Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, September 01, 2006


by AJ

Listen To This English Podcast

During a recent conversation with Humberto and Tony, we discussed the potential of learner-created content. Each of us expressed our frustrations with the difficulty of finding authentic and interesting conversational materials that include BOTH audio and text.

As we chatted, I mentioned my desire to record unscripted conversations between my friends, and then transcribe them. Such unplanned conversations are always much different then the carefully scripted "interactions" presented in textbooks. Natural conversations are also quite different from audiobooks or audio articles.

Next, Humberto mentioned recording short, unscripted conversations between he and his wife- in Spanish- and then posting them to his blog. As members of a language learning community, we would then support each other's learning efforts. I'd supply English content in audio and text form, for use by community members who want to learn English. And Humberto would do the same for members who want to learn Spanish.

The Linguist community also has a large number of Japanese speakers. Tony is currently learning Japanese- so he wants to encourage these students to add Japanese podcasts (with text) to their blogs-- which would then serve as learning resources for him. Since Tony is a native Chinese speaker, he could return the favor with Mandarin content.

With a large enough and active enough community, there would be absolutely no need for commercial materials of any kind. Learners could find all the authentic content they needed- easily and conveniently -- from their language learning community. They could also find plenty of conversation partners (via Skype) in their new language, while acting as a partner in their own native language.

In such a community, everyone is indeed both a learner and a teacher. The hierarchical, power-preserving dynamics of traditional education disappear- as do the failed methods such systems produce.

The exciting thing about this is that its happening right now- at The Linguist.

To be honest, I can't imagine why any language learner would choose another system. I don't understand why someone would pay outrageous amounts of money to go to a typical language school- where they will sit in little rows of desks, work through banal textbooks, practice contrived & scripted dialogues, take tests, analyze rules, and, in the end, acquire very little of the language itself.

Actually, I do understand. Schools attract students who are not truly motivated. The bulk of traditional students are being coerced to study English. Their government, or job, or parents are pushing them. Or they are motivated solely by extrinsic factors like test scores. Many of these students have very little desire to actually use the language fluently. Many have little desire to connect with English language cultures or people. For these kinds of students, perhaps school is the right place-- though honestly, I see no reason why such people should be coerced at all. Most, in fact, don't need English.

Others in such schools are highly motivated and do have a genuine desire to learn the language. But they don't know of another way. They have been brainwashed by years of traditional education and don't know what else to do. Many of these students started as enthusiastic learners, but school quickly crushed their joy for learning the language.

But for the others-- the learners who DO want to reach fluency and know that schools don't work-- there is no better choice than self-study within a community of motivated language learners. This is the fastest way. This is the most effective way. This is the most enjoyable way.

School is a toxic environment for genuine learners. School is deadly for the curious, the interested, and the passionate.

Motivated learners don't need school.

They only need a community.

San Francisco, CA