Hey Real Lifers, today’s post is going to be an interview with a good friend of ours and fellow English teacher John Clites. John has been teaching English in Rio de Janeiro and Paraty for almost 5 years now and runs an online English course for Brazilians at EnglishforBrazilians.com.
Hey John, its great to have you with us here today. Why don’t you give us a little bit of your background, how did you end up in Paraty teaching English?
Thanks Josh. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk to the Real Life English community.
Well, now I live in Parati, a small town in Rio de Janeiro state near the border with São Paulo. But I just moved there recently. Before Parati, I lived in Rio de Janeiro city for 3 years. Rio was fun and there’s lots to do there. But I like living in a small town because it’s calm and relaxed. Parati is a very lovely colonial town with cobblestone streets, and cars even share the roads with horses.
I moved to Brazil in 2008, but my history with Brazil goes back many years. I first visited here in 1993. I had some friends in the US who are from Vitoria, Espirito Santo. They had been living in the US and told me a lot about Brazil. When they returned to Vitoria a few months later, they invited me to come visit. I really loved the place. I knew even during that first visit that one day I would move to Brazil. It just took some years to happen!
Brazilians often ask me why I left the US to move here. It’s a big decision, leaving your country for another. But I love the beauty of Brazil, and also the people here are generally very warm and friendly. And I think also that the future here looks very good. There is opportunity here. It’s Brazil’s time to shine.
Like I mentioned before, I really enjoy the natural beauty of Brazil and it’s people. Brazil is a huge country, and it’s really diverse. Foreigners often think only about the beaches. Well, the beaches ARE pretty amazing, but Brazil has waterfalls and sand dunes, and forests – a little of everything really. I’m an amateur photographer, and for me, Brazil is a great place to be.
Also, the Brazilian people usually are very warm. As a foreigner Brazilians always make me feel welcome and I think that they are the coolest people in general. They may not always agree with US foreign policies, but most Brazilians are smart enough to realize that government policies are one thing, and a person’s personal beliefs are another.
Oh, and I love mamão. Mamão is a really great breakfast.
What are the three most common errors that Brazilians make?
The top 3 problems? Let’s see. Probably pronouncing the TH sounds correct would be one. That’s such a common problem that it’s the first lesson in my EnglishForBrazilians program. Often Brazilians will pronounce the TH sound of words like “these” and “that” as a D, saying “dese” and “dat”. When the TH comes at the end of a word, they often pronounce it as an F. So they might say “baff” instead of “bath”. I think that often schools here don’t give enough attention to pronunciation.
Another common problem is the present perfect. Brazilians often tell me that they don’t understand the present perfect because Portuguese doesn’t have it. But Portuguese does have the concept. When a Brazilian calls a friend and says, for example, “Acabei de chegar ao aeroporto,” that’s the same concept as saying “I have just arrived at the airport.” Yes, the construction is different, but the idea is the same.
What would be a third common problem? Probably I’d say it’s another pronunciation issue: Distinguishing between what we call the “short I’ and “long E” sounds. So a Brazilian might say “bitch” instead of “beach,” or “shit” instead of “sheet”. You can see how this could be embarrassing! Imagine that you are visiting in Miami and say “I like the bitches here” instead of “I like the beaches here”! It’s a completely different meaning! So this is also one of the first lessons in my program. I put the pronunciation lessons at the beginning of the program so that subscribers from the beginning can listen to me and work on improving their pronunciation.
Why did you create English for Brazilians?
It’s an interesting story. I was talking to a guy from the US one afternoon in Santa Teresa in Rio. We were having a beer and were talking about ideas for websites. He asked me, “So what do you know about?” I told him “Teaching English.” Then suddenly the idea was there: I could develop a program of English lessons especially for Brazilians, for their specific issues, with translations where needed.
So I spent that night creating a rough raft for a curriculum. I showed it to several of my students, and they all thought it was a great idea, because there really isn’t another program like it. It’s just for Brazilians, and it focuses on their problems.
I think there is a real need for a program like this. Traditional programs take a long time to complete; English for Brazilians only takes 6 months. Traditional programs often require you to buy their books, too. While there are many good English schools here, many are just not that effective. And there are many topics that just aren’t discussed, aren’t discussed well, or aren’t specific to Brazilians needs. So I designed my program to help Brazilians improve quickly by “filling in the gaps” that other programs don’t.
Who is your program for?
I’m glad that you asked me that, Josh. I want to say that my program ins’t for every one. It’s not designed for beginners. It’s for Brazilians with a low intermediate level or greater. It’s for Brazilians who can read English OK, and who can listen to me speak in English, and understand most of what I say. Now, I do provide lots of translations, but this isn’t a program for beginners. I encourage beginners to keep studying and to try my program later.
But I think that for intermediate to advanced students, my program will be helpful. Even advanced students will learn things. If, for example, you always translate “ate” as “until”, you are making some mistakes. If you don’t know that there are 3 ways to pronounce the -ed ending of past tense verbs, then you are making some mistakes. I taught one student how to pronounce verbs ending in -ed, and she actually slapped her hands on the table and said “I can’t believe that in 8 years of studying English, no one ever told me this before!!” I was surprised, but I felt good. I taught her something new – and she speaks English very well.
Even English teachers here might benefit from the course. They might learn a few things themselves, or discover new ways to teach their students. Many teachers have told me that they like the “inverted pyramid” that I use to explain when to use in, on and at.
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What advice do you have for Brazilians learning English?
First, keep going. When we study another language, it’s not like every day we know more, every day it’s easier. Some days are harder, and sometimes we reach “plateaus” and feel that we aren’t making progress. When this happens, I suggest that you try a different approach. Try reading in English if you aren’t doing that now. Join a group like Real Life English were you can talk to a variety of people. Oh, and don’t worry too much about making mistakes. Many Brazilians are shy about speaking. Sure, no one wants to make mistakes and look foolish, but if you don’t speak, you can’t improve, right? It just makes sense. And events like the Real Life English mixers provide a great supportive atmosphere in which to practice without stress.
Try watching TV in English, first in English with subtitles in English, and then without the subtitles.
It’s also important to remember why you started studying English. Write out your reasons for why you want to learn English. If you want a better job and know that English will help you get it, think about what a better job would mean for you and your family. If you want to travel, think about that trip. Focus on your why.
And don’t just study English – don’t let it become boring. It’s not all about learning grammar. Watch TV and movies. Use your English. Take every opportunity to speak to foreigners. Participate in chat rooms. Try different ways to use and improve.
Thanks for answering these questions today John and we hope you come back soon for another Real Life English event.
You should take this opportunity to check out John’s English for Brazilian course. As a member of the Real Life English community you are able to get a 10% discount on the online English for Brazilians course.