9 July 2015

The Golden Age Of Language Learning

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann.

Today my subject is; The Golden Age of Language Learning. It is something that has dawned on me that we live in The Golden Age of Language Learning, now and things may improve, but compared to 50 years ago, 30 years ago, or hundreds of years ago. And I will give you some reasons why. I decided, or I said or there was a request that I would do videos in other languages, so I have started doing that.

French Is Easy For Me – Spanish Not So Much

Now some languages it is easier for me than in another. French is quite easy, Spanish is not so easy. Why? Because I have spoken an awful lot of French, I lived there for three years, I studied there, and I’ve read lots. Spanish – I would say – when I first went there in 1964 and hitchhiked around and I spoke a lot of French and I was listening to truck drivers and, excuse me not French, but Spanish, listening to truck drivers, heard a lot of Spanish and that was kind of the level of my Spanish until about 15-20 years ago when I started trying to read books and at first it was very difficult and the more books I read, the better I got at it. Now I have read so many books in Spanish that I can read it almost like English. But I don’t speak very often, like now I might speak once or twice a year, so it is more difficult for in Spanish. So I said: ‘OK, in order for me to do my video in Spanish I better kind of refresh my Spanish, so what can I do?’

So I can download the e-book, while I have been looking for some books to read, I find this “Dime Quien Soy”, I have mentioned it before. I download it, it’s like 900 pages, great long book, and I’ve got it on my Kindle. So I thought I’d get a Spanish book, and I googled – and I don’t know how I end up with this book, but I think it was recommended. I buy it, it’s on my Kindle. I have got it with me, I am reading it. Then I say: ‘You know what, reading isn’t enough, I need to be hearing Spanish’.

The Golden Age of Language Learning - Spanish Civil War

So I go to audible.com – first of all I Google Spanish audio books, I find some sites where they have some kind of very unpleasant to listen to – text to speech – which is alright for a word or a phrase, but you can’t listen to a whole book in text to speech. But then I find that they have “Dime Quien Soy” in Spanish and audio book on audible.com, which I discover also belongs to Amazon. OK, I have an account there, I buy the audio book, immediately download it. I put an app on my IPhone, which is an audible.com app, so while I am at it, I also buy another audio book on the history of the Spanish Civil War, so those two are plugged right into my IPhone, wherever I go now I can switch. Listen for a while to the history of the Spanish Civil War or I can listen to the audio version of the book that I have already read. Which is fun for a while but after all I know the story so it is kind of fun because you are listening to some of the early parts of the book where you didn’t quite understand who was doing what to whom. And now you hear it again so it kind of fills in some of the blanks, but mostly I listen to this audio book on the history of the Spanish Civil War, which is just fascinating. I never really understood how within the national side and the republican side, there were all these fractions and fighting and stuff going on. And not to mention the cruelty of the war and the number of people who were killed and so forth and so on, but it is just so easy to do. I’ve got this on my IPhone, again, sometimes I have to walk the dog in the afternoon and I am listening to this stuff that I have downloaded off a site and listening to a novel, I am listening to history.

Audible Dot Com

Now I look forward to making more videos and so I can now, with audible you can select the language: Japanese, Swedish. Subject: history, fiction, or whatever I want: German, Italian. I am going to be able to access this material. And now you say: ‘Yes, but that costs money’. Yes, well sure it costs money I mean but compared to a teacher?! You know, if I had had to learn Romanian or any of the languages that I have learned recently; Czech. You know, if I had to engage a teacher and go there once or twice a week and then they decide: ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to study today’. I wouldn’t get anywhere. Whereas this way, now granted you can’t start from scratch and start reading an audio book on audible.com. But there again, as I have mentioned before for Romanian, I just wrote up, sort of basic patterns of commonly used concepts that we like to express; why, because, if, therefore. Whatever it may be; how, when, how many. 200 phrases I put it up on Odesk.com. Please translate and record. Back it comes! OK, it costs me a bit of money, but I put it up on LingQ so other people can enjoy it and I get frequent comments from people thanking me for having put those contents up on LingQ.

The Golden Age of Language Learning - logos

I mean there is more to it than that, I mean, there’s the ITalkies you can get on the internet or you can talk to other people if you want. I don’t do a lot of that myself. It is just so easy. I remember when some years ago I was approached by the local community college to donate money to their language lab and I said: ‘Why would you have a language lab?’ There is so much stuff available now.

