Club Admiralty

v7.0 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Podcasts and language learning

Recently I listened to a podcast version of this video-blog.
It appears that Steve and I have the same interest in language - learning language in order to communicate :-)

While I agree that podcast-only methods of learning a language are not sufficient, I disagree with Steve's thesis that a podcast that has a dialog in a foreign language followed by explanations in the native language is not a good way to learn. It may be true that it's not his preferred methodology (and yes, I have studied ten languages too), but it does work. It doesn't work alone though.

Steven talk about jus using the language, and learning that way. While immersion into a language work, it's a the 'swift-kick-in-the-butt' method of learning, so it may not be the best method of learning a language, again it depends on your wired way of learning.

If I were to give someone who doesn't speak Greek a URL for weekendgeeks or vrypan|net|radio (Greek news tech podcasts that I listen to), they will most likely be lost for quite some time.

If I were to let them borrow DVDs of my greek movies, they may grasp what is going on from the visual queues.

Now if I were to take them and dump them in Greece, they will learn the language faster. Why? Because when people see that you don't speak the language well they will slow down, they will simplify their vocabulary, and they will use more body language to communicate - something that doesn't happen in passive media.

Language learning is also culture learning. You do get acculturated by watching and listening passively, but sometimes someone needs to explain some history, some background of a custom or idiom.

In language learning podcasts, my take, is that the podcast is only the beginning. It's situational language. You are learning how to interact in certain situations, you learn the vocabulary, and the significance behind it. It doesn't matter if the person on the podcast is a Brit speaking Greek, or if it's a Scot speaking Spanish, or an American speaking Japanese. What matters is command of language. Getting native speakers to speak is one level up from here where you get to hear more difference.

After the podcast, in order to really learn a language you need to use it!
How do you use it? Well...
1. you do exercises
2. you write in it
3. you speak/drill
4. you speak with others
5. you test your listening comprehension skills
6. you receive advice from natives

Language can't be learned in isolation, but you also can't really become fluent and acculturated in a language by skipping to the speak to people, get advice. It's all of the above that work together to help people get language down.

I am not defending established business models of language learning here, nor am I defending the ChinesePod, JapanesePod101 and CoffeeBreakSpanish (I've listened to all of them for a long time). What I am saying is that the views expressed seem a bit simplistic to me as a fellow language learner.

Start of a new semester

Back to classes!

This semester I am back to my norm of three classes a semester. After last semester's relatively relaxed atmosphere (because I only had one class), I wonder how I will cope with being back to full speed.

This semester, again, I am focusing on applied linguistics, taking two core courses (one for the core of the program, and one for the concentration), and an elective course on English grammar. Sounds interesting!

Can't wait!

Teaching Terminology

Recently, while clearing out my Google Starred Items, I ran across this article on the Linguist that I meant to read - but it slipped through my radar.

I do have to agree with Steve on some points. If you are strictly a linguist, the teaching terminology is jargon that just doesn't make sense. This is one of the reasons I decided to do a dual master's degree in Instructional Design and Applied Linguistics. While I have learned some teaching terminology in Applied Linguistics, most of it I learned in Instructional Design. Linguistics terminology has mostly been about...well languages and linguistics.

I don't know if it's me, or it's just "d'uh" knowledge, some of these terms give a name to phenomena that I have observed in the last ten years that I have been a university student. The fact that these phenomena have names mean that I can converse with others in the field about said phenomena and to be able to understand research written that utilizes this vocabulary.

On some level, I find the distinction between pedagogy and andragogy (the names, not the underlying theory), as silly. Perhaps it's because in Greek, pedagogy (παιδαγωγία) is used for education regardless of the age of the learner. If you want to be an educator and want to keep learning and improving your skills, the jargon is something you need to know. This is no different than knowing library jargon if you work in a library, management jargon if you work in the management field, and computer jargon if you work in the technology industry.

