Jenkins agrees with Thornbury that second language acquisition research is useful for validating our classroom practices and as a starting point for developing new techniques-- as well as a bulwark against imposters promoting questionable teaching methodologies. After distinguishing between second and foreign language acquisition he introduced several of the better-known theories in these fields and invited us to discuss them in the context of actual classroom application. We brainstormed in groups to recall and consider a specific kind of lesson we had done or seen, and then tried to match it with a supporting theory from those he had told us about. When some time had been spent on this, each group in turn reported their conclusions followed by a general discussion of further possible practical exploitation, and difficulties that might be encountered.
Reports of our meetings. Click on a month to see details.
TRIDENT (Triangular Denary System for Translation Disparity) is a triangular grid devised by Robert Murphy as a tool for making such dimensions of language as uniqueness vs. universality and figurativeness vs. literalness more tangible for students. Within minutes we had grasped the use of the grid and were able to assign words from a text to each of the nodes.
Recent brain research from Harvard has shown that emotional connection is as effective as repetition in moving learned material into long-term memory, and Murphy argued that manga provide that kind of emotional connection for students. If you accept Lange and Piage’s premise that we are all cultural beings and that language is the quintessential expression of culture, it makes sense to incorporate occasional translation exercises into TEFL lessons. In the Kitakyushu dialect cartoon with which we experimented, the pictures made the context very clear. Using the TRIDENT grid, we could physically measure the distance between the colloquial language of the manga and the flat and flavorless English phrases students meet in their textbooks. Working out a range of translations for various nodes on the grid has led Murphy’s students to ask important questions and feel at home with English.
Collett and Swanson gave us an inspirational couple of hours regarding CALL in the classroom and out, integrating students’ lives ever more closely with using English in functional and fun ways. Social networking Facebook and micro-blogging Twitter are big, as are all their followers and competitors, and everyone is using them already anyway-- but there are hassles and dangers so why not use their concepts and the services subsequently developed, and design your own system to exploit this opportunity for authentic communicative language practice?
These two experts walked us through the basics of various networking set-up, pointing out further potential exploitation possible with more sophisticated management, and that for a small monthly fee it can all be done for you. Keeping up with current events on the personal and global level is attractive to most people, however it can be de-motivating if students find themselves unable to keep up with the responses—and unwilling to have their mistakes floating around in cyber-space forever, another good reason to set up a closed network for your classroom. And the good news is that Swanson and Collett are both willing to help you do that.
Responding to the current MEXT objective of traditional teacher-centered classes giving way to a more communicative and interactive approach, Thompson and Millington constructed some task-based exercises to develop students’ oral communication strategies while focusing upon specific English challenges such as article usage. Their methodology was demonstrated by six volunteers describing and ordering photographs into a coherent story, related by one member, paying particular attention to article usage. (Narrations have been shown to produce the most plentiful and correct article use; in classroom practice, the next stage of this exercise is for the class to work in groups transcribing the narration, correcting and then performing it.)
We shared observations of the group’s interaction—and the extent to which Willis’s task stages of pre-task, task cycle and language focus had been followed. The presenters noted a major problem of task-based learning is that so many points demand simultaneous attention that the tendency is to just let them go, and deal with them later, which is perhaps concentrating too much on communication and not enough on awareness of language construction. The presentation concluded with an open discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of using tasks in this particular learning context.
Amihan April Mella-Alcazar provided both inspiration and advice to an audience largely consisting of university English majors. The inspiration came from her own example of learning a third language at school in her native Philippines and her fourth through sixth languages while serving internships or pursuing higher degrees in foreign countries. Her advice was for students to find a practical application for their English skills in volunteer work or internships in an area of interest to them. She gave four concrete examples: the JALT-sponsored Teachers Helping Teachers program which operates throughout Asia, the Asian Youth Forum which meets in rotating Asian countries annually, the Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (AIESEC, an international student-led organization) internships which take place all over the world, and the Philippine Study Tour which is a joint project of AIESEC and the Bukid Foundation (which Alcazar helped establish) on Mindoro Oriental. She walked students through the application process for each program and played video clips showcasing them.
Murata wrote, “There is a shortcut to the TOEIC test” on the whiteboard and then illustrated how she successfully guides students through their preparation with that adage in mind. Motivate them by reminding them of the bragging rights that come with a high score, make them memorize as many words as possible—with correct pronunciation, help them get used to unexpected yet natural responses in a variety of English accents. Don’t waste valuable exam time listening to predictable directions—just read as much as possible, remember the TOEIC is business orientated, to help guess answers when necessary and be sure to finish the test. Murata then completed her whiteboard advice with, “but there is no shortcut to learning English properly,” which set up the final group discussion very well.