The Golden Age of Language Learning

So, I am just so much looking forward to getting back into my Swedish and Japanese and all these other languages to prepare for my talk. I don’t know if it improves my quality of the video, but it gives me a motivation and remember motivation is key. It gives me a motivation for doing it. It is extremely enjoyable and so I really believe that we live in a The Golden Age of Language Learning. And in fact in many ways we live in a golden age. It is so easy to get discouraged by all the bad news that we hear, but then when I listen to the Spanish Civil War, and the Second World War, then not that that’s a standard but. Yes, there are issues, but I think that we are solving them. I am quite convinced that within 20 or 30 years the main source of energy will be solar, we’ll have massive batteries and we will have resolved some of these issues that’s around energy and you know fossil fuels and so on. So as I have said many, many times before I am an optimist and I am very happy to live in the The Golden Age of Language Learning. So that should encourage you to go out there and do more language learning.

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25 June 2015

Motivation in Language Learning

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel. This one will help you find your motivation in language learning.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today, I want to talk about motivation in language learning. You know, I have bought lots of books about language instruction, language acquisition. I have them on my shelves, I’ve read them. Some of them have influenced me, some of them I find totally contradicting my experience, but very little, I have found, has been written on the subject of motivating people.

Yet, I believe that motivation is the most important factor in language learning, so I want a talk a bit today about it. Maybe I’ll do a few videos on the subject of what motivates me from my experience and then I’d like to hear from you and then I have some other ideas about how in language instruction we could do a better job of trying to find those trigger points, those hooks that are going to motivate people and different people are motivated in different ways.

I thought of this today because I was cleaning out my garage. We changed our telephone system, got rid of our old TV, great, big, heavy TV, we even changed our central vacuum cleaner. I’ve got to get rid of all this stuff, so I look up the recycle centers here and find out where I go to take this stuff. I take it there and there’s some free recycling run by the city and adjacent to it and part of this complex is this company that takes in all these electrical or electronic goods, old hi-fi’s and everything else. Whatever they’re able to salvage out of them, they salvage. It’s a business, which is good.

Low and behold, everybody working there is Korean. The girl who’s there to receive me and who I asked my question of she’s Korean, so we start speaking in Korean. She was so happy and really, “Wow! You speak so well.” Of course, I don’t. So that motivated me and I said I’m going to back to Korean. I’ve got to get further along in Korean. So there was just a little spark like that. Prior to that, somebody on the YouTube channel had commented, “Looking forward to hearing you speak Polish.” I’ve been letting the Polish lag, so that was a bit of a motivator. In my own experience, those things aren’t strong enough. They’ll get me going for a while, but I have to have that good content.

I should point out, too, last week I traveled to the interior of BC and in the summer if you have the opportunity to travel by car in the interior of BC it is spectacular! So we drove across the Coast Mountains into Kelowna, this beautiful lake in the Okanagan, which is a different climate zone, different type of forest cover and stuff, drier. Visited with a couple in their mid 80s, whom we’ve known for a long time who have moved up there. The fellow, he’s 86 or 87 and he’s still learning Spanish. Then we drove down through Penticton, Okanagan Falls down to Osoyoos.

That country is so beautiful: the vineyards, the fruit orchards. We played golf and visited some vineyards where there’s free wine tasting. We bought some delicious wine. There’s a small winery called Cassini and we went in there, sampled different wines and we decided to buy two cases, like six bottles each of four different wines. We just had some this evening with dinner, a Cera, it was phenomenal! The owner showed up one day while we carting our two boxes away and he’s of Italian origin but lived in Romania, so I spoke a few words of Romanian. There’s a motivation. But, as I say, that is a small motivator. It’s not good enough, I need content of substance.

I’ve been reading this book ________ in Spanish. It’s such a fascinating book I just keep reading and I know that by reading in Spanish, I am continuing to improve my Spanish. It was only 10 years ago that I read my first whole book in Spanish. I haven’t really been working that much at Spanish, but reading more books, plus learning other languages my Spanish has improved. I was able to read the book almost as if it were English. So the big issue remains content.

I’m still attracted to my Russian and Ukrainian. I’m following the events there, so every day I listen to my Russian and Ukrainian and I don’t have the time to go after my Korean. You can get stimulated, that sort of little spark of motivation, but then I need some interesting content to keep me going.

So I’m going to stop it here, but I want to talk next time about how we can determine what motivated people and how that could be introduced into teaching. If people have ideas on that, I would love to hear from them. So thank you for listening, bye for now.

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18 June 2015

Are There Different Types of Language Learners?

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. You often hear that there are different types of language learners. There are auditory learners, visual learners and kinetic learners; people who like to learn by listening, by seeing or by doing. Books have been written on the subject, I think even pedagogy has been developed to suit different kinds of learners. Personally, I don’t believe that we learn differently. I don’t think there are purely auditory learners or purely visual learners. I think we all learn in all of these different ways. I think the basic way in which the brain learns is the same.

