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

 

Online Classes and Coronavirus

Here we are, March 2020 – Only 3 months into the year. Back on January 01 I said to myself: “2020, what a beautiful number. This year promises to bring optimism, economic recovery in Brazil (we have been limping since the recession started in 2016), new ideas, 25 years of Wedding Anniversaries, etc”.

Now it seems that most of the world has been brought down to their knees by a virus. It started in China, but quickly spread to other countries until it was officially labeled a “pandemic” by the WHO. Now Italy is shut down. Many countries are considering to follow suit while all others are encouraging telecommuting and online learning.

Companies and workers will be trying to follow those recommendations, even though many working parents would rather leave home for the peace of their offices. Online classes for younger people – how would they work? would they be pre-recorded or live sessions? A blend of both? Who would make sure that learners are following with their studies? How different would be the learning environment without its social aspect? Would video chats replace face to face interaction?

There seem to be more questions than answers before this new normal sets in… will a “quarantine” take place whenever a new virus appears?

I have been teaching online for years, initially because I traveled a lot accompanying my wife on her business trips and it was wonderful to enjoy such flexibility, to be able to continue classes initially by phone (we are talking here mid- to late 1990s) and then via video chat. FaceTime (it doesn’t usually work very well), Skype and Zoom (my favorite platform) allow my students to prepare for the upcoming classes by practicing listening, vocabulary, grammar exercises (talk about the flipped class concept) and it doesn’t require much technology, you don’t need special VR goggles and sound effects. Even if you have a piece of paper or a mini whiteboard, that will be enough for you to interact with your student. Duration of the lessons varies according to student needs and cash availability (hey, it matters), so it can range from 30-minute to 90-minute sessions.

online
You can teach online using simple resources and low technology (pants are optional) 

What could ensure a better flow of the classes? Preparation (by both teacher and learner). It’s a class – not a free chat session (which incidentally may occur) but a structured session with warm-up, review, speaking time, listening time, objectives, etc will yield better results.

Now I’m considering developing a language learning app for Brazilians – including pre-recorded videos with a teacher (me, who else?) and drills on grammar, vocabulary, social skills, etc. Initially it would be a general English app and later expand to a Business English context.

At the end of the day, crises must not be the end of the world. Let us think up of new possibilities. Any suggestions or recommendations?

Happy online teaching.

Cheers,

Mo img_4775teacher 3

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

Self-employment is empowering

Been a 1 on 1 teacher for over 20 years. When I tell people I am a language teacher, they usually ask what school I work for. Then I tell them I’m self employed.

Their reaction varies from ” Wow… oh to be your own boss. That’s a dream for many people”; to “oh… you can’t hold a steady job, can ya?”

There are pros and cons… as in every other professional choice.

1. You control your life.

You can choose your activities. For example you decide when you’ll go on vacation, avoid high season and having more flexibility with all bookings. You save for your future.

2. You get to choose your hours

You establish your working hours – some 8 years ago I decided I wasn’t going to teach after 6pm. A student said I was lazy ( half jokingly half seriously). And I haven’t looked back since. Yes, my income is smaller but my peace of mind and lack of stress not having to face the chaotic traffic in São Paulo during the rush hour more than compensate for that.

3. You get to work with people you like

You can pick and choose your students, in some ways…. I’ve already fibbed saying I didn’t have any available time because I knew that student would be a pain in the neck. There is nothing worse than having a student who doesn’t know what he is doing and why he is doing it. It saps the teacher’s energy, after trying for one or two months you have to break up with him or her, either face to face or via WhatsApp. The latter is better! Just say to the student: “it’s not you. It’s me.”😜 Of course you will lose income by dropping or turning down students.

4. You can make a stand

you lose income by dropping or turning down students, but … A few months ago, two prospective students approached me saying they wanted to have classes together… 2 for the price of one: always trying to cut corners and pay less. I interviewed them and found out that their motivation and language levels were different. It wouldn’t work. Most likely one of them would be absent most of the time. In practice, they would take turns attending class. I would have to repeat the same lesson. Or even worse, teach 2 people separately and get paid for one. No way, Jose. Go waste some other teacher’s time.

5. You can follow your passion

In my case it’s teaching, not correcting and grading hundreds of papers and tests. Or even worse dealing with school politics and red tape.

Self employment is not for everyone. You see that even in the pros you will have a possible money loss phase or a period of financial instability. You will lack any professional support from a company (in case you were working for a decent school – few and far in between). No labor benefits. No health insurance. No sick pay. Zilch. You earn more for your time and spend more but it is liberating. You take charge of your professional life.

