Cultural Awareness in classroom management

A brief intro

Skip to The importance of cultural awareness in the classroom

My first experience ever in a language school was as a novice teacher. Actually, it was more as a Journalism student who needed a part-time job and happened to speak good English than as a teacher per se. This was over 20 years ago.

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I went through a knowledge test, interview and training without ever having attended an EFL/ESL class. I literally had no idea what a teacher was supposed to do in a language school. Sure I had had English in school as part of my Middle and High School programs, but the teachers barely spoke any English in class and my performance had always been subpar.

The tables turned when I was sent to a year-long exchange program in a town a couple of hundred kilometres off the outback in Australia. Survival mode plus the plasticity of the teenage brain – and, arguably, a knack for languages – ensured I became a competent user of English.

Sydney Opera House – photo by Simon Clayton on Pexels.com

Back home, with an abundance of time in my hands, I decided to give teaching English a go as a means of occupying my time and starting a tiny savings. And this was my very first experience in a language school.

I must have done relatively well as I got the job. Perhaps it was an innate ability. Perhaps I was just good at reading people. Or perhaps nobody knew much about what a teacher should know and do.

Between then and now there is a world of difference. I gave up on Journalism and embraced education, worked at a number of different schools, went from teaching to coordinating to developing textbooks and back to teaching, learnt from my peers, from mentors and from courses. I took an IELTS and a CPE and a CELTA – which, by the way, was a life changing experience.

There you have it: 13 years of experience in a monolingual, culturally homogeneous environment. And then I moved to Canada, one of the most multicultural countries in the world.

Not only did I move to a culturally diverse country, I found a job in the most diverse school in its most diverse city, Toronto. And it was then when I understood the importance of CULTURAL AWARENESS in classroom management.

The importance of cultural awareness in classroom management

Skip to What is classroom management?

At a first glance, it is easy to find that a lot has been written with focus on the role of the North-American and British culture in learning English. It is almost as if there was a target culture as well as a target language.

While it is undoubtedly important to understand that a language is part of a culture and that it affects and is affected by it, it is also important to acknowledge the fact that English is widely spoken around the world by people whose first language is not English.

Again, cultural awareness may not be a novel idea to those who teach abroad – in non-English-speaking countries – as they need to take the local culture into consideration. However, in most cases, it is still a monolingual, culturally homogeneous classroom, even though the teacher may belong to a different cultural background altogether.

When you take a language classroom in a country such as Canada into consideration, where immigration is championed by the government and largely embraced by society, the situation is a completely different one. Oftentimes the ESL classroom consists of students from several different countries and a teacher who may or may not have a different background themselves.

With one of my groups celebrating a graduation – Toronto, Canada

According to the definition found in the Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Advanced English, cultural awareness is “Someone’s (…) understanding of the differences between themselves and people from other countries or other backgrounds, especially differences in attitudes and values.”

While teachers may be – or should be – prepared to deal with cultural diversity, students usually are not. And a successful class depends on expertly managing cultural micro-clashes so that a broader understanding and comradery – rather than disagreement – is achieved.

Therefore, cultural differences must be taken into consideration every step of the way: from needs’ analysis to lesson planning to classroom management to building rapport.

“Cross-cultural misunderstandings result when speakers assume that members of another culture share the same frames of reference and norms of social and communicative interaction. To be effective cross-cultural communicators, speakers must be aware of the relationship between culture and language.” Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom Andrea DeCapua and Ann C. Wintergerst – University of Michigan Press 2019

What is classroom management?

Skip to Lessons learnt

“Classroom management can be explained as the actions and directions that teachers use to create a successful learning environment; indeed, having a positive impact on students achieving given learning requirements and goals (Soheili, Alizadeh, Murphy, Bajestani, Ferguson and Dreikurs).”

Scrivener, in his book Learning Teaching, says, “The skills of creating and managing a successful class may be the key to the whole success of a course”. (p79)

Classroom management encompasses everything from seating arrangement to stages of a lesson to types of correction and feedback. Every choice you make in the classroom is part of your management.

