The latest coursebooks published by the largest international publishers (preferably based in the UK or US)?
Native speakers to teach the language?
One on one teaching? Group teaching?
F2F? or Online?
“What matters most in language education: PEOPLE”
Learning takes place where three factors are interconnected: motivation; cognition; emotion.
Motivation – if learners are not motivated, no matter how many virtual or real somersaults a teacher may do, they won’t get anywhere.
Cognition – Google’s dictionary defines it as “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.” there must be a transfer of knowledge and understanding between Teacher and learners – actually, this process is a 2-way street – it’s not a passive experience – both learners and teacher will be developing and growing in understanding each other.
Emotion – Teacher and learner must have a positive feeling regarding their relationship. Students should “fall in love” with their teacher – nothing sexual, take it easy. But they must be infected by the teacher’s passion and enthusiasm. If the teacher approaches the subject with a jaded attitude – it will not result in any excitement on the learners’ part.
Rita Pierson once said on a TED Talk: “People don’t learn from people they don’t like.” She went on to say that psychologically wise language teachers will do 3 things:
focus on positivity and growth
nurture their own professional development and well-being.
There you have it… starting point towards developing a healthier relationship between teachers and learners.
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!”
Growing up I often heard people saying: “if work were meant to be pleasant it wouldn’t be called WORK “.
Don’t know the origin of that saying but it’s quite easy to understand it’s meaning. Maybe it is inspired by the biblical curse God placed on man after he ate of the forbidden fruit:
“And to the man he (God) said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it
It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains
By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:17-19 (NLT)
Yes, mankind would have food to eat by the SWEAT of our brow. But despite that curse it does help to choose a job or career about something that you like doing. The curse can even become a blessing.
Working as a language teacher has many positive features: I can “select” my students; I can determine my hourly class rates/pricing; I can develop a curriculum that best fits my students’ needs; I love speaking other languages; etc.
But one of the hardest “bones to chew” refers to Class Cancellations.
One-on-one teaching leads the learner to take the teacher for granted, at their beck and call. So they cancel their classes, try to reschedule the rescheduled classes – I’ve had students who rescheduled three times the same class – and if they don’t effectively have that lesson they demand for a refund or discount. The fact that the student must pay for his class cancellations should serve as a deterrent.
So let me enlighten both teachers and students:
When you agree on a day and time, that time is sacred… both students and teacher have entered into a covenant and will do their utmost to honor it. Now, when there’s a cancellation, can you make that time come back? No? What makes you think that your class time can?! Or thatyou’re paying for 24/7 English? Of course, there are reasons and reasons for a class cancellation. You had to go to the hospital or a funeral? Let’s accommodatethat. You only had that day and time for a doctor’s appointment? Hmmm. Your sister is visiting? Uh, nope. You’re not in the mood? Is it cold outside? Not good excuses. Got it?
I’ve always tried to present very simple rules:
1. Any cancellation must be informed at least 24 hours in advance.
2. Cancellations within less than 24h notices, classes will be charged and not rescheduled.
3. Make up classes will be rescheduled if / when teacher is available (let us say the teacher and student have agreed on four 1-hour classes a month. Student cancels once. Will the student be willing to pay for a 5th hour? Uh huh, I thought so. What makes him expect his teacher should work a fifth hour for free?
Simple. Isn’t it?
Last week I came across this blog post where the teacher even went on suggesting she would record a short video and send it to the student as a “make up class” so that the student wouldn’t feel left behind. She added:
“So here’s my thing and a lot of teachers’: we don’t want students to miss class. We love our job. We spend our time preparing what to do and want students to succeed. It’s not productive from an educational point of view and, at least to me, it means getting paid without doing what I like the most. I want to earn a living teaching, not sitting around. Bearing that in mind, I came up with an excellent alternate solution, which I am now calling “The Substitutive Class”; feel free to rename it.” . https://www.lbenglishteacher.com/blog/substitutive-class“.
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.
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)
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.
(P.S. – yes, he learned the grammar point but now it’s in his hands to notice it around him and use it).
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”
Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language (The MIT Press) by Richard Roberts (Author), Roger Kreuz (Author).
I decided to check its kindle version and the first chapter presents some of the fallacies regarding language learning.