Sullivan has used genre analysis in a immigrant literacy program in Australia to familiarize students with the type of documents they encounter in their new society, and has adapted the methodology in Japan for the TOEIC preparation. She uses test questions as useful practice exercises for business English, then encourages analysis for a deeper understanding of the subject—and hence the test itself.
Post-presentation lively discussion honed in on the whiteboard theme, bemoaning the control over TEFL teaching that TOEIC wields, resulting in no correlation between actual communication ability and appropriate class placement, frustrating for many instructors—who can ascertain both within three minutes of casual chatting. We pointed out that such a test was actually pointless if crammed for and underscores an endemic fixation with exam taking—but conceded that it was generally useful for job placement, and speculated upon its future in the current economic climate.
So English is not so different from Japanese-- nor other languages either? Urushibara proposes that “Language Awareness” be the basis for English education in Japan, particularly when it is introduced at the primary level. She maintains that while vocabulary is arbitrary and must be explicitly “learned”, grammatical knowledge is universal and therefore comes cost-free in principle. She supported this notion with many examples and some technical terms-- explained to us in very accessible language.
Urushibara stresses that English is not Japan’s second language, but a foreign language—and should be taught in the context of Japanese. After discussing language’s shared properties, she showed ways of expressing them in various languages and then how to recognize and hence utilize our tacit knowledge of them coupled with our first language to support understanding of the target language. She noted that unique aspects of grammar, such as word order and agreement can best be handled in terms of contrast.
After some discussion of the relative roles of teachers and computers in language instruction, Urushibara fielded questions and remarks about our classroom experiences with and reflections upon the interrelationships of languages.
English language education seems about to become mandatory from elementary school in Japan. However, it appears that reading and writing are not to be taught at this level. Long-time EFL materials writer, instructor and school owner David Lisgo is concerned that teachers will be unprepared to teach the new curriculum. Using picture cards from the Finding Out series by David Paul, and many others he has made, Lisgo gave us an evening of songs, games and activities that he has developed to introduce pre-reading and initial reading skills—and a CD full of materials to use.
It was all hands-on and participatory; we lined up to receive picture cards and shout out what they were, or “I know, I know” to solve a riddle from hints. We challenged our blending and segmenting skills to figure out what words were spelled from initial letters of other words (very important groundwork for learning to read and write) and our short-term memories by jumping up to identify the missing card, and we sang songs together. (Parents are happy if you send kids home tired.) His target audience--teachers of kindergarten, elementary and 1st grade junior high school children, got lots of good ideas – and we all went home tired.
Sullivan began by introducing the textbook she recently co-wrote, leading into her presentation of the kinds of insights that come out of the book-writing process. She said that the (apparent) common wisdom of “chuck[ing] a native speaker into a classroom and suddenly it all happens,” falls somewhat short of according the teaching of oral English the kind of respect it deserves. It needs to be recognized that spoken language has unique features quite apart from the written form—which might help dispel the thematic superficiality and one-dimensional aspect of sample conversations in many textbooks. Having studied Japanese since elementary school, Sullivan feels well-qualified to assess methodology from “the other side of the classroom”. She points out that sophistication in content is important-- university students are adults after all—but they have been studying EFL for so long that patterns have developed they need to break out of; they need to be pushed up to the next level and in her classes with her textbook she attempts to do just that.
Recognizing however that any textbook is just a tool to be used in the process of encouraging conversation, the latter half of the meeting was turned over to an open and lively discussion of ways and means to facilitate this,
Yamanishi’s comment that he does not so much teach English as teach through English is well borne out in his exploitation of English newspapers in education (E.N.I.E.) to stimulate interesting classroom conversation practice. He led us through an introduction and sampling of a wide variety of exercises, interspersed with explanations and observations of the particular language of this medium, such as the fact that answers to Wh question words can usually be found in the lead line and that verbs are always in the present tense, with the be verb omitted in passive constructions.
The flu pandemic is currently topical, with plenty written about it, from which can be gleaned answers to the questions, “When do we have Stage Six?” and “When did we have Stage Six?” as well as an appreciation of how the meaning changes completely with the verb tense. The TV schedule pages invite questions about what’s on, when, and how many weather programs there are in the mornings. Among the input welcomed from the audience was a suggestion that students might try to guess the content of some programs from their titles—increasing awareness of immigrants about what is available to watch in their new country.
Why were there three photos of dogs on one page? And why was one photo bigger than the others? (Maybe because it was President Obama’s dog.) In the before and after picture of the Hiroshima Dome, how was the before photo produced in color? (Computer graphics.) Why translate “Okuribito” as “Departures”? A picture of a little girl whose parents have been deported from Japan leads to expression of differing opinions of the judge's decision.
In groups we memorized sections of Obama’s inaugural address and then performed them—which was fun, as it probably is in class. In fact, the whole evening was a good indication of how Professor Yamanishi has been stimulating English language practice for over a decade.