Is there such a thing as a wrong reason to learn a language? Why do people decide to learn a second language?
Some of the reasons I’ve heard are listed below (please feel free to add any other reasons not mentioned):
to travel abroad on holiday / business
to get a better job or improve job opportunities
to study abroad
they like the sound and /or the looks of that language
they love the country /culture / food where that language is spoken
religious reasons (biblical Greek/Hebrew/ Latin)
to find a boyfriend/girlfriend
to get in touch with their roots
because it’s an academic requirement
to ward off memory loss
to show off / impress others
I heard on the podcast Eye on Italy episode 17 (here’s the link – http://www.eyeonitaly.com/podcast/episode-17-italian-i-still-love-you/ ) an interview with Dianne Hales who wrote the book – La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language (http://www.becomingitalian.com/labella.php) and one of the negative criticisms she heard came from her friends who questioned her choice to study Italian as “why choose such a useless language to learn?” The argument being if you’re going through all this trouble to speak another language, at least learn a more useful language such as French, or Spanish, or German, or Mandarin. Please define usefulness in love.
So…, my answer to the question – is there a wrong reason to learn a language? YES AND NO.
There can be weak (or lame) reasons. What do I mean? To learn another language you will have to work up the following ingredients:
PROGRESS (NO MATTER AT WHAT PACE)
Now, if your reasons don’t live up to the ingredients above you will be bound to fail. Therefore, wrong reasons.
But, if you’re willing to keep on following those four ingredients – the reason or reasons will be right.
So, roll up your sleeves and dig in whatever language you want and for whatever reasons that make you tick.
No matter what others say, another language will give you a new vision of the world.
Yes, I know it’s a cliché but it has lots of truth to me: a picture’s worth a thousand words. When teaching English, Spanish or French quite often students come across words that even if not abstract, they’re hard for them to grasp the meaning by just looking up the word in the dictionary, unless it’s a bilingual dictionary.
Let’s consider for example the word “groom”. The student asks the meaning of the word and passively receives the information.
The teacher:” well, … you know when you get married the woman is the bride and the man is the groom or bridegroom”.
By telling the student to look up in google images he will be actively learning the word and visualizing it, without even having to think about the word in L1.
Take the word “STAMINA”, for instance, which Trump said Hillary Clinton doesn’t have ( or the looks). Many Brazilian students get the sound of the word but not the meaning.
By just showing a picture of someone running, the teacher tells students that that person has stamina and asks them to guess the meaning. Chances are they will say, power, energy, and bingo got the word without having even translated the word into L1.
The word “GAP” – which can be abstract but can also be easily visualized and understood based on the pictures and context. In the past I used to doodle on paper trying to convey the image, but it wouldn’t solve the student’s passivity. Now having the student look it up makes them an active agent in their learning.
You may say, “that’s exactly what students do when using a dictionary” – yes, but… the trick is that by using a monolingual dictionaryoften times they can’t understand the definition or there are too many definitions to go through. In a bilingual dictionarythey will be still focusing on L1 memory and will most likely forget the L2 corresponding word.
As a long-standing reader of the Economist, I’ve encouraged my students to read this magazine (even though the publishers insist on calling it a newspaper). The quality of the text and the “high-brow” language have always been its benchmark. But the strengths of the Economist can also be its weaknesses.
When presented with a text the teacher will present the first description and the students will always feel the second:
In-depth texts = too long texts
Carefully chosen vocabulary = too difficult vocabulary
A sober text = very few pictures
But the challenge students face will be rewarded by being exposed to excellent writing (and when using the app they can also listen to the news stories).
When using authentic material I always try to employ all 4 main skills
(not necessarily in this order)
The possibilities to explore the text are huge but, please note that I won’t try to milk this cow until it’s bone dry. The activities are suggestions and I don’t see why keep on beating on a dead cow. Please forgive the pun (I’m not referring to the impeached President – heaven forbid).
So what did I do with this article?
Brazil has acquired some unique distinctions. For example, in Soccer? (students talk that it’s the only country to have won the football World Cup five times)
In natural resources? (students may talk about the country with the largest rainforest, etc)
And now, what is another distinction? (2 presidents impeached in 20 years)
a. Scanning for main ideas: What do you understand from the title and subtitle?
b.Read the first paragraph – what differences does the article present between Brazil’s 2 impeachments?
c. What lessons can be learned from the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff?
3. LISTENING –
students may listen to the whole text or the first and last paragraphs, for example. Have students read a few sentences out loud. Check vocabulary and pronunciation.
