Lose the Video. Focus on the Audio
Reflecting on the rush for people to continue with work, studies, meetings, happy hour encounters, etc on zoom, Skype and any other video conferencing platform I came to the conclusion we risk overusing that technology to our own loss.
Even The Guardian who tries to be balanced in issues other than politics, is adding fire to the game. Look at the headline below:
“If you need to go for a walk… why not wander around a video game?” Nothing left to the imagination or, gulp, to actual physical activity. But that would be subject for another post.
My point is that we risk missing out on the development of a great skill – especially if we’re teaching language learners: listening. Back in the 1990s we already could see the lack of time and mobility some students were facing to attend face to face classes. So I started teaching English lessons over the phone – “Phone Classes” – with great levels of success and student satisfaction. They ranged from 15 to 30 minutes a session which could be repeated 2 or 3 times along the week.
As a teacher of English and Spanish for nearly 30 years I can tell you that listening is one of the hardest part of language learning. Yes, they need to build confidence when speaking or writing and reading – they’re all important – but when it comes to listening especially if living in a country where L2 (second of foreign language) is not ubiquitous…
Yes, their hearing may be even better than mine but we can’t overlook the fact that many are so busy speaking or looking at “bells and whistles” that they can’t really focus on listening what others are telling them.
Yes, you may argue that there are tons of movies and TV shows to watch, internet radio is here to stay, yada yada yada (since we’re talking about sitcoms) but the default language exposure will be the learners’ L1 (mother tongue) – they may even watch a video in English but with Portuguese subtitles – “I just wanted to decompress, teacher Mo” – “I needed a break so I listened to songs but didn’t any pay attention to the lyrics”, they would say. And to add insult to injury video lessons are having the same problem. Entertainment instead of Education.
The teacher may present the best data show software in the market but progress will be slow even if entertainment is high.
Phone classes (no eyes necessary) – a couple of students of mine have stuck to the system and benefited from it – helps learners develop and enhance their listening skills – they have to really understand what somebody is telling them with no body language.
Of course, I can pre-teach them the vocabulary, tell them to research the topic we will be discussing online and even send them a sample interview, dialogue, for example. But when on the phone they won’t be focused on the teacher’s hair or makeup or PJs but on the sound the teacher is producing.
Quite often in my teacher talking time, I say what I imagine could be a new word in the target language (they wouldn’t know, for example, what a “field hospital” is but would for sure have heard about it in their mother tongue these days). So I usually say: “well, I was driving past a field hospital they’re setting up near my home for Covid-19 patients… how do you say “hospital de campanha” in English?” And they will always glibly answer “field hospital” – just to check if they were listening and following what I was saying.
So to sum up, not every class must be visual 100% of the time, learners will greatly benefit from extra listening practice.
Five Components for the Development of Digital Skills
This morning I was leafing through the Brazilian entrepreneurship magazine Você S/A ( and mind you, it was the paper edition of September 2019) and came across a list of five components for the digital survival of professionals in any industry. They will, most certainly, also apply to language teachers either employed at a school or university or self-employed just like little me.
The five components for the development of digital skills for now and the future as a self-employed professional are as follows (loosely adapted from the infographic in the magazine):
1. Business Vision – understand what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and most importantly, WHY you’re doing it (stress on the WHY as emphasized by my HR expert student Livia S. Sant’ana)
2. Adaptability – Be flexible and curious – always be open to new methods and approaches – use face-to-face classes and online classes. Explore pre-recorded and live sessions, for example.
3. Cultural & Social Understanding – Empathy for what do your clients think they need, learn to listen to them and build bridges. Don’t see others as mere competitors or potential clients – view others as human beings with their own needs and goals.
4. Cooperation – Create a network of colleagues – there will always be those who you can help and also grow with. And let us not deceive ourselves. Colleagues can help you expand your circle of influence.
5. Systemic Thinking – aka in non-Academic circles as Pattern Thinking – it is a simple technique for making sense of challenging situations and developing simple interventions for transforming them.
Like it or not, the more you take charge of your future the better prepared you will be to face it.
Technology in Education
Much has been written and said about how technology has revolutionized and will continue to revolutionize the world of education and most especially the language teaching industry.
From the time I used a vinyl record which was upgraded to a cassette tape, then VHS and VCR to CDs and DVDs to online streaming, podcasts and YouTube, the means to expose students to a brave new world seem limitless.
