Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Immediate Feedback For Teachers

by AJ

One huge problem for foreign language teachers is gauging the proper level to use with students. We have an intuitive understanding of Krashen’s i+1 metaphor (just a little bit above the student’s level)..... we understand that the students should comprehend 80-90% of the input. And probably, we think this is regularly happening in our classrooms.

But its not. As a native or fluent speaker... it is almost impossible to put yourself in the students’ shoes. There is a natural tendency to raise the complexity too fast. Parents rarely do this with children, because no one expects an infant to understand complicated language or to become fluent in a year. But we do unconsciously expect this of adults. We fear we will bore them. We assume they are acquiring all of our lessons. Or maybe we admit that we don’t really know. We try to guage the effect of our lessons based on the student’s interactions, their body language, and their participation. These are good cues, of course, but not enough.

For example, many Japanese students will present a blank expression and reluctance to interact-- whether they are completely lost or comprehending 100%. Another phenomenon is that students pretend to understand when in fact they don’t. I do this all the time in Thai class... I nod my head and smile and lean forward- but I have no clue what the teacher’s are talking about. Its an unconscious habit-- but common in most students. And of course, asking students directly doesn’t usually work either. Most students are reluctant to directly criticize a teacher or admit that they don’t understand.

To address this problem, I’ve developed a micro-survey that I use during the last five minutes of every lesson. One a large index card I print the following heading (in the student’s native language & in English):

“The language in today’s lesson was:”

I then have three columns. Column 1 is titled: “Too easy/Too slow”. Column 2 is titled “Just right, I understood 80%+”. Column 3 is titled “Too Hard/Too Difficult”. Five minutes before class ends, I hand the card to a student and instruct them to pass it around-- each person puts a check mark in the appropriate column. When the last student gets the card, they turn it over on their desk and leave it there. They do not give it to me and I do not pick it up until every student has left the class.

This is not a precise or detailed survey, obviously... but it gives me an instant snapshot of how the class fared during that hour. I know right away if most students were lost..... or bored. Because I do this for every class, I can make rapid adjustments. Instead of waiting for the results of an end of the term evaluation... I get feedback every day. Students don’t have to suffer for weeks until I catch on. I can usually zone in on a good level of input in about a week.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Focal Skills Movie Technique

The Focal Skills Movie Technique
copyright by Ashley Hastings

The FOCAL SKILLS Movie Technique uses authentic movies to bring an immense variety of meaning into the classroom. By narrating and paraphrasing at the appropriate level of complexity, the teacher can create a rich stream of comprehensible input that is directly related to what the students are seeing and hearing. This input is supported and reinforced by the coherence of the plot, the appeal of the characters, and the affective impact of the scenes.

For example, a Listening Module teacher may use 2 or possibly even 3 feature-length movies each week. Most Listening teachers use movies for 2 hours every day, with other types of listening activities filling the third and fourth hour. However, I have sometimes used this movie technique for 3 hours straight. The average movie takes 5 or 6 hours of class time to finish, so it is normal to start a new movie every 2 or 3 days.This entails the following steps.

First, prospective movies must be previewed.Usable movies must be selected, taking the personality of the teacher, the make-up of the class, and perhaps local cultural constraints into account.Each movie that has been chosen must be viewed carefully, until the teacher knows the movie well enough to recall the names of the characters, anticipate what is coming from scene to scene, and explain the plot, the motives of the characters, and other vital elements in clear, simple language.

The illustrative potential of scenes must be evaluated, and plans made for the use of freeze-frame, rewind and review, slow motion, silent replay, and similar techniques that might be used to accompany narration, paraphrases, and simple questions.

First, the teacher narrates the scenes in deliberate, clear, simple English, describing and commenting on the objects, characters, places, and actions that are on the screen at that very moment. This enables the students to associate what they hear with what they see, making the spoken input more comprehensible than it would be without the images. Narration makes it possible for students to apperceive (5) and comprehend language that they have not yet acquired, thus setting the mechanism of acquisition into motion.

Second, the teacher paraphrases some of the dialogue, especially when it is of particular interest or importance in following the story. These paraphrases make the input more comprehensible than the original sound track by replacing less common words with more common ones, by simplifying structures, and by furnishing deliberate, clear pronunciation. Since there is often little in the way of visible referents to assist students in understanding such paraphrases, the goal is to use language that poses as few new challenges as possible.

Use of the movie in class requires energetic delivery, smooth transitions, attention to detail, awareness of student response, and the ability to improvise on one's feet.

Example of the Focal Skills Movie Technique
copyright by Ashley Hastings

Here's how I would do the first minute or so of Princess Bride, using the Focal Skills Movie Technique. All of this is done with an air of rapt attention and enjoyment. Its important to be visibly having fun when using this technique.

First, I play the scene without pause or comment from the title until Grandfather hands the boy his present.

Then I REWIND (or backscan, if DVD) to the title, PLAY a few seconds (dark screen, sound of coughing), PAUSE, SAY "What do you hear? Someone is coughing." I demonstrate coughing.

PLAY a few seconds, PAUSE, SAY "This is a computer game. It's baseball."

PLAY until the boy is visible, PAUSE, SAY "This boy is playing a computer game. He's sitting in bed" (POINT TO BED) "He's a cute little boy. How old do you think he is? Maybe about 10? How does he look? I think he doesn't feel well. He looks a little sick. Do you remember the coughing? Maybe he has a cold."

PLAY a few seconds until the door opens and his mother comes in. PAUSE, SAY "The door opens and a woman comes in. Who do you think she is? She must be his mother."