4. WRITING –
it can be as simple as writing sentences using keywords previously highlighted in the text to writing an essay defining in their own words the pros and cons of the current political and economic scenarios in Brazil.
As regarding vocabulary I’ve chosen 7 words in the text to focus on meaning and use (trying to include their context and word collocation). Why seven, you may ask – because it’s the symbol of perfection (or more accurately, because those were the words I thought worth checking with students in this specific article– choose one). The teacher may decide to highlight fewer or more words (my suggestion no more than 10). Regarding vocabulary, some students lack the practice of reading for gist and consequently try to understand and look up every single word they don’t know or aren’t sure about. Limiting the number of words the teacher will encourage students to do their own word searches on their own and learn to read on a more dynamic and productive pace.
Please find below the text. Have fun and let me know if these ideas helped and other ideas you may have used.
THE IMPEACHMENT COUNTRY
Does the ousting of Dilma Rousseff weaken or strengthen Brazil’s democracy?
AS WELL as its five football World Cup victories and the world’s largest rainforest, Brazil has just acquired another unique distinction. It is the only country to have impeached two presidents in just 24 years. In the first case, that of Fernando Collor, who resigned in 1992 on the brink of being condemned for corruption, impeachment commanded near-universal support, and could be read as a sign of democratic vigour. In the case of Dilma Rousseff, ousted by the Senate by 61 votes to 20 on August 31st, judgments are far more mixed. Even some who did not sympathise with Ms Rousseff think her oustingsulliesdemocracy. They worry that Brazil has devalued impeachment, turning it into a means to dump an unpopular ruler—and, in this case, replace her with her unequally unpopular vice-president, Michel Temer.
Some of the arguments Ms Rousseff deployed in two days of evidence before the Senate were mere propaganda. No, her impeachment was not a coup, of any description. It took place over nine months, in strict accordance with the constitution and supervised by the supreme court, a majority of whose members were nominated by Ms Rousseff or Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, her predecessor and the founding leader of her left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).
The offence Ms Rousseff was accused of—using credits from public banks to swell the budget without the permission of Congress—is a “crime of responsibility” under Brazil’s impeachment law of 1950. But there the difficulties start. Her defenders are right that this charge was a relatively minor, technical matter. The lawyers who filed the impeachment petition hit upon it because there is no evidence that Ms Rousseff was personally corrupt. That is not true of Eduardo Cunha, the former Speaker of the lower house of congress. He accepted the petition, she plausibly claims, as an act of vengeance because she refused to help him evade expulsion over corruption allegations. It is troubling, too, that many of those who voted to oust her are accused of misdeeds. And Mr Temer, a 75-year-old political insider, hardly embodies the regeneration his country’s rotten politics need.
Yet that is not enough to turn the moral tables in Ms Rousseff’s favour: many of the “coup-plotters” had been for a decade allies (and several were ministers) of the president and her predecessor. Their corruption, if proved, is venal and personal. More sinister is that of the PT, which organised a vast kickback scheme centred on Petrobras as part of a “hegemonic project that involved growing control of parliament, of the judges and…of the media”, as Fernando Gabeira, a left-leaning former congressman, wrote in O Globo, a newspaper. Ms Rousseff chaired Petrobras’s board (in 2003-10) and then ruled the country while this scheme flourished. Her claim to know nothing of it, nor that her campaign guru in the election in 2014 was paid with bribe money, smacks of negligence.
On its own, the Petrobras scandal didn’t doom her. When Mr Cunha launched the impeachment last December, most political analysts expected it to fail. The subsequent stampede against the president owed everything to her own incompetence and to public opinion, which was enraged, too, by her catastrophic mishandling of the economy. Above all, she failed to build alliances in Congress, which need not always involve back-scratching. The crisis of governability in Brasília intolerably prolonged the economic slump, undermining some of the social progress made under Lula. It would have been resolved less divisively by Ms Rousseff resigning or by a fresh election. But she refused to step down, and an early election is constitutionally difficult.
So Brazil is where it is. And it offers some lessons. One is that Ms Rousseff has paid the ultimate price for her fiscal irresponsibility (which went far wider than those disputed credits). That ought to be a salutary warning to Latin America’s more spendthrift politicians. Second, Brazilians want to hold their governments to account. Mr Temer will lose all legitimacy if he yields to pressure from his friends to rein in the Petrobras investigation or helps Mr Cunha avoid justice.
The third lesson is that in Brazil, with its strong parliamentary tradition, no president can govern against Congress. When Ms Rousseff brandishes her 54m votes in the presidential election of 2014 as a defence, she forgets that they were for Mr Temer too, and that the senators have an equally valid democratic mandate. Brazil has thus offered a tutorial in constitutional theory to the likes of Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s dictatorial president. The legacy of a divisive impeachment is not all bad.
Last week my god-daughter messaged me on Facebook:
Hi, dad! How are you?
I’m thinking about traveling next year to an English-speaking country to study English.
So… I need to get ready.
Do you think it’s a good idea to travel through a travel agency such as CVC or exchange program?
I saw it would cost about R$ 4000. Do you think it’s a good price?
I was thinking about traveling to England, do you think it’s a good place?
Do you know of any site that might guide me in this search process?
My reply was as follows:
It’s always a great idea to travel abroad to study, but my suggestion for those who are upper-intermediate or advanced would be to take an open summer course in whatever subject they would like. Instead of just studying English you could study arts, history, photography, endless options in English.
Why? Language schools – as any other business – are focused on profit (nothing wrong with that) but they will be hard pressed to place students at different levels together. In addition to that, your class will most likely have other Brazilians which will be an additional temptation to speak Portuguese. If you’re lucky your classmates will all be Chinese or Korean, so at least, you’ll have to use English to communicate with them.
Another negative point about going abroad just to “study English” – you will be paying your costs in US dollars or Euros or Pounds for content that you could have in Brazil through an intensive immersion course.
Regarding the destination, England is lovely but you will have your costs in pounds (with a still more unfavorable exchange rate than the US $) which is a disadvantage. Good options would be Canada, USA or even South Africa. Ireland would be a good option but again: too many Brazilians “studying” English in Dublin. Moreover, the Irish accent is lovely but peculiar to that country – so maybe not the best option for a first time abroad.
Again, make sure to get references from other students who’ve been to the school where you’re considering to study. I know there are schools that have poorly trained teachers with a high turnover while other schools are barefaced scams, many times cancelling the classes (for any imaginable reason) when you get to your destination and of course, you may forget any hopes of a refund.
I’d recommend cities like Pittsburgh, Portland – Oregon or Maine) or San Diego in the US or Calgary, Edmonton in Canada. Also check the weather conditions for the time of year you’re planning to go.
I have been a fan of the Headway series since 1991 when I started teaching private students in São Paulo, Brazil, and that was the book assigned me by the school I was working for at the time (where I would become a partner a few years later). It was the Headway Advanced first edition (Oxford University Press), I believe. I was amazed at how advanced the book really was. Even native speakers would encounter vocabulary challenges in it.
Since then I have used the New Headway series and the American Headway (which is mostly an adaptation of the UK edition with more of a north American vocabulary and audio, which is a great strategy used by the publishers while meeting a demand).
Usually US publishers do not invest much in textbooks for ESL/EFL learners while the UK is always introducing new titles. Considering the demand especially in Latin America and Asia for US-based language materials, nothing better than produce the same book with minor changes for all markets.
Also the new editions tend to add just minor changes – enough to justify the need for a new book by both teacher and students and also force the teacher to discard the older book as “obsolete”. This year I was planning on using the 3rd edition which I already owned, but unsurprisingly, it was not not to be found by the students at the bookstores. Only the “new and improved” 4th edition. Talk about marketing strategies. There goes the teacher having to purchase all the set – workbook, teacher’s book and student’s book plus the CDs and DVDs. Nice, ain’t it?
The latest edition I have in my hands is the New Headway Elementary 4th edition (2011) by Liz and John Soars (the authors of the original edition). When compared to the New Headway Elementary 3rd edition (2000) – the changes were not that significant – the audio has new recordings and the texts are also new.. . but the grammar syllabus and vocabulary for instance are quite similar, even considering the way the thematic content is distributed in the units.
A big change I’ve observed is that the 4th Edition is way too heavy on content – the books still have long units (around 8 pages each) – 12 units in the 4th edition compared with 14 units in the 3rd edition – against other trends for shorter units observed in other textbooks where each section consists of 2 pages (New English File, for example).
Let’s consider unit 7: Dates to remember – the syllabus includes
Past Simple (2)
Questions and Negatives
Adverbs (regular and irregular)
The load of content feels like crushing against the learner’s skull. Too much vocabulary and grammar to be absorbed in a few hours. Much better would be to have shorter units and introduce each point gradually, while revisiting points previously learned.