There was also a comment on this post that said something to the effect that language teachers want to keep you dependent. While I think this may be true of some individuals, most language teachers I had were eager to expand on what was covered in class afterward and to suggest resources for individual study. These teachers have been a role model for me. Even though I don't teach language, I do teach tech, and if students want more info, I am ready to give it to them.

The question is asked:
How important are these compared to the natural ability of the teacher to inspire, encourage, guide and stimulate the learner, aptitudes that are not necessarily learned at teachers' college.

A teacher's ability to inspire, encourage, guide and stimulate is really important. Some people are just born with it. Others are like coaches at the end of a game. They watch the replay after replay, they see what may have gone wrong and they formulate a strategy for future lessons.

Theory is important to shed light on learners that aren't receptive to your teaching style

Jargon is important for conversing with others in the field and applying new theory to the class.

Finally (don't want to make this a long post)
The bulk of language teaching today takes place in a classroom where students are taught a curriculum, which follows a prescribed time-table. The students are required to do regular tests to demonstrate how well they are able to perform according to that time-table.

While this is indeed true, it's not because of theory. This is where theory and practice diverge. The theory can be applicable, but the current classroom practices are practices of yesterday. It's like a train trying to slow down (or stop) to change direction - it takes time.

The problem may not be the instructor per-se. It is probably the organization that sets and approves the curriculum. If inspired instructors were allowed to change the curriculum and the testing methodology, I think you would see more improvements in language teachin

Presentations & the grad student

I've been a graduate student now longer than I was an undergraduate. One of the hallmarks of graduate education are presentations, many, many presentations.

Granted my first presentations stunk royally, but I've made it my personal goal to be a good presenter by the time I am out of grad school. Blogs like Presentation Zen and classes like Visual Literacy do help, but there is also an element of posture, showmanship, and owning the room that come with practice and feeling confident about yourself - this is the element that many graduate school students are missing.

These graduate students use PowerPoint as a crutch to distract themselves from the main issue which is confidence. I came across these older videos of Steve Jobs, a great presenter by any measure, but he isn't using electronic means to get his message out. He is using a whiteboard!

These videos are quite interesting (total run time is 18 minutes). Sometimes I think that it would be worthwhile for undergraduate students to take courses in public speaking and presenting before they graduate. This is a skill that comes in handy many times over.

Part 1

Part 2

The role of grammar in language study

Recently I had posed an open question to people out there to see how much they remember from their intro language courses. I then stumbled upon two relatively recent starred items in my google reader that I had not read yet:

The role of grammar in language study
More on grammar.

I have to say that I agree with Steve on both his posts, and this comes from personal experience. As an undergrad I spent a lot of time in language courses despite being a computer scientist. The reason I wanted to take language courses was communicative. I wanted to be able to communicate with natives in a spoken and written format. The curiosity about linguistics was a secondary factor.

My professors were great, but I find that the format was rather formulaic and of a different era in language teaching. From what I gathered, my professors were literature people, not strictly foreign language pedagogy people, In Italian this wasn't a problem as I had already had French and I could translate my language acquisition skills to that language easily.

This was however an issue with Russian and German where we had to memorize tables of declensions for exams and such - not very useful.

Before I wrote my previous post, I had been throwing ideas around with my wife about language learning (she is a language geek too). The consensus was that (in addition to requiring people to minor in a language as an undergrad) it would be more useful to focus intro classes (101, 102) on communication skills, vocabulary building and some grammar - but not too much, focus the intermediate classes on speaking and writing, and introduce more grammar that is relevant, and finally spend the advanced classes refining grammar points while still practicing reading, writing and speaking.

Thus in the end, by the end of intermediate classes you are ready to be unleashed in a different country and you can function.

Don't get me wrong, grammar is important. You should know grammar to be able to write and speak without sounding off, however it shouldn't be the main focus. Memorizing declensions does no good when you can't apply them!

Instructional Strategies: What Do Online Students Prefer?

I read this study on the Journal of Online Teaching and Learning recently and it brought back memories of my two online classes last summer, and of the courses that friends of mine had to take online at other colleges and universities.