I learned English, Spanish and French mostly as an adult – over 18 – yes, as a kid I had been exposed to English classes at school but had been taught mostly in Portuguese – I’d learned the verb to be, some vocabulary and some grammar rules but nothing much. The little Spanish I heard was from my Galician uncle who spoke some curse words at times (and my mom would also say some Spanish expressions such as – “me cago en la madre (I shit on your mother) and other niceties she had probably learned from my uncle (don’t ask me why – some family secrets are better left unturned). When I was 11 or 12 I came across a French grammar book my older sister or brother had used in primary school (up to the early 70s in Brazil, French was taught as the default foreign language instead of English). Of course from that exposure to French as a pre-teen I learned – je me lève and je m’assieds (thank God that book had illustrations).
I can comfortably say that I really learned English and Spanish proper in my 20s and French in my 40s. Yes, my spoken French level is lower than my reading but just because I’ve had to use it much less – though I know about the importance of exposing myself to the language I don’t read much in French or listen to podcasts in French – sometimes I read some news stories or watch some TV5. But last year we were in the Côte d’Azur and I could survive and felt comfortable expressing myself in the French I knew.
So it’s time to bust some myths:
Myth 1 – adults cannot acquire a foreign language as easily as children
Adults can and will learn, but differently from how children learn. First, ok… the child will acquire a better accent – thanks to their facial elasticity and also their lack of fear/shame/anxiety of making mistakes in the other language. But… the adult has already gone through the process of learning their own language so they can use that experience in the new language learning process. Ok, … as an adult you will have an accent, but hey, I’ve got news for you: everybody HAS ONE!. Also, unless you plan to be an undercover secret agent, why would you want to hide the fact that you’re from another country? Actually, that’s a bonus, at least you can speak one more language.
Myth 2 – when learning a foreign language, try not to use your first language.
For years I subscribed to that school of thought that L1 would smother L2, therefore the former should be eliminated from the language class environment. Yes, it’s true that some students, if allowed to, will only use the L1 and talk to each other in that language. So the teacher must control its use in class but be mindful not to throw the baby away with the bath water. Roberts and Kreuz say that the banning of L1 in the classroom “deprives adult language learners of one of their most important accomplishments – fluency in their native language. Although it is true that one language is not merely a direct translation of another, many aspects of one language are directly transferable to a second language.” (1)
They add “… looking for places where concepts, categories, or patterns are transferable is of great benefit, and also points out another area where adult foreign language learners have an advantage over children. ” (1)
So if your’re trying to teach someone or learn yourself a new language, don’t lose heart. It can be done. Just adjust the methods and tools and be realistic on your goals.
(1) Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language (The MIT Press) by Richard Roberts (Author), Roger Kreuz (Author). The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass./ London, England.
For some people to speak one language is already a challenge. Two languages and some already feel on the top of the mountain. Can you imagine speaking 3, 4 or more languages? Being a polyglot?!
Not everyone needs to speak more than one language but there is no question how useful a second or more languages can be… even for the shiest person who never plans to leave his hometown.
But … how can you achieve that?
Let me cut to the chase or the cheese (as some of my students understand it) and tell you that there is no single way to learn a language. It depends on several factors, especially motivation, time and skills the learner may have. Despite that, there are some good pieces of advice any language learner can use:
1. Start speaking from day one – some methods encourage hours of listening before the student utters his first sound… but my advice is: start mumbling those new sounds as soon as you can. if you have someone to talk to, a teacher, a tutor or your cat, great. If not, no worries, talk to yourself.
2. Start listening to natives of the language you’re learning – YouTube, internet radio, get familiar with the sounds of the language even if not understanding it.
3. Imitate the sounds – yes… learning a language works wonders on those self conscious people… break down your walls of fear of shame or embarrassment…
4. Start learning the language by reading its grammar
5. Memorize key words of the target language (until you reach 500 key words, for example) use paper or digital flashcards for instance.
6. Find ways to enjoy the learning process. Every learner will have unique ways. Even if you’re a genius, you’ll see there are no shortcuts to language learning. Do something pleasant with the target language EVERY DAY.
7. Be patient.
This short list is not comprehensive and not all items apply to everyone… pick and choose and start learning your dream Language today.