Lessons learnt

On my personal and professional journey as a newcomer, ESL teacher and, later on, Director of Studies (DOS), I quickly learnt that I had a lot of work to do on myself and on the way I managed my classes, my students and my teams.

Student graduates and shows her certificates

Lesson 1 – The sounds of (the many) English(es)

Generally, Canadians are quite polite, open to conversation and patient, which definitely make things a lot easier for a newcomer or international student. In the larger cities, dwellers are used to a variety of accents and make an effort to understand and be understood.

I, as a newcomer, however, was not as prepared to hear so many different “Englishes” both in the city and in the classroom itself. More than once I caught myself nodding along to sentences I couldn’t make out simply because I was too embarrassed to ask my interlocutor to repeat it a third or fourth time.

Now, if I, an experienced competent speaker, had a hard time at first, what about the students? As teachers, it is our role to help students understand one another and communicate competently.

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With that in mind, when planning pair and group work, for example, it is important to make sure students of different backgrounds have the opportunity to interact and learn from their differences and similarities.

Speakers of certain languages may exchange P for B, for instance, while others switch F for P or even R for L. The book Learner English, by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith, CUP, is a good step towards helping teachers to anticipate the characteristic difficulties speakers of other languages might face while learning English.

Lesson 2 – personal space

Certain cultures favour closer contact, including hugging and touching. Others don’t. In some cultures it is common for women to lock arms and keep in close proximity while in others, this behaviour will be seen among men instead. Whether to greet others with a kiss, a hug, a handshake or a nod also depends on factors such as culture, age and gender.

In order to avoid creating uncomfortable situations, it is important that the teacher know where to draw the line. It may be wise to ask students if it is OK for them to shake hands or high five their classmates before starting an activity that might involve any sort of physical contact.

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Body language and gestures might also cause awkwardness and misunderstandings as, much like words themselves, they are decoded based on cultural cues. The universal OK sign is offensive to Brazilians while ‘thumbs up’ is insulting to Middle Easterns.

Since talking with my hands seems to be stronger than me, I made it a habit to always check with students that none of my gestures was offensive. For me, personally, there is no way of knowing every aspect of every culture that there is in the world, that’s why establishing good communication channels with the students is always vital.

Lesson 3 – peacekeeping

Opinions, beliefs and social behaviour are largely influenced by one’s cultural background, therefore, disagreements are bound to happen in any classroom, let alone a multicultural one.

What is clearly chauvinism in the views of one culture, is the norm in another’s. What men and women can and cannot do vary greatly from one country to another and this can lead to heated disagreements in class – I know it did in mine. As a teacher, how do you ensure conflict resolution? Or even, how do you prevent conflict from arising?

There are other instances as well: students mocking others for chewing with their mouths open, students asking others about their marital status, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. Curiosity regarding what is different from ourselves is inherent to human nature and questions will pop up; it’s up to the teacher to mediate communication and handle conflict in class.

Lesson 4 – cheating and plagiarism

Who knew plagiarism was not a universally accepted concept? As Director of Studies I had to support teachers in explaining what plagiarism is and its consequences to students. It wasn’t rare for students to claim not to understand why copying another person’s work without citing them was not fair game in academic writing.

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Most issues can and should be prevented rather than remedied and plagiarism is no different. What has always worked best is to set the rules of the game at the beginning. Oh, and there is a huge difference between mentioning and explaining something.

In many teens classes, teachers and students come up with classroom rules. It turns out every class can benefit from having clear rules laid out at the very beginning of the term, EAP inclusive.

“Lesson Next”

There will always be another lesson to learn.

We’ll continue to discuss cultural awareness in classroom management in the weeks to come. Meanwhile we would really like to encourage you to share with us your experience with culturally homogeneous or diverse groups and how you get around to managing it all.

Improve your listening – for real

If you find listening one of the hardest skills, know that you are not alone. The quest to improve listening is almost as intense as the one for the Holy Grail.

Here is the situation:

You know the words. You know how to pronounce them. Yet, whenever watching TV, listening to music or talking to someone it seems like they are speaking a completely different, incomprehensible language.

Have you ever thought about why that is? If you have, you might have come across the following:

  1. People speak fast
  2. People don’t finish words
  3. People don’t say all the words
  4. People have accents

While some of those statements might seem true, there is one underlying factor that impacts how well we are able to understand other people speaking: connected speech.

What is connected speech?

It is the way sounds interfere in the pronunciation of one another as we speak naturally. Or, to be precise, it is the “ flow of sounds which are modified by a system of simplifications through which phonemes are connected, grouped and modified.” (Underhill, A. p.58)

But what does it mean to us? For starters, it means that pretty much every word – the way we pronounce it – may be modified by neighbouring sounds. Words, in discourse, don’t exist in isolation. Understanding this is the first step to improving listening comprehension – and communication as a whole.

In a nutshell, here is how it works

Each word has its own pronunciation, that is, the pronunciation that we can find in the dictionary. So this is /ðɪs/, Saturday is /ˈsatədeɪ/ and night is /nʌɪt/. But when we put all these words together in a sentence, ‘This Saturday night’, this is what happens: /ðɪ satədeɪ nʌɪt/. In essence, instead of saying two ‘s’ we’ll pretty much just say one ‘s’.

Let’s take a look at these words: I /ʌɪ/, will /wɪl/, see /si:/, you /ju:/, next /nekst/, Tuesday /ˈtjuːzdeɪ/, at /at/ and two /tu:/. When we put them in a sentence, look what happens:

‘I will see you next Tuesday at two’ becomes /ʌɪl sɪ jʊ nɛks ˈtjuːzdeɪ j ət tuː/.

And this doesn’t happen just in English. If you examine your own mother tongue closely, you will notice that sounds often change or disappear when you speak naturally. Being aware that this happens will help you reach new grounds in terms of listening and speaking.

Now it’s your turn

Say each of the words below slowly:

How

are

you

Now say them all together: ‘How are you?’ /ˌhaʊ ə ju/?

Say each of the words below slowly:

Sue

Always

Wants

To

eat

Now say them all together: ‘Sue always wants to eat’ /Suː wɔːlweɪz wɒnts tʊ wiːt/.

Three great ways to practice listening

 now that you are aware of connected speech

  1. Movies and series

Nowadays, most streaming services offer a range of options so that we watch our favourite movies and series as we wish. Opt for original English audio and English subtitles. Sometimes these will be available as CC (closed caption).

You will benefit from this practice because, first, it will help you connect the pronunciation to the spelling of a great number of words. Second, you will be able to make out the individual words in the dialogues. Third, you will become each day more and more aware of how sounds change in a sentence. Finally, it may also help you become acquainted with the many varieties of English.

  1. Audio books

There was a time you would have to go to a bookshop and look for the English section and then scavenge for audio books: the physical book + a CD with the audio version. Now there are several platforms that offer soft copies of both books and audio books. 

You could try and listen to the book as you read it. Again, the goal is to match pronunciation to spelling, make out individual words and increase awareness of connected speech and how it affects discourse.

  1. Music

Last but not least, a great way to improve listening – among other skills – is through music. The internet, always the internet, is an open door to a countless number of songs for all tastes.

I tend to remember songs very vividly and it has helped me to work through grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation questions.

Naturally, it is important to bear in mind that artists will lend the words their own style, personal impressions, interpretation and emotions. Sometimes grammar won’t be 100% by the book and the same may happen to the pronunciation of some words.

A good ‘sing-along’ is, nevertheless, a great fun way to get those Rs and Ls rolling.

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Reference:

Underhil, Adrian. Sound Foundations – Learning and Teaching Pronunciation. MacMillan Education, 2005.

