A blog about my life, writings and whatever strikes my fancy.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Imparting language skills
I teach primarily English as a second or other language. This is an unusual field in many ways. For instance, in ESL or TESOL what we are literally trying to do is to help a student to reprogram their own brain so they can think and respond automatically using a new language that they did not know as well as they did before the class began. The ultimate goal is that a student will some day be able to say anything they wish in English in a socially appropriate way without having to give the matter any conscious thought. Therefore, unlike in most fields where the goal is to increase retrievable, conscious knowledge, we are trying to produce results that will be achieved ultimately through the use of unconscious mental processes.
Although I am a strong believer in the value of science and the scientific method, I believe that in our field at the current time, the value of science is limited. In my opinion, we simply do not know enough about how the brain acquires additional languages to create a completely scientific method of teaching them. (For the record, I do believe that a time will come when science will understand these things fully or close to fully, although I have no idea if I will live to see it.) This is not to say that science and scientific research should be ignored. If scientific research helps us understand one part of the big puzzle called human language acquisition, then this understanding should be applied when appropriate. For instance, I studied the role of language learning anxiety on classroom performance and feel such research does lend itself to classroom and curriculum design. However, that is only one small part of the puzzle of how people best learn additional languages.
In the meantime, with so much not being understood by science, we as teachers must utilize the techniques that seem to work the best to achieve the goals and results we strive for.
Fortunately we have a wealth of such resources if we know where to look for them. There is an incredible variety of techniques, drills, and other classroom activities published in books, magazines and on the internet. Of course, these are of varying quality and utility, but the material is available for a teacher to evaluate.
When evaluating these materials, or designing one's own materials, a teacher should evaluate them for their utility and “fit” for the classroom.
To evaluate the utility of materials or teaching or learning techniques, a teacher has several sorts of resources to draw upon. These include his or her training in language teaching and language acquisition. This should not be underestimated. Nor should one's personal experience in utilizing classroom drills and techniques be underestimated. It must be remembered that some techniques, such as the proven method of singing songs in class, for instance, just work better with some individual teachers than others.
Other sources include interviewing people who have proven themselves to be skilled at acquiring languages in real life settings. I have found, for instance, that some of the best language learners I have met have been refugees from Africa and Asia. These people often are able to communicate in multiple languages with the languages coming from multiple language families. They are often quite willing to share their tips once one has made it clear to them that you really do wish to know and want to hear what they have to say. (I once had a Karen refugee from Burma respond to this request with “Why are you asking me? You're the teacher.” I explained that I was asking him because he spoke six different languages at a conversational level. Which made him laugh and then he began sharing answers.)
I have also carefully read materials on learning languages written by military personnel who needed to learn exotic languages for their assignments, but who were not trained language teachers.
SUGGESTED SEARCHES FOR THOSE LOOKING FOR CONCRETE ADVICE ON HELPING REFUGEES
1. FURNITURE(tips on running a refugee center furniture collection program.)
2. DRIVING (tips on teaching driving to refugees)
3. HIGHER EDUCATION (tips on assisting refugees with higher education.)
4. BURMESE NAMES (a long article on Burmese and Karen names.)
I tend to write several entries on a subject and although admittedly they are of variable quality by following the topic keys then one should get a fairly complete view of what I think on the issue. There's a lot of good information buried here particularly on some obscure subjects related to assisting newly arrived refugees, particularly from Burma. These subjects include furniture donation issues, driver education and even domestic violence. If these issues interest you, follow the internal links, do searches, there's a lot here and I've found that often people search on a subject using google, I've written an answer, but the search engines sent them to some other entry where I discussed only a small part of the issue. So if a subject that interests you has a truly mediocre entry there is probably a good one hidden away as well on different aspects of the same subject You can't get a full picture on the issues covered in this blog by reading just one entry. it wasn't written that way. If you still don't see what you want, feel free to drop me an e-mail. Thank you.
Journalist, educator, and low level Asian history scholar who dabbles in fiction. Peter Huston is the author of several books, including Scams from the Great Beyond, Tong, Gangs, and Triads,, and the novel, Excess Emotional Baggage.
Interests include :
1) Internatinal Education and Teaching English as a Second or other Language,
2)refugee concerns and refugee resettlement,
3)self defense and martial arts,
4) Asian culture and history,
5) censorship controversies
6) the skeptical examination of paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims.
Education includes a master's degree in East Asian Studies from Cornell and a second master's degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from the University at Albany, party of the New York State SUNY system.
I am not the sailing guy, sports betting guy or the attorney guy. These people who use the name Peter Huston are, presumably, impostors. I am the real