How to keep the fun in language learning!
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  • 25 tips for language learning

    Posted on March 23rd, 2009 Mairo Vergara 14 comments

    helpful_tips_language_learningI summarized 25 tips for language learning from Teach Yourself a Foreign Language Podcast episode six. I hope you like it!

    1. When first starting out, try to just listen to your target language as much as possible without attempting to speak it. This helps you acquiring an ear for the language.

    2. Develop a deep desire to learn the language. Without a desire you won’t get far.
    3. Use time for you language learning which is ordinarily wasted. Standing on line, waiting for an elevator, etc., are all opportunities not to be missed.

    4. Think in terms of phrases and not individual words. It’s easy to remember a phrase like “a breakfast of bread and butter” than it is to remember each word in isolation.

    5. Use your imagination. Visual images can help you remember words.

    6. Invent stories using as much of your new vocabulary as possible. Any words you can’t think off in your target language use your native language and then look up those words later.

    7. Listen to internet radio broadcasts and podcasts as much as possible.

    8. Likewise, watch videos. (http://youtube.com/)

    9. Utilize the BBC for news broadcast and lessons in your target language. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/portuguese/aprenda_ingles/)

    10. Utilize flashcards or small notebooks to review vocabulary words and phrases.

    11. Invent funny or silly mnemonic phrases to help you remember new words or concepts.

    12. Use a bilingual dictionary often, not just to look up specific words, but browse through it.

    13. Draw columns on paper, words in your native language on the right and target language on the left. This allows your eye to easily scan to one column to the next and it helps your brain absorbs that word.

    14. Write a simple children’s book in your target language. Make it silly and utilize simple concepts as though a child was actually going to read the book.

    15. Learn the past tense before learning the present tense, and save the future tense for last.

    16. Practice unfamiliar sounds in your target language in the shower or in the car. Example: the English “th” sound. Say it over and over.

    17. Use computer programs and free online dictionaries. (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/, http://www.merriam-webster.com/)

    18. When reading, read more slowly and deliberately than you do in your target language. Later, as you progress, your speed will increase to normal levels.

    19. Read bilingual books or books in the target language that you are already familiar in your native language.

    20. Read comics and cartons in your target language

    21. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

    22. Read your grammar books.

    23. Think in your target language

    24. Put stickers in everyday life items until you’ve learned their names.

    25. Take an occasional break or a day or two off to let your mind sort out your new vocabulary words.

  • The pros and cons of working as an English teacher

    Posted on March 3rd, 2009 Mairo Vergara 9 comments

    teacher_appleI have been working as an English teacher for about 2 months now. I really like my job. It’s amazing to see how the students are pleased with their progress. Students start with no knowledge whatsoever and in just one month they can follow the English-only classes without many problems. Working with a group, teaching them how to understand and using this strange language is just awesome. I really like the classes and my students. I am working like crazy, learning a lot and doing what I have always wanted to do.

    But of course there are some problems. We are really, REALLY poorly paid. I get paid 6,44 reais (“reais” is the Brazilian currency) per hour (“class hour”, which is 50 minutes). It means I get 12 reais for each class (the classes have duration of an hour and a half). Working 21 hours inside the classroom (plus 10 or more hours preparing classes, correcting tests, and so on) I end up with a salary of 680 reais (around 280 dolars). Just to let you know, a cheap rent here in Brazil is about 550 reais…

    Besides being absolutely poorly paid, another thing bugs me a lot. The school treats the teachers like robots that areinto the students head. It’s all about the money! If there are fewer students in a class, they just move the students to a different class, hindering both the students’ progress and the teachers’ work. It’s funny how the classes/students’ organization is made by non-teachers, who absolutely don’t understand what happens inside a classroom.

    I dream about a school made by teachers for teachers, a place where they care first about the students, second about the teachers and after that about the money. Finally, I understood what people mean by “transforming education in marketing” able to magically insert the English language

  • Do language classes work?

    Posted on January 27th, 2009 Mairo Vergara 13 comments

    classroom-does-it-workSome language learner bloggers have been discussing Tim Ferriss “Why language classes don’t work” article. Street-Smart Language Learning, Aspiring Polyglot and Confessions of a Language Addict gave their opinions on the matter, so I think now it’s my turn.

    I recently started teaching English here in Brazil. The school I work for has an 18 months program which aims atin the method, to be responsible for our students and to give shows instead of simple classes. Excessive grammar and translations are not allowed at all. The students should like you, like the class, like the language, and have fun! If you can do it, you’re in, if you can’t, you’re out. The school and its method (fluency in 18 months) are relatively new here. English courses usually take four or more years and aim at “language proficiency”, which I assume is much more than fluency. Without going too deep into my school‘s methodology and its effectiveness, let me throw out this question: Is it possible to achieve basic fluency inside a classroom? fluency. You’re not allowed to use Portuguese inside the classroom, everything should be taught and explained in English. Sometimes it’s really difficult to explain certain words or expressions, but you just have to find a way to do it. At the initial meeting with other teachers and the school manager, we were told to believe

    I would say, yes, you can achieve basic fluency inside a classroom. By basic fluency, I mean being able to understand native English and communicate at least at a daily conversational level. When students come to my school, they are amazed by the idea that in a year and a half they are going to be understanding and speaking English. “Hey dude, in June 2010 I’ll know English! Awesome!” is what mainly motivates them. I partly disagree with Tim Ferris. Classes tend not to work, because students are lazy and teachers neither know how to teach nor how to learn a language. But it does not mean classes can’t work at all. There are many people that have learned languages inside classrooms, so in some way classes must work.

    In order to work, I think some requirements have to be met inside and outside the classroom…

    A good and motivated teacher

    Perhaps that’s why most classes don’t work. A good teacher isn’t easy to find. Universities don’t prepare students to be good teachers. University teachers themselves usually aren’t good teachers. They are good researchers and thinkers. But teaching is a practical, not a theoretical skill. You don’t learn how to teach by reading books or simulating classes. You learn how to teach by teaching real classes over and over again. If classrooms can work, it absolutely requires very very good teachers, who know their subject and know how to teach it properly. Remember AJATT and Outliersto teaching. 10000 hours thing? The same applies

    Good materials

    Good material really can help. However, I think good materials are those materials that the students can use outside the classroom. Inside the classrooms, the focus should be on the teacher. Even though I just started teaching, I often find myself asking the students to close their books and pay attention to me. I want them to look at me, listen to me. I want them to understand what I am trying to say verbally and non-verbally. The good materials are going to be used at home, for self study. Perhaps a combination of motivating/fun classes with a set of very good materials for self-study could work very well!

    Motivated students

    This depends on students and teachers. Every teacher wants motivated students of course. But what to do with the unmotivated ones? Stimulate them! You can’t motivate someone else, since motivation comes from within yourself, but you can stimulate them so that they get motivated. It is easy to blame students for being unmotivated, but teachers should remember that their role is much more than simply throwing their course material at the students and expecting them to learn it. As I said before, teaching is practical and entails many different abilities.

    In conclusion, I believe classrooms can work in the same way that self-study methods can work. At the same time, classrooms will fail for the same reasons that self-study methods will fail. Every one has his own manner of learning, although certain principles are universal. The hard task is to find and apply these principles, be it inside or outside the classroom.