Read faster and score higher

or how to improve your reading

How do you read? Do you read word by word or do you skim through? Do you skip pages or even chapters only to go back to them later? Do you read the ending before the end? Do you write things down on your books? Do you turn down the corners of a page to bookmark it?

When you are reading for fun, it doesn’t really matter what you do or how you do it. You have all the time in the world – potentially. But when you take an exam, what and how you read will impact your score.

Here are FIVE tips to help you gain time and increase your reading score on IELTS, CELPIP or Cambridge.

  1. Find purpose

Remember, we always read for a purpose. When talking about tests, we read to find the answers. So start by reading the questions before you dive into the text itself. You will, then, know what you are looking for.

In order to improve your chances of success, underline, circle, write down keywords and brainstorm a couple of synonyms or phrases that might have the same meaning. This is because you are also being tested on your vocabulary range.

  1. Scan and skim

Now that you know what you are looking for, scan the text in search of those keywords from the questions. Once you find the word, read the surrounding phrases to understand the context and answer the question.

If you decide to read the whole text, prefer to skim through it rather than read it in detail. The only parts you really need to focus on are the ones that contain keywords.

  1. Manage vocabulary

Chances are you will come across unknown words or expressions in the text and it is perfectly fine. How you handle unknown vocabulary, however, will determine how successful you will be.

Look at the bigger picture and try to infer meaning through context. What is the general idea of the passage? Can you replace the word you don’t know with other possible words that you do know? Keep in mind that there will be more words that you do know than that you don’t. Rely on that.

  1. The order of questions

The questions are usually in the same order as the answers appear in the text. This means, the first answer will come before the second and the third and so forth.

With that in mind, start scanning the text from the beginning and read on looking for the keywords of the first question. If the first clue you find relates to any other question that comes after, it means that you have missed something.

After you answer the corresponding question, go back to the beginning and try to find the first clue but try not to dwell on it for too long. Remember, the clock is ticking.

  1. Time management

Being able to complete the tasks within the timeframe is part of the test. You should allocate a portion of the allotted time to each section of your test. If you have 60 minutes to read three passages, allow yourself to spend up to 20 minutes on each.

Try not to get stuck. Some texts might be harder than others, some tasks might be more complex than others. If you are taking a paper-based test, like IELTS or Cambridge, you can go back and forth. Take advantage of it and tackle the easier sections first.


These five tips can be applied to pretty much any reading test out there. Stay tuned for test-specific strategy tips for IELTS, CELPIP and Cambridge.

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Read this article in Portuguese.

Tips to ace the CPE

If you are preparing for a proficiency test, you might have encountered a number of gap-fill exercises along the way. Here you’ll see how to tackle the Cambridge English Reading and Use of English task.


Reading

For questions 1-6, read the text below and decide which answer (A, B, C or D) best fits each gap.

Vancouver

In the last ten years or so, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world have 1 ______ up residence in Vancouver, in western Canada. To relax in the evening, residents 2 ______ down the city streets and, if you join them, you are likely to overhear a different language at almost every other step. People come to Vancouver for its mild climate, its wonderful setting between the ocean and the mountains, its clean and safe environment and its educational and job opportunities. And 3 ______ some may grumble about the speed at which new buildings have 4 ______, there’s no doubt that the new arrivals and 5 _____ tourism industry have helped fuel an urban renaissance. Locals once referred to Vancouver as ‘Terminal City’ because of the city’s role as a terminus or gateway to all other places. Though the name has fallen slightly out of 6 _____, Vancouver is more a gateway than ever.

(Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English 1, 2002)


How to tackle this exercise

Gap-fill exercises, in general, rely not only on the information before and after the gap (coherence), but also on how the words connect grammatically (cohesion).

Let’s identify the ‘clues’ in the text:

For # 1, the clues are: the particle ‘up’, which indicates it’s a phrasal verb, and the word ‘residence’, which suggests the idea of ‘living, inhabiting’.