PLAY a few seconds. Mother kisses the boy on the forehead. PAUSE, SAY "She kisses her son on his forehead." (PANTOMIME KISSING, POINT TO FOREHEAD)

PLAY a few seconds. Mother feels his forehead with her hand and asks if he feels better. He says he feels a little better. PAUSE, SAY "She's touching his forehead. (PANTOMINE TOUCHING FOREHEAD) Why? Maybe she wants to find out if he's too hot. When we are sick, we get hot. She asks him, 'Do you feel better?' He answers, 'A little better.'"

PLAY a few seconds. When mother opens curtains, PAUSE, SAY "The boy's mother says 'Your grandfather's here.' Who is a grandfather? Maybe it's the mother's father, or maybe it's the boy's father's father. What do you think? ...... She opens the curtains." (PANTOMIME OPENING CURTAINS)

PLAY until mother says "Maybe he won't." PAUSE, SAY "The boy says 'Tell him I'm sick.' Maybe he doesn't want to see his grandfather. Mother says 'He knows you're sick. That's why he's here.' The boy says 'He'll pinch my cheek.'" DEMONSTRATE PINCHING YOUR OWN CHEEK. "Mother says, 'Maybe he won't.'"

PLAY until grandfather pinches cheek and boy rolls eyes toward mother, PAUSE, SAY Grandfather comes in and pinches the boys cheek. The boy looks at his mother. Does he like having his cheek pinched? No, he doesn't like it.
PLAY until grandfather hands the present to the boy. PAUSE, SAY Mother is leaving the room. Grandfather is giving the boy a present. What do you think it is? Let's find out.

And so on. It probably takes about 3 minutes of clock time to do this one minute of movie time. In this way, the average feature film gives you 5 or 6 hours of class time. But the point is not really to stretch out the material. I found that this technique provides the pacing, repetition, and focus that students at the level you have really need in order to get clear comprehensible input. Their attention is directed toward only one input at a time, rather than trying to listen to the teacher and take in new movie scenes simultaneously.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Comprehension is King

by AJ Hoge & Kristin Dodds

Just finished reading “The Tipping Point”, a very interesting book with plenty of thought-seeds for teaching and managing a language program. Here’s a quote citing pioneering children’s television research of the 1960s and 1970’s:

“Children don’t just sit and stare [when watching TV]. They could divide their attention between a couple of different activities. And they weren’t being random they were predictable influences on what made them look back at the screen, and these were not trivial things, not just flash and dash. If they couldn’t make sense of what they were looking at, they weren’t going to look at it.

When you take [the studies] together... you reach quite a radical conclusion about children and television. Kids don’t watch when they are stimulated and look away when they are bored. They watch when they understand and look away when they are confused. If you are in the business of educational television, this is a critical difference. “

Now that is exactly the sort of thing Asher, Krashen, Hastings, etc. are saying about language teaching. Students acquire language when they understand it. They pay attention when they understand.

And this is EXACTLY my experience at AUA. Through levels 1 and 2 I was laser focused in class. I was not understanding everything...maybe 70-80%... but usually the major points of what was going on. The lessons were nowhere near as comprehensible as, say, a TPR lesson... but I understood enough to remain engaged and thus learn.

But when I hit level three my superb concentration and focus vanished. Suddenly I was drifting off in class... daydreaming.... looking at the cute girls in class... thinking about what to do when class was over. I became bored. Not that I didn’t try. I made heroic efforts to keep focused, but could not sustain them. I just reached level 4-- I understand more but am still often confused. My motivation has plummeted. I’m skipping class constantly.

At first I attributed this to burnout.... just getting tired of Thai. I talked to David, the Director, and he assured me my dilemma was normal.... all students go through this at levels 3 and 4. His pep talk helped for a few weeks, but now I’m back to skipping class. The problem is that AUA requires 200 hours per level. So apparently, they expect me to struggle through confusion and boredom for 400 hours before things start to click again (they assure me I’ll make a breakthrough at that time and I’m sure they are right... if I can make it). This phenomenon is probably the reason that at levels 3 and above, very few regular students are studying exclusively at AUA. Most have tutors or are also going to another (traditional grammar-translation) school.

So what happened... what changed? AUA’s classes were never 90%+ comprehensible, but I did OK in the first two levels. Why? Because in levels 1 and 2 the teachers were encouraged to use a wealth of drawings and props and charades and games-- in other words-- aids to comprehension.

At levels 3 and up, the teachers/managers inexplicably decided that comprehension aids were no longer desirable. No more games. No more drawings. No more charades. Suddenly I was confronted by two teachers sitting at a table: talking non-stop. When they did write on the board they merely wrote words in Thai script.... and since AUA does not teach reading until a student reaches level 5... I could not read what they wrote. In fact, every time a teacher wrote a word on the board I became extremely frustrated and angry, thinking, “that doesn’t help,... its just a bunch of squiggly lines to me”.

Faced with two stationary talking heads, my understanding plummeted. And, as in the TV experiments, so did my attention. Occasionally I’d get drawn back if I heard something I understood... but quickly tuned out again once confused.

These points.... comprehensibility... believability.....understanding... are relentlessly hammered home by Asher, Krashen, Hastings & Co. for very good reason. This is A BIG FACTOR in natural language acquisition.

Which became even clearer last week when Kristin and I changed tactics. We hired Wat to tutor us using TPR. We teach him the technique, he uses it to teach Thai to us. The results... the difference from AUA.. is remarkable.

I easily understand 95% of the TPR lessons. And by that I don’t just mean the general drift of things... I mean 95% of the total meaning and the vocabulary. This despite the fact that Wat has never taught (any subject) before, is extremely nervous about teaching, and is totally unfamiliar with TPR.

