Learning a language on your own

This week I received the following question from one of our Sabbath School podcast listeners:
“I’d like to know if reading  books in English (reading a lot) will enable me to learn the language?”
“I can’t afford a language school/course. My English level is very good. I can understand about 80% of what I read. But I find it hard to speak and write. Would it be possible for me to reach a higher level by reading and listening only? Your Sabbath School podcast (Believes Unasp Sabbath School Podcast  – https://player.fm/series/2424793) has been a great gateway for me. I’m loving the audio practice! It’s been helping me a lot.” Jefferson F.
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Hello Jefferson, your question is pretty fair – can anyone learn English (or any other language) just from reading? My first answer: That depends
Of course, there are many people who have learned the classical languages – Greek and Latin or Hebrew and Arabic from just reading texts.
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Can you learn a language by yourself? Yes, depending on your will, time and natural skills.
But the learning process can be more comprehensive (and more fun) if you incorporate all four skills:
Reading and Listening are receptive skills while Writing and Speaking are predominantly productive skills. Of course, if your goal is to understand or translate sacred texts, for instance, that’s where your efforts and focus should be. But…
You can and should (as much as possible) develop your “proactive skills”: speaking and writing.
Most definitely today there are millions of opportunities to practice your listening in your target language (literally). You can listen to many podcasts and documentaries, interviews, etc. Reading opportunities are basically infinite online… or at least they would last you all your mortal life and then some.
Now, in ‘modern languages’ one important challenge is to be able to communicate – either through speaking or writing – and you can practice that by finding people who are also learning or are native speakers of your target language. Email them. WhatsApp them, Facebook them.
Let’s say in the worst case scenario you have no one to practice with – start reading aloud and training your speech, pronunciation, listening to your own voice how you can improve your intonation, linking words, etc. Record yourself (even if you hate the sound of your voice – tough it up!).
Regarding the fact you can’t afford a language course, there are many courses offered in Brazil by public universities (state and federal institutions) which offer some language courses for Specific Purposes at zero or low cost. Google them up. And make YouTube one of your teachers.
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So… Finally, I’m answering your question with a resounding YES! Yes, You can learn English (or any other language all by yourself).
Now if you would like to have a language expert, enabler, facilitator, provider of positive feedback… feel free to contact me. Your investment will be worth your while.
Cheers,
Mo

Error Correction & Feedback in Writing

This week one of my students was quite inspired – something one rarely comes across these days-  that I felt inclined to ask him to write a 300-word essay about a weekend trip. He said he would. And he did. I’m quite used to students who would rather have their fingernails pulled than write a short paragraph, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Once he handed in the text I had to consider how to give him constructive feedback and the amount of correction to provide.

When checking ideas on how to correct his essay I came across the following:

“In academic writing, the end product is expected to have:

  • A wide range of vocabulary
  • Correct grammar
  • Meaningful punctuation
  • Accurate spelling
  • Varied sentence structures
  • Unity and coherence in ideas
  • Well-supported and explained major points.”
  • Source: CORRECTING AND GIVING FEEDBACK TO WRITING (bit.ly/31XLsWy)

We all have written papers for some courses to be checked and graded by
our instructors. We know very well that a paper that is returned with red
markings and notes all over is quite discouraging for the writer. Knowing
this, while giving feedback we may, of course, use green pens and put
smiling faces here and there on the paper but still we see the light in the
students’ eye fading.Image result for esl corrected essay

Image result for In academic writing, the end product is expected to have:  A wide range of vocabulary Correct grammar

If our aim is to win the student over instead of discouraging him, we should be looking for ways of giving feedback without losing the student. Otherwise they might think our “pen is pooping blood”.
The most important aspect while giving feedback is adopting a positive
attitude to student writing. While marking mechanically we may not
realize that we are showing the student only their mistakes and negative
points. If the student receives only negative feedback, they may easily be
discouraged from trying to form complex structures and using new
vocabulary.

These are a few  examples of error codes from the more “sophisticated” writing rules to basic Tense, Spelling and Word Order. Image result for writing correction codes eslImage result for writing correction codes eslImage result for writing correction codes esl

The trick is to find a balance between correcting “every single mistake” and “keeping the thought flow and meaning”, without discouraging the student.

A starting point is emphasizing the importance of spacing of lines, choice of font (if typing). If you feel that red ink is too shocking choose a softer color such as green or blue. Write the code next to the error but make sure the student has the code keys – any comments the teacher writes should be brief and clear aiming to provide positive feedback.

Not all students will write for a living or even for work. Many will use an instant messaging system such as WhatsApp or the odd email.  However, feedback sessions can be a beneficial experience for the student IF the teacher shows the learner’s strong points as well as the importance of clarity and accuracy.

Happy writing,

Cheers,

Mo

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

Motivating and empowering students

For many years  I’ve been volunteering at an English Bible class in Brazil. Our goal is simple: use English to encourage people to study the Bible.

Every Saturday morning we meet for some 70-80 minutes and sing some gospel songs, pray together, and study the bible. The challenge is that they have a little bible study guide – with daily questions and texts, and the following Saturday we meet to discuss what we learned during the week.  You can check out the lessons here for free: https://absg.adventist.org/archives

But this past weekend I was observing the study guide of one of our class members, he is a quite shy young man – it had been thoroughly studied, underlined and the questions had been read and duly answered. Wow.

