Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, October 18, 2004

AUA Observation Journal

by AJ Hoge

Note: All classes consist of adults eighteen years and older. Class size ranges from 5 to 10 students... and varies from day to day as AUA has open enrollment. Classes are offered from 7am to 8pm, and students are free to vary their schedule from day to day. All classes are team taught by two teachers. AUA is a private language institute.

Dec 11, 2003

Class 1: Beginning Level: Narrative Story: First Girlfriend

The teachers told stories about their first dating experiences. The stories were coherent, clear, and well acted out with gestures and drawings in order to boost comprehension. However, the actual language used was far too complex for a basic level class. I'd guess that the input was roughly i+4 or so.... so while the gist of the story was clear, it was difficult to acquire vocabulary as there was far too little repetition.... and far too many words used.

Class 2: Beginning Level: Narrative: Fashion

The two teachers started with a repetitive ritual of reviewing the day, date, and year,... then counting the students, then counting the men, then the women. They also reviewed the nationalities of each student. This input was very simple and perfect for a basic level class. The vocabulary (numbers, nationalities, days, months, year) was easy to comprehend and acquire.

Following the opening routine, the teachers launched into a general talk about fashion. They brought in fashion magazines and showed them to the class... then discussed what outfits they liked and which ones they did not like. There was a lot of repetition of clothing vocabulary, which was good. On the other hand, they skipped topics frequently... jumping from one magazine to the next. This made it very difficult to follow at times.

Class 3: Beginning Level: Narrative: Wai Class

This was a fantastic class. The teachers presented a "how-to" lesson on the correct way to bow and greet people in Thailand (called a "wai"). First they taught the basic technique of bowing while positioning your hands correctly. They gave many demonstrations. One teacher acted as instructor while the other teacher acted as the student... making mistakes and being corrected. The vocabulary was comprehensible, and the topic was so interesting that students (including me) forgot that the class was being conducted in Thai.

After the demonstration phase, the teachers worked with students on proper wai technique... which is very particular. Again, students focused so much on trying to get the "wai" right that they became absorbed in the class and forgot about trying to learn Thai. Thus the affective filter was lowered... there was no anxiety. Vocabulary related to the body and to "wai"ing was subconsciously acquired with no effort whatsoever.

This class clearly demonstrated the power of the Natural Approach for me. When the level of input is in the "i+1" range, and the topic is absorbing and meaningful, and anxiety and effort are eliminated... a powerful synergy seems to kick in... more language is acquired and retained.... yet there is absolutely no stress and no conscious effort or study.

General Thoughts:

I am still ambivalent about the idea of using two teachers in the classroom. There seem to be advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, two teachers allows for a talk show format.... students are exposed to fluid conversations from native speakers in a controlled environment. Also, one teacher often plays the role of student or assistant.... they ask clarifying questions, demonstrate the action in stories, draw on the board, etc... Since AUA uses a very long silent period, the dual teacher format is a good way to have two sided conversations without forcing students to speak.

One weakness of this format is that it can create a very passive learning environment. The first two classes today were interesting, but there was no interaction with the students. Since students were not directly engaged or involved, it was easier to drift off or get tired. The third class showed that this does not need to happen just because there is a silent period. Students were very actively involved in the lesson even though they did not speak. I was thoroughly engaged in the activity with no hint of fatigue or distraction.

Dec 12, 2003

Class One: Beginning Level: Narrative: A Typical Day

One of the teachers gave a narrative about her typical day. She described waking up, eating, commuting to work, etc... At first this was interesting, but I gradually became groggy as the class wore on. I started to zone out and lose my concentration. I noticed other students doing the same. The key problem was that the class was entirely passive. The teacher talked and talked but nothing was related back to the students. The second teacher drew pictures on the board but there was very little acting out or physical involvement in the story. Also, the language was far too complex for this level of class. It was very difficult to comprehend.

Class Two: Beginning Level: Narrative: Love Actually

The teachers brought in a poster for the movie "Love Actually" and talked about its plot. The poster helped maintain visual interest... and the teachers were more animated than during the previous class. However, the class was still essentially passive for the students and thus concentration seemed to wane halfway through the lesson.