Based on this input, I know what my preferences are for online learning:

1. The class needs to be asynchronous. If I have to be in Wimba (or other teleconferencing tool) every Monday from 8 to 10pm, then I would prefer to be in class. Even though our tools are better, regular synchronous classes are not for me. Having an asynchronous class allows me to look at discussion boards during my lunch hour, or while waiting for the train (on my N800 internet tablet). You just can't emulate the classroom experience in Wimba and I find that I would prefer to be in a physical location if I have to do this anyway.

2. Podcasts all the way! Instructors will often write an introduction to a topic before they let you do the readings and respond to the discussion board's question of the week. I think podcasts are a great way of providing a lecture that is portable and easy to access on the go, and easy to listen to again and again. It also allows the instructor to enrich the lecture with personal ideas and anecdotes that may not be as good in written form. It may also allow the instructor to interview people in industry and have the students listen to this person's wise (or not so wise) words!

3. Discussions! I love discussions. Sometimes my eyes glaze over at the sheer volume of text (blackboard isn't properly threaded which makes it difficult), but I enjoy reading other people's thoughts, ideas, a history on a given subject. Collaborative learning is a good method for me.

4. Peer Review. I admit it, I don't always read everyone else's contributions. In a class for 20-30 students, I am just not able to read each submission! I do save them though for future reading. Now peer review is a great tool because it forces people to look at other people's work and provide constructive critique, or, as I have done in some cases, borrow some of my classmate's great ideas (with attribution of course) to enrich my projects.

Multilingualism and the economic crisis

Hot off the heels of my little rant (and recommendation) on LANG101/102 for high schools and universities, here is a fairly recent video blog from a linguist blog that I subscribe to.

I thought it was interesting, it's worth 10 minutes :-)


How much do you remember from LANG 101/102?

I was reading Revising and Defending the Foreign Language Major on InsideHigherEd the the other day when I had a small flashback to recent conversations that I've had with former classmates about their language learning experiences and the language retention that they have.

In high school, I was required to take two years of a foreign language in order to graduate. I elected to take 4 years (coming up to an intermediate-advanced level). Had I started French in 8th grade I would have had the opportunity to take 5th year French (AP level).

When I went to college as an undergrad, I was required to take two semesters (101 and 102) of a language in order to graduate. I elected to minor in Italian (6 or 7 courses if I remember correctly) and I almost minored in German (took 6 out of 7 courses). My interest in language is cultural and communicative - not literature, and that 7th German course would have been a German literature course in english (so I couldn't even practice the language) and it would have meant one extra semester to graduation - no thanks, I said. With French, German and Italian I am conversant to various degrees (depending on the language)

Now I also took 101 and 101 of Japanese, Chinese and Russian. My recollection of these languages is very limited. I can say good morning, hello and thank you, maybe even "my name is..."

I have asked classmates in those classes that only took 101/102 with me if they remember much beyond that and the response was negative. In other words, wasted time, wasted money, wasted credits! What is the point of requiring someone to take x-amount of classes in a foreign language if they don't see a benefit from it? At least with Art, Sociology, Psychology and Philosophy the way you look at things, the way you think, the way you process is altered in some fashion. Language is a communicative process. We learn language to communicate with others, so requiring so-many-courses and to have nothing to show for it is not good.

So here's my modest proposal: Require every undergraduate to minor in a language and pass a proficiency exam before they can graduate, and no one is exempt! You know Greek and English? Excellent opportunity to pick up Chinese, or Russian, or Japanese, or Spanish or whatever! You only know English? Excellent opportunity to learn more about another language and culture.

A minor is six or seven courses. Within the confine of 18 to 21 credits students can become conversant in a foreign language, learn a bit about world history as it relates to that language and culture, learn a bit of its literature (don't overdo the literature, after all the focus is communication), and be able to communicate well in an oral and written manor!

Now, if high schools were the same, if all students were required to have four years of English and four years of another language (plus pass competency exams), the time spent in the classroom would be well worth it because we would come out with tangible outcomes!

