Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

More Review, More Repetition

by AJ

Learning Spanish is helping my teaching. As a language learner, I readily recognize the need for lots of repetition. I just finished the last chapter of "Las Puertas Retorcidas". In a standard Spanish class, Id quickly be pushed into another book. In traditional school, its always more more more. These classes are typically concerned with speed and breadth of coverage. They try to fit in as much new vocab and as many new grammar rules as possible in a limited amount of time. As a result, the student is exposed to many concepts, but acquires very little actual language.

Rather than rush ahead, I plan to spend another couple of weeks thoroughly reviewing Las Puertas Retorcidas. By "review", I mean I will continue to listen to the audiobook, continue to read along with the audio, and continue to review words/phrases that havent quite "stuck" yet. I want to feel a sense of master over the material before moving on.

As children, we naturally take this approach. I can remember my Mom reading Dr. Suess books to me constantly... the same ones. I must have heard "Green Eggs and Ham" over 100 times. Then, of course, I started to read on my own. I followed the same approach, often reading my favorite books every single night.

It was the same with movies I liked. When the original Star Wars first came out, I saw it 13 times at the theatre! Then I bought a record and book for the movie.. and would listen and read along over and over and over again.

In middle school, I read Tolkein's The Hobbit three times in one year, and all the rest of The Lord of The Rings.

This kind of repetition helps us absorb the language.... including new words, new structures, new phrases.

Yet, as "serious" adult students and teachers, we often shun this kind of repetition. We are often obsessed with quantity-- more books, more tests, more word lists. Its a shallow approach that yields weak long term results.

And so, Im steadily building more repetition and review into my classes. I keep a new vocab/phrase wall in class... which holds up to 300 words. Every day I review the most recent 20-40 items,... and occasionally review all of them.

Many items come from using the movie technique. When using movies, not only do I show each scene at least three times, I often will re-show long sections. For example, today we re-watched the first 45 minutes of About a Boy. The students had already "studied" this section, and we'd already reviewed the new items from it multiple times. But still, they benefited from once again seeing all this new language in context.

Its common in language education to think of children as being more gifted language learners than adults. Its often assumed that there is a genetic or mental defect that makes language learning more difficult for older students.

But I dont think this is the case. Rather, I blame the teaching and learning approaches favored by most adults. Its not that adults can't learn languages well, its that they have let pride, ego, fear, shyness, or other hangups cause them to abandon the learning strategies that work best.

As Dr. J. Marvin Brown wrote, "You dont need to learn languages AS a child, you simply need to follow the approaches USED BY a child".

San Francisco, CA