The same rationale works for the other gaps. Looking at #2, we know it might be a phrasal verb as well, as indicated by the particle ‘down’. The idea is something that residents do in the streets, perhaps ‘walking’, as the phrase ‘every other step’ indicates. Therefore, the phrasal verb we are looking for is likely a synonym of ‘walk’.

Finding the right answers

After having identified the ‘clues’ in the text, the next step is to identify the wrong or impossible answers. This might happen in two ways: first, cross out obviously wrong answers based on meaning or form. Second, cross out answers that are exactly the same. Remember, there is ONLY ONE correct option, thus, if two answers seem equally good, both are equally wrong.

Let’s check our alternatives:

Looking back at #1, we know the idea is connected to ‘inhabiting’. Let’s check out our options:

A ‘take up’ = occupy time, space, attention → occupy space ≈ inhabit

B ‘put up’ = stay temporarily in accommodation other than home ≠ inhabit

C ‘make up’ = invent, create, prepare → no connection with ‘inhabiting’

D ‘ build up’ = make or become stronger, establish or develop → could be connected to housing but not necessarily to ‘inhabiting’

Based on  this analysis, the correct answer is A.

Now, as we analyse #2, we should keep in mind the idea of ‘walking in the city to relax’:

A ‘prowl down’ = ‘prowl’ means to move in search of prey (animal being hunted) → surely not what residents of Vancouver do to relax in the city

B ‘stumble down’ = ‘Stumble’ means to trip, almost fall. Again, it is not something most people would do to relax in the city

C ‘trudge down’ = ‘trudge’ means to walk slowly and with heavy steps, almost like it is hard or a burden. Therefore, it is not a relaxing activity

D ‘stroll down’ = by elimination, this is likely the correct answer, but let’s take a closer look anyway. ‘Stroll down’ means to walk in a leisurely way. If ‘leisure’ means to use free time with enjoyment, it seems like the perfect match to ‘walking in the city to relax’

Based on this analysis, the correct answer is D.

Now it is your turn

Click on the button below, ‘Vancouver’, to access the complete exercise and the answer key.

Let us know in the comments how you like this approach and if it works out for you.

Stay tuned for more test prep tips: Cambridge English Qualifications, IELTS and CELPIP.

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How to really learn English

Over the years, I have noticed that, in spite of how badly everyone seems to want to speak English (or any other language, for that matter), very few people are actually willing to put in the work. That’s why there are so many schools, courses, and approaches selling a ‘magical solution’ to language learning.

Please don’t get me wrong, I do believe it is possible to learn a language relatively fast; I spent the first years of my professional life working for a chain that sold English in 18 months. I’ve also worked for other schools that expected students to invest 4 to 5 years of their lives in learning English.

What really determines how successful someone will be in their language learning journey is their attitude towards learning.

I, myself, have never been to a language school – as a student. I pretty much taught myself English but not because I was this curious genius; I simply needed to survive in a foreign country in the pre-internet era. So I guess what I am saying is that, although there is no magical formula to learning English, there are many ways to learn.

I have encountered successful learners in the 18-month course, in the 4-to-5-year course, and who taught themselves how to speak English. I have also seen people struggle in all three categories.

What really determines how successful someone will be in their language learning journey is their attitude towards learning.

It may sound a bit corny but, as the saying goes, “where there is a will, there is a way”. Naturally, there is more to it than just willpower. Some call it ‘growth mindset’, others call it ‘agency’. All it means is that, in order to learn, one must make the decision to do so, put in the work AND be open to a whole new set of beliefs about what it is to learn something.

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Over a decade ago, when The Secret was ubiquitous and there was no hiding from it, I came across this tale about this chief who kept staring into the ocean day in and day out. Although he couldn’t see anything in the water, he spotted a change in the wave pattern: it was caused by the caravels approaching the pre-European American continent. The bottom line is that it is hard to see what you don’t know that exists.

