Make your own English Textbook

Earlier this month, my 14-year old niece, Duda, showed me her English textbook – given for free to all students at her state public school.

The textbook is beautifully designed with lots of reading and linotebook 3stening activities plus speaking activities. I would say it is on a par with any coursebook available on the international market (including the fact that there is no e-book available – but that’s a theme for another post).

One thing that intrigued me is that Duda told me her English teacher does not use the book. The teacher gives some extra book activities.

Could students use the books for self-study?  Yes, but the fact that the books are 100% in English it can be discouraging especially when they have to resort to the dictionary just to understand the instructions.

A good thing (contrary to the previous edition) is that the book includes the transcript of the audio CD.

Why does the teacher avoid using the textbook? Many reasons can arise:

  1. She doesn’t like the way the book presents the themes.
  2. She lacks the necessary training to use the book in large classrooms
  3. The book brings irrelevant material for the students.
  4. The book brings way too difficult material for the students.

 

In an ideal world and school the English teacher could perfectly coordinate with the other teachers to define points to be incorporated in her lesson.

For example – history – students are learning about the independence of nations in Latin America

Or geography or science and biology…

English would then stop being one more subject they have to study and would become a tool for the students to learn the other subjects.

But in any different way or situation, the students could have a notebook where they would create  their own textbook along the year.

Drawing pictures, pasting photos, taking dictation, reading short articles, grammar drills and exercises that they had been given by the teacher or copied from the board.

Advantages

  • The words and expressions will be tailored to suit YOUR own needs.
  • Reduce clutter. You don’t waste time on useless topics.
  • You can keep track of your progress.
  • Your textbook serves as a reference of everything you’ve learned so far. Whenever you forget something, you can look it up easily.
  • You are learning as you’re writing the textbook.
  • It’s free.

Disadvantages

  • You need to create the content yourself. You have to look for the material.
  • You are in charge of keeping it organized.
  • Your textbook won’t be 100% error-free

Source: Self-Learner – Teach it to yourself http://self-learner.com/write-your-own-language-textbook/

 

 

 

Desire to Learn English

This afternoon, my 8th grade niece came home saying that she had received her English coursebook which included an audio CD but she couldn’t understand the instructions or how to use that material.

I said, “Come on, don’t be lazy, that can’t be that hard. Didn’t you pay attention to your teacher explaining how to use it?” But I must confess: it is difficult. The coursebook assumes that students have had 3-4 years of continuous English instruction so they can understand text and oral instructions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The students can’t simply make heads or tails of what they’re supposed to do. To add insult to injury the text is monolingual and just leaves the students hanging in there – sink or swim. coursebook

I’m not just blaming the teachers, who have 30-40 students in a classroom to work with, but I do know many of them are not qualified to teach English as a Foreign Language at all. Some of them not even know how to use the coursebook and no one bothers to explain to their students how to use the CD or to self-study. In some other cases (not just a few – the teacher says to the students: “I’m a teacher of Portuguese and now I’m required to also teach this …. (fill in the blanks) English language”.

Consequence – year after year students finish elementary school and secondary school having learned – hopefully – the verb to be and nothing else.

The government’s initiative to provide quality textbooks is praiseworthy but training on how to use the material is equally essential. That’s the least they can do. I remember my first formal school contact with English was in 6th grade back in 1976. By teacher, very wisely I must say, rejected the use of any textbooks – she developed her own curriculum and used dictations and the blackboard to teach us reading and speaking. I’m telling you this: I learned much more during those 9 months of class than in the next 2 years with another teacher who made us buy the coursebook – which was not bad – we used the same book in the 7th and 8th grade and not even then did we manage to complete the syllabus for the book that was geared to 5th graders.

The problem with the teaching of foreign languages in schools won’t be solved until it ceases being an academic subject and becomes a tool for the teaching of other subjects. My suggestion would be to require more user-friendly textbooks (clear bilingual instructions, transcript of the audio activities) which could be used for self-studying.

Meanwhile, the educational system will continue sending to private language teachers, tutors and language institutes hundreds of thousands of frustrated and scarred students.

My apologies to you, Maria Eduarda – Since I’m sure she can’t understand this in English (Peço-te perdão, Maria Eduarda).