But… how much has it changed for educators? Ok, I remember once I had to carry a portable record player on the bus to share a song with my very first English learners back in 1985/1986. Now I can carry the world in my mobile and so can the students. But what can we do with this amazing new world and how to access all this potential or at least some of it? Where can you find relevant material? How can you use it?
A study involving 240 MA education graduates in the US and Canada revealed that 50% of them received no form of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) training. And 70% were not prepared to teach the language using technology.
Being a teacher in the 21st Century involves much more than having the latest gadget: projectors, intelligent whiteboards, high-speed internet, etc.
Teachers have to keep up with changes in
- Student performance standards
- New teaching approaches
- How to make the most out of educational technology
There is still a huge gap between theory and practice with all the risks and problems that accompany the adoption of new technologies.
Technology today is broadly used for:
- Downloading relevant material
- Word processing
- Different data show /PowerPoint resources
- Voice and video recording
- Even the humble email /text messaging
- Exposure to authentic language
- Dictionary / translation tools
- Language practice using Siri or any other voice-activated personal assistant
- Waze and other apps (Waze is a community-driven GPS and navigational app which can be set to the language the student is learning and needs practice with)
Technology is still rarely used in:
- Mind-mapping, in case you’re wondering what mind mapping is (I had no clue either): According to Wikipedia “mind map is an easy way to brainstorm thoughts organically without worrying about order and structure. It allows you to visually structure your ideas to help with analysis and recall.
A mind map is a diagram for representing tasks, words, concepts, or items linked to and arranged around a central concept or subject using a non-linear graphical layout that allows the user to build an intuitive framework around a central concept. A mind map can turn a long list of monotonous information into a colorful, memorable and highly organized diagram that works in line with your brain’s natural way of doing things.
A mind map can be used as a simplified content management system (CMS). It allows you to store all your data in a centralized location to stay organized. With the various mind mapping software programs out today, you can attach files to different branches for even more flexibility. You can also change to various different views in order to find one that suits you best”;
- Education blogs; and
- Voice threads (“VoiceThread is a totally web-based application that allows you to place collections of media like images, videos, documents, and presentations at the center of an asynchronous conversation“).
Why is it that most teachers are hesitant to integrate ICT?
Fear! Fear of what? Of losing control. Of making mistakes. Of “breaking” the equipment or program.
So, in addition to having access to technology teachers must be trained in how to best use the technology at their disposal, be offered technical support and troubleshooting solutions.
When given control, good teachers will be excited and curious about adopting the latest technologies.
Immersion Course – the Return
Today, one of my students, Isabella, returned after a 2-month-long trip to the US – one month she spent studying English at Kaplan International English School in Chicago and one month traveling across the US – a few days in Seattle, then on to San Francisco and ending her tour in Miami, Fl. “The best city by far was Chicago. It’s vibrant, culturally diverse with amazing restaurants, museums and great music”, she said.
Well, she had been very anxious about her arrival at the airport and customs and immigration. We practiced what she should say if questioned by the immigration officer, what might happen and she said it all went smoothly. The only drawback was that she arrived at O’Hare’s Terminal 5 and she had to go to Terminal 1 to catch the metro rail to downtown Chicago. The access information was a little difficult and it was a little bit of a hassle for her to get to the other terminal. From downtown she used an Uber driver to take her to her niece’s apartment at the University of Chicago on the South Side.
She told me it was a bus commute of around 25 minutes from where she was staying with her niece to the language school downtown. She could observe the wide diversity of people and nationalities and after one week the regular passengers were already greeting her. And sometimes she would call an Uber Pool so she could meet other passengers and try to practice her English.
At the school she was assessed as an A2 student and placed in a classroom with some 15 students from the Arab Emirates, South Korea, China, and Colombia. Her first teacher was a nice man but who spoke way too fast and when she asked for some explanation about a point in the lesson he would not give her an answer. After one week she asked for another teacher – this time it was an Englishman (yes, I know, an Englishman in Chicago – great version for Sting’s song – An Englishman in New York) and he spoke more clearly and pausedly. Her teacher referred her to listen to Ted Talks and watch episodes of “Friends”.
“The biggest issue”, Isabella went on, “that I had with the school was the lack of a good language laboratory”.
Since she was familiar with the language lab concept from her years studying English in Brazil she had been expecting state-of-the-art facilities. She commented: “After 3 hours of classes I thought I would spend at least 1 hour in a lab listening and recording my speech but it was very small and restricted.”