Despite all of this, Kristin and I are learning much faster.... an hour of TPR with Wat easily equals 4 or more hours at AUA. It’s also more fun. We look forward to our Thai lessons again. WE understand everything and that is very motivating. And because we understand we are thoroughly attentive for the entire lesson.

Another positive effect of the TPR approach is empowerment. I feel more in charge of my own learning... at AUA I’m a passive listener... with TPR I’m engaged in a dialogue/dance with the teacher. If I don’t understand something at AUA... tough luck... the teachers just keep on going and I’m lost. If I don’t understand a TPR command-- instantly Wat adjusts. He models the correct action... points to the desired object... or backtracks and does a thorough review. I have no fear of being lost because TPR has an infallible feedback system built-in.

Unfortunately, due to the demands of the TESOL Masters program, we have had to suspend the Thai TPR lessons. We don't know much Thai, but we did learn a lot about language teaching and the importance (and joy!) of comprehension.

Narrative is Vital

by AJ Hoge & Kristin Dodds

If comprehension is King when it comes to language acquisition.... narrative form is certainly another powerful issue. Another quote from “The Tipping Point”:

“Narrative form, psychologists now believe, is absolutely central [to learning]. It’s the only way [children] have of organizing the world, of organizing experience. They are not able to bring theories that organize in terms of cause and effect and relationships, so they turn things into stories.... If they don’t catch something in a narrative structure, it doesn’t get remembered very well, and it doesn’t seem to be accessible for further kinds of mulling over.”

I’d argue that the power of narrative extends to adults as well... for while we can theorize, adults still organize most experiences into stories. When working as a counsellor to abused children (back in my social work days), I often used a form of counselling called “narrative therapy” (do a google search on Michael White)....a means of helping clients restructure the stories they tell themselves about their lives. It is very powerful and effective-- and not just with children.

Its not that we avoid abstract thought... its that we learn and remember abstract concepts best when they are nested within a narrative structure. One student is taught the past tense through rules and memorization. Another learns it through stories (drama, movies, TPR Storytelling, etc..) told about the past. Is it really a surprise that the storytelling students do much better? And even if they didn’t... even if both methods were equally effective: obviously it is MORE FUN to listen to stories than to memorize grammar rules! Of course, stories are not told randomly. The vocabulary and structures should be geared to the level of the students. Its not that you don't teach grammar-- its that you teach it intuitively through storytelling.

One of the research-proven advantages of TPR & TPRS & Focal Skills (and other similar methods) is that they dramatically improve program retention. In other words, students like those classes more; they stick around and continue to study the language longer than students in traditional programs. Again... no shock. Which would you prefer-- to sit for an hour memorizing abstract, incomplete, obtuse rules & translations.... or to sit for an hour participating in an entertaining storytelling session?

Furthermore, the storytelling approach is more authentic. Listen to your friend’s conversations.... a good chunk of everyday conversation is storytelling: gossip, description of events, explanations. Even arguments are story-laden... each person pressing their narrative version of the event or idea in question. The human mind is wired for storytelling.....

And so TPR Storytelling...the Focal Skills Movie Technique... and other narrative approaches are fully in accord with the “wu-wei” school of language teaching: effortless action in harmony with the essential nature of the human mind. Storytelling is a powerful tool for the language teachers toolkit.


by AJ Hoge & Kristin Dodds

More good stuff from the Tipping Point... this time in relation to Suggestopedia:

“When it comes to interpreting other people’s behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context. “

This is the central tenant of Suggestopedia... that by altering context (the learning environment) huge changes in learning effectiveness take place. I’m not an expert on Suggestopedia... and don’t particularly care for the actual language delivery technique they use (reading dialogues/scripts).... but the core of the method is environmental manipulation.

Suggestopedia adherents argue for a transforming sensory environment-- colorful artwork, mood lighting, relaxing &/or invigorating background music, relaxation techniques, costumes, elaborate props,.... what they are doing is profoundly affecting the context in which the student learns.

This is a widely accepted idea in social work, but strangely “radical” in language teaching circles. The basic tenant of social work is that an individual & his problems are part of an environmental web that includes the person’s family, social connections, neighborhood, socio-economic class, race, religion, geographic origins, physical space, etc.... “No man is an island” .... indeed. People’s abilities are profoundly affected by these factors....

A simple example. Its a well known maxim in Drug Rehab that the most important factor in relapse is environment. Addicts are urged to change their friends, neighborhood, hangouts.... their entire life context. Those who go back to the same apartment, the same friends, the same bars & street corners... invariably use again. Those who radically change their context: by moving elsewhere, finding new (non-drug using) social circles, etc... have a MUCH higher success rate. Even re-arranging their apartments can have a positive effect.

The details are not trivial.... they may be small... but can have big effects. Think of a European Catholic Church... or a Tibetan temple. Those environments immediately cause a dramatic shift in consciousness. The stunning colors, the candle light, the stained glass, the glittering brass & gold, the chanting, the inscence..... a powerful sensual feast.

By contrast, think of the typical classroom: plastic chairs, white/tan tile, white walls, grey-white acoustic tile ceiling, fluorescent lighting, pressboard desks,... white/tan blinds on the windows. Chairs/desks arranged in rows. Maybe a few posters on the wall... but otherwise a sterile sensory deprivation tank: butt ugly. That’s a description of every classroom I’ve had since leaving kindergarten (the older I got, the uglier the rooms got). I hate to pick on AUA again, but that’s also a description of their rooms.

What sort of context does this environment imply? Industrial. Office-like. Sombre. Boring. Uncreative. Regimented. Bland. De-humanizing. Rigid. And those are exactly the sorts of behaviors such an environment produces-- Rigid, uncreative, bland, somber, bored students. We, as teachers, can labor mightily to mitigate these effects (somewhat).... but it’s an uphill fight.

We should make our classrooms transformative, inspiring, creative works of art: temples & cathedrals of learning..... sensory feasts. Paint the walls. Drape rich tapestries. Fill the room with beautiful works of art. Create theatre sets. Turn off the fluorescent lights- mood light with incandescents, colored bulbs, and Christmas lights. Play classical music quietly in the background. Burn inscence or essential oils. Provide soft, luxurious seats... or cushions. Scour flea-markets for (cheap) textured tables, shelves, and other furniture. Create the kind of room that instantly alters the attitude & consciousness of the students.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Good Ideas From Management Gurus

Innovative Management
by Ken Blanchard

(If Ken Blanchard had to choose just one thing to teach for the rest of his life, he has no doubt that "catching people doing things right" would be his lasting message.)



If you really want to know what's going on in your organization, listen to the conversations going on.

I recently visited W.L. Gore and Associates Inc. in Newark, Delaware. Gore has been using the principles of empowerment and participatory management since it was founded more than 30 years ago. Unlike other companies that have latched onto these concepts only recently, Gore has been out front with the kind of management I have advocated for years.

One of the things I loved about talking with the people at Gore was their use of language. Their antennae would go up immediately whenever I used any traditional terms such as boss, supervision, promotion and responsibility. The founder's philosophy is so ingrained in employees' vocabulary that it has continued going even though he passed away a decade ago.

I have been frustrated over the years because companies have used terms like head of the department, superior/subordinate supervision and hired hands. The use of words is so important.

EST founder Werner Erhard often said that if you want to find out what's really happening in your organization, you should listen to the kinds of conversations that are going on. Johnsonville Foods CEO Ralph Stayer took the point even further when he said, "All you have is conversations."

If you want to change your organization, you need to try to facilitate changing the kinds of conversations people are having. What people talk about and the way they talk is important.

Another thing that impressed me was no one at Gore has a title-everyone is called an associate. There are no bosses-only sponsors. Every associate has at least one sponsor. There are three kinds of sponsors:

A starting sponsor helps a new associate get started on the job. Also, this sponsor helps a present associate get started on the job.

An advocate sponsor sees to it that the associate being sponsored gets credit and recognition for accomplishments and contributions.

A compensation sponsor sees to it that the associate being sponsored is fairly paid for contributions to the success of the enterprise.

A sponsor is a friend and associate. A single sponsor can perform any one or all three kinds of sponsorships. All the supportive aspects of the friendship are also present. Often two associates sponsor each other as advocates.

Leaders are not assigned; they emerge. If nobody wants to follow you, you are not a leader. They do not talk about job descriptions; they talk about commitments. If you ask someone to help you on a project and they agree, that is a commitment. People keep lists of their commitments, and they are expected to keep those commitments.

They don't talk about activities; they talk about what you have accomplished. Everyone's contributions are evaluated twice a year by peer panels (internal customers) who experience your work.

They don't talk about promotions; they talk about opportunities. If someone takes on a new responsibility, that is a new opportunity. They don't get an immediate pay raise until they show that they can make a contribution with that opportunity.

All associates are asked to follow four guiding principles:
Try to be fair.
Use your freedom to grow.
Make your own commitments and keep them.
Consult with other associates prior to any action that may adversely
affect the company's reputation or financial stability.

The four principles are referred to as fairness, freedom, commitment and waterline. The waterline terminology is drawn from ship analogy.

If someone pokes a hole in a boat above the waterline, the boat will be in relatively little real danger. If someone, however, pokes a hole below the waterline, the boat is in immediate danger of sinking. In other words, associates can (and are encouraged to) make decisions on their own as long as the downside risk does not threaten the organization's survival.

It was fascinating visiting W.L. Gore and thinking about some of the things that many organizations are trying to accomplish today. Because many successful organizations are doing innovative things, we do not need to reinvent successful innovations, as much as we simply need to learn from those that have worked for others.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Intensive English With Focal Skills

Intensive English with Focal Skills
Copyright Dr. Ashley Hastings

Research indicates that students in FOCAL SKILLS programs acquire English language proficiency faster than students in most other types of Intensive English Programs (IEP). A number of studies have found that FOCAL SKILLS students gain about 35% more English ability in a semester than other Intensive English Program students.
We attribute the FOCAL SKILLS advantage to a number of factors, which are discussed below.

Most researchers agree that comprehensible input is necessary (or at least highly desirable) if students are to acquire language proficiency. Following the work of Dr. Stephen Krashen, FOCAL SKILLS regards comprehensible input as essential. Comprehensible input is Job One for every FOCAL SKILLS teacher.

We have developed or adapted a number of key techniques that enable us to provide large amounts of high-quality comprehensible input to ESL students:

The FOCAL SKILLS Movie Technique uses authentic movies to bring an immense variety of meaning into the classroom. By narrating and paraphrasing at the appropriate level of complexity, the teacher can create a rich stream of comprehensible input that is directly related to what the students are seeing and hearing. This input is supported and reinforced by the coherence of the plot, the appeal of the characters, and the affective impact of the scenes. Every few minutes, the teacher stops the movie and paraphrases the action and dialogue, using language appropriate to the students' level. The teacher then re-plays the scene. Most movies can be covered in this way in about 10 hours of classroom work.

In The Talk Show, two teachers converse and interact with the class while carrying out some project or purposeful activity. This may involve storytelling, how-to classes, cultural lessons, interviews, etc.

