I Want An Alien For Christmas! An Alien English Speaker!

I have recently embarked on a little adventure of leaving my language-centre-teaching comfort zone and teaching regular schools in the State Public School System. Little did I know how much ground one still needs to cover when facing such challenge. Especially, when you hear the utterances that give this text its very title.

I have been around as an EFL Teacher at Cultura Inglesa SJDR for a while and (over)heard that such public school environment is not the ideal one to develop communicative abilities and the kind. Plus, there is the fact that English is seen as an alien-subject which seems to be rejected, supplemented, crossed out, you name it, from the curriculum. Obviously, there is also the unfair label that teachers are as much to be blamed as the students. Consequently, one usually has the fake idea that the students pretend to learn as the teachers pretend to teach. I fear that there is much to that than meets the eye, and then it is true to say that this is a way too deep an issue which needs to be dealt within the realm of the higher levels of our country educational system ASAP.

That said, on my very first encounter with these regular school groups of around 40 learners each, I was shocked at the fact that professionals in this sector are not awarded a medal for so much they have to do other than teach English. I was warned to lower my expectations and I did it so. Much to my surprise 1, though, I was confronted with a question which got me thinking and I jumped back in time recalling my school years trying to learn English. The question was along these lines: ‘Cheacher, how did you learn English?’. Well, at that moment it dawned on me that there was no easy answer, let alone a magic solution to the problem I was about to face on this little adventure. However, I knew for a fact that my homework for the next session was to come up with a list of strategies I used, and still do, to my advantage when learning.

I compiled a ‘long’ list of strategies that can be used in order to provoke the students and make them think what would suit them best. Much to my surprise 2, such list led to a very productive discussion in terms of their wants, needs and musts. Well, in the least bit I was not teaching the ‘verb to be’ to the Nth degree.  I will describe further down what we came up with and what we consider to be an achievable go bearing in mind the ‘alien’ circumstances.

a)      Take English as it comes – the language is oftentimes discriminated against in the public sector and this fact alone is a firewall to those whom for one reason or another have developed a disliking for it. We decided to avoid comparisons in terms what is easier or more difficult than Portuguese. That way, we will help the ‘non-believers’ to accept the fact that it is possible to learn English with little frustration and all.  After all, English is a language used in a full variety of contexts, be it academic, professional and personal.

b)      Slow and Easy – No language can be learned from night to day. There will cardiogram moments, ups and downs, improvement and setbacks. However, learners should have a clear cut idea that we will need time, effort, perseverance and strength to endure the list learning path to success.

c)      To Err is Human, I’m uncomfortable around Gods – we have decided that mistakes will be part of the game and that laughing at others’ imperfections is simply not the done thing, it will takes us nowhere. Teamwork is the word of the order and, as such, should be used as both encouragement and respect towards one another.

d)     Emotional Rescue – respect, engagement, attitude and behaviour will not be used as punch lines. Everyone should be committed with contributing to the group. We will not be just a cog in the wheel and Freedom of speech should prevail so that everyone’s life experience is validated, understood and acted upon.

e)      What comes through your ears goes directly to your heart – it is sort of clichéd to say It’s Only Rock’n’Roll but I Like It, thus, much to my surprise 3, the vast majority mentioned that they want to be able to listen and speak in English. Music was definitely a go-ahead and there is much evidence on the fact that you learn a lot more when you are involved and having great fun.

As it stands, I am still in Public-School-State of shock, however, I must confess that I can feel the bewildered-look in my face beginning to wear off. Am I being too ambitious? Well, time will tell, especially when you consider Shrek’s song which goes like ‘You’ll never know if you don’t go, You’ll never shine if you don’t glow!’. Who knows I might be the alien they want for Christmas?

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Adriano Zanetti

Adriano Zanetti – BA in Letras, Post-graduate in Language Teaching Methodologies, RSA Dip. DELTA. An educator for 30 years, an ELT consultant/teacher trainer at A2Z English Consultancy, a teacher/trainer/coordinator at FISK São João del Rei and Cambridge Assessment English Speaking Examiner. A Pronunciation SIG member responsible for Pronunciation courses for teachers/students. Presented several times in LABCI/ABCI conferences, Braz-Tesol Regional/National Chapters and different institutions in MG. /

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