An interview with Michael Marzio
Has learning English been difficult for you? Have you been doing it the
traditional way and are still struggling?
Well, our goal today is to introduce you to a gentleman who will share
his experience and advice on how to learn REAL English.
Mr. Michael Marzio is the creator of RealEnglish.com
and the founder of the Marzio School, a language school in France.
Michael has been teaching English for many years and realized one of
the key components to learning a language is to listen to it
constantly. He introduced this concept in his teaching and saw amazing
results. Let's learn more about this from Michael.
is a very unique and useful website for English learners. Can you give
our readers some basic information on what they can find there?
There are 3 components which make up the Real English site:
I film, edit, and categorize the videos in the same way as the major
ESL/EFL publishers, so that the videos and lessons are easy for
teachers to use as a complement to whatever "main method" they normally
For example, every beginner method includes a section on how to
introduce yourself, and how to introduce other people, so there is a
corresponding Real English video for this function.
A Real English lesson is always based on a video. The exercises for the
videos are made with free software called "Hot Potatoes".
I chose this program simply because it allows for an extremely wide
range of different types of activities. You can make any type of
exercise imaginable, and you can add pictures, audio files, video, of
course, and with a bit of customization, you can also add a Java applet
which enables students to record themselves and then compare their own
pronunciation to the model.
One example of the possibilities provided by Hot Potatoes: you can
easily design an exercise where the students have to type an answer,
but if they are wrong x times, then the same exercise transforms itself
into an easier multiple choice exercise! In this way, the student is
challenged but never lost. All he has to do is keep on trying until he
gets feedback about his/her answer.
The Facebook page is used by students and teachers: questions about the
videos or lessons are often asked, as well as questions about English
I encourage teachers to answer these questions (instead of myself), so
as to build up a community of learners helping each other. It's a
rather lively place. I also post various types of activities, to
2. What prompted
you to start the Real English project?
I have to provide a bit of background in order to answer this question.
I'm from NJ, USA. I created a language school in the south of France
way back in 1976. The students were, and still are, French professional
people, engineers, businessmen, secretaries, technicians,
Beginning in 1992, I noticed that when a student came back from a
business meeting in London or New York, for example, they would often
say "the people I met speak a lot faster than you" (meaning
all the teachers).
Or they would point out that it was relatively easy to communicate when
the discussions concerned the work they had in common with their
Anglo-Saxon counterparts, but became very difficult when they had
general conversation around the dinner table.
So, a very simple idea flashed through my mind. Why not film ordinary
people speaking normally about everyday topics, and use these
conversations in the classroom? Although the idea was simple, it was
much more difficult to realize than I had imagined.
3. How did the
shooting of the videos go? Were there any unexpected challenges you
encountered? And what kind of responses did you get from the
One difficulty was deciding what is acceptable
speech in the learning
environment. In the end, for 12 people interviewed, only one of the 12
would finally end up in a Real English video.
In my experience, many people mumble when they speak spontaneously.
Others make grammar mistakes. Some speak too fast.
(One comment I often
receive is that the interviewees speak too fast, but in reality, those
who really spoke too fast were eliminated). And to be perfectly honest,
some people just seemed too boring.
It has taken a lot of trial and error. The challenge has always been to
approach strangers in the street, explain why we are filming, and get
them to agree to sign a release form after the interview. Finally, I
could only hope that they would be inspired by our questions, and
answer in ways useful to our educational aims.
After a year or so, we learned to set up our filming equipment on very
busy sidewalks only. We also learned to be patient, and to try to
approach happy people walking our way.
That is to say, people (preferably couples or small groups) who were
smiling or laughing as they walked by. At the same time, they had to
have time on their hands at the moment of our approach.
Deciding on what questions to ask was also a challenge. In the end,
about half of our questions worked. In other words, since we wanted to
cover the most important points of grammar and functions so as to
reflect the content from the Big EFL Publishers, we had to think of
questions which would elicit specific verb usages, for example.
