Category Archives: Author: Chelsea

Tying it all together: English Week at UPE

Since our students are busy with other classes, and in many cases jobs and families, it’s often hard for Cara and I to find enough time with them to do all the activities we dream up. But when we’re given that time in the school schedule, it’s a great opportunity—like Cara’s English Week in Salgueiro, or in this case, my Encontro de Língua Inglesa at UPE. (The event happen at UPE, but also included students from the IF and FACAPE, and interested community members.)

Rafaela teaching her workshop, Common Pronunciation Mistakes for Brazilian Speakers of English

One of the things I was happiest about that week was the breadth of activities: we had everything from academic lectures and pedagogical lessons to dancing, singing, poetry, films and baseball games (check out the whole program!). Language learning is so dynamic because virtually any kind of activity can be relevant and valuable by incorporating the language or its culture.

For example, Cara’s hip hop dancing workshop breaks out of the “language classroom” model but accomplishes many of the same goals: the students practiced listening comprehension (her directions were all in English), they learned some important vocabulary (left and right, body parts, movements, etc.), and they got a direct cultural experience with a specific kind of American music. Cara even incorporated some sports culture into the dance choreography—baseball and basketball moves! I think that as English Teaching Assistants, this out-of-the-classroom kind of language instruction is often our forté. For the most part, I leave the grammar lessons to the experts—the trained professors—and augment those lessons with baseball games, dance classes, an English chorus, and any other kind of activity I can imagine to bring the language to life.

Leandro visiting the White House on the Tour of DC

Which brings me to the part of the week that I concocted completely from scratch: the Tour of Washington, DC. The activity was organized like a huge scavenger hunt for the whole group: after an introductional lecture about the District, I split them into five teams (with US state names) and directed them to visit each of five “attractions”: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Newseum. Each of these attractions had a room of its own, with a projection of the silhouette of the building and at least three activities, plus a discussion question, posted on the walls. Examples of activities included: filling out the blanks in the lyrics of “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock, completing a George Washington wordsearch, finding world headlines on the Newseum website, and writing three questions to ask President Obama if you had the lucky chance of running into him at his favorite burger joint, Ray’s Hell Burger. Upon completing at least two activities per room (taking into account that some activities would require too high a language level for some students), everyone had to return to the auditorium to complete an entry in the DC Guest Book.

I still love the entire concept of this activity, and now that I’ve prepared all the materials, its replicability is extremely attractive. However, I also learned some really valuable lessons that will improve the Tour in the future. You can see those thoughts below (click “continue reading” at the end of the post). I also hope anyone who participated will send their reactions and feedback to me.

Marcelo about to hit a home run in our baseball game!

Before this post gets too long, I’ll mention one more wonderful aspect of the English Week programming: we were lucky to have a great diversity of guest professors. My students already know Cara but are always happy to see her again, and they also got the chance to meet Laraine (our English Language Fellow in Petrolina) and Rafaela (the wonderful English professor at the Instituto Federal). In addition, we coordinated the final English Festival to coincide with the visit of five English teachers from Texas A&M University, who had been traveling in Pernambuco giving workshops to English teachers in the public schools and universities. If anything, I know my students learned one new word in English Week: “howdy!”

We’re about to go on winter break here in Petrolina, and I’m heading to meet my parents in Rio, but UPE’s English Week was a wonderful way to finish the semester: having planned an entire week of activities for over 100 students, I have some real successes and lessons learned to file away for next semester’s adventures.

See my pictures from the week here!

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English Week at UPE!

I’m so excited to announce a special event next week at UPE Campus Petrolina: the first Encontro de Língua Inglesa, a week of lectures, workshops and activities coordinated by me, the other UPE English professors, and my favorite American nordestinas Cara and Laraine (our English Language Fellow). The event will include UPE, IF-Sertão, and FACAPE students, as well as ex-students and other interested parties in the area.

You can see the program on the blog for the UPE English course, upepetrolinacursoingles.wordpress.com.

To register, send an email with your name, school and class (or, in the case of an ex-student, place of work) to englishweekupe@gmail.com.

