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.
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.
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.
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.
This requires some courage. Dare to speak. Skype provides a language exchange forum for you to connect with people around the world.
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”.
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.
Quite often teachers of English as a Foreign Language find themselves between a rock and a hard place concerning teaching pronunciation. If they’re native speakers they hesitate in constantly correcting their students fearing they’ll pass an overbearing image and many times thinking … “well… I can understand them … whatever”. If the teacher is a nonnative speaker of English they might feel insecure about their own pronunciation or even worse… they might not be aware of the proper pronunciation of specific sounds in English which are different from their mother tongue.
So… why bother teaching pronunciation?
Students want and need to speak clearly.
Their phonological awareness has an impact on all areas of their language learning besides speaking: reading, writing, vocabulary, etc
But what’s the right pronunciation? What’s a standard accent? British RP? Only 3% of Brits actually speak it. American Midwestern? What about Mississippi or Alabama? How about global English?
That’s why it’s important to know why your students are learning English.
The teacher must then focus on speech comprehension rather on the student’s accent being good, bad or proper.
How to do it? Teaching pronunciation works best a little during every lesson instead of once a week or whatever frequency students have.
“The teacher must”, as Richard Cauldwell wrote, ‘focus on:
the greenhouse: isolated words.
the garden: mixing and growing words together, linking words.
The jungle: where everything is mixed”
The best way will be to integrate pronunciation with other skills and lots of repetition (practice).
In conclusion, our insecurity about the way we speak can be managed by raising our awareness and practicing to the student’s heart’s content.
N.B – Many thanks to Laura Patsko with her great YouTube videos on the subject of pronunciation – https://youtu.be/yyga6vIAroE
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.
Happy teaching and towards a bright future.
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.
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.
This past week a student of mine was in New York City and told me he’s discovered the joys of eavesdropping. He said he’s enjoying the musicality of the natives minding their own business while he listens in.
A few weeks ago the same happened to me in Portuguese. I was enjoying my coffee and slice of orange Chocottone at Casa Bauducco when I overheard two men talking about the use of English for travel and for business.
They were saying: “when you’re traveling on holiday you use English just to ask ‘how much?’ ‘Where?’ Etc your needs and objectives are different from professional or academic purposes.”
But when you have to use English to transmit and explain your work, or the challenges of attending a conference or just keeping the language alive.
They went on to say: “When you want to take a course in English you need to be able not only to understand a lecture but to take notes, to write your own reports and to express your own points of view.”
Now English as a second language has reached almost the same requirements of the mother tongue. It’s not enough to understand what someone is saying, you must also be able to explain what that person said. Not enough to understand a word in the midst of a shower of words… at the end you won’t have the essence of what was said.
so the role of the teacher and the students’ expectations must be constantly revisited so that delivery of what students want and need really takes place.
Assessoria em Idiomas
Language Lessons and Coaching, Translations, Interpreting
Having joined a family full of nephews (a few) and nieces (lots) I’ve been many a time asked if I could teach them English… my first instinct is to tell them – “I learned it by myself go and do likewise”, but my soft heart tends to say yes under some conditions:
- They’ll do the assigned homework
- They won’t act as royal pains
The latest niece to join the gang in showing interest to learn English is Maria Eduarda who at 14 had always resisted to the idea of learning English quoting that same old idea of “I not even know portuguese well why should I learn English” or “We speak Portuguese in Brazil” – etc etc, so…
So last week, Eduarda finally gave in, she asked my wife if she could teach her English and basic computer skills. Quickly I told my wife – try to teach her computer skills using English. That’s what I’ve always encouraged. Using language as a tool to reach different goals not a goal in itself.
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.
Happy teaching and enjoy the journey.
One of these days my wife and I were talking about two young men close to us in their 20s and how lost they’re feeling regarding their career path. To protect their identity let us call them E. and A.
E. has already worked in IT for big multinationals like Danone and has decided he doesn’t want to work in the corporate world anymore, the pressure, the competitiveness, etc have not been appealing to him, but he doesn’t know what direction to take. Should he become a freelance teacher, a translator, a missionary? Meanwhile, A. has never worked – only studied and doesn’t know if he would like to follow the path of engineering he chose earlier since he’s never tasted it. So now he’s working as a delivery boy for a small restaurant during the week.
My wife said to me “Now I know how your brother must have felt when you said you were quitting your steady and well-paying job at a national bank to pursue your dream as a teacher” .
But differently from the two young men mentioned above I knew what I wanted AND didn’t want. I didn’t want to spend my days behind a desk. I wanted to be a teacher. And I needed to have an income right away… no daddy to send me monthly allowances.
In my naïveté I not even knew I could be a freelancing teacher. So, initially I looked for jobs at language schools. But over 20 years ago I saw the possibility of flying solo and earning my living as a freelance teacher. The benefits are:
- you develop your own career path and make more money, not having to give at least 50% of what your students pay to the language school.
- You choose where and when to work.
- You can fire those horrible students (it takes courage but your mental sanity is worth it)
- You can choose when you’re going away on vacation
- You get immediate feedback and know what works and doesn’t work.
- you must always be prospecting for new students
- No basic or fringe benefits – no health insurance, paid holidays, sick day leave, paternity leave (you know what I mean), or even no access to the company’s restroom – (yes, it’s true, damned the designers and architects of some corporate buildings which hide away the toilets and the enforcers of condo rules such as “no access to the toilet unless accompanied by your respective student)
But I chose this path and despite its highs and lows I wouldn’t have done it differently. I’ve been in charge of my professional destiny and I’m sure many other mortals have never been able to breathe outside their gilded cage.
I’m quite often reminded of this Bible verse which has been proven true to me over and over again. Psalm 37:25:
“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (King James Version)
My advice to you if you’re considering freelancing – jump into the water and go free, or tread slowly just freelancing a couple of hours a week and no matter where you land it will have been worth the risk.
Cheers and Happy Teaching,