Class Three: Beginning Level: Narrative: New Years Celebrations

This class started similar to the previous two, but quickly became much more engaging. The difference is that students were pulled up to the front of the class to act out various parts in the story. One teacher told a story about last New Years Eve. He directed various students to play characters in the story. This had a BIG effect on both comprehension and interest. The physical movement, watching our friends and fellow students, seeing the action acted out by living people.... all this helped tremendously when compared to the previous two classes.

Class Four: Beginning: Family Trees

This lesson was designed to teach vocabulary related to family members. The teachers drew their family trees and talked about the various relationships between them. Again this was interesting for about twenty minutes, but then became overwhelming and boring. However, after about thirty minutes they asked students to draw their own families and began asking questions about them. This provoked immediate involvement and interest. I quickly perked back up and became very curious about my classmate's families.

General Thoughts:

*Interaction seems to be an important element in maintaining student interest and concentration, especially in an intensive language program like AUA's. Most students spend three to six hours a day in the classroom, so issues of concentration, energy, and fatigue are vital.

*I have been doing some reading about AUA's program... from a Masters thesis by Keith Challenger. While the study itself is not terribly useful, his literature review is quite interesting and contains a lot of good stuff. Some random quotes that caught my eye:

"The problem solving cognitive system (of adults) gets in the way of the 'language specific cognitive system'. The problem solving cognitive system appears at the onset of puberty" (Felix S. 1985. More Evidence on Competing Cognitive Systems. SLRI.)

"It is possible that under ideal circumstances learners who start after puberty can learn to produce speech and writing that cannot be easily distinguished from that of native speakers" (Ellis R. 1994. The Study of Second Language Acquisition. OUP. Oxford.)

"The documented cases of perfect mastery of L2 achieved by late learners are not anomalous exceptions to a biological law, or extraordinary feats by rare individuals with a rare and prodigious talent. Rather they are quite ordinary occurrences that emerge when conditions are normal. "(Bialystok, E 1997. The Structure of Age: In search of barriers to Second Language Acquisition. SLR 13.)

"Language education is fundamentally flawed by procreating the assumption that the best way to learn to speak is by speaking."... speaking is unnecessary because it is the result of acquisition not its cause. As far as second language acquisition is concerned the difference between children and adults is not that adults have lost the ability to do it right, but children do not have the ability to do it wrong (spoil it with contrived speaking).

Dr. J. Marvin Brown, founder of AUA's Listen First approach, is quoted by Challenger as saying, "Krashen underestimated the importance of the silent period that takes place in foreign language acquisition, and this could account for fossilization that sometimes occurs. If we try to speak before the new phoneme and grammar traces are ready we are forced to use the old ones and short circuit the building of new ones. Experience at AUA indicates a sufficient silent period will avoid fossilization of inaccurate forms, as well as foreign accent, this connection seems to have gone unrecognized [among professionals] to date." (Challenger K. 1998. A Masters Thesis. Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.)

Dec 13, 2003

Class One: Beginning: Flirting class

This was another fantastic class.... similar to the "wai" class. Once again the students were actively and physically involved in the lesson. Also, the topic (flirting) was fun and very interesting to adults. The teachers started by demonstrating typical Thai methods of flirting. They acted out various flirting scenes, exaggerating for humor and comprehension. They involved students in this stage by asking them questions.... such as "which method do you like best"... students answered by simply pointing to the person who had demonstrated their preferred technique.

During the next phase of the lesson, students were asked to demonstrate typical flirting behavior in their country. The class included American, British, Malaysian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, and Australian students, so it was very interesting to see the different approaches. After a student demonstrated, the teachers would act out their technique while describing it and commenting on it in Thai.

This was a very lively class. Every student was energetically engaged and involved in the lesson. Input was kept comprehensible by using simple language and a great deal of physical movement and acting. I again experienced the phenomenon of "forgetting" that the class was being conducted in Thai (thus no anxiety or affective filter). I gained vocabulary related to likes, dislikes, and dating... but again made absolutely no effort to remember these words (in fact, I was usually unaware of individual words as I was so focused on the general meaning of the lessons).

Class Two: Beginning: New Year Greetings

After the last class, this one was a let down. The teachers returned to a passive lecture format. They demonstrated the special greetings that Thais use on New Years. The cultural aspect of the class was very interesting, but students were not involved in the lesson. Rather, they acted merely as spectators. The teachers did do a good job of keeping the input fairly simple.