Interactive Reading is a group activity in which the class, guided by the teacher, explores an authentic text together. The teacher reads the text out loud first,... students circle words or concepts they don't understand. The teacher then reviews the text a second time allowing students to ask questions. Finally the text is read again by the teacher. Authentic texts are always used (children's books, newspapers, etc.).

Personal Reading is an application of Krashen's "Free Voluntary Reading," with a teacher serving as resource person. Each student selects a book from the library and reads freely on their own. Comic books, simplified novels, teen romance novels, and the like are all excellent examples for intermediate level students. Students can approach the teacher one at a time to get help or clarification on what they are reading.

In Free Writing, students write individually on topics of interest and importance to them. The teacher consults with the student and responds in the form of a Focused Rewrite, in which selected portions of the student's work are rewritten in clear, standard English. This technique provides highly focused, personalized comprehensible input, because the rewritten material expresses the student's own thoughts, while the language elements modeled in this way are likely to contain a hefty sample of the student's personal language ability.

A Mini-Course is a short "how-to" or academic course on any reasonable topic: with workshops, readings, media materials, discussions, presentations, and other standard activities. This approach is excellent for high-intermediate level students. The focus of these classes is on the topic, rather than on the language.

Since all classes in our intensive ESL environments are conducted in English, the ability to understand spoken English is fundamental for the development of reading, writing, and speaking. Reading ability is essential to the growth of writing ability. Speaking skills are built gradually on the foundation of the other skills, especially listening. All four skills contribute to academic performance.

These considerations lead to the following principles:

Students should have good listening comprehension before working on reading, writing, and academic skills.
Students should have good reading comprehension before working on writing and academic skills.
Students should have good writing ability before working on academic skills.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


by Lucy Katona and Zoltan Dornyei
from: Forum English Teaching

The C-test is an integrative testing instrument that measures overall language competence, very much like the cloze test. It consists of four to six short, preferably authentic, texts in the target language, to which “the rule of two” has been applied: the second half of every second word has been deleted, beginning with the second word of the second sentence; the first and last sentences are left intact. If a word has an odd number of letters, the “bigger” part is omitted, e.g., proud becomes pr-. One-letter words, such as I, are ignored in the counting. The students’ task is to restore the missing parts. In a typical C-test there are 100 gaps-that is, missing parts. Only entirely correct restorations are accepted.

By way of illustration, here is a short C-test: “One cool autumn evening, Bob L., a young professional, returned home from a trip to the supermarket to find his computer gone. Gone! All so- of cr- thoughts ra- through h- mind: H- it be- stolen? H- it be- kidnapped? H- searched h- house f- a cl- until h- noticed a sm- piece o- printout pa- stuck un- a maga- on h- refrigerator do-. His he- sank a- he re- this sim- message: can’t continue, file closed, bye.”

Comparison with the cloze test

The C-test was developed as a modification of the cloze test, which is a frequently used, major language-testing instrument, extremely popular because of the ease of constructing it and its high reliability and validity. (The cloze test consists of a longer text of which every fifth to tenth complete word is left out.)

The C-test appears to have some advantages over the cloze test:

1. As students are confronted with a variety of short passages, a better sampling of content areas is possible. Also, a person with special knowledge in a certain field does not have an unfair advantage.

2. By “damaging” every second word, we can obtain a more representative sample of all the different language elements in the text than in the cloze, where normally only every fifth or sixth word is left out.

3. Many more items can be included in much shorter texts, making the test less time-consuming for the students than the cloze.

4. Unlike the cloze test, scoring is easy and objective, as there is only one acceptable solution in most cases.

5. As a rule, students actually like doing C-tests, whereas the cloze test is one of the most frustrating test types for learners.

Testing the C-test

We decided to compare the C-test with the cloze and other complex language tests to see how well it measures the learners’ language proficiency.

The investigations were carried out at the English Department of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. They involved 102 first-year English majors, who took five different kinds of tests:

1. the English Department Proficiency Test (vocabulary, grammar, listening comprehension)

2. TOEIC (the Test of English for International Communication), which is an American standardized multiple-choice test for adult nonnative speakers of English consisting of listening comprehension and reading (published by the Educational Testing Service, Princeton, N.J.)

3. an oral interview

4. a cloze test

5. a C-test

After careful statistical analysis of the collected data the following results emerged:

1. The C-test appears to correlate well with our other language-proficiency tests, which proves that it is a good and reliable testing instrument. It is also an integrative language-testing method, correlating highly with both vocabulary and grammar scores, as well as speaking skills.

The C-test measures general language proficiency more accurately than the cloze, and it is a lot easier to construct and to score.

We recommend the exact scoring method (that is, accepting only entirely correct restorations), as we found that accepting words with spelling errors made no significant difference to the student rankings.


To sum up, we have found that the C-test is an excellent testing method, as it provides a good and quick assessment of general language competence. We therefore recommend it to be used

• to select and place students in appropriate groups

• to assess their achievement at end-of-term exams by selecting several typical passages from the term’s materials

• to test certain grammar areas (e.g., tenses or word formation) by including texts that contain several examples of the structures in question

• to check home reading or homework by taking passages from the texts the students had to work on

• to measure the specialized knowledge of ESP groups by choosing suitable texts from their particular field of specialization

Students can easily design C-tests for each other, which could be made into a game or competition.

We believe that the C-test is one of the most versatile test types and can be adapted to many different purposes. We strongly recommend incorporating it into everyday teaching and testing activities.

