Categories
EFL expectations teaching

Forcing students to learn

I often hear teachers say ‘I can’t force the students to learn, all I can do is help them on their way’, and in many ways I agree with this sentiment.

However, as a learner of Japanese and, as of April this year, the piano, I disagree. I want my teachers to ‘force’ me, to establish expectations of what I should be doing between classes, and check to see that I am actually doing it.
If no-one is watching, I find it easy to get distracted by other things.
I am not sure how many of my students feel like I do, but it might be an interesting topic for a survey. Something to come back to once classes start.
Categories
EFL extensive listening Language learning listening self-study

The importance of listening

I think the importance of listening input for students cannot be overemphasised, yet it is severely neglected in Japan, in both public and private teaching settings.

I myself have not really focused on teaching listening so far, for the following reasons:
1. graded listening materials are not as common as graded reading
2. it’s hard to categorize listening materials at a glance, like you would with a written text
3. technical issues get in the way: you have to make the materials available to the students, and it’s not as easy as just handing them a book or a handout
However, I have decided to have a go at really boosting my students’ listening practice. I am going to investigate online delivery, lending CDs, and lending mp3 players pre-loaded with content.
I will post on any challenges and successes with the project. Comments on the subject are also most welcome.
Categories
EFL Language learning self-study theory

Learning a foreign language

Learning a foreign language is not difficult, but it takes time and commitment.

Anyone can master a foreign language, and it does not require studying verb tables, memorising vocabulary, or buying a lot of books and resources. In fact, it doesn’t really involve any of the things we did at school in our foreign language classes. To be honest, many of those things seem as if they were just busy work, things our teachers assigned to us because they are easy to check and evaluate, and give both students and teachers the feeling that they are actually doing something. This is the good news.
The bad news is that it takes a lot of time to master a language. Let’s say you want to be in a position where you can understand pretty much everything people say to you in your daily life, as well as be able to watch TV, read a newspaper, and deal with any paperwork that comes your way. You will need a passive vocabulary of at least 5,000 to 10,000 words, and an active one of around half that.
In order to learn a word so that you know it passively (ie you can understand it when you see it or hear it) you will have to encounter it in text or aural input 20-50 times in context. In order to acquire it so you can use it actively (when speaking or writing), you will have to encounter it even more, as well as start using it yourself.
Doing the math (something I am not good at), you can see that you are going to have to read millions of words, or listen to hundreds or thousands of hours of audio, in order to get the exposure you need to the language.
Before you give up and go and take up a more sensible pursuit, such as counting grains of sand on a beach, however, there is a final piece of good news (I was saving it until the end):
None of this needs to be boring or a chore.
With the proliferation of free content on the internet, it is fairly easy to find interesting audio and text on almost any topic, as well as online translation, vocabulary learning, and grammar explanation websites, without spending a penny. I’ll be introducing some over the next few weeks.
Here’s the first one:
Lingq
A wonderful online system for delivering graded content that is mostly free (you can pay for tutors to correct your written work or speak to). The founder, Steve Kaufmann, has a blog that is well worth checking out.