Listening isn’t the opposite of speaking

A lot of people think that listening is the opposite of speaking. A lot of people also believe that when they listen, their understanding is the same as what the speaker intends. Sadly, both of these assumptions are not true. Phonologists and linguists, Boersma and Hamann (2009) in their model of listening demonstrate that the listening process is not the same as speaking, just run backwards. Instead, listening is an independent process of interpreting sounds and matching them to words. Wydell (2006), and other researchers say that vocabulary is stored as phonological objects in our heads. That means it’s easy to make listening mistakes, like “assist a passenger” and “a sister passenger” (Field, 2003), which changes the whole meaning of the conversation. Even if you hear the words correctly, you still have the problem of understanding what the speaker intends. A person might say “I like it”, but depending on the intonation, the meaning can change (Halliday and Greaves, 2008). Finally, while listening, we interpret other people’s meaning mainly based on what we think they mean. Often, the intended message is accurately received, but not always, and this is where miscommunication often begins. So, this is why we should always double check our understanding, and always ask if we think something isn’t quite right. A good practice in business is right after a phone call is to write an email saying thanks for your time, and with a summary of the phone call. This gives the other person a chance to respond and correct any potential misunderstandings.

Speaking and perception

Speaking and perceptions, from anon.


Boersma, P., and Hamann, S. (2009). Introduction: models of phonology in perception. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gryuter. In P. Boersma, and S, Hamann (eds). Phonology in Perception, p. 1-24. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gryuter

Field, J. (2003) Promoting perception: lexical segmentation in L2 listening. ELT Journal, 57(4), p. 325-334

Halliday, M., and Greaves, W. (2008) Intonation in the Grammar of English. London, UK: Equinox.

Wydell, T. (2006) Lexical access. In P. Li (General Editor), and M. Nakayama, R. Mazuka, Y. Shirai (eds). The Handbook of East Asian Psycholinguistics, Volume II, Japanese, p241-248. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Photo found at:

Laptop ergonomics and staying healthy

I don’t see anything like this in Japanese universities, which seems strange to me. In Australian and British universities there is information for students on how to stay healthy whilst using a computer. If you don’t follow some basic rules, you can seriously injure your body. Problems can include eye strain, weakening of vision, back strain, spine compression, repetitive strain injury to hands and wrists. Also, bending forward crunches up your digestive organs causing other problems. You need to have a maximum of 30 minutes of computer use, and then take a 5 minute break, including standing up, walk around, and refocusing your eyes on distant objects.

Animated gif, Laptop Ergonomics - Basic Tips

Animated gif, Laptop Ergonomics – Basic Tips

Gif found at,, also found at

Also see Berkley University info,

Why you should read

this Twitter feed is great. It has a lot of nice thoughts. Here’s one especially good for students and researchers. In short, ‘advantage’ means all the good things you can enjoy. Including intelligence, knowledge, and awareness of problems in life.  If you are unaware of things, then other people (companies and politicians) can easily influence you, and so you are not free.

reading quote

reading quote


Philosophy of education

Ever since I attended my first philosophy class as a professional notetaker in England, I’ve been hooked on the subject. In many ways, I wish I had studied philosophy as an undergrad, but I don’t think I would have had the maturity to understand it, or articulate responses. A recent episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast looks at a very core, central, but unattended topic, the philosophy of education. As Sir Ken Robinson famously put, everybody has an opinion on it, because it affects us all.

Today, education seems to be direction-less, as it’s being pulled into too many directions. Education attempts to be forward looking, creating children into the image of an idealised future society we hope for, whilst at the same time, there are many people who don’t like change, and want to take education to the past with a “back to basics” notion. Then there is also a shift to regulate the quality of education by focusing on exam results, creating an exam washback, where the exam system becomes geared to quantitative results. Such a system does not qualitatively care for the child, but is concerned about population data instead.

More can be written, but this is just the introduction to these three great sources of inspiration for all teachers, novice, experienced, and expert to consider. The first is an audio file (podcast) from Philosophy Bites, of an interview with Meira Levinson. The second is the renowned TED speaker Sir Ken Robinson and his now famous How Schools Kill Creativity talk. The third and final is an unusual choice, a talk by Malcolm McLaren at an education conference. McLaren is famous for opening a clothing store with his then girlfriend Vivien Westwood, and for being the creator and manager of the punk rock band the Sex Pistols. He talks about education as a system of creating clones, rather than independent and creative thinkers. These three talks nicely complement each other, whilst not overlapping either. Please bookmark this page, and come back to it to see the others as time allows.