Class Three: Beginning: Narrative: A Date

One teacher described a date he had had last week. The presentation was extremely funny and energetic. This kept student's interest even though the lesson was conducted in a passive fashion. The point of the lesson was to introduce vocabulary related to a restaurant. The teachers acted out the date at a nice restaurant. This was very practical, meaningful, and comprehensible.

Class Four: Beginning: Uno Game

This was an incredibly simple class and yet very very effective. The class played Uno with the teachers. Every time a card was put down, the teachers said what number and what color it was. In this way, the numbers and colors were repeated over and over and over again, but in a context that was fun and effortless. Students concentrated on the game, but learning the colors and numbers was an inevitable byproduct.

The main strength of this class is that the input was finally at a truly comprehensible level for a basic level class. Up to this point, even the most comprehensible classes have contained a majority of words that I do not understand. For most, vocabulary acquisition has been very slow. But this class hit that i+1 level perfectly.

General Thoughts:

*The narrative approach used for most classes seems to be a bit too complex for beginning level students. Teachers try to keep the language simple, but the nature of the technique means that a huge stream of incomprehensible language is coming at the students. Vocabulary is acquired, but much more slowly than it could be.

* Just read Ramiro Garcia's Instructor's Notebook: How to Apply TRP for Best Results (Garcia R. 2001. Instructor's Notebook: How to Apply TRP for Best Results. Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.). This is a very timely find, as TPR seems to address many of the problems I am finding with AUA's techniques in beginning level classes. I have also done some general reading on the internet and elsewhere about TPR Storytelling... again this seems like a technique that would address the weaknesses of AUA's pure narrative method.

I also found information about the Focal Skills Approach. Again, this seems to be a technique that would be completely compatible with AUA's Listen First guidelines. The movie technique in particular would be a fantastic addition to the AUA program.

I imagine that classic TPR would be the best technique for introductory students. Physical involvement, clear and simple input, and an emphasis on rapid and long term vocabulary retention are hallmarks of TPR. TPR would be a much quicker way for beginning level students to acquire core vocabulary, while still maintaining a silent period and a natural approach. AUA's narrative techniques are simply too complex for the beginning level. The majority of input is not comprehensible, it is too complex and is not repeated often enough within a single lesson. Also, when teachers fail to involve students they have no way of assessing comprehension. TPR provides immediate feedback. If a student responds correctly to a command, the teacher knows they are comprehending. If they do not respond correctly, the teacher knows that they are not fully comprehending and can thus adjust, review, model, etc...

In pure narrative classes, the teachers just keep on talking and have no way of knowing how much of their presentation is being comprehended. They can only rely on vague cues like eye contact, smiles, etc... and these can be very deceptive. For example, I noticed I will nod knowingly whenever a teacher looks at me expectantly, even though I do not understand what they are saying. They see me nod, however, and assume that I am following along just fine --so they continue as they are.

AUA's program would be much more effective if they used a graduated approach. TPR would be an ideal technique for the beginning level. From there, a TPR storytelling approach would be an ideal bridging technique to connect the TPR phase with the pure narrative (which is comprehensible at intermediate and advanced levels). TPR Storytelling utilizes very short and simple stories. Key vocabulary is pre-taught using classic TPR commands. The stories are acted out several times, first by students, then by the teacher. Thus far, I have observed one class that had similarities to this approach (though vocab was not pre-taught)....and it was more effective than the passive narrative lessons.

*Thoughts on the Critical Period: A key fallacy of much research is the assumption that because something is normal it is therefore necessary and inevitable. For example, most adult language students fail to acquire a near-native accent. Yes, this is the normal case but that in no way implies that it must be so.... or that adults cannot acquire such an accent... or even that it is more difficult for them to do so.

This is the classic fallacy-- mistaking correlation (age with accent) with cause (age causes accent). Perhaps most adults use inappropriate language acquisition strategies compared to children. Perhaps adult language teaching methods are inferior to those typically used for children. Perhaps non-linguistic factors cause problems for adults (impatience, ambition, pride, anxiety). That is my theory, of course. For it is already proven that adult learners do not have to acquire a thick accent. There are, in fact, many people who have learned an L2 and acquired a native or near-native accent. Clearly adulthood does not CAUSE poor pronunciation; so something else-- other factors related to adulthood-- must be the primary cause(s).

AUA is attempting to more closely mimic the methods used by children to acquire a language. Their anecdotal evidence suggests that a long silent period is an effective means of reducing anxiety and facilitating the acquisition of a near-native accent.