Critique of AUA's Automatic Language Growth Program

A critique of AUA’s Automatic Language Growth program
by AJ Hoge & Kristin Dodds

The Thai language program at the AUA Language School is unique in the world. This program attempts to follow Krashen’s theories to their obvious conclusion. The program utilizes a long silent period of approximately 800 hours, during which students do not speak Thai. Rather, all emphasis is on comprehensible input. AUA uses a technique called the “talk show” in order to give students input in Thai. Two teachers teach each class. The lead teacher usually tells a story, gives a class on a particular cultural topic or plays a game. The supporting teacher asks questions, clarifies instructions, draws, gestures, and acts out what the lead teacher is saying-- in order to help students understand what is going on.

The good news is that AUA is getting excellent long term results from those who complete the entire program. The most promising result is that many students end up with excellent, even native, Thai accents. All of the students at AUA are adults, so this is particularly impressive--- it is, in fact, a direct refutation of the “critical period hypothesis” (which claims that adults cannot learn a foreign language as effectively as children). AUA’s Thai program gets results--- it produces fluent speakers with very good Thai pronunciation.

The bad news is that most students do not complete the program. AUA has a big retention problem. Most students who start at AUA do not complete the 800 hours necessary to reach the speaking threshold set by the department. While I am a big proponent of their approach, I am beginning to understand why they have such high turnover.

I’m now at “level 3” (out of 10) in AUA’s Thai program and have hit the comprehension wall. In general, the AUA program does not simplify their language enough..... At levels 1 and 2 the teachers do use a lot of gestures, drawings, actions, and games to aid comprehension. This is generally effective although the language complexity is still much too high in my opinion. My rough guess is that they could cut the required 400 hours (to reach level 3) in half by utilizing Asher’s TPR and Garcia’s TPR-Storytelling at the first two levels. These two methods are compatible with a silent period-- and they are a superior means of providing language that is very simple, meaningful, and highly interactive.

At level three things get much worse at AUA. Other students had warned me about the “level 3 shock” but I was still surprised by it. For some inexplicable reason, the teachers/administrators have decided that level 3+ students no longer need aids to comprehension. The teachers use few drawings, few actions, few gestures. Some classes consist of two teachers sitting at the table talking non-stop in rapid Thai-- without any visual aids to comprehension at all. I don’t blame the teachers.... they are overworked and stuck in a rut. It’s much easier to come in and just blab away. But this is not a good teaching method and definitely not what Krashen, Asher, Terrell, and others advocate-- a natural approach is much more than talking non-stop to students in the target language. To be effective, the students must understand the language being used.

TPR and TPR-Storytelling proponents, for example, recommend 85-100% comprehension for any particular lesson. TPRS ensures this level of comprehension by 1) using actions to demonstrate all stories, 2) Re-telling each story or situation at least three times, 3) Building complexity gradually-- teachers start with very short “mini-situations” and slowly build to longer stories, 4) Using drawings, illustrations, and props with all stories.

My rough guess is that the Level 3 input at AUA is only 35-50% comprehensible (to me and most new arrivals). Sometimes the comprehension level is much lower-- and I have no clue what’s going on. Input that is not comprehensible is wasted... and so I’d say that 50-70% of my time at AUA is wasted. This accounts, in my opinion, for the extremely large number of hours required by AUA to reach the speaking threshold (800). I also think it accounts for most of their retention problem. Quite simply, students become very frustrated. I’m a true believer in the method-- yet I too am losing patience and getting frustrated.

AUA’s administrators consider the retention problem to be a fact of nature, but I think it could easily be improved. If I’m at all correct--- and 50+% of their instruction is wasted..... that means they could in fact reduce the required silent period by 50% by using methods that assured 90%+ comprehension-- methods such as TPR, TPRS, Focal Skills, and the like. What’s more, I believe such improvements would reduce students’ frustrations. By adopting these new methods, I predict AUA’s retention rate would rise considerably and thus their overall enrollment numbers would climb quickly as well. Furthermore, adopting these methods would reduce the amount of classes taught with the “talk show” technique... one teacher can easily teach a TPR class (for example). Thus, by adopting these changes AUA would also reduce it’s payroll expenses-- and could shorten the teacher’s long office hours (often 10-12 hrs per day).

Finally, I should note that though there are definitely flaws in the execution of the method, I believe that the underlying theory and approach used at AUA is excellent. Their emphasis on input (and not speech), and their focus on understandable happenings, is right on track. They have made some fantastic innovations in the field of language teaching--- especially their use of a very long silent period coupled with the “talk show” method of team teaching. These methods effectively reduce student anxiety to zero. Studying at AUA is a relaxing and pleasant process for the most part (with the above exceptions). With some refinements, they could dramatically boost the effectiveness of this program..... while increasing student retention, reducing the necessary number of study hours, increasing overall enrollment, and reducing payroll time and expenses.

Monday, October 18, 2004

TPR: After forty years, still a very good idea

By James J. Asher
(Reprinted with permission from Dr. Asher)

Dr. James J. Asher is the originator of the Total Physical Response (TPR). Dr. Asher has demonstrated how to apply TPR for best results at more than 500 elementary, secondary schools and universities around the world, including a 1983 lecture tour in Japan sponsored by JALT.  He is the recipient of many awards for excellence in teachingand research.  He is an emeritus professor of psychology and former associate dean at San Jose State University in San Jose, California.

Way back in 1965, I demonstrated a powerful linguistic tool in a pioneer experiment using the Japanese language with my research associate, Dr. Shirou Kunihira.  That tool is the Total Physical Response, now known worldwide as simply, TPR.  Since that time, scores of language classes using TPR in countries around the world have enjoyed successful results for students acquiring European, Asian, Indian and Semitic languages.