4. You began creating
videos of real conversations for your students because, as you say, no
one in the real world speaks "classroom English". What sort
of impact did these videos have with your students?
Most of my students seem somewhat shocked the first time a teacher uses
Real English (we use the DVD version on TVs in the classrooms, or
project to screens from laptops, and assign the on-line lessons as
Once again, they feel like everyone is speaking too fast. But this
first reaction does not last long in most cases, since the teacher
facilitates understanding using various techniques to aid listening
I should add a quick note here. My school is located in France, one of
the countries where the public education system does not prepare
students very well for speaking or understanding spoken English.
Scandinavians, for example, have much more intelligent approaches to
language learning than Mediterranean countries.
5. What are the
top 3 pieces of advice you can give to English learners who want to
speak REAL English?
Listen, listen and listen.
In order to speak with confidence, I think the most important aspect is
to assimilate the "music" of the target language, whether it be
Mandarin, Spanish or English...
I encourage students to listen many times to a text before reading the
corresponding text, even if they don't understand a single word.
In a second phase, after reading and understanding, the emphasis
remains on listening. Students will speak more correctly, and with
better pronunciation/accents if they follow this rule.
is a product of The Marzio
School in Istres, France. Please tell us about the
school and your role there.
As I already mentioned, I created my language school in 1976.
I found corporate customers through dogged door-to-door prospection,
then hired teachers, took care of course organization, etc.
My wife Valérie, the only French member of the team, took care of, and
still takes care of everything else (accounting, general management,
legal aspects, etc.).
I've very recently retired, but still keep in touch with the team, and
I repair TVs and computers, etc. and offer my support in various
When I began the Real English project, I turned over most of my school
responsibilities to Helen King, who is now in charge of all the tasks I
used to do (except for repairing the TVs).
I apparently did something right: there is very little
turnover. Most of our teachers have been with us for decades and
obviously enjoy their work.
7. Were you
always interested in teaching English? What inspired you to
do all this?
No. I studied philosophy at university in the States and wanted to
become a writer.
I went to Paris on vacation, and a friend offered me an EFL teaching
job. So I slowly learned how to teach English. Then I created a
language school for a large company in Lyon.
After realizing that I was capable of doing such a thing, I went
further south to the Marseilles area, so as not to be in competition
with my employer in Lyon, and began setting up my own school.
8. Who are some
of the other faces behind Real-English.com?
The most important faces behind Real English are
the interviewers. They are all personal friends of mine. Most of them
are close friends from the 1960s!
Sometimes you can see them in the videos, and you can always hear them
Although I made this clip in 2008, very little has changed since then,
aside from new videos and one new interviewer, Joanne, who does not
appear in this 2008 "about" video.
You'll notice my friends Charlie McBride and Roger Godfrey at the
beginning of this clip.
The first Real English videos appeared on VHS cassettes, and there were
a lot of jingles between the interviews, created by Roger with
Ken Ryan, a very good friend since we first met in grammar school when
we were 8 years old, has provided me with access to his servers which
host Real English. He has also been very supportive of my efforts in
9. You travel
between France and the USA, a dream life for many. How is it
like in actuality?
It IS a sort of a dream life.
It's a shame we don't realize how lucky we are as soon as we get into a
habit of doing something pleasurable and out of the ordinary.
People often ask me if I prefer the USA or France, and the truth is
that I do not prefer either. I prefer going back and forth between the
two, instead of always being in one country or the other: the USA for
filming, and France for editing!
10. Finally, if you were
not helping English teachers and students with your school and site,
what would you be doing?
I'd be blogging about the insanity of world affairs, and the
dangerously ridiculous American political circus of the moment.
I'd be writing about Martin Heidegger's question "Why Is there
something rather than nothing?" and the awe I feel about the universe
and human existence, and the despair that comes with the realization
that as man evolves in many ways, there is little hope that he will
become a peaceful species.
Well, there we've had it from Michael. Thank you Michael for truly
And I'll leave you with this informative video from Michael telling us
more about Real English: