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Interview with Francisco Gomes de Matos

Interview with Francisco Gomes de Matos
APIRS Newsletter - May 2005

APIRS means Associação de Professores de Inglês do Rio Grande do Sul
(Association of Teachers of English of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state)

APIRS - How would you introduce yourself and briefly describe your career in English Language Teaching/Education and Applied Linguistics to TEFL?

FGM - Well... I'll do my best to apply the biblical saying "Let thy words be few". In my pre-adolescence... pre-teens... early forties... I was exposed to American English in Recife. You see, there was U.S. military personnel stationed there (they helped build modern runways at the air force base there and in Natal) and I learned English by listening (mostly) and then gradually by speaking and reading.
My proficiency in writing started developing much later when I took Letras Anglo-Germânicas at the then Universidade do Recife (now UFPE). In short, I am one of those who learned English by interacting with native speakers right here in Brazil. Relied on several learning strategies for building up my communicative competence: would see a movie twice (the second time, I wouldn't look at the subtitles), listen to an American song and try to write down the lyrics, read American comic books, listen to both the Voice of America and to the B.B.C (short-wave radio listening was one of my hobbies), and would eavesdrop on conversations among U.S. military personnel wherever I could. I recall my first experience as a coca-cola drinker: an American gave me a bottle and I rushed home and proudly showed it to Mother. Well, speaking of Coke, its appearance in the local context may well have been one of the first types of “globalization”. I say this because to me, Hollywoodian movies ARE the first products of globalizing, followed by cigarette smoking, and that soft drink.
But, back to the biodata: I loved English so much that I decided to share my knowledge of it with others: that's how my career in ELT got started: having private students. Opened my own "American English Course" on Rua da Aurora, on the banks of the Capibaribe River. There followed some unforgettable, strategically formative teaching experience in several challenging circumstances, and I loved every minute of it. Upon (if you’ll pardon my formal usage) completion of Letras Anglo-Germânicas. I received a 6-month scholarship to take part in the International Teacher (of English) Development Program.
Guess where? Lucky me: in the city of Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan. That's how the English Language Institute became a major, sustained influence on my career as a TESOLer. At the ELI I had the great pleasure and privilege of attending classes given by some of the TESOL greats of that time: Robert Lado and Charles Fries. I had fallen in love with English before coming to the States but now I was to share my professional heart with another fascinating area : Linguistics. Yes, after auditing classes given by Charles C. Fries on Introduction to Linguistic Science, I said to myself: I also want to be a linguist, besides teaching English. Returned to Recife and kept up teaching English through mid-1959, when God gave me another wonderful opportunity, to pursue a Master's degree Program right there: Ann Arbor... in Linguistics, under a scholar who was to become not just my mentor but a close friend and a long-lasting influence on my academic career: Robert Lado 1.

APIRS - Besides taking grad courses in Linguistics in Michigan, what did you do?

FGM - Glad you've asked that, because the Fulbright Commission had given me a "travel grant", but my academic tuition and living expenses were taken care of by Robert Lado, by the ELI: in reciprocity (that's another formal word, by the way), I was to work part-time at the English Language Institute as a Language Lab Assistant, as a Portuguese Language Instructor for ELI staff who was to visit Brazil, as one of the persons in charge of shipping the pioneering publication Language Learning. A Journal of Applied Linguistics... Life is full of surprises, isnt' it? Two years later, I published my first book review in English, in that history-making Journal - a review of William Slager et al., English for Today2 . Note that TESOL had not been born yet...
On my return to Recife, since there was no Linguistics in the Curriculum of Letters, I was given the challenging job of helping UFPE Geology students read technical books and articles in English. So there I was, engaging in what was to become the important area of ESP, English for Special/Specific/ Professional Purposes. Such experience laid the indispensable foundation for my subsequent work as an applied linguist engaged in doing Linguistics Applied to the Teaching of English to Brazilians. But that's another chapter in my biography...

APIRS - Good, so, why don't you tell our APIRS members a little bit about that?

FGM - As I was saying, I engaged in Geology-focused ESP for a couple of years, and then Linguistics was made a required "discipline" in the Letras Curriculum ... and since I was the only UFPE faculty member with a degree in "the science of language and languages", they asked me ... or rather, told me to teach the subject. UFPB, in João Pessoa, had no one to fill that academic position, so I became a commuter and would travel to Paraíba once a week, so as to engage in what I like to call "vender o peixe da Lingüística".
That new academic responsibility put an end to my teaching of English, but not to my love for English and to my commitment to helping train/educate Brazilian teachers of English.

APIRS - But then you came down to São Paulo, right?