My own social work experience suggests that there are many ways to address the non-linguistic factors faced by adults. These include frequent conferences, a thorough orientation, varied feedback mechanisms, pep talks, support groups, social clubs, etc... If non-linguistic factors really are a key contributor to adult student's difficulties, shouldn't teachers address those factors and take them just as seriously as they do the linguistic elements of their lessons? In the case of adults, maybe we need to be part teacher and part counselor and part social director.

*The two fantastic classes I have had so far have been the most effective and yet the most effortless. This reminds me of a quote from the Tao Te Ching, "The Master does nothing, yet nothing remains undone". The idea is that the most effective effort is in fact effortless. Children are perfect examples of this, they do not "try" to learn their native language. They do not study. They make no effort. Yet they are the undisputed masters of language learning. Perhaps we need a Taoist approach to language learning-- methods of "effortless acquisition".... less work for teachers and students (or, ideally, no work at all), more fun, and more effective.

*A note about AUA's silent period. The typical silent period for an English speaker learning Thai is between seven and eight hundred hours. Obviously, this is a long time. David Long, Director of AUA's Thai program (and my cooperating teacher) says that the silent period is so long because Thai's phonemic system is so different than that of English. It takes a long time for an American to hear the phonemic distinctions of the Thai language (which includes five tones). David guesses that for languages more closely related, such as Spanish and English, the necessary silent period could be as short as three hundred hours. From a practical standpoint, this is an encouraging guess, as seven hundred hours would not be practical for many programs. Three hundred, however, would be (this assumes the student is starting at zero language exposure to the target language. In the case of English, this is rarely the case for most TESOL students).

January 5, 2004

AUA is still on vacation, so I decided to play around a little with TPR. A local beauty salon asked me to give them some English lessons to help them deal with their tourist customers. I decided to use TPR to teach typical salon-related vocabulary.

The classes went very well. I fumbled through them a bit, since I have no TPR experience. Yet the students were very engaged and they picked up the vocabulary very quickly... much more quickly than I was in AUA's beginning level narrative classes. The salon students are all at a low-basic level of English.

The most inspiring thing about this TPR experience was that the students progressed quickly and both they and I were energized by the lessons. I was usually tired when I went to the classes (I am not a morning person!).... I'd grumble about having to get up early and mope my way into the salon. However, the process of teaching with TPR energized me. After the forty minute class I was wide awake, in a great mood, and enthusiastic. It felt good to see their progress, which was much faster than previous classes I have taught with traditional methods. This energizing trait is a key one for me. No matter how effective, I am simply not interested in using a technique that drains me or fatigues me. I consider teaching a team process.. and believe that both the students and teacher should find it to be an energizing and enjoyable one. For me, a good technique is one that is not only effective, but effortless. Effortless for the student and effortless for the teacher.

Now that I've played around with TPR myself, I am convinced that it would be a remarkable technique for AUA's beginning level class-- and a remarkable improvement over their current system. The pure narrative technique is simply too complex and not interactive enough at the beginning level. This input is usually above the i+1 level and thus acquisition is quite slow. It is a great technique for intermediate/advanced levels... when the narratives would indeed fall into the i+1 range. TPR and TPRS would seem to be more appropriate, however, for the beginning and low intermediate levels.

January 5, 2004

Class One: Beginner: Modes of Transport

The teachers taught a lesson on modes of transport. They did this by discussing their respective commutes to work and then asking students about the types of transport they used. Once again, I found myself getting sleepy during their initial narrative. It was difficult to remain alert as they talked and talked without any interaction with students. However, when they finally switched to asking students about their commutes, I instantly perked up. Suddenly the lesson became linked to me and my life... and therefore became more interesting and meaningful.

Class Two: Beginner: What Did You Want To Be When You Were Little

This class was superior to class one because it was more interactive. The teachers had each student write down what they wanted to be when they were little. They then collected the papers. One by one they said the occupation on one of the papers and asked students to guess who had written it. It was fun trying to guess which of the students had written what. Again, this interaction made the material much more engaging. Also, the class centered on the student's lives instead of the teacher's lives... this is naturally more interesting to the students and much more meaningful. Because of this, it was very easy to stay focused and energized throughout the lesson.