Cheers,

Mo

One-to-One Teaching: pros and challenges

For over 25 years I’ve been mostly teaching English or Spanish on an individual basis. Excluding my volunteer work on Saturdays when I teach English and the Bible to a group of around 80 people.  Hmmm… imagine if I charged a little from each of those 80 people… stop it, Mo! Volunteer work is not paid by definition. Don’t be greedy.

So… going back to 1-2-1 teaching … what are the advantages and disadvantages for students and teacher?

Advantages:

  1. Lessons focused on the student’s needs: customization
  2. immediate attention to weak points and questions student may have
  3. choice of time and location for the classes whether online or onsite.
  4. Lack of shyness or embarrassment
  5. greater levels of production and (hopefully) rapid progress

    IMG_8133
    One-to-One lessons allow mobility and flexibility for teacher and student 

Challenges

      1. Keep the student motivated;

      2. Deal with class cancellations;

      3. The lessons can be quite intense and tiring. How to maintain the energy?

      4. High expectations need to be managed

      5. Pricing and travel time must be factored in

      6. As in any sort of business negotiation, teacher and student must develop rapport and feel they’re getting value for money.

The dynamics between an individual lesson and a group are quite different but can be extremely rewarding, both depending on the teacher’s full preparation.

Happy teaching,

Mo

Useful link: ELT Training: one to one teaching video https://youtu.be/FwGdvwmMS8w

 

How do I get rid of my foreign accent?

Get rid of your foreign accent? Quite often students approach me with that question.

First, you’ve got to be aware of your limitations and set “realistic” goals.

We can talk here about accent elimination – when you will be talking exactly like a native speaker as long you stick to that corner of the world forever – or we can be talking about accent reduction – ranging from communicating clearly with the people around you knowing you’re not from their village but not being able to figure out which village you come from.

Some people (a few I’d dare say) have a special gift for impersonating another language as if they were acting before an audience (channeling another accent). But most mortals can be content with being clearly understood and focusing on something else.

I honestly think that the second path is more realistic. A language learner’s goal must be to be able to communicate clearly and accurately (within certain parameters).

How can you achieve that? First, start exposing yourself – no, not to children on a playground – don’t be a pervert! Expose yourself to different accents – listen, repeat, shadow others. Record yourself and play it back. Compare. Evaluate.

See that not only isolated words sound ok but practice linking words. Make clear sentences. Follow the rhythm and intonation of the language. There is a musicality to the language that will make life much easier for you if you start “singing” to the right tune.

I know, I know, some people can’t even hum “Happy Birthday to you.” I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but remember that sometimes we’re making progress but we don’t feel like it. But other people can tell.

I remember when I started dabbing my feet in Teaching English as a Foreign Language here in Brazil – the owners of a little language  school near Paulista Avenue told me during a hiring interview: “Your accent is hard to pinpoint. Some words sound more British other times more American”.

And that was who I was at that time. My only international experience had been to America, the music was American but the radio was BBC shortwave. And after I started working with them, I started using the textbook American Streamline series and every week they’d say – ” oh, your English has improved a lot.” Even though I couldn’t think of anything I’d done to improve except teaching a few classes the past week.

And even today, after spending a few months in Ireland, people in America will say – “oh some words sound Irish”, but the moment I arrive at the immigration point at Shannon Airport the officer tells me – “you’ve got an American accent”. There! Don’t try to please everybody. Just be happy with what you’ve accomplished. You’ve come a long way and enjoy being a citizen of the world.

So, get those lazy ears of yours working and make that tongue positively productive.

Cheers

Mo on-language

 

The importance of bilingualism in education and its myths

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a summer conference on bilingual education in São Paulo under the theme: “Education is our passport to the future”. One of the guest speakers, Vinicius Nobre, Academic Manager at Associação Cultura Inglesa, presented a great talk  on the matter of the Future of Language and Bilingual education.img_9338

Nobre initially highlighted some of the myths in learning a second language (English, in his more specific case):

  • you can learn English in 3 months
  • you work for a month at Disney World and you’ll return fluent
  • Only native speakers can properly teach the language
  • You can learn that language only if you travel abroad
  • Living in a monolingual country makes it impossible / or too hard to learn a second language

The list could go on indefinitely but the point about Brazil being a monolingual country and that being a myth – just blew my mind. There are around 210 langimg_9317uages spoken in Brazil  – including  indigenous languages and around 30 languages through immigration from Europe and Asia (not counting those from Africa and Latin America). Studies show that only 5% of Brazilians consider themselves proficient in English. You can see that as an opportunity or a tragedy.