“Of course, nothing compares to the experience of being in another country surrounded by the language you’re learning, however, I found out that people were not very patient with me. Many people spoke too fast and when I tried to ask for something, for example, they’d say ‘do you speak Spanish?’ ”
I asked Isabella if before leaving they’d reassessed her English level at school and she said it was raised to a B1, which she thought was much too soon.
Academically she didn’t have anything more than what she could have had in Brazil. This outcome strengthens my advice: use your time and money to study English in your own home country and then go to an English speaking country for practice, attend a course in photography, art, whatever, in your target language. The return will be much more satisfying.
Study Abroad – a way of escape?
We always hear at the beginning of school vacations, either in the beginning or the middle of the year, news stories about Student Exchange Agencies /Agências de Intercambio.
How much of it is news worthy or “sponsored” by the agencies themselves is hard to tell, but there’s no doubt that the interest for STUDY ABROAD programs keeps growing in Brazil, despite or because of the prolonged economic recession and now stagnation since 2015.
By their numbers
In a market worth US$ 1.2 billion, The Brazilian Educational & Language Travel Association (Belta) http://www.belta.org.br/ reports that the interest of people to study abroad for periods between 1 month and 2-3 months was up by 20% in 2018 compared with 2017. It calculates that 365,000 people will be traveling abroad on “intercambio” programs (a 30% increase is forecast for 2019 over 2018).
The vast majority of exchange students traditionally were between 16 and 25 years old, but in recent years there has been a growing interest with people up to 40 years, not excluding those older than that. And 80% of the exchange students are female, according to the study “EXCHANGE TOURISM: PROFILES OF THE PARTICIPANTS, MOTIVES AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE” (https://siaiap32.univali.br/seer/index.php/rtva/article/viewFile/5116/2681)
These short term exchange programs (15 days up to a month) appeal to people who are currently working and will use their vacation days to improve their language skills. They’re using their own vacation time from work (using their own savings or supported by family)
Of course how much the program will cost will depend whether the student will stay with a local family, rent a studio, share a room in the dorm, which country and city/town they’ll be going to, etc) … but it can start at US$ 1,800 a month (including accommodation and the course). Airfare is usually out of the equation.
Reasons to go
The main reasons to go on exchange programs are:
- use vacation time (using their own savings or supported by family) boosted by the feeling “I’m sacrificing my vacations for a good cause”.
- Have contact with people on the street (sic)
- Be exposed to the language on TV and other media (as if it wasn’t possible in this day and age in their own home country)
- work opportunities: many people say know someone who was skipped for a promotion, or missed an opportunity to work abroad, or even lost their job because they lacked English.
- have fun (not found in the report but most people when asked they’ll say it not as the primary reason – *which I think is the main reason in many cases, though, wink wink).
Rosimar, who is Brazilian, already speaks Italian and Spanish but wants to study English in Canada in September. She says:
“I still find it hard to speak English, I want to improve my language skills so I can catch a taxi or order a meal in a restaurant. I believe the investment is worth it all. I’m going to Canada to improve my English and have fun.”
Where to go
The Brazilian Student Exchange Agencies highlight that over the past 14 years Canada has been the favorite destination for Brazilian students, because of favorable foreign exchange currency rate, standard of living and a country where English is spoken. The next is the US at 23.1%, and far behind come Australia with 9.3%, Ireland 7.6%, the UK and New Zealand at 3.8% ( The British pound foreign exchange rate is a big discouraging factor for Brazilians).
Should you go?
Definitely, go and have fun. Expose yourself to another culture, another language, other worlds. But don’t expect that in 1, 2 or 3 months you’ll be back fluent. It will depend a lot on you but my advice is: study English as much as you can in your home country and then go abroad to practice studying something else or attending conferences in your professional area in English, for example. The results will surprise you.
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.
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.
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.
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… .
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.
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.
How about language teachers? Based on our ability to adapt to different We and forms of literacy we must be continually improving. What?
- Orality – speaking and listening
- Reading and writing
- Linguistic and grammatical knowledge
- 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.
Shakespeare in ELT
This post came about after I saw a tweet by Nathan Hall questioning whether Shakespeare should be used in the ELT environment/context. Nathan tweeted the following:
Unpopular opinion: I think using Shakespeare (original text) to teach English is an unproductive use of time in a general
#ELT classroom. I am open to hearing counter arguments
The premise – original text – would require the student to have a high English level (C1 or higher) and the energy spent in trying to understand the text would not be “well spent”.