A professor somewhere in the United States has written on this subject, he also is of the same view and has demonstrated it. I think it’s a fad. What is true is that different learners have different interests. Different types of learners are motivated by different things, so what we should do in language instruction (this is something I alluded to in my previous video) is find out how we can test. What kind of profile can we have or testing procedure to determine where the trigger points are. Where are the things that would motivate learner A versus learner B versus learner C? Maybe there are different types of learners based on what interests them and what motivates them. Maybe there are ways that we can find out what these things are and, therefore, we can motivate learners. I think that’s the challenge.

I know in my own case, I always think of those wonderful pieces of audio or reading that really grabbed me when I was learning say Chinese. I can think of a German cassette tape series where they interviewed people in different walks of life. To me, it’s always been this interesting content that grabs me. Now, some people like to do grammar, some people like to do flashcards, so how do we find out what kind of a learner the person is in terms of what motivates them.

I don’t think the issue is so much, “Are there different ways in which different people’s brains work differently to learn languages”, I think it’s basically the same. The brain, as I understand it, basically, has to get used to the stimulus that it receives and out of the disorder of all this stimulus it has to create patterns. I don’t for a minute believe in Chomsky’s universal grammar, I don’t believe that for a minute. I think the way we naturally, through listening as children and hearing the language, start to form patterns, put labels on things and then start to make sense of it. It’s the same way we deal with all the phenomena that we encounter in life. The brain has to put some order to this; otherwise, every time they encounter that situation it’s new, so they have to make rules, they make their own rules.

I think all of our brains work the same way; however, for whatever reason, we have different interests. Some people like sports. Some people like music. Some people like reading. Some people don’t like reading. So there are definitely different types of language learners. I think the key thing there and the challenge is to try to find out what makes people tick when it comes to language learning. How can you trigger people and how can you design a curriculum with 30 different people in the classroom that is going to make sure each student is motivated to the maximum. That should be the challenge in language learning, rather than grammar instruction or drills and worrying about kinetic learners and things of that nature.

Anyway, that’s the start of a good discussion, so I look forward to hearing from you. Bye for now.

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11 June 2015

The Importance of Grammar

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today I want to talk a little bit about grammar. By the way, you notice I don’t have my glasses on. I had this eye operated on so I can see. If I look at the screen now and close my bad eye, I can see very, very clearly. If I close this eye, it’s a blur. Eventually, I’ll have the other eye done and then I’ll see far away. I’ll still need glasses for reading, but that’s great.

Grammar, the importance of grammar and how we should deal with grammar, there’s this constant debate. Some people say grammar is a waste of time. Other people say that you have to first learn the basics. It’s a theme that I’ve dealt with before, but I thought I would go into it again.

Very quickly on the subject of videos in different languages, we want to take our time doing them because we want to develop subtitles in English. I’ve got the list here:

{Steve speaking various languages}

I don’t think I’ll be able to handle Polish yet.

{Steve speaking various languages}

Anyway, just to say, I’ll be going through those, but I want to wait until we’re able to provide subtitles.

Grammar, a big debate on our forum at LingQ, my view is this. I think traditional language instruction places far too much emphasis on grammar and it does it the wrong way. It introduces complicated explanations, complicated rules and then a bunch of exercises where you’re forced to try to practice what you’ve just, presumably, learned. The trouble is you don’t learn it because many of these correct usage patterns take a while to assimilate.

Most language books you buy are going to have 70% grammar explanations, exercises and a small amount of text. I think you should have far more interesting text with a vocabulary list and some focus on the basic patterns that show up in this text and then they should be introduced again in subsequent lessons. Here again is this pattern that we’ve seen before, here are five more examples and here are two that show up in the lesson, so you’re getting a chance to review the basic patterns without worrying too much about explanations.

Grammar Granny

You can have some explanations, but without the drills and the exercises and focus mostly on content and the reason is this. A language that you have had lots of exposure in, that you’ve spoken a lot in, you start to sense instinctively what is correct and what isn’t. Correct not only insofar as grammar rule endings or whatever, but also in terms of word usage. This is just a matter of getting used to the language and when you are used to the language you naturally say it correctly.

If you are relying on your recollection of the rule, you will always doubt yourself. Even when you got it right, even when you have a sense of how it’s used correctly, you will doubt yourself. You’ll want to look it up, you’ll want to check against the rule and that’s not good for developing fluency. Focus more on comprehension, vocabulary, input, getting used to the language, with a little bit of help by way of review of basic grammar patterns. Grammar has its place, but that’s how I would go about it.

