“É melhor fazer aula com um falante nativo?” -- pergunta o leigo. E hoje é com ele que vou falar. Você com certeza já deve ter visto cursos de inglês que anunciam aulas com professores nativos. Será esse de fato um diferencial? Vamos pensar aqui: se fosse o contrário e você fosse dar aula de português para estrangeiros...

As you will probably agree, inspiration comes from the most unusual places. Just now, I felt so moved by a Netflix documentary about the jazz genius Miles Davis that I had to come here and write about the lessons I believe his career may bring to our professional development as teachers.   “The Musings of Miles”: Don’t “blow” theory. Miles started his career as a trumpeter in his teens and went to Juilliard, one of the world’s most prestigious performance art schools. Despite criticizing it for being “too white”...

“What do you think of Glenn Greenwald’s Portuguese?” That question came out of the blue to me, but there I was, chatting to an air traffic controller before we started his English proficiency interview about a third person’s Portuguese language proficiency. I thought of a video I saw after the first Vaza Jato news: “Well, I find his pronunciation a little difficult to follow.” “Yes, it’s heavy.” “Especially because we’re not used to listening to a foreign accent in Portuguese, I think.” “That’s true. But you can understand him, right?” he shot at...

[caption id="attachment_8629" align="alignright" width="227"] Teacher development and cleaning products -- the way my mind works![/caption] Teaching a language, especially when you’re a novice, can be really daunting. In fact, the word “daunting” immediately brings to mind a Duck commercial that was constantly on when I studied in Australia. The voice-over would go, “Cleaning your bathroom can seem like a daunting task”, and the small bathroom would grow huge with the woman (why is it always a woman, by the way?) tripping over herself. That nerve-racking image of an evergrowing...

When professionals I know and admire seem to have something against English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), I try to understand why. From their follow-up replies, I get the impression they see ELF as “narrowing the curriculum” and their own position as one of “demanding high” and “catering for students’ needs in the real world.” I think I get it. The problem is, however, I am too in favor of “catering for students’ needs in the real world” and to an extent even “demanding high”, but that’s precisely why...

"Your English is so beautiful.” – I sometimes hear, and I promise you I have a point in writing this, which is not that I’m a Leo (although I am). In fact, I’ve always been a bit reticent about those compliments about my English language proficiency, especially when they come from laypeople. I mean, we language teachers/researchers study language proficiency to vertiginous depths and still struggle to design a proficiency test and validate it, how can anyone assess another person’s language proficiency, as they often do, at hello? A...

How often do you revisit and reexamine your beliefs about teaching and learning and about yourself as a teacher? It is easy to find fault in other people's beliefs or practices: “So and So still operate with the concept of X. Don't they know research shows no evidence it works?”; “How can anyone still use the Y methodology in the 21st century, when our students are so different from decades ago?”; or even “There goes So and So again on and on about the latest teaching fad with...

Many teachers are becoming their own bosses nowadays, to the point that the word “teacherpreneur” has become a thing (hopefully a fad, as I can’t pronounce that word for the life of me). That of course adds fuel to the debate on whether teachers should dab at Sales & Marketing – or rather how. I’m largely a bystander in the debate, since I work for the government, but something happened last week that made me think about how we teachers sell our services and I just wanted to...

There’s a woman with a standing microphone next to a wooden stool on a stage. She speaks for about an hour and the paying audience laughs every now and then. What is this? It’s a stand-up comedy. Or maybe it isn’t. Oftentimes, when we are working on skills in a language class, we treat genres as something simple to identify. You see the characteristics of the the text, you can tell the genre, or so we would like to think. Sometimes we can do that even before reading or listening...

Vinicius Diamantino organized a much needed online panel* about how to deliver killer presentations at ELT and educational events. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate as planned, but what follows is what I had prepared: how to write effective abstracts and summaries that will get you accepted as a speaker in the first place. Do, though, watch the free webinar ( gMX55xT46244F6H ) with Claire Venables and Cecilia Lemos because they make the points much better! They also talk about the delivery of the presentation itself with invaluable tips...

I have a confession to make. But first, some background: as a gander around most teacher rooms or ELT conference audiences will quickly show us, language teaching is eminently a female profession. The British Council reports that 81% of English language teachers in the Brazilian public school system are women, and the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC) registers 82% of female teachers in regular education in general (including other subject-matters). Yet that proportion is not felt to be as large when it comes to higher ranks in our career, or...