Early on as a learning EFL teacher, I wasn’t able, or didn’t know how to prepare independent lessons – I would use coursebooks – and in the early 90s the best coursebook I came across was the Headway series – honestly, I learned a lot about the English language and culture using Headway Advanced and Unit 2 under the theme of Literature and Literary Genres contained a little bit of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. Could it get any better? I had to carefully prepare my lessons in advance otherwise I wouldn’t be ready to deal with the grammar and vocabulary points presented in the unit.
Back in 1991, I was teaching for a language school in São Paulo and they sent me to teach a group of three ladies at a sports club where they would have their gym, tennis practice, swimming activities and, of course, English lessons. They were nice, intelligent mature women who had already traveled the world, were advanced English learners and had already read and seen a few Shakespeare plays translated and performed in Portuguese. They did not hesitate to read an excerpt of the “7 ages of man” in modern English (not Elizabethan English as some highbrow pedantic educators would like to say) despite the nebulous vocabulary (some of it) for the advanced language learner there was a ton of conversation to be obtained from that short and brief text.
Headway Advanced published in 1991
Yes, I totally get the fact that for many students (no matter their linguistic background and location) Shakespeare would be a drag: representing another time and another place far removed from their contemporary world. Well, … tell them to see The Lion King and they’ll be seeing Shakespeare’s ghost there. Yes, the language evolves but today some of Shakespeare’s quotes are still as relevant as back then even within a different context.
Can’t any B1/B2 English learner understand some of these quotes?
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
—Jaques in As You Like It
“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.”
—Escalus in Measure for Measure
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
—Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Yes, Shakespeare’s texts are old but the truths those works convey can be adapted to contemporary English by publishers’ Readers, plays can be re-enacted and adapted etc.
My point is: don’t throw the baby with the bathwater. In this day and age, language teaching is still seen as a form of colonialism so the condescending “native teacher” desires the learner to see himself and his values first and only use the language as a literal tool for a very specific purpose. Why shut down the learner from the rest of the world in time and space?
If the learners are Asian should then all the material be Asian related? The same for African or Latino learners? In Brazil why bother teaching them the word “snow” just teach them to say “it’s a scorcher”? That’s the oppression of multiculturalism gone awry when it’s only good if you’re different from me and we have nothing in common and don’t even try to understand me “for I’m marvelous”.
Let the learners dream a Midsummer night’s dream… as teachers we’re supposed to expose them to the world not shelter them from it.
And don’t get me started on the beauty and usefulness of the second person singular – thou/thee. 😜
Is it unproductive to read any Shakespeare in the original text? As a sign of our times: Yes and no. That depends! Who said you can only use the original text? Yes, you may use it, but also adapt it in a myriad of different ways. Dost thou get me?
Corpus Linguistics for Language Teachers
This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Prof. Simone Vieira Resende at the 19th Summer Vacations Conference in São Paulo. The general theme of the 2-day conference was: The Teaching of Languages in today’s world: contexts and goals.
After some technical problems with the video recording session, Professor Resende welcomed the attendees and teased us by offering to sell a language immediacy pill. What students want for their New Year’s Resolution regarding language learning is to take a pill and after the first session, be fluent in whatever language they want to study.
So… here’s a sort of a pill:
What is Corpus Linguistics?
Corpus linguistics – takes off from the language – actual languages – and concentrates the ingredients (formula) into a palatable series of examples within contexts.
Corpus Linguistics allows for:
Choice of words you want to use
Collecting and analysis of corpus
Corpora – authentic data as they are – without manipulation to adapt the language
Standardising of language / padronização linguística
Contextualization x register – where ? who ? when ?
Occurrence x Co-occurrence x Recurrence – how often does it appear in the text ?
Prescriptivist x descriptivist ? The corpus may be descriptivist – by just revealing how words are used – but also it can be prescripvist by defining which words are best used in what context.
“I’m interested … in…” – also the corpus shows that the best preposition in this case is “IN” not WITH or ON or AT, for instance.
Use of concordance – leading to a conclusion
You should go. – inferring from examples
“When the economy improves all the boats start rising up…
all rise in court movie scenes “
Developing corpora in song lyrics
Webster’s the making of dictionaries prof.john Whitlam
BYU list of corpora developer corpus.byu.edu/corpora.asp