5 Things: Exam advice

Exams are almost upon us, and I wish you all the best of luck. I didn’t like preparing for and doing exams, and so it amazes me that Japanese people seem to love exams. Why does this country have SO many exams for everything? Elementary school entrance exams, junior high entrance exams, senior high entrance exams, universities, companies, companies, promotions, languages, hobbies, and more! It is like Japanese people do exams as like a hobby or as an addiction! Anyway, here are five things that all students should take note of during the exam time.

Photo CC from ZeLIG, at

Photo CC from ZeLIG School, at

1. DON’T be late to your exam. It is a stupid thing to say, but every year, someone comes late or misses the exam. Why? They study late and so they sleep in; or they don’t check their timetable. It might be a snowy day, or heavy rains and so trains are delayed, sometimes up to two hours late. If it’s a snowy day, leave early. Make sure you’re in the room 20 mintues before the exam begins.

Last day before final exam. By Svein Halvor Halvorsen,

Last day before final exam. By Svein Halvor Halvorsen,

2. DON’T study late. Every year someone sleeps in and misses their exam. Worse, they come to the exam and fall asleep before they finish question one. Exam invigilators don’t wake up stupid students who sleep in exams. Also, it’s vital that you give your brain a rest, so please go to bed before midnight. Sleep is really important to help make memories and consolidate information. See these TED talks:

3. Wear gloves in winter before the exams. Yes, you must keep your fingers warm and ready to write. I’d also recommend two layers of socks so if your feet are warm, your whole body can be comfortable, too. If you have a cold, please bring tissues and blow your nose. Nobody likes someone who sniffs during an exam.

4. Revise, revise, and revise. I’ve told most of my classes at the start of each semester that they must revise the class within 24 hours, within a week, within a month, and so forth, because of the forgetting curve (see Wikipedia). I really, really hope this week isn’t the first time you’ve seen some of your notes since you wrote them way back months ago! I study and work with music, especially music without words (like jazz or classical), because it helps to focus my brain. It works for some people, but not for everyone. I also like to work / study at a café, because the people around me somehow stops me from thinking about checking my email, Twitter, doing blog updates, and so forth. I just focus on the work I am meant to do. Find your best study environment.

5. Relax. People who go into exams nervous and stressed didn’t have time to relax, and their brains will probably freeze in the exam. Go for a 20 minute walk around your neighbourhood the night before your exam; walk by yourself or with a friend. You need time away from technology and books, and usually 20 minutes is the minimum.

Walking on cobblestones, by Peter Thoeny at

Walking on cobblestones, by Peter Thoeny at


6. Write your name in English. Actually, write your name in the Roman alphabet. I really don’t understand why Japanese students write their name in Chinese characters on an English test. It’s an ENGLISH TEST!  What if I wrote my name in Korean on a Japanese test?! Yes, I can speak and read a little Korean.

Bonus 2. Eat and drink well. Make sure your body is operating smoothly and at peak condition. Do not eat fatty, oily, or processed foods. Processed foods contain chemicals designed to kill bacterial cells (and yours). Only eat fresh food made with real vegetables. Eat lots of colours of fruit and vegetables. Keep your favourite snacks handy as a reward for studying or completing tasks. Do not forget breakfast, your brain needs energy. Drink lots of water. Do have one or two cups of coffee only in the morning to help make your brain alert and functioning more.

Finally, best of luck and enjoy your holidays 🙂

Dinner by Tarciso, CC at

Dinner by Tarciso, CC at

Language comprehension

I love these internet pictures, and I’ve written about them before (5 things every new teacher needs to know). Often they include quotes and ideas on how to live a better life. Here is one that resonates so much in not just language, but human relations, too. English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students do have listening problems, and do need to improve their listening skills. However, it’s not always a lack of listening skills (both top-down and bottom-up), it can also be how information is perceived and integrated into your comprehension of the conversation. I also teach student-teachers from the UK, and I’ve noticed that sometimes the notes they take don’t quite match what I said. Listening is a complex thing. Words spoken does not equal words understood. We hear the words, but we don’t always take in what the speaker says, but instead, we interpret what we think the speaker is meaning, and sometimes what we think the speaker means is dependent on what we understand or are prepared for. There’s a lot more that can be said on this. Look up Fodor’s Language of Thought (LOT) and Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom.

