RACISM* IN THE ELT INDUSTRY

You don’t need to be a genius to know that prejudice exists everywhere you find people gathered together.

The English Language Teaching industry wouldn’t be different. After all, it’s made up of people from all nations and races.

Do teachers (not necessarily language teachers) suffer from prejudice and racism?

Yes, since forever… You don’t need to go far -just watch the trailer of my favorite classic film – To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier.

To Sir, with Love

But in this blog I’m not going to be talking about national or linguistic prejudices as in “he’s not a native speaker” or “I don’t like his accent”. The smelly goat in the room is about racism and skin color.

Back in the day (1990s) when I was a partner in a language school in São Paulo, we hired teachers to provide private business lessons at different multinational companies – one pre-requisite was “English native-like fluency” (hey, it was the roaring ’90s, don’t judge me)- no color stipulation.

We had some Brazilian, American, British, Swedish, Nigerian, South African and even a Tasmanian teacher (a loose cannon for sure – some day remind me to talk about him) – most of them were white, mostly in their 20s or early 30s, but not exclusively. I remember Charlotte, who I thought was an old lady back then(now I think she must have been probably in her 50s or early 60s).

I remember in special, Kendra, who was a great teacher, students loved her and not because or despite of the fact she was black. She was an exchange student between her US university and São Paulo University (USP). She was pursuing a degree in linguistics and she took on several classes with us.

We also had a Brit teacher – mixed race and nationality – mother Brazilian, father English – had been born in London and had decided to try his life in Brazil. He was a good teacher, can’t remember his background, but we could see he didn’t want to be a teacher for long. Either he would become a partner or he would jump off ship, which he did.

Never did a student call us saying “I don’t want teacher A, B or C because he or she is black”. NEVER. Sometimes there were misfits due to teaching approach, some of the foreign teachers, the famous backpackers, were not reliable with time and class preparation, etc.

Did our clients get surprised to see a black teacher waiting for them in the room? I’m sure some of them did. Talk about stereotypes – “my English teacher (any gender) is tall, slander, blue-eyed and has perfect teeth”.

Now I know that Brazilian black teachers are few and far between, especially in the self-employed segment. Why? Racism? Lack of economic and education opportunities? A combination of it all?

All I can say is that during my school (Uni) years one of my best friends (and classmates) was black. She had also had more exposure to English than I had at the time and her economic situation was also better than mine, a white boy. Go figure.

Yes, racism exists and we must fight it, but it shows itself quite often in subtle ways, as if hiding behind the skin tone of a person.

Skin Tone Color Palette
Skin tone palette

We must be aware and mindful of its presence and stand up against it when it rears its ugly face. Racism sucks.

Cheers,

Mo

*DISCLAIMER: all the statements here are my own and may not reflect the reality of every single living creature on the face of the earth.

Online Language Teaching

We are living in unprecedented times … April 2020 – we are going through a virus pandemic that no one (doctors, scientists, politicians, business leaders) cannot guarantee what the world will look like in one month’s time, let alone in one year’s time. At times my imagination travels as if there is a green, noxious miasma outside ready to grab anyone who ventures out.ArtStation - Wandering Above The Sea Of Fog, Etienne Lamoureux

Schools have been suspended, offices and malls closed. People told to stay home and safe. Actually, “Stay Safe” has become the most popular leave-taking expression of the year in English – forget about  “goodbye”,  “farewell”, “see you later”, or even “take care”.

We must stay home and be  distant socially, but not socially isolated – we can communicate with our loved ones online, on the phone, shouting from the window (if they live next door  or in the apartment block across the street).

Teachers worldwide have been told to stay home and start teaching their lessons online – some record their video sessions, others go live using Zoom, Skype or their institution’s choice, while others still have to do both.

But from the get-go, the problems started to arise – of schools and education authorities are not interested in how the teacher will do it… They just MUST do it.