Based on this same principle, one can only begin to learn something once they become aware of its existence. Students will only be able to spot the different uses of specific words or grammar points if they are aware that they exist. Have you ever thought about how many words just fly off the radar daily simply because we don’t know they are there?

I, myself, have experienced this ‘phenomenon’ many times in my life – both in my first and second languages. I always recall this one time a dear friend of mine – who is a fluent English speaker – in a conversation at work, noticed, for the first time, the expression ‘run errands’. Even though it is a common expression, they had never really been aware of it. So I clarified its meaning, told them it is used quite frequently in English, and asked them to try and notice it being used within the following week. When we talked about it again, my friend told me how surprised they were to notice how many times they had seen it since they had been made aware of it.

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The same goes for anything in life, really. Have you ever noticed that every now and then it seems as though there is an abundance of information about one certain thing that you had never noticed before? For example, you decide to travel to Canada and do some research and find out that the capital of the country is Ottawa. Soon after, you begin to hear about it quite frequently: it’s in the news, you have a friend whose friend’s daughter lives there, a new movie is set there, your favourite actor was born there, and so on.

The skeptic in you might be thinking it is Siri listening in. Well, nowadays it might be the case, too, but it goes beyond that. I propose a little experiment: try and notice how many times this week you will encounter the expression ‘run errands’, or how many times you will come across some piece of information involving Ottawa.

In language learning, it is not enough to start a course, or to commit to reading a number of pages, or doing homework, or watching movies. None of it will be of any use unless you start purposefully noticing the language – and how it is used – around you. If you are learning Past Perfect, for example, make a point of underlining it whenever you see it written, make a point of actively listening for it while watching a movie or the news.

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This is how I learnt English, this is how I learnt Spanish and this is how I pick up some of my very scarce Polish vocabulary. Well, this and the fact that I am a perfectionist, but this is another story.

It is a well-documented fact that each and every one of us learns in different ways. However it is that you do your best learning, one thing remains the same: you must deliberately notice the language used around you.

If you need help in your journey, email me. I will happily share some practical ways to make language awareness an everyday thing.

Skills you will need in the post-pandemic world

So you have been stuck at home for the past couple of weeks – or months – and everyone seems to be either thriving or struggling. There have been countless Instagram lives on how to stretch, cook, homeschool, meditate, change careers, make millions, gain lean muscle, write the next great Canadian novel and whatnot.

You think to yourself, ‘I guess I must have fallen off the wagon at some point’ and feel you must really be doing something wrong. On the other hand, you feel kind of guilty for actually showering everyday – perhaps you are not struggling?

And caught in between the two sides of this same coin lies the realization that the world has changed and you might need to change too.

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Interpersonal relations seem to soar in spite of the fact that life is happening much more indoors than outdoors. It is as if we had realized that we don’t have to share a physical space to be together, to work together, to grow together.

Nobody knows how long we’ll have to avoid physical proximity to others or when our borders will reopen. And when they do, well, what will it all mean? Specialists indicate the future of work and learning will rely on a stronger virtual connection. Remote is the new black – I mean, the buzzword of the moment.

In this climate, it has become evident that certain skills will be the rock upon which we build our new normal. Digital literacy is now a bare minimum; the ability to connect, troubleshoot, create and navigate the digital world is what is keeping many of us with our heads above water.

In a (digital) world without borders, English is the language that brings us all together. It enables cross-country collaboration, the sharing of unfiltered information, a first-hand view of the world’s issues. 

Perhaps because we now clearly stand on the edge of change, we find ourselves pressured to thrive: improve ourselves, learn something new, get in shape, become better people. And the alternative seems to be letting it all go and giving in to absolute procrastination and denial.

Well, I am sure many of us drift between these extremes quite regularly: between the urge to learn something new and the need to shut down. There is no right or wrong, there is no recipe.

And to the question of whether now is the time to invest in learning anything, well, only you have the answer. When the time is right for you, consider this new reality, consider all the changes that the pandemic has brought about and then make your move.

