Tag Archives: travel

It’s not always your fault

Do you feel frustrated when you can’t understand a few lines in a really interesting movie you’re watching? Or when you miss some words of that cool song everyone’s been listening to lately? How about when you travel abroad and feel like you’re under water because everyone’s accent seems so different from what you expected? Let alone when you try to ask the guide something and he just looks at you like you’re from outer space! Ok. Count to ten, take a deep breath, let it out, and get ready to read something that will make you feel better:

it’s not always your fault.

Yes, my friend, it’s that simple. All those times you felt like the tiniest living being on the face of the Earth, you were just fretting over nothing. Because, the movie? Didn’t you realize that the characters were all speaking at the same time?  Maybe you weren’t even supposed to understand that line clearly. And the song? Do you know how many times the singer had to record that part so it came out correctly? It’s not easy to say that many words in such a short time. And the trip abroad? Are you sure all those people were locals? I’ll tell you, the hardest thing to find in New York is a New Yorker! You may think everybody was born in that area, but you might be talking to people from all over the world, with a wide variety of accents. And the tour guide? Do you have any idea how many questions these guys answer everyday? Maybe he was thinking about the pizza he was going to have with his girlfriend later on and didn’t even hear you, but was embarrassed to ask you to repeat.

Hey, I’m not letting you off the hook here! I’m not saying that you always speak perfect English, with a perfectly clear pronunciation and that you should always be able to understand what everyone’s saying. All I’m saying is: it’s not always your fault. You shouldn’t beat yourself up just because you didn’t get what someone said or someone didn’t get what you said. Just remember all the times this has happened when you were speaking your mother tongue.

How many times have you had to ask someone to repeat what they’ve just said – in Portuguese?! Until fairly recently I thought the lyrics to Rita Lee’s “Lança Perfume” went: Lança menina/ Lança todo esse perfume/De baratinha/ Não dá prá ficar imune. That song came out when I was 8 years old, how could I know what ‘desbaratina’ meant? What does it mean anyway? And don’t get me started on Legião Urbana…

And I always tell my students what happened to me when I was in England for the first time. I was staying at a youth hostel (good old times when I was a youth!) and I wanted to try the typical British breakfast. Call me crazy, but I was excited to eat that heavy food first thing in the morning. The problem was: there was a breakfast buffet, and I wasn’t quite sure what was typical and what wasn’t. We had to order the food from a lady who commanded the buffet, so I asked her in my most perfect International English: “please, I’ll have a typical English breakfast”! For the life of her the girl could not understand what I was saying! After repeating and rephrasing it a few times, I asked the guy beside me to just say the same thing. He did. And she got him perfectly. You know what she told me? “Sorry, love, I don’t speak your language!” (I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a native speaker of English herself, and wasn’t used to accents other than the ones she heard everyday).

So, my point is: if you’re having trouble understanding or being understood, keep trying until you succeed, but even if you don’t, don’t blame yourself. It’s not always your fault!

Please don’t take this as encouragement to stop studying…



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New rules for security checks in the US

As usual, if you want to go to the U.S., be prepared to have your life scrutinized…

Do you think it’s fair? Do you think a country has the right to consider everyone guilty until further proof? Do you think, given the number of terrorist attempts made against the United States, thet they are entitled to take any measures possible to protect their country and their people?

Check here an article in the New York Times about the new rules.

And here, read it on CNN.

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Learning English abroad

When students tell me, usually very excitedly, that they are going abroad on their vacation to study English, I have to admit that I usually rain on their parade. Most people think that studying abroad is essential in order to speak English well, and a great number of my students just can’t believe that the most I’ve spent abroad at one time was a month. But believe me, taking an English language course abroad may not be the best solution for you, and here’s why:

1) If you’re a beginner, you can learn here what they will teach you there. Beginner’s classes abroad will be practivally the same everywhere: lots of new vocabulary, some grammar rules and exercises, making a lot of mistakes and trying hard to understand the teacher and the listenings.  If besides all this you also have to struggle when you go home or when you go out to have some fun, it feels more like torture than learning!

2) 4 weeks are not enough. And most adults (at least most adults I know) can’t afford to stay much longer than that, either because of the cost or because they simply can’t stay away from work that long. And the international language schools know that, that’s whay they offer 4-week long courses. But the problem is that you will take some time to adapt to the new country, the local habits, the weather, the transportation system, the local accent, and you will only really start learning after this adaptation period is over. The lower your language level, the longer this period will be. So, you do the Math.