Some frequent problems: 

  1. equipment – old cellphones, no computer, no access to broadband, prepaid services (which are way more expensive)
  2. Wifi – poor or no wifi access
  3. digital skills – many teachers may use their mobile phones for passive consumption of social media, WhatsApp and make the odd phone call. But to upload their lesson plan?!
  4. lack of confidence – I’m not good with gadgets. I don’t know where to start.
  5. fixed mindset – see some of the excuses above.
  6. complexity – come on… some teachers can’t adjust the clocks on their microwave ovens – do you think they’re gonna be willing to learn something new?

That leads me to a quote I read last week – don’t remember the author (too lazy to try to find out) but still true: “teachers don’t like to learn”. 

What’s the solution? No magic bullets but, as teachers we must develop more tolerance for ambiguity, and willingness to learn.

Grow in self-awareness, self-management, and problem-solving.

Our online classes will not likely be ready to be shown on national educational TV programming but they will make the difference to our students.

Keep calm and grow, baby, grow.KEEP CALM AND GROW BABY GROW Poster | liv_sta | Keep Calm-o-Matic

Happy online teaching.

Cheers,

Mo

 

Nativism revisited

Last Saturday we invited a new friend for lunch at home. Ivonne arrived from Bolivia back in February where she had been an English teacher and aesthetics consultant (sic) and had a dream to move to Brazil, where she would have more opportunities.

When she arrived she soon started voluntarily teaching English to a group of senior citizens at an NGO. “The experience was interesting”, she said.”But people don’t value things offered for free”. The students’ attendance was terrible and when they did come they wanted to chitchat and not really “study English”.

I warned Ivonne that getting paying English students in Brazil would be difficult in her case because despite her 5 years of English studies with US missionaries in Bolivia, she still had a very thick Spanish accent, including the infamous “Jew” when she means to say “you“.

She said, “Ay, Moacir, I need a job fast”. I told her she could apply at language institutes and private schools to be a teacher of Spanish as soon as she had her transcripts registered in Brazil. But any teaching at a language academy would take time for training. In the meantime she is selling honey sachets door to door.

But what Ivonne said about language teachers startled me:

“Ay, Moacir, Jew speak like an American and jew’re tall and white” – (anyone is tall to her since her height is less than 150cm /4ft) – I won’t get a teaching job here.” “In Bolivia I always wanted to have only native teachers for me. That’s how jew learn. Jew ask them a question they know the answer. A Brazilian or Bolivian teacher won’t know how to respond”.

“The same thing goes to teaching Spanish,” she went on. “Los brasileños think that Spanish is easy but when they start to see the grammar and the verb tenses they go crazy.”

I tried to reason with her “Come on, Ivonne. I’m not a native speaker of English, but I’m an excellent teacher, as you know (to hell with self deprecation)”. She nodded in deep admiration. “And for over 25 years I’ve been teaching English to high executives and people who’ve travelled around the world and it has never been a disqualifying point. I’ve also taught in Canada, the US and Ireland and it’s never been a problem. Yes, it’s true a native speaker may know more phrasal verbs but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to explain to you how to use them. He’ll pronounce a word his way which can be very different between US and British English, for example. More than once have I seen a native speaker not know how to pronounce a word or what it meant. And in addition to that, if the gringo doesn’t know the local language, he won’t understand why you find it so difficult to say girl, or world, whirlwind”. “Actually, many (not all) native teachers abroad have their own agenda and baggage: either they want to convert somebody, or see the world, or escape from their own world.” Believe you me, I’ve seen some native teachers (mostly from Oceania) that didn’t have a loose screw, they had lost that screw a long time ago. What makes a good teacher will be based on 3 very solid foundations:

1. Language knowledge (yes, you can’t teach English or French or Arabic if you don’t speak that language either), learning one’s own or adoptive language is an ongoing process; but that knowledge must be supported by

2. skills (natural and learned) – how many times have you attended a lecture or lesson by a renowned Professor who knows everything about, let’s say, quantum physics but he can’t teach it?

