Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, December 30, 2006

With Speaking, Be Patient

I still do not speak Russian with anyone and have no real desire to do so. I guess I would summarize my philosophy as follows; until I can read and listen to a novel, news programs and recorded conversations in Russian and enjoy doing so, I have no desire to speak with anyone. I might be extreme but I feel there is so much I can do on my own to improve in the language, I am not sure that stumbling around in a conversation at this stage in my learning would really help me. I think the same is true for English learning.

--Steve Kaufman of The Linguist (Learn English With The Linguist)

The above quote is from Steve's blog. It comes at a great time for me. As I mentioned previously, I have just restarted Spanish study after a two and a half month break.

The most discouraging part of my Spanish learning experience has been the pressure I get from other people to speak. Whenever someone knows I'm learning Spanish, they immediately want to know if I can speak... or they ask me to say something. If they are a Spanish speaker, they try to talk with me. Of course, they are being friendly and I do appreciate the chance to try out a bit of Spanish.

The problem isn't them, its me. Because whenever I have these encounters, I invariably feel frustrated. I can't say much and what I do say is stuttered and hesitant. Worse, I feel an immediate surge of stress when someone springs Spanish on me.

After such encounters, I feel my motivation drop. I begin to question myself. I start doubting. I think, "I'll never be fluent in this language. I don't really need it. I might as well give up."

Its easy to forget that speaking takes time. Speaking is something that naturally emerges after you have acquired a lot of the language through listening and reading. There is a lot of research about this, and I know that. But its still easy to get discouraged when you feel that your speaking ability hasn't kicked in yet. Its easy to think that nothing is happening.

Which is why I was so encouraged to see Steve's post. It reminds me that even Steve, who already speaks 9 languages, still waits for speaking to emerge. It reminds me to remain patient with speaking, and continue to focus on lots of input. Steve has the benefit of experience-- he's done this before so he knows, from personal experience, that it works. But some of us don't have that personal experience yet and therefore need periodic encouragement.

So remember Steve's advice: Before you can read a novel and enjoy a TV program in English, do not worry about speaking. You might need to speak sometimes, you might want to... and that's fine. But don't put any pressure on yourself in regards to speaking. Focus on input, input, and lots of input.

Be patient. Speaking will emerge naturally, without effort.

English Learners- Learn English With Me At Effortless English.

Relaxed English Learning-- Anytime, Anywhere-- Try One Month for $1.99


Steve Kaufman, who speaks 9 languages--is now working on number 10-- Russian. Steve is also the founder of The Linguist language learning system-- which I highly recommend (Learn English With The Linguist).

In fact, I also consider Steve to be my informal "coach" for learning Spanish. He never teaches me Spanish... and we talk only rarely.. but whenever I chat with him, or read his blog, I am inspired. After talking with him, I always improve at learning Spanish.

Its easy to get discouraged when learning a language. It takes a long time- and at times can feel overwhelming. So it helps to have a coach. A coach is not a teacher-- their role is simply to encourage you and build your confidence. People sometimes laugh at my extremely enthusiastic teaching style, especially native English speakers. But many students have told me they appreciate my energy and constant encouragement because it builds their confidence.

As Tom Peters once noted, there are two kinds of "managers" [teachers, coaches, etc..]. When one kind walks into the room, you immediately feel an energy drain. Their cynicism, or arrogance, or critical attitude can be felt immediately. But when the other kind of person walks into the room, there is an immediate energy boost. Everyone feeds off their passion, enthusiasm, and positive feelings. These people encourage you to fight the good fight, do the difficult thing, and take the risks you know you should take.

Steve Kaufman is one of the latter. Yes, he knows all about the language acquisition research. Even better, he has the direct experience of learning 10 languages. But to me, his greatest quality as a coach is his keen interest and enthusiasm for languages. It is impossible to talk with him and not get excited about learning a language!

