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UCLA Extension introduces Brazilian teachers to fine points of American culture, language

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Fourteen?  That’s how often the average U.S. resident moves in a lifetime?
 
The number astonished a group of visiting high school English teachers from Brazil, who also were surprised to learn of another number that flashed onscreen during a PowerPoint presentation: The average U.S. resident changes jobs 11 times in his or her lifetime. 
 
Slide by slide, a bit more of North American culture sank in — with a few myths falling by the wayside —for the 20 teachers, who are receiving intensive English language and pedagogical training from UCLA Extension instructors. The six–week program sponsored by the Brazilian government is wrapping up this week. 
 
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UCLA Extension instructor Isabella Anikst (left) talks about American culture to a group of Brazilian teachers.
UCLA Extension was among 20 U.S. higher education institutions selected by the Institute of International Education (IIE) to conduct the Brazil English Teachers Program. The IIE is a private nonprofit leader in the international exchange of people and ideas. In collaboration with governments, foundations and other sponsors, IIE creates study and training programs, such as the Fulbright Program, for students, educators and professionals from all sectors.
 
The institute is collaborating with the Brazil Ministry of Education to send more than 1,000 teachers a year to U.S. institutions. Extension’s American Language Center (ALC), which recently received international news media attention for its classes on American slang, is administering the teacher training program.
 
“These teachers are here to perfect their listening and speaking skills, focus on effective language-teaching methodology, gain more information about U.S. culture, and use these added skills and experiences in their classrooms back in Brazil,” said William H. Gaskill, UCLA Extension’s director of international programs and the ALC. 
 
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Brazilian English teacher Maria da Conceicao said she was impressed by the rich diversity of California's population, which enhances the importance of English as a gateway language, she said.
The effort comes as Brazil and the U.S. are forging new and stronger ties in trade and scientific development, and as Brazil’s growing economy creates huge demands for skilled workers as well as better trained teachers. Brazil is also sponsoring the Scientific Mobility Program, which provides scholarships for undergraduate and graduate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at U.S. universities. 
 
For teachers, the quest to improve their techniques in teaching English is aided by a better understanding of U.S. history, culture and idioms.
 
“We can use in our classroom what we learned here in real life,” said Sandra Santos da Silva, who teaches in the Brazilian state of Paraná. “English, to our students, is so distant from reality because they just read about it in books. Now when I talk about it, they will know it’s the truth because I saw it, I lived it. They will believe us.”
 
Isabella Anikst, lead ALC instructor and the training program’s co-coordinator, found the Brazilian teachers full of inquiries. In a recent session, Anikst, together with Judy Tanka, another ALC lead teacher trainer program co-coordinator, offered an overview of U.S. history and such current population dynamics as job mobility, an indicator of Americans’ freedom to improve their economic condition. 
 
The curious Brazilians had questions about the apparent contradiction between Americans’ quest for individuality and self-expression versus their ability to come together as a group to help and support each other.  A few short weeks of this kind of informal dialogue, the teachers realized, was enough to quickly dispel some myths about this country.
 
“Of course, you hear or get the impression that Americans are selfish and not compassionate,” said Brazilian teacher Mariana Soledad. “That is not the case, obviously.  We can tell our students not to believe everything they hear.”
 
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The visiting teachers stand on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall behind the Brazilian flag.
Soledad’s statement is a testament to what Anikst, Tanka and the rest of the ALC staff have long recognized when comes to teaching English as a second language: the importance of lessons learned outside the classroom. To widen their perspectives, the visiting teachers toured local high schools and cultural sites like the Getty Museum, and even performed community service. They sorted donated clothing at a women’s homeless shelter in downtown skid row.   
 
“It’s one thing to read about what goes on in the United States, but it’s much better to check it out with our own eyes,” said Jean Francisco, who teaches in Mossoró, a medium-sized city near the far eastern tip of Brazil.
 
For Brazilian teacher Maria da Conceicao, the short visit to Southern California — and being able to see for herself how culturally and ethnically diverse it is — has only reinforced her conviction that Brazil’s future depends on its young generation becoming fluent in English and understanding U.S. culture. 
 
“We have to change how our students feel or think about the English language and the United States, especially California,” da Conceicao said. “English is not a door, but a huge gate to the world.  You can see how important this is simply by seeing all the people who have come here from all over the world.”
 
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