                    Why comprehension is important

TPR research opened up the concept that for children and adults acquiring another language in school, success can be assured if comprehension is developed before speaking. One important reason: Everywhere on earth in all languages throughout history, there is no instance of infants acquiring speaking before comprehension. Comprehension always comes first with speaking following perhaps a year later.

A second reason is that talking and comprehension are located in different parts of the brain. Talking comes from Broca's area located in the frontal lobe of the left brain. If there is damage in Broca's area, one may understand what people are saying but the person is unable to speak. Understanding or comprehension takes place in Wernicke's area located in the temporal lobe . If there is damage to Wernicke's area, one can speak but has difficulty understanding what others are saying. This has significance for language instruction which I will explain next.

                      Beware of "brain overload"

When the instructor in traditional classes asks students to "Listen and repeat after me!," this may be brain overload because both the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe in the brain light up at the same time resulting in slow-motion learning with short-term retention.  (Noted educator, Leslie Hart, calls "brain overload" a type of brain antagonistic instruction.)

                Well then, if comprehension is important,
       how about using translation to help students comprehend?

Unfortunately, translation does not help most students because there is no long-term understanding. When students translate, there is short-term comprehension which is erased the moment the student leaves the classroom, if not sooner.  The problem with translation is that the instructor has made an assertion which the critical left brain of the student perceives as a "lie."

For example, to claim that this is a "desk" and this is a "chair" and this is a "window" is absurd in the student's brain. The student, along with all other students in the classroom, have thousands of life experiences that validate this as "tsukue" and this as "isu" and this as "mado." Students simply do not believe the assertions by the instructor.

              What is the alternative to translation?

TPR is a powerful alternative to translation because we create experiences in the classroom that are "believable." If we ask students to be silent, listen to a direction and do exactly what the instructor does, we have created a "fact" which cannot be dismissed by the critical side of the student's brain.

Here is an example of how the student's brain is processing information at lightning speed: If "stand" does not mean to rise up from my chair, why did my body actually go from sitting to standing when I heard the instructor say, "Stand"?  If "walk" does not mean to move forward, why did my body walk forward when the instructor said, "Walk."?  These strange utterances must be valid.

TPR creates facts which make for long-term comprehension. At lightning velocity, the student's brain processes information like this: "I actually stood up when the instructor uttered the alien direction: 'Stand.' It is a fact.  It is true. It actually happened; therefore, I can store this in long-term memory." The result is TPR can achieve long-term retention in a few trials, often in one-trial.

    How to present a believable sample of the target language

Now I must refer you to these books: My first book: Learning Another Language Through Actions (in the 6th edition) and Ramiro Garcia's Instructor's Notebook: How to apply TPR for best results (in the 4th edition). I recommend that you follow the advice of Jim Martinez who successfully taught English in a private school in Argentina: "Read each book six times and each time you will discover something you did not know before about TPR."

            Once students actually understand, then what?

Once they understand, you can then use this skill to move over into Broca's area of the left brain with traditional exercises in
speaking, reading, and writing.  Then return to the right brain with more TPR to understand another sample. Then use that understanding to switch to speaking, reading, and writing.

                         The first order of business

The first objective in any excellent language program is enabling students to be comfortable and confident with the sounds, the grammatical patterns, and semantics of the new language. That can be accomplished with students of all ages including adults using concrete nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions, and adverbs.

Do not underestimate the power of the concrete in acquiring another language. Everyone of us did it with our native language. One can acquire true fluency at a concrete level.

                        How about abstractions

Abstractions will come later, not necessarily by direct instruction but in the context of discourse. Traditional textbooks, in my
opinion, are notorious for trying unsuccessfully to force understanding of abstractions before students are ready.

Notice that when children acquire their first language, they become fluent native speakers at a concrete level of discourse; then gradually acquire abstractions in context or by asking direct questions such as: "Mother, what does 'government' mean?" Mother then explains using simple language that the child understands.

To break language apart into artificial categories such as phonology, vocabulary, grammar and semantics is of keen interest to teachers, but of no concern to students because in the process of achieving fluency with TPR, they internalize everything
simultaneously with no analysis, in the same way that children acquire their first language. Analysis into artificial categories
is fine to "polish" the target language for advanced students who are already fluent, but not for beginners or even intermediate students.

I do recommend, however, that five or ten minutes at the end of a session be open to curious students who prefer to ask questions about pronunciation or grammar.

                 Does TPR really help students with grammar?

It does. Eric Schessler's English Grammar through Actions is a fine little book showing how to TPR 50 grammatical features in English. We recommend that you use this as a supplement as you go along for pin-point instruction of specific grammatical features. With TPR, students understand grammar in the right brain but cannot tell you how grammar works. If your intent is getting specific pointsof grammar into the left brain for analysis, then Schessler's book can help.

Remember, the right brain internalizes without analysis for high-speed learning. The critical left brain must analyze everything which makes for agonizingly slow-motion learning. Excellent guidelines to keep in mind for teaching any subject come from Leslie Hart who calls left brain learning "brain antagonistic" instruction while right brain learning is "brain compatible" instruction. (For more on right-left brain research discoveries in more than 4,000 studies,read my books:Brainswitching: Learning on the Right Side of the Brain and The Super School: Teaching on the Right Side
of the Brain.)

    How to make the transition to speaking, reading, and writing?

After ten to twenty hours of TPR instruction, role reversal is one way to make the transition (students assume the role of
instructor to direct you and other students). Student-created skits, which they write and act out, are another way. Storytelling is a third option along with traditional pattern drills, and dialogues.