I was so happy to see Leandro’s dedication to look up the vocabulary of the texts he was studying not for English’s sake alone, but  because he was enjoying to be studying the Bible while using English as a tool. I do encourage them to do that, but they won’t have their notebooks inspected or not even get a shiny sticker on the page if they do so. They do it because they are excited about the learning process. That’s their own reward.

Happy Growing,

Cheers,

Mo

“I hate English. Now teach me.”

“I hate English. Now teach me.” Yes, Virginia those were the exact words a prospective student said when she contacted me to teach her English at her workplace. She works for an international Bank and English is a “requirement” to continue working (or to be promoted) in that institution.

After I recovered from the shock, – people usually may say that they don’t LIKE English – … but HATE?! that’s quite strong. How can you hate a language which is just a tool for communication and can only bring benefits to those who speak it as a foreign language ?

Digging dipper, I found out, Rachel – (not her real name)

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Rachel hates English

had tried many times to learn English using different methods but had always failed. She’d heard about me from other students and thought it would be different.

Faced with the Gargantuan challenge to make Rachel fall in love with the English Language (and not with me – since I’m irresistible) I prepared the first lesson with basic vocabulary and greetings. I do believe in getting the student speaking from the very first class – there are some methods that encourage the silent approach for a certain period of time… just as babies acquire language… well… considering that she is not a baby and if she doesn’t speak English she’ll be speaking and thinking in Portuguese… let us focus on the second language acquisition.

The first few minutes, things seemed to be going fine… she greeted me in English, learned to identify herself, etc… but less than 10 minutes later (she had said she could have classes only for 1 hour once a week) she said in Portuguese – “Ai… eu fico muito ansiosa. Você me deixa nervosa. Eu não consigo entender o que você está dizendo” (woe is me.. I get too anxious. You make me nervous. I can’t understand what you’re saying). Of course I’d said little more than “Good morning, how are you today?” 

So I started to explain to her in Portuguese what was going to happen, and only after that we would try to produce some English to no avail. I used the whiteboard, flashcards, all the bells and whistles I had within reach.

We tried for 2 more weeks, but after she had collapsed again saying she hated English and couldn’t understand a word, I sat down and said to her: “Listen. I’m sorry. I’m not the right teacher for your needs. First you need therapy to learn to deal with all your anxiety (did I say that aloud or just thought about it? 😉 ). So… all my best wishes to you.”

In conclusion, my classes with Rachel were a failure – I lost a student (and a source of income) and she still couldn’t speak English and maybe, I said, maybe, she hated it a little bit more. But, what could I learn from that experience?

  1. A Teacher can inspire but can’t change a student’s heart/mind
  2. Different methods /approaches/resources sometimes fall short.
  3. Years of experience mean nothing when student isn’t willing to learn
  4. Some people can’t and won’t learn a second language (reasons will vary) but the main reason will be “MOTIVATION!”
  5. Students like Rachel are rare.

Happy teachings, 🙂

Mo

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Writing a Glossary

A student of mine, who is very keen on learning and has a strong motivation and passion for reading and encountering new vocabulary, has started his own glossary. Here are some tips that might be useful to any language learner.

PURPOSE: why create a glossary if you can go online or use even a paper dictionary? A glossary will provide a one-stop place for students to go to in order to check and review new vocabulary. Moreover, it’s more meaningful – the student has created HIS or HER own glossary. It will also allow access of information in the future.

WHAT TO INCLUDE: you can divide your glossary by subjects – verbs, nouns related to technology, finance, communication, presentations, etc. It becomes much more than a glossary.

USING THE GLOSSARY:  you can revisit the glossary in case you get stuck on a certain word or concept. A way to quiz yourself before an upcoming test, for instance.

MAKING THE GLOSSARY: you can use a traditional notebook or index cards. Write definitions and pronunciation. IMG_9267

When possible add also the pronunciation of the word – either the phonetic spelling or just the way you hear it.

 

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Add context to the words – include examples of word collocation. Use pictures and visuals when possible – words that go together “like a horse and carriage”:

Examples of word collocation:

to feel free
to come prepared
to save time
to find a replacement
to make progress
to do the washing up

Please feel free to take a seat and enjoy the show.
Make sure to come prepared for the test tomorrow.
You’ll save time if you turn off your smart phone and concentrate on the lesson.
We need to find a replacement for Jim as soon as possible.
We’re making progress on the project at work.
I’ll do the washing up and you can put Johnny to bed.

Cheers and happy learning,

Mo

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Glossary

 

 

Using Authentic Material in the EFL classroom (Level Upper-Intermediate+)

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

SPEAKING

READING

LISTENING

WRITING

(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?

1. SPEAKING:

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)

2. READING:

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.

Bello

THE IMPEACHMENT COUNTRY

Does the ousting of Dilma Rousseff weaken or strengthen Brazil’s democracy?

Sep 10th 2016 | From the print edition

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, impeacdilmahment 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 ousting sullies democracy. 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.

From the print edition: The Americas

word-match
An easy exercise is a synonym word match activity either in class and for homework