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.
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 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.
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.
Blending approaches in language teaching yields the best results
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.
When possible add also the pronunciation of the word – either the phonetic spelling or just the way you hear it.
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.
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:
A teacher will help you identify your language level and develop strategies to make progress to the next level;
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;
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;
You will be able to find answers to your questions;
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Memory – The education of Richard Rodriguez
2. Stones in schools – Promoting peace with education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson
1. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
3. The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens’s funniest novel
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a long-standing reader of the Economist, I’ve encouraged my students to read this magazine (even though the publishers insist on calling it a newspaper). The quality of the text and the “high-brow” language have always been its benchmark. But the strengths of the Economist can also be its weaknesses.
When presented with a text the teacher will present the first description and the students will always feel the second:
In-depth texts = too long texts
Carefully chosen vocabulary = too difficult vocabulary
A sober text = very few pictures
But the challenge students face will be rewarded by being exposed to excellent writing (and when using the app they can also listen to the news stories).
When using authentic material I always try to employ all 4 main skills
(not necessarily in this order)
The possibilities to explore the text are huge but, please note that I won’t try to milk this cow until it’s bone dry. The activities are suggestions and I don’t see why keep on beating on a dead cow. Please forgive the pun (I’m not referring to the impeached President – heaven forbid).
So what did I do with this article?
Brazil has acquired some unique distinctions. For example, in Soccer? (students talk that it’s the only country to have won the football World Cup five times)
In natural resources? (students may talk about the country with the largest rainforest, etc)
And now, what is another distinction? (2 presidents impeached in 20 years)
a. Scanning for main ideas: What do you understand from the title and subtitle?
b.Read the first paragraph – what differences does the article present between Brazil’s 2 impeachments?
c. What lessons can be learned from the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff?
3. LISTENING –
students may listen to the whole text or the first and last paragraphs, for example. Have students read a few sentences out loud. Check vocabulary and pronunciation.
4. WRITING –
it can be as simple as writing sentences using keywords previously highlighted in the text to writing an essay defining in their own words the pros and cons of the current political and economic scenarios in Brazil.
As regarding vocabulary I’ve chosen 7 words in the text to focus on meaning and use (trying to include their context and word collocation). Why seven, you may ask – because it’s the symbol of perfection (or more accurately, because those were the words I thought worth checking with students in this specific article– choose one). The teacher may decide to highlight fewer or more words (my suggestion no more than 10). Regarding vocabulary, some students lack the practice of reading for gist and consequently try to understand and look up every single word they don’t know or aren’t sure about. Limiting the number of words the teacher will encourage students to do their own word searches on their own and learn to read on a more dynamic and productive pace.
Please find below the text. Have fun and let me know if these ideas helped and other ideas you may have used.
THE IMPEACHMENT COUNTRY
Does the ousting of Dilma Rousseff weaken or strengthen Brazil’s democracy?
AS WELL as its five football World Cup victories and the world’s largest rainforest, Brazil has just acquired another unique distinction. It is the only country to have impeached two presidents in just 24 years. In the first case, that of Fernando Collor, who resigned in 1992 on the brink of being condemned for corruption, impeachment commanded near-universal support, and could be read as a sign of democratic vigour. In the case of Dilma Rousseff, ousted by the Senate by 61 votes to 20 on August 31st, judgments are far more mixed. Even some who did not sympathise with Ms Rousseff think her oustingsulliesdemocracy. They worry that Brazil has devalued impeachment, turning it into a means to dump an unpopular ruler—and, in this case, replace her with her unequally unpopular vice-president, Michel Temer.
Some of the arguments Ms Rousseff deployed in two days of evidence before the Senate were mere propaganda. No, her impeachment was not a coup, of any description. It took place over nine months, in strict accordance with the constitution and supervised by the supreme court, a majority of whose members were nominated by Ms Rousseff or Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, her predecessor and the founding leader of her left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).
The offence Ms Rousseff was accused of—using credits from public banks to swell the budget without the permission of Congress—is a “crime of responsibility” under Brazil’s impeachment law of 1950. But there the difficulties start. Her defenders are right that this charge was a relatively minor, technical matter. The lawyers who filed the impeachment petition hit upon it because there is no evidence that Ms Rousseff was personally corrupt. That is not true of Eduardo Cunha, the former Speaker of the lower house of congress. He accepted the petition, she plausibly claims, as an act of vengeance because she refused to help him evade expulsion over corruption allegations. It is troubling, too, that many of those who voted to oust her are accused of misdeeds. And Mr Temer, a 75-year-old political insider, hardly embodies the regeneration his country’s rotten politics need.
Yet that is not enough to turn the moral tables in Ms Rousseff’s favour: many of the “coup-plotters” had been for a decade allies (and several were ministers) of the president and her predecessor. Their corruption, if proved, is venal and personal. More sinister is that of the PT, which organised a vast kickback scheme centred on Petrobras as part of a “hegemonic project that involved growing control of parliament, of the judges and…of the media”, as Fernando Gabeira, a left-leaning former congressman, wrote in O Globo, a newspaper. Ms Rousseff chaired Petrobras’s board (in 2003-10) and then ruled the country while this scheme flourished. Her claim to know nothing of it, nor that her campaign guru in the election in 2014 was paid with bribe money, smacks of negligence.
On its own, the Petrobras scandal didn’t doom her. When Mr Cunha launched the impeachment last December, most political analysts expected it to fail. The subsequent stampede against the president owed everything to her own incompetence and to public opinion, which was enraged, too, by her catastrophic mishandling of the economy. Above all, she failed to build alliances in Congress, which need not always involve back-scratching. The crisis of governability in Brasília intolerably prolonged the economic slump, undermining some of the social progress made under Lula. It would have been resolved less divisively by Ms Rousseff resigning or by a fresh election. But she refused to step down, and an early election is constitutionally difficult.
So Brazil is where it is. And it offers some lessons. One is that Ms Rousseff has paid the ultimate price for her fiscal irresponsibility (which went far wider than those disputed credits). That ought to be a salutary warning to Latin America’s more spendthrift politicians. Second, Brazilians want to hold their governments to account. Mr Temer will lose all legitimacy if he yields to pressure from his friends to rein in the Petrobras investigation or helps Mr Cunha avoid justice.
The third lesson is that in Brazil, with its strong parliamentary tradition, no president can govern against Congress. When Ms Rousseff brandishes her 54m votes in the presidential election of 2014 as a defence, she forgets that they were for Mr Temer too, and that the senators have an equally valid democratic mandate. Brazil has thus offered a tutorial in constitutional theory to the likes of Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s dictatorial president. The legacy of a divisive impeachment is not all bad.