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Poor, Ugly, Uneducated?

Last month I took about a week to travel to Curitiba, in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, and then to Foz do Iguaçu, in the same state on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. Accompanied by three other lovely ladies from the Fulbright ETA program, I relished the chance to see a bit of southern Brazil and reflect on my time thus far in the Northeast.

(One of my travel companions, Christina, has a blog about her experiences in São José do Rio Preto. She posted a fantastic three-part summary of our trip: Londrina and Curitiba, Puerto Iguazú, and Foz do Iguaçu.)

It was a week full of new sights, laughter, more rain than I’ve seen in three months, and a new stamp in my passport (hello, Argentina!), but for now what I want to talk about is the very real divide that exists between the north and south in Brazil. I was surprised, even at times shocked, by the strength of the stereotypes that exist between the regions.

To give you a quick idea, here is one of the first interactions I had with Curitibano (person from Curitiba).

Me: “I’m living in Petrolina.”

Him: “Where?”

Me: “Pernambuco.”

Him: “Oh, I’m sorry.”

In the course of just two days in Curitiba, I heard a number of variations on the following topics: Petrolina is an ugly city; Northeasterners are ugly and lazy and illiterate; the Northeast is sucking up all the money that the southern states generate.

Shocked by these first interactions, Cynthia (the ETA in Curitiba) and I decided to bring up the topic with her students in a more structured setting. In her conversation class, we asked the students about regional stereotypes in Brazil. To my relief, their opinions were nuanced, sophisticated, and intelligent: they recognized the stereotypes, explored why they existed, and recognized that in spite of the stereotypes, they didn’t actually know very much about the Northeast.

Encouraged by the success of this conversation class in Curitiba, I returned to Petrolina wanting to ask my students some of the same questions. Using a presentation that Cynthia had made about US stereotypes, I talked briefly about the preconceptions that Americans have about each other—for example, fast-talking New Yorkers, pot-smoking Californians and the concept of the “flyover states” in the middle of the country. Then I turned the question around to the students: what about Brazilian regional stereotypes?

Our conversation followed a similar vein as the class in Curitiba. My students recognized stereotypes that they had about other states in Brazil: people from the South are unfriendly and rich (and white—the issue of race deserves a whole new blog post); people from Rio are beautiful and spend their time partying and on the beach. (And what about the North and Center-West? Talk about “flyover states.”) They admitted that these stereotypes are unfair and often inaccurate generalizations. Yet even though some of the stereotypes about the southern regions are negative, the fact remains that the Southern and Southeastern lifestyles tend to be more admired—as just one example of many, virtually all news anchors on TV are light-skinned and have Rio or São Paulo accents.

Perhaps most interestingly, my students are also very aware of the stereotypes that exist about them, “nordestinos,” and expressed a kind of quiet frustration that they could be so prejudged when the experience of life here is so positive compared to the devastating image that the stereotypes paint.

I think I will inevitably keep having—and should keep bringing up—these kinds of conversations. Brazil is a huge country, and naturally regional rivalries and preconceptions exist just as they do in the United States. Now that I have some direct experience with this regionalism, I see it more clearly in the country’s politics: for example, the recent debate over a bill that would relax standards of forest protection in the Amazon, which President Dilma recently partially vetoed (the New York Times has been giving this topic significant coverage: start here and here). It’s fascinating to learn these ground-level politics by living them—particularly in a region that bears some of the worst stereotypes in the country.

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Poets’ Corner at UPE

A few weeks ago, the wonderful UPE English professor Zaira Cavalcanti asked me to bring some short poems to her evening class on Reading and Composition. Inspired, I spent a few hours searching through some of my favorite poems, like “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams.

Students editing their poems in class.

I had a vague idea that I wanted this project to culminate in student-produced poetry, but at that point I had no conception of how brilliant the results would be. After reading and analyzing the poems I brought to class, I explained to the students a few different possible forms for their own poems: haiku, acrostic, found poem, etc. I told them that if they wanted to use their own form, they should feel free—having no major expectations for this option.