I’m trying to keep these videos short. We can have more discussion on the subject, if there’s interest. Bye for now.

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4 June 2015

What Do You Believe? The Placebo Effect Of Language Learning

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi There Steve Kaufmann here again to talk about language learning.

And I want to talk about something that I often think of and that I have been meaning to do a video on and that is what I would call the placebo effect in language learning. Placebo P L A C E B O that’s what they call the sort of; hen they test a new medicine, they typically give, say, half the people they are testing the new medicine and another half the placebo, which looks like the medicine, but in fact doesn’t have any medicinal ingredients.

And when they test people they find that if there are three groups. Let’s say; those who took the medicine, those who took the placebo, which is an imitation medicine and those who took nothing. That if the medicine is effective then the people who took the medicine will do better. The people who took the placebo will do next best and the people who did nothing, will do less well. So even those who think they have the medicine are going to do better, because our belief in the power of, say, a pill or something influences us because everything inside us is influenced by how we feel and what we think.

Whatever Works For You

And in language learning it is exactly the same way. I know that I am a better language learner today in my 70th year than I was at the age of 16 because I know I can do it and I am confident that I going to succeed. But it is not only that. I know that the method I am using is effective. I know that reading is very good for my language learning. Right now I am reading a long novel in Spanish, it is called “Dime quién soy” and it’s a very interesting spy thriller that takes place in the historical – you know – civil war in Spain and Second World War and stuff, but I know that just the fact of reading this book is going to do so much for my Spanish. Improve it. I am exposing myself to certain patterns, to words and stuff. But if I don’t believe that reading is good for my Spanish, and right now I am not really working on Spanish. It is just that I happened to come across this book and I am reading it.

Believe - Book

But it was the same when I was learning Czech. Very early on I started reading this book on Czech history and even though there were a lot of words that I didn’t know and which I didn’t look up, but I know from experience that – and because I have some sense of the history – so as I read through this thing it is not only enjoyable, but it makes me feel good because I know that it is going to improve my Czech.

Believe In The Method

So some of you may not like to read. I happen to believe that reading and then listening when you don’t have the ability to focus on just the one task, but I happen to know that that is very effective and I believe it is very effective. If you believe other things are effective. If you believe that Pimsleur is effective, if you believe that assimil is effective, if you believe that Anki is effective. Whatever it is, if you believe it that is going to help you learn. Our attitude towards the task, as I have said so many times, you know that we like the language, that we’re confident and stuff. But even to the extent that you have to believe in the method – the learning method.

And one of the difficulties we have at LingQ is to persuade people that just by doing the things that we ask them to do, just by reading and listening and saving words and reviewing these words and then eventually talking to people that that’s going to improve their language skills. If they don’t believe that: A. they won’t stick with it but B. it’s that placebo effect, just as with these tests of the effectiveness of medicine. If you believe in the medicine, if you believe in the method, you will do better. So whatever your favourite method is believe in it and stay with it and you will learn better.

Videos In Your Language

By the way, one final thing, I am happy to do some of these in other languages. Which languages would you like hear me speak in? Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, French, Russian, German, Swedish whatever. Let me know. I will try my best even if in fact if I happen to stumble while speaking in those languages.

Bye for now.

Posted in Learning Languages, Learning Techniques | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Responses

1 June 2015

Why we need language teachers

Many people, at some time or another, say they want to learn another language. Few manage to get beyond a beginner level. Most of these unsuccessful learners have language teachers explaining the language to them, drilling them and correcting them. Successful language learners don’t need anyone to explain the language to them, correct them, nor drill them in the language.

This, then,  begs the question. Do we really need language teachers?

The Quiet Revolution

Montreal in 1961 was a society of two solitudes, of two separate societies, one French speaking and one English speaking. The “quiet revolution”, which would change the role of the French language in Quebec, and lead to a transformation of Quebec society, was just about to take place. Jean Lesage had just been elected Premier of Quebec.

I lived in Montreal at the time and was essentially unilingual, despite 12 years of French language classes at school. Just as happened with Quebec society, I experienced my own quiet revolution, and was transformed. As result I now know 15 languages. Why did that happen?

graffiti-156018_640

The agent of my transformation was not a politician, but a teacher, a French professor at McGill University, whose name was Maurice Rabotin. He stimulated me. He provoked me. He encouraged me, and I developed a passionate interest in French culture and civilisation. I then proceeded to learn the language on my own. He didn’t teach me the language.

