Teaching Listening

I’m glad that I’m able to get out and share my message of “New Ways of Teaching Listening” with people. The JALT2012 conference last year was a short presentation, but allowed me to connect with people. On Saturday the 20th July I presented at Gifu JALT, and this time I had time to more fully explain where I’m coming from. For many teachers in ELT, teaching listening is giving students comprehension questions, playing a CD, and then checking the answers; this is not teaching listening, but testing it. So I feel I’ve become a kind of evangelist for both finding ways to actually teach listening, and then sharing the reasons why. As for the how, that’s slow coming. I don’t want to say too much on what I think is good, our industry had too much of that in the past, but instead I try to be evidence-driven: sharing ideas that have some evidence of positive effect on students. Thanks to Gifu JALT for gaving me the opportunity to start to share that message, the presentation wasn’t as smooth as I’d like it to have been, but it was valuable practice.

New Ways of Teaching Listening icon

New Ways of Teaching Listening

The Teaching Listening web page includes two PowerPoint presentations (in pdf form), audio recordings of the presentation (hosted on SoundCloud), and some resources that can be deployed by teachers on Monday morning. I hope to repeat (and refine) this presentation in the future, so the page is in a state of perpetual “under construction“.

Ethics, privacy, and respect

I think many people have many ‘ah-ha!’ moments in a week. A tweet from Australia’s ABC news with this big data story prompted a little ‘ah-ha! moment’. It’s about big data and the companies that wish to cash in on this. At the moment in Japan, the US, and apparently most African countries, it’s ok for them to sell their customer data to anyone who has the money to buy it.

Many Japanese learnt last night on NHK News that the IC card they use to pay for train fares, the East JR Suica card, has been collecting all manner of customer data including station they board and alight from, vending machine purchases and demographic details, and that data has already been sold on to at least one major company, and is now available for even small businesses to exploit. So Suica card users pay for their card use, and are also products that East JR can make more money from. That is to say, customers are a commodity.

Electronic ticket barriers at a Japanese train station

Electronic ticket barriers at a Japanese train station

FaceBook famously sells their customer data on to even political parties. In the hands of a belligerent extremist party, raises serious ethical issues.

Even though NHK assured Japanese people that Suica customer data is divorced of people’s names, they failed to mention that Japanese companies has a bad reputation for data security. Especially in light of Sony and Nintendo data breaches that have risked credit card information (Computer Weekly, Engadget, and Japan Times). Furthermore, the UFJ Bank has had one of its employees sell, for a personal profit, customer credit card information to gangsters (I can’t find the original story, but here’s another, Data Breaches).

In Taiwan and Korea, they say the ‘customer is king’, or that customers are very prized and ought to be treated with equal respect. However, selling customer data breaches this notion, especially when customers are not 1. Forewarned, 2. Have no opt out option, 3. Informed after the fact, 4. Have the option of buying a single trip tickets at least twice a day (often much more) and no other privacy respecting option.

The ABC story cited above shows that Australia has very strict regulation and respect for people. In contrast the US and Japanese companies and politicians view customers as yet another commodity. I hate to think that someone is making money off of my existence and I don’t have the right to monetize it myself, or I don’t have the right to earn royalties, or I don’t have the option of opting out.


FAB4 (First Annual Brain Day), 2013

The First Annual Brain Day Fourth Annual Conference (FAB4) was good. Robert Murphy stated, rekindled, talked on a number of important info that teachers should know about teaching. Teaching, including ELT, involves humans, and humans are incredibly social animals. That is to say, our students are not robots, and “teaching” is not done best when you teach at students, but when you involve them. Humans have brains and bodies that have limitations. So we can’t be sitting students in chairs for 90minutes and expect them to keep still, silent, and ‘record’ information like a tape recorder. The body needs movement, the brain needs interesting stimulation, and humans need interaction. Marc Helgesen’s morning plenary nicely encapsulated how teachers can do these thing to make learning much more efficient.

Leslie Ito explained about the many, myths Japanese parents unfortunately believe in, which can have serious consequences for children. Basically, don’t stress the child, let the child have fun, and enjoy life. Developing bilinguals is not difficult, just get good advice and information.

There were many great presentations, more than what can be reported here. However there’s one more of note, Japanese EFL Students Listening an Reading Vocabulary, presented by Yoko and I. Details on the Listening & Reading Vocabulary page here. In short, students need far more experience and opportunities in listening to English.

Finally this little guy. He was abandoned and discovered by a conference delegate the day before, and is lucky enough to be taken care of, and we were lucky to have him chirping happily during the presentations. It’s great to know that there are people who will take care of even the smallest of us. Although its a little disconcerting that he is being kept in a food try in a cake box.

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Japan and TOEIC

This post is inspired by this recent tweet:

@tokyo_0: TOEFL scores from 30 Asian countries show Japan ranked 27th, with only Laos, Tajikistan and Cambodia trailing behind. http://t.co/rEcQebIpAa

What is also interesting is that there is no mention that TOEIC is not a good test of communicative ability. Of course there are other pertinent issues raised in the article (please take a look at it), but lets look at this issue. TOEIC is a test of English knowledge, or a persons knowledge about the grammar of this language, not a test of their practical language abilities. Despite this, the test has in the past been largely a grammar test, and only ten years ago added the listening section, and I believe it’s been updated some more.

Japanese senior high schools are in the habit of teaching for university entrance exams. However, Vygotskian Theory says that the best way to learn something is to use it. So, if you want to learn English, don’t waste time learning about it, start using it from the get go (from the beginning). As stated in a previous blog post titled Comprehensible Output Hypothesis, “We learn language while using language” (N. Ellis, 2005).