Shakespeare in ELT

This post came about after I saw a tweet by Nathan Hall questioning whether Shakespeare should be used in the ELT environment/context. Nathan tweeted the following:

Unpopular opinion: I think using Shakespeare (original text) to teach English is an unproductive use of time in a general classroom. I am open to hearing counter arguments

The premise – original text – would require the student to have a high English level (C1 or higher) and the energy spent in trying to understand the text would not be “well spent”.

Early on as a learning EFL teacher, I wasn’t able, or didn’t know how to prepare independent lessons – I would use coursebooks – and in the early 90s the best coursebook I came across was the Headway series – honestly, I learned a lot about the English language and culture using Headway Advanced and Unit 2 under the theme of Literature and Literary Genres contained a little bit of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. Could it get any better? I had to carefully prepare my lessons in advance otherwise I wouldn’t be ready to deal with the grammar and vocabulary points presented in the unit.

Back in 1991, I was teaching for a language school in São Paulo and they sent me to teach a group of three ladies at a sports club where they would have their gym, tennis practice, swimming activities and, of course, English lessons. They were nice, intelligent mature women who had already traveled the world, were advanced English learners and had already read and seen a few Shakespeare plays translated and performed in Portuguese. They did not hesitate to read an excerpt of the “7 ages of man” in modern English (not Elizabethan English as some highbrow pedantic educators would like to say) despite the nebulous vocabulary (some of it) for the advanced language learner there was a ton of conversation to be obtained from that short and brief text.

Image result for headway advanced 1996Headway Advanced published in 1991

headway s
A page from the New Headway Advanced 4th Edition 2014

Yes, I totally get the fact that for many students (no matter their linguistic background and location) Shakespeare would be a drag: representing another time and another place far removed from their contemporary world. Well, … tell them to see The Lion King and they’ll be seeing Shakespeare’s ghost there. Yes, the language evolves but today some of Shakespeare’s quotes are still as relevant as back then even within a different context.

Can’t any B1/B2 English learner understand some of these quotes?

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts.”

—Jaques in As You Like It

“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.”

—Escalus in Measure for Measure

 “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

—Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Yes, Shakespeare’s texts are old but the truths those works convey can be adapted to contemporary English by publishers’ Readers, plays can be re-enacted and adapted etc.

Shakespeare map
This map shows all the different locations and countries described in Shakespeare’s plays. He truly belongs to the world. 

My point is: don’t throw the baby with the bathwater. In this day and age, language teaching is still seen as a form of colonialism so the condescending “native teacher” desires the learner to see himself and his values first and only use the language as a literal tool for a very specific purpose. Why shut down the learner from the rest of the world in time and space?

If the learners are Asian should then all the material be Asian related? The same for African or Latino learners? In Brazil why bother teaching them the word “snow” just teach them to say “it’s a scorcher”? That’s the oppression of multiculturalism gone awry when it’s only good if you’re different from me and we have nothing in common and don’t even try to understand me “for I’m marvelous”.

Let the learners dream a Midsummer night’s dream… as teachers we’re supposed to expose them to the world not shelter them from it.

And don’t get me started on the beauty and usefulness of the second person singular – thou/thee. 😜

Is it unproductive to read any Shakespeare in the original text? As a sign of our times: Yes and no. That depends! Who said you can only use the original text? Yes, you may use it, but also adapt it in a myriad of different ways. Dost thou get me?

Mo and Shakespeare.jpg
Mo and his friend, Billy S.

Cheers,

Mo

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Motivating and empowering students

For many years  I’ve been volunteering at an English Bible class in Brazil. Our goal is simple: use English to encourage people to study the Bible.

Every Saturday morning we meet for some 70-80 minutes and sing some gospel songs, pray together, and study the bible. The challenge is that they have a little bible study guide – with daily questions and texts, and the following Saturday we meet to discuss what we learned during the week.  You can check out the lessons here for free: https://absg.adventist.org/archives

But this past weekend I was observing the study guide of one of our class members, he is a quite shy young man – it had been thoroughly studied, underlined and the questions had been read and duly answered. Wow.

I was so happy to see Leandro’s dedication to look up the vocabulary of the texts he was studying not for English’s sake alone, but  because he was enjoying to be studying the Bible while using English as a tool. I do encourage them to do that, but they won’t have their notebooks inspected or not even get a shiny sticker on the page if they do so. They do it because they are excited about the learning process. That’s their own reward.

Happy Growing,

Cheers,

Mo

Parla Usted English? The blended approach

English is a flexible, malleable language. It is constantly changing, maybe even faster than other languages due to the huge influence it has worldwide in addition to the different cultures and languages immigrating into English-speaking countries.

In my case I feel passionate about the English language, the sounds, the complex yet simple grammar. How many books do I have about the English language? Most definitely over 22 – just about the English language – I’m not counting grammar or literature books.

Now many people learn English through their gaming addictions.

As an ESL/ EFL teacher, I try to encourage my students to enjoy the language learning process…. don’t see it as an end in itself but rather as a means towards an end.

One point of contention is that some students want to learn grammar while others just hate the sound of the word.

Grammar apple
Grammar can be presented in an attractive and practical way

Since the inception of the communicative approach, the main trend in teaching grammar has been as an integrated part of the lesson. When teaching the simple past for instance – regular verbs  – many false beginners have already seen them but never learned the proper pronunciation.