Class Three: Beginner: Thai Numbers

This was a very straightforward class about numbers. Teachers taught how to write numbers in the Thai script. In the process, the vocabulary for numbers was reviewed and repeated many times. This class shows the advantage of keeping things very simple at low levels. The input was perfectly comprehensible and thus the numbers were very easy to acquire.

Class Four: Beginner: What Did You Do On Vacation

This class was a perfect example of what David Long calls "crosstalk". Crosstalk is a favorite concept of AUA's... it essentially refers to bi-lingual communication activities, in which the teachers speak the target language and students speak English. In this class, the teachers had a discussion with students about their vacation activities. They asked various questions in Thai. Students answered in English, and then the teachers re-stated their answers in Thai. This was a very interesting and dynamic way of preserving the Thai silent period but still creating a highly interactive lesson.

I remember that Dr. Hastings, during one of his lectures, talked about the effectiveness of bilingual education... that it was a very effective method of language teaching. This crosstalk class gave me a little taste of that. Of course, the challenge for such a class is that the teachers must be somewhat bilingual (the AUA teachers are not fluent in English, but have enough proficiency to carry on a crosstalk lesson). Also, this lesson assumed that all students had a basic grasp of English. Luckily this was the case, even though several students were not native English speakers.

General Thoughts:

*In general, the input in these classes is at too high a level for basic/beginner students. Also, many of the classes are far too passive for the students... they are not involved in the lessons and often begin to lose their concentration and interest as a result. I'm reminded of Asher's idea of "body response dialogues"..... that teacher and student can carry on a dialogue without the student ever speaking a word. Once again I am struck by the applicability of TPR to the approach used at AUA. I am quite surprised that they are not familiar with TPR and have not experimented with it. TPR would provide a dramatic improvement to the beginning and low-intermediate classes.

*In an intensive program like this, I think that variety is also important. Many students are taking four or more hours a day of Thai classes. In order to reduce fatigue and maintain interest in such an environment, it is important that teachers vary the lessons by employing an arsenal of techniques. Also, interactivity becomes very important in these conditions. While a student may easily sit through a one hour narrative-lecture and remained focused throughout..... it is very difficult to sit through four, five, or six such lessons.

As such, I think that mixing a variety of compatible techniques would work best. In addition to TPR, I believe that TPR Storytelling and the Focal Skills Movie Technique would be great techniques for the Listening Approach. All of these techniques are soundly rooted in the natural approach stressed by AUA and all are compatible with a long silent period. All would boost comprehension in comparison to the pure narrative techniques currently employed. All would be an ideal means of preparing students for pure narrative input at higher levels.

The key principle, I think, is to make every minute count. A minute in which the input is incomprehensible, or in which the student is not paying attention, is a wasted minute. Obviously, if the student is tired, bored, distracted, or anxious, the input will not "get in" no matter how good it is. Similarly, no matter how energized and focused the student is, if the input is beyond their i+1 it will not be comprehended. To state this positively, when these two conditions are met (focused student, meaningful i+1 input) the language acquisition process is an enjoyable, effortless, stress free process. We owe it to our students and to ourselves to design lessons that facilitate student interest and which contain input that falls solidly within their comprehension ability. I like the principle, stated by many TPR teachers, that the lesson should produce a sense of energy and euphoria in both teachers and students.

January 8, 2004

Class One: Guess Who Game

Teachers took turns telling embarrassing and funny stories... the class then had to guess which teacher (on the staff) the story was about. This was a very good class. The teachers did a good job of involving the class. They used crosstalk to solicit student questions and comments. Because the class was interactive, the teachers got plenty of feedback from the students and were thus able to adjust their language to the comprehension level of the students.

Class Two: Body Parts and Illness

This class did not go well. While the topic was a very clear one, the teachers constantly jumped off on tangents, frequently losing the students. The teachers talked about various illnesses and related them to body parts, but they also talked and joked with each other constantly about unrelated topics. They solicited no interaction or involvement from the students.

Class Three: Beginner: Game

Students wrote down their two favorite foods and two things they'd buy if they won the lottery. The teachers collected the answers then presented them one by one. The class had to guess who had written what. While this was a very enjoyable and interactive class, the vocabulary was unfocused. The teachers’ comments and discussion tended to be far too complex for the students to follow. Therefore little acquisition took place even though the class was awake and involved and having fun.

