Practice makes perfect, but …

Since the late 1980s language drilling has been looked down upon as being bad. They’d say its mechanical, boring and irrelevant for the students. Students aren’t automatons to be repeating meaningless sentences or vocabulary.

And it’s true that too much of a thing (even if a good thing) can be its own death. But as the old saying goes “don’t throw the baby with the bathwater”. Language drills have their very good value: by repetition they can help students identify their questions and problem areas while leading them towards specific language goals and targets, therefore, drilling can help students focus.

In the not so distant past, language labs were the rage. All the “respectable” language schools had their laboratories with those sessions inserted in their lesson grid where students would be sent to a stuffy room (no air conditioning then) and they’d spend 40-50 minutes listening and repeating to an outdated audio recording, while a teacher dozed off (sorry, listened in and monitored the students).

idiomas
Language labs could resemble an industrial assembly line but production quality can vary widely

 With the ubiquitous presence of smartphones now students have a language school and lab in their hands but their needs are still the same, including the need to practice.

Spaced repetition – reviewing words over a sequence of days will work wonders on vocabulary retention, concentration, and patience.

Practice makes perfect,  but only if you practice in the right way.

“How you practice and what you do matters more than how long you practice”, Jeremy Harmer has said more than once. drilling

If you get your heart involved you will get better chances of learning.

Drilling should be genuinely communicative, psychologically authentic, focused, and follow a regular pattern.

Happy drills,

Cheers,

Mo

 

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Why Teach Pronunciation ? (Or not?)

Quite often teachers of English as a Foreign Language find themselves between a rock and a hard place concerning teaching pronunciation. If they’re native speakers they hesitate in constantly correcting their students fearing they’ll pass an overbearing image and many times thinking … “well… I can understand them … whatever”. If the teacher is a nonnative speaker of English they might feel insecure about their own pronunciation or even worse… they might not be aware of the proper pronunciation of specific sounds in English which are different from their mother tongue. 60984E2A-14DC-40E6-A3B4-002A9032AABF.jpeg

So… why bother teaching pronunciation?

Students want and need to speak clearly.

Their phonological awareness has an impact on all areas of their language learning besides speaking: reading, writing, vocabulary, etc

But what’s the right pronunciation? What’s a standard accent? British RP? Only 3% of Brits actually speak it. American Midwestern? What about Mississippi or Alabama? How about global English?

That’s why it’s important to know why your students are learning English.

The teacher must then focus on speech comprehension rather  on the student’s accent being good, bad or proper.

How to do it? Teaching pronunciation works best a little during every lesson instead of once a week or whatever frequency students have. C7047EE5-CB8D-4F9B-A70F-BE4A4AA74861.jpeg

“The teacher must”, as Richard Cauldwell  wrote, ‘focus on:

the greenhouse: isolated words.

the garden: mixing and growing words together, linking words.

The jungle: where everything is mixed”

The best way will be to integrate pronunciation with other skills and lots of repetition (practice).

In conclusion, our insecurity about the way we speak can be managed by raising our awareness and practicing to the student’s heart’s content.

Cheers,

Mo

N.B – Many thanks to Laura Patsko with her great YouTube videos on the subject of pronunciation – https://youtu.be/yyga6vIAroE

Give and take – the little practiced art of “practicing language”

That’s a common complaint by language teachers everywhere: after a weekend, long weekend, and heaven forbid, after 20 days of vacation, students return rusty and despondent. Allow 2 to 3 weeks for students to get up to speed, depending on their language class frequency, which in my case, most students have classes only once a week.

So… they return to class, I’m talking about adult students, but the same applies to children, with their ears and tongues hardened by lack of exercise in the target language, even if they’ve done their “assigned homework.”

Bear in mind that our brains also need some rest, and that’s ok. But language-wise, I’m not talking about reviewing grammar rules and prepositions or phrasal verbs, which can bore both teachers and students to death. I’m talkingincorporating language to their routine via give and take.

TAKERS:

When learning a language we must be receptors – take Language from different sources. Listen to a podcast, or internet radio, watch a movie or TVs series, read all sorts of texts, etc. Take in as much language as you can…  but, you must also become a  giver.

GIVERS:

Start producing the language. Be a transmitter of English or any other language you are learning. How? By trying to speak that language even if to yourself. Another great way to transition from a simple receptor into a transmitter is by taking small pieces of text – books, newspapers, magazines or online, and reading them aloud. Nowadays, there are many text to audio resources which you may use to check your pronunciation. Otherwise just listening to your own voice and working on the sounds you produce will work wonders in your language process.