By dispelling those myths, Nobre went on to his next question:

“For decades millions have been invested in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language in Brazil. So why is it so low?”

And I repeat: Why is the foreign language proficiency level in Brazil still so low? Considering that the teaching of English as a Foreign Language has been mandatory in Brazil for all public and private schools since the mid-1970), we could add that this problem happens in many other countries around the world where the teaching of a foreign language is treated as just another school subject).

Instead of being a means to an end, the teaching of a foreign language is seen as an end unto itself. Also, the informality of the profession doesn’t help it at all. Bilingual schools can call themselves so without any regulation from education authorities. They can offer English classes one hour a day or teach many different subjects in English and Portuguese and fall under the same category of “bilingual education”. Teachers can be hired literally off the street or even worse, schoools can hire those who have a teaching degree and are absolutely underqualified.

So, what can be done?

  1. Teachers must learn to take more advantage of our business and make it more relevant;

      2. The teaching of English is a kaleidoscope of subjects – and the study of language    teaching is relatively speaking a very recent discipline;

      3. To learn another language – interaction and the ability to listen to others is essential:  you must learn to listen actively;

      4. The language is not the end but a means of communication;

The language classroom is an environment of high creativity – challenged to be more innovative and more critical.

A good language class will be a means of communication – “I’m not studying English I’m learning to communicate”

Is it possible to change this paradigm?

We are now experiencing an anti-globalization mood – with mediocrity as king – but even in such times as these, or maybe more so, to be able to speak another language will be even more valuable.

Until the first half of the 20th century, language had been pegged to  national identity – it was deeply political. – in some instances to speak another language was considered a betrayal of your country  – this happened in Brazil during World War II when any speakers of German, Italian or Japanese were seen with suspicion and regarded as likely traitors or informers.

Add to that the false belief that all the stress of learning another language could  harm you  and be bad to your mind.
See all those language teachers? They’re a little “weird” wouldn’t you say? They’ve got a screw loose.”

  • Fortunately there is hope. Teachers must become more aware of their role and importance in society:
  •  Socially you are ahead if you speak another language;
  • A teacher won’t have great salaries but he won’t be unemployed;
  • The career of a teacher – is a threatened species – threatened by government policies and dwindling investments in teacher education and infrastructure. Sooner or later they’ll wake up to the reality that teachers are important;
  • And based on so many studies just to know the fact that learning another language wards off mental diseases… in case of doubt you have at least learned a language.

    img_9323
    On the theme of being bilingual or multilingual: “All of us are multi-local, multi-layered. To begin our conversations with an acknowledgment of this complexity brings us closer together. Not further apart.” Taiye Aseli

And NO! I won’t apologize for having taken the time and effort to learn another language.

Speak away,

Cheers,

Mo

Do you speak Teacherese?

Who is the language teacher who’s never heard their students say:

“I don’t know why, but I can understand everything my teacher says but when somebody else speaks I can’t understand a word.”

The reason is that teachers develop their own “Teaching English” language – let us call it Teacherese – we simplify our explanation, translate, mime, draw, look up a better explanation/ word definition in a learners’ dictionary – so that students will be able to grasp whatever we’re trying to teach. We tend to speak way more slowly with a clear intonation while also projecting our voice. No wonder students can understand “everything” we say.

The Bible in the Book of James chapter 3 verse 10 implies that our tongue has the power to bless and also the power to curse”. Could it be that in our desire to help our students we end up hampering their language learning skills?

Yes and no. We do help them better understand the language and help students to get a positive and clear example on pronunciation. Teachers could avoid too much of a grammar load – we love saying “that’s an adverbial clause”  and expect students to know what we’re talking about, on the other hand so grammatical terms distinguishing an adverb from an adjective will be quite useful when students need to produce language.

Considering the importance of the teacher, it would be advisable he introduced a segment in his class for “mumble time” when he would speak at a more natural way Or introduce to students other English speakers ( if not in person, at least via audio) where they’d be able to identify and assimilate different sounds and accents. img_7726

So fellow teacher warriors, use your skills to bless and not curse your students.

Shine on.

cheers

Mo

 

Why pay a language teacher if I can learn for free?

