LOOK RIGHT, KEEP LEFT for Conversation
You know how you get a new car, married, break your arm… and suddenly you notice how many people around you are driving that car, getting married, sporting casts…? It’s like that for me now about the real job of English teachers. Confirming conversations, published articles, innovative education programs… are popping up all over the place now that I understand the real job of teachers is not to stuff students’ heads with boring senseless information that doesn’t make a difference, isn’t accurate and forgotten as soon as tests are completed. My job is to teach the patterns that are always true which empower students as quickly as possible to USE THE ENGLISH THEY HAVE comfortably in authentic situations. My job is to prepare them quickly and competently to support their success and continued learning in the real world.
I was trained to teach letters, numbers, vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing to English learners. It didn’t take long to notice no matter how much students studied, they never spoke English confidently. Most never spoke English outside the classroom at all.
From Rita Baker’s first book Brain Power http://amzn.to/19OFwgh I learned human brains are pattern seeking, meaning making machines. We don’t process or retain details. Burdening learners with exhaustive nuances of spelling, grammar, phrasal verbs, word order… is the car-analogy equivalent of teaching Newton’s Laws of Motion and expecting them to drive. It doesn’t work. All I had to do was discard everything I had been trained to teach and find the patterns that are always true.
It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had expected. And loads of great minds have cottoned on to the process of learning languages and the language teachers’ role in the process.
Jason West English Out There
Benjamin Constable: How People Really Learn Languages
Benny Lewis: The Secret to Learning Many Languages
A great way to start looking at this innovative approach to learning is to see the whole picture and decide how to proceed from there. You probably never looked at the critical parts of successful conversation in this way before so I’ll walk you through it.
Vocabulary, Context and Participation are Given
- Vocabulary: Words are really helpful in conversation.
- Context: Context is everything, more so than words because people convey messages using only context and body language all the time.
- Participation: Fluency is only attainable by actually speaking to others.
Clockwise from the top:
Intelligibility is composed of Word Stress and Pausing. English is a stress-based language. Native speakers have unlimited tolerance for individual sound omission or substitution and grammar mistakes don’t even register but if the word stress is missing or in the wrong place English speakers can’t guess what a non-native speaker is saying. Frequent tiny pauses are necessary for the brain to process what is being said and to form responses.
Grammar is relatively insignificant, probably a smaller wedge than indicated in the pie chart. If grammar is wrong or totally missing, conversations are still successful. (Native speakers’ grammar is terrible.)
Confidence can’t be underestimated. Some cultures are naturally unselfconscious about making mistakes and these people learn to speak English the fastest.
Culture is the unwritten rules of behavior that underpin any social group of people. Including but not limited to: Good manners. When is it my turn to talk? How long do I talk? How much information is appropriate to share with strangers?…
Strategies are what to do when things go wrong. Rita Baker counselled me to Look Right, Keep Left and control my instinct to turn right in a crisis. This was my survival strategy if things went wrong.
Expressions and Humor are true indicators of fluency not tests. English is idiomatic and abstract not linear or concrete as grammar suggests.
Non-Verbal aspects of conversation, for example, gestures, body language, tone of voice… are stronger indicators of meaning than words any day of the week. Some say up to 80% of the message.
Listening and Watching are the cornerstones of successful learning and successful conversation. It can’t be emphasized enough that learners MUST listen to and watch hundreds of hours of a new language in order to be successful using that language.
Look Right, Keep Left is the least amount of information I needed to successfully drive a left-hand drive car in a left-hand drive country. Word stress and pausing are the least amount of information an English learner needs to make themselves intelligible in an English speaking environment.
Listening, Watching, Word Stress and Pausing cover 50% of the elements required for Speaking Fluency. Someone should tell learners they have enough vocabulary and information to speak English successfully now. As soon as you do you’ll start to notice the way we teach English is evolving all over the place!
Yours in ESL,
p.s. Are you looking for Accents as a feature? For the most part it isn’t. Everyone has an accent. When Accent interferes with Intelligibility then you have a problem that needs to be addressed. The best accent coach (also a pattern thinker like Rita Baker) is Peggy Tharpe. www.americanpronunciationcoach.com
If you SEE something SAY something
I’ve been away from ESL for a while. I bought a little church in Niagara Falls and spent a few months renovating it. It is fantastic and fun. Now I have taken the opportunity to escape Canadian winter and visit friends in beautiful Mobile, Alabama on the Gulf coast. There is a slogan posted all over this part of the world IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING encouraging everyone to speak up when they encounter something not right in the world around them. I love it.
Was it just a coincidence that the first few files I encountered when I finally opened my work computer were from people who SAW something wrong with Education and had lots of suggestions to SAY to address it? The first one is by Dr. Peter Diamandis. Reinventing How We Teach Our Kids . Here is part of it:
Here in L.A., it’s kind of insane that a great kindergarten requires a competitive application and tuitions that exceed most colleges.
I started asking myself, given the fact that most elementary schools haven’t changed in decades (maybe longer), what do I want my kids to learn? How would I reinvent elementary school during an exponential era?