3. Finally, a good to great teacher will be empathetic. He will try to understand and seek for ways to best transmit his subject.”

Ivonne carefully considered all I’d told her, clapped her hands and cheerfully exclaimed:

Jew don’t need to be a native to teach English. Now I got it. I’ll start applying to be a teacher of Portuguese!”

Sigh.

Good luck, Ivonne,

Cheers,

Mo

“Teach me the Present Perfect or I’ll die”

Ok, maybe he didn’t ask me with THOSE EXACT WORDS, but you get the gist. I decided to give a present to a friend of mine who was on vacation but wouldn’t be able to travel. I was feeling like a Genie and the magic lamp and offered him 3 wishes regarding English learning. I said I’d teach him 3 lessons for free and asked him what he would he like to study or review.

Right off the bat he said:

The present perfect, Mo. I don’t know how to use it.”

Students all over the world suffer from this grammatitis infection when they’re exposed to English as a school subject where they have to learn grammar points and vocabulary to pass exams. Period. Not to communicate.

Grammar can be as dry or as lively as the teacher wishes

So I told David a story about Jesus and how he healed Peter’s mother-in-law from a terrible fever.

We worked with rough sketches to represent Jesus in Capernaum.

Where is Jesus? In the synagogue. Going to peter’s house for lunch.

Where is Peter? In the synagogue. Taking Jesus to his home.

Where’s Peter’s mother-in-law? At home. In bed.

What’s wrong with her? She’s sick. She’s ill. She has a fever.

And now… what has Jesus just done? He has healed her.

With that story I could introduce the grammar point I’m trying to teach (Present Perfect)

When teaching grammar, the first No, No is: don’t teach grammar ( on the other hand … don’t treat grammar as a 4-letter word)

How?

1. Avoid discussing aspects of grammar without a context. A dialogue, a story, even a song can add context.

2. Whenever possible give learners time to discover grammar for themselves. In the story about Jesus, what verbs can you see? How were they used?

3. Use games to teach and reinforce grammar. From hangman to tic-tac-toe , to board races.

4. Give learners time to practice grammar in a meaningful way, guide and supervise their practice.

5. Avoid rule teaching … otherwise, learners will focus on the grammar rules and won’t be able to speak it.

Remember that the goal of learning English is to reach a level of acceptable fluency and learner independence.

Cheers,

Mo

(P.S. – yes, he learned the grammar point but now it’s in his hands to notice it around him and use it).

Teaching in the 21st Century – Part 1

Quite often when we think about anything related to the 21st Century, including teaching, we think of the use of technology, gadgets and the internet. We feel we must have Smart boards, tablets, online classes, video sharing, social media, and the list goes on and on. But what every teacher must remember is that his main working material consists of brains inside living organisms labeled as learners, students or pupils.

I’ve just finished studying a book published back in 1997 but with ideas still relevant today for every language teaching professional: Psychology for the Language Teacher (CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS) by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden.

Professional Development: Psychology for Language Teachers

Undoubtedly some advances and finds have taken place in psychology and the human science of teaching and pedagogy over the past 20 plus years, but some things never change and must be remembered, reviewed and implemented. Sooner or later we will stop referencing to “21st century” and just say ” Teaching”.

The book presented 10 key points on Language Teaching, this first part of my post will work on the first three items:

1. There’s a difference between learning and education.

Learning: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.

these children experienced difficulties in learning”

Education: the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.

“a new system of public education”

A quick look at these first definitions present a great distinction between both processes, which intersect in many areas … both involve receiving knowledge or instruction, but a key distinction is that learning involves the development of skills through experience.

Joi Ito beautifully summed it up: “Education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do for yourself

Here it is graphically represented:

Now that we have the distinction we can move to the second point.