FGM - Right. My professional life changed after attending the Symposium and Linguistic Institute of the Programa Interamericano de Lingüística y Enseñanza de Idiomas - PILEI - in Montevideo, in 1965. The "saudosa amiga e colega gaúcha" Margot Levi Mattoso was there. She and Augustinus Staub should be remembered as pioneers in Applied Linguistics in Brazil and I take great pride in having met them on several occasions here and abroad.
Who knows? Some day a grad student from Rio Grande do Sul will write a History of English Language Teaching in his/ her state. That kind of documentation is certainly needed and APIRS has a major role to play in both gathering and disseminating information on it. So much on early precursors in ELT in Brazil could be investigated, documented, and taught in Teacher Education Programs...
Well, back to my narrative: after that I was invited to become the Director of the tobe-established Centro de Lingüística Aplicada Yázigi, in São Paulo. That would mean giving up my position as an "Instrutor de Ensino Superior" at UFPE, but, again, the Lord gave me another mission while granting me the privilege of sustaining my academic link to UFPE. You see, I did accept the invitation to move to São Paulo working as Director of CLA-Yázigi, but also became a kind of Linguistics/Language Teaching Advisor to SENAC-SP and was asked to teach Linguistics at PUC-SP, at the then Faculdade de Filosofia Sedes Sa-pientiae.
As CLA-Yázigi Director, my love for English grew and grew, and the possibilities for applying the Linguistics of that time to ELT were greatly expanded. Some of the materials I helped co-create included textbooks and the Dicionário Yázigi Inglês-Português para Primeiro e Segundo Graus (co-published by Oxford University Press and Instituto de Idiomas Yázigi in 1973), which featured an 8-page Appendix called Exercícios sobre o uso deste Dicionário. That may have been the first type of a set of activities created for what in Lexicography is now called Dictionary User Education. Yes, doing innovative work was made possible. With Adair Palácio, I could cowrite another pioneering work: Um Pequeno Guia para Ajudar seu Filho a Aprender Inglês and, that same year, 1973, we launched a newsletter: Creativity-New ideas in Language Teaching, edited by the late Arnold Green Short. Most of my thinking on creativity then can be found on the pages of that publication, which featured articles by teacher trainers/educators and applied linguists from Brazil and abroad. That newsletter helped spread the news in ELT Pedagogy among Brazilian teachers but also helped show abroad that creativity in English language teaching has been very much a distinguishing trait in the Brazilian Tradition in ELT. The São Paulo-based newsletter became extinct in 1980 but its influence on the ELT scene in this country could well merit a place in the sun in accounts of the development of ELT among us.

APIRS - Your "fase paulista" lasted from 1966 through 1979 and then what happened?

FGM - Before answering that, let me add that I got my Ph.D. in Letras at PUC-SP in 1973. A Influência de Princípios da Lingüística em Manuais para Professores de Inglês como Língua Estrangeira. I looked at Teachers" Manuals from 15 countries. Those days, researchers relied on "snail mail".Thank God, for me, communicating by air mail was another hobby, so the challenge was a little less demanding, but still, when I think of the advantages of using the Internet these days, how much easier the data collection job would have been! By the way, my dissertation advisor was a good, old friend of mine: the everinspiring ELT scholar: Maria Antonieta Celani. The PUC-SP "tese" became a book in 1976: Lingüística Aplicada ao Ensino de Inglês, published by McGraw-Hill, São Paulo (now out of print). Speaking of Antonieta, I have just had the renewed privilege of counting on her generous support to my most recent work in ELT: she kindly wrote the "Apresentação" to my Criatividade no Ensino de Inglês. A resource book, published by DISAL São Paulo, December 2004.

APIRS - So that a little over 30 years have elapsed between your creative work in São Paulo and now, with the publication of this book... What principles in your approach to ELT are reflected in it?

FGM - Some of my experience as a teacher of English and as a teacher-educator is shared with readers of my DISAL book, but you have asked to focus on principles characterizing my approach to the creative teaching-learning of English, so let me briefly state them (this is best done in workshops...).
1. All language users are linguistically creative and such creativity can be shown on a continuum of creative uses;
2. All language teachers are also pedagogically creative and such creativity can be enhanced, nurtured, "provoked", sculpted...
3. All language teachers have the right to become minimally knowledgeable in Creative Studies Applied to Language Education (Teacher Preparation Programs in universities and "faculdades" will eventually do that, as local conditions permit, I'm hopeful...).
4. All language learners have the right to become minimally knowledgeable as creative users of the languages they are learning or are to learn Creative Language Learner Education could become a permanent feature in Faculdades de Letras, Cursos de Especialização, Seminars such as those sponsored by APIRS and other state-based organizations: Braz-TESOL, Braz-IATEFL, ABRAPUI, and other communities of English Language teachers.
5. Brazilian authors of ELT materials are creative and their creativity should also be made known to colleagues abroad, so that the Brazilian contributions to Creativity in ELT become part of the Universal Tradition in ELT.
6. Language teachers should also be humanizers, that is, professionals imbued with the ideals of human rights, justice, peace, dignity, solidarity, compassion, crosscultural understanding, and who apply such values in their teaching. In such spirit, teacherpreparation programs should find a permanent place in the sun for the humanizing role of teachers.
I could go on and on, but instead I'd like to refer APIRS colleagues to google these key terms, all related to my work:
• Communicative peace
• Creactivities (yes, with a C)
• Are you a humanizer?
For a friendly chat, do e-mail me at fcgm@hotlink.com.br
Appreciate the privilege of being "heard" electronically.
Thank you, Vera, for this chance to interact with APIRS members.

1 To know more about that, read my chapter Lado's influence in Brazil, in the volume Scientific and Humanistic Dimensions of Language. Festschrift for Robert Lado on the occasion of his 70th birthday on May 31, 1985, edited by Kurt R. Jankowsky (Georgetown University) and published by John Benjamins, 1985. Another Brazilian also contributed to that book: Clea Rameh, one of the greats in the History of the Teaching of Portuguese as a Foreign Language.
2 A series sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English, Book One, Language Learning xii (3): pages 261-263.

Posted by Evelin at May 19, 2005 04:11 AM