10 Top Tips for Learning English (or any other language)

Every new year comes with many resolutions:

“This year I’ll go on a diet and lose 20 pounds.”

“This year I’ll stop smoking”

“This year I’ll get a boyfriend/girlfriend/ pet”

“This year I’ll learn (…. – fill in the blanks)”.

But the problem with making resolutions is that they don’t tend to stick. They slip away and melt as if under the tropical sun.

But if you follow these steps (not in any necessary order and at least some of them) you will make progress and then you will feel you can continue to learn English (or any other language for that matter)

  1. Watch movies and TV in your target language (the internet makes it accessible) – even if you don’t understand what’s going on  you’ll get familiar to the sounds of that language. (I particularly love commercials)
  2. Read a book you know well. Preferably a book you liked reading in your mother tongue. When my wife was learning French she bought a copy of the Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) so she could enjoy the book and learn in her new language.language
  3. Keep a notebook – scribble down new words you learn – especially creating word collocation and usage sections. Revisit the notebook once a week.
  4. Use mnemonic devices. It won’t work for everyone but it does work. When learning about the coordinating conjunctions, for instance, you can use the word FANBOYS to help remember the list. Can you name them? I’m pretty sure you can, because of FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). That is a mnemonic device. Creating a funny mental picture that you’ll remember is another way to use a mnemonic device. The sillier the picture is, the better it will stick in your head.
  5. Listen to podcasts – not only about English learning – but podcasts of other subjects of your interest produced in English or target language.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises. Need I say more?
  7. Be mindful. Notice language. How it’s used. How it sounds.Create a routine, Stick to it.
  8. Read aloud – small texts and paragraphs but that will improve your pronunciation, intonation and fluency.
  9. Test yourself – after a month – review the points you’ve learned and test your progress.
  10. Enjoy your learning

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Have fun.

 

Cheers,

Mo

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How to study for the TOEFL in 3 “easy steps”

The Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is the most widely respected English-language test in the world, recognized by thousands of colleges, universities and agencies in more than 130 countries, including Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the United States. Wherever you want to study, the TOEFL test can help you get there, that is, it is a pre-requirement for academic entry in most English-speaking countries.

My advice on how to prepare for the test is:

  1. Learn the test –  become familiar with it. get lots of samples online and practice, practice, practice – this is how you will learn about the test’s format, strategy, timing. Experience is king – and it’s true – by studying previous TOEFL tests you’ll be conquering years in weeks or months.
  2. Strategy – go to YouTube and listen to different people who have taken their test.
  3. Skills – the test is not just about grammar – identify your weakest skills and attack them. Usually listening comprehension is poor especially for people not living in an English-speaking country – there are 1000s of radio stations online to practice with in addition to podcasts. Also speaking can be a problem. A simple but effective practice is to get interviews of actors, politicians and read them aloud until you feel comfortable. Many times video interviews also have a transcript or closed caption – use them as tools to develop your intonation and pronunciation.

For more information go to their official website: https://www.ets.org/toefl

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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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Summer Immersion Courses – a fading memory

This morning, around 4am, my eyes popped open and refused to shut again, so with 2 more hours before the alarm clock went off I started reminiscing about a summer immersion program I was invited to participate nearly 20 years ago. When I calculated how long it had been I couldn’t believe my own synapses.

It was January 1997, and I was a partner director at ICS Intercultura – a language assistance firm struggling to make ends meet. A person in charge of the English language program on the campus of a University in São Paulo contacted me – knowing I was an English teacher and said that their language center would be very happy if I would help them in that year’s English Immersion program. It was a 2-week program from 9am to 5pm five days a week where students would attend language lessons and other activities in English.

I jumped at the idea of getting to know their program and they were also going to pay me for teaching in the program.

