Tag Archives: ELT

Practical verbs: 8/12

A lot of people have learned to speak a second language so they could explore the world, different cultures and ways of living, read people writing from another perspective, watch, listen, learn but also meet some people. I don’t like the feeling that I’m repeating myself, but it’s true that the internet provided more opportunity or at least changed the scope of possibility to a wider and more diverse bunch of stuff we can enjoy: from traditional to independent media, voices multiplied and experiences amounted, but now we’re facing the challenge to organize the multitudes of content everyone shares online and at the same time acknowledge that the people who created it feel a certain way about it. As generations look at different experiences and tastes, the conversations are also different and the expectations vary. YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, but also iFunny, Discord, Twitch, and places like Omegle. I know everyone has a particular experience, and these are not definitive examples of how people see the web and interact with it, but it’s a whole lot of stuff. Messaging apps alone can tell a story that parents are probably not aware of; groups chats and key people to follow can give you a context not a lot of people see, and you’re wondering how different you are from the rest. That happens at home but also around the globe, and connecting with someone for a day can be both frustrating or liberating, while long lasting friendships and relationships make us think about everything else that surrounds us, which includes the stuff we like and share, the stuff we read, buy and watch — which is terrifying for some, obvious to many. How am I going to introduce myself and talk about the way I see things, what happened before I met you, stuff I’ve been through or what I need to focus on right now so maybe you can help me achieve my goals? How can I contribute to a job well done in the future or right now, if the expectations get higher and higher, but my productivity and inspiration have a limit I don’t fully understand and I need someone to give me a push? I’ll try to contextualize some of these issues below.

“I wonder what I could’ve done differently”

It’s never too late to start something new, but what you do now is gonna stay on the internet unless you choose to delete everything — which might not solve the problem, and older people have not been through the exact same experience. With people sharing conversations, pictures and details about their life and relationships, it’s hard to tell when they change their minds about something they shared, but some people think it’s actually easier. Companies are saying the most important thing for them is not going digital, but being digital. How does that translate into good paying jobs, with what kinds of roles and benefits? When you’re preparing for life in a future workplace or doing your part remotely, how do your personal and professional relationships merge? Do you think your privacy is more important than thinking about how you spend your time and what you choose to say? Regardless of the specifics, we all have a number of things we didn’t know in the past, that could only be improved once we got to a point where we could look back and point out where we’d make changes, so the key is to be able to do some self evaluation and stick with the stuff that makes you feel good but also benefits those around you, though that might be more complicated in a super connected world.

“People send me a lot of messages”

The teenage and adult experiences on the web have a lot of differences, but interacting with things we don’t want has always been part of our lives. If I don’t want to visit the new shop they were showing me on a pamphlet on the street, I also don’t wanna watch the sponsored ad before the video I clicked, and we learned to live with that, though sometimes these little things can add a lot in our lives. But sometimes, it’s a little annoying or inappropriate. You could say the experience is different based on a number of things: gender, race, education, position, views; but when you get a message you don’t want, fortunately, it’s easy to reject it — ignoring, blocking or saying you don’t like what you’re getting. What’s harder to understand is how groups of people choose to spread a message you don’t like and how to stop it from gaining strength, but that involves other factors that we might never have a definitive answer on how to handle: if you were on the other side, you might feel like your voice was being silenced; but just in case we’re talking about inappropriate stuff on your private messages, I’m sure you’ll realize you have to stop them eventually.

“When you mess up, the right thing to do is to apologize”

Not a lot of people understand why they’re doing something that’s bad, for others or for themselves. People have different experiences and views, which is important to emphasize; but learning with your mistakes doesn’t always have to translate into cutting someone from your life so you can start fresh with another group of friends, another job, another relationship. If you mess up, try to have a conversation about it and tell the people who matter that you made a mistake, an error of judgment, acted silly, was childish or immature, weren’t thinking straight, didn’t mean what you said. These conversations help you grow, and growing together is lifting each other up so you don’t have to feel bad everytime you feel like you’re not being listened to or you aren’t doing enough: people care, what you do matters, but you need the right way to communicate. Of course, sometimes we make mistakes that aren’t about arriving late at work or typing out the wrong e-mail, but maybe saying something that could offend people as a joke, hurting someone’s feelings with a comment about their looks, personality or opinions. We need to keep improving the message, and that means reassessing the way we express ourselves and working it out with the people who care, as well as looking to the ones who are not part of your inner circle and trying to speak to them in a way that will make you more likely to be accepted.