Just keep in mind that tomorrow will be another day.

Things no one teaches you in school

At some point in your learning journey, there will be a moment where you will believe you have reached a good level of English; a moment you will feel you are ready to face whatever comes your way. Kudos for reaching that point. However, this is not the end of your journey.

A new journey awaits and it goes beyond textbooks; it’s real life.

Textbook English versus real-life English

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  1. Grammar does not equal communication

Having perfect grammar doesn’t guarantee you will be understood. Yes, it is important to properly use grammar, but grammar alone can’t ensure communication: there is pronunciation and vocabulary to factor in.

Besides, native speakers don’t necessarily know the grammar themselves and may make mistakes, too. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a grammar expert in your native language to be fluent, so why would English speakers have to?

  1. Vocabulary is deceiving

Regional differences in vocabulary usage mean people from different places use words differently. The most popular example of such is the comparison between British and American English.

Everyone knows that the Brits take the lift while Americans take the elevator. A lorry (UK) is a truck (USA) and underground (UK) is subway (USA). But it goes far beyond that. In Canada, people drink double-doubles (coffee with two creams and two sugars), in Australia, people get Maccas (McDonalds) and in the UK, people love salt and vinegar flavoured crisps (chips).

  1. Pronunciation and accent may vary

English speakers have different accents. New Zealanders don’t sound like Australians, who speak differently from South Africans, who pronounce words differently from the Brits, who don’t sound like the Irish, who have a different accent from Canadians, who, believe it or not, don’t speak like Americans.

Beside the accent, there are words that are pronounced differently depending on the country. Americans say missile /ˈmɪsəl/ and fragile /ˈfræʤəl/ while the British say /ˈmɪsaɪl/ and /ˈfræʤaɪl/. And the differences don’t end there:

WordUSUK
innovative/ˈɪnəˌveɪtɪv//ˈɪnəvətɪv/
schedule/ˈskɛʤʊl//ˈʃɛdjuːl/
privacy/ˈpraɪvəsi//ˈprɪvəsi/
vitamin/ˈvaɪtəmən//ˈvɪtəmɪn/
tomato/təˈmeɪˌtoʊ//təˈmɑːtəʊ/ 
International Phonetic Alphabet symbols

And we could go on and on and on… but I guess you get my drift, eh?

How to land on your feet

Now you might be wondering what you can do to improve your chances to communicate well and effectively. A good way to start is to take your English out of the textbook: watch movies and series in English. Listen to music in English. Read – and this is crucial – books, magazines, blogs in English.

Notice that it is not enough, however, to simply do those things. You must be an active reader, and you must listen and watch with purpose. Take notes of words you don’t know or that are used in different ways. Check the pronunciation of words you had a hard time to understand or that you were sure should be said in another way.

If you need help in this process, drop me a line. I will be more than happy to share with you what I did when I was learning English and what I still do these days that works for me.

Five tips to prepare for an exam in times of pandemic

Imagine having to prepare for an exam during a pandemic. This is exactly what several international students and immigration applicants are going through at the moment.

Covid-19 has changed the shape and form of our world and how we carry on with our lives, our tasks, our plans and dreams. Many workers have had to work from home and schools quickly transferred their curriculum to online delivery.

For my students, the way we work together has not really changed. At least this part of their routine remains unchanged. But, for most, it is a completely new way to study. Here are five tips to help you get yourself organized and make the most out of this difficult situation:

One: find yourself a quiet space

A corner of the dining table, the centre table in the living room, lying in bed, on the couch with legs criss-crossed, whichever way you prefer. Remember, you do you. However, it is important that this place be quiet enough to allow you to focus on reading, writing, doing grammar exercises, listening to audios and so on.

Two: set a time to study

Just because you are at home all day, it doesn’t mean you have all day at your disposal. To fend off procrastination, create some sort of routine and try to stick to it.

Depending on what your goals and timeline are, you may need to put in more hours or to study more times a week.