The first meeting already pulled down my castle of dreams – the director, dr. James – a US born teacher with “light-years” of experience in teaching – thanked me for accepting the invitation and told me I would be working along with another young teacher, Alison (son of another teacher who’d already taught at the language center) in developing extra-class activities and games with the students. imersao

  I explained that I would be more comfortable in teaching grammar or reading, for example, but Dr. James was adamant that HE WOULD TEACH THAT. Another teacher would be in charge of writing. Another one, listening and so on and so forth. And the only spot would be for games: meaning – keep the students entertained and happy and we couldn’t find any other sucker to do that so we found you. I had never worked with those kinds of class activities and without any instruction or training I was thrown into the lion’s den for 2-3 hours a day. There were about 15 students at different levels. The challenge was to come up with games, drama, arts, whatever. Fortunately, the other teacher, Alison, had already taught in the previous year and he (yes, Alison is a man’s name in Brazil) could give me some support. The language center had a few books about class activities and games along with some movies on tape and that was our salvation.

My session went on with  highs and lows, with increasingly longer coffee breaks, but we made it. At the end of the program we went on a day trip to visit the Museum of Brazil’s Independence in São Paulo – when the students would be exposed to the language with information about the museum, the city , etc given in their target language. Needless to say, the language center made no arrangements for an English-speaking guide and for leaflets or any useful info in English – so the students had a day trip in Portuguese alone. imersao-2

Since then, that university campus no longer has had a summer language immersion program but I can tell you that nothing much has changed in other language immersion programs. Improvisation and let’s-make-do-with-whatever-resources-we-have-on-the-shelf prevail.

Oh, do I need to tell you that after the program the school took quite a while to honor my payment? But that’s a theme for another blog.

My advice to people looking for immersion courses is to choose a subject taught in their target language and travel abroad.

Happy studies,

Mo

Connecting with students

img_6967We were in class last week and my student, Rodrigo, a very keen elementary level student started yawning. Aware that his action could be misinterpreted by his teacher – ME – he quickly interjected – “sorry teacher, I’m yawning not because the class is boring. Just because I’m relaxed. In the beginning of the curse (COURSE – I corrected his pronunciation, chuckles) I was very anxious every time I came to class”.

So after a few months, we had turned a corner in our relationship. I was no longer the big, bad teacher ready to correct his every mistake and to taunt him if he made repetitive mistakes. He realized I was there to help him. To facilitate his connection with the language.

How to connect with your students:

1. Acknowledge them

2. Establish boundaries

3. Develop a healthy but professional relationship with them

Nowadays when we think of connections we always think of going online, which is good in its proper time and place. But teachers must be willing to connect with their students on a more personal level. I’m not saying that you must be best friends with all your students or any of them for that matter. But you must be willing to lend an ear and be sensitive to their difficulties when learning a foreign language.

The challenge is to walk that fine line between being empathetic or apathetic and “going the whole 10 yards” – I’m saying 10 yards because I can’t emphasize enough how wrong it is to hear that a teacher has been making out with a student – (regardless of their age or gender). The same can happen with one’s doctor or therapist. Or with the supermarket checkout clerk, but does it make it right and professional?

I know some cases of teachers who have even married their former students (one at a time, mind you; wink, wink) but they developed their relationship (to the best of my knowledge) after they had terminated their teacher-student relationship. And that still is a grey area.

So by all my means, do connect with your students but always remember where you’re coming from and where you’re going. And never think you’re above all that and it would never happen to you. Keep yourself accountable and grow.

Cheers,

Mo

Where to teach in São Paulo?

Last week a friend contacted me saying  that Wisdom, recently arrived from Nigeria was looking for a job as an English teacher. Here’s my piece of advice to him:
“Ok. I’d advise you to pursue teacher training programs in more than one English language school. There are different options to teaching Business, individuals, groups, adults and teenagers. Good language schools will give you some sort of training which may last from a couple of hours to one or two weeks on average up to a month – (depending on the school’s professionalism and desperation to get new teachers). The training will allow you to get familiar with the courses and  textbooks and teaching method. Employment will vary from total informality to following all the labor requirements in Brazil. There will be pros and cons in any situation but usually informal employment allows the school to pay the teacher better hourly rates.
These are the main standard language schools in São Paulo:

melhor-escolas-de-ingles-do-brasil

CNA
This school is focused on conversation and the practical use of language. It’s one of the oldest language schools in Brazil with 500 schools around the country. My wife’s first serious contact with the language was in one of their schools and her experience was great.
 Alumni

Founded in 1961 sponsored by the US Government to develop language and educational programs between Brazil and the US. Responsible for the TOEFL and TOEIC certifications among others. This institution is really dear to my heart because it gave me my Translator and Interpreter Certificate.