3) Brazilians are everywhere. And if you’re Brazilian, you know it: we stick together and we feel homesick, so it’s very easy to succumb to the temptation of speaking ‘just a little’ Portuguese… and when you realize it, you’re talking about soccer, the current soap opera, celeb gossip, and there goes your investment…

4) International language schools only have you for 1 month. So they don’t really care whether you learn or not. After 1 month, it’s up to your poor English teacher back home to try to pick up the pieces… You take a placement test the day you arrive at the international school and the next day you start your classes. If you complain that your class was too easy, they’ll move you up to a higher level. If you complain that your class was too difficult, guess what? Yes, they’ll move you down… So what’s the point? What’s the point of teaching the past participle (and using the grammar name!) to a student who can’t answer questions in the simple present? (Believe me, it has happened).

These are only some reasons why I think studying abroad is simply not worth it.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn when you travel abroad! Check out these pointers:

1)  Go somewhere you’ve always dreamt of going. Instead of looking for a place with a language school, go to that city you’d die to know (mine was NYC!) and enjoy your stay there! It’s a fact that you learn more and better when you’re having fun, so make the most of the experience and learning will happen as a consequence…

2) Mingle with the locals. Book a hotel away from the touristic center. That way you will have to take public transportation to see the sights and you will be exposed to tons of locals speaking naturally and fluently. What better model can you wish for? And after a few days, feel confident enough to start a conversation with someone, nothing complicated, just ask for directions comment on the weather. Before you know it, you’ll be talking to native speakers and learning – for free!

3) Take guided tours. They’re not overly expensive and they’re a great opportunity to learn English and to learn more about that place that you love so much.  Ask whether the guides are locals – they always have the best information about the city and they feel comfortable to speak without a script. And besides, they’re being paid, so they have to answer your questions and be friendly… Make the most of it!

4) Go to the supermarket. It’s one of the best ways to learn more about a country’s culture, trust me! That’s why you should try to stay at a hotel that offers a kitchenette, so you have to buy something for breakfast and some frozen food for dinner. That way you’ll have to read labels and choose groceries, and you’ll soon feel like a local yourself…

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Travelling Student Vol. I: TV is your friend

“I’m always away, I can never find time to study…” Being a pilot is not an excuse for not studying – if anything, as a pilot you have even more opportunity to study than an ‘earthling’.

Here’s a tip:

Most hotels have cable, so take advantage of it and tune into English-spoken shows that interest you.

If you like American sitcoms like Friends or Two and a Half Men try Warner Channel. There’s a new series on called ‘The Big Bang Theory’ that’s just hilarious. These are good to learn slang and idioms, that is, a more informal language.

If you’re into crime or action shows then AXN is your channel of choice. Series like ‘Criminal Minds’ and the classic ‘CSI’ (all versions) are great entertainment and bring good use of grammar and vocabulary that’s more neutral, perhaps more fitting to your work environment.

Finally, if you are just plain curious, enjoy the Discovery Channel family (Discovery Channel, Home and Health, Science, Turbo). These channels offer a wide variety of documentaries and reality shows which are very informative and have a quite neutral register – not too formal, not too informal – which is just a perfect model for the kind of language you want to use.

But remember: your priority when watching TV should be having fun, not learning English! So choose programs that are appealing to you and leave the rest to your brain: what is important to you will stick!


Aluno Viajante Vol. I: A TV é sua aliada

“Estou sempre fora, nunca tenho tempo para estudar…” Ser piloto não é desculpa para não estudar – na verdade, sendo piloto você tem mais oportunidades de estudar que um ‘terráqueo’.

Uma dica:

A maioria dos hotéis tem tv a cabo, então aproveite para assistir programas falados em inglês que o interessem.

Se você gosta de seriados americanos como Friends e Two and a Half Men, esperimente a Warner Channel. Tem uma série nova chamada ‘The Big Bang Theory’ que é hilária. Esses programas são bons para aprender gírias e expressões idiomáticas, ou seja, uma linguagem mais informal.

Se você prefere programas de crime ou ação, o seu canal é o AXN. Séries como ‘Criminal Minds’ e a clássica ‘CSI’ (todas as versões) são uma boa distração e trazem um bom uso da gramática e um vocabulário mais neutro, talvez mais adeaquado ao seu ambiente de trabalho.

Finalmente, se você é simplesmente curioso, divirta-se assistindo à família de canais Discovery Channel (Discovery Channel, Home and Health, Science, Turbo). Esses canais oferecem uma grande variedade de documentários e reality shows que são muito informativos e que têm um registro bem neutro – nem formal demais, nem informal demais – que é o modelo perfeito para o tipo de linguagem que você quer usar.

Mas lembre-se: sua prioridade ao assistir tv deve ser a diversão, e não o aprendizado de inglês! Então escolha os programas que realmente lhe atraem e deixe o resto com o seu cérebro: o que for importante para você, ele vai gravar!

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