Three: map out your process

Easier said than done, I know. When you have the guidance of an instructor, they will (hopefully) do that for you. But if you decided to venture on your own, well, you are on your own.

Establish what you will be studying each day and why. The official websites for the exams are usually pretty good at offering some tips on how to prepare for the test.

Four: map out your progress

This part might be trickier. Marking reading and listening is as simple as counting up to 10 as these are multiple choice – or gap-fill – tests. It is, undoubtedly, harder to measure one’s own achievement in writing and speaking.

If you do not have a teacher to help you out in this part of the process, the next best thing is to try and compare your production to the sample answers made available by the testing institutions.

Five: don’t limit yourself

It is true that you are preparing for a specific test which is comprised of specific skills, but that’s not all. It is important to keep your learning process varied and interesting.

Reading books in English is a great way to improve reading speed, comprehension and inference. Listening to songs in English and singing along is an effective way to beef up listening comprehension, pronunciation and vocabulary.

Movies and series are an excellent option to practice both reading and listening as well as providing you with invaluable non-verbal cues.

Here are a few websites to help you get yourself organized and on track:

What about you? How have you been managing your time? Share with us your systems to keep studying in such unprecedented times.

Visit Berlin from the comfort of your couch

In times of social distancing, travelling may have been put in the back burner. However, you can still virtually visit all the iconic places in Berlin.

In the quiz below you will not only be able to find out more about the websites and apps that take you for a virtual stroll around the German capital, but also test your vocabulary knowledge.

You can find out more about virtual visits to Berlin on youvisit.com and by downloading the app About Berlin.

To read this article in its entirety follow this link to Forbes.com.

How much English you need to live in Canada

Canada is one of the best countries in the world to live. Canadian immigration is incentivized by the government and receives support from great part of the population.

Not surprisingly, many have the dream of living in Canada in either a temporary or permanent arrangement. So how much English do you need to know to be able to live in Canada?

Depending on what your goals are, you might need a higher level of English.

Learn English

If your goal is to brush up on your knowledge of English and have an international experience, you don’t necessarily need to speak any English prior to your trip. There are courses for beginners to advanced students available in the various language schools in the country.

Based on my experience as director of studies of the largest school in Toronto, students who can already communicate – that is, make simple sentences, ask for directions, express some feelings – have easier adaptation than those who cannot.

It’s already not easy being in a different country, with a different culture, far from family and friends. If we factor in not being able to communicate, things might become a bit harder.

Post-secondary education

There are a few options for those who want to attend college or university in Canada.

A very popular way to enter colleges and universities in Canada is through a pathway program. Candidates may choose to attend English for Academic Purpose (EAP) classes in a language school or even at universities or colleges. At the end of the program, students should be apt to enter the school and program of their choosing. This process may take as little as 2 months and as long as 6 to 8 months; it all depends on prior language knowledge and development.

Another well-known entry to post-secondary education is through standardized proficiency exams. A student may write the test in their home country or in Canada. Common choices of tests are the IELTS Academic, the TOEFL, and the PTE Academic. Some schools also accept C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency certificates from Cambridge.

Immigrate

In order to become permanent residents, PR, applicants must write one of the two tests: CELPIP General or IELTS General Training.

CELPIP is a computer-based Canadian test. It is cheaper – but not by much – than the IELTS and results tend to come out faster. IELTS General Training – and it is important to note that it is NOT the same as the Academic version, which is not accepted for immigration – is paper or computer-based and includes a face-to-face speaking interview.

Those hoping to attend higher education or become permanent residents of Canada should achieve a minimum level of proficiency to be accepted. Generally speaking, it is around 7/9 for IELTS and 9/12 for CELPIP.


If you are not sure of what the best option for you is, or where your knowledge is at, drop us a line. We can help you figure all of that out at no cost.

And if you are looking for advice on study visas or the immigration process, contact Dreamies. After all, it all starts with a dream.