OER: Flexible materials for flexible learners

OER: Flexible materials for flexible learners

Photo credit: flickr user Daniel Garcia Neto Creative Commons License

From the editor: We recently heard from Bret Chernoff, an independent learner who has been using various Portuguese learning products on COERLL’s Brazilpod portal. Bret shows how a flexible language learner can use open educational resources (OER) to fit their needs and their abilities. How a learner or a teacher uses educational materials is just as important as the materials themselves! Here’s what Bret shared with us.

Before Portuguese I had the classic “high school Spanish” experience, which taught grammar and test-taking well. I had two University of Washington (UW) quarters of Spanish and then began 8 years of Korean, beginning at the UW and then in South Korea. I am a C1 in Korean and a low A2 in Spanish.

I started Portuguese in April 2014 with popular language programs such as Michel Thomas, Living Language and Assimil. My experience with Spanish facilitated the initial learning of grammar, and a very close Brazilian friend of mine helped with actualizing the grammar in conversations.

In June I found Brazilpod – what a discovery! I jumped right into Tá Falado and beamed in on the pronunciation rules, first within the entire episode, and then isolating the dialogues and shadowing (more on shadowing) them in my car during my commute and on walks around my neighborhood, consciously focusing on the pronunciation highlighted in the episode. I then did the same with the Tá Falado grammar series.

Next was Conversa Brasileira, although it was above my level. It was so innovative I couldn’t resist. I watched each episode in the following manner:

1 – PT subtitles
2 – PT subtitles with notes
3 – PT subtitles
4 – EN subtitles
5 – PT subtitles

I achieved a Gestalt effect through this method, understanding the flow of the conversation without knowing every phrase or word by heart. By internalizing the melody and rhythm of how Brazilians speak I was able to have more spontaneous interactions with Brazilians I met in my daily life, because I was not thrown off by their cadence and intonation. This is a strong advantage of Brazilpod’s material – it is not hermetically sealed in a studio recording, but breathes with authenticity. I was also able to make inferences of meaning in conversations I would have without knowing all the words.

Soon after, Língua da gente became my go-to listening practice during my commute. The commentary on the grammar alone demands multiple listens, and the dialogues are good slices of real Portuguese. I shadowed these as well during my commute and while walking around my neighborhood. I created a playlist of all the dialogues from the elementary and intermediate episodes and shadowed them routinely until I started to memorize them. By doing this I was able to imitate more accurately intonation and pronunciation, and words started to truly sink in.

Nowadays I use ClicaBrasil to great effect, especially in tandem with a native speaker. Brazilpod has such a wealth of material and should be a true cornerstone of Portuguese self-study. That being said, study material can only take one so far, and the true magic of good study material shows itself with a native speaker. Friends like Cassio, Rodrigo, Vitor, Sanchaine, Junha, Pedro, Emmanuel, and my lifelong friend Alessandra, they brought to life the Portuguese language in my life. I can’t thank them enough for that. And I guess I can extend the same gratitude to Orlando, Vivian, and everyone at UT Austin for making high quality open-source material ripe for studying. Obrigadão!

portuguesebret_resizeBret Chernoff  is an avid language learner and music artist. He is one of the principal songwriters in the Seattle band Colorworks.

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