2. Learners learn WHAT is meaningful to them.

I can try ad nauseam to inculcate in my students the state capitals of the US, the beautiful wording of the Declaration of Independence, the Scottish Calvinist values, etc… but they will not profit from that if they don’t see a purpose or meaning in that. I always ask my students at the beginning of their course about their goals, current activities, hobbies and dreams so that the lessons may be geared towards intrinsic motivation resulting in effective learning. I’m not saying that students
who live in the favelas in Rio should only be taught vocabulary about getting water from a well or snorting glue… (yes, yes, it’s just an example, don’t get up in arms about it) They must learn based on their reality and context but also from that point the teacher can and must build a path where learners will be introduced to a better way and a broader world.

3. Learners learn IN WAYS that are meaningful to them.

I love reading but if my student is interested in speaking “only” I must adapt the course so that any reading they do is impregnated with the spoken language – it can be an interview, a novel rich in dialogue, even part of a play … as long it’s language relevant and appropriate to their level. If they like movies, or sports, let them search and learn about what interests them. Here again Language is a tool not an end unto itself.

Writing is really important for learners to process and review their language acquisition but instead of asking them to write a 500-600 word essay (unless they’re preparing for an exam where such activity is required), why not have them write a business related email? Or even a text message including abbreviations, emojis and shortcuts?

Please, bear in mind that my students are adults who have already gone through their academic process and now need English or Spanish mostly for employment purposes and career advancement opportunities. Actual Fluency in English will be a plus for any CV or Résumé in a non-English speaking nation. The point is that it must be true not just wishful thinking; hence the person’s awareness that they are no longer “students”, but “learners”

Cheers. Happy learning.

Mo

Language Teachers’ Continuing Professional Development – CPD

We live in a world of increasingly faster changes. Jobs that existed a few years ago are no longer around … although in Brazil and other developing countries the change may take a little longer but it will come.

Extinct jobs like the gas lamplighter

Yes, in most developed countries, gas stations haven’t had attendants for years, only a cashier. Buses have no conductors to get payment and give change. Elevators don’t need a lever operator to open and close doors on the right floor… .

Elevator operator – a job still found in some places but going the way of the dodo

Many jobs have been made extinct and others need to change and adapt.

In Brazil due to a wrongly defined protective labor market, large metropolitan areas like São Paulo still have conductors – “cobradores” working on buses. They have been protected by their unions and other interests for years, but they know their days are numbered. Some will qualify to become bus drivers, others will have to find their own ways to get by.

The bus conductor is as useful as a toothache – they usually can’t give information on directions or give change.

How about teachers? When talking about public school teachers – they might self implode into extinction due to misguided public policies and lack of incentives to renew and empower younger professionals. Technology may provide some relief to the poor qualification of teachers and lack of resources.

Public school teachers are threatened both from inside and by outside forces

How about language teachers? Based on our ability to adapt to different We and forms of literacy we must be continually improving. What?

  1. Orality – speaking and listening
  2. Reading and writing
  3. Linguistic and grammatical knowledge
  4. Psychological and pedagogical skills

I’m not talking only about academic development, which has its value but about the teacher taking charge of his or her own growth. not being afraid of experimenting with new methods and tools. This continuous growth will feed into his or her motivation in a vibrant virtuous cycle.

Happy CPD,

Cheers,

Mo

Are There Any Bad Students?

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:

Personality

Commitment

Intellect

that is how your brain works. Image result for brain clipart

 

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?

Empathize

Provide opportunities for success.

Cheers,

Mo

Motivating ESL Students

Picture this:

It’s Monday morning.

First class at 7:30am.

Student A had an intense weekend, traveled, returned home late Sunday night and Monday morning he has to be ready for his class first thing in the morning. The teacher walks in and starts talking in English … the student who’s been speaking Portuguese all week hears the sounds but can’t make heads or tails of what’s being said past “how are you?”

Next, while correcting homework the teacher sees the student still having trouble expressing basic sentences – and can’t remember basic vocabulary he’s already seen before.

He can’t remember how to say in English:

Classe média (middle class)

Saudade (to be missing someone)

Poucas casas (a few houses)

Move on to the following student B – she is shown a 10 minute Ted Talk video on global population growth – and then says she’d fallen asleep half way through the clip.

