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).

Comprehensible Output Hypothesis

An important element in language learning today, especially for the Communicative Approach advocates (like me) is the simple notion that,

“We learn language while using language”

(N. Ellis, 2005, cited in Dörneyi, 2009, p19). The idea is not new. Krashen famously said that learners ‘need’ lots of comprehensible input, as a apart of his “Comprehensible Input Hypothesis“. That is to say, for second language (L2) learners to ‘acquire’ language, it needs to be comprehensible to them and meaningful (relating to real-world needs). So, the language a teacher should use should be levelled down to the L2 learners, and the learners need to be able to understand it. This, apparently, drives language acquisition. In essence, a teacher can talk at their class all day long, and believe the learners are learning English, but they are not. Merril Swain (1985) showed that this did not work for Canadian students learning French as an L2. The students sat quiet in the room, while all of the French was produced by their teacher. This teacher-centered approach failed. In contrast, Swain showed that, instead, L2 learners need time to talk in the L2; our English students need practice time speaking and writing in English, as a means to learn English. Thus, the Comprehensible Output Hypothesis was created, probably in opposition to Krashen’s teacher-centered notions. Even though Swain’s work pre-dates Nick Ellis’s work, there is another Educational Psychologist who pre-dates both of these by almost a life time. Lev Vygotsky argued that to learn anything, you need to spend time doing it. So, let your students learn English by using it; give them lots of practice time.

Dr Stephen Krashen who is infamous for the controversial Comprehensible Input Hypothesis.
Dr Stephen Krashen who is infamous for the controversial Comprehensible Input Hypothesis.

Good presentations

Today is the first day that some of my classes begin preparing for their presentations, so I thought I might do a quick blog post on the topic. Many people, unfortunately, make presentations rather boring. I hate sitting through boring presentation after boring presentation. The problem is, no one will remember what you have presented, and so all the hard work you do is forgotten; or hard work done for nothing. So please, please, please, make your presentations interesting. It is not difficult, just briefly, Step 1, avoid bullet points; Step 2, reduce and simplify both the text and content; Step 3, make it very visual. More tips and suggestions can be found on my “How to do good presentations” on Prezi.Com.

While I’m on the topic, here’s an (out-dated) tutorial on “How to add graphs to your prezi”, and one of my favourite prezi’s (not made by me) to serve as an example of what a Prezi can look like, “Playing to Learn”.

How to do good presentations
How to do good presentations

Privacy on the Internet

Ever since The Guardian broke the news leaked by a whistle blower privacy has been the the hot topic. It was revealed that the top American spy agency has direct access to Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo servers, among others (possibly even the server that hosts this website, though I don’t know; The Guardian, Prism). The problem is that all our Internet information is written and can be stored permanently. With time, the things we write become separated from the context, the mood of the time, current knowledge (at time of writing), and the original intended meaning are lost. As a consequence, this permanent written record could be used against us.

There are already complaints that free services like Facebook sell our personal information to marketers (Discovery.Com). But now, could it be used against us in legal situations? (Update, new sentence added): The Guardian describes examples where the police has abused their powers in undercover and spy situations and have put innocent people in prison and harassed a family who were victims of racism (The Guardian).

Worse still, Cloud Computing wants us to store files on remote servers as back ups, for personal web-based access, and for other reasons, but companies seem to intend to make us dependant on them. What if that company goes bankrupt? We lose our files? Or what if that company is politically targeted? Mega Upload was targeted in such a way, and law abiding legitimate users lost their personal files when it was shut down (Wikipedia). And what if the company just wants to use our files as data to sell to advertising agencies? Would you like your boyfriend seeing pregnancy test kits advertised on your web browser or phone?

There are advocates who strongly, vehemently suggest that you store nothing on the cloud, but keep it all local (Guardian). At least you keep total control of your information and files.

A final note, Mashable has a helpful page on how to “De-cloud an avoid tracking”, and The Guardian Teacher Network has some resources.

Teaching listening: An intro

It’s interesting what different teachers think of when you ask them “How do you teach listening?”. This question was asked of some teachers who were kind enough to lend their time to me for the 2011 article I published in the KOTESOL proceedings (details). However, since then I’ve been able to ask more people, both formally and informally about this.

For both teachers and students, ‘teaching listening’ almost invariably means a set predetermined time in a lesson, often dictated by the textbook, and an audio cd that accompanies the textbook. So, listening might take up, possibly, just ten minutes of the lesson. Furthermore, often (thankfully not always), teaching listening means playing a CD and checking the accompanying comprehension questions afterwards. This is not actually teaching listening, but testing listening.

To teach something, the usual procedure is to provide instructional input first, provide scaffolded practice, and then test its acquisition (often at the end of semester). Why have we skipped the first two steps, when we have elaborate, well honed techniques for teaching grammar, for instance?

John Field (in his 2008 book), tells us that early listening pedagogy was adopted from reading pedagogy. In the late 1960’s early 1970’s expensive audio labs were installed in schools, and managers expected that we would make good use of them, but how? Of course busy teachers would just adapt techniques that were already within their pedagogical repertoire. As a consequence, many of our listening textbooks are structured like this, still.

So, how should we teach listening? Well, there are many things we can do. However, I’d rather make efficient use of class time, so I’d like to avoid the activities and techniques that are not effective, or worse still, damaging (there is some evidence that some listening activities has some negative consequence, more on that later).

So, what works? So far, in my research teaching pronunciation seems to be it. Or, using pronunciation as a vehicle for instructing listening. So this is the starting point of many articles on this topic that will follow on this blog. So, more to come.

More conferences

Two more conferences to share the details of:

  • CamTESOL (Cambodia) has a call for papers for their 22nd & 23rd February 2014 conference. Details: CamTESOL Call for Papers, deadline 14th Sept 2013.
  • Thai TESOL (Thailand) also has a call for papers for their 17th & 18th January 2014 conference. Details: Thai TESOL Call for Papers, deadline: 31st Aug, 2013.

For more on conferences, click on the “Conferences” tag or categories link on this blog.


Upcoming conferences of note

There are conferences for teachers’ professional development almost everywhere, almost all the time. Here are some of note:

FAB4, 6-7 July 2013, Nagoya, Japan, http://fab-efl.com/ (A research partner, Yoko Sakurai and I, will be presenting there)

Gifu JALT, 20 July 2013, Nagoya, Japan, http://jalt.org/events/gifu-chapter/13-07-20, (ok, it’s not a conference, but I’ll be presenting New Ways of Teaching Listening).

JALT2013, 25-28 Oct 2013, Kobe, Japan, http://jalt.org/conference, (I may present there)

CamTESOL, 22-23 Feb 2014, Phnom Penh, Cambodia http://www.camtesol.org/2014-conference/call-for-papers

What’s a blog for?

Well, what’s a blog? Perhaps a way to explore new ideas, and share them to a community who could use them. So I guess that answers both questions. What’s going to be discussed? Well, things that crop up, whatever the inspiration, or grabs my attention. Let’s see where this takes us.

Teaching & researching EFL listening in Japan