viernes, 26 de agosto de 2011

Helicopters, boomerangs, cougars and bromances

I don´t think I am a helicopter parent, at least I try not to be one, as I tried, when younger and beautiful, not to become a boomerang child. But that one was hard, because in our society here in Peru, children don´t leave home until they get married. Forget the boomerang, then.

I really hope my friends (the females) don´t become cougars. I have never met one in person –though stories have always been around –, but they are out there hunting…bad (or good…) thing is they will not be looking for men like me anymore, their radar is pointing at another direction.

Are you involved in a bromance now (males only, huh)? You might be but don´t know yet, think about it while you listen some Americana.

The words used here are real and have made their way to the 2011 Merriam-Webster´s Collegiate Dictionary. The tip came from our friend and colleague Carmen Caceda. She sent this link to an article where they talk about the new words that the dictionary people have included this year: 150 in all!

Have a closer look at some of those HERE.

Time to update your vocabulary books!

lunes, 22 de agosto de 2011

"Cool" teachers

Back in February this year I published a short entry titled: Something to say about NNESTs. The acronym stands for Non Native English Speakers. In the post, I speak about English speakers who are hired to teach English only because they are native speakers, forgetting or simply disregarding (the hiring institution, I mean) the need for appropriate qualifications to do this important job. This is not the case with all native speakers, of course!, but there are far too many to just pass under the radar without detection.

This all comes up now because of a publication of El Comercio on Friday 19th, just last week, called “Institutos y Centros de idiomas.” The twelve-page supplement offers interesting articles, they even interviewed recognized specialists in the TEFL field like Marita de la Lama from U. del Pacífico, Claudia Marín from UPC and Cesar Saldaña from U. Ricardo Palma. But the item that connects this comment today with the February post is the advertisement on page 5, whose image is posted here too, but with the name of the institution covered, just to avoid problems.

The ad opens with the line “Pagaré mis estudios dando clases de ingles,” that is “I´ll pay my studies teaching English.” I suppose the phrase is an invention from the “creative team” (the quotes are mine) that produced the ad. I can only speculate and/ or speak of my own personal reaction to the message that the ad implies.

The line tells me that the people who wrote it (I am not so sure if the institution supports this view) think that teaching English is a temporary activity that university students can do just to pass the time and get some easy bucks out of it while they pursue a more “serious” career. Once this “cool” teacher finishes university, what? No problem, mate, there are more “teachers” waiting in line.

The implications are easy to list but I´ll mention only two. The first one is that training can´t be too demanding. Logic tells me that it is not efficient to spend resources on a person who will not last long in the institution. The second is the rate per hour. Why pay high if the “teacher” is actually NOT a teacher. This affects directly those who are (and there are many professional teachers in that institute, I know). Then, a question appears: Is this happening at other institutes as well?

Another line that called my attention is the one that says: “Profesores certificados por la University of Michigan y TESOL, USA.” As far as I know, the certificates given by Michigan (and Cambridge) are not professional qualifications but language certificates. I don´t know about TESOL USA (is it a qualifying body? Beats me.) Are they trying to substitute (in their scarcity) native speakers by “near-native” speakers?

Between non-teacher native speakers who are hired to teach and university students who take up the job as a sport, how much space is left for the real teaching professionals? My intention with the two posts, last February´s and today´s, is not to attack these people (who are ultimately looking for a job) or institutions (who may hire whoever they want) but to raise awareness among us, the teachers who do this for a living, who try and get the appropriate qualifications, who try and look for opportunities to improve (and, in passing, among the authorities at the institutions). We are the ones who must point the finger and demand professionalism, who must demonstrate that our job is not a form of moonlighting. And to do this, there are so many ways.

viernes, 19 de agosto de 2011

Learning English similes

A new semester has just begun. The first class is always a good chance to try and convince our students that effort is a necessary component of any learning experience. I say this because I have noticed that lately the young tend to think that things come easily, they just hold up their hands and violá, things happen –as if in a virtual reality game or a Harry Potter movie. So I begin my class with two similes I have invented.

When I tell my students that “Learning English is like losing weight,” they look at each other and smile before turning their stare at me with a skeptical air floating in front of their faces. I smile back and throw a seemingly tricky question: If you want to lose weight, what do you have to do? They frown, they scratch their heads. There is always one who attempts an answer –I guess they feel I am pulling their legs and don´t want to lose face – and raises his hand: You have to go on a diet? He doubts, and I go yes! A diet! Excellent method. So if I wanted to lose some kilograms (I do!, really), I could diet on Sundays. They smile again and shake their heads. Why not? I ask again. A girl, who is apparently an expert in keeping the line, clarifies everything: No, T-shirt, The diet is everyday! There you are! I point at the girl: Learning English is like losing weight: You have to go on a diet every day! Students who expect to command the language attending classes twice a week or on marathonic 5-hour Saturday lessons and do nothing in between will not achieve the goal. Period.

Then I tell them that learning English is like learning to swim (or to ride a bike if you prefer). Can you swim? Hands up, please. The majority can swim (except for myself, I have never learned… shame!). Then, I point at a boy and ask: Where did you learn to swim? He hesitates, looks at his classmates who are staring at him waiting for the enlightenment of his wisdom and experience in the topic. He stutters but manages to say: In a swimming pool, Tea – chair, and blushes inevitably. But I am not ready to let him go yet, so I wait for the laughs to stop and attack him again: Was there water in the pool? He is redder than a blooming rose. Of course, tea – chair, he wants to disappear from the face of earth. I smile in triumph, take a step back to the centre of the class: You see? Learning English is like learning to swim, you learn in the water; English is learned in English!

Everybody seems to have grabbed the heart and soul of the two similes. They shake their heads, some look at the ceiling deep in philosophical abstraction, maybe thinking that everything they have always thought about learning English has been wrong all along. Signing up for a two session a week class or a Saturday only course might be a problem in the end because in actual fact you will have to study in between classes! Why do they offer that type of course then? Beats me!