Monthly Archives: April 2015

6 Myths Regarding Learning English, Part 2

Welcome back!

For those of you who missed it, two weeks I posted about three myths regarding learning English.  If you haven’t checked it out, please do!  It may help you on your journey towards English mastery!

Now, on to the last three!

Myth #4: If you are studying and practicing well, you shouldn’t be making mistakes.

A lot of English learners, my students included, get very frustrated about making mistakes.  It seems like no matter how much they learn, they keep making mistakes.  But if you’ve been making a lot of effort and studying hard, shouldn’t you make fewer mistakes?

No.

The amount of studying you do has no effect on how many mistakes you’ll make, or how often.  Vice versa, the amount of mistakes you make or how often you make mistakes has no bearing on well you are progressing.

In fact, I’d say the better you get, the more mistakes you should make!

Why is that?  Well, as you get better, you should realize that making mistakes is how you grow and improve!  In other words, the more mistakes you make, the more opportunities you have to get better at English.  It’s a natural part of your growth.  Learning a foreign language is a life-long process.  Even native speakers can get better at their own language.

As you practice English more and more, you should realize just how little effect mistakes actually have on you and your progress.  You should realize most people don’t care, or even notice, most of your errors.  You should realize that you can make mistakes, even lots of mistakes, and still be a good speaker!

All of this should make you more comfortable with making mistakes.

So, unless you’re making very basic mistakes, mistakes are nothing to worry about.

Myth #5: If you don’t understand what the book or teacher says and you need to ask questions, you’re probably not too smart.

While I think the next myth is probably more prevalent myth, I think this one is the most important one to dispel.

It is absolutely NOT  true.

In fact, I want to go so far as to say the opposite is more likely true: the more curious you are, the more you will want to understand, and the more you will want to ask questions.  In fact, the more deeply you want to understand something, the more questions you will have!  This is the sign of a very intelligent and inquisitive person, not a dummy!

In addition, even though many textbook writers and teachers understand the language or education very well, they aren’t always good at explaining things.  Sometimes teachers explain things badly, or too quickly, or not clearly enough.

Every student has his or her own learning style.  Yours might be visual – maybe you need to see pictures – or it might be audio – maybe you need a clear explanation that you can think about – or it might be kinesthetic – maybe you need to actually do it yourself to get it – or you might need to sit down and read the information.  Your teacher’s style may be different from yours, so they may be teaching in a way that’s easy for them to understand, but not you!

Because learning is your responsibility, it is also your responsibility to ask questions when you don’t understand something.  Pretending to understand something is not a good idea.

Myth #6: Learning happens on a straight, even incline.

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Many people assume learning goes something like that.  You study for one hour today, and next Tuesday and the Wednesday after that, and your improvement will be exactly the same every time.

Wrong.

Think about it.  You’re a human being.  You have good days and bad days.  You have busy days and free days.  You get sick some times.  Things happen every day that affect your mood and motivation.

Beyond that, your mind works in unusual ways.  Sometimes it needs a break, other times it’s ready to receive and integrate lots of information.  Sometimes certain study methods don’t work, other times they seem to work perfectly.  Some teachers are better than others.  Different learners have different strengths.  We’re not computers uploading programs.  We’re people.

If you want to know what actual learning progress is like, check this out.

Unfortunately, plateaus, troughs and declines are just as common and normal as progress.  If you feel stuck, or like you’re even getting worse, that’s nothing to worry about.  It’s all a necessary and natural part of the learning experience.

Anyway,  I hope I managed to dispel some myths that you are holding!  If you have any questions, or if you are wondering about other beliefs regarding learning, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment, send me a message or find me on twitter!

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Group Discussions: Jobs & Work, Like & Dislikes

Hello everybody!

On Saturday (April 25th) we’ll talk about jobs and work.

On Monday (April 27th), we’ll discuss a light topic before we head into Golden Week: likes and dislikes!  Most of these questions will be pretty simple, so I’m not going to have levels this time, just some sample questions.

Saturday

Here are some new questions you might hear (new lexis is in italics):

1. Do any industries have bad working conditions in Japan?

2. Which shift is the best to work?

3. How hard is it to become a billionaire by working?

Click here to see the lexical set and the previous questions!

Monday

Here they are:

1. What kind of music do you like?

2. Do you like to play sports?

3. Do you like movies from other countries?

4. What is your favorite color?

5. Are there any foods you don’t like?

6. What TV shows don’t you like? OR What TV shows do you dislike?

This topic is pretty straightforward, so no additional lexis will be necessary!  Just have some topics in mind that you want to talk or ask about!  See you then!

Today’s English Grammar: Action nouns vs. Gerunds

Hey guys!

One of my higher level students gave me a really tough question last year.

Some English learners may notice that English has both gerunds (verbs with the “-ing” suffix) and action nouns.  Sometimes, one word can take on both forms!  Here are some examples:

 

Gerunds Action Nouns
Arriving Arrival
Inspecting Inspection

There are many, many more!

Both of them function as nouns, but both describe actions or things happening.  So what’s the difference.