The books I mentioned will show you step-by-step how to be successful with role reversal and skit creation. Some new books by Blaine Ray (for high school and adults) and Todd McKay (for elementary and middle school) (see references below) show how to make the transition from classical TPR to TPR Storytelling (TPRS).

                     How to get started with TPR

Once you have read the books I recommend and you find TPR an attractive option, how should you begin? First, make no dramatic changes in what you are now doing. Sample a lesson or two from my book or Garcia's book with your own children or your neighbor's children. If neither are available, then try a lesson or two with your students. This will accomplish three things:

     1.  You become convinced that the approach really works;
     2.  You build your self-confidence because you can do it
         successfully; and
     3.  You smooth out your delivery.

Remember, the more you play with TPR-- yes, I said "play," the more insight you will gain about how this phenomenon really works.

Try TPR with your students for only five or ten minutes to introduce new material.  If you and your students are pleased with the result, try again in the next class meeting with another five or ten minutes.

                 Here are two more tips on using TPR:

     1. To escape cerebral overload, students should be silent when
        they experience TPR. Don't ruin the experience by demanding
        that they repeat every direction you have uttered.

     2. Use TPR only for new material that students have never
        experienced before. Of course, keep the sample at a concrete
        level rather than abstractions, which should be delayed until
        students are further along in the program.

                 TPR Issues for Teachers in Japan [& Asia In General]

For instructors who have limited skill in spoken English, the key, I think, is intelligibility. If the instructor's English is not perfect but intelligible, students will benefit from TPR experiences.  They will have something to work with which can be "polished" later by interacting with native speakers. This is my opinion, which is open to further research.

                   Working with mandated textbooks.

You are directed to use a traditional textbook selected by the Ministry of Education.  Now what?

You and your students can still benefit from TPR. The following suggestion comes from Dr. David Wolfe who was successful as supervisor of Foreign Language Instruction in the Philadephia School System and professor of Languages at Temple University. Dr. Wolfe recommends: Comb the book to list all adjectives, adverbs, verbs, and nouns that students can internalize with TPR. Do this before your students even open the book. Then when students open the book for the
first time, they encounter only "friendly creatures." This strategy transforms a "fearful" textbook into an attractive book that is an exciting challenge to students.

Here is a secret I will share with you: If I were the Minister of Education I would select Stephen Silver's Listen and Perform book for elementary and middle school children learning English, and follow up with Todd McKay's TPRS Storytelling books. For high school and adults, I would select Dr. Francisco Cabello's TPR in First Year English followed by Blaine Ray's  Look, I Can Talk seriesof TPR storytelling books. That plan would insure extraordinary success for at least 95 percent of students. For additional insurance that the plan will be successful nationwide, I would offer sophisticated TPR and TPRS workshops for language teachers.

For more articles about TPR, information about upcoming TPR workshops worldwide, and how to order TPR books mentioned in this article, visit www.tpr-world.com. For a printed copy of the TPR
Catalog,  download from the web or contact:
   Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.
   P.O. Box 1102, Los Gatos, CA 95031, USA
   Phone: 1-408-395-7600, Fax: 1-408-395-8440
   e-mail: tprworld@aol.com.


Asher, James J. (2004) A Simplified Guide to Statistics for Non-Mathematicians:

                        The  ABCs of  a successful research project
                       . Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks
                        Productions, Inc

Asher, James J.(2004).  The Weird and Wonderful World of Mathematical
                        Mysteries: Conversations with famous
                        scientists and mathematicians. Los Gatos, CA:
                        Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

Asher, James J. (2003). Learning Another Language through Actions
                        (6th edition). Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks
                         Productions, Inc.

Asher, James.J. (2002). Brainswitching: Learning on the right side of
                        the brain. Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks
                        Productions, Inc.

Asher, James J. (2000). The Super School: Teaching on the right side
                        of the brain. Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks
                        Productions, Inc.

Cabello, Francisco (2004).TPR in First Year English. (Also available
                         in Spanish and French). Los Gatos, CA:
                         Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

Garcia, Ramiro. (2001). Instructor's Notebook: How to apply TPR for
                   best results (4th edition). Los Gatos, CA: Sky
                   Oaks Productions, Inc.

Kunihira, Shirou and Asher, James J.
                  The strategy of the Total Physical Response: An
                  application to learning Japanese. International
                  Review of Applied Linguistics Vol III/4, 1965.
                 (The research in this publication is a follow-up
                  to the first documentary film showing three
                  12-year-old American boys acquiring a sample of
                  Japanese with TPR. Still photos from the motion
                  picture are reprinted in this ETJ Journal article.)
                  Video of the documentary may be ordered from Sky
                  Oaks Productions, Inc.

McKay, Todd. (2004). TPRS Storytelling: Especially for students in
                     elementary and middle school. (Available in
                     English, Spanish or French). Los Gatos, CA:
                     Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

Ray, Blaine. (2004). Look, I Can Talk series (Available in English,
                     Spanish, French or German). Los Gatos, CA:
                     Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

Schessler, Eric.(1999). English Grammar through Actions: How to TPR
                      50 grammatical features in English.
                      (Also available in Spanish or French).
                      Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

Seely, Contee and Elizabeth Romijn. (2002) TPR is More than Commands
                      --At All Levels. Los Gatos, CA:
                      Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

Silver, Stephen. (2003). Listen and Perform series (Available in
                         English, Spanish or French). Los Gatos, CA:
                         Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

Silver, Stephen. (1986). The Command Book: How to TPR 2,000
                         vocabulary items in any language.
                         Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

* Special thanks to Jim Kahny for his helpful suggestions in the
  preparation of this article.

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.