This blog covers five subjects related to elementary school education:
- Five Issues with Today’s Elementary Schools
- Five Guiding Principles for Future Education
- An Elementary School Curriculum for the Future
- Exponential Technologies in our Classroom
- Mindsets for the 21st Century
Excuse the length, but if you have kids, the details might be meaningful. If you don’t, then next week’s blog will return to normal length and another fun subject. Let’s dive in…
Five Issues with Today’s Elementary Schools
There’s probably lots of issues with today’s traditional elementary schools, but I’ll just choose a few that bother me most.
- Grading: In the traditional education system, you start at an “A,” and every time you get something wrong, your score gets lower and lower. At best it’s demotivating, and at worst it has nothing to do with the world you occupy as an adult. In the gaming world (e.g. Angry Birds), it’s just the opposite. You start with zero and every time you come up with something right, your score gets higher and higher.
- Sage on the Stage: Most classrooms have a teacher up in front of class lecturing to a classroom of students, half of whom are bored and half of whom are lost. The one-teacher-fits-all model comes from an era of scarcity where great teachers and schools were rare.
- Relevance: When I think back to elementary and secondary school, I realize how much of what I learned was never actually useful later in life, and how many of my critical lessons for success I had to pick up on my own. (I don’t know about you, but I haven’t ever actually had to factor a polynomial in my adult life.)
- Imagination – Coloring inside the Lines: Probably of greatest concern to me is the factory-worker, industrial-era origin of today’s schools — programs so structured with rote memorization that it squashes the originality from most children. I’m reminded that “the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” Where do we pursue crazy ideas in our schools? Where do we foster imagination?
- Boring: If learning in school is a chore, boring or emotionless, then the most important driver of human learning, passion, is disengaged. Having our children memorize facts and figures, sit passively in class and take mundane standardized tests completely defeats the purpose.
An average of 7,200 students drop out of high school each day, totaling 1.3 million each year. This means only 69% of students who start high school finish four years later. And over 50% of these high school dropouts name boredom as the No. 1 reason they left…. And continues with concrete curriculum suggestions.
If you have any interest in Education Reform you have probably heard about Will Richardson. If you haven’t google him and get a coffee. He is a true pioneer in education reform. Here’s a new article from Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon. Ten Principles for Schools of Modern Learning.
I used to feel like a complainer and anti-establishment whistle blower. Now I feel like part of a movement that is growing exponentially and changing the way people learn. Together we are making a difference.
Until next time,
Nothing Makes Me Happier Than Giving Things Away
Nights are getting cooler, the dog days of summer are drawing to a close and it is the time of year thoughts turn back to school. As a long-time teacher of teachers this school year is going to be radically different for me. I’m going back to my roots and teaching students again! Not face to face but through the magic of the internet I’m working with a team here in Canada and far away in the Philippines developing an online student program that teaches – you guessed it – SPEAKING ENGLISH.
Meanwhile, it would break my heart to leave my old materials gathering dust so I’m going to GIVE THEM AWAY. I’m offering the PDF of English is Stupid, Students are Not for FREE. For your copy Click Here
I have given a few copes away already and the recipients were OVER THE MOON.
I think that was a FANTASTIC gesture!! I already owned it but thanks from everyone else!! Nick Wilson
It made me so happy to make them happy – I can’t wait to send you your copy and make you happy too!!!
Until next time,
We are Top 1% on LinkedIn! What is all the Fuss About?
Shout out to my ever-growing LinkedIn ESL Community with over 8,000 connections. It must be therecent webinars on Pronunciation that have topped up endorsements to 4,600! After the second webinar on Teaching Vowels Made Simple we were in the top 1% of profile visits in this community. I was tickled pink!
This is what all the fuss is about. The simple, logical 6-step method for teaching people to speak English as published in English is Stupid, Students are Not. You can get a pdf of this exciting system for the unbelievably low price of $14.95 from the E-Store Here.
Thank you everyone for your continued interest and support. All the best in 2016!
Until next time,
Draw Me a Picture: Pronunciation Tools for Visual Learners
My passion is making English pronunciation simple and accessible for every level of ESL/EFL learner. A few years ago a TD Bank executive told me she was a visual learner and asked me to draw her a picture of the process I use for teaching Speaking. My whole world changed forever. What does a picture of language acquisition look like? The 6-Point Model for Speaking English sprung forth and every aspect of language learning from the historical breakdown between Writing and Speaking in 1476 and the 6-Point Model (which is essentially the road map to fluency), to Venn diagrams on how English compares to other major languages could all be represented in pictures.
New friends at Medicine Hat College, Brooks Campus, October 2015
This presentation features a series of images that show how to teach learners to speak English quickly and confidently using simple tools they already have – ABC’s and Colors. Since Draw Me a Picture was presented at TESL Canada 2015 and TESL Ontario 2015 we have been inundated with requests for Teacher Training workshops and webinars for 2016.
If you are interested in more information on this exciting learning process send me an email: email@example.com
In 2016 we are booking Seminars in Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City and anywhere else you want to learn about these tools.
Until next time,