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:

  1. A teacher will help you identify your language level and develop strategies to make progress to the next level;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. You will be able to find answers to your questions;
  5. 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.img_7652

Happy learning!

Cheers,

Mo

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

foreign-language-can-be-fascinating-experience-and-gives-clipart-2lr7f9-clipart

Have fun.

 

Cheers,

Mo

Education is a process. Not a commodity

Working as a self-employed teacher, I have the freedom that other job positions do not offer, but also lack all sorts of protections and guarantees that a school – even if lame – is required to provide.

Being my own boss means that I always have to negotiate fees and rates, teaching methods, class frequency, class load and homework directly with the student and on some rare occasions with the parent (if a minor) or the HR of a company (this latter case only happens once in a blue moon).

There’s no shame in being up front about the costs and how many classes there will be per month and the need for cancellation or postponement of classes and in the case of the absence for whatever reason of the teacher or student, how those missed classes should be made up for. Yes usually the contract – either verbal or written – is on a month to month basis.

Occasionally you’ll hear the analogy that the worker “prostitutes” himself for his salary, meaning they do things they don’t want to do because of their job. I can’t agree with that assumption for all cases.

The worker is worthy of his wages.

As the self-labelled weblogger Putney Debater wrote:

“In other words, education is not a commodity like a bar of chocolate or a cafe latte, which is physically consumed till there’s nothing left. Nor is it like a motor car or a washing machine, which are durable but eventually break down and have to be replaced, since an education is never replaced but only added to, extended and renovated (‘life-long learning’ anyone?). Perhaps it’s a bit like a book in constituting a store of knowledge, but it isn’t a physical object and doesn’t create a second-hand market, although it seems to be something you can cash in on, because it’s supposed to guarantee you a better income. However, education also goes on domestically and informally, and you can also pass on bits of it for free without depriving yourself of what you’ve passed on. (The early rabbis thought of it as like the flame of a candle.) The teacher is someone who gets paid for doing this, but they’re not selling an object, they are performing what Adam Smith called a service.” https://putneydebater.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/why-education-is-not-a-commodity-2/

However, occasionally, students will think that they are buying a meal, or soap, or any other product when hiring a teacher. They ignore that education IS a process and not just a commodity they may use on and off. In the case of learning a language there is also the need for regular practice. There is one case of a student who wants to have a 1-hour class a month – because he’s still having classes with another teacher (who had missed several classes and owed him the respective hours). Weird but I can understand it for a short-term process and especially in this time of skinny cows.

Let me share with you an anecdote that may illustrate the case. I charge the number of hours a student will have in the month and they pay accordingly. For example, he’ll have 1-hour class a week, a month has 4 weeks, he’ll pay for 4 weeks. I don’t like this system “pay per class”. However, in October student A (not his real name 😜) paid for 2 classes  only because I would be on vacation for 2 weeks – (yes, Virginia, students don’t pay for the teacher’s holidays). But he couldn’t attend one class because he was leaving on vacation. No problem. He could have this class credited to him in November. But he went away on vacation and on his return he decided that he would return to classes only in December. Ok. … Then he decided to return only in January. But as he has that class credit (that he has paid for, mind you) he wants to have that one hour of English sometime in December.

Why? What good will he have in his learning process? What benefit is to be obtained by that stand-alone class, except listening to my melodious voice? Why not have an additional class in January? Well, … he has paid for that class so he WANTS TO have it.

Not to mention that the student is always complaining about financial problems and that the classes aren’t cheap. So I decided to refund him for that class (US$45). Period. Good riddance! (Wait! Did I say that aloud?) The way he is he might even want to ask for a refund adjusted for inflation on that amount. But I think he is not that crazy. 😜

Talking about learning as a process, many students start having classes and then after one or two months go away on vacation, then they can’t have classes because of the yearend holidays, then there’s carnival… cutting a long story short – they suspend classes for 2 to 3 months in a row, and when they return they want to continue from where they stopped. Helloooo… even a car if left unattended for too long can show problems when the owner tries to use it again.  In other words, they are back to where they started… and then after 2, 3, 5 years of classes they start to complain saying they must be too stupid,* because they’re not making progress (*translation: their teacher can’t be any good or he’s just incompetent).

How would you have dealt differently in that situation?
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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