BRAZ-TESOL, Brazil’s largest association of English language teaching professionals, needed a video that explained what it stands for, so I made one. My qualifications for making the video? None. Learning as I went, I ended up with something that has made me very proud.  Of course making a video when you’re not a professional is not a simple task, so it took me (what it felt like) forever to get it finished. I would get home from work and spend as many hours on it as I had...

This is a post for all of you who are planning to attend the 16th BRAZ-TESOL International Conference (16th BTIC) in Caxias do Sul, RS, in July, but don’t know where to start. In case you haven’t heard of the event, BRAZ-TESOL is the largest ELT association in Brazil and its international conference brings together speakers and attendees of all over the country and the world in 4 days of professional development and relationship building. (Rumor has it that BTIC might just be the largest ELT conference in...

Do you have students that complain they can’t understand the listening tracks until you let them read the transcripts? The solution could be in Richard Cauldwell’s work, which has been brought to my attention by my dearest Higor Cavalcante. The author of Phonology for Listening and of the forthcoming A Syllabus for Listening, Cauldwell did an EVO webinar on Sunday and reminded us that it’s a jungle out there. In a very fitting metaphor, he explained we usually teach pronunciation of isolated words as if words were potted plants in...

End of year, spring cleaning, and I ended up finding many old pictures and documents which were a trip down memory lane. I wondered what I would say to that young Natalia, who was about to start her career as an English teacher, or to anyone who is starting in the career for that matter. Stepping out of the classroom and back in again: my last day of secondary school, 6 months before my first day as a teacher. Keep an organized record of everything you do career-wise. This first...

If you are suffering from Novemberitis and need a comical interlude or just an idea for a lesson, here's an integrated-skills lesson plan for B2 learners. The topic is embarrassing stories  and students will read about it to get in the topic, listen to a celebrity telling her own stories and talk throughout. The main point here is to get them to speak a lot, of course, but also to learn and practice (both in listening and in speaking) the structure of a personal story. ****************************************** 1. Lead-in 3' (WG*):...

I had a haircut the other day and got to talking to the hairdresser, an energertic 31-year-old professional who I’ve been going to for a few years now. [Don’t worry, I haven’t gone mad(der) and won’t be rambling on about beauty on a teacher-oriented blog. The relevance of the chat will become evident soon, I promise.] **** Me: My friend’s mother, who’s a hairdresser too, is thinking of moving from Rio. What’s the market like here*? Is it small, saturated? What do you think? *(N.B.: Here is a city that is...

Earlier this week Elaine Hodgson posted about the pros and cons of self-promotion, raising many important points. I was going to comment on the post, but realized my text got longer than the rules of politeness would allow, so here is my take on self-promotion in ELT, which, I must admit, echoes much of what Elaine has said. Teacher promotion is definitely something we need to discuss. I hear you, sis. This business of self- and peer-promotion in ELT has been bothering me a lot as of late, so...

It’s May. May I, then, talk about the elephant in the room? “Which one?” I hear you ask. Right you are, because for a profession that deals with communication and education, we seem to sweep quite a few things under the rug. This topic in particular is such a big lump on that rug that we could almost go rock climbing on it: teacher working conditions. Even if you narrow the topic down to teacher working conditions in language schools, the list of problems seems endless. All around Brazil you see...

Late in February a BrELTer asked what she could do with songs in ELT lessons. My comment there was huge (sorry!) because I simply love using songs in language learning, both as a teacher and as a student. In fact, I have forgotten most of the French I've been taught except for the French in songs (and may I add, "Non, rien de rien, je ne regrette rien"). There's so much we can do with songs other than randomly choosing gaps for students to fill in. Here are a few...

Once, when I needed to sign a document, I borrowed a pen from a person very dear to me. I immediately felt something was wrong. My handwriting wasn’t flowing naturally and I wondered what was up with the pen. That’s when I saw a 6-point white star on the top. The owner of the pen must have read some sort of criticism in my eyes, “I know cheap Biros will do the work just as well…” “Or better,” I interjected, glancing at what looked like a forged version...

“Relax,” many teachers tell students, “if you have communicated, it’s all right.” Indeed. What is it, however, that counts as effective communication? At what moment can we chill out knowing we have done a good job in communicating? For some teachers, communication is getting your message across. It doesn’t matter if the learner has made mistakes, if the listener has had to pay very close attention, if understanding the learner demanded many turns of negotiation. In sharp contrast, there are people who will maintain learners don’t need ‘to communicate’ only....

