26 February 2013
Jardel Barros, an English teacher from Brazil, is one of 38 teachers visiting The University of Texas at Austin campus for six weeks of intensive instruction in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL).
The experience has shifted the way these talented teachers from Brazil think about teaching English. Barros, who teaches elementary and high school students in the Brazilian state of Piaui, explained, ”Before, if my students weren’t grasping something in English, I would switch back to our native language, Portuguese, to explain it to them. Now, based on what I have experienced as a student in the UT program, I will explain everything in English, pushing my students to speak – and think–in English. It’s the best way to learn.”
This new exchange program, a partnership between the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Fulbright Commission in Brazil, and the U.S. Embassy in Brazil. It is one of several ESL programs the International Office designs and delivers for visitors from around the world each year and was one of only 18 university-based ESL programs selected from across the US to design an immersive learning experience for Brazilian teachers. The first group of 540 teachers to visit the US was selected from among 1500 teacher applicants hailing from all states in Brazil.
“As a partner with IIE for the last 10 years, we’re incredibly proud to be a part of the Brazilian ESL program, creating connections that contribute to deeper cultural understanding across our cultures, as well as helping to build capacity within emerging nations like Brazil,” said Mike Smith, ESL Director for the UT International Office.
While in Austin, students receive advanced instruction in teaching written and spoken English, as well as sessions on United States culture and how to help their own students cope with speech and learning anxiety related to learning a second language. Additionally, visiting teachers are immersed in local Texas culture, spending a weekend with an Austin host family and visiting sites across Texas, including the San Antonio Riverwalk, NASA headquarters in Houston, and the village of Fredericksburg.
Luciana Bernardo, a high school English teacher from the Brazilian state of Rio Grande Donorte, explained how these experiences added to her learning experience.
“I’ve been to the U.S. once before as a tourist, and barely talked to people here," she said. "In this program, we get to know our host families, our teachers, and our fellow classmates. The opportunity to be fully immersed in an English speaking culture, to interact with native speakers and culture has been amazing. I’ve even stayed in touch with my Austin host family. We even went to the lake together last weekend.”
Barros added, “This is my first time outside Brazil. I’m from a small city where everyone is the same. The multiculturalism here impresses me. In the US, there are many different people, Hispanic, Asian, and many more, living and working together. Being able to live and learn here for six weeks, to really experience the language and the culture - the whole package, it’s changed me.”
Barros also said that he is taking back little pieces of local culture to share with his own students, collecting restaurant menus and other documents so they can see English in the context of everyday use in a native speaking country.
This program, the latest collaboration between IIE and the International Office, is another important step towards fulfilling the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, which seeks to dramatically expand student and faculty exchange between the US and other countries.
IIE President Allan E. Goodman noted that the program is part of a broader effort to increase educational cooperation between the U.S. and Brazil. "At a time when Brazil’s economy is expanding rapidly, and Brazil and the United States are forging unprecedented ties in trade, energy and scientific development, we look to higher education as another area where our two countries should seek much stronger cooperation. This new teacher training program will not only benefit teachers and students in Brazil, but will also help to build the pipeline for more exchanges in future years.”
“It’s been a great experience – one that I will keep in my memory for the rest of my life,” Barros said.
By Angie Pastorek