Cheers and carry on.

Mo

Waiting is hard

Yes, yes, I know… I could say that again… Waiting is HARD. “We twiddle our thumbs, we shuffle our feet, we stifle our yawns, we heave long sighs, we fret inwardly in frustration”.

That’s how a language learner feels… progress is slow. So instead of just moaning, we teachers must encourage our students to actively be in charge of their linguistic progress.

Are they on social media? Great. Encourage them to access accounts on Twitter, or instagram or Facebook …. using the language they’re learning.

As a teacher I know I must help my students develop a positive relationship with the language they’re learning. I must show them the value of that language, increase their interest in the learning process. Stress the relevance of they’re doing and failure is not an option. Signify to them what is done in the language they pursue and what they can do if they commit themselves to learning.

My students are my greatest asset, so I won’t treat them as morons (isn’t it a great new year’s resolution?) They’re my partners not only by paying for their lessons but also by allowing me my professional and personal development with and through them.

May the new year help us all take off to new heights.

Cheers,

Mo

 

Inviting 2019 in!

As the days of 2018 run to a close, you can hear some people saying that it’s just another date. It means nothing. My mother used to say that too. As a housewife her whole life she’d say yesterday, today, tomorrow have their same lot of cleaning, washing and cooking.

The Chinese have a different new year date. The Jews too. Islam also follows a different calendar. Googling it up, even the Native indigenous people in South America follow a calendar year which starts on June 21 – the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Ok. I didn’t find anything about Brazilian indigenous tribes but I’m pretty sure if they have a New Year Date it won’t be January 01.

Richard Vaughan, an American teacher in Spain, loves to say that the year would make much better sense if it really started somewhere in September.

In Brazil the year ending in December coincides with the ending of the school year and the beginning of summer so gives a good closure to the cycle of life (at least academically speaking).

Other people decide to fight all resolutions – they’re pointless. So their resolution is to make no resolutions.

Image result for resolutions

I’ll go against the flow and encourage you to make small, feasible resolutions. There is a psychological factor in taking out the old calendar and putting up a new calendar. Get rid of the old, and put on the new.

Image result for 2018 old calendar
Get rid of the old, put on the new

We all had small victories in 2018. Maybe small and big losses, but it is all in the past now. No, no, they won’t fade away as a dream, but they will hurt less in 2019… allow yourself to heal, give yourself time to lick your wounds, to dust off your pride … decide that you will be a better teacher, a better spouse, a better human being… . Yes, I know it won’t happen as magic but you have made up the decision which shows you are willing to grow.

Image result for 2019 new calendar

So, child, go forth, slip, trip over, fall, roll back, love and allow yourself to be loved… but keep moving forward.

Happy 2019.

Cheers,

Mo

English Language Education in Brazil – An Outlook – Part 1

Last Monday I attended a talk sponsored by Braz-Tesol (Brazilian Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Marcelo Barros presented a brief but content-loaded overview of the situation of the language teaching outlook in Brazil today.

 

The language education market in Brazil is extremely fragmented lacking official associations that would really represent the interests of English teachers around the country. Braz-Tesol and state organizations such as Apeoesp (Association of Teachers of São Paulo state schools) or Apliesp (Association of Teachers of English in the State of São Paulo) represent a small percentage of teachers.

The fragmentation of the English language teaching industry:

university

private schools

state-run school

municipal schools

binational language institutes

independent language schools

self-employed teachers

How do they see each other? As in any market economy, they see each other as competitors, but not only that, the University educators look down on all the other teachers as if they were a lower form of life.  Also teachers working at languages schools or institutes look down on teachers in state or city-run schools, as not even knowing English  themselves and how can they be able to teach it? State-run teachers also see independent language schools as the death knell for the teaching of languages in regular classrooms. Binational language centres as the British Council, Cultura Inglesa or Alumni, also look down on independent language schools as unprepared to teach given that the former emphasise native speakers as teachers and the latter would have to resort to humble Brazilians trying to make a living.

The reality is that English teachers at language schools or self-employed have been imparting knowledge to millions around the country, making up for a huge gap in the education level provided by regular grammar schools at all levels.

The Brazilian Association of Franchising – ABF, estimates that 2-4% of Brazilians speak some English – which creates a significant linguistic elite in a country with around 220 million people.

The Brazilian economic boom decade between 2002 and 2012 also represented a bonanza for language teaching, with a peak in the number of people studying English in Brazil.

It is estimated that today there are little under 1 million people studying English in Brazil. But why do so few people study that language? Why is there such a high dropout rate?

To be continued… .