In Brazil the beginning of the year is hiring season for teachers. Unfortunately it’s unusual for ELT job ads in this country to list required and preferred KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities or attitudes). When they do, something that usually shows up is “living experience abroad” (“vivência no exterior”). To be me, in all honesty, that requirement simply boggles the mind. Here are a few issues I ponder over when I see that: 1. Why LIVING, not WORKING experience? How can “living” be a job requirement? Hey, I haven’t died, even...

I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about this, but I’ve reached that age when I’ve turned into a kind of Agony Aunt to my younger colleagues and friends. The 20-somethings come to me with their career choices and, boy, do they ask difficult questions! Their fork in the road often goes along the lines of, “Should I do a CAE or a CELTA?”, “Should I go to college or work on my language?”, or “What do teachers need more (urgently): language or methodology?” You’ve probably seen these questions before,...

In the past few years, I’ve seen a few teachers in Brazil make a point of differentiating accent traits from pronunciation errors. You can listen to Daniel Bonatti explain it here for CanalRh or Vania Below from ManagedEnglish tackle it here. The implication, as I understand, is that diversity in accents should be celebrated, but pronunciation errors should be corrected. While I totally agree with the sentiment (yay, diversity!), I find the practicalities of it a little difficult to wrap my head around. My main question is – and this...

Have you noticed how many ELT surveys there have been out there as of late? Teachers seem to be firing off questionnaires to other teachers all the time now, about the most varied topics, from tasks used in class to teacher profile, from student motivation to whatnot. That is probably a consequence of the advent of apps such as Google Forms and Survey Monkey, which ease the burden of creating and handing out questionnaires and will even generate graphs automatically for you. And that's great. I make a point of publicizing questionnaire links...

[caption id="attachment_4644" align="aligncenter" width="433"] Soldier vs Scout (illustrations shown by Galef, 2016)[/caption] Soldiers stand their ground with all they've got. The enemies and their subversive ideas must not be allowed in. Death to the infidels! Grrrrr! Scouts are also important in a war, but they play quite a different role: they have to survey the land, learn what it is like, its obstacles and possibilities, taking reality in as it is. That’s how Julia Galef described two mindsets earlier this year in her TEDx talk in Pennsylvania. She says it’s...

They say crisis equals opportunity, and the Brazilian website bicos.com.br has pointed out that teaching is its visitors’ number one choice out of their financial predicaments. [caption id="attachment_4592" align="alignnone" width="572"] Photo via facebook.com/apliesp/[/caption] You can imagine how that went viral (and quite virulent) among Brazilian teachers. According to Brazilian legislation, regular school teachers need to have a teaching license, which will take the candidate at least 3 years to get hold of, if not 4 or 5. Hence, those newcomers are looking for jobs in educational sectors which are not as formalized:...

I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro. Now that's something to be proud of: not only did I survive (mostly unscathed) one of the world's most dangerous cities, but I also get beaming smiles and even hear some bossa nova tunes when I tell foreigners that's where I'm from. So being from Rio is a good thing. Or maybe it's neutral. Or so it should be. You see, I'm also an English language teacher. And here is where being from Rio starts to feel somewhat weird: my hometown screams *non-native...

A friend of mine, who is also an English teacher, was taking Pragmatics at uni and admitted she was struggling to see the point of all that theory. I wanted to reply in neon and all caps: “All the point in the world!” Ironically, I don’t think I did convince her. I say it was ironic because pragmatics is, among other things, the study of “how to do things with words”, as the seminal book title goes. While my intention was to persuade her to change her mind about pragmatics,...

A teacher who is worried about his or her language development has many avenues to pursue, pronunciation being only one of them. On that matter, though, here is a tip: don’t snub pronunciation dictionaries! I know what you are thinking, “Why on earth would people need pronunciation dictionaries if regular dictionaries (even those online!) have the audio and/or the phonetic transcription?” First, let me say why the audio is not good enough: our ears deceive us sometimes. I had been studying English for 15 years and teaching it for 8...

A few days ago, a former classmate of mine sent me the saddest Facebook message, “They are turning off Helimar's life support.” Deep breath. Helimar was our Portuguese teacher. He taught my group at years 3, 5, and 8, if memory serves me right. Somehow he knew how to deal with us at any age, no matter whether we were doing well or struggling, and everybody seemed to love him. My strongest memory of him is a fight for the adoption of a book. I was 8 or 9, and I took...