Then student C waltz in. He has just had lunch and didn’t sleep very well last night… guess what happened?

So lessons to be learned:

1. Review, review, review! Grammar points and vocabulary.

2. Break video sessions into smaller chunks. Ask comprehension questions to help student remain focused.

3. Bring very strong black coffee in a thermos.

Cheers,

Mo

How much correction should language students receive?

Correcting another human being is something that can’t be programmed into a computer or robot. It requires the sensitivity and sensibility of a teacher who, through experience, trial and error, will know when to correct his or her students.
When the student tries to speak in a language they’re learning, the teacher must make them aware that they will be making mistakes. Actually, they SHOULD be making mistakes.
You should be making mistakes – if you stay only in your comfort zone you’re not making progress. Don’t be afraid to speak.”
How much do you want people to correct you?
It depends on your level – depends on the kind of interaction you’re having. If the student needs their new language only for vacation purposes the demands will be QUITE different from the needs they have to make business presentations, attend meetings, negotiate on the phone. 5CFECD88-F493-41BE-BFE6-61D698CCB577
The teacher must point out mistakes that might impede their understanding. Some key mistakes should be pointed out immediately to make students aware of their importance.
Example:
Student: “ Yesterday night I seed a film in tv. It’s about a napkin.”
Ok, teachers, what would you do now?  Correct the verb tense, the preposition, right away? How about the mysterious show about napkins?
Again you have to consider the student at a pre-intermediate level. He knows the simple past tense and has already learned the past of the verb to see.
Teacher: “oh, so LAST night you…. (expecting student to self correct and remember and say “saw”). But was the film about paper napkins?”
Student: “No. when robbers take a person and ask money.”
Teacher: “Oh, it was about a KIDNAPPING. A person was TAKEN. Tell me more.” 
Other mistakes should be duly noted and at the end of the session presented as feedback and students encouraged to write them down. The next class it would be essential for the teacher the review those points again so that students are ready to move on. Two classes later repeat review. One month later present the mistakes and have students correct them.
When the student gains more confidence the teacher  will start correcting meanings and nuances – what better word / preposition to use / beyond just communication impediment.
The key is to reach a balance between accuracy and communication always being kind is way better than being right.
Cheers,
Mo
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Can anyone learn a language online?

Can anyone learn a foreign language online and free? Yes, you can!

“Wait a minute”, you might say … are you telling me I can learn any language online? For real? Yes, you can.

But …. of course, there had to be a BUT! The internet is full of free pages to learn a foreign language, but not all are reliable, either because they don’t offer a program structured to your level, or because the method presented doesn’t suit your learning personality. Moreover, online learning is not the ideal medium for everyone, let alone those who are not disciplined and organised.

As a teacher, of course I stand for classes with a teacher. That’s the best choice. But not always the feasible one.

How can you learn at home?

Firstly, find a way of motivating and organising yourself. Tell others what you’re doin; that should keep your accountable, at least initially. Secondly, set up a list of resources for your learning process.

1. Reading:

Google up easy reading texts in your target language. Read a paragraph of a news story. A fairy tale. A piece of the transcript of an interview of a politician, artist, footballer or any other you might fancy and find interesting. Check the pronunciation, the vocabulary.

2. Watching

YouTube has tons of videos in your target language, not necessarily about learning the language. But clips of news or documentaries are great starting points.

 

3. Listening 

Focus on listening to news and documentaries that have a clearer speech.  Podcasts are a great source of listening material that you can download and listen to anywhere, anytime.

 

4. Speaking

This requires some courage. Dare to speak. Skype provides a language exchange forum for you to connect with people around the world. 353E9122-4E78-498C-A9B5-720CF4C30F01

You see? As I told you before, free online language learning is posssible but no magical solution. You’ll have to apply yourself to it regularly, especially if your goal is to learn “fast”.

Cheers,

Mo