I'm only responsible for what I say; not for what you understand.

I’m only responsible for what I say; not for what you understand.

Petition to limit class sizes in Japan at 35

In my experience, 20 is the maximum class size for a realistic and feasible conversation class. For writing classes 18 is a realistic maximum, and 20 for reading. In contrast, the Ministry of Finance wants to rule over the education ministry and tell them to up the class sizes to FORTY! Utterly ridiculous. As a child, the largest class I was in was 30, and that was the legal maximum. Japan is already the lowest ranked country for TOEIC in Asia, and the education in this country is quite poorly funded, and teachers have a terrible time professionally. The ministry of finance has belief it can dictate education policy. I say we should push against this, and use this opportunity to bring the class maximums down further to 30, and demand improved investment into the next generation of leaders and workers for this country. At least support this petition at Change.Org.

Support the Change.Org petition to limit class sizes in Japan.

Support the Change.Org petition to limit class sizes in Japan.

Blog action day

As apart of my support for WalkFree.Org, is today’s call to action. If you’re able to read this, then I can say that everyday we live our lives happily and comfortably. We wake up, have a nice breakfast, get dressed in nice clothes, take safe and nice public transport, and then go to a nice job or university to work or study. The people around us are nice, cooperative and respectful. However, that is true if you’re able to read this. You’re probably reading this on your smartphone or computer, two devices that are ubiquitous for rich people. Actually, according to WalkFree.Org, 28 million people globally are enslaved, about 80,000 people in Japan are enslaved. Most of these enslaved are probably factory workers under Prime Minister Abe’s foreign worker training programme, women brought to Japan as “entertainers”, and even Japanese women brought into via the hostess industry. These people lack the freedom to communicate to friends or family, and are forced to work, packing boxes, making clothes, packing food, many things that make your life nice and comfortable. They get little or no salary. These people work here in Japan, and in every country around the world.

Blog Action Day 2014.

Blog Action Day 2014.

Does this really affect you? Do you like to go shopping at Zara? Do you have a Nintendo? Zara sources its cotton from Uzbek slaves. Nintendo uses minerals to make its devices from slave labour mines. And remember, slaves that make some of your clothes, electronic devices, and other things, can be as young as 6 years old. Learn more here, WalkFree.Org.

People protesting against Zara.

People protesting against Zara.

Studying Vocabulary

I know I talk a lot about this, but really, it’s important. Vocabulary is the most central element of language. Some research suggests that university students graduate with less vocabulary than senior high school students. That means, university students probably get lazy, and forget vocabulary. Students need about 8-10,000 words in their head to understand 95% of language. How many English words do you have in your head? Do the vocabulary size V-Check here. So, how do you maintain and build your vocabulary? From 2015, some of my classes have been using WordEngine, and from 2017 all my classes are required to use it. Simply because it is the best vocabulary individualised learning management system available.

If you don’t use WordEngine, or are learning specific vocabulary, follow this method:

  1. Get a little notebook
  2. Put in words (or phrasal verbs or idioms) that are interesting or may be important to you
  3. Don’t chose boring or un-useful words; you’ll never learn them.
  4. English major students should be studying about 15 words a week.
  5. Make note of the meanings (there are usually three or more meanings per word
  6. Note down the pronunciation
  7. The Japanese translation
  8. Part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, etc)
  9. A sample sentence
  10. A note of where you originally discovered the word or phrasal verb.

And then,

  1. Study the vocabulary everyday
  2. Study for at least (minimum) 10 minutes each day
  3. Study anywhere (on the bus, on the train, in the bathtub, in bed, before classes in the morning, during your break at work, anywhere)
  4. Ask questions to a teacher or competent classmate or friend about words or phrases you have difficulty with.

Attached below are some samples of how to organise your vocabulary notebooks.

Here are some suggestions, Vocabulary Notebooks, and Vocabulary Notebooks II.

Girl studying on her phone. Photo: Lars Ploughmann, CC,

Girl studying on her phone. Photo: Lars Ploughmann, CC,