Thursday, December 08, 2005

keep improving

Well, as you all know I like English very much, and I even teach it! For now I'm just teaching private classes, but I'd really to teach to small groups...the fact is: is my English good enough to teach? well, I'm not so sure about that. So, I want to test my English and keep improving it, specially the vocabulary and the conversation part. The writing...well, I think its not that bad, but I should try to avoid the typing mistakes...hehehe ^.^!
What can I do to improve my English? well, I'd like to try one of those ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) tests. So, I tried to get some information on them, and here's what I found out:
These certificates are divided into 5 major gropus:

Of course I'm not interested in Business, Leagal or Young Learners English...I wish I was younger, but the harsh reality shows me I'm not a teen any more...=/
So, we still have 2 groups left: General English and Academic English.
In the first we have a lot of exams:
1. KET (Key English Test), a very basic exam. I hope my English is not so poor.
2. PET (Preliminary English Test), an intermediate level exam. Well, I'd like to tink I'm more than just an intermediate student...
3. FCE (First Certificate of English), an upper-intermediate exam. At Cambridge they say it is "ideal if you can deal confidently with a range of written and spoken communications". I'm thinking in trying to take this shouldn't be that least, I hope so...^.^
4. CAE (Certificate in Advanced English), an advanced exam. You have to be pretty confident in order to take it...I'm afraid it's a bit too much for me to start with...
5. CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English). On the Cambridge page, they describe this one as a Very advanced level exam, which means: Oh My God!! Ok, at this point I ask myself: will I ever get there? Hope so... pray 4 me ^.^ (just kidding).
These were all the general exams. We still the other group: the Academic English exams. Here we go:
1. IELTS (International English Language Testing System). This is an exam tha should prove your ability to study and work in England, US, or wherever they speak English. This is a broadly accepted and recongnized exam, so, I think, a kind of passpartout! I believe, then, that it shouldn't be as hard the CAE and CPE.
Actually, we only have this exam for academic English...
I searched the internet for a while in order to find free courses (sadly you have to pay to take the exam) but I didn't anything REALLY interesting out of it. Anyway, I didn't have much time to search, so...I'll do more research as soon as I can! Promise!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A dream come true

In February 2005 I had my first trip to England: it was simply awesome!!! I loved England although I couldn’t see much because I stayed there only for five days: I loved meeting my cousins again and their friends, I loved walking down the street at night with no worries, I loved the squirrels that came very close to me in the park, I loved not having to wait half an hour to cross the street, I loved the pubs, I loved the accent. Now I’m planning to go back there as soon as I can!

English at University

Entering university was not simple and easy as I thought. People of the community have very different ideas about what we study at Faculdade de Letras, so, since I had belonged to the community people until then, it took me a while to adapt. I started with the famous “integrated skills” and I can’t say I have good memories of any of them. It might appear I am a bit too critical, and I am sorry for that, but my experience started quite awfully. The problem wasn’t only the teachers…it was mainly me and my English background. Since I had studied mainly grammar and reading, when it came to listening and speaking it was a disaster. The fact that I was a very shy girl didn’t help. And the fact that on my “oral skills” depended almost 60% of my final grade was simply terrifying for me. No wonder I couldn’t get as good results as I wished for.
My main problem was the role-plays. Why? Well, first, I was very shy and I had a lot of problems in speaking in public; second, at the end of each semester we had this “role-play” evaluation but we actually didn’t train and do role-plays throughout the semester. For me, after years of grammar instruction, “role plays” were something completely new and with which I couldn’t feel at ease. As you can imagine, my results on these tasks were never good and I started feeling highly discouraged by the course: what was I doing at FALE if I wasn’t able to speak?

Finally I finished “Oral Skills 3”, and I felt relieved: I started studying literature and linguistics, which were the things I really enjoyed! My demoralization towards English vanished away and I started feeling motivated again.


Here we come to a turning point in my life: my arrival at Brazil. A lot of things changed in my life, and also the study of English changed, sadly for worse. I was attending the third year at High School and we were studying English for vestibular, which consisted of reading incredibly boring texts, answering some multiple choice questions and studying the verb to be over and over again. Thank God I passed the Vestibular and I started studying English here at FALE.
When I was studying for the vestibular, it was also the time when my mom got cable tv here at home! It was the best and worst thing ever: it was good because I started becoming a HUGE FAN of American sitcoms such as That 70s Show, Scrubs,

Music and English...