The EducationUSA Fair, annually organized by Alumni with the participation of over 80 US universities.

Yázigi
It is among the oldest and most traditional schools in Brazil with 1,200 schools around the country. The courses are divided by ages, both face-to-face or online, including international certifications, business and university preparatory exams (vestibular). Yázigi focuses on both grammar and communication.

Cultura Inglesa

Very traditional and respected institution focused on British English through the British Council, considered by many as one of the best English courses around. Classes both online and on site, including international student exchange programs.
CCAA
Wizard
Founded in São Paulo in 1987.
Fisk
Founded by  Richard Fisk in 1950 using its own method
Wise Up
The school focuses on adults and especially those who need to learn English quickly.
Centro Britânico
It is the official examination center of the Cambridge English Language Assessment
Senac SP

Preparatory for  TOEFL among other courses.

MayFair
Check out this school based on conversation classes located near you at Centro Empresarial SP – they always need native teachers
There are many other language schools not listed above  that you can reach out to, but that’s a starting point.”
Good Luck and Happy teaching adventures,
Cheers,
Mo

Study abroad at home: International Schools and bilingual education

Last week my wife and I met up with Paddy, an Irish lawyer who’s being transferred with his family – wife, a 3-year old boy and a five-month-old baby girl – to São Paulo, Brazil. Bear in mind they live on a farm in county Clare, Ireland with a population of maybe 18 (just kidding) and now they’re preparing to settle in one of the largest metropolises in the world. Liz is a stay-at-home mom but she thinks that it will be good for her 3-year-old to be exposed to some preschool education while in São Paulo.

So I started researching some of the international schools (with international certification) and bilingual schools (locally based). How could I do that in a more scientific manner? By asking my students where their children and grandchildren go to school.

Among the international schools, the leading one in name recognition among my students is St. Paul’s (www.stpauls.br) – no question it has highly qualified teachers and staff, but it carries a very elitist air with the “crème de la crème” of São Paulo’s well-to-do families vying for a place. Prospective students are submitted to an academic and psychological evaluation before being accepted despite the costly monthly and annual fees, driving especially the nouveau riche up the wall when they realize that money can’t buy everything, especially “tradition”.escola-bilingue

I never had the opportunity to attend a bilingual school but I had a very dear friend, Deborah, who  attended St. Paul’s. Her father was a Brazilian nuclear scientist who had spent some time in the UK and when he returned to São Paulo he wanted to give his children a bilingual education. Deborah’s English was perfect with a slight British standard accent and she could easily switch from L1 to L2. She became a psychologist but during her school years she earned money teaching English as a foreign language. But as it happens with any learned skills, after she stopped teaching and using English on a regular basis her vocabulary started to become more limited with tons of grammar and words stored up in a corner of her brain which would light up again and start shedding the spider webs when necessity arose. Deborah would say that the second best thing about studying at an international school was the network of friends and acquaintances she built along the year (which at times would be a curse as well- but that’s another story for a future blog).

Two other international schools (maybe lesser known just because they are newer institutions but which carry similar quality without the elitist bias) are  St Francis College (www.stfrancis.com.br) and British College Brazil (www.britishcollegebrazil.org).
I’m not quite sure why they both chose the word College considering that they are schools and not colleges – faculdades.But it also relates to the Brazilian term “Colégio” – which refers to a primary and/or secondary education school. Or maybe those institutions are already keeping an eye on their future tertiary education.

As per bilingual education focused on preschoolers – children as young as 14 months to 6 years old, my students whose children or grandchildren attend bilingual schools would recommend the following:escola bilingue

Wings to Fly (www.wingstofly.com.br)
Global Me (www.globalme.com.br)
See-Saw (www.see-saw.com.br)

They vary in size and location, but from what I could observe they follow a carefully planned curriculum to immerse children in a second language (usually English) while not ignoring Portuguese (the children’s mother tongue).

One factor that grasped my attention is that while the international schools can resort to hiring staff abroad, the local schools can’t afford all those costs and their hardest challenge is to find qualified bilingual labor.

Over the past 10 years the number of bilingual schools has mushroomed in São Paulo and other capital cities trying to meet a need that desperate parents have: give their children an edge for their future.

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