Today is January 6th, which in Brazil is called 'Dia de Reis', a day in honor of the three Wise Men. Having grown up in Rio, I used to think January 6th was nothing but a day to take Christmas decorations down. Then one day, as an adult already, I happened to be in Piauí on this date. A whole festival called 'Folia de Reis' was going on, and I had never even heard of such a thing. I was blown over by the dances I could see...

  In Part 1 of this text, I went over 2 tips about using dictionaries and 1 tip about corpora and Google NGram. In fact, nowadays, there is no question that Google is a teacher’s BFF… if and only if we know how to use it. So here are more tips for looking up vocabulary using our contemporary oracle. 4. Be a good language detective: don’t stop at the first sign that you’ve found something. Just the other day a friend of mine saw the expression “parted the cake” (instead...

Once upon a time, a colleague entered the teachers’ lounge with a vocabulary question. Nobody could think of the answer, myself included, so I took the Oxford Collocations Dictionary off the shelf. I knew it was a long shot, as hers was not a collocation-related question, but by looking up the mysterious word’s common collocates, I found the answer she was looking for. She sighed, “You know, I never know which dictionary to use.” Now before anybody jumps to unwarranted conclusions, this was a great professional: qualified, experienced, and...

“And 5… 5, 6, 7, 8!” More than 15 years after I had my first lessons, I decided to take up ballroom dancing again. My Better Half dutifully tagged along, but the difference was he was a true beginner. Three months later, we quit, feeling like complete and utter failures. We still want to learn how to dance, but probably not with those teachers. “Why did you quit?,” I hear you ask. Well, maybe it’s true that we teachers are the most difficult learners. Or maybe it’s just me....

Inspired by Higor Cavalcante’s webinar for BrELT "Hi, my name is Natalia, and I have a problem with prepositions* in English." “Hi, Natalia.” We all have our sore spots in terms of language proficiency. Hopefully, they change along our language learning history, as we study, practice the language, learn more, find other areas that need improvement, address those, and so on, so forth. However, to better work on our language difficulties, first we need to recognize they are there. It’s high time we came out of the less-than-perfect language closet. (Because hey,...

No matter how much we love our profession, there will always be that mind-numbing task we have to carry out. To me, that’s marking a seemingly endless pile of multiple-choice/short answer tests, the kind even a computer could grade. However, there is always that outside-the-box answer that will cheer me up. The web has no shortage of such examples. [caption id="attachment_3547" align="aligncenter" width="455"] Me too, Frankie, me too. -- Source: Distractify[/caption] The answers students give may be creative, funny or just oh-so-very-wrong, but there might be more to them than...

When my colleagues and I say we work in Aviation English, what we usually get is a mixture of awe and perplexity. Ironically, information about Aviation English seems not to travel far and wide. So here are a few initial bearings for those who wish to learn more about it. (Fingers crossed that I just might stop with those terrible aeronautical puns. Those jokes don’t fly, I think. Oops.) 1.       Aviation English is a misnomer. There are many aviation Englishes. Aviation is like a movie in that you can see the...

I think I must have seen this question a million times: “What does it take to be an English language teacher?” “Courage” springs to mind. At least that’s what I needed when I broke the news to my dear father that I wouldn’t be a lawyer like him (“Quem não faz Direito faz errado,” he must have replied). Joke aside, we can interpret that question in several ways. What I would like to explore here is perhaps the easiest of them: the minimum qualifications that will land you a...

Almost 4 years ago, on April 7th 2011, the first BrELT Chat took place. I must have wondered what that #breltchat at the end of tweets meant, but eventually I figured out that my Twitter friends were using that hashtag to talk about language teaching in Brazil. Later I joined a few of those debates and, even though I struggled with the tool or maybe with my internet connection, I just loved the fact that there were people in my country willing to talk about those topics after-hours. About...

A week ago the internet went crazy over a dress on a hanger. “What colors is this dress?”, people just had to know. Many people saw it like I did, white and gold. Others saw it as blue and black. Both camps came up with theories to justify not only that they were right but, more importantly, that the other group was wrong. *Sighs* In a way, colors are nothing more than an optical illusion. However, if we can vary so much on our perception of concrete objects (like a...

“Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good gets better and your better best.” It was the middle of an intensive CELTA and I was exhausted. I still had to put finishing touches on the lesson plan, but I just couldn’t take it any more. I had to sleep. So I set the alarm for 4h later (a sleeping luxury, as most CELTees will assure you) and tried to tune out. In my slumber, a voice whispered again, “Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good...