“If I see that kind of stuff, I report it”

Some of the stuff we see is just bad. But there’s always a way to bring content down or at least make people correct what they’re saying, whether it’s fake news or hateful discourse, a spam account or an offensive message from a real person. Again, people can ignore, but some choose to talk about it; they can block, but also report and, in some cases, expose so other people can explain why that content is bad. But it’s important to remember that moderators do the best they can, with the tools available, to make the experience on the web the best for the people who use these platforms. Before social media, when something bad happened in the neighborhood, people wrote to the newspapers and magazines to talk about it; services and companies have a channel to receive feedback from people, and though some of the comments are not helpful or fair, they make changes on how they present themselves based on how people respond. The same happens on the web.

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To end on a good note, sharing experiences online can be beautiful, if the right person is listening. To be able to connect with someone who brings you peace and comfort when you were least expecting it, right when you needed it, whether it’s someone who listens to your problems or tries to help you more actively with suggestions and incentives, is probably what the whole idea of connecting people is all about. What we should remember is our lives are not exclusively digital, and though we want to make a good impression, actions speak louder than words — and pictures or videos. Hopefully, everyone can find people who want to know who we are based on more than just one thing, and if they choose to be in our lives for good, it’s the start of a path you’ll walk together, with lots of great experiences ahead.

Practical verbs: 7/12

They say time slows down when you’re not happy and speeds up when you are, but it’s harder to talk about what you’re doing and who you’re with thinking everyone’s on the same page: if reading makes you feel good, someone else might have a different kind of leisure activity; if I like going to concerts, that doesn’t mean everyone who listens to the same music wants to spend time together, because it’s natural that they agree on everything and love each other. You might also hear that it’s never too late to start something new: invest in education, think about a different area of work, get married or have kids. You’ll hear that you should seize the day cause you only live once, or maybe someone will talk about being in a good relationship saying you only miss it when it’s gone. Time takes its toll on people, perceptions and attitudes change and we can’t help looking back on how we saw things and ourselves. In the process, we’ll remember the challenges but also the rewards; the consistent routine and the sporadic getaways; we’ll want to go back, but realize it’s probably better to learn with what happened, which made way for better things in the future. Here’s a few practical examples:

“Remember that girl from school?”

On a different angle, we could talk about that guy. Today, it’s easier to find someone online instead of just wondering what they’re doing with their lives, but of course some people prefer to keep a distance from social media presence and maintain their privacy. When people meet again after a long time, the memories keep coming back. Maybe you have a friend who hasn’t talked to you in years, but it feels the same, even after you went on completely different paths. Then you’ll start talking about stuff from when you were younger. It’s great when two people share good memories. My dad has stories about fishing and picking fruit up the trees at the front yard of his old home; I’ll stick with the old pictures, TV shows and games from when I was in highschool. The generations after me might be talking about apps and people they’ve never met, ocasionally sharing the meme of how grandma met grandpa, posing on Instagram with a duck face. Not necessarily, of course, cause that’s really just a meme.

“I forgot my appointment”

Our memory is a beautiful thing, but also a mystery. Sometimes, we forget critical things, like a the time of a test or an important medical exam date, but in general, our brains make room for better stuff to replace old disappointments, or things we want to leave behind. In daily life, it’s more about the alarm clock, doing the laundry, buying shampoo or sending a message to a friend. At work, we keep stuff on our calendars and we have goals to reach and procedures to follow, which should always be on our minds. Maybe you’ll forget someone’s name, and you’re embarrassed to ask; maybe it’s something they’ve told you. You’ll forget how something got more expensive or what someone said years ago when they asked them: it happens a lot with public people. But most of the time you can work your way around that stuff, apologize for being late at work cause you forgot to set the clock, ask someone again about what you discussed, including teachers and students, and it’s easier than ever to check for information you forgot as long as you have internet access, but also checking your own notes on complex issues that took you some time to organize your thoughts on.

“I miss the way it used to be”

Maybe you’re not happy with your new home, cause everything was in place since you were little where you used to live. Maybe it’s a relationship that got complicated after one part got a promotion, lost a job, had to start something new. It might be a kind of leadership you’re not excited about or a habit you had to let go of because you couldn’t live life the same way. Or it could be a special person who doesn’t have the same presence in your life anymore. It could be a feeling, a place, something you used to see, to hear or to do. But one of the best things in the world is to finally meet someone again and tell them how much you missed them. They’ll feel loved and appreciated, and letting it out shows that you care about them and the moments you spent together, sharing the good things in life.

