blank with any language) for X years and I can’t get above a pre-intermediate level conversation. My listening sucks. I’ll never speak like my friend/ enemy/ boss, spouse, etc.”

4. Complaining

Complaining easily becomes a habit, and before you know it, you’ll be known as the person who complains about the weather, the news, work, and about the language you’re learning. It’s what Treasure calls “viral misery.

Guess what happens if you keep saying: “This exercise is boring… it’s too difficult … it’s too easy, why do I have to learn this grammar point? … “

Some people have a “blame-thrower,” Treasure says, putting the blame on anybody and anything except themselves. “I don’t have anyone to practice my language with”. “I don’t have time; I have 2 wives and 1 child to provide for”; etc

6. Not using the language you’re learning

It’s a waste of time and energy to only spend 45 minutes a week in touch with the language you’re learning. You have to find ways to listen, read, write, speak (even if only to yourself) in your target language outside the classroom environment, be it physical or virtual.

7. Being lazy or a slothImage result for seven deadly sins clipart

see item 6  – you see? – you not even want to refer back to the previous topic (yes, I told you you won’t learn if you don’t invest time and effort).

 

 

 


Image result for tree of learningSo what can you do to enjoy you’re learning journey? 

  1. Start using the little of the language you already know, not worrying what other people will say.
  2. Set realistic goals. Be aware that the you’ll be learning the language for years to come.
  3. Be positive. I’ve been studying this language for X amount of time and I already can … “Today in class I learned x, y, z.” I was watching a movie in my target language and could understand some words here and there”.
  4. Suggest alternate exercises, topics or activities that might be more appealing to you.
  5. Own up to your duties in the language learning process.
  6. Use the language you’re learning as often as possible. If not daily, at least every other day.
  7. Don’t surrender to the sin of laziness. Just do it.

Happy learning,

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

 

Song about Domestic Violence – Lesson Plan

Level: intermediate and higher

Duration: 60 minutes

Teacher’s Preparation Time: just a few minutes

It all started when I was thinking of a song to use with my students today – students love songs, but our music taste can be quite different. But since I am the one planning the lesson and having ALL the work I’ll use a song I like. If they don’t like it… tough! I remembered this great song from the 80s and 90s – “Luka” by Suzanne Vega – I’ve always enjoyed its melody and the serious subject it represents through those strong words and a solid story.

You can introduce the theme:

Write the word “domestic” on the board and hold up the picture of the house. Ask Ss what they think domestic means. Write any appropriate answers on the board.

Then write the word “violence” on the board and hold up the “anti-violence” picture. Ask Ss what they think violence means. Write any appropriate answers on the board. Finally, ask Ss what they think “domestic violence” means. Discuss.

1. What is domestic violence?

2. How is domestic violence revealed? Physically? Psychologically?

My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
I think it’s because I’m clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it’s because I’m crazy
I try not to act too proud
They only hit until you cry
After that you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
Yes, I think I’m okay
I walked into the door again
If you ask that’s what I’ll say
And it’s not your business anyway
I guess I’d like to be alone
With nothing broken, nothing thrown
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am
My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
And they only hit until you cry
After that, you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Suzanne Vega
Luka lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc
The song is available on YouTube here’s one link: http://tiny.cc/fanwfz
Students listen to the song and try to get its gist – with lyrics in hand.
1. What is the song about?
(one of my students asked – “does she live in a dangerous neighborhood?” – as if domestic violence only happened among the poor)
How naive or blind can one be?
2. Who is Luka talking to?
3. What is she trying to explain?
As a teacher you prepare a cloze exercise – to fill the gaps with information, or verbs, or nouns or prepositions.
Example: Students listen and fill in the gaps
My name is Luka,
I live on ______________________
I live _____________ from you
Yes I think you’ve ________________ before
Or Students read, fill in the gaps with the right preposition and then listen to check:
My name is Luka,
I live _________ the second floor
I live upstairs ___________you
Yes I think you’ve seen me _______
For lower levels, students can write their own versions with actual or imagined facts
My name is  Halala
I live in a house 
I live next door
Guess you’ve never seen me before