They will be fated to fail when trying to say these verbs for instance.

ASKED

PHONED

So the best approach is to integrate grammar into the other skills, they’ll learn the grammar but also the listening and speaking part of the language .

Defenders of teaching grammar as a stand alone part of the class is that it would get lost in the noise of other points – it’ll be explicit teaching. Many times the proper grammar has never been acquired because it’s never been noticed.

So a blending of the two approaches would bring the best of the results. That’s I would call the Blended Approach.

blender
Blending approaches in language teaching yields the best results

Cheers,

Mo

 

Writing a Glossary

A student of mine, who is very keen on learning and has a strong motivation and passion for reading and encountering new vocabulary, has started his own glossary. Here are some tips that might be useful to any language learner.

PURPOSE: why create a glossary if you can go online or use even a paper dictionary? A glossary will provide a one-stop place for students to go to in order to check and review new vocabulary. Moreover, it’s more meaningful – the student has created HIS or HER own glossary. It will also allow access of information in the future.

WHAT TO INCLUDE: you can divide your glossary by subjects – verbs, nouns related to technology, finance, communication, presentations, etc. It becomes much more than a glossary.

USING THE GLOSSARY:  you can revisit the glossary in case you get stuck on a certain word or concept. A way to quiz yourself before an upcoming test, for instance.

MAKING THE GLOSSARY: you can use a traditional notebook or index cards. Write definitions and pronunciation. IMG_9267

When possible add also the pronunciation of the word – either the phonetic spelling or just the way you hear it.

 

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Add context to the words – include examples of word collocation. Use pictures and visuals when possible – words that go together “like a horse and carriage”:

Examples of word collocation:

to feel free
to come prepared
to save time
to find a replacement
to make progress
to do the washing up

Please feel free to take a seat and enjoy the show.
Make sure to come prepared for the test tomorrow.
You’ll save time if you turn off your smart phone and concentrate on the lesson.
We need to find a replacement for Jim as soon as possible.
We’re making progress on the project at work.
I’ll do the washing up and you can put Johnny to bed.

Cheers and happy learning,

Mo

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Glossary

 

 

Why pay a language teacher if I can learn for free?

With the ubiquitous presence of the internet there are tons of resources online for people willing to learn a foreign language to study for free. So why would anyone be willing to pay a teacher for lessons?

There are some people who can really learn on their own – I am one of them.  Regarding how I learned English, I never paid a private teacher or language school. A big factor was money and lack thereof – there simply wasn’t any funding to hire a teacher no matter how low his or her fee.  I compensated that with lots of passion for the language being daily in contact with it by listening to the radio and reading books and magazines. Moreover, some people find it easier to learn a language than others.

But as I developed my career as a teacher I had to attend teaching training courses and programs where I could identify and fix many of my faults and lack of knowledge which had been preventing  my full development.

Here are some reasons why professional help can make the difference in your learning:

  1. A teacher will help you identify your language level and develop strategies to make progress to the next level;
  2. A good teacher (emphasis on good) will equip you with relevant up-to-date material appropriate to your level. A teacher will provide you with quality material and practice. Many online videos and materials are outdated and with a very low quality;
  3. A teacher will highlight some important points you must correct and avoid some mistakes. The teacher will provide a reference for the student on his language intelligibly, pronunciation, vocabulary collocation, etc;
  4. You will be able to find answers to your questions;
  5. Even if you’re dating or married to a native speaker of the language you’re learning quite often they will not be very patient with your learning process. They won’t know how to correct you and even worse they may end up mocking you and dismissing you as a “silly Brazilian“. (Of course, it’s a whole new story if you’re dating your English teacher 😜)

To sum it all up, to have a private instructor will be an invaluable tool, but it will not discard your active role in the learning process.img_7652

Happy learning!

Cheers,

Mo

Summer Reading

This weekend I received a text message from my student that made my day – he was asking for book recommendations in English so he can practice his reading  and expand vocabulary.

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Of course as a teacher I must recommend books that may appeal to the student’s language level and interests. Classics? Fiction? Nonfiction? And within each of those three categories we can find a plethora of material to choose from.

The process:

Reading 30 minutes or more every day

Language level: comfortable but also a little difficult (challenging but not discouraging)

medium: whether digital (electronic) or paper – immaterial. But one advantage of the e-book is the easy access to a dictionary (which can also be distracting if the reader stops at every line)

Some of my reading recommendations: (no necessary order just as they popped up in my mind)

Here are some of my suggestions:

Young adults:

1. Tangerine by Edward Bloor- a young man learning to adapt to a new environment and go against the crowd.

2. Whirligig  by Paul Fleischman- a young man coming of age on a healing pilgrimage from Washington State to California, Florida, and Maine, describing the many lives set into new motion –

Adults: – Fiction

1. Animal Farm – George Orwell – a perennial good read where all animals are equal but some are more equal

2. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury – impossible imagine a world without books or freedom of the press?

Adults – Nonfiction

1. Hunger of MemoryThe education of Richard Rodriguez

2. Stones in schoolsPromoting peace with education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson

Classics

1. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

3. The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens’s funniest novel

Happy Reading

Mo

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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