It’s actually very simple!

  • Gerunds are not countable, so they refer to the action in general!
  • Action nouns are (usually) countable, so they refer to a specific action or event.

Here are some examples:

“We are waiting for his arriving.” X

“We are waiting for his arrival.”  O

“There was attacking on Gaza recently.”  X

“There was an attack on Gaza recently.” O

Editing newspapers is hard work.” O

The edit of a newspaper is hard work.” X

Evaluating students’ work is important.” O

The evaluation of students’ work is important.” X

That’s it!  Hope that helps, and hit me up if you have any questions!

Group Discussions: Health, Computers

Hi everyone!

Our Saturday (April 18th) topic is health.

Our Monday (April 20th) topic is computers.

Saturday

Here are some new questions you might hear (new lexis is in italics):

1. How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?

2. In what ways are you health-conscious?

3. What are some jobs that are terrible for your health?

Click here to see the lexical set and older questions!

Today we’re going to talk about something very important and useful, but something I don’t understand: computers!  I hope you can teach me something!

Monday

Here are some questions you might hear during the lesson:

Beginner:

1. Do you have a computer?  More than one?

2. What other devices do you use with your computer?  For example, a printer, a digital camera, a webcam, etc.

Intermediate:

1. How do you use your computer to learn or study English?

2. What important features do you want your computer to have?

Advanced:

1. Do you remember the first time you bought or used a computer?

2. Have computers made our lives better or worse?  Why do you think so?

Additional Useful Lexis:

Nouns

Access

Account(s)

Address(es)

Backup

Blog

Chat

Chat Room(s)

Configuration

Desktop (computer)

Email

File Sharing

Hardware

Instant Message/Messaging

Internet

Internet Service

Internet Service Provider(s)

Laptop (computer)

Media

Operating System(s)

Scanner(s)

Screen(s)

Software

Technology

Upgrade(s)

URL

Webpage(s)

Verbs

Access

Back up

Blog

Chat

Configure

Connect

Email

Instant Message

Perform

Share (a file)

Type

Update

Upgrade

Visit

Adjectives

Complicated

Digital

Literate

Powerful

 

Whew!  That’s a lot of terminology.  Hope it’s useful.  See you at the next discussion lesson!

6 Myths Regarding Learning English, Part 1

What’s up?

Being a teacher, I’m obsessed with learning: what is it?  What makes some people want to learn?  What motivates people to learn?  What helps people learn more effectively?

By far the biggest problem I see is that many people believe things about learning that just aren’t true.  Unfortunately, many of these unnecessary, false beliefs create barriers to learning effectively.  For this reason, I’d like to talk about a few of them here, and hopefully dispel some of these myths!

Myth #1: If a student is quiet and just listens to his teacher, s/he will improve.

Another variation of this is “If I just read lots of English books and watch lots of English movies and TV shows, my English will improve.”

The idea is that the key to improving your English is accepting the teacher as the authority and the student as the blank vessel to be filled with knowledge.  This is called a “teacher-centered” model: the student accepts the teacher as the expert and submits to him or her.

Does this work?

No.

Sorry guys, but you’re going to have to make some effort if you want to master English.  This includes:

  • Practicing using the language, either on your own or with others.
  • Learning active study methods, like dictation, note-taking, writing or communicating with other native speakers in your spare time.
  • Taking an active role in a learning environment by asking questions, discovering new information on your own and challenging yourself.

Myth #2: Learning a language is just a matter of memorizing the rules (grammar) and vocabulary.

A language is composed of rules for how to use it (grammar) and the actual content of the communication (vocabulary).  So all you need to do is memorize the rules and the content, and you’re set, right?

Wrong.

But let me explain further.

Sure, there are some fundamental elements of language you ought to memorize.  It’s hard to learn a language or use it successfully if you don’t know the different between a verb and a noun.  It’s important to memorize the foundations early on, when you start learning a new language.

But beyond that, memorizing just gets in the way.  English is much too complex.  It’s silly to think you, or anyone, could possibly sit in front of a textbook or dictionary and consciously store all the rules and words in their brains.

This is not only one of the least natural, but also the least effective, ways of trying to learn a language.

  • Memorizing takes time away from application; remembering the rules and words and actually using them in real-time are different skills.
  • Memorizing weakens your ability to creatively see patterns in context and make quick and useful connections between what you already know and new information.  Context learning is much more efficient (and effective) than memorization.
  • Memorization weakens comprehension.  Okay, so you memorize and “understand” how the continuous tense differs from the simple tense.  But do you understand why?  When you hear a linguistic joke, can you understand why it’s funny?  Can you manipulate the rules creatively yourself to come up with unique and natural expressions on your own?  Not if you’re just trying to memorize.
  • Memorizing neglects all the nuance of what you’re learning.  So you memorized the definition of “eccentric.”  Great.  But how formal is it?  How does it feel to the listener to hear it?  Is it more common in written or spoken English?  In what situations is it appropriate?  Does it have any technical definitions outside of colloquial use?  As you can see, there is a lot to remember even just about each word!