We need more teacher-coaches like Steve... and a lot less of the cynical and "professional" people who pass themselves off as teachers, but are, in fact "the killers of hope" (to use Humberto's phrase).

English Learners- Learn English With Me At Effortless English.

Relaxed English Learning-- Anytime, Anywhere-- Try One Month for $1.99

Slow but Steady

As I mentioned in the last post, I haven't had much time for much other than teaching at my school in San Francisco, and working on Effortless English.

Unfortunately, my own language study has suffered. I haven't studied Spanish since October... almost a three month break.

But this week I started back again. I've been reviewing my old materials-- just 20 or 30 minutes a day. Its not much. Its not intensive. But its all the time I have, and is certainly better than nothing.

I've also been dabbling with a little Japanese- since I have a live-in tutor ;) This doesn't even fall into the category of "study"... just learning an odd word or phrase here or there.

Still, if nothing else, its good to be involved in learning a language because it makes me a better English teacher. I'm better able to understand my students and empathize with them. I'm also able to test various materials and learning methods directly and make decisions based on experience (as well as research).

For all these reasons, I still adamantly believe that all TESOL/ESL teachers should be learning a language. In fact, even if you have already mastered several foreign languages, its good to be in the process of learning one right now-- it gives you that immediate experience and thus immediate empathy with your English students.

English Learners- Learn English With Me At Effortless English.

Relaxed English Learning-- Anytime, Anywhere-- Try One Month for $1.99

Back In The Saddle

Wow, its been a long break-- from this blog, from The Linguist, and from learning Spanish.

During the last two months, all of my extra energy has been focused on launching Effortless English. Its been a lot of work!

But I'm happy to say that the site is now up and running. We are still in Beta (test) mode, but we have a small membership and are steadily making improvements.

The site originally started with just learning guides (text articles with a vocabulary word list) and audio (audio version of the article). However, I've been gradually adding to the lessons.

Each "lesson" now includes an audio vocabulary discussion (discussing the more difficult words from the article), a mini-story to reinforce key vocabulary, a text learning guide, and an audio version of the article. By using all four parts, learners get a lot of repetition of key words and phrases-- in different contexts.

The mini-story follows the basic technique used by TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling). I pick 7-10 tough words/phrases from the article. Then I create a foolish, exaggerated, or strange story using these words.

First I tell the mini-story straight through. Then I tell it again- this time asking a lot of questions in order to reinforce understanding of the key vocabulary. Then I tell the mini-story again. In future lessons, I'll do a pause and "repeat after me" section so learners can practice using the phrases and sentences in the story.

Another recent addition (just this week) has been intermediate level lessons. Up until now, the site has been focused on advanced learners. However, I'm now providing simpler lessons for intermediate level students. The intermediate lessons have two parts:

1. A text article (learning guide with vocabulary word list)
2. An audio lesson (audio of the article, plus a short vocabulary discussion)

The intermediate level articles are about the same topics as the advanced articles-- but they are shorter and use simpler, high-frequency vocabulary.

I'm hoping the easier lessons will help some of the learners who have found previous articles to be too difficult (a frequent complaint I get from my students here in San Francisco).

Finally, on a personal note-- I'm really thrilled to be working on this website. As many readers of this blog know, I've been quite frustrated with the traditional TESOL (English teaching) "industry". For a good long while I put my energies alternately into complaining, rebelling, subverting, and avoiding.

I view these actions as necessary steps. But ultimately there comes a time for DOING something instead of being against something. That's been the biggest thrill of Effortless English-- building a site for students based on my own principles and approach. There's nothing like finally taking responsibility and really trying to do something on your own!

It hasn't been easy. There have been plenty of problems and mistakes. The site is still a work in progress-- but this beats the hell out of Thammasat University, or David English School, or any of the other jobs I've had in the "industry".

English Learners- Learn English With Me At Effortless English.

Relaxed English Learning-- Anytime, Anywhere-- Try One Month for $1.99