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Understanding these verbs requires looking at the past, but contextualizing them is not as simple as memorizing the ways language works. Remembering stuff is a skill a lot of students have to develop over time, so talking about stuff you remember in a foreign language might be harder, as well as what you wanna forget or what you miss. But being able to have these conversations will surely make you feel better about the moments we build together with other people, who might be distant, but feel the same way as you do.

Learning rituals: from access to fluency

Digital culture presents us a wide range of materials for learning a language from scratch. While some may pose the question of what the beginning of the learning process looks like, we have apps and video series multiplying and many people offering free services, but media organizations haven’t reshaped for a better reading experience for the beginner who’s never produced in their second language and dives into the experience almost blindfolded, without tutoring, listening to completely new words and their combinations, sounds which don’t exist in their mother tongue and intonation patterns, vocabulary choices and style they’ll take an entire decade to fully understand. How to introduce new content without forcing participation?

The challenge every teacher faces is how to engage the class, but today we have to think ahead and present new alternatives for study which are beyond the space we share for a limited period of time so they can come back with something to refer to in their own individual experience, a reason to be more engaged followed by increase in group participation, where one pushes the other to achieve more. Entertainment has had that role for decades of language teaching courses, but as it changes, teachers should understand what stays and what doesn’t, where to find replacements or updates, and be aware that this extra step represents something for us and something else for them, but it should be a concern in preparation.

Aside the classroom apps, we have Duolingo, which became a favorite among the digital life enthusiasts for the intuition-based, easy to understand structure of what could be used as an extra push by anyone who knows how students struggle with a lack of rewards for their effort, which ranges from a “very good” in front of colleagues to the satisfactory automation now provided by software that takes into account the fact that they need to know where they are and how they got there. It’s hard to say which chapters of the self-study initiative are going to present a challenge, but it certainly helps having technology work for both teachers and students in their attempt to fully understand what’s being dealt with in and out of the classroom environment. Association exercises, basic listening comprehension, self-correction, simple wording, essential vocabulary. It all works out fine if you’re giving your basic level student a suggestion of study, but few are going to use their leisure time to focus on work, which is how most see learning a second language, whether they’re paying or not.

Then came Instagram. Click one video and get 30 others explaining how to pronounce a given word, why a grammar norm is applied a certain way, how to say something in the language you’re studying, comparatives and situational examples, all in 50 seconds. The lack of contextual reference makes people learn in a free association challenge, relies on empathy and memorization, smart edits and random tips, ultimately throwing editorial approved coursebooks in the trash can. There’s a reason why we learn how to introduce ourselves first, how to tell others what it’s like where we live towards the intermediate level, chase the right words to describe what we like to do and keep the conversation going once we already know how to make the easiest exchanges and then rehearse giving an opinion on something with phrases such as “I think” and “in my opinion”. None of that is really important if we can’t find the right context to use what we’ve learned and roleplayed for months, and it does take months, coming back to the more visible goals in between different types of activities; if we can’t start a conversation with someone from abroad, knowing the basic structures in a friendly debate is irrelevant, so you won’t be seeing a student ask a question such as “do you listen to rap?” and getting a life lesson with lyrics you’d never know about unless you’re an algorithm enthusiast or one of those music geeks; but their taste is important to keep in mind, especially in the beginning, when the references need to be there. Real language is always transforming, and relying on the old methods of learning is a mistake we can’t commit, especially if we put our marker stained hands where our conscience is and think about how much they’re investing in a transformative experience, not a sheet of paper with blanks to be filled.

YouTube reports that users watch an average of 8 minutes of video per day, which translates to a billion clicks. No wonder why the ads want a share of that pie, but are we thinking about how learning is a much smaller part of it? If those 8 minutes are everything I’ll watch during the day, how much will I spend trying to assimilate something completely new to me? As teachers, what can we recommend, considering it should fit in the same 8 minutes? Here’s a simple example: when your music teacher tells you to study 2 hours a day so you can improve your technique and formal knowledge, how much do you really go for? And before we forget what we wanna get from it, let’s put it in perspective: how much are musicians getting paid?