As I’ve mentioned before, English is a skill.  In order to improve a skill, you need to practice it.  How good of a bodybuilder can you be if you just read books about bodybuilding?  How good of a singer can you become just by watching videos on vocal training?  The information is important, but you can’t get better unless you practice.

Myth #3: If I just memorize the conversations in my textbook, I will be able to have conversations with native speakers.

Ok, so you might be thinking “Sure, I think it’s a waste of time to try to memorize advanced vocabulary and grammar.  But my textbook has role plays and dialogues I can memorize!  If I just memorize those, then I’ll be able to talk when I go overseas.”

Sigh.  I’m sorry but…

No.

While this is a better idea than trying to memorize difficult vocabulary and grammar, it still doesn’t work, because it’s based on a false assumption: it’s based on the assumption that language is static.

question-310891_1280

Japanese is largely a formalized language.  There are set responses and greetings for certain situations.

English is not.  English is much looser.  Assuming that your own cultural customs will apply in other cultures is another problem (called “language transfer”) that I will talk about in the future.  For now, it’s enough to say that English is a very dynamic language; no two people will talk to you the same way.  Some people will be formal, others informal.  Some people will make very short statements, others will make very long ones.  Some people will be polite, others will not.  Some people might ask you a question while others will make an imperative request in the same situation.

You need to be ready for a wide variety of responses.  You can only do this by actively learning and practicing the language!

The last three are much bigger and more prevalent myths, and it’s really important that we dispel these myths, so please come back again in a couple of weeks and check them out!  Look forward to seeing you then.

 

 

Group Discussions: Books and Reading, Jokes and Humor

Hello Everybody!

Since our last topic was pretty heavy, I decided to add some lighter ones again today: Books and Jokes!

On Saturday (April 11th), we’ll talk about books and reading.

On Monday (April 13th), we’ll talk about jokes and humor.

Saturday

Here are some new questions you might hear (new lexis is in italics):

1. How important are books and reading?

2. What would life be like if books disappeared?

3. If you could write a book, what would it be about?

Click here to see the lexical set and the previous questions!

Monday

Here are some questions I will probably ask you at the next discussion group:

Beginner:

1. Do you like telling or listening to jokes?

2. Do you have a favorite comedian?

Intermediate:

1. Could you tell us your favorite joke (in English)?

2. Are you funny?  What makes you think so?

Advanced:

1. What topics do people like to joke about and why?

2. Some people say “laughter is the best medicine”.  Do you agree?

Additional Useful Lexis:

Nouns

Comed(y/ies)

Humor

Verb

Laugh

Adjectives

Humorous

Impolite

Improper

Proper

Sexist

 

That’s it!  I look forward to seeing you for this light and hopefully funny discussion!

Today’s English Idiom: Cook (up)

Hi everyone!

Today I’d like to introduce you to a new and interesting idiom:

Cook s/t* (up)

 

No no, not that kind of cooking.

Definition: Fabricate a story in order to evade a situation or attain a desired result.
Synonyms: create, make up, lie, etc.

question-310891_1280

Still confused?  Let’s look at some examples:

  • “She didn’t want to tell her mother where she went, so she cooked up a story.”
  • “That’s a really hard story to believe.  I think you cooked it up.”

Let’s see an example from a movie called Runaway Bride.  It’s a story about a newspaper columnist (Ike Graham, played by Richard Gere) and a strange woman who keeps accepting marriage proposals and then running away before the wedding (Maggie Carpenter, played by Julia Roberts).  Ellie Graham is Ike’s former wife and boss.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a video clip of it, but here’s the dialogue:

 

ELLIE :  “Journalism lesson number one.  If you fabricate your facts, you get fired.”

IKE: “Lesson number two.  Never work for your former spouse.”

ELLIE : “That’s not nothing to do with it.  You cooked this story up and you know it.”

IKE: “I didn’t cook up a story.  I had a source.”

ELLIE: “Someone reliable, I’m sure.  A booze-hound in a bar?”

So as you can see, it has nothing to do with making or preparing food!  Ellie is accusing Ike of making up a story and is warning him about the dangers.  People cook things up in order to avoid problems or to trick people into doing things for them.  So when someone tells you a fantastic story, watch out!  They may have cooked it up.

Key Vocabulary:
  • Fabricate [でっち上げる]

Definition: Concoct in order to deceive

Synonyms: cook up, invent, make up, lie

Example sentence: Journalists should never fabricate stories.

  • Spouse(s) [配偶者]

Definition: husband or wife

Example sentence: If you want to file a joint bank account, you and your spouse need to sign the documents.

  • Source(s) [情報源]

Definition: A person who gives information

Example sentence: Is your source trustworthy?  He might be lying to you.

  • Booze-hound(s) [アルコール中毒者]

Definition: A person who drinks too much alcohol too often

Synonyms: alcoholic, drunkard

Example: She’s a lovely woman, unfortunately she’s married to that booze hound who spends all his time at bars.

*S/T stands for “SomeThing”