Alessandro posted the first poem on the poster I made for class.

The day that the students read their poems sticks out in my mind as one of the most inspiring I have yet experienced here. Looking back, I realize that I was silly to forget how powerful a tool poetry is for students who are learning to express themselves in a language. The malleability of a poem is such that students can lose their preoccupations about grammar and correct structure: the most important thing is simply to communicate a message in whatever way works. I was blown away by the depth and creativity of the poems that the students created; even those who struggle with English in other forms (like speaking) came to class with beautifully and creatively written pieces.

Below are two examples. I hope to use the 20 poems that the students created in a publication of English writing by students from the whole department, to be finished before the end of the year.

Continue reading

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Teaching Baseball to Brazilians

In the middle of April, I kicked off the weekly meeting of the American Club at UPE – Campus Petrolina. (Check out the calendar of future events here.) Our first meeting’s theme was one of the things I am most excited to teach here: baseball! I am a big baseball fan, and the start of the national leagues’ season in April seemed like an appropriate time to begin teaching the sport to my students.

It was just a start, but a great start—we have some important new vocabulary, a basic understanding of the rules (three strikes and you’re out; run around all the bases back to home plate and you get a point), and perhaps most crucially, we produced a lovely rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Below, I’ve posted my presentation, for curious readers but particularly for students to practice the vocabulary!

For future classes on baseball, I’m excited to get to teach baseball idioms (sneak preview: “When we meet for class again, I want to practice our song right off the bat! = “immediately”). I also want to talk about minorities in baseball and the story of Jackie Robinson, as well as get into some more controversial questions: what about women in baseball? Is baseball democratic? Teaching this stuff makes me so happy; it almost doesn’t count as work. (But as we said in a previous post, work and fun are often synonymous here.)

After I finished teaching yesterday, I ran into a few students who hadn’t been able to come to the class. They saw the baseball bat sticking out of my bag (yes, I brought one) and asked if they could play. Uh, of course! This part was totally unplanned: stumbling through an impromptu game of baseball in the courtyard at 9pm with a bunch of Brazilians. Three trees were our bases, and no one had gloves, but that’s the best thing about sports like this—for basic functionality, you need minimal equipment. Mostly the men played (and one woman, plus me), but other students gathered around to watch, and it reminded me how much physical games can bring people together. And even better, it was none other than America’s favorite pastime bringing us together. This is exactly why I am here. Since language and culture are so tied, even if I’m not great at teaching English grammatical structures, at least I can provide the cultural component—with barely any effort; simply my presence and a bat and ball.

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New Language Center at the Instituto Federal

Panel of speakers from left to right: Artidonio Araujo Filho, Leopoldina Veras, Sebastião Hildo Diniz, Cara Snyder, and Jeziel Junior da Cruz.

Thursday, March 29 was an exciting day at the IF Industrial campus in Petrolina: the official inauguration of a new Global Culture and Language Center (GCLC) dedicated to supporting English language learning for students at the IF. Students, professors and administrators packed the room to listen to impassioned speeches by the school’s General Director Sebastião Hildo Diniz, Industrial campus director Artidonio Araujo Filho, director of education Leopoldina Veras, international relations coordinator Jeziel Junior da Cruz, Professor of Information Technology and mastermind of the Global Language and Culture English Program Alexandre Correia, and English professor and “official inspirer” Cara Snyder.

Alexandre Correia spoke to a full classroom at the inauguration.

I wish I could convey through this post the energy present in the room while listening to that panel of speakers. It’s overwhelming the increase in initiative and energy that people here have to support English learning and the rising importance (stimulated in large part by Government efforts) they place on studying abroad. Cara has said that the comparison from last year to this one is striking—people seem to finally be waking up to the reality that globalization is unavoidable even in a region that was formerly thought to be insular and isolated, and they are correndo atrás—an often used Brazilian saying that means working hard to achieve something—to take part. For a deep-rooted cultural change to take place so palpitably in such a short time span (Cara has been here for a little over a year) shows another unique Brazilian strength: extreme flexibility in finding ways to get things done, aka the jeitinho brasileiro.