I want to share some of my strategy. Maybe it was time saving criteria that led Twitter to use the character limit as the principle of their platform. News stories aren’t read by many, fewer are discussed, but the clicks are there. Major networks have the concept of “impressions” to tell content creators how many people have been shown their content, regardless of engagement: it’s your visibility, or how these networks can help you reach those who would be interested in your content – or you. I’ve been reading headlines for years, and rarely clicking on the stories shown to me. It helps me in a sense that I want to be part of the conversation, and just taking a moment to read about it, even if it’s incredibly shortened, even if I don’t have the entire context, makes me feel like I did something important, which I’ll try to put into words expressing my views on a given topic, in mostly informal language, which took me a while to feel comfortable in using. But we should go back to the billion clicks and 8 minutes. There’s too many of us, and if we’re creating just to tell ourselves we did something, which is the most common perception of the web these days, then something needs to be done in terms of qualitative analysis. We know 6 out of 10 users will share a news story without reading it. Let’s say they’re interested in likes. What are they going to do with them?

The same could be applied to second language work. If you recommend reading the news in English to your students, then it seems appropriate to take those 8 minutes and split them in half, because the stats show they’re not so patient when it comes to how they spend their free time. You have 2 minutes, because naturally a second language makes engagement less likely. Can we say that Instagram is right? Not realy, because Instagram isn’t giving you the news, and that’s the whole point. But something’s being done, just not in the right direction, which I think is asking people to take a little longer to hear us out — and we really have to ask. Content is being produced, but the kind of content you’re looking for is not a replacement of the classroom, which should be there for the value of easing doubts and fears with the teacher, showing your production and your interest and getting to the next phase, where more recommended material is going to be personalized for your student experience, and feedback will be part of your learning process – human feedback, with the work of what we call curation, a reason to pay teachers a little more. If you’ll skip the 2 minute class, how about a 20 minute group correction of a text you took an hour to write? Are you going to miss it because the extras aren’t interesting enough? Then how’s entertainment working for you? What did you learn with Game of Thrones? What’s your favorite show on Netflix? Who do you subscribe to on YouTube? Do you get weekly e-mails from people you wanna be in touch with? What was the last thing you retweeted? How much TV do you still watch? Can you name a news anchor from abroad? Are you able to make comments on a topic raised by the media in English, do a grammar check and get your notifications popping from interactions?

We’re not doing any of this. We’re still stuck on learning “be”, “have” and “do”. The least we can do is show examples of text interpretation, introduce a phrase like “the author thinks that” and work our way from there. But does that take 8 minutes or 2 years? Language instructors need to incorporate the complementary references in the schedule, and have a follow up to check if they are really interested in expanding their knowledge. If the coursebook has problems (we tend to think it always has, because of how personal it gets), we’re supposed to adapt; but what’s the rule for extra materials? Having a sheet for your group and writing down what they’ve done in addition to the class is something I’d do and let others know about. “I watched an episode of Stranger Things with subtitles in English!” Then you could take this into account on the final grade. “I listened to the newest Queens of the stone age album!” Points for you, especially cause that’s a cool band. “I followed The Dodo!” That’s amazing, and it’s about more than just English.

It’s always more than just English. What we can’t do right now or whenever it is comes down to following students’ pace and always holding their hand. If we have materials to recommend and spend time (working) trying to find what’s good for them, let’s rethink what “materials” are. In a classroom, everything you say can be either complementary or essential. It’s our job to find out which, and level it accordingly, showing them where to go and what to do until they reach fluency, which is what schools are selling.

Reality checks: what’s foreign and what do we do with it?

When TV first came out, I reckon it wasn’t a passing matter to the electronics engineers of the last century. We’re not here to discuss percentages. People just can’t be aware of how the products we consume every day are actually sketched, studied, analyzed, discussed, remodelled, sent for tests, deeply scrutinized, crowd levelled, reintroduced, mapped in perspective, reinvented, sent out to the general public and oh yeah, turned into massive profit. Keep your comments to yourself, or rather, read this again and make sure you have an example. I’m waiting. The electronics engineers would be hungry, if they weren’t dead.

Here’s the thing: creation and its myths are definitely a relevant question, but practical life has no privileges. You can only learn how to cook and clean, but you don’t Google where your detergent was made. You just buy it. And hate washing dishes, but enjoy the fact that buying detergent is not the end of your aspirations, with a huge investment that would prioritize every single thing you’ll ever be able to do. And this is not classroom level exercise, this is life.

The classroom is a space for fun.

The classroom is a space for laughs.

The classroom is a space for memories.

Life teaches us fun moments are necessary.

Life teaches us nothing should be taken seriously all the time.

Life teaches us that it has a beginning and the inevitable end.