January 9, 2004

Class One: Beginner: True/False Game

This was a fun class and fairly comprehensible as well. Teachers took turns telling short stories and then asked students to decide whether the story was true or false. Because the stories were short and simple, they were easy to comprehend. The teachers did a good job of retelling parts of the stories in order to repeat key vocabulary. Students were involved by using crosstalk discussion techniques.

Class Two: Beginner: Movies

One teacher discussed her night at the movies while the other teacher drew pictures and asked clarifying questions. This sort of pure narrative technique seems to work best with very extroverted and energetic teachers. When the teachers are tired or calm, these lessons quickly lose the students interest. I suspect that the reason for this is that most pure narratives are well beyond the comprehension level of the students in the class. A teacher CAN maintain student interest under these conditions by jumping around, yelling, dancing, etc.. but I question the effectiveness of these techniques for language acquisition.

General Thoughts: I had a long discussion with David Long today about my observations, but he did not seem very interested, so I stopped commenting and just asked him more questions. The goal of AUA lessons is to create memorable "happenings" that are understandable and interesting to the student. AUA's idea of "understandable" is different than Krashen's idea of comprehensible input. At AUA, a lesson is understandable if the students follow the gist of the topic, even if the language itself is incomprehensible. Sometimes this is akin to a game of charades.... with most comprehension coming from gesture, pictures, and body language. Acquisition does seem to take place under these conditions, but quite slowly. This helps to explain the very large number of hours that AUA requires in its program... and why the silent period lasts a whopping 800 hours.

I suspect that a slight adjustment of their definition of "understandable"... to bring it closer to Krashen's i+1 theory, is all that is needed to drastically improve AUA's program and drastically cut down on the 800 hour silent period. This is pure speculation of course.

January 10, 2004

Class One: Beginner: Dining

In order to teach vocabulary and concepts related to eating, the teachers brought in plates, bowls, spoons, forks, chopsticks, and other eating utensils. First the teachers gave an engaging lesson on Thai eating etiquette. This lesson was interactive, they would demonstrate the proper technique for eating noodles, for example, and then have students mimic them. There was a lot of repetition of food and utensil vocabulary. Once the teachers had exhausted the material on Thai etiquette, they engaged students with crosstalk to discuss eating etiquette in the student's home countries. This proved to be very interesting and interactive, as once again the class imitated the techniques modeled by the speaker. The Thai teachers kept a running commentary, in Thai, with each student's demonstration.

Class Two: Beginner: Bingo

Another simple class... students played BINGO using a board with pictures of animals. This was a great way to teach the vocabulary for various animals... very low stress... comprehensible input.... high repetition. Also, this was a nice change of pace from the narrative classes.

Class Three: Beginner: Muay Thai

The teachers brought in a punching bag and demonstrated the basic techniques of Thai kickboxing. I think this class had great potential, but it was wasted. Unfortunately, the teachers got so caught up in the kickboxing aspect that they stopped speaking and commenting during much of the class. Many times, they slipped into giving instructions in English. So while it was great fun to kick and punch, there was very little Thai input in this lesson.

General Thoughts: I read a great essay on Krashen's website in which he argued that the ultimate goal of TESOL programs should not be perfect fluency, but rather, to get students to the high-intermediate level-- in other words, the point at which they can easily continue their language learning on their own by getting comprehensible input from widely available authentic materials and interactions. In a TESOL program, he argued, perfect speech is a nearly impossible goal... and a dubious one too. A more effective strategy is to get students to that high-intermediate level AND teach them how to continue on to fluency on their own... by employing strategies such as Free Voluntary Reading, in-group membership (in the target language), books on tape, movies, TV, content classes in the target language, etc....

I particularly like his stress on teaching self-learning strategies. This appeals to my social work background-- for in that field the ideal outcome is to move clients to self-sufficiency. I always thought that my job was to eliminate the clients need for me and my agency. Similarly, it makes sense to move students to self-sufficiency. Another key distinction that Krashen made was the importance of "in-group" membership in developing fluency and a native-like accent.

An in-group is a group of friends, relatives, lovers, or associates that speaks the target language. Belonging to such a group dramatically increases the student's motivation to master the language and also provides a great deal of authentic input for the student. This suggests another social-work-like solution. Helping my clients build social support networks was one of the key aspects of my social work jobs. For example, when managing a program for homeless, HIV infected individuals, I did everything possible to help them connect with people in the community. We created a large volunteer program and a community buddy program. We held weekly social gatherings in which clients, their friends, volunteers, and staff all participated. When I look back, I think that those informal social links benefited my clients more than any overt counseling or intervention that I, or the agency, undertook.