Me, getting excited about some of the new resource books for the GCLC!

As we have said in previous posts, English skills are for many students the singular obstacle to studying abroad, and the GCLC is a tangible step towards overcoming that obstacle.

Perhaps most importantly, the Center is a physical space at the school dedicated to English language learning. Having this space gives a sense of permanency and legitimacy to the school’s mission to teach its students English, and the Center will be a nexus for students eager to find a way to study abroad in English-speaking countries.

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English Language Programming at UPE – Campus Petrolina

For the last few weeks, I’ve started my work at UPE by assisting the English professors in their classrooms and getting to know the students here. Now I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be launching some regular events and workshops for students, to be scheduled outside of class time.

American Club will happen every Wednesday at 6:00 pm. This is a fun and informal way to practice English and learn about American culture, from baseball and chocolate chip cookies to slang and popular party games.

Conversation Sections will happen two or three times a month, at 6:00 pm on different days of the week (check the calendar every month). Classes will be limited to the first 20 students who arrive, and will focus on speaking skills for all levels.

The Writing Center will also be open two or three times a month at 6:00 pm (check the calendar). Students can bring their writing to be reviewed by me and their peers.

The Writing Center will also help to serve another purpose: to inspire students to create productions in English for a student literature review. The publication will include poetry, short stories, articles, comics, drawings, and any other related material produced in English or about English-language culture.

Unless otherwise noted, all events will happen in the UPE English classroom next to the Oficina Literária, facing the courtyard.

Check the calendar for specific dates! (Programming begins in April.)

Classes are primarily for English students at UPE, but if you are from another institution and are interested in these opportunities, please get in touch with me and we’ll figure out a solution!

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Friendship and Hospitality, Brazilian Style

I had spent barely a day in Petrolina before Cara knocked on my door bright and early to whisk me away on a weekend trip to Pilar, Bahia, where we’d been invited to stay for the weekend. Pilar is the hometown of Ana Paula, the viticulture professor at the Instituto Federal – Zona Rural. As I said, I had quite literally just arrived in Petrolina. I barely knew Cara, let alone Ana Paula, let alone her entire family. Yet, as I was learning very quickly in Brazil, these things mattered very little.

We arrived in Pilar, a heat-baked small town laid out grid-fashion in the Bahian Sertão, just in time for lunch. Ana Paula’s mother gave me a couple kisses and hugs and handed me a plate, barely acknowledging that I still fumbled with fluency in Portuguese greetings. Bahian cooking is a miracle in transforming bland base ingredients into delicious and sustaining meals—beans, rice, and manioc flour (farofa) mutate into feijoada and pirão and vatapa.

Our first meal in Pilar: bode (goat) and pirão.

Something in Pilar made that verbal expression of hospitality, “make yourself at home,” which Brazilians translate into fica a vontade (do as you please), a reality. After initial greetings, the formalities that often remain when visiting the home of a friend—especially an aquaintance—disappeared. Rather than a polite investigation of my career goals or current occupation, dinner conversation was a banter about this and that as if we were all old friends. Writing teachers often advise us to “show rather than tell,” and just the same way, in Pilar I felt that the family got to know me through experiencing my presence rather than asking me to explain it.

We spent Sunday enjoying a "churrasco" (barbecue) with the family.

That first night, Cara and Ana Paula—the two people who were my closest links to the family—went to bed early. Our friend Rafaela and I were still awake, and Ana Paula’s brother asked us if we’d like to go out on the main street with him and two of the younger kids in the family. The lovely evening we spent chatting together amongst the other Pilar inhabitants showed me something that has been proven again and again during my time here so far: in the Northeast of Brazil, hospitality comes first, and details come later.

These kinds of encounters happen relatively frequently, and I think the reason why it still catches me off guard is because I am accustomed to such unreserved hospitality being something generally reserved for friends. Here, the order is almost reversed: hospitality is what invites the possibility for friendship.

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