The Best Kind Of Teacher

Over the past few months I have been interacting with a Spanish class at St. Andrews School in Delaware, in the United States. The high school students in this school, after 2-4 years of Spanish, are able to express themselves surprisingly eloquently, on fairly complex subjects of their own choosing. Their achievements are impressive, and far above the ordinary. Why are they so exceptional, compared to the typical results of high school language instruction?

In my view, a major reason is their teacher, Donald Duffy. He stimulates them, provokes them, and encourages them. The results speak for themselves. When his students spoke to me in Spanish, he only helped them if they ask for it. He didn’t correct them. Yet they discussed history, art and other subjects quite fluently.

Language teachers - happy students

So it seems to me that a teacher is not needed to teach the language, but can be a decisive factor in the acquisition of the language. To see why that is so it is important to review some interesting research results on language acquisition.

Language Acquisition

In my recent video entitled “The three main myths about language learning” I referred to a most interesting paper entitled:

Self-Selected Pleasure Reading and Story Listening for Foreign Language Classrooms by Beniko Mason

Some of her most incisive comments, based on her research, are as follows.

Reading books and listening to stories for acquiring a foreign language may sound like nothing new. We have been teaching reading and listening for the last 50 to 100 years in foreign language programs in schools all over the world. But the way we have been offering reading and listening classes to students has been ineffective, inefficient, and insufficient.”

What has been ineffective, inefficient, and insufficient about the way we offer reading and listening classes is that we teach in skill-based explicit ways…. Teachers have been misled to believe that conscious learning of the rules of the language is necessary, and that output practice helps consciously learned knowledge become automatic competence. What is needed is a drastic change in teachersʼ understanding.

Teachers must understand that consciously learned knowledge is fragile and easily forgotten, but unconsciously acquired language competence is permanent. Most language rules do not have to be explicitly taught. They can be acquired without teachers’ spending hours on explanation, and without studentsʼ doing hours of drill-based homework. They can be acquired through reading many books and listening to many stories”(for more research evidence of the effects of reading on language acquisition, see Krashen, 2004). Besides, when students are forced to do drills, they do not learn much. People have said that conscious learning is a short cut, but this is not the case.”(Mason, 2005, 2007; Mason & Krashen, 2004)

Language teachers - Bored students

Some late-acquired rules of grammar may have to be pointed out and taught to more advanced second language acquirers, especially for editing purposes, but the majority of foreign language students in colleges and universities seem to be beginners and low intermediates, and our immediate goal is to help them become upper intermediate or low advanced learners. Another goal in school is to help students become autonomous, so that they can keep acquiring English on their own after they finish school“(Krashen, 1998). After we help them reach the high intermediate(for example, paper and pencil TOEFL 500) and low advanced levels (for example TOEFL 550), they can continue to improve their competency on their own.

Students can reach the upper intermediate level largely from reading and listening” (Krashen, 2004) and can reach the most advanced “academic” language level only through reading. “More skill-building, more correction, and more output do not consistently result in more proficiency” (Krashen, 1994, page 48). Rather: “Reading is the only way we become good readers, develop a good writing style, an adequate vocabulary, advanced grammar, and the only way we become good spellers.”

Abundant listening and reading experience is missing in our language programs. Story-listening and self-selected pleasure reading are the bridge to academic language.

We have been making students speak and write too early. We make our students repeat after the teacher or a tape, have them sing songs, and make them memorize texts and dialogs. We make them do free conversation when they are not yet ready to speak easily. We make students write with correct spelling, make them write a diary, and make them translate texts in writing. We do this because we believe that speaking and writing practice causes improvement in speaking and writing. Those who listen and read do better on writing and speaking than those who do not spend as much time in reading and listening.”

I can’t improve on what Ms. Mason has written here. I can only confirm that this has been my experience.

My Language Learning “Secret”

Why have I often learned faster than other learners? Because I read so much more than most other language learners. I also engage in massive pleasure listening to subjects of interest. Where I am unable to find interesting content in both audio and text format, my learning suffers.

Why do I not tend to forget the languages that I learn? Because I learned them through massive listening and reading using material of interest to me. If I were to learn them using grammar explanations then my knowledge of these languages would be “fragile” as Mason says.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Stephen Krashen over lunch in Riverside, California. He gave me a remarkable paper which I hope will bring about a  “quiet revolution” in language instruction.

language teachers Krashen and Steve

Can second language acquirers reach high levels of proficiency through self-selected reading? An attempt to confirm Nation’s (2014) results.