But how many people are talking about the beginnings? When you meet the foreign, do you look at yourself a different way or do you hire a third party to manage your embarrassment, your estrangement, your incompetence, your false expectations, your maximum capacity for being overwhelmed, your doubt, your fear, your curiosity, your desires, your subconsciousness, your conflict, your identity, your feelings and opinions? The big question is when that happens, and ELT professionals know this, but a handful has the time to write it down.

Foreign is everything we don’t recognize as part of our easy, tired references in daily life and through our history, but part of what we wish we had, what we wish we could do or say, what we wish we understood. Foreign is different. Foreign is cool, despite the critics. Foreign, these days, is barely a solid concept, with interest, influence and relevance for content production in its twists and turns.

Fast forward to 2019. We have, indeed, connected people. This blog was seen in Nigeria, Hong Kong, Romania, not just the UK and the US. Yes, just a click. No, I don’t know who clicked it. What’s the role of the teacher if we’re not even looking at language? What can I learn before I teach? And more importantly: who needs a communication skill?

Hashtags are the third party; likes are minimum wage.

Should we raise the minimum wage and write hashtags on our signs in the next public protest? And just in case, are we still 100% vulnerable to rubber bullets and tear gas?

Maybe learning English isn’t in the priority list of the Brazilian person. If I could buy beer, I’d be drinking alone way more than I care to admit. With change money. But still numb. Is this professional? I’d say hell yeah, but they would profile me.

How can we learn and realize a small fraction of what we’re attempting to do is close to the making of a product that could transform the entire world, so maybe we should be taking it more seriously in case the odds come to our favor, whatever the circumstances are at the moment we wake up to a more competitive nature of things?

The greatest competition, in case you’re an enthusiast, isn’t for language proficiency. But just for the record, here’s what Reddit and Wiki users put together, with a good public service eye and a lot of patience:

Prevalence of the English language in the world. Multiple sources (wiki).

Throwing information right at people’s faces isn’t the way, but in case you didn’t know, English classes are people closing their eyes and coming back when it’s over.

To what?

We know that South America has Portuguese and Spanish prevalence in linguistic terms; we don’t have a lot of people looking for the more deeply rooted cultural shifts and sentiments around it, and the brighter, more socially clarified minds would point out contact with English could mean, at a given rate, acceptance of English traditions, rules and norms, in a general sense, though we should care to look at the specifics, especially in times of change in trade. But here’s how South America is doing, according to student recruitment agency ICEF Monitor:

Proficiency in South and Central America, according to ICEF.

“Damn you, hermanos!” Said an incredibly misguided asshole.

There’s not much to think about: Brazilian language standards are low, and we have to change them. Obviously or not, here a curtain is closed and we sit to discuss with the education professionals we have around the country, but there are no curtains since Facebook.

Now let’s take a look at what happens when we put our focus in the geographically limited area that corresponds to the fifth biggest country in the world. We wanna talk about Education, not necessarily your ability to say words like “girl” and “thin” without feeling stupid, and let’s put aside the argument that the more you learn, the more you wanna show off. You might be shocked to realize that detergent talk isn’t the biggest metaphor. Here’s how the country is doing when we look at higher education:

Distribution of people with higher education degrees according to state. Source Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE, 2010)

Bad news: blue is the sea, and we’re drifting. São Paulo, the richest state in the country, ranks best; but that’s just proportional: the rate of people who get a college diploma is, in the most developed state, at under 12%. Correct. In case you studied deeply a subject of your choice (legend goes you can make your own choices) and chose English, you’d be somewhere under the Common European Framework of Reference standard, which I suspect is Mount Everest, but the kids are really excited to try climbing it up with no protection.

You study to beat statistics. There are others. We could talk about many things we’re doing right, try to balance what we’ve done wrong and show people we’ve changed; but in terms of cultural awareness, we have a long way to go.

Thinking about this, I thought a course for beginners would make significant change (thankfully, I’m not alone), and it started like this:

First class for E101

Questions?

Yes, a lot of questions, actually. (Edit: The first being what the stats are 9 years later.)

I’m not just speaking to teachers. This is a wake up call.

We’re behind, and if you choose to spend your time watching this video, you have to realize it’s an investment. What I spent doing it was literally under R$100,00 for a monthy internet fee.

So I wanna ask the private English schools, and a few companies who haven’t sent out a transparency report: how stupid do you think we are? Skills are changing, and teaching professionals should be treated accordingly. But you can’t expect me to say what I think about your car when I’ve never taken a driving lesson, and sure as hell we’re not competing to see who has the best one.

Image Credit: Yinka Shonibare