This was also the time when I really got interested in music, and I started to translate and understand the lyrics of my favorite songs. I used to take beautiful quotations from famous songs and write them down on my notebook. The very first song that I learnt by heart was “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. But later one of my friends introduced me to the band that would soon become my favorite: The Smashing Pumpkins!


shakedown 1979,

cool kids never have the time

on a live wire right up off the street

you and i should meet

junebug skipping like a stone

with the headlights pointed at the dawn

we were sure we'd never see an end

to it all

and i don't even care

to shake these zipper blues

and we don't know

just where our bones will rest

to dust i guess

forgotten and absorbed

into the earth below

double cross the vacant and the bored

they're not sure just what we have in the store

morphine city slippin dues down to see

that we don't even care as rest

less as we are

we feel the pull in the land of a thousand guilt

sand poured cement, lamented and assured

to the lights and towns below

faster than the speed of sound

faster than we thought we'd go, beneath the sound of hope

justine never knew the rules,

hung down with the freaks and the ghouls

no apologies ever need be made, i know you better than you fake it

to see that we don't care to shake these zipper blues

and we don't know just where our bones will rest

to dust i guess

forgotten and absorbed into the earth below

the street heats the urgency of sound

as you can see there's no one around

English at High School

At this point I started High School. Again, I had to face other classmates, other subjects and other teachers. The first English class was a shock: the teacher spoke English during the WHOLE class and I couldn’t grasp almost anything. I was terrified: I’ve always been quite good at English, and now I couldn’t even follow the first class?!? Even though it was hard and somehow frustrating, I liked the teacher: she made me understand that learning a language is not only learning its grammar and vocabulary, it is also about speaking and listening. When I was finally convinced that I would attend the best English classes ever, the teacher was sent away and was replaced by an old-fashion one: again, we went back to classes in Italian that addressed mainly grammar: we were supposed to memorize a thousand rules and exceptions and study for the test.

But the few classes I had with the “innovative teacher” made me want to “learn English properly”, and, as soon as I found out that the school was offering “conversation classes” in the afternoon, I enrolled. Before starting classes we had to take an interview so that they could put us in the right level. The problem was: how could I take a fine interview if I had never spoken English in my whole life? All the faults of that “grammar focused” teaching revealed themselves: I had a terrible interview, I had to go to a very basic level, and there, in spite of the teacher being a very nice and patient Englishman, I had quite an awful time: my classmates didn’t know absolutely anything of English and didn’t want to make any effort to speak the language.
Still, I kept going to these classes during a year, but at the very end I just dropped the course and never took my certificate. I’m not the kind of person that gives up things like that, but I think I did that just because the climate in the classroom was not a good one.

English classes at school

My contact with English would be re-established only a few years later, when I started English classes at school. I remember the first English class I had. Our teacher at certain point told us: “now you are going to have English classes”, and she brought us to a new classroom, which was completely different from our usual one: there weren’t any desks, but three big tables, there were animal, food and weather posters on the wall and the classroom was green. Even the teacher was different: she was younger than the others, she was blond, she dressed in a very particular way and she had lived in Tanzania for a while. I simply loved her since the first day: she was very sweet, funny and dynamic and English classes soon became my favorite!

Sadly, the year after this Teacher, Tiziana, went back to Tanzania and we started having classes with another teacher, who wasn’t half as funny and dynamic ad Tiziana, but was instead very strict and severe. At first it was difficult to get used to the new teacher who wanted us to learn grammar, to study the verb to be, memorize it and write it on the blackboard.

Finally, things changed: a new school, new classmates and new teachers! My new English teacher was somehow strict, but she was so funny that everybody ended up liking her (in spite of the grades we used to get in the tests). But we had classes with her just for a year, then, since she had a child, she stopped working. At this point our French teacher started teaching English as well. She was my favorite teacher at the time: the sweetest teacher ever. I admired her very much and at this point I decided that I would study languages in the future and I would be a teacher like she was!

Sadly, another year passed by, and my favorite teacher started working at another school. In her place, the strictest teacher I have ever had came! The transition was really dramatic! With the previous teacher we didn’t have much homework, we had games and learning was fun. With the new one instead we had loads of homework to do, we had to translate everything we found in the book and we had to copy each dialogue at least twice in our copybook (and then translate it).

We don't need no education

We dont need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers leave them kids alone

Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!

All in all it's just another brick in the wall.

All in all you're just another brick in the wall

“Another brick on the wall” by Pink Floyd, 1979

However, in spite of hating her at the beginning, little by little I started to like her, I saw I was actually learning something, my writing improved and she encouraged us to find pen pals around the world. This way to learn English through communicating with different people and learn more about their countries really had a positive impact on me, and whenever I had the chance, I tried to make friends around the world (you can try, too, clicking on the image beside)!

a long long time ago...

Everything started a long long time ago, when I was a little kid. My dad has always loved languages: he spoke Italian and Portuguese fluently, and could also make himself understood in Spanish and French. He knew a lot of languages but had no knowledge whatsoever of the most important and international language in the world: English. He couldn’t afford a private school, so he tried to study by himself and he bought one of these courses of English that come with books, exercises, cassettes and a device for “listen and repeat” activities. In the weekend he would take some time to study English in his room. He soon got very excited with the language and he started to teach me some of the words he was learning. It was really funny, because he used to draw pictures in order to make me understand the meaning of the words (he was quite good at drawing indeed!), and I related English to drawings. At this point I started to get excited with the language and I also tried to teach it to the rest of the family: I used to tell them the basic words I learnt, e.g. hand, man, woman, etc.

As you can see, his excitement didn’t last long: my father got busier and busier and he started neglecting his studies, and so did I. After all, my only contact with English was thanks to him, and when he stopped, I stopped too. Of course, I still listened to English songs, but when I was a kid I never showed any interest in understanding their meaning.