Happy learning,

Cheers,

Mo

Vocabulary Learning Strategy – word collocations

I still remember the notebooks with lists of words, nouns, verbs, prepositions that we were told to copy from the blackboard as a strategy for memorization of key vocabulary. Regardless of its old-fashioned style, word lists can still play a useful role in language learning, especially if contextualized.  you can create lists with translated words, with pronunciation keys, by topics, by grammar point, etc.

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traditional vocabulary lists

Last week I was talking to one of my students about the terrible wildfires in California which led me to consider key words related to that manmade or natural disaster:

Fire in California

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word collocation lists

So besides being exposed to new vocabulary the students are shown the possibility of using those words – in this case related to disasters but going beyond that.

Another tip I give my students is to try to memorize a verb with  the corresponding preposition


listen to

talk to

marry to

depend on

focus on

etc…  this way when they have to use that verb they’ll know which preposition would come after that.

Regarding vocabulary, memorization is key, you can’t be speaking “I did that with this” for much long. So get your notebooks out and keep on collocating.

Cheers,

Mo

Why Brazilians – or Japanese, Koreans, Spaniards, Etc – don’t speak English properly

Ask anybody from Santiago to Shanghai and they’ll answer the same: English is a global language and very important to learn.

So … why is it that after decades of public efforts in several countries to teach students English  as a Foreign Language  success can be so limited and even negligible?

Let’s use Brazil as a reference but (it most certainly applies to many other countries in Latin America, Asia or Europe).

in Brazil (almost) everybody in public and private schools studies English as a foreign language – there are around 57 million students in primary and secondary education but a very little percentage can claim to have a remedial level of English. Why is that?

1. English is taught as another subject not a tool – lack of proper speaking skills and pronunciation and accent reduction in both teachers and students make them embarrassed and afraid of speaking the language.

2. Out-of-dated English course programmes with focus on grammar and rote memorisation. Asking primary and secondary students I could observe that over 60% of those questioned don’t like to study English, but over 80% replied that it would be nice to have an English aptitude level for university entrance exams and / or traveling abroad. IMG_9708

3. The sheer dimension of the country and the prevalence of a monolingual society with lack of incentives towards learning a second language. Brazilians in practical terms miss academic and professional opportunities in other countries because they can’t use English properly.

This scenario will only change if and when foreign language teaching becomes a tool towards a goal and not an end in itself, and the teachers on the front become multipliers of language learning and not barriers.

Keep on learning,

Cheers,

Mo

 

Language as a tool

Having joined a family full of nephews (a few) and nieces (lots) I’ve been many a time asked if I could teach them English… my first instinct is to tell them – “I learned it by myself go and do likewise”,  but my soft heart tends to say yes under some conditions:

  1. They’ll do the assigned homework
  2. They won’t act as royal pains

    Big family bigger dreams

The latest niece to join the gang in showing interest to learn English is Maria Eduarda who at 14 had always resisted to the idea of learning English quoting that same old idea of “I not even know portuguese well why should I learn English” or “We speak Portuguese in Brazil” – etc etc, so…

So last week, Eduarda finally gave in, she asked my wife if she could teach her English and basic computer skills.  Quickly I told my wife – try to teach her computer skills using English. That’s what I’ve always encouraged. Using language as a tool to reach different goals not a goal in itself.

Cheers,

Mo

Accent v Pronunciation

This is another question that comes up quite often in the language classroom:

“Teacher, what’s the difference between accent and pronunciation?”

Well… in simple terms, accent is the voice you’ve developed based on where you were born and raised, your parents, family, classmates, etc all played a role in developing your accent in your mother tongue. Anyone has an accent! You realize it every time you move out of your area or comfort zone where most people speak like you.

Don’t even get me started with different British accents – one for every village and town.

Now… pronunciation refers to your intonation – the way you enunciate words and phrases.

I always tell my students that they don’t have to lose their accents – they are many times even considered charming by other speakers…. but they must be careful with their pronunciation so that they can be understood and not break down any communication attempt.

One example is the pronunciation of the letter R /r/ as a consonant sound. Many Brazilian, French and Spanish-speaking students find it hard to pronounce words such as

Rabbit  – Raccoon – radio – red – Recipe – run etc

many times their default pronunciation with be with an H sound – they’ll say

Habbit – Haccoon – Hadio – Hed – Hecipe – Hun etc

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My role as the teacher is to identify these problem sounds, raise the student’s awareness to it and encourage them to produce the adequate sound.

Speaking another language requires skills which can and must be developed.

So happy practice and keep on speaking.

Cheers,

Mo