Would I still recommend Headway to other students and teachers? Yes, if the teacher can decode and adapt the textbook to the student’s needs.
As a coursebook it would be a really big challenge to have effective teaching in a classroom with 25 or 30 students.
By the way, I am impressed by the fact that the publishers haven’t still embraced the e-book format (fear of piracy? cost?). But it would make the life of teachers and students much easier. Imagine: For one elementary student I have to carry the teacher’s book, workbook and coursebook. On a day when I’m teaching different levels how many pounds/kilos of books am I supposed to be carrying? Hellooo.
Last week, Juliana got in touch with me via Facebook Messenger with the following request:
“Good evening, teacher Moacir, how’s it goin’? I attended your English Sabbath School Class a few years ago and I have become a teacher at IASP ( a school in the interior of São Paulo state). Someone has asked me about online private classes and since I know you teach classes in this manner, I would like to have some tips from you.
I love English, it’s been my passion since I was a little child and now I would like to work with private classes because I feel like I’m cast in plaster with the teaching methods at schools.
If you could help me I would be immensely thankful!”
Well, how could I say “NO” to someone who is passionate about the language and also willing to teach?
My reply was:
Hello Juliana, I’m really glad you’re interested in teaching online.
1. The first thing you must do is evaluate the student’s level and encourage constancy and define the platform – Skype / FaceTime? How often will they be having classes? once a week? twice? more? From my experience FaceTime has better voice/ image quality than Skype. The limitation is that both parties must be using Apple products.
2. Class time: 50 – 60 minutes (classes with more than an hour online can become too exhausting and student – and teacher – may lose focus).
3. Price: it will vary depending on your public – usually I charge 10-20% less than my “in-person classes” – since I save on transportation and commute time. How much to charge? It will depend on your market – in Brazil it can vary from R$ 35 to R$ 175 per hour. It would be a good idea to negotiate a fixed monthly package.
4. Develop a curriculum – how long will the classes take for the student to change to a higher level? six months? one year? what materials will be used?
5. Homework – I’ve learned that the best approach regarding homework (especially with “false” beginners and higher levels) is the flipped classstyle – the student will do the homework before the online class and then the teacher will correct and make the student practice points still not consolidated. Students from Elementary levels on to Advanced should be encouraged to read articles from magazines and newspapers to develop vocabulary and comprehension. They could be asked to read a news story, for instance, and then present a summary during the online session. Translation from L1 to L2 is always a good practice that students should attempt before their class.
Whew… I hope this will give you some ideas. Any questions, just let me know. May God bless you on this new adventure.
Oh, before I forget, it’s super important to have a reasonable internet connection and sound quality.
There are those days when you feel a little bit unsure of what to do, where to go… . And I’m not even talking about going to the doctor and undergoing medical tests, things that I dread just based on the fear that some bad diagnosis will happen. Well, traditionally men don’t like going to the doctor because they feel they can’t get sick as they’re the breadwinners of the family, the strong sex, etc. in this day and age? Come on! Men don’t like going to the doctor, at least in my case, because we’re afraid they’ll find out something horrible and you start feeling all the symptoms before you even have the diagnosis. Talk about reasoning with your unreasonable mind. But I digress…
Uncertainty comes to teaching as well, more so when you’re self-employed. You know the drill: no student, no pay. And it’s not like when you’re working for a company / school and they will provide you with the students and if they’re generous enough they’ll give you some training and teaching material such as textbooks. They’re also required by law (at least in Brazil) to give you paid holidays and a 13th annual salary (a sort of Christmas bonus) in addition to contributions to your government’s social security pension fund.
My wife and friends quite often remind me of how lucky I am because I don’t have a boss, which is true (although in some ways my students ARE my bosses). But the solo teaching career requires some constant care such as:
1. Attention to trends in teaching, textbooks
2. Attendance to teachers’ conferences and seminars
3. Prospecting for new students while at the same time keeping the back door shut in order to keep your current students.
4. Self-motivation – you can’t slack off and stop preparing lessons, or stop showing up on time.
5. Billing is never the most pleasurable of activities but necessary. On the other hand, there are always a few smart asses who “always forget” to pay their teacher in the time agreed and you must kindly ask them if there was any problem with their payment because you couldn’t locate their deposit in your bank statement.
Hey, life is uncertain by nature, so what I must do is to continue doing what I enjoy and enjoy what I have to do.