quarta-feira, 13 de maio de 2009

Interview - Graeme Hodgson - British Council Director

Would you like to know more about the British Council in Brazil? Would you like to know how to work abroad as an English teacher?
Would you like to know more about online tools to improve your teaching?
Then check this interview with Graeme Hodgson, English Language Director - British Council Brazil.

Tell us a bit about yourself:
Graeme - Well, I was born in England and raised in the picturesque county of Cornwall. After spending a gap year in Northeast Brazil, between school and university, I studied English & Psychology at Lancaster and also spent a year at the University of California in the USA as part of an academic exchange programme. I first started teaching English when I was 17 and loved it from the first day! Many of my colleagues dreaded classes of adolescents but I had lots of fun with them and also enjoyed working with adults of all levels, especially beginners! After university I worked for a couple of years in an unrelated area, gaining essential business management experience in a multinational corporation, but even then I maintained a few private classes of English with Brazilians living in the UK.

How did you end up working here in Brazil? How long have you been here and what exactly do you do?
Graeme - When I was just 23 years old I decided to move back to Brazil, largely because of my Brazilian wife, but also because I missed the Brazilian people and the exciting ‘metamorphosis’ of Brazil, which develops and changes at a pace few European countries can even imagine! Since 1995, I ran my own language school in Fortaleza, consulted for international publishers such as Oxford University Press and Richmond Publishing, as well as administering a Translation and Interpreting Agency (my Master’s degree was in Applied Linguistics: ELT/Translation). In 2007, I accepted an invitation from the British Council to move from the Northeast to an equally sunny Brasília, where our head office is located. My job title says English Language Director, but I am involved in several exciting and innovative projects ranging from online English Teacher Development to granting scholarships for Brazilians to study in the UK, from Equal Opportunities and Diversity to Intercultural Awareness and Global Citizenship. No day is like any other and I welcome the challenge of finding the best partners to help us deliver all kinds of opportunities for Brazilians of all ages.

Tell us about British Council in Brazil:
Graeme - The British Council was established in 1934, so we’ve been around for 75 years and in Brazil for over 60 years! We have offices in Brasilia, Rio, São Paulo and Recife, but our projects often involve partners in all corners of Brazil and in other countries from Latin America and elsewhere. We work in the fields of Education, the Arts, Science, Climate Change, Human Rights and others, but I am responsible for our work in English Language, especially professional development of teachers in both the public and private sectors. Our ELT Online Community is a great place to keep informed about forthcoming events all over Brazil, professional development opportunities, scholarships, competitions, downloadable resources for the classroom and many other great tools. There are over 1400 teachers registered on our online discussion forum and they share ideas and doubts with each other on a daily basis. The community also hosts a free 100h self-study English course for public sector teachers, English Teachers’ Portfolio.

How do you see ELT in Brazil?
Graeme - That’s a very broad and difficult question! There are so many types of ELT… public and private schools, young learners, professionals, instrumental English, even special classes for Senior Citizens! But I see the market as very professional and highly developed in Brazil. Some analysts suggest that as the quality of English language education in regular schools is not considered to be high (largely due to the small number of hours that they are able to dedicate to English within a packed curriculum) there is a greater demand for private, supplementary courses, which really enable learners to speak with some degree of fluency.
However, this scenario is slowly changing as more and more regular schools (and some public-funded institutions) are offering high-quality language education and in the private sector it is possible to come across less-than-ideal teaching methodologies which promise the world… and deliver considerably less! I worked in publishing for several years and I must say that the quality of textbooks and other complementary teaching materials, such as CDs, DVDs, websites etc has improved enormously compared to even just 10 or 15 years ago. Most publishers now provide excellent support services for teachers who adopt their material, ranging from pedagogical workshops to personalised support with specific issues in the classroom.
Here at the British Council, we are investing heavily in online forms of delivering professional development, including a MOODLE-based course for teachers called e-English for Teachers. This is aimed at public sector teachers and involves partnerships with local education authorities. One thing is certain… in the coming years, with Brazil emerging as an increasingly important world player, everyone who wants to ‘join the global conversation’ will need to speak, read and write in English… I’m sure Brazilians will do what it takes to be competitive and learn not only English but also computer skills and other foreign languages such as Spanish and Mandarin!

In your opinion, what should language teachers focus more: improving their language skills, their knowledge about methodology or their rapport with students?
Graeme - The easy answer is to say teachers should focus on all three at once… but I realise that’s not always possible, so I would say that an individual teacher should always look at his or her teaching context and decide which skills and abilities need to be developed. In most cases that will involve some element of language improvement as most teachers are aware that they could improve their English, but there are many cases of teachers who have received no formal teacher training and simply learnt the language (either in a private course or by living abroad). We all know that linguistic knowledge alone does not prepare anybody for entering a classroom full of kids who expect to be ‘entertained’ by the teacher, or a group of teenagers who lack intrinsic motivation (to put it politely!!). So I believe that the key to success lies in both language improvement and methodological knowledge. One way to gain both is by networking, talking to other teachers and exchanging ideas (in English of course). This is what we try to encourage with the discussion forums on our ELT Online Community.

What are the main "sins" a teacher can commit?
Graeme - Hmmm… I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as ‘sin’…only consequences of our actions! One of the negative consequences of teachers not taking responsibility for their own language and methodology improvement is that they are doing no favours to their students if they pass-on errors, poor pronunciation or, even worse, lack of enthusiasm for the language. This has nothing to do with having a native-like accent or knowing the answer to every vocabulary question students ask (both of these being impossible goals!), but has to do with attitude and a willingness to go on learning forever, in the hope that we can share our knowledge with students and help them discover a better future through English.

How can a Brazilian teacher work abroad in a language school? What are the steps and the requirements?
Graeme - On the contrary to Brazil, most countries around the world require some kind of professional qualification, such as a TEFL diploma or CELTA. Others may accept teachers with an M.A. in Applied Linguistics. Almost certainly, the institution will want to meet a prospective teacher personally for an interview, so I would strongly recommend against sending CVs from Brazil to language courses around the world. Each market is slightly different, but it is very important to check visa requirements before attempting to work in another country. Some schools in the UK may help with this if you secure a job there. For a list of English courses, as well as other educational establishments in the UK, teachers and students can consult http://www.educationuk.org.br/

What's your opinion about Brazil? What are your favourite places here and in your country?
Graeme - Anyone who knows me will have no doubt about my opinion of Brazil. I love it!!! Although I lived in the Northeast for over a decade, I have been lucky enough to travel to almost every state in Brazil (there are still a few I must get to!!) and each region has its own appeal, natural beauty and wonderful people. The diversity of Brazil is one of its attractions… and amongst my favourite places are (from top to bottom): Presidente Figueredo-AM (1h from Manaus), Canoa Quebrada-CE, Praia do Forte-BA, Brasília-DF (where I live!!), Poços de Caldas-MG and, of course, the beautiful city of Rio. I was also lucky enough to be snowed-on in Gramado-RS!!! As for my own country, Britain is full of beautiful places to visit… and I recommend Ben Nevis in Scotland (the highest mountain in the UK), the Peak District (Northern England) and anywhere in the Southwest (my own homeland)… for the beautiful mix of green fields and golden sandy beaches!! Naturally, London is a must… an exciting, bustling tribute to global diversity!