Teaching English in Brazil: Experiences of using Input approach

Just thought I’d share some experiences about teaching English in Brazil.

For those that don’t know, English is a big industry here. Brazil has more English schools than any other country. (I’m sure LingQ would love to have a larger presence in this market!) And yet, they have a poor reputation in terms of fluency among the general population.

The language schools differ greatly in terms of the approaches they offer. Some use Callan method, others use books from Cambridge, others use their own material (typically a series of new verbs and expressions each week).

None of them use an input method! I recommended LingQ to many students, urging them to consider what it would be like to actually travel to a foreign country and have to deal with a large range of vocabulary, mumbling speakers, how irritating it is getting confused, etc. But, most of them just wanted to focus on their low-vocabulary speaking abilities! Big surprise!

But I convinced a few, and when I got more into doing private lessons, I put the input approach more into practice. But slowly! Here’s how it usually went… We’d start using actual material based on their goals (Beginner, FCE, TOEFL), but then during breaks or pauses, I always did very short stories for them which they all enjoyed more than the material. Standard approach: listen first, then discuss vocab, listen again, and finally they read. I made sure they wrote down whatever was new to them, ensuring that they wrote a short phrase. After some weeks, we’d take a day off and review those phrases (and whatever else they had highlighted in their other material) to help make their first set of flashcards. For most of them, something would click. They would see the benefit of doing this in their free time. Week after week, I also stressed that they need to read and listen to English on their own. I’ll be honest… the majority made one excuse after another. But I was more successful with my approach of emailing them my own out-of-class listening material…

My approach was to show them that they can, in fact, learn with “real” material. I made my own material, using as a source interesting articles from the internet. The end result looks a lot like the Effortless English material, except it’s optimized for Brazilians. 1) listen to the article. 2) watch my vocabulary video and optional commentary, 3) listen to the article again, 4) read the article (which does have some translations), 5) listen to my ministory, and finally 6) repeat as necessary in the future.

The trick of my material was that half of the listening is transcribed, and the other half is just me talking freely. Being fluent in Portuguese allows me to know exactly what they’ll find difficult, but I never specifically speak in Portuguese. Going over the vocab in the video, I show examples in-context rather than long-winded explanations that lead nowhere. Lastly, the ministory combines it all into yet another context, giving them something of short duration that they can easily repeat lots of times. Also, the ministory audio has a section where I ask a question after every one or two lines. The answers aren’t transcribed and I specifically answer each question using equivalent/simpler vocabulary, giving long explanations that round out their understanding. The last part of the ministory tells the same story again except from a different point of view, thereby working with grammar without the headache.

The end result is they’re able to fully understand a real article. After a while, all the road bumps start to get smoothed out and they realize that they can start reading and listening on their own. Of course, I mention LingQ since it’s one of the limited options for audio + text.

Some samples of my stuff on dropbox:


Here’s the interesting part. I had some students who actually saw the benefit of an input approach and they willingly abandoned the more traditional material, opting instead to simply discuss the material I had sent them or whatever else they were reading. In return, I’d follow the class up with an email summarizing the topics we’d talked about, offering links to videos for more info. Not surprisingly, these students made the biggest strides of all.

The worst students? Brazilian English teachers. I was teaching an FCE class using traditional material that the school provided me. The school wanted some of their own teachers to take the FCE so they’d throw them in the class with me. I guess there’s something about being an English teacher that makes one believe they already know everything there is to know about English. They absolutely resisted my approach of making the class more conversational and fun and spoke as little as possible. When I asked about what they do outside of class, it was always the same: listen to music–as if that’s revolutionary. They actually thought we should spend the class in silence either reading or doing the listening material as though it were the actual FCE test every week. One day we had two native speakers in the room and they didn’t even come, knowing that the class would end up being more conversational in nature. Meanwhile, the other students loved me, we talked in 100% English, they started exposing themselves to more English, and we also managed to do the darn book material! Imagine that! It didn’t have to be so rigid and boring!


Thanks for your long post. It’s great to hear some stories from classroom language teaching, and how the ideas behind LingQ can be transferred to group teaching.

Your materials are super-detailed! That’s nice, but how long does this sort of preparation take? Do your students contribute to them at all? Also, which program did you use to prepare the text with the translations on the right? In the video I saw it was more interactive than just a PDF.

In Turkey we have similar problems with English language instruction: many years of teaching at school, a lot of tests, and very little language ability at the end of it.

Thanks @zbrntt. I’d love to hear similar stories about using an Input approach within a traditional classroom (and traditional students!).

How I make the materials is a whole other subject… A while back I mocked up a website that would allow anyone to highlight a phrase and offer a translation. Others could then comment or add example sentences. Basically, you’re seeing that website in the video. However, the website only exists locally on my computer. I don’t have the time to pursue it further.

The pdf comes from simply printing the website in Chrome.

How long does it take? Detailing the article with translations and examples only takes around 20 mins due to the help from some javascript code I wrote (again, this has to do the website I was planning). I would write the ministory while on the bus. Recording my voice is what took the longest since I’d have to relisten and make some edits. Overall, probably two hours per article.

I actually did have a student who got interested enough to actually want to make articles himself with my software. This was my initial dream! Brazilians finding material THEY find interesting, translating the phrases THEY find difficult, and then I would do what I do to help and turn it into my listening material. His website:

http://argueiro.wordpress.com/ (it’s a wordpress blog, so not as interactive as the video)

Yes, the schools loved tests. I would actually joke with my students about how useless the test was. Most of them actually disagreed with me! It’s amazing how brainwashed they become.

Students that go to a language school are just looking for an hour or two of self-contained instruction. And really, that’s what we provided. Despite my insistence about improving listening and finding things they enjoy to do outside of class, I’d say the majority never even looked at my material more than once.

Thank goodness for private students.

@erikspen - I’m not sure if you are familiar with TPRS or not. It sounds as if you might be…If so you may aready be acquainted with this blog. It’s by an American who lives in France and teaches English using comprehensible input methods.


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@Jingle - Yes, my time as a teacher has come to an end, but luckily, one of the first things I did was study Krashen and later TPRS.

I can’t say that I fully implemented either. Definitely not within the schools. There was always pressure of providing “structure” via preparation material for a particular exam, but even still, making input comprehensible was what I viewed my role as a teacher to be. And students love stories too! I loved giving them fuel to make fun of me.

Great blog! I especially enjoyed the critique on Communicative Activities. Thanks.

Good experiences about teaching English in Brazil

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