[caption id="attachment_2490" align="aligncenter" width="421"] Sir, why are you wearing such warm clothes in 35°C weather?[/caption]   It's that resolute time of the year again. And as we are all still following through with the promises we made on New Year's Eve, here's a resolution from me: keep my #WordoftheDay tag on Facebook. Daily. "Surely," a kind soul might ask, "you don't have that many words left to learn?" I wish. I've been studying English for the better part of my life now (over two-thirds already!) and I'm still very much learning and...

Most language teachers have an operating definition of proficiency, even if it is not a very conscious one. In the first part of this post, three different views of the term came to light. Proficiency can be the last stage in a language acquisition journey, hence “certificate of proficiency”. It can also be a set of stages or degrees, the proficiency levelS. Finally, we talk of proficiency in certain tasks or domains, as ESP practitioners would probably frame the concept: proficient FOR some things or IN some areas, but...

“Proficiency” is a concept that is very dear to us language teachers. As dear as hard to define, perhaps. After all, the term “proficiency” is ambiguous at best. If we consider common uses of the word, there are at least three competing definitions. 1.       PROFICIENCY = A HIGHLY ADVANCED LEVEL Some international exams offer certificates at “proficiency level”, a step up from advanced. In this sense, proficiency seems to be the top end of a scale and it is often compared, more or less implicitly, to the competence/ability/knowledge/performance of an...

It’s election day in Brazil, and polls have featured extensively both in the traditional and social media. Some voters seem to work out their candidates based on the polling results; others doubt them. Either way, I don’t see much questioning of the importance of polling. And that kind of reminds me of classroom tests. (I know, it sounds like a crazy association to be drawing, but bear with me.) Firstly, there is the seeming unavoidability of election polls and educational tests. Death, taxes and tests, one could have said. Indeed tests may be inescapable depending on the school or system we work for. However, we must not forget that a test is but an instrument. Assessment, which is what we should be doing in class, can be carried out in several other ways, such as observation, portfolios and self-assessment questionnaires. In fact the more varied our instruments, the better the chance of capturing a more complete snapshot of our students’ achievements. Secondly, pollings are often treated matter-of-factly. Here in Brazil I frequently hear (and have actually engaged in) the discourse of not voting on the candidate of choice because he or she stands no chance. “What if the polls are wrong?,” the skeptics are right to remind us. Polls are developed and carried out by humans, so there is the chance of human error or hidden agendas. Also, polls sample from the population. Finally, polls draw inferences and generalize from that sample. Exactly like tests. But as teachers we don’t quickly concede to that, now do we? We tend to act as if test results are crystal clear portraits of our students’ proficiency level or learning stage [grade = proficiency/achievement]. We forget the so many bridging inferences we have to draw to get to a test score. To start, the grade depends on our rating/marking criteria and our ability to be consistent when applying them. That brings in one or two middlemen: [grade – criteria – rater – proficiency/achievement]. Plus, students’ performances on the test depend on their interaction with the tasks. Like all of us who have never been asked who are we going to vote for, many aspects of our students’ competence might not be tapped into by the tests we have been issuing them. So [grade – criteria – rater – tasks – performance – proficiency/achievement]. The tasks we choose and items we write also depend on our concepts of language and learning. Because we cannot possibly test everything there is to test, we consciously or unconsciously make judgment calls. With that we show our view on what learning objectives are most important. We’re now up to [grade – criteria – rater – teacher’s views on language learning – tasks – test - performance – proficiency/achievement]. And we could go on and on, adding factors that make those inferential jumps quite clear and show that testing is not so easy as we make it look. And that brings us to the final similarity to boot: the power of polls and tests to influence decisions. Of course that is why we do classroom assessment in the first place: to go over what our students have and have not learned, source out problems in the learning process and try and tackle them. In theory, at least. And when “theory” becomes the operative word, all alarms should go off. It is all too easy to forget about the testing purpose and use grades to label students: “This is the front-runner or high achiever. That is the hopeless underdog.” Or worse still, regardless of how careful we are not to judge, learners themselves take their scores at face value and resign themselves to the role of “winner/loser” in the learning process. And hey, the elections are only over once those ballots are cast and counted.

To my fellow countrypeople, happy and responsible voting.

And to teachers, especially at the end of our school year, happy responsible testing!