-just my two cents on the issue

Teaching in Virtual Worlds

It's really hard to determine how well a presentation was from a simple powerpoint file. Nonetheless, here's an educause presentation on Teaching in Virtual Worlds.

From my ventures into second life, I have to say that it is interesting, but trying to shoehorn it into the curriculum (just like shoehorning an LMS into the curriculum) won't work. A virtual world is a unique pedagogical environment (and I use pedagogy broadly, encompassing all types of *-gogy) and an instructor needs to design around it.

One can't simply create a virtual classroom in Second Life, tell people to come and take a seat and call it a day. This is simply boring and it defeats the purpose. From my point of view, if I were to use Second Life for teaching something, I would use it like a field trip. In language learning for example, if enough cities and municipalities had virtual versions of themselves, you could use that to learn about culture, geography, and language in innovative ways.

The problems addressed in the PowerPoint presentations are a serious reality which, at the moment, impedes the serious 15-week-long teaching of a subject - in my humble opinion.

The other problem I have with Second Life is this: unlike the internet, you can't setup your own, free, server to serve your content. In addition, you can't model your plot of land offline and upload it when you are done, it all needs to be done online. There is also no facility for backup. If something borks the SL server that your info is on and their backup does not work - that's it. Paying money for this is like throwing money down the drain.
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When the academic world and the real world meet

I saw this article over at the NEA journal. (click here for the full PDF)

Having recently visited my dad, a person who is very intelligent but, who like the dad in the article, didn't go to college (heck my dad didn't even go to middle school). This story reminded me of a conversation I had with him about his work and salary versus mine (i.e. being the same) despite my education.

I've heard a lot of banter over at blogs like the brazen careerist about not learning concrete skills in college. My undergrad experience has been more of a "learn how to think" lesson. Learn to be critical, and analytical, and calculating, and have that rounded learning that everyone covets. When I first graduated I felt like the early-20-somethings on brazen careerist, like my college education was almost a waste of time because I did not learn concrete skills.

I kinda learned java, and kinda learned C, but I wouldn't be readily employable by a company. In recent years though my undergraduate education has surfaced many, many, times in the oddest of places! Those computer science classes that I thought were useless are actually useful. The only thing that I wish I had was a required internship.

In the article we see some advocacy for required internships, or hands-on learning where when you graduate you don't only have theoretical skills, but also have employable skills. A mix of academic and vocational training is a good thing.

My father was born in 1911. Like many from that era, he left formal education before completing grade school and went to work helping support his family. He never learned to read well. When I was a child, it was my father’s Sunday morning ritual to gather his kids around him on the sofa and read us the comics from the just delivered Milwaukee Journal. It was an act of love for his children, but by the time I was in third grade, I could read the “funnies” more quickly than my father. I am certain he would have failed any exam I have ever given to my students.

But my father was an excellent automotive mechanic who owned and operated
a Ford-Mercury dealership for over 40 years, and owned and operated the
school buses in my small central Wisconsin hometown for nearly 30 years.
Between both businesses he typically had 30 to 40 full- and part-time employees.
He was one of a handful of individuals instrumental in building the first hospital
in our community, was president of the hospital board for many years, served locally
as president of the Chamber of Commerce, and statewide as chairman of the
Wisconsin School Bus Owners Association. He made considerably more money
than I do as a teacher, but he worked far more hours, and year-round.

An accomplished and intelligent human being, my father lacked the sophistication
that comes with higher education. His abilities would have appeared marginal
by most of the measurements used in academic assessment. Those who worked with him knew better of course, but the point is that our concepts of what
it means to be educated or intelligent are often inadequate. Just as important, my
father’s abilities would have meant nothing had they not been supported by his
attitudes—his deep humility, simple approach to life, and unwavering commitment
to those around him.

I tell this story because it relates to the students I now teach and to issues I
believe need to be addressed. To better understand this, it might be helpful to tell
the story of my own journey through the educational system. It would probably
not be noteworthy, except that I hear variations of it from many of my students.