Yes, yes, I know… I could say that again… Waiting is HARD. “We twiddle our thumbs, we shuffle our feet, we stifle our yawns, we heave long sighs, we fret inwardly in frustration”.
That’s how a language learner feels… progress is slow. So instead of just moaning, we teachers must encourage our students to actively be in charge of their linguistic progress.
Are they on social media? Great. Encourage them to access accounts on Twitter, or instagram or Facebook …. using the language they’re learning.
As a teacher I know I must help my students develop a positive relationship with the language they’re learning. I must show them the value of that language, increase their interest in the learning process. Stress the relevance of they’re doing and failure is not an option. Signify to them what is done in the language they pursue and what they can do if they commit themselves to learning.
My students are my greatest asset, so I won’t treat them as morons (isn’t it a great new year’s resolution?) They’re my partners not only by paying for their lessons but also by allowing me my professional and personal development with and through them.
May the new year help us all take off to new heights.
First and foremost, let’s cut that politically correctness crap that anyone can learn a second language and that there are no bad students. That’s not true. I’ve learned it the hard way.
I’m not talking about those individuals who are pure evil… What I’m just saying is that some people should focus their efforts on something attainable.
Let’s face it: some people are great learners. Others are average. Others suck at that. I was great at History/Geography and sucked at Math. Great at English and sucked at Portuguese literature. That depends on:
that is how your brain works.
So… what makes a bad student?
1. Has No realistic goals – expects to be speaking and understanding everything in 6 hours/days/weeks.
2. Passively receives information and believes that the teacher will concoct a magic potion that will make them learn – doesn’t know why they’re learning.
3. Waits for the teacher to present interesting things for him to watch, read and listen to (during class time, of course)
4. Never reviews or records any lesson material
5. Displays weak learning skills – won’t take notes but doesn’t hav learns r-e-a-l-l-y slowly, if ever.
6. Feels Forced to learn
The positive point is that bad learners can be converted into good learners.
First, find out what makes them tick. What motivates them (unless they’re clinically depressed – then advise them to seek medical and psychological care).
Assess their needs and their learning strengths and weaknesses – do they have a good memory? Are they slightly dyslexic? Do they need speech therapy? How’s their hearing?
“As teachers, we are bombarded with the urge to use the latest, shiny technology, we must keep our fingers on the pulse of technology.” Steve Taylor-Knowles
In other words, we must know how to use technology – not a choice anymore, but we need to know how to apply the necessary criteria to choose what to adopt or discard.
Teachers are a very complex sort of animal. On the one hand, we are open-minded and willing to learn. On the other hand, we’re afraid of change, including new technologies, feeling burdened by having to learn a new tool, which might result in more work, more time requirements, more tasks and chores.
Our real challenge is to go digital.
1. Digital course management –
Teachers have to get familiar with different learning management systems (LSM).
We can build data on students. What’s been done? What scores? What new plans or strategies?
2. Course Content Delivery
Resources: digital content allows for more material than what would be possible in a physical context. Both teacher and students can and should use their mobile phones as great learning tools.
3. Digital Competence –
Literacy – today (August 06, 2018), the Brazilian Newspaper O Estado de São Paulo published a poll informing that 3 out of 10 Brazilians are functionally illiterate. Now, how many teachers are functionally digitally illiterate today?
So… dear teachers, embrace technology and start learning.
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).
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.
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.
The role of the teacher in the classroom must not be underestimated. So whether you’re still wet behind your ears or have grown prematurely grey due to the many years of teaching, here are some good reminders
Be keen and approachable. Make sure your students know your name. You have an identity. Apologise when necessary.
Avoid too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time).No matter your students’ level they want to be able to speak. A lot of a teacher’s talking time is just lost on the students. It feels very teacher-oriented when one is explaining a lot and spending a lot of time setting up activities, but students still don’t know what’s going on.
Teach the students, not the plan.The teacher must be adaptable and flexible.
Find a balance between allowing students to communicate freely and proper pronunciation correction.
Avoid a deluge of photocopies.It’s very easy to get disorganised. From the very beginning encourage students to create their own book with the copies and a binder.
Don’t expect perfection, and give encouragement. Sometimes the teacher is so eager on perfection that they won’t let students utter anything without it being perfect.
Seek a balance between the grammar, vocab and pronunciation.
The par excellence teaching approach philosophy today is “student-centered” which is all right and good, but then again, perhaps the classroom provides a space in which learners can basically get all the answers that they wouldn’t get if they were just out in the wild west of the real world, where nobody is there to lend a hand and it’s all just a question of survival. That’s where the teacher fits in.