The song can be followed by a discussion on domestic violence and what we can as individuals and as a society do to put an end to this “silence”

The Minnesota Literacy Council has prepared a whole lesson plan on Domestic violence and it’s free (https://mnliteracy.org/sites/default/files/int_-mlc-_echo_-_domestice_violence_unit.pdf)

  1. Some key vocabulary on this subject:

1. Abuse –
Hitting someone or saying bad things to them is a type of abuse.
2. Abuser –
Suzanna’s dad hurts her. He is the abuser. He makes Suzanna feel pain.
3. Victim –
Suzanna’s dad hurts her. She is the victim. She feels pain because of her dad’s actions.
4. Physical abuse –
Suzanna’s dad hits her. He sometimes chokes her—he puts his hands around her throat
so she can’t breathe. This is called physical abuse.
5. Emotional abuse –
Suzanna’s dad hits her but he also says hurtful things to her. He calls her stupid. This is
name calling. He also says no one will ever love her. This is called emotional abuse.
6. Power and control –
Suzanna’s dad is bigger than she is. He uses his strength and hurtful words to have
power and control over her.

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

Immersion Course – the Return

Today, one of my students, Isabella, returned after a 2-month-long trip to the US – one month she spent studying English at Kaplan International English School in Chicago and one month traveling across the US – a few days in Seattle, then on to San Francisco and ending her tour in Miami, Fl. “The best city by far was Chicago. It’s vibrant, culturally diverse with amazing restaurants, museums and great music”, she said. Image result for chicago skyline

Well, she had been very anxious about her arrival at the airport and customs and immigration. We practiced what she should say if questioned by the immigration officer, what might happen and she said it all went smoothly. The only drawback was that she arrived at O’Hare’s Terminal 5 and she had to go to Terminal 1 to catch the metro rail to downtown Chicago. The access information was a little difficult and it was a little bit of a hassle for her to get to the other terminal. From downtown she used an Uber driver to take her to her niece’s apartment at the University of Chicago on the South Side. Image result for chicago terminal 1 subway

She told me it was a bus commute of around 25 minutes from where she was staying with her niece to the language school downtown. She could observe the wide diversity of people and nationalities and after one week the regular passengers were already greeting her. And sometimes she would call an Uber Pool so she could meet other passengers and try to practice her English. Image result for bus downtown university of chicago

At the school she was assessed as an A2 student and placed in a classroom with some 15 students from the Arab Emirates, South Korea, China, and Colombia. Her first teacher was a nice man but who spoke way too fast and when she asked for some explanation about a point in the lesson he would not give her an answer. After one week she asked for another teacher – this time it was an Englishman (yes, I know, an Englishman in Chicago – great version for Sting’s song – An Englishman in New York) and he spoke more clearly and pausedly.  Her teacher referred her to listen to Ted Talks and watch episodes of “Friends”. Image result for kaplan school  chicago male teacher

The biggest issue”,  Isabella went on, “that I had with the school was the lack of a good language laboratory”.

Since she was familiar with the language lab concept from her years studying English in Brazil she had been expecting state-of-the-art facilities. She commented: “After 3 hours of classes I thought I would  spend at least 1 hour in a lab listening and recording my speech but it was very small and restricted.” Image result for kaplan school  chicago language lab

“Of course, nothing compares to the experience of being in another country surrounded by the language you’re learning, however, I found out that people were not very patient with me. Many people spoke too fast and when I tried to ask for something, for example, they’d say ‘do you speak Spanish?’ ”  

I asked Isabella if before leaving they’d reassessed her English level at school and she said it was raised to a B1, which she thought was much too soon.

Academically she didn’t have anything more than what she could have had in Brazil. This outcome strengthens my advice: use your time and money to study English in your own home country and then go to an English speaking country for practice, attend a course in photography, art, whatever, in your target language. The return will be much more satisfying.

Cheers,

Mo