Why not take a similar approach with intermediate level TESOL students. A volunteer, buddy, and social program would be very easy to create. There are many native English speakers who would love to socialize with students from different countries. It would cost little to no money to organize weekly pot-lucks, or bowling nights or various other outings. Through such activities the student would establish links to native speakers of the target language and have access to various in-groups. Beyond the high-intermediate level, I suspect that these sorts of contacts would be more effective than any sort of classroom lesson that a teacher could devise.

January 12, 2005

Class One: Beginner: Quasi-TPR Class!!

Hands down, this was the best class I have experienced at AUA. I suspect it is not a coincidence that this was also the first TPR-esque class I have observed. The topic of the class was body parts... specifically, parts of the face. The teachers began by modeling-- they pointed to various body parts and said their names. They repeated this process several times. Next, they asked students to mimic them while they again pointed to body parts and named them. They repeated this process several times.

They then began to call out body parts without modeling... while the class as a whole responded by pointing to the correct place. Gradually they mixed up the vocabulary and speeded up their delivery.

Next, they divided the class into two teams. A member from each team came to the front of the class. The teachers shouted out body parts rapidly while the two people pointed to the correct area. The first person to make a mistake had to sit down, and was replaced by another person on their team.

From a student's perspective, I acquired more vocabulary in this lesson than any other that I have observed. What's more, the vocabulary stuck... without any effort to remember it. The combination of comprehensible input, body responses, and massive repetition combined to create an amazingly powerful acquisition process.

All of the students were similarly enthusiastic about the lesson. The feeling of effortlessly acquiring the vocabulary created a euphoric feeling of success and confidence. After class, the students were brimming with energy... and engaged in an enthusiastic discussion about the class and how effective it was. The consensus was that they wished all the classes used the same approach.

As effective as this class was, it could have been even more effective by using the full TPR technique of combining commands with the body part vocabulary. For example, instead of merely saying the name of the body part, they could have slowly added verbs such as, "touch your nose", "point to your ears", "sit on your hands". In this way, a wider range of language structures could have been taught. Despite this one comment, by far this was the best class I have seen during this practicum.

Class Two: Beginner: Where's Waldo

This class was an inevitable let down after class one. The teachers distributed a photocopy of a "Where's Waldo" type of scene..... they would then asked students to find various items. While this is a fun way to introduce vocabulary items, there was not enough repetition to facilitate acquisition. As soon as one item was found, they moved on to another one.

Class Three: Beginner: Chinese/Thai Zodiac

This class was designed to teach animals and dates by discussing the Thai zodiac. Each student gave the date of their birth. The teachers then determined their zodiac sign and discussed its attributes. The Thai zodiac uses common animals for the most part, so this was a good review of animal vocabulary, as well as numbers and dates.

Class Four: Beginner: Fruits

This was a straightforward vocabulary lesson. The teachers brought a basket full of plastic fruit. They introduced each one, talked about it briefly, and then passed it around. While this class could have been more interactive, their simplicity and repetition did seem to facilitate acquisition of the target vocabulary.

January 13, 2004

This was my last day at AUA... only did two hours. I talked with the teachers and reviewed the observations and insights I had. While I noticed some challenges and areas for improvement, I should note that compared to traditional language classrooms, AUA is far superior. Since I was able to participate as both an observer and a student, I gained unique insights into the natural method and pure narrative techniques used at AUA. I was able to compare this language experience to my previous experiences studying both Spanish and Japanese using traditional grammar based methods. Compared to those experiences, AUA was a delight and far more effective too.

I learned a tremendous amount from observing these classes, and have radically re-thought my old teaching techniques. It was very beneficial to experience first-hand the frustration of dealing with incomprehensible input, low interactivity, etc.. It was also a tremendous benefit to experience the euphoria of comprehensible input, high interactivity, and effortless acquisition. The truly exciting thing is that while AUA's method is a dramatic improvement over my past experiences,.. there is room for even more improvement. I look forward to getting back in the classroom and conducting my own experiments in this regard. This practicum, combined with the class readings, has inspired me.

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