This does require a particularly nimble teacher – one who is able to adapt on the spot and come up with feedback, drills, little practice exercises and questions that identify the specific problem the student has, how to remedy it and how to let the students practise it correctly. It also requires that the learners are able to go with the flow too.
Source: Thanks to the notes on teacher observation provided by Luke Thompson. Teacher Luke’s English Podcast https://teacherluke.co.uk/2018/02/16/512-my-experiences-of-not-learning-french-part-2-learning-language-in-a-classroom-vs-learning-on-your-own/
According to the Brazilian Association of Franchising (ABF) between 2% and 4% of Brazilians (in a total population of around 220 million) speak English at some level.
At any given time, it is estimated that roughly 1 million people are studying English in Brazil concentrated in the State of São Paulo, followed by the Southeast Region and South Region.
CNA, a traditional franchiser of language schools claims to have around 420,000 students a year in Brazil. But 40% of English language students drop out of their courses within 6 months.
It is a promising market. But … :
Why is there such a high evasion rate? Why are there so many people who don’t study English?
The leading answer is that “English is not for me”. Followed by “Spanish is easier.”
We have a culture of immediacy. Combined with poor performance.
Why do students quit? Most common reasons:
1. No money
2. No time
(However, it may be argued that there is a “save face” attitude. What the students might be actually saying is: what you’re offering actually isn’t worth what I thought it was)
How do students prefer to study languages?
The overwhelming majority of language students (72%) prefer having classes in groups, attending the lessons in a school.
Again, statistics may vary but, it is estimated that 6% within a universe of 40 million Brazilians (200,000) prefer to have private lessons with a private tutor.
5% are enrolled in language teaching programs sponsored by NGOs or religious organisations, such as the English Sabbath School class which teaches the bible in English. You may check their work on Facebook – www.facebook.com/BelievesUnasp
Distance learning, also known as e-learning or online learning (EAD in Portuguese) is a promising segment (still in its infancy at 9%) but there are no reliable figures on the number of students studying English via Skype, FaceTime or using international language platforms or apps such as Global English, Duolingo and iTalki.
Worth remembering that the industrial /digital logic does not yield great results in the Education segment (even if called Industry) – we’re still human beings who learn at different paces and manners.
What does the future of Education look like?
The trend is to use an adaptive learning process with a hybrid use of different resources and technologies, combining both physical and digital presences.
The Education professionals, aka teachers, must seek the continuous development of their soft skills: interpersonal (people) skills. These are much harder to define and evaluate. While hard skills are job-specific, most prospective clients and students are looking for soft skills in their teachers, coaches or tutors. Soft skills include communication skills, listening skills, and empathy, among others.
Also we as language professionals must continue to work towards the development of solid knowledge, posture of dialogue and authority set by example.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
This week I came across an episode of the podcast TEFL Training Institute with the question quoted above where Ross (one of the hosts) interviewed his parents who worked as teachers for a combined total of almost 50 years. And myself? Well, I started at my church’s Sabbath School initially teaching the primary class (kids between 8-12) . I was 15 at the time, so I’ve been involved with teaching for over 35 years. The questions asked on the podcast are relevant to all of us involved in teaching either as volunteers, professionals or both. Here they are:
1. How do you keep yourself motivated?
Professionally speaking – money is a motivating factor. yeah, yeah… You may say whatever you want but you still need to pay your bills at the end of the month and buy a pair of shoes once in a while. But although money is a very visible factor, it isn’t enough to get you going. I like speaking in different languages, so… I look forward to every opportunity I have to speak in English, Spanish or French. I love watching tv in other languages. I like reading magazines and newspapers from other countries. The students are the same but also different. You’ll have similar difficulties and challenges but their attitude, behaviour, reactions always surprise me. I’m always open to learning new words, getting to use new teaching materials. I wish I could attend more TEFL conferences, but sometimes they end up demotivating me using the same themes ad nauseam, being more of a marketplace where language schools and publishers come to sell their goods instead of teachers discussing their best practices and the future of their industry. Since traveling can be quite expensive I really appreciate when the organisers of those events make them available online on YouTube.
2. How has teacher training changed?
Sadly enough I haven’t notice great changes in teacher training. You may use a smart screen instead of an overhead projector but still present the same ideas, and interaction activities.
3. What advice do you have to new teachers?
Welcome to this rewarding career. Yes, there will be challenges and you will never become a millionaire from your classes (Some exceptions may apply) but you will be always learning and always growing if not from anything else, from at least being in touch with some wonderful human beings, yes, you’ll also encounter some dreadful, horrid creatures, but they are still, thank goodness, too few and far in between.