Stephen Krashen
University of Southern California (Emeritus)
USA

Beniko Mason
Shitennoji University Junior College
Osaka, Japan

Abstract
An analysis done by Nation (2014) leads to the conclusion that readers in English as a foreign language can gain about one-half a point on the TOEIC test for every hour of independent English reading. A statistical analysis of progress made by seven adult acquirers of English living in Japan was performed to confirm this conclusion: All were intermediates, but there was considerable variation, with TOEIC scores ranging from 220 to 705. All engaged in self-selected reading, and took pre and post TOEIC tests. Hours spent reading was an excellent predictor of gains on the TOEIC and the rate of improvement was nearly exactly the same as that reported by Nation.

On the basis of a corpus analysis, Nation (2014) estimated that readers can move from elementary levels of vocabulary knowledge in a second language (knowledge of 2000 word families) to a very high level (knowledge of 9000 word families) after a total 1,223 hours of reading, about one hour a day over three years. Nation concluded that a “vocabulary size of 9,000 words or more is a sensible long-term goal for unassisted reading of simplified texts” as it will “provide coverage of over 98% of the running words in a wide range of texts.”

Some may argue that this sample is too small, and perhaps from a methodology perspective this is a valid criticism. However, the validation of these results is all around me.

Passing The Tests

I can confirm that a high level of vocabulary is needed to understand normal adult material in a language, whether listening or reading. This is essentially what TOEIC is all about.I can also confirm that reading is the most effective, and least expensive, way to acquire this vocabulary. Even for specific tasks, like working at the reception desk of a hotel, or going to the bank, we can’t just learn the “task based “ language. We need a broader grounding in the language which is best acquired through pleasurable listening and reading.

language teachers A plus

I enjoy listening,  as a convenient way to get used to the sounds and intonation of a language, and to prepare for speaking. But to acquire a word, I usually want to see it. The image that I retain of a word is its written form, rather than a picture. I visualize the letters “R” “E” “D” and not the colour red when I hear the word “red”.

Why Do We Need Language Teachers?

So again, we have the question. If reading and listening are the most effective ways to learn a language, why do we need a teacher? The answer is simple. Most of us need to be stimulated, encouraged and provoked.

I have likened language learning to grazing, wandering over vast areas of content, reading a bit here, listening to a bit there. The role of the teacher is that of shepherd, prodding us to go in search of greener pastures, steering us in the right direction, rounding up the stragglers, but letting us munch away at our own pace and to our hearts’ content.

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28 May 2015

Three Myths About Language Learning

3_myths_about_language_learning
I want to talk about what I consider to be the three myths about language learning – the biggest myths. That…

  1. You have to practice speaking and focus on grammar.
  2. You have to go to school.
  3. It’s difficult.

I’m still excited about having had lunch with Stephen Krashen in Riverside, California last week. At that time, he gave me a paper which is called “Can Second Language Acquired Reach High Levels of Proficiency through Self-Selected Reading”. In this paper, he confirms that the more we read, the better we learn and the higher our score is on tests like TOEIC. There is research to show how many hours of reading will give you what result on TOEIC and I’m going to analyze this in more detail.

In doing research for this, because this paper was produced by Stephen Krashen and Beniko Mason, who is an English teacher in Japan, I also Googled Beniko Mason and here there was a very interesting paper called ‘Self-Selected Pleasure Reading and Story Listening for Foreign Language Classroom’.

Myths About Language Learning

Both these papers stress the basic fact that in order to acquire a language, more than anything else, you need to read and it identifies how much you need to read and, of course, listening is also powerful. I happen to be a great fan of listening because it helps prepare me to speak and because it’s something I can do while doing other tasks, but I know that I need a lot of reading in order to acquire vocabulary.

There are a number of gems in both of these articles about how at the early stages most learners of language never get past the beginner or early intermediate stage. So whether those people speak absolutely correctly, whether we hound them on points of grammar, in any case, it’s going to take a lot of exposure and practice before it’s going to click in. Maybe the main thing is to get those people to where they can communicate a little bit without worrying about how correctly they speak. That’s just one example, there are many more.

Read And Listen

This is so fundamental, so important, read and listen. Therefore, you don’t need to be instructed, you don’t need to be corrected. Once you get to an intermediate level, the other goal of language teaching should be to make you an autonomous independent learner. So once you reach that intermediate level through lots of reading and listening, you will more and more correct yourself or you’ll seek out some grammar explanations. Wherever you feel there are gaps or mistakes that you keep making, you’ll start to notice those, if you are an autonomous and motivated learner. To get to that stage, rather than overwhelming you with rules, if we can get people to choose things of interest, stories, whatever they’re interested in, to read and listen.

I know I sound like a bit of a broken record, but it’s so overwhelmingly true. Not everybody likes to read when they don’t know the words and, basically, that’s what’s behind LingQ. I was the same way. I had all kinds of books in different languages, there were too many words that I didn’t know, I didn’t like looking them up in a dictionary, therefore, we developed LingQ as sort of an assist, but the fundamental activity is reading and listening. That will get you to where you have a sufficient base in the language so you can then work on the areas you’re weak in, including pronunciation. At least you have a feel for the language, you have some vocabulary and you’re not discouraged.

Motivation Is All You Need

Again, the three major mistakes that people make are they think they need lots of instruction. They’ve got to worry about grammar. They’ve got to worry about output. Not true. Second of all, they need to go to a classroom. They don’t. It can help if you don’t have the motivation, but it’s not necessary. The third thing is that it’s complicated. It’s not complicated. It requires time and motivation.

So there you go. I kind of say the same thing over and over again, but it’s so important and so few people really grasp it.

 

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21 May 2015

The Importance of Compelling Content

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. Today, again, I want to talk about communicating in language learning, it’s so important. We communicate when we speak, obviously, but we also communicate when we listen and read.

The other day on our forum at LingQ, someone said they had been working at LingQ listening and reading and felt as if they weren’t making any progress. They didn’t feel they understood any better than three months earlier. They had done a 90-day challenge at LingQ.

I’m going to ask that person: Are you listening to and reading things that you’re really interested in. In other words, is this compelling content?

Stephen Krashen on compelling content

This is something that Stephen Krashen refers to all the time – compelling content. If what you are reading and listening to is of great interest to you and, I might add, if you’re listening to something where you enjoy the voice and the subject is of interest and possibly the subject is familiar to you, I don’t see how you can’t understand more and more.

If, on the other hand, you’re listening to something that’s not interesting and you’re listening over and over again, yes, you are going to basically stop progressing because the brain requires things that are stimulating. Even in terms of learning content it has to be stimulating in some way.

I have made reference in previous videos to this interleaving, that it’s a good idea sometimes to leave something you’re working on. Go and do something else, study some other subject and then come back to it. All of this refreshes the brain and the brain learns better, rather than trying to learn a block of something or force yourself to learn something that’s not very interesting to you.

Communication is the way to go

Communicating is the best way to learn. Communication, whether it be listening and reading, which I consider to be communicating, or speaking, this is the key to learning, but it has to be compelling. It has to be of interest and the more compelling, the nicer the voice in your ears, the more you are attracted to the subject, the better you’re going to learn.

Compelling Content - communication
Image by Rick & Brenda Beerhorst

So remember Stephen Krashen with his compelling content, it has to be compelling. If it’s very compelling content it can be very difficult for you, but you’ll work your way through it. So, communicating, but meaningful, compelling communication.

Thanks for listening.

Learn from this transcript on LingQ

Posted in Learning Languages, Learning Techniques, Online Learning | 1 Response

14 May 2015

Listening And Reading IS Communicating Effectively

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. Here I am again in Palm Springs. My wife and I bought a little house here so that we can come here in the winter. We have to come down now to fix it up.

I want to talk about communicating, communicating and language learning. I read somewhere that they think language ability in humans was developed so that humans could collaborate in a hunt or whatever it was that primitive human beings did. The ability to communicate effectively, in other words the language skill, gave them a tremendous advantage as a species.

When we learn a language, communicating effectively is what it’s all about. We learn in order to communicate and we learn by communicating. To me, communicating includes listening. When we’re listening, we’re communicating effectively. When we’re reading, we’re communicating. When we’re reading grammar rules, we’re not communicating effectively. That’s not to say that we don’t have to look at grammar rules to try to remind ourselves of how things work in the language, but the main way we learn is through communicating. In my own case, as you know, I put a lot of emphasis on input.

I had an opportunity, two nights ago, to spend an evening with a delightful Russian couple who live in Palo Alto. To me, it was almost like a reward for the years I’ve spent listening and reading in Russian. They invited me for a wonderful Russian meal.

Communicating Effectively - Alyona and Anatoly
Lovely Russian couple – Alyona and Anatoly

I was visiting with them because, particularly Alyona, is part of a project called Mulbabar, which is a Russian project whereby journalists, including a very famous Russian journalist called Dmitry Yakovlev, want to create a new media which takes some of the tension and hype out of the present atmosphere of – I would even say hate – that seems to be prevailing in Russia; the hate and antagonism, specifically between Russia and Ukraine, but in a broader sense. I very much support that initiative, but beyond that for me to spend an evening talking in Russian, eating Russian food, experiencing that Russian atmosphere that I so much enjoy was a reward.

Just a final note: Communicating of course includes speaking, but it’s not only speaking. Just out of curiosity, I looked at my statistics at LingQ and I have read well over a million words in Russian, according to my statistics at LingQ, so I have read much more than that. Every day, just about, I download from Ekho Moskvy two, three or four interviews and each interview is 30-40 minutes long. I’m sure I’ve listened to six-seven thousand hours of Russian over the last nine-10 years.

How much have I spoken? Again, mostly I’ve spoken with our tutors at LingQ. We keep those statistics, I’ve spoken 150 hours. Throw in another 10 or 15 hours where I’ve met people like the other evening and spoken. So I have listened 50 times more than I have spoken. That’s not because I don’t want to speak, I just haven’t had the opportunity, whereas there’s ample opportunity to listen and read.

Listening and reading IS communicating. It’s a wonderful way to communicate, it prepares you for those great opportunities when you can actually talk and use the language. And, of course, the more you talk the better you get at speaking, but listening and reading is also communicating effectively.

That’s kind of the point I wanted to make tonight and I’m going to make another video on the subject of communicating and listening and what we should listen to and what we should read to make it meaningful.

Thanks very much, bye for now.

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13 May 2015

Should More Money Be Spent On Language Education?

More money should be spent on language instruction says this article from The Atlantic. Yet many of the arguments strike me, a language learning enthusiast, as out of date.

Educators from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., this past Thursday to lobby in the interest of world languages. It was Language Advocacy Day, an annual event on Capitol Hill that is aimed at garnering more federal support for language education.” and it the argument continues; Each year as national budget priorities are determined, language education is losing out—cuts have been made to funding for such instruction, including Title VI grants and the Foreign Language Assistance Program. And the number of language enrollments in higher education in the U.S. declined by more than 111,000 spots between 2009 and 2013—the first drop since 1995. Translation? Only 7 percent of college students in America are enrolled in a language course.



Empty Seats - Classroom - Language
Image by SrgPicker

Will Extra Funding Have An Impact?

Yes, fewer and fewer students are enrolling in language courses. Why is that? Maybe students just aren’t interested. Would increased funding change that? I wonder. Maybe it has to do with the methods of language instruction, and the poor results. Maybe teachers should be looking at their own methods rather than asking for more money for programs that are not in demand.

Another challenge emerges when looking at the languages these students are learning, too. In 2013, roughly 198,000 U.S. college students were taking a French course; just 64, on the other hand, were studying Bengali. Yet, globally,193 million people speak Bengali, while 75 million speak French. In fact, Arne Duncan, the U.S. education secretary, noted back in 2010 that the vast majority—95 percent—of all language enrollments were in a European language. This is just one indicator demonstrating the shortcomings and inequalities in language education today.

Interest And Enthusiasm

Language learning is not about equal rights for all languages. It takes a great deal of interest and enthusiasm to learn a language. Forcing people to learn languages that they are unlikely to be able to use is not a great idea. What should matter is which languages people want to learn, regardless of the reason. We should let learners choose which languages to learn, and help them.

Less than 1 percent of American adults today are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a U.S. classroom. That’s noteworthy considering that in 2008 almost all high schools in the country—93 percent—offered foreign languages, according to a national survey.

Enthusiasm - Language
Image by UCFFool

Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. Present language instruction is largely a failure, according to this statistic. (Although I know of  brilliant teachers who are spectacularly successful). But overall it is not successful, so it is time to look at the model and see where it can be improved, rather than asking for more money to waste on something that doesn’t work very well.

More Language Teachers?

And then there’s the problem of teacher shortages. Even if schools embrace the various benefits of foreign-language instruction, finding qualified, experienced, and engaging, bilingual teachers in a crunch is tough. The language-policy analyst Rachel Hanson describes this as a big chicken-or-the-egg challenge in language education: “You can’t expand language education if you don’t have the pool of teachers to teach it,” she said. “And, if the students aren’t learning the language and becoming proficient, they won’t become teachers.

Maybe, in the world of the Internet, mobile computing, greatly expanded connections between people all over the globe, we don’t need so many qualified teachers with credentials. We need enthusiastic teachers willing to embrace newer ways to teach. Maybe those teachers can not only offer guidance and stimulus in the languages that they speak (ideal situation) but also help students who want to learn other languages, using Internet resources. If the learner is motivated enough, and if the teacher can provide the stimulus and support, a great many languages can be learned just using resources available on the Internet.

